Yarn Review: Pacifica Company’s Zephyr DK

Back in the fall sometime, on Twitter, I took notice of a campaign to fund a new American yarn company – Pacifica Yarn Company, by Argyle Sheep. In addition to supporting the American textile industry by sourcing, dyeing, spinning, and packaging their yarn in America, Pacifica Yarn Company wanted to produce garment-quality yarns for warm climate knitters:

The goal is to create yarns that can be knit with every single day of the year regardless of the weather.

We’re a team of Southern California knitters who understand that although alpaca is lovely and soft, it’s just not practical for our temperate climate. Even 100% wool yarns can be too much to bear during much of the year. But cellulose yarns like cotton and bamboo lack the spring and life of their wooly counterparts.

We love knitting and wanted to create an affordable yarn that feels great against the skin, like a warm breeze on a cool summer evening.

I mean, you knew they had me at warm-climate knitting, right?

So I forked over by $15 to support this endeavor, in return for one skein of their first yarn, Zephyr DK, which arrived in December. I promise you their 16 colors are lovely, even though I chose Ink (black/gray).

24467607935_c8402f868e_oI’m afraid I didn’t take a picture of the skein until after winding it and swatching, so this is what’s left – you’ll have to imagine it showing up in classic skein form.

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Zephyr DK is a woolen-spun yarn made of 55% Texas wool and 45% California cotton. It’s spun in Wisconsin and dyed in Maine, and Argyle Sheep describes it as follows:

Zephyr DK is woolen spun, meaning the fibers remain in a lofty jumble that traps air, reminiscent of an ocean breeze. Its three plies are lightly twisted to preserve its buoyant quality, while maintaining a sprightly bounce. It was specifically designed for making garments that are comfortable to wear in temperate climates.

This woolen-spun yarn has an adaptable gauge, which can compress to a tight sport weight or grow into a light, drapey fabric when worked on large needles. Zephyr DK has a soft but dry hand and a slightly rustic nature; woolen spinning can result in small variations of thickness, and you’ll find the occasional speck of vegetable matter, which shows this yarn is never treated with harsh chemicals.

Comprised of a modern palette with 16 colors, Zephyr Dk has a lightly heathered appearance due to the wool and cotton taking the dye at different levels. This creates a muted, variagated colorway that will bring depth and visual interest to your finished garments.

Garments knit from Zephyr DK realize their full potential after a wet blocking, as each stitch relaxes and bonds with its neighbors to produce an even, light, soft fabric.

Zephyr DK is designed to be a workhorse yarn with incredible stitch definition, perfect for textural patterns or plain old stockinette. We think it’s ideal for sweaters of every variety and warm weather accessories.

I wouldn’t normally quote someone else at such length in what is supposed to be my ownreview of this yarn, but I found the above to be so accurate that there didn’t seem to be much point in trying to paraphrase.

In the skein, it feels matte, dry, and a little bit stiff. It does have a rustic, heathered look, from the combination of fibers, and is very light – much lighter than most DK cottons I’ve used. I wound it, dug out some size 8 needles, and swatched: stockinette to measure gauge, a random lace pattern, a couple of cables, a little moss stitch, and then a brief bit of ribbing.

24441358726_6561cf96fe_oThis picture is a little over-exposed – I’m still figuring out my new camera – so the color appears a little lighter than it actually is; the picture of the wound yarn above is more accurate.

I started with some KnitPicks Caspian needles, which are (very pretty teal and turquoise and blue) wood, because they’re one of the two size 8s I have, and they’re beautifully sharp. However, I found this yarn a bit too sticky for knitting on wood – I am a tight-ish knitter who prefers speedy, slick needles, and the Zephyr was a bit slow on the Caspians. I switched to Chiagoo Red Lace needles, which are lovely smooth stainless steel, and had no further problems.You can see the relatively loose plies in this yarn, but I didn’t have a problem with splitting the yarn, even with my sharp lace needles (however, I am devoted to sharp tips so you may find a blunter tip preferable with this yarn).

The yarn was relatively stiff on the needles, without a great deal of stretch, but not unpleasant to work with. The lesser elasticity would probably make complex lace a bit more difficult, but then, the weight and appearance of this yarn isn’t suitable for really elaborate lace patterns anyway; I just picked something relatively simple from a web stitch dictionary (Wave stitch) to give a sense of how lace would look.

23839359984_63805e009c_oAgain, a little overexposed.

I was too lazy to try the yarn on different sized needles, but the stockinette fabric I got on the size 8s was a nice balance between drapey and tight, at 17 1/4 stitches and 27 rows per 4″ (the tag suggests you will get a gauge of 4.5 stitches to the inch on size 8 needles, or 18 stitches per 4″). It passed Amy Herzog’s sweater fabric test, in that you certainly can’t poke your finger through it. It’s probably more on the drapey side, so you could go down a needle size or so if you wanted a somewhat sturdier, more independent kind of fabric.

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I threw in a couple of cables to see what the stitch definition was like, and while this is a more rustic yarn with what I’d called brushed edges, rather than sharply defined, the cables show up very nicely, even in this darker color.

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And here’s the seed stitch and ribbing (color is a bit more accurate at this angle). I think you’d want to go down a needle size or two to get much elasticity out of your ribbing, but then, I usually need to do that with whatever yarn I’m using.

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As I noted above, it felt a little stiff and rough in the skein, but it softens up a great deal when blocked. (I’m afraid I didn’t measure to see whether the gauge changed after blocking – my apologies.) The stitches bloom a little bit and stitch patterns become more cohesive. I haven’t done enough of a wear test to comment on pilling, but I have given the swatch some vigorous rubbing, which seems to lead to a tiny bit of cotton-based fuzz, but overall seems quite durable.

If pressed, I’d say it feels much more like wool than cotton. Although it has that bit of stiffness in the skein, and the resulting fabric isn’t quite as springy or stretchy as wool, it’s also very light, with the matte softness of woollen-spun yarn.

I stuck the swatch in the neck of my shirt and wore it there for a few hours and found it decently comfortable. You have to keep in mind that I am a bit of a pretty pretty princess when it comes to woolly wool, and even apart from the warm-climate thing, tend to stick to plant fibers because I find most wool prickly (except baby soft merino and superwash). This is not superwash, and while I don’t know what breed “Texas wool” is, it’s clearly something sheepier and more rustic than merino. I can definitely feel some prickle, but it’s much more wearable for me than most wools. It’s also only been washed the once, for blocking, so may well continue to soften up as it gets washed and worn.

What I really like about this yarn is that it provides a warmer-weather alternative to the more rustic, sheepy (often breed-specific) yarns that are very popular right now, and (in my experience) are really really hard to duplicate in plant fibers. Although my personal experience with these yarns is limited, it reminds me a bit of Brooklyn Tweed’s Loft and Shelter (or maybe Harrisville Design’s line). You don’t get the same variety of shades within a single colorway as you see in the 100% wool yarns, but you do get a heathered depth of color that seems hard to reproduce in purely plant-based yarns. Although Brooklyn Tweed patterns are written for fingering- and worsted-weight yarns and Zephyr is DK, so the patterns wouldn’t translate directly, Zephyr would work well in patterns with a similar aesthetic to Brooklyn Tweed – textured, rustic, woolly. It would be particularly great for those big sweaters involving quite a lot of yarn – waterfall cardigans or sweater coats or the like – that you don’t want to knit in cotton or silk or bamboo, because you know by the end of the day the weight of the yarn will have stretched the sweater down to your knees.

For me, the slightly ironic consequence of this is that while Zephyr is intended as a warm-weather yarn, I think it would look particularly good in very wintry kinds of sweaters or scarves – substantial, with lots of cables or ribbing or other texture. So maybe it’s most suitable for garments to wear when it’s seasonally winter, but that’s still not very cold where you live? I think it would also make lovely fingerless mitts, but may need a bit more elasticity to work for hats (I don’t think it would be great for socks, for the same reason, but would have to defer to sock knitters on that one).

All in all, Pacifica Yarn Company has produced a really nice yarn in Zephyr DK. I hope their future endeavors continue to enjoy success, and that the crowdfunding method works to support this enterprise. Their next project is supposed to be another warm-weather yarn, in 100% wool this time, again in DK, called Indian Summer, and I may have to back that campaign as well, to see how it turns out. Purely selfishly, I would love love LOVE to see them make a fingering weight yarn (but not everyone may be as devoted to fingering-weight sweaters as I am).

Has anyone else tried Zephyr DK? What do you think?

 

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Stratum part 2: swatching

So, swatching:

I have, a little reluctantly, come to accept the importance of swatching. I say “reluctantly” because like all devotees of immediate gratification, when I decide I want to cast on a project, I WANT TO CAST ON THE PROJECT. I also tend to knit more to get a finished object than for the sake of enjoying the process, and a swatch is not a finished object that gives me pleasure. But since I’ve been knitting mostly sweaters, the amount of time and effort that goes into a sweater pretty much demands that you swatch. I don’t really mind erring on the side of something being too large, since I don’t favor the sweater girl look, but of course that’s when, absent swatching, the sweater invariably ends up too small.

I’m still probably not the world’s most responsible swatcher, though. My swatches are often a little too small, I tend to swatch knitting flat even when I’ll be knitting the sweater in the round, I’m lazy about even counting row gauge, and I can’t guarantee I don’t fudge the numbers (I’ll definitely measure in three different places and pick the number I like best). For my Dalyla sweater, I swatched on metal needles and then knit the whole thing on wood ones (from a completely different brand) because when I cast on the length of the metal needles just wasn’t right.

However, I do at least wash the swatch. Because before I knit a whole sweater, I really want to see what’s going to happen to the fabric once it takes that nice bath. And washing swatches is so much less effort than washing whole sweaters, and swatches dry quickly, too. (Well, here, everything dries quickly!)

For Stratum, swatching was a little different: not only did I want to figure out my gauge, but I needed to see all my different color possibilities together.

I had decided that for the main color, I was going to use a lovely gray hand-dyed sock yarn by Knitting Rose Yarns. I bought it at a yarn festival on a snowy spring day in Taos, NM, without any specific project in mind, but I had figured four skeins of fingering weight would be enough to make something wearable.

(That particular yarn festival makes me laugh because I was living in Albuquerque at the time, and I can’t remember where I saw the notice of the festival, but I did, and thought, “Great! A lovely scenic drive to Taos, good food, and an afternoon wandering through yarn stalls and the like!” So the weekend came and I got in my car and drove the couple of hours up to Taos. I made my way to the town center and was surprised at how little traffic there was and how much parking was available. I parked, got out of the car, went to the venue…and there was no yarn festival. I had got the date wrong. Thankfully I was too early, and the correct date was the following week. So I ate some fish tacos at the Taos Diner, then turned around and drove home, and came back the following weekend, when the clear sunshine in Albuquerque gave way to snow flurries up in Taos, but it was all a lot of fun anyway.)

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, colors. The options for the stripes were Cephalopod Yarn’s Skinny Bugga in Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (a variegated green-purple mix); a reddish-purple tonal sock yarn that I’d bought at a different yarn festival in Taos; and Madelinetosh’s tosh merino light in Georgia O’Keeffe (a greeny-black). I didn’t have enough of the light gray (tosh merino in Astrid Gray) to use for the stripes, but swatched it anyway out of curiosity.

Then I used the iPhone filter to switch the photo to black and white, to check the contrast.

 photo 1 (5)

I think the monochrome trick is everywhere now, but I learned it when I signed up for – though did not complete – Stephen West’s most recent Mystery Shawl KAL, Color Exploration. That pattern uses four colors and there was very helpful discussion in the Ravelry group about how to choose colors with sufficient contrast to work together in a finished object, including the tip about checking how they look in black and white.

(I got really excited about the KAL and bought yarn and bought the pattern and cast on and enjoyed the first clue or so, and then I got bogged down in the brioche stitch section and remembered that I really don’t ever wear shawls and frogged the thing and made a t-shirt with the yarn instead. It is a lovely lovely shawl, though, and the pattern was great, and the Ravelry group dedicated to the KAL was very friendly, so I highly recommend the whole thing.)

Back to my swatch: the Astrid Gray (which I wasn’t going to be using) is sort of tolerable, the Georgia O’Keeffe is very high contrast, and the Taos purple is at least clearly a different color, especially in the darker places. But the Skinny Bugga was a wash, and in fact, I’m fascinated at how much it drops out of view entirely. The green and brown tones offer some decent contrast, but the dominant blue-ish purple is virtually invisible.

You can see the same thing happens with the narrow stripes – the Georgia O’Keeffe pops (though it’s mostly hidden in the folds at the top), the purple Taos is fine, and, again, the Skinny Bugga almost vanishes.

 photo 2 (3)

The leafy green is Tosh Mo Light in Leaf, which, oddly, seems to contrast more strongly with the main color in monochrome than it does in color; there’s clearly some kind of contrast going on, but it just didn’t work for me as an option.

(Also, the top of the swatch is so messy because I was swatching in the round to do the single stripes, and leaving big loops of yarn in the back rather than cutting. I really like Ysolda’s tutorial here.)

Now, clearly contrast is better than the stripes vanishing into the body of the sweater, but the Georgia O’Keeffe just looked too harsh and high-contrast-y to me. I was hoping to end up with slightly more subtle stripes (I don’t really need to emphasize the horizontality of this sweater), so I started by using the Taos purple for the stripes.

purple

And that was…fine. (Please ignore the double row of purple above the garter stitch, which was an error.)

But I also have a couple of skeins of Georgia O’Keeffe from a different dyelot, which, like the skein I swatched, are a blackened-teal-green with hints of gray and brown, but are much lighter than the skein I used to swatch (which I had used because it was already wound and the other skeins weren’t and I’m lazy). And I kept wondering what those lighter skeins would look like.

So I gave in and wound one and did a teeny tiny swatch of single stripes, just to see how the colors worked, and decided that they looked much nicer – different enough to provide contrast, but a bit subtler. (This combo also received the spousal nod of approval over the purple.) So I ripped back the purple and tried again with the Georgia O’Keeffe, and ended up with this:

green

So onward I travel with Georgia O’Keeffe. I am still currently plowing through the A-line skirt, working the decreases that give it its shape (I was going to say “plowing through the miles of stockinette in the A-line skirt,” but then, the whole sweater appears to be miles of stockinette, so that didn’t seem a very helpful description. That’s not a criticism; I love miles of stockinette).

Although I definitely couldn’t have got this far without swatching, I am still very curious to see the how the sweater will look when finished. Between the difference in scale between a swatch and a sweater, the shape of this sweater, and the changing width of the stripes at the yoke, the final result still remains a bit of a mystery. Swatching definitely helped me eliminate the bad options, but I’m still not sure that the result is a good option, or just the best of the limited options I allowed myself. Pulling this all out of my stash means there’s no guilt about having spent money on something that might turn out wrong, so if it’s not what I want in the end, all I’ve lost is time. And the anticipation is fun.