When buying yarn for knitting it’s important to read labels – just like with food. The more you create the more you learn about what types of yarn work best for certain projects.
Typically, the word “wool” on a yarn label means the yarn you are looking at contains a mix of any number of breeds of sheep wool that falls in the range of 21 – 25 microns. There are some exceptions, of course. Certain breeds of sheep produce wool of unique qualities so they will often get a more specific label. Targhee, Bluefaced Leicester, and Merino are some of the types of sheep that often get a special shout-out.
(Sidebar: if you are a knitter, crocheter or spinner and you have not read The Knitter’s Book of Wool you should get to your library posthaste!)
This is a merino sheep. Wool from these sheep is some of the finest available. The finer the fiber, the softer the yarn. Merino can get down to 11.5 microns – although, most commercially available merino wool doesn’t go below 15 microns. Merino is very popular among knitters for its soft, airy feeling. It’s also widely available and there are quite a few very affordable selections. The last three projects I completed all happened to be done in merino wool. I guess I was in the mood!
First was a scarf I knitted for my sister. I wasn’t able to get a very good picture of it (detailed lace-work in black yarn is very hard to photograph for an amateur like me), but this is kind of what it looks like:
I knit this using Knit Picks’ Swish DK in Coal, a very affordable 100% superwash merino. “Superwash” means the yarn has been treated, often with some kind of acid bath, to remove the scales from the yarn. The scales are what makes wool felt when it gets wet. So if a yarn is labeled “superwash” it means you can toss it in the wash without having to worry about it shrinking or felting to the degree it would if it were untreated. (Merino is naturally non-felting, so the superwash treatment is really just to give the yarn the sturdiness to hold up to gentle machine-washing.)
The scarf was knitted in the round and is about 13-ish inches wide. It’s supposed to be worn as a cowl. I am very happy with how it turned out.
Next I made another version of the cable-and-lace beret I made a few weeks ago. I love that hat so gosh-darn much I needed a second one. I used some leftover Malabrigo Worsted in Purple Mystery.
Malabrigo Worsted is not a superwash wool, so it requires more careful handling when it comes to keeping it clean. The plus is that it’s astoundingly soft.
Last night I finished a pair of socks from Knit Picks’ Felici in Caprica. I was drawn to Felici for the colors, not the fiber, so in this case the merino is just incidental. The big trade-off when it comes to fineness in wool is that the softer the wool, the less sturdy it is. Merino tends to look shabby and pilly if it gets a lot of wear, so socks are not really the ideal use for it. You’ll find, as with the Felici, yarn intended for socks will be some kind of superwash blend. This is a blend of superwash merino and nylon. Nylon to give it strength, superwash for ease-of-care.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about these socks. I hate the way this pattern looks. I have a tendency to gravitate towards patterns with on a small handful of posts on Ravelry for some reason. Mine was the very first for this project, so I only had the author’s photo illustrations to go by. And they were so pretty! I wish I had been able to see a few other finished projects using this pattern before I bought it. I also hate the way this yarn looks with this pattern. The stripes are not liking the lacy portions. And the cuff is… ugh. So much work for such an underwhelming effect.
On the other hand…
The fit of these socks is fabulous. The number of stitches worked in the pattern at the suggested gauge fit my foot and leg perfectly. I also did a lot of math, calculating and re-working to get the heel to take up EXACTLY two stripes worth of yarn – and the heel of the sock conforms to my heel so comfortably! And, I must say, these socks have the best heels I’ve ever knitted. I was finally able to master the art of the no-gap-gusset. This video was the key to making it happen.
Next I have some amigurumi to make (acrylic) and some fabulously festive 4th of July socks (wool/nylon) so that’s it for the merino. For now.