Yarns to Love
Yarn Detective: Got GOTS (Certification)?
The last time we visited, I talked about Neighborhood Fiber Company’s Organic Studio line’s semi-solid dyeing style, which makes gorgeously dappled knitted fabric.
But what about the yarn itself? Yes, I’m going to talk basic yarn construction, but also about the decision that Karida Collins made to move her line of merino yarns from superwash merino to GOTS-certified organic washable merino. It’s a mouthful, but it makes a noticeable contribution to our environment, the sheep that grow our wool, and the lives of textile workers.
GOTS is the GOAT
Here’s the lowdown on GOTS-certified anything.
GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard. It is a global organic certification that has four key features. If you want to know more about how GOTS pertains to clothing and yarn, you can go to their very informative website, or watch this great summary video.
Briefly, here’s what GOTS certification means for wool yarn.
Organic fibers. The sheep must be raised where no synthetic chemicals are used to control pests or weeds where they graze, or in any hay they eat. Grain must be free of the same synthetic chemicals and must not be grown from GMO seed.
Ecological and social criteria. Sheep must be raised in a way that maintains soil fertility and biodiversity, and shorn in a humane manner. The people who raise these sheep and process their wool into yarn must be free of discrimination and harassment in their work environment. Child labor is not allowed. Employees are to work in safe and healthy conditions, and not come into contact hazardous chemicals (such as in most chemical superwash processes). They must be paid a living wage.
All processing stages. A yarn that GOTS certifies has met all of these criteria through the whole processing arc, from sheep to yarn.
Third-party certification. Regular inspections are performed through all stages of the process. Both inspections and certifications are done by independent third-party GOTS-accredited certification bodies. This makes it hard if not impossible for certifications to be falsified.
It’s a lot, but when I read that list, I think about how many people’s and animals’ lives and how much of the environment this certification touches and improves.
The Debut Pullover from MDK Field Guide No. 18, in GOTS-certified Organic Studio DK from Neighborhood Fiber Company.
Why did Karida do it?
I am nearly tragically curious. I wanted to know more about these yarns, so I called up Karida and asked her all of the questions. Please know that if I ever talk to you, I will ask at least 100 questions.
Karida is known as a leader in the fiber world for taking a stand to make a difference. Since 2015, Neighborhood Fiber Company has been raising and donating money to support disaster relief, refugee assistance, gun control and reproductive rights. You might have heard and maybe contributed to the NFC Momentum Fund, which in 2020 raised more than $100,000 in support of organizations that are working to mitigate the effects of systemic racism, and support Black communities in the Baltimore area.
Neighborhood Fiber Company does not do things half way. When Karida turned her mind to the environment, she realized the place her company could make difference is with water. The process of making and dyeing yarn uses a lot of water and many chemicals. NFC is not an organic dye house, they still use acid dyes, but moving away from the superwash process for their merino yarns has a huge and positive effect on our waterways, and on the people who make the yarns.
During her research she asked the mill that supplies her undyed yarn for a machine washable organic merino yarn. The mill sourced the GOTS-certified organic, machine washable merino, which does much more than eliminate the superwash process. Karida, who considers her mill a partner in her business, ordered hundreds of pounds sight unseen, and has never looked back.
The diagonal mitts from MDK Field Guide No. 18, in GOTS-certified Organic Studio sock from Neighborhood Fiber Company.
How is it different from superwash?
The yarn takes longer to absorb dye, but Karida can still get the vibrant and saturated colors that NFC is known for. She says it has less slip when knitting with it and it just feels more like wool. I agree 100%. These yarns feel woolly, hold their shape much better, and can be knit at a wider range of gauges than superwash yarns.
But can you machine wash it, really?
The yarn is treated in a super seeekret, GOTS-approved way to be machine washable. Karida says it’s magic and that no one will say what the process is.
Here’s what I’ve found: You can’t treat this yarn like a conventional superwash. Wash it in a machine on a cool, delicate cycle, or the fancy wool cycle some machines have now. Lay it flat to dry. Don’t put it in the dryer.
Tell me about the yarn
I have four weights of Organic Studio Chunky in Belair, Worsted in Truxton Circle, DK in Bolton Hill, and Sock in Canton. You’ve seen them knit in stockinette in my piece on the glories of semi solid dyeing.
Let’s talk about construction. All four yarns are worsted spun and have multiple plies, with different ply structures for each yarn.
The DK is a 3-ply and Chunky is a 6-ply. They are plied with a moderate twist to keep stitches tidy, to help keep the yarns from pilling, and to keep the squishy softness that we love about merino.
Organic Studio Sock and Organic Studio Worsted are another matter when it comes to plies. They are both yarns made up of multiple, fine 2-ply yarns. Sock is an 8-ply yarn, made up of four 2-ply yarns that are then plied together. Studio Worsted is a 4-ply yarn made up of two 2-ply yarns.
Remember that anytime a yarn is plied, it introduces a bit of air into the yarn. This double plying process has twice the air of a regular ply. For Organic Studio Sock, that air allows a tighter twist to be used for durability, and the yarn remains soft. For Organic Studio Worsted, the extra air makes a bigger yarn without adding more plies; the air takes up the space an extra ply or two would occupy in a regularly plied yarn. It results in a lighter yarn that has great stitch definition, which we all appreciate when knitting a worsted weight sweater. This is a little bit of magic too—I can see why Karida holds her mill in such high esteem.
You can see how all of these yarns work equally well with both cable and lace patterns. I’ve knit each one at the bigger end of their suggested gauge range. I wish you could touch them; the stitch definition is great, and the fabric is still soft with some drape, but not the slack feel of conventionally processed superwash merino.
I washed all of the swatches in my machine in cool water, on the delicate cycle, and pinned them out to dry. There was absolutely no fuzzing on the surface of the swatches.
I definitely have new yarns for my desert island yarn stash. I would knit anything out of these yarns and be satisfied with both my project and the good these yarns do for our environment.