This week is Rockland’s annual sidewalk sale, and Over The Rainbow Yarn has joined in with gusto. We have two big tables outside, laden with one bin of pattern booklets and seven (7!) bins overflowing with yarn. Everything out there is 25-75% off, except for the pattern booklets — those are $2 each. You could knit a pair of socks for less than the price of a movie ticket!
I’m pretty excited about this sale. There’s a lot of great stuff in those bins, some of which I might have to buy myself, if you all don’t get to it first (please, save me from myself!). I’ve been staring at all of these yarns, and thinking about the cool things they could become. Since I can’t possibly make all of these items myself, I’m going to share some of the patterns with you.
Berroco Brio is in the 50% off bin this week, so I just have to recommend the Quick Slip Cowl by Andra Asars. I’ve already made this cowl twice, and I’m barely restraining myself from grabbing another skein. That’s the beauty of this free pattern — it only takes one skein, and it is a super fast knit on size 15 needles. For under $10, you could have a holiday gift ready to go by the end of the week. This cowl is also reversible, and looks great worn as a single loop, or doubled over for extra coziness.
The Luxury Silk Sport is also on sale, in the 25% off section. This yarn is so deliciously sleek, it really needs to be against your skin, preferably in the form of Turbinado, by Sharyn Anhalt. This crescent shawl would be my go-to item for the fall wedding I’ll be attending, or the perfect light layer for when Brooks next takes me out to dinner at Primo (Are you reading this, honey?). Mine would of course have to be in the luscious raspberry color we have.
Tobnoggan by Katie Vlasov is my suggestion for American Lamb, a bulky weight yarn grown and processed in the U.S. and currently 75% off. This is another one-skein wonder, and I can’t even tell you how much I value my earflap hat on cold February days. Tobnoggan features classic cables, plus a fun pompom. If you got two or three colors of American Lamb (75% off!), you could easily make multiple striped hats.
Our sidewalk sale is running from now through this Friday, the 12th. If the weather is bad, we’ll set it up indoors. This is the perfect opportunity to snag some yarns for gifts, and to get started on your holiday knitting! These three patterns are merely the tip of the iceberg — I have so many more in mind for all of the lovely, lovely yarns in our sale bins. Just ask me!
We’re going to talk about yarn microns and softness, I promise. But first, we have to establish some standard of comparison. We’ve chosen the hair on your very own head as a place to start. Have you ever heard the term “hair shirt?” Apparently, monks in the middle ages would make shirts out of hair and wear them under their clothes as a subtle form of self torture. These were itchy and coarse enough to scrape the skin and cause minor bleeding. Yikes! If you run your hands through your own hair, you won’t find it so very unpleasant, but have you ever gotten a piece of your own hair caught on your eye? Or on your own tongue? Of course you have, and very unpleasant it is, too. And once you cut it, there is a sharp end that pokes into your skin in a nasty way.
What does this have to do with yarn and microns, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Since it isn’t pleasant or practical to make clothing or other fabric from our own hair, human beings began to consider using hair from other animals. Something softer and more comfortable. They looked around them and thought, “Horse hair? Nope; too coarse and not enough of it. Cow? Surely not. Goats? Well, their outer hairs are at least as bad as our own, but they do get a nice soft under coat in winter. Not much of it, but great if we can get it. Hmmm…maybe sheep?” And the rest is wooly history.
But that still doesn’t explain the whole micron to softness connection, right? Well, let me give you just a little bit more history and it will become clearer. When humans first started using sheep fleece for clothing, the sheep hair wasn’t as soft as we’ve come to know it. It was just a darn site better than horse or cow or human. These early sheep hair gathering humans began to notice that some of their sheep had hair that was softer to the touch than others. So, some humans started breeding soft haired sheep to other soft haired sheep and creating breeds with fine, soft wool.
As the breeds got established, even within breeds there could be variance. Just like human beings, sheep can have finer or coarser hair than their wooly cousins. The climate where they live, their diet, and how clean they keep can have a great effect on the softness of their hair. And if the softer wool was more prized, the breeders should be able to get a higher price for it, right? Of course. So, who gets to determine how much a particular fleece should be worth? Well, the buyers, of course.
But, rather than having each and every person who wanted to buy a fleece fondle each and every fleece available, experts with sensitive finger and a vast experience of wool would run a few lock through their fingers and give it a grade. Coarse, medium, fine, super fine, expialidocious, a fleece would get a grade, and price would be agreed between the seller and the buyer based on that grade.
Now we have microscopes and lasers that are capable of measuring the exact diameter of a single hair from an angora rabbit. The unit of measure is the micron, which is one millionth of a meter or 1/25,000 of an inch. Really, really tiny, right? Well, yes. And this is where the softness part come in.
This chart shows a human hair as the largest fiber at 70 microns, and an angora rabbit hair as the smallest at 13 microns. You can get a better view of it in our newsletter.
We are able to distinguish the size and texture of small things, but not infinitely small. There is a limit to the diameter of fibers that we can feel. As we noted above, a human hair is coarse enough, and sharp enough if cut, to be clearly felt. But sheep have hair that is thinner in diameter than human hair. Some breeds of sheep even more than others. As the diameter, in microns, of the individual hairs gets smaller, we are less abel to distinguish one fiber from the bunch of fibers. The feel starts to blur into a single sensation rather than a thousand separate ones. The more we experience this blurring of sensation of individual fibers, the more we experience it as soft.
There are other factors that determine softness. The length of the fiber, how curly or crimpy it is, how sharp the cut ends are, how tightly it is spun, etc, will all have an impact on how much we can feel an individual hair out a bunch of hairs. But the size of the hairs is the biggest contributing factor.
This is why we like to feel a yarn before we decide whether we want to make something that’s going to go next to our skin. You’re probably aware that some parts of the human body have more, and more sensitive, nerve endings than others. Fingers rank really high in the number and sensitivity of nerve endings. But fingers can’t tell you how something is going to feel on the underside of your chin. This is why we encourage you to gently run a skein of yarn against your neck or under your chin if you’re planning on making a cowl out of it.
Also keep in mind, it’s not just a marketing ploy to get you to value baby alpaca more than merino. Baby hair on any animal is going to be finer than on an adult. And extra fine merino is not a subjective assessment. It’s smaller in microns and, therefore softer.
Dearest readers, lend me your ears (eyes?), because after a year of eager hope and subtle pestering our store finally has….~**~these~**~
Over the past year+ that I’ve been needle felting I’ve tried a lot of different kinds of fibers, but none of them have been able to give me as satisfying a result as the roving from Bartlett Yarns. This roving has a lofty, squishy feel, but is extremely easy to work with. A little goes a long way with these babies, so much so that I still have almost as much in my half-pound bag of Midnight Blue that I originally purchased almost a year ago (and yes, believe me, I’ve been using it wherever I can with my projects)! I’ve found that they work best as an over-layer on a sculpted piece or by itself with flat felting particularly because of what I find to be its most appealing quality: the flat, smooth surface you can get with less stabbing.
I love these, I love these, I love these, and it is genuinely an extreme effort for me not to hoard them all for myself. They’re a real pleasure to felt with, and I could not possibly recommend them more than I already do.