a perfect skein

One-Skeinworthy Yarns

One-skein projects abound. The theory is that by requiring only one skein, the projects tend to take less time to complete. But our rush for instant gratification need not deprive us of life's tactile pleasures. One-skein projects offer a perfect opportunity to experience some of the most decadent and extraordinary yarns on the market. While 12 skeins of such yarns may be beyond our budget, a single skein can be slowly savored both on the needles and off.

You probably have your own list of yarns that you'd love to experience at least once. But just in case that list needs a little padding, here are my recommendations.

Yardage Matters
Many of the one-skein books bend the rules slightly by using lots of lace in their projects. I say "bend the rules" because lace always comes in extremely generous skeins, making it reasonably easy to achieve a technically sophisticated project with just one skein. Lace yarns cannot be beat for their penny-per-yard economy.

While "economy" isn't a word normally used in the same sentence as qiviut, lace does make the investment in this luxury fiber go further. The downy undercoat of the Arctic Musk Ox, qiviut is reputed to be one of the warmest and finest fibers on earth. When spun into a fine strand of yarn and plied together into lace-weight yarn, the fiber provides an ethereal softness and halo without any overbearing weight.

If you don't want to spend $98 on a 218-yard skein, opt for the qiviut/Merino/silk blend that costs $57 for the same yardage. This blend is actually superior in many ways to the pure qiviut because you get added body and shimmer while still enjoying all the warmth and softness of the qiviut. Dare I mention that Windy Valley Musk Ox is having a sale between now and January 1, 2011?

Spirit Trail Nona
Qiviut notwithstanding, most basic lace-weight yarns have some percentage of Merino in the blend to give the yarn body and bounce. Hand-dyer Jennifer Heverly, of Spirit Trail Fiberworks, worked with a mill to create her own ideal lace blend called Nona (pictured here). It contains 50% Merino, 25% cashmere, and 25% bombyx silk. Each 630-yard skein retails for only $34. (A note on availability: As with most boutique hand-dyers, please be patient while Jennifer posts new batches of Nona on her site.)

Sundara Fingering Silky Merino
Fingering Silky Merino
Of course any mention of hand-dyed luxuries—especially those including silk—must include a deep bow to Sundara Murphy of Sundara Yarn. Her nuanced gemlike colors glow in silk blends.

Her Fingering Silky Merino offers 500 yards of 50% silk/50% Merino for $50 per skein, and you can easily make any scarf, cowl, or shawlette from just one skein. But which color to choose?

Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk
Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk
And then there's Hand Maiden's Swiss Mountain Cashmere and Silk, a swatch of which I dutifully carry around with me at all times in case of emergency. (You may laugh but it's true.) A perfect blending of 65% cashmere and 35% silk, the yarn is spun at a water-powered mill in Switzerland and then hand-dyed in Canada. It is airy, slick, and luminous.

Yardage is a little less generous than the other yarns discussed so far, with one 196-yard skein running approximately $39.95. That same single skein would make a perfect Knotty Scarflett (by Sivia Harding) or Spiralucious (by Anne Hanson). And for sheer tactile ecstasy, this yarn is it.

sparkly ArtYarns cashmere
Beaded Cashmere and Sequins
If the silk in these cashmere/silk blends isn't swanky enough for you, the next logical choice is to use a yarn that's been embellished with beads or sequins...or both, if you're Artyarns Beaded Cashmere and Sequins (shown here). The sparkle of glass beads and matching sequins adds a Tiffany's touch to a base of 65% silk/35% cashmere. This yarn pushes the one-skein concept just a little because each skein holds only 90 yards, and it'll set you back about $60. But I'm confident that one of you will find a suitably sparkly one-skein solution for this yarn.

Hand Jive Thick Thin
In Praise of Thick/Thin
Despite the attention given to finer gauge yarns, bulky yarns have their place in the one-skein repertoire. When composed of good fibers, they feel like heaven. And more to the point, bulky yarns knit up quickly—which can be helpful in a last-minute situation. In her book More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, Joelle Hoverson used one of my favorite bulky luxury yarns, Hand Jive Thick and Thin (shown here). The textural intrigue from the varying thicknesses, combined with Darlene's subtle and warm naturally dyed colors, make for a winning combination. I've heard murmurs that this yarn has been discontinued. Just in case this is true, you may want to snatch up what's left at Purl Soho before it's all gone.

Briar Rose Glory Days BFL
Bundles of Briar Rose
Another source of single-skein happiness at primarily heavier gauges is Briar Rose Fibers. Nearly all of Chris Roosien's hand-painted offerings come in generous, puppy-sized bundles that are meant to be picked up and squeezed—which you'll see crowds of people do in the Briar Rose booth at major sheep and wool festivals. Shown here is Glory Days, a 500-yard hank of Bluefaced Leicester that's dyed in a purple variant of Chris's telltale moody hues and retails for $30.

Alchemy Kozmos
Pondering the Kozmos
What is the ideal one-skein yarn? It's one that makes you sigh happily when you touch it, that works itself easily on the needles, and that produces beautiful fabric with depth and nuance—all from a single skein. Alchemy Yarns Kozmos fits all these requirements.

An unexpected blend of 30% silk, 26% mohair, 15% wool, and 31% cotton, Kozmos initially behaves like a brushed mohair—but then the cotton rises from the fuzz and pulls it back down to earth, like soap bubbles in a bowl of dry ice. The unusual base is only part of the yarn's appeal. The other part comes directly from the eyes and hands of Gina Wilde, who paints each skein by hand. It is then wound into 119-yard hanks that retail for $29 apiece. One skein will let you adorn your neck with a puffy and intriguing slightly shorter, single-color version of Whitney Van Nes' super-easy Cowl with a Twist. (Just keep track of how much yarn each row takes and bind off when you have about two rows' worth of yarn left.)

A good one-skein yarn also leaves you longing for more, as all these yarns do. In that regard, you can consider your initial one-skein project a mere swatching exercise for larger projects to come.

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