To me working with novelty yarns is like visiting a playground—these yarns are fun and sometimes a little silly. Remember that feeling when it was time for recess?
I grabbed six yarns that looked like fun (at my LYS Spun in Ann Arbor, Michigan—Sa-lute!), I took them apart to study them, and then I knit them into swatches. I had an inkling of what would happen in each case, but there were plenty of surprises.
Come on, it’s time for recess—I’ll race you to the playground.
Look at these yarns they are so much fun—wiggly, squishy-looking, soft, and 100% peculiar in the best way.
What makes each one of these yarns unique is how they are manipulated when they are plied or constructed. You can see it when you look at individual strands—there are loops, different sized threads, squiggles, and fuzz.
I took them all apart so you can see how they are built. I never get tired of the voyage of discovery that is picking apart yarns. I know I can make these yarns on my spinning wheel, but it amazes me what big commercial spinning and twisting machines can do.
Fiber: 41% Baby Alpaca, 41% Merino Wool, 18% Nylon
Ply: 6, manipulated
Recommended Gauge: 15 stitches to 4” on US 8/5mm
Yardage: 140 yards / 50 grams (1.75 ounces)
Grist for a plain XL sweater (1,000 yards): 12.5 ounces
Flette Bulky (Woolfolk)—Right
Fiber: 100% Ovis 21 Ultimate Merino®
Ply: 2, manipulated
Recommended Gauge: 10–12 stitches to 4” on US 10 or 11/6–8mm
Yardage: 131 yards / 120 meters / 100 grams (3.5 ounces)
Grist for a plain XL sweater (800 yards): 21 ounces
Both yarns are called bouclé, which is French for “buckle.” They have two things in common: their strands aren’t the same size, and they are plied using uneven tension. Most commercial yarns are plied with all plies under the same amount of tension; this helps to create the smoothness we love.
The one on the left is Pirouette, and is made up of three pairs of plies, six plies total. You can see that each pair is made up of a thin smooth yarn and a thicker fuzzier yarn. The thicker yarn is plied onto the thin yarn in a motion that creates tiny loops. The three pairs are then plied together to lock those loops into place. Both the looping and the pairing create a lot of space and air in the yarn.
Flette Bulky is made of two strands of very different sizes, one smooth and thread-fine and one lofty and close to worsted weight. The strands are plied at extremely different tensions, the finer thread is held taunt and the fluffy strand is spiraled around it at a looser tension. When hand spinners make a yarn similar to this it’s called a spiral ply. This type of ply structure allows the softer strand to bloom and buckle.
Break the Chainettes
Fiber: 55% Ovis 21 Ultimate Merino® and 45% Organic Pima Cotton
Ply: Chainette / fleece blown in
Recommended Gauge: 14–11 stitches to 4” on US 10 or 11 / 6–8 mm
Yardage: 109 yards / 50 gram (1.75 ounces)
Grist for a plain XL sweater (900 yards): 14 ounces
Fiber: 100% Ovis 21 Ultimate Merino®
Recommended Gauge: 16–17.5 stitches to 4” on US 6–8 / 4–5 mm
Yardage: 142 yards / 50 grams (1.75 ounces)
Grist for a plain XL sweater (1,400 yards): 17 ounces
Luft on the left is a crazy fun construction; I’m it seeing a lot more in commercial yarn. It’s made up of a tube of fine chainette (resembling i-cord) that’s filled with fiber. The fiber is blown in, like filling a stuffie at Build-a Bear. This creates a thicker yarn that is remarkably light, and also fuzzy.
Far is chainette too, but it’s made from a thicker strand, and the tube is not filled. Knit up, it has an interesting texture and is also light.
