Isager Story

© Helga Isager

The story behind the Isager Yarn company is, like the yarns themselves, a study in contrasts – more particularly the often uneasy tension between creative self-expression and technical expertise. Marianne Isager and her coauthors beautifully capture this story in the book ÅLJ: Åse Lund Jensen – a Danish knitwear designer, which is part homage to Jensen, a notable knitwear designer and founder of the company that would become Isager Yarns, and part reflection on the politics and meaning of craftsmanship. The essays on feminist knitting and knitting as activism, including a mention of the ”pussy hat” pattern from January 2017 give the book tremendous value for the conscientious knitter, beyond the yarn story and knitting patterns.

 

© Isager Yarns

As with Sunday Knits, the Isager yarns sprung from the lack of quality yarns in pleasing colors. In the early 1970s, Åse Lund Jensen was applying for a membership in the Den Permanente – a private craft sales cooperative founded in 1931, which displayed and marketed the work of independent crafters who were not able to run showrooms of their own – and her work was turned down due to the bright, harsh colors of the knitting yarn available in Denmark at the time. Jensen reached out to a woollen mill in Skive, on the Jutland peninsula, and worked with them to develop three durable, yet lightweight yarns: Spinni, ALJ (a 3-ply DK weight yarn), and Hebridia (a thicker 4-ply yarn). As the mill‘s color palette was still not to her liking, Jensen partnered with a friend to develop a color palette inspired by plant dyes, ranging through cooler greys and indigo blues to greens and earthen browns. In order to create more possibilities for the knitted fabric, Jensen developed three tones for each individual color – light, medium, and dark – ensuring that no matter which colors the knitter picked, the results would look as good as if the pattern had been designed for them.

 

© Marianne Isager

Marianne Isager was a student at the School for Decorative Arts in Copenhagen when she met Jensen, who gave a seminar in knitting in 1974. Isager at the time had been focussing on weaving and needlework, but she found the mathematical challenges of pattern design which Jensen presented during the seminar irresistible, and a welcome change from the laissez-faire “hen knitting” approach to the craft at the time. The ethos of “hen knitting” focused on knitting as an act of self-expression, with nothing planned out in advance, and all numbers and shaping left to intuition: “If the sweater was too big — give it to your boyfriend, or to a child if it turned out too small.” Jensen, on the other hand, was adamant about swatching, like her contemporary Elizabeth Zimmermann in the US; Jenson wanted to “raise the level” of Danish handcrafts and teach the importance of the technical knowledge that gives knitters the best chance of creating the desired result – whether that result is a perfect circle with intarsia feminist symbols, or a perfectly tailored sweater.

© Åse Lund Jensen

Isager and Jensen remained in touch after the seminar, the older designer mentoring the student in knitwear design and business skills, while Isager became increasingly involved in the yarn company. In February 1977, Åse Lund Jensen learned she had developed lung cancer, and began to transfer the business to Marianne Isager; by the end of March, Jensen had died at the age of 57. Isager juggled family – including her daughter Helga – her schoolwork, and the management of the yarn company for two more years. In 1979, Isager graduated from her course and focussed her energy full time on the company, now called Isager Yarns.

 

© Marianne Isager

In addition to telling the story of Isager yarns through essays and letters, The ÅLJ Jubilee Collection includes a range of patterns for garments, accessories, and housewares by Åse Lund Jensen, Marianne Isager, Helga Isager, and Annette Danielson. We particularly like the bold visual effect of the Goose Eye pullover, a joint effort of Jensen and Marianne Isager. These patterns feature the meticulous attention to technical expertise that Jensen championed and, as such, can be a source of confusion for US knitters who happen to be less familiar with the norms of European pattern writing. As in Helga Isager’s Amimono collections – including The Artisan, Room 606, and The Map Collection – patterns are graded to a limited number of sizes, usually 3, but occasionally 4. The patterns assume familiarity with basic garment construction, as well as the ability to rework or reverse pattern elements (such as shaping) without wordy explanations. Knitters who have not worked with Isager patterns before are advised to read through the pattern thoroughly before beginning – and go to their LYS (we’d love to see you!) to ask for clarification on points they are not confident about. It might also be prudent to begin with some of the housewares, such as the entrelec cushion cover, just to become familiar with how an Isager pattern works.


