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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.
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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.
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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?