I’m sure you are all already familiar with KnitPicks, a lovely lovely company selling all kinds of goodies for knitters and crocheters, including lots of different yarns, at very reasonable prices. In those late-night Ravelry-surfing sessions where I pick out a couple gazillion patterns I’d like to knit, there’s something strangely reassuring about being able to go to the KnitPicks website, price the cost of the various projects, and realize that I could actually afford to knit them. (I almost never buy anything in those late night sessions, but it’s reassuring to know that in the hypothetical distant future when I run out of yarn, affordable options are out there.)
KnitPicks also produces an informative and entertaining podcast series. I haven’t worked my way through all of them by any means (I only stumbled onto podcasts around the beginning of this year, and they have 200+ episodes by now). However, I responded to a call on their blog for comments/stories for their podcast, sent an e-mail, and got my comment included (which is about as close as I’ve ever come to internet fame). The attention would have been reward enough, but in return for my comment they sent me a “charm pack” of yarn – one of their project bags stuffed with sample skeins! It was extremely generous and I’ve been having fun playing with yarns I might never have purchased on my own.
One of those yarns is Diadem. This is a fingering-weight yarn, 50% baby alpaca and 50% mulberry silk. It comes in skeins of 329 yards. And I’ve been intrigued enough by this yarn that it was the first of my freebies that I wound into a ball and cast on, to test it out. (I was too eager actually to make a proper swatch, so you get a finished object instead.)
The first thing you notice about this yarn is that it is incredibly soft to the touch. If I could sleep in a bed made only of skeins of this yarn I would be a very happy woman.
It simultaneously has a notable sheen and a subtle but definite halo, which may sound a little contradictory. The halo is very fine and soft, less obtrusive than the kind of halo found in, say, mohair. Perhaps because of that halo, it doesn’t have quite the glossy, almost metallic sheen you can see in polished silks. It’s a dry shiny, not a wet shiny, if that makes any sense. It feels matte rather than slick.
Structurally, it’s a very loosely spun single ply. It reminds me of the way that lopi yarns are described online, as a yarn very close to roving. The end of my cast-on tail seemed to lose its structural integrity quickly and devolve into a vaguely linear piece of fluff.
Casting on was fine (although I realized that using dark wood needles to knit dark green yarn wasn’t my smartest move). That aside, it was still tough at first to distinguish the individual stitches. There’s so little twist holding the yarn together that the stitches spread out on the needle and the edges aren’t very clearly defined.
The looseness of the spin and the yarn’s inclination to spread makes it very very susceptible to splitting (though it probably doesn’t help that I prefer pointy-tipped needles). I found it helpful to insert the tip of the right-hand needle a bit lower in the stitch, closer to where the stitch emerges from the row below, rather than right up against the left-hand needle, because it can be hard to get the needle under those diffuse, undefined edges. If you do split the yarn, the resulting loops and pulls are pretty conspicuous. If you just catch the very edge, you might end up pulling away a wee piece of halo rather than actually splitting the yarn. It’s a little like what I imagine it would be like to knit with cotton candy.
The yarn also has very little elasticity, which isn’t surprising given its components. Frankly, that lack of elasticity combined with the blurry stitches made knitting the first couple of rows pretty annoying. I tend to knit more tightly, and for the first couple of rows I had a hard time getting the stitches over and past the join between needle and cable in my circular needles. I had to make a conscious effort to knit loosely (which I don’t normally have to do even in cotton or other non-elastic yarns). Once I did that, things started to move along.
Knitted up, the fabric is extremely soft and fluffy. The halo is more obvious when knitted than in the skein. On the one hand, this halo obscures stitch definition, but on the other, the yarn’s sheen highlights stitch definition, so it’s a little bit of a wash.
A yarn this soft and fluffy positively begs to be knit into something worn against the skin. I’m not sure it has the body to be an effective sweater, but that may just be my own preferences speaking, as I don’t always find fuzzy halo-ed yarn very flattering on the scale required for a whole sweater. I’m also not convinced this will be very hard-wearing, given how loosely it’s spun and how easily the halo seems to pull away from the fabric. If I were going to try to make a sweater out of this, I’d try smaller needles (I used US size 6 on this project) and make a fairly tight fabric, to try to reduce abrasion and give it a little body. Alpaca and silk also tend to stretch without springing back, so a sweater would be likely to grow, which knitting at a tighter gauge might also counter, at least a little. This also seems to produce the kind of fabric that might benefit from the structure provided by seams, if I were inclined to knit a garment in this.
But obviously if you’re not me you might be interested in knitting something other than a sweater. I don’t think this is going to be hard-wearing in any context, so it’s probably not the right yarn for a workhorse sturdy item you wear every day. In cold weather it would be lovely snuggled around your neck and ears, so I can see this making an excellent cowl (I especially envision one that’s long enough to wrap around twice, knit generously), with a slightly dressy twist from the sheen. However, you’d probably want to avoid a pattern dependent on wool’s inherent springiness and bounciness (for instance, something that relies on cables’ tendency to pull fabric inwards?), because this is fluffy but neither springy nor bouncy. I also think this would make lovely mitts – not so much actual gloves or mittens to wear in nasty weather as fingerless mitts to wear indoors in the winter or air-conditioning. That’s maybe not very practical either, in terms of wear, but they’d be so light and soft and warm, and not require very much yarn, that I think I wouldn’t even care.
Rather than swatch – which would let me give you some information about gauge, though it feels like a thicker fingering to me – I dove straight in to 28’s Cousin 53!. This is a free pattern for (as you have seen) a fingering-weight scarf with a little bit of simple texture from garter stitch ridges, yarnovers, and ribbing. It’s a pretty design and the pattern was clear and straightforward (although I’ll admit I chose it mostly because of the amount of yarn it required – I wanted to use as much of the skein as I could). It makes strategic use of straightforward knit-front-and-back increases to create a close-to-crescent shape without short rows, so would be a good beginning project.
(So, I mentioned I wanted to get as much out of the skein as I could? I actually ended a couple of rows short of the pattern – and in fact, I ran out of yarn with something like 20 stitches left to bind off. The HORROR. So I hacked my knitting: I have been knitting another sweater from Lindy Chain, another Knit Picks yarn, in Ivy. Ivy is a dark green… pretty much the exact same dark green as Diadem Emerald. I thought, eh, no one will ever notice, and finished binding off with a piece of the Lindy Chain. Which is a cotton-linen blend chainette yarn with a texture about as different from Diadem as you can get, but I figured, for a free scarf I can’t complain. The overexposed pic shows where the patch is, but in ordinary light it’s pretty hard to see.)
(Thanks again, Knit Picks!)