We particularly loved the story of how Marianne Isager fell almost accidentally into the role of knitwear designer and yarn company owner, and it got us thinking about our own knitting stories. What drew you into knitting? What’s your knitting story?

 

-- Meaghan

October 09, 2017 by Guest Blogger

Sunday Knits Story

© Knit Purl

The Sunday Knits yarn line was born from a love of color and texture. Carol Sunday, whose designs range from the baroque Kelmscott Cardigan to the sleek Milano Pullover or the modern Madam Secretary, reached a point in her knitwear design career where she simply could not find the yarn available on the market that could embody the full scope of her designs. So she decided to make it herself. While not an expert on yarn production, she did know what she wanted to knit with: yarn that would create a fabric that “was cohesive, luxurious, yet [where] the stitches weren't lost in the beautiful bloom of it,” as she mentioned in an interview on the KP blog last year.

 

© Sunday Knits (Milano Pattern)

Carol finally found a mill in Italy – one that has been spinning and dyeing fiber for more than three hundred years – that could build yarn to her specifications. Using their immense expertise, she worked with their agents to source fiber humanely, ensuring that the sheep from which their Australian merino comes has not been subject to mulesing, the cashmere goats are humanely raised, while the Angora rabbits are raised on farms that are run in accordance with EU Animal Welfare standards.

 

© Knit Purl

The different yarn bases – Angelic, a 75% merino, 25% Angora; Eden, 100% merino; and Nirvana, a 92% merino, 8% cashmere (all of which are available in two weights, sport (3-ply) and worsted (5-ply)) – are designed to work well together and be used interchangeably, creating a rich, beautiful palette across the entire line. This same care and consideration goes into the processing of the fiber, which is kept to a minimum. Carol skeins, twists, and labels all of the yarn by hand in her Illinois studio, so while there may be mill splices, there should not be any knots in a skein. This personal attention also allows a greater level of thoughtfulness to go into the skein itself, which is slightly smaller – 54" – than the average skein, which means that it is easier to wind at home even if you don’t own a swift.


There are bold, beautiful yarns – skeins that sing from the shelf – and then there are the rarer yarns, the ones that make your knitting sing. From winding the skein into a ball, through the process of knitting, Carol Sunday’s yarns are a delight to work with and a pleasure to wear. The reason for this is clear: the combination of high quality materials with thoughtful, humane production.


Which yarns are you happiest knitting?

 

--Meaghan

September 04, 2017 by Guest Blogger

Cashgora Story

© Liba Brent

Some yarns draw the eye, some beg to be touched, while a select few reach out to the heart. These last are the yarns with a story, the rare skeins that combine quality of fiber with extraordinary character: Cashgora, distributed by Port Fiber in Portland, Maine, is one of those yarns. You know it the instant you touch a skein: each is soft, lustrous, and, when you bringing to your face to caress, you sense not the lingering scent of oil from the mill or vinegar from the dye bath, but a humane softness, a feeling of the yarn as vivid, living fiber.

 

© Liba Brent

Cashgora fingering weight yarn is the result of an extraordinary project in a remote region of the world. Before receiving grants from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, and the Aga Khan Foundation, all of the fiber grown in the Pamir mountains was sold directly to China for spinning into commercial yarns. Paid at a low rate per kilogram, there was no quality control oversight and no incentive for the herders to improve either their stock or their fiber collection methods. The three grants, awarded in 2013 to a women's spinning collective in Tajikistan – and overseen by Wisconsin-based sociologist Liba Brent – allowed the women to refine the quality of their product, the transparency of their production process, and also improve their own quality of life.

 


© Liba Brent

Cashgora fiber is the result of crossbreeding cashmere, Angora, and other goats in the Pamir mountain range of eastern Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan. The fiber is slightly longer and coarser than cashmere and, while nearly cashmere soft, is more lustrous and slightly less prone to pilling. The fiber also has a nearly silky sheen that elevates the softer halo. As a result of the grant, the herders are able to take greater pains in combing their goats for cashgora down, because the women's collective is able to pay higher rates for higher quality down. Once the down is sorted by quality and color, it is transported to the city of Herat, in Afghanistan, for scouring and dehairing, as there is no suitable site in Tajikistan that is close enough to this remote mountainous region. The processed fiber is transported back to Tajikistan, where the collective of women spinners creates the yarn by hand; because it is handspun, the fiber is not treated with chemicals and so is both softer and more durable than commercially treated fibers.

