Monday, January 6, 2014

Top Ten

The start of the year seems like a good time to assess the big picture--in life, and in knitting. So, I'm using today's post to make a list of my top ten favourite yarns. This is by no means a definitive list. It's based on what's readily available to me as a Canadian knitter in a small city. (I should point out to American readers that mail order in Canada is relatively expensive because we don't have flat shipping charges--everything gets weighed. Also, mail order from outside Canada is subject to high duties and, even for those goods covered by NAFTA, high taxes. This is why you won't find any Quince & Co. yarns on this list, even though I'm pretty sure I'd love them.) I shop at yarn stores in my region of Eastern Ontario, all the way from Merrickville in the east to Picton in the west, and I make occasional trips to Toronto and to events such as the Knitters' Frolic and Rhinebeck. Knitters should be aware that when a designer publishes something in a magazine, the yarn choice is made by the editor(s) and is based on the publication's list of advertisers. That means that some amazing yarns in the "classic" category don't get much attention on the pages of your favourite magazine. Also be aware that some of these same yarns may not get a lot of shelf space in your LYS, because they don't generate as much excitement sitting on the shelf as a skein of hand-dyed merino, unless it's the sort of shop that displays beautiful store models of finished designs that inspire you to buy sweater quantities of said classