I am a long time Rowan fan, not to the level of Ann and Kay (which is OTT), but I still remember being in my first official “Rowan Stockist” shop (the Yarn Barn in Lawrence, Kansas) and my first Kaffe Fassett knit (the Carpet Jacket from Magazine 18, also my first intarsia). I have the first 45 issues of Rowan Magazine, and a whole lot of vintage Rowan yarn.
Rowan has always made beautiful yarns, but few stop me in my tracks like Felted Tweed. I remember seeing it for the first time in Rowan Magazine 26, then again in number 28. I’m a huge fan of tweed yarns in general, but Felted Tweed is extra special; it’s squishy and fuzzy, and still holds up structurally.
a star is born: Magazines 26 and 28 ushered in the age of Felted Tweed.
These Felted Tweed sweaters from 20 years ago look as fresh as ever.
I know I bought the yarn for at least three of these four sweaters that I love from those two books. Please do not be rude and ask if I knit them. I do believe that our own Ann Shayne knit Olive, the blue number in the upper left. [Editor’s note: It was Kay, but she knit it for Ann, so yeah.]
Felted Tweed is a chimera: It has loft and drape, it’s warm and swingy, and it’s a gauge shifter. I know I’m here to talk construction, not color, but I have to say the colors of Felted Tweed have always been exceptionally beautiful, rich and earthy.
I recently bought three sweaters worth of Felted Tweed. Only one batch has a plan (the red/brown for the Love Note sweater, at a shifted gauge). Who knows when (or, if, to be really honest) I’ll knit them.
I am powerless before Felted Tweed.
I know I’m not alone; Ravelry.com documents more than 30,000 projects using Felted Tweed.
The Yarn: Vital Statistics
Let’s talk about my longtime love.
Felted Tweed contains 50% lightly-felted merino, 25% viscose, and 25% alpaca.
Alpaca is warm (warmer than wool)—that’s the fuzz you see in this yarn. It has a minimal amount of elasticity, but is wonderfully drapey and durable.
Viscose is a plant-based yarn made from cellulose that is pulped and extruded. It has some shine, and a silky feeling; it contributes durability to the yarn. I haven’t seen Felted Tweed being made, but I suspect there is viscose in the tweedy nubbins.
The magic-maker in Felted Tweed is that “lightly-felted merino.” Remember: merino is elastic, soft, and light. Just regular merino combined with the other yarn ingredients would make a fine yarn, but felting it a little is genius. Why?
Regular old merino is happiest when it has a fair amount of twist, or it becomes a pilly mess pretty quickly.
Felting the yarn, even a little, gives it durability and structure without needing the usual merino-level twist, resulting in less fiber per inch. (Hello grist, please come through). The result of lower twist is a soft yarn that is more stable and allows the other fibers to do their thing—especially the alpaca’s touch of drape and fuzz—while staying light as air. The felting keeps the color flecks in place too.
Felted Tweed is drafted worsted. The airiness of this yarn comes from the lighter than usual twist—not from woolen drafting. Worsted drafting helps keep all of the fibers smoothly together.
Felted Tweed is a standard 2-ply yarn, with maybe a little less than the standard ply twist. The structure of this yarn is in those worsted-drafted, felted individual plies. The plying here is for size and durability. When you look at the individual plies you can see the fuzz of the alpaca and that the yarn is lightly-felted: It looks twisted in some spots, and denser and a little matted in others.
Mmmm, mmm good. The grist for this light DK is 105 yards an ounce. or 1,689 yards per pound. This means that when I make Thea Coleman’s Vodka Lemonade cardigan, my size will weigh 12.8 ounces, versus 16.5 ounces and 19 ounces for two of the yarns suggested in the pattern. Bonus: the balls have yardage: It would take me just 7 balls to make my sweater. It’s rare that I buy fewer than a bag (10 balls) for sweaters in my size.
In the MDK Shop
With the softness that the felting gives the yarn, the light twist and the hairy fuzz of the alpaca, and the flecks of color, Felted Tweed doesn’t give the best stitch definition, but it does make a unique fabric.
In stockinette stitch, there is some stitch definition, but the fabric has the loose wild look that 2-ply yarns generally have. The softness of the felting and hairiness of the alpaca further blend the stitches. The fabric has a lot of character; energy moves through the surface.
In lace, the extra structure afforded by the felting keeps the stitches in line, and the two plies help to keep the holes open. The furriness of the alpaca gives the fabric a halo, but doesn’t fill up the lace holes. In lace, this textured yarn looks a little crunchy, but it is so soft and light.
A textured stitch pattern.
The softness of Felted Tweed keeps the profile of textured stitches low. The combination of textured yarn and textured stitches makes gorgeously organic-looking fabric. The layering of the soft yarn in a patterned stitch makes a luxuriously cushy fabric. Knit a little garter stitch and you’ll see what I mean.
Stranded colorwork, in the form of Ann’s Stranded Stripe Throw from Field Guide No. 13.
Colorwork in Felted Tweed is just…sigh. You can see why the Kaffe-Along was so popular and why Kaffe Fassett turns to Felted Tweed again and again for his exuberant colorwork patterns. The halo and relaxed twist cause the colors to blend together at their soft edges like misty water colored memories. Those same properties help the yarns physically cling together, making Felted Tweed a great yarn for a first colorwork project.
It’s a Gauge Shifter!
For such a soft yarn, Felted Tweed does a great job gauge shifting. The swatch on the left is 5.5 stitches to the inch (the gauge recommended on the label) and the swatch on the right is 4 stitches to the inch, the exact gauge for my Love Note sweater. It’s a rare DK weight yarn that can successfully knit to this larger gauge.
It is very interesting to me how consistently inconsistent my knitting is, with the stitches on the right side of the swatches tighter than on the left side. I know it makes some of you twitch, but it doesn’t bother me at all.
One thing to note when shifting to a looser gauge: Even though the fabric holds shape and structure, it will drape more and be more sheer. If you look where the arrows are pointing in the right-hand photo, you can see my little friend’s hand showing thorough in the bottom swatch. It’s something to keep in mind if you are knitting a pullover.
Felted Tweed is a magnificent yarn. It’s interesting, and soft without being limp. The color palette is deep and varied. It has a particular organic quality that lends itself to a huge variety of projects.