 

© Liba Brent

The Tajik women who are part of the collective meet rigorous standards for the quality of their handspinning – they work diligently to produce yarn that is consistent from skein to skein and pleasing to knit. Each skein features the name and photo of the woman who spun it, and the biography of each spinner is available on the collective’s website, so you can learn more about the history of the skein in your hand. This brings us back to the heart of knitting, that each project you undertake is a story – the story of your skill, your values, and your time. What story will your knitting tell?

--Meaghan

August 14, 2017 by Guest Blogger
Tags: Yarn Love

Summer Knits

© Knit Purl

We’ve been experiencing the hottest week of the year so far here in Portland. The entire city is abuzz about it, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re putting our needles down. We are knitting right on through the heat, and we’re doing it in style. I cannot deny my love of wool, but summer knitting is all about cotton, silk and linen—fibers that breathe, and feel cool to the touch.

 

© Carrie Bostick Hoge - Penny Tank

I couldn’t possibly discuss summer knits without mentioning my absolute favorite Shibui yarn. Anyone with access to my wardrobe will know that I’m a sucker for yarns of the Tweed variety. Shibui’s stylish Twig mimics the speckled appearance of a tweed without that warm, fuzzy, rustic feel of a traditional tweed. Made up of 46% Linen, 42% Silk, and just a tiny 12% touch of wool, it feels great both to knit and wear on a warm summer day. It’s classified as a sport weight, but I have definitely worked it into a fingering weight pattern or two. This summer I knit Carrie Bostick Hoge’s Penny Tank, in the Brick colorway on a US size 4 needle, for a dense, yet breathable fabric that softens brilliantly with each wear. If you prefer a more open gauge, Shibui’s Slope is an elegant summer basic that can be dressed up or down.

 

© Oliver James Brooks - Kiyomi Burgin's Heya Tank

There are two new yarns in the shop from DanDoh this summer. Their Silk + yarn is a shining star. Another tweedy yarn in a 76% silk, 24% cotton blend with a subtle silky shine that peeks out in the sunlight. I have been having a summer romance with Silk + since the moment it arrived in the shop. Like a schoolgirl crush, I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I had it on the needles. I customized Kiyomi Burgin’s new Heya tank by adding a one-inch hem to the bottom edge, and a garter stitch selvedge edge for simpler seaming. The simple stockinette is a great canvas for displaying the depth of color and texture in the yarn, and also makes for great mindless knitting.

 

© Cocoknits - Paulina

I haven’t knit with DanDoh’s Cotton Fine yet, but I’ve been dreaming about it knit in Julie Weisenberger’s Paulina crop top—a lovely piece to wear over a summer dress. You can also mix and match colors with the yarn held double in a piece like Olgajazzy’s Oshima pullover. My next venture with DanDoh just might be to knit Yumiko Alexander’s River Ripples poncho or Forest weave pullover—two elegant pieces inspired by nature.

 

© Shibui Knits - Eames

Shibui Knit’s Rain is our go-to 100% cotton yarn. With bright sheen and sophisticated chainette ply, even the simplest of stockinette stitch yields an elegant, high-end fabric, as is evident in Shellie Anderson’s Eames, a modern short-sleeve cardigan from Shibui Knits’ Spring/Summer 2017 collection. A Long-sleeve version is included in the pattern too, if you’d like to wear it into Fall—which always seems to be just around the corner. Cotton wears well, whisks away moisture, and can even be machine washed. Start with a gentle cycle! I always recommend washing a large swatch first to figure out the perfect settings for your garments.

 

© Shibui Knits - Athens

If you still haven’t ventured to try Shibui Knits’ new Reed yet, it’s definitely worth it—a refined improvement on their discontinued Linen. Knit by itself, it yields a supremely elegant drape as seen in Shellie Anderson’s Athens Tank. Pair it with Shibui Knits’ new Lunar for extra depth, sheen, and super soft feel. No one at Knit Purl could resist Shellie’s Siena cardigan. We’re all knitting one!