Of Crepes and Corsets
Fiber: 75% Fine Highland Wool, 25% Alpaca
Spin: Worsted, manipulated
Recommended Gauge: 20–22 stitches = 4″ on 6 US / 4mm
Yardage: 175 yds / 160 m, 1.76 oz / 50g
Grist for a plain XL sweater (1,500 yards): 15 ounces
Fiber: 100% superwash Merino
Spin: worsted, manipulated
Recommended Gauge: 9 stitches to 4 inches on US 13–19 or 9–15mm
Yardage: 90 yards / 150 grams (5.3 ounces)
Grist for a plain XL sweater (650 yards): 38 ounces
Surprise! These two yarns are made exactly the same way. I wanted to show the difference size makes—Nest is a DK and Caracol is a super bulky.
In the spinning world, this yarn is a called a bubble crepe, and some folks call it a corset yarn (because of how a larger ply is squeezed with the criss-crosses—spinners are fun!). A bubble crepe is made of three plies—two fine threads and one bigger, looser spun yarn. In the case of Caracol the bigger yarn is thick and thin, giving more texture.
The bigger yarn and one thread are plied tightly in one direction, and then that tightly plied 2-ply yarn is plied again with the second thread in the opposite direction from the original ply. The change in direction loosens the first tighter ply, allowing the bigger yarn to fluff while the fine threads burrow into the fluff giving it a captured (corseted) texture.
I know, I know, you want to see what they look like knit!
In the MDK Shop
Jillian’s Swatch Funhouse
How many times have you picked up one of these funky yarns in the store and put it back because you had no idea what it would look like knitted? I am here for you; I knit all six in my usual array of stockinette, lace, and texture stitches.
From Left to Right: Luft (Black), Far (Gold), and Nest (Olive)
I knit these all at their suggested gauge, but all of these yarns can absolutely shift gauge. You might be inclined to knit these tighter than the label calls for, but I caution against that. Every single one of these six yarns uses air as an important component—if you knit tighter (and that’s easy to do), you’ll be squeezing the air out, losing the integral puffy and airy texture.
However, because of that air and how the yarns are structured to hold themselves open to maximize the air, these yarns can be delightful knit at a looser-than-suggested gauge.
From Left to Right: Flette bulky (Gray), Pirouette (Ecru), and Caracol (Green Multi)
Because these yarns are soft, looser spun, and knit at a relaxed gauge they are not super-durable yarns, and may be quick to pill if subjected to abrasion. Some yarns are so fuzzy and textured you may not notice the pilling.
The looser gauge these yarns call for could also make them prone to snag. While I would absolutely make an everyday wear sweater out of most of these yarns, I wouldn’t wear the sweater to work in my fall garden.
How about those stitch patterns? These yarns have so much character, some patterns are hard to recognize.
The personality of each of the yarns shines through the best in plain stockinette. Each has a distinct texture. I wet blocked and pinned, and they still want to do their own thing.
I was surprised that Nest and Far weren’t smoother, but not surprised that the Caracol didn’t want to lie perfectly flat. With the three fuzzier yarns, Luft, Flette Bulky and Pirouette, I can see how their looser gauge gets filled with the fuzz and texture of the yarn, adding to the overall structure of the fabric.
Halo fuzz makes the most basic eyelet impossible to see. Those free-fluffing threads just fill up the holes. The Caracol’s varied colorway, and additional thick and thin texture eat up the lace pattern. The stitch pattern swatch of Nest, however, is visible if not clear—Nest has the same construction as Caracol, but less variation in color and texture. In fact, I really like the extra texture and movement Nest gives the eyelet pattern, it looks similar to tufted upholstery. Far, too, gives the stitch pattern a little extra textural oomph that I like.
My biggest surprise with cables is how well they stand up with Luft. I have a huge crush on this yarn knit into cables. Pirouette and Flette Bulky don’t stand up to cables, they make flat cables from a stitch definition point of view, and the busy-ness of the yarn construction overpowers the cables. The rest of the yarns make visible and unique cables. I’m sure the color contributes to it, but the Far in cables looks like it should be part of Viking armor.
These yarns can’t be subbed in for many regular knitting yarns. They do best in simple garments and with plainer stitch patterns, since they are quick to obscure fancier stitches. The time it takes to find the perfect pattern-yarn match is worth every minute—and a lot of fun.