We talked about measuring fibers in microns as an objective measure of softness a few months back, but softness remains somewhat subjective. After all, there are different varieties of softness which at times work in unison and at times conflict with one another. Sometimes I walk around the shop, contemplating this question: which is the softest yarn? I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to contemplate a question like that. It’s not as straightforward as you think. I always provide several options when I’m asked which yarn is the softest.
There are three factors that come to mind, when I assess my personal experience of softness.
Luxury Silk Sport, the slickest of them all.
Andean Mist takes the cake for that delectable fuzzy feeling.
Berroco Noble, oh-so-lofty.
Slickness: Think about the slickness of spun silk. There is no friction. There are no wisps. Your fingers just slide along the surface like skates on freshly zamboni’d ice. A 100% silk yarn like Luxury Silk Sport has the slickest feel, but others like Bloom and Findley and Ultra Pima possess a similar sort of softness.
Fuzziness: Think about the halo of angora, or brushed alpaca, or mohair. When you stick your hand into it, it compresses a plethora of little fibers which stick up off the surface. Fuzzy yarns look bigger than they really are. They’re best appreciated with a very light touch, though with too light a touch, you can barely tell they’re there. Andean Mist and Herriot, both baby alpaca yarns, have a luxuriously fuzzy softness.
Loftiness: Think about the squishiness of merino wool, somewhat loosely spun, like Malabrigo Worsted (a personal favorite). Its surface is kind of slick, barely fuzzy, but more remarkably, oh-so-squishy. The loftiness requires a slightly firmer touch to fully appreciate. It makes you want to dive into a mountain of yarn. Other lofty-soft yarns on our shelves include Noble and Swans Island Worsted.
Araucania Lujoso, the softest of them all?
But in my humble opinion, the very softness yarn on our shelves at Over the Rainbow Yarn right now is Lujoso from Araucania. It’s a blend of baby alpaca, silk and merino wool: that is, a slick fiber, a fuzzy fiber and a lofty fiber. They’re combined in the most ideal proportion. I swear, this yarn is amazing! I made my prototype for the “All The Pretty Things” hat out of Lujoso, and positively loved every second. I think it’s my favorite yarn I’ve ever worked with. Lujoso is the Spanish word for luxury and this yarn looks and feels like luxury. The fuzziness and loftiness give it a warm, insulating feeling. It feels heavenly soft with a light touch or a firm touch. You’re all cordially invited to come touch it whenever you like! I dare you to resist it.
This week’s featured yarn is Bartlett. Bartlettyarns, Inc. is a local Maine company which spins 100% wool yarn in a traditional style using a mule spun mill which has been in operation since 1821 in Harmony, Maine. They’re proud to produce a 100% American product and we’re proud to sell it here at Over the Rainbow Yarn!
Bartlett yarn is a rugged worsted-weight wool which is excellent for felting and warm, durable outerwear.
No seriously, I started knitting when there were fewer choices in fibers, weights, uses…just fewer yarns! And way beck then, I could choose from a variety of synthetic stuff from department stores or good old fashioned wool. It was the fiber of choice for my great-grandmother when she made mittens that she sowed across the countryside like seeds. And it’s still a favorite of mine.
Most commercial yarns are spun from combed top on large machines that pull the fiber in such a way as to give it a smooth surface finish. This is called worsted spun. At the Bartlett Mill, they use carded fiber, and the spinning mule pulls the fiber in a back and forth motion that mimics the motion of hand spinning, resulting in a fuzzier surface. This is called woolen spun. The result is a fuzzier, loftier and, warmer yarn.
In an age where everyone is looking for soft, softer, softest, old fashioned woolen yarns are often overlooked as “too scratchy.” But let me tell you what happens to soft yarns; they pill and wear thin in a very short time. They can’t help it, poor darlings. It’s their nature.
A good old fashioned sturdy woolen yarn is a bit uncomfortable if you rub it against the under side of your chin, and I have to admit that I would not wear it next to my skin. But if you are looking for a perfect yarn to make an exterior garment, like a heavy sweater or coat, or if you want your knit wear to last a long long time, or if you just want to rediscover the joy of a springy wool that feels alive in your hands, Bartlett should be your go-to. I knit a sweater for my active 8 year old which he wore and wore and wore. He is now 16 and has long since out grown it, but look at it!
Bartlett Fisherman 2ply is one of the few remaining choices for making traditional Fisherman’s Mittens (Thanks to Robin Hansen for publishing a pattern for the fabulous Chebeague Island Mittens though most of the old wives made them without patterns) and it is ideal for all your felting projects.
Here are a few suggested patterns for knitting with Bartlett – click on the photos for links to the patterns on Ravelry.com: