There has been a resurgence in interest of rustic yarns lately. Knitters seem to fall into one of two camps: those who cling to the comfort of their soft, superwash skeins, and those eager to jump headfirst into projects with yarn of rougher character and charm (and sometimes a bit of vegetable matter). We believe that both types of yarn have their merits, as you can see from the variety on Knit Purl’s well-stocked shelves.
While many of our customers are eager to try the varieties of wool we have to offer, others are more inclined to fall for what Clara Parkes lovingly refers to as the “softness myth” in The Knitter’s Book of Wool, pages 16 & 17:
“The quality that matters to most knitters these days is touch. Specifically, soft touch. If we want to experience everything wool has to offer, we must begin by adjusting our expectations.
“Our hands have been trained to embrace soft and reject everything else. When you start experiencing different [wool] breeds on their own, you’ll immediately begin to feel a lot of the ‘everything else’—yarns with greater vibrancy, texture, visual appeal, and what I think of as ‘crunch.’
“Remember that every breed has its place and purpose among our projects. Not everything needs to be knit in the softest, most delicate wool. In fact, many projects prefer to be made out of something more durable.”
Through brands like Brooklyn Tweed, Geilsk, Sincere Sheep, Noro, and Isager, Knit Purl has long embraced the historical tradition of wools bred especially for durability and functionality—not solely softness. Many of these wools are, indeed, soft in their own way, but they also have characteristics that set them apart from the superwash merinos and standard merino wools available. While we could indeed wax poetic about dozens of projects that would be perfect for these wools (and we have, in past newsletters like these), sometimes it’s better to talk about the experience rather than the end result.
Wools that have a “farm” or “heritage” feel often connect us to the history of knitting, if only symbolically. There is something very tactile about winding a simple skein of textured wool, sliding it through your fingers and around the swift, the finished cakes crisp and pert, ready to be transformed into something wonderful. Enhance this appreciation of simple pleasures by pairing these wools with a set of wooden needles. Cast on the way you were taught. Go back to your roots with each stitch as it slides back and forth, forming something beautiful and timeless. Take solace in the knowledge that knitters designed these tools specifically for this purpose—to go with the farm wools they might have even spun themselves. It’s a cozy little picture, isn’t it?
In our present day, these more textured wools have reprised their role as favorite fibers, especially when featured in collections loaded with beautiful patterns. Jared Flood has long used patterns, now produced by his entire team at Brooklyn Tweed, to communicate a message comprised of contemporary design and historic craftsmanship. Shelter and Loft, both spun from Targhee-Columbia wools, have become two of our most popular offerings.
Bannock, by Sincere Sheep, also features Targhee. This breed has long been a favorite of handspinners. As described in The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook (page 307), this fiber combines relative softness with the handle, strength, and character of longwools. The yarn itself seems to radiate the life and excitement of its bearer: a bouncy, fluffy fiber to represent a bouncy, fluffy sheep.
Eisaku Noro founded his company over 40 years ago based on the idea that yarn was a wonderful way to celebrate color. It seems like a natural progression that this color would be best highlighted on yarn that had as much character as the end product. By choosing a variety of wools sourced from around the world, and putting them through minimal processing, Noro works to preserve the natural qualities and characteristics of the yarns:
“Friction, rubbing, and heat during processing weaken the fibers in direct proportion to the length of time they are processed. By dramatically shortening this process, we are preventing damage to the enzymes in the fibers and simultaneously profiting the environment,” explained Noro in a 2012 Noro Magazine interview with designer Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton.
Often, the choice to use a specific wool is a design choice, like in the ever-popular collections from Amimono featuring Isager Yarns. Marianne Isager, the Danish designer and textile aficionado behind Isager Yarns, often highlights the unique textures of various rustic wools. Moorit heathers, tweedy yarns with noils, and even longer fibers produce a variety of effects to finished fabrics that help set apart knitted garments from the wovens they might be paired with.
Life, like knitting, is always more interesting when we celebrate the abundance of textures, differences, and unique qualities of things in the world around us. By contrasting those oh-so-soft wools with the sturdy, interesting textures of these medium and longwools, we hope that you’ll find new ways to rediscover the beauty of stitching, no matter how simple or complex.