Did you know you can search for yarns on our website by fiber? Just click “Yarns,” then “By Fiber,” and explore all of our cotton, linen and silk blends. Don’t let the heat keep your knitting down! There is still plenty of time to fit in a few more summer pieces.


What are your favorite yarns and patterns to knit in the summer?

 

 

Month of Lace Favorite: Shibui Knits

© Shibui Knits

Think of Shibui Knits and you probably think of luxury fibers and a fashion-forward aesthetic. With thoughtfully chosen fibers, a coordinated color palette,  and carefully designed patterns, Shibui Knits produces the materials you need to create impeccable, elegant garments and accessories. The true hallmark of Shibui Knits style, though, is the mix concept – combining two or more strands of yarn together to create custom fabric. It shows up in patterns as diverse as the chevron cowl Mix No. 29 and the Siena cardigan from the SS17 collection, and is the highlight of Shibui’s Mix Party, a yarn tasting which focuses on allowing the knitter to create a unique, personal fabric through unique yarn combinations.

© Shibui Knits

Founded in 2007 to meet the needs of online commerce, Shibui Knits has created patterns in-house since 2015. Patterns are designed with the mix concept in mind, and are intended to work with different yarn combinations, bringing the idea of remixing from the world of music and high art to knitting. The SS15 collection, including the perennially popular Slope tank, was the first fruit of that decision. The attention to finishing details and mindful choice of techniques ensures that each collection builds on the strengths of those that went before, aiming for the astringent elegance of simplicity. With a variety of lace-weight yarn bases available, it’s easy to build a suitable custom fabric for any occasion, while the refined color palette ensures makes it easy to choose colors that work well together, either by matching the same shade across yarn bases, as in Vista from the FW16 collection, or by using different colors for a marled effect, as in Melanie Berg’s A Twist to It.

 

© Shibui Knits

Speaking personally, Shibui Knits Twig is one of my favorite yarns for knitting solo – it’s perfect for summer garments like the Simple Tee from Churchmouse or the Summer tee from ANKESTRIK. For yarn combinations, though, Shibui Knits Pebble is my secret weakness: its tweedy flecks add depth and interest to any yarn pairing, while the mixture of cashmere, wool, and recycled silk adds a soupçon of airy luxury to any fabric – it’s probably no surprise that Julie Hoover’s Wintour is on my knit list.


What’s your favorite Shibui Knits yarn combination? What interesting mixes are on your to-knit list?

 

--Meaghan

July 10, 2017 by Guest Blogger

North Light Fibers, Our Favorite American Made Yarns

© Knit Purl

Knitting with American-made yarn always seems bring me closer to my own American heritage. There’s a special joy I find in hand-knitting with fibers that have been made close to home. I feel more connected with my nation’s rich industrial textile history and the women drove it. Knitting American-made garments also help me strengthen my local and national economy, all while supporting small businesses and small agriculture. Fibers manufactured entirely in the USA also cut out the need for excessive overseas shipping of goods, thus I get to reduce my carbon footprint as an excellent bonus.

 

© North Light Fibers

If you haven’t tried knitting with North Light Fibers yarns, I encourage you to do so. With “100% made in the USA” stamped proudly on their tag, their entire selection of yarns are produced on Block Island, 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. The Micro Yarn Mill, situated right in the middle of their family-owned farm, takes the fiber straight “from shear to skeins.” They tumble, wash, pick, dye, de-hair, card, spin, ply and finish their yarns right on the island.

 

© North Light Fibers

Given the seasonal nature of the island, Block Island’s economy is limited to the summer season, and jobs opportunities are limited in the cooler months. The mill and farm at North Light Fibers create jobs and reinforces the small local island economy year-round. Our friends at North Light Fibers make it their mission to prove that despite the island’s seasonal nature, year-round manufacturing is not only possible but a viable economic boost. If that’s not enough good work, they also partner with communities near and far — from collaboration with local island knitters and weavers to partnering with Women for Women, a nonprofit group that helps women in war torn countries.

 

© Tolt Yarn and Wool

We have three charming yarns available from North Light Fibers. Atlantic, made from 100% Falkland Island’s Wool, is a bouncy worsted weight yarn that surprises when taken from skein to swatch. A yarn that feels strong and hearty in skein form creates a lovely, soft fabric with excellent stitch definition. Fellow Knit Purl staffer and blogger Em Hanna and I both knit ourselves some Lambing Mitts with only one skein of Atlantic each. Atlantic’s subtle heathery colors work wonders with the simple to knit sequence texture. I’d also love to try it out on Julie Hoover’s Dafne pullover for a great layering piece this fall.

