Well, it goes without saying that we were beside ourselves with glee when Jared brought us samples of his new yarn, Shelter, during a teaching visit last July. We were duly sworn to secrecy and waited as patiently as possible for the official launch date. Lucky for us, Jared also brought swatches in a variety of stitch patterns ranging from lace to Fair Isle so we could see the full range of the line.
The best part of the experience was hearing the story firsthand, how Jared had spent more than nine months searching for just the right blend of American wools (Columbia and Targhee), then the right mill, and finally the right yarn weight and colors. It was such a long haul, and he was all alone, which is what makes this achievement so unbelievably impressive.
The fact that he sourced directly from farms across Wyoming and South Dakota was another plus, because the American wool industry has taken a hit in recent years and could use some loving. Add in Jared’s own sense of style and color palette, and it was a sure thing. We told him we couldn’t be more excited to carry the yarn and would be very proud to be a Flagship store.
Three months passed (slowly, so slowly) and we went live with our own eCard, A Tweed Grows In Brooklyn, just after his announcement. The day of the launch, I took home one ball of ‘Sap’, because we staff members had promised to wait a week before making our own purchases. I dutifully swatched that evening and fell even deeper in love with the line.
As soon as my favorite color was back in stock, Button Jar incidentally, I grabbed a bag and ran as fast as I could (… that might be a bit of an exaggeration). The simple fact is that this is a wool yarn made for wool lovers by an admitted wool addict. If you’re not a fan of wool yarns, you won’t enjoy Shelter. If, however, you are one of us lanophiles* you will LOVE this yarn. Especially if you enjoy wool with a touch of lanolin and sprinkling vegetable matter.
Columbia is an American breed (see Jared’s post, the wool, for more) that is graded as a Medium Wool – something you’d want for outer wear and the less ‘scratchy’ sensitive. Targhee, by contrast, is a Fine Wool and can be worn next to sensitive skin. Columbia offers an unusual bounce and resilience, while Targhee softens the cross enough to still wear it against skin. Now, I wouldn’t recommend Shelter for very sensitive skin – if Shetland wool is ‘too scratchy’ for you, the recipient, or whomever concerned, don’t use this yarn. As lovely as it is, this isn’t the right yarn for your task.
In addition to the unique fiber content, Shelter is set apart by the actual structure of the yarn and the color blending. Starting with the structure, we covered the difference between worsted and woolen yarns in our October 8th Newsletter: Gimme Shelter. The long and the short of it, Shelter is processed using a traditional technique that is not industry standard. The end effect is a light-as-air wool yarn that has a shocking 140 yards per 50 gram skein. If you do the math, that’s 60 more yards per 100 grams than Cascade 220. Which adds up when you need multiple skeins… a lot.
The second (or, rather, third) specialization of Shelter has to do with the color palette. It may seem simple to create a tweed, but it isn’t. Each of the 17 colors in the Shelter palette is made with a blend of 3 to 6 solid colors that range from natural neutrals to custom-dyed primary basics. Every single color in the palette had to be broken down to the base components and blended accordingly. They didn’t just throw some wool at a milling machine; the wool had to be dyed, processed, and then spun. Much more labor intensive than dyeing the yarn after the fact, the amazing color palette (and delicate heathering) are due to incredible diligence and attention to detail.
And, remember, all of this is done in America by small businesses. How awesome is that?
After experimenting with my little sample skein, I have to say that Shelter is obviously the product of a lot of love and devotion. Curious to see how it would react to washing (would I have to worry about fulling, or worse felting?), I gave it a bath in warm water with a little agitation. For future reference, do not wash your handknits this way. I then laid it out on a towel to dry overnight. The next morning, I was pleased to see that the swatch had not fulled or felted and looked just a little bit plumper.
Now, ‘plump’ does not translate to bloom, when a yarn grows so much during blocking that the gauge is substantially different before and after hitting the water. By ‘plump’, I actually mean that the yarn filled out a bit and made the swatch just a little more opaque. A good example of this can be seen in Clara Park’s swatches – the unwashed swatch is to the right, the washed to the left. The different isn’t enough to affect gauge or drape, but it does make the yarn a little loftier.
This is, honestly, to be expected from woolen yarns. As explained in our eCard last week, more air is trapped in yarn during the woolen process than the worsted. This makes woolen yarns ideal for fulling or felting, because all that air allows the wool fibers freedom to move around. Which is why many, if not most, woolen knits and woven clothes were traditionally fulled – lightly felted for added warmth and resilience.
The fact that my swatch didn’t felt immediately (hallelujah) means that I don’t have to worry about accidentally fulling or felting a finished garment every time laundry day comes around. It doesn’t rule it out as a possibility, either. I’m sure that with a little persistence and some hot water, one could make a dense felt in no time. Personally, I’d love to see some beautiful fulled knitting patterns with this yarn. They’d be a perfect match.
My final impression is this – Shelter is a beautiful yarn that is without a doubt worthy of the title ‘artisan'; and, while I love it to death, not everyone else will. The fact that the line is a truly 100% American enterprise makes it unusual, and it is a niche product that won’t appeal to every knitter. It isn’t Cascade 220, nor is it Malabrigo. Shelter is a unique yarn that deserves consideration, even if it isn’t your cup of tea.
But I have to say, try swatching with it and you might just convert to the Tweed way of life.