Knit Love Club 2010-1: Rumpled

Finally I can reveal the first instalment for this year’s Knit Love Club. It’s been 3 weeks since the posting date, and I believe all the members have now received their parcels so I can finally blog about it!

Voila Rumpled! Designed by yours truly, using Alchemy Juniper yarn in an exclusive colourway “Rumpelstiltskin”.
Way back in May 09, Clara Parkes reviewed Alchemy’s new sock yarn, Juniper.  What Clara doesn’t know about yarn isn’t worth knowing.  She is my guru!  Tricia had tipped me off to this yarn around the same time, and having read about it, I was intrigued.  I love a good sock yarn.  For me, the holy trinity that makes a sock yarn sing is made up of: a talented dyer, creating colourways that make my heart thrill with joy; quality fibre – butter in my hands as I knit and deliciously comfortable to wear; strong construction – plies and twist that take into consideration the work horse nature of the end product.  If you know me, you’ll know one of my favourite sock yarns is Lightweight STR.  It has a tightly twisted 3 ply construction, is 100% merino and Tina Newton is seriously the bees knees of dyers.  When one colour melts into another, the sum of 1+1 is definitely more than 2.  But I digress.

Juniper definitely has this holy trinity.  It’s super soft. In fact, as Clara points out in her review, superfine Merino is a fiber class that averages a diameter of 15 to 17.5 microns – less than the internationally accepted micron count for cashmere at 19 microns.  To put it technically – Juniper is roll-around-in-it-naked soft. Of course the thing about delicious sock yarns is that we like them soft. Merino is one of the most popular fibres for sock yarn.  The fly in the pie of all this hankering for a soft hand is that the softer the fibre, the more vulnerable it is to abrasion, and the quicker it will wear through.

So how do we counteract that?  You can do alot with the knitting up, but there are ways of adding strength to the yarn itself.   One method is in the fibre mix – by adding nylon, or a fibre (eg alpaca, mohair) that will lend strength to the whole.  Another method is in the construction, and this is the exciting bit about Juniper.  Instead of a tight 3 ply, this is a cabled 8 ply yarn. First rule of plies is that more plies = more strength.  Snapping one chopstick is pretty easy, breaking 8 of them held together is decidedly not. But to add even more backbone to the yarn, the 8 plies are not simply twisted together. They are split up into four 2 ply strands, which are then twisted together, creating what is called a cabled yarn.  Lots of strength and stability.  Given the fineness of the merino, having these 8 plies cabled together is a great thing. We keep the loft, the twist, the bounce, and the incredible softness in a structure that will help withstand abrasion

What yarn lacks in structure (or not) can be reinforced through the knitting.  I once took a class with Judith Mackenzie McCuin who pulled out a victorian knee high sock knit with cotton, which in itself has no elasticity. But the sock – knit on very fine needles, at a tight gauge – had elasticity built into the stitch pattern.  So to give the yarn a helping hand, I designed a pattern that has a stocking stitch gauge of 9 stitches (or 11 for smaller size) per inch so that the fine yarn would create a tight stocking stitch sole (loose knitting in hard wearing areas of socks is like the chlamydia of the sock world (get it, loose? haha i kill myself)- silent and ruinous, yet easily fixed – the looser the knit, the sooner the holes will appear).  Elasticity isn’t a problem here – the yarn is nice and bouncy and has a great sproing factor.

As for colour, I have long admired Gina Wilde’s colour palette and she readily agreed to dye up our first club yarn.  Given the cold spell we had here in England, I had an image in my mind of a soot blackened wood cottage with snow muffling the night sounds, and the weak flicker of a meager fire the only source of light and warmth for a poor girl spinning by the hearth.  Funny the things I have stored in my head! The story of Rumpelstiltskin sprang to mind: the girl being peddled by her father to the king on the promise of a lie- that the girl could spin gold from straw.  From this came the theme to this month’s sock pattern.  The stitch pattern looked like sheafs of wheat to me, and with the fineness of the yarn, it worked perfectly (I’d tried this stitch pattern before with a heavier fingering weight sock yarn… the k4togs just didn’t work).  Gina created a colour that was a darker, moodier gold at sunset, when the girl finally guesses Rumpelstiltskin’s name.  I was worried about the sample skein as it was much darker than I would have liked, but the club skeins arrived and they perfectly matched what I had in my head.

The pattern is a Club exclusive for now – it will be released next year.

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