 

© Knit Purl

Just like it’s worsted weight counterpart, Water Street also can seem deceptively simple in skein form, but absolutely astounds when knit. The softness of the cashmere balances with the hearty merino to create a soft, yet hearty fabric. Not quite a tweed, the subtle color variation throughout this 40% cashmere / 60% super Fine Merino make it unlike any other yarn we have in the shop. A simple mock-cable in tincanknits’s Gather cowl (short version) would make a great two-skein project for summer travel. Grab a third skein for the matching hat!

 

© Quince & Co

Just in time for our Month of Lace, we’ve just bumped up our supply of Forever Lace, the super-soft 80% baby alpaca 20% Bamboo blend yarn offered by North Light Fibers. The touch of bamboo will help this alpaca yarn maintain its shape overtime. With great tensile strength, it’s even recommended for weaving warps. I’d knit it in Hanna Fettig’s light-weight Wispy Cardigan or Assemblage's Kozue, a simple, yet refined scarf. During the month of July, you can enjoy 10% off Forever Lace, and all of our other Lace-weight yarns to celebrate all yarns light and airy.

 

What yarns do you knit with the feel closer to your heritage? Have you thought about the impact your favorite yarns might make on your local community?

July 03, 2017 by Charli Barnes

mYak Story

@mYak

The changing seasons always have me thinking of exploration to distant lands, ideally with exotic fibers. One can’t always get out of town at the drop of a hat, though, and sometimes have to be content with a bit of armchair traveling – and few places on earth draw the imagination powerfully as the Tibetan highlands. Since Alexandra David-Néel’s journey to Lhasa in the 1920s, the first western female to visit the city, Tibet has been a magnet for adventurous females, and the story of mYak yarns epitomizes this sort of intrepidity.

 

@mYak

Co-founded by Paola Vanzo and Andrea Dominici, mYak demonstrates the best of a hybrid heritage – spinning together the natural fibers sourced from the nomadic herders of the Tibetan highlands with the founders’ native Italian attention to artistry. These two have spent years traveling in Tibet and working directly with herders, much in the same way the June Cashmere team does, with a deliberate focus on training and sustainability. This personal involvement in fiber sourcing and processing ensures that mYak yarns are ethically produced, eco-conscious, and fully traceable from the grasslands of Tibet to your project bag.

 

@mYak

mYak yarns, available in both worsted and lace weight, are made of 100% baby yak down. Due to the extreme cold temperatures of the Tibetan plateau, this down is exceptionally fine and warm – and exquisitely soft. The down is combed from the bellies of yak calves in the spring, before it is naturally shed for the summer, which means that the animals are not harmed in the process of collecting the fiber. This does mean that the supply of the yak down is limited, both because the number of suitable yaks in a herd is small, and because the process for collecting it labor-intensive. The down is sorted from the guard hairs in Tibet, then shipped to the town of Biella in northern Italy for processing and spinning.

 

@mYak

To enhance the sustainability and strength of their yarns, mYak chooses not to bleach the natural color from the fiber. Yaks are generally darker in color, and the down ranges from pale grey to nearly black. Dyeing the fiber unbleached gives depth to the colors of the yarn, as well as a rich heathered quality.

 

Where will your fiber travels take you this summer?

 

 

--Meaghan

 

 

May 29, 2017 by Guest Blogger

Shibui Knits Lunar | Yarn Review

© Knit Purl

Lunar - adj; of or relating to the moon.

It's no coincidence in my mind that Shibui chose to name the newest line in their collection "Lunar".  Just as one can easily spot the moon in the night sky, this lace weight gem also commands the eye's attention.  

© Knit Purl

My fingers have been itching to play with the latest from Shibui Knits since I first heard a whisper about it a few months ago.  So when the opportunity arose to cast on, my mind immediately went to the pullover pattern, Milan.  And so, without hesitation, (except for which of the 12 colors to choose!) I grabbed my needles and began to swatch.

Instantly I knew Lunar would become a favorite.  I'm absolutely enamored with the way this glides on the needles, and OH the fabric, made with 60% of the softest Merino wool and 40% silk, it drapes so gracefully with what I consider to be the perfect amount of sheen.  Let it be known that I am a BIG fan of yarns that you can dress up or dress down. 

© Knit Purl

Working with yarn that is versatile is a must for me, so imagine my delight when about half way through my Milan, which I would consider to be a more delicate piece, I remembered that Shibui yarns are designed to not only be beautiful on their own, but to be beautiful held together also! 

BEHOLD! The Siena cardigan.  

© Shibui Knits

Siena drew me right in, and looking at the specs, I quickly realized why... it's made of Reed, a 100% chain plied linen, held together with my new love, Lunar!  The fabric that these two yarns creates is absolutely swoon-worthy.  Knit on a size 10 needle, the cardigan enrobes you in a fabric that feels like a cool drink of water on a hot day.

© Shibui Knits

With a nod to the genius of designer Shellie Anderson, I had to cast on immediately.  This is the cardigan that my summer dreams are made of.  I love that Lunar adds a sheen to the sturdier Reed, making it perfect for throwing on before heading out to have all sorts of summer adventures.

As I discover more and more of the magical properties of Lunar, I am excited to finish my two sweaters, but also to try a few other projects as well!  I had a sneaking suspicion that it would also be well suited for open lacework and my suspicions were confirmed when last Wednesday at our Knit Night, one of the gals pulled out her Lunar Starlight Wrap that she was knitting in the Imperial colorway, and needless to say, jaws hit the floor, it is working up stunningly!

The possibilities of Lunar seem endless!  Have you given it a try yet? What are you making?

May 08, 2017 by Em Hanna

Woolfolk Luft | Yarn Review

© Knit Purl

You always wonder about these high-quality yarns – how durable are they? How long are they actually going to last? The first sight of a sample skein of Luft from Woolfolk immediately piqued our interest. Luft is Woolfolk’s signature Ovis XXI Ultimate Merino Wool, unspun and blown into an organic cotton “cage” – and the result is a lofty bulky weight yarn begging to be knit into three-season sweaters. The cotton cage gives the yarn a subtle glow, especially when paired with one of the darker colors. If you’re going to make sweaters to wear nine months out the year, though, you have to pay attention to the durability of the yarn – it has to be able to stand up to wear. As a service to our readers (and out of curiosity!) we put Luft through its paces with a simple stress test.


While nothing takes the place of years of everyday wear, we gave Luft some pretty harsh treatment. The cotton cage was up to the pressure, the threads remaining intact and unwarped. The merino stayed inside the cotton cage, and did not shed, even going through the dryer – though, as discussed below, the wool does felt.


© Knit Purl

 

For our stress test we took our sample skein and knit five swatches on size 10 needles, right in the middle of the suggested needle range. Swatch number one is unblocked at 16 sts and 24 rows per 4 inches; as you can see, it has a bit of personality before being washed. When you touch the swatch, the cotton cage adds a bit unexpected crispness to the wool halo, and the edges roll slightly despite a small garter selvedge.


Swatch number two is hand washed using wool shampoo, soaking for fifteen minutes. We set it flat to dry, unpinned. Even during a damp Portland winter, it dried overnight, the stitches becoming more cohesive, and the edges lying flat. Gauge changed slightly, as one would expect, condensing vertically to 14 sts and 27 rows per 4 inches. The cotton cage takes more of a backseat in the blocked swatch, the resulting fabric having more of the familiar Woolfolk softness.


© Knit Purl

Swatch number three was machine washed on the gentle cycle with other woollens (to add a bit of friction) using wool shampoo, then dried flat unpinned. Smaller than both the unblocked and hand-washed swatches, swatch three shrank slightly to 17 sts and 26 rows per 4 inches, but otherwise does not feel significantly different from the hand-washed swatch.


Things get interesting with swatches four and five – both were machine washed along with an ordinary load of laundry (for friction) on the perm press setting using standard laundry detergent. Swatch four was dried flat and swatch five was thrown into the dryer with the rest of the laundry. Putting these swatches in with a regular load of laundry did result in some felting – swatch four felted slightly and also biased a bit, while its gauge shrank to 17 sts and 30 rows per 4 inches. The result is not unpleasant, but it does lose most of the initial feel of the yarn. In swatch five, the merino felted completely, while remaining encased in the cotton cage. The gauge shrank to 18 sts and 30 rows per 4 inches – and the resulting fabric is dense and smooth – and might actually make an interesting sweater on its own account.


What factors are important to you when trying out or testing a new yarn?

 

-Meaghan

April 24, 2017 by Guest Blogger

The Story of June Cashmere

© Jared Heveron

June Cashmere yarn appeals to the heart and head as well as the hands. The yarn, available in both a DK and a heavy laceweight, comes to Knit Purl from the mountains of the Kyrgyz republic in Central Asia via Belgium (for scouring), Scotland (for spinning), and Maine (for dyeing). If a transparent supply chain were all that made these yarns special, though, we wouldn't bother telling you the story – it's the human element (paired with the extraordinary quality of the yarn!) we want to highlight.

 

© Jared Heveron

Cashmere is a fiber born from adversity: the extraordinarily soft fiber we know and love comes from the insulating down of cashmere goats, allowing them to withstand the brutally cold winters in Mongolia and the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China which are the sources for most of the finest cashmere in the world. Exceptionally harsh and/or snowy winters in 1999–2002, 2010, and 2016 – known in Mongolian as dzud – have decimated the herds in Mongolia, though, and limited the cashmere supply. Suppliers have been forced to look to other countries to meet the demand for the fiber, including Kyrgyzstan, nestled among other former Soviet ’Stans on the western border of China. Most buyers, sent from Chinese mills, buy cashmere by the kilogram at a low price, putting no emphasis on the quality of the fiber they are buying, with the result that many Kyrgyz herders sheared their goats to increase the yield, thus mixing the cashmere down with the tougher guard hairs: this is where June Cashmere makes a difference.

 

© Jared Heveron

Starting in 2013, Sy Belohlavek – the founder of June Cashmere – became interested in bringing Kyrgyz cashmere to western knitters. Rather than trying to purchase cashmere at the lowest price per kilo, he and his buyers told the nomadic herders he would pay higher prices – for higher quality, pre-sorted fibers. At first, they focused on the proportion of down to guard hairs, but after three years of training, Sy and his team are able to focus on the quality of the cashmere down itself during their annual spring buying trip, paying the herders higher prices for softer fiber. This provides the shepherds with a much needed source of income in a country suffering from chronic underemployment, allowing them to pay debts and invest for their future.

 

© Jared Heveron

June Cashmere also engages in development work to support the welfare of the herders who produce the cashmere, installing heating in schools so children can pursue their education during the winter, as well as repairing water pipes so communities can have access to clean water. This is an essential business goal for the company, as Kanat Anarbaev, the Kyrgyz general manager, discusses in an interview on the June Cashmere blog. In addition to these infrastructure projects, the company also invests in community training, spending time and money to teach the herders not only how to sort fibers themselves, but how to train other shepherds to do so as well. The company is not interested in keeping these small, independent producers dependent on June Cashmere for income, but wants to see them – and Kyrgyz cashmere – become a real player in the global fiber community.

 

© Jared Heveron

What you really want to hear about, though, is the yarn. Both the DK and the laceweight yarns are plied, with five and three plies, respectively. Although both yarns bloom when washed, they do not have the tender halo of most cashmere yarns on the market, such as Cardiff Cashmere, making June Cashmere well-suited to gender-neutral patterns. Both yarns are a pleasure to knit with, having a dry, almost cottony hand, without much bounce, but with very good stitch definition; they are probably best knit at a tighter gauge, which will give the finished product greater resilience and elasticity. In working with the yarn, our tester had occasion to rip out and reknit, and the yarn softened up beautifully, but did not pill or become ragged. Be careful, though when combining colors: the samples we blocked did bleed, so at this stage in the development of these yarns you might want to focus on single-color projects. With this caveat in mind, though, we feel confident in saying that these yarns will only get better with time – and they are already pretty extraordinary!

 

© Jared Heveron

It’s important to think about where your yarn is coming from, as well as how it is produced. June Cashmere yarns are an interesting example of how it is possible for globalization to make a positive impact on the those living in emerging economies, while also bringing a very special pair of yarns to your needles. What's the story behind your favorite yarn?

 

-Meaghan

April 03, 2017 by Guest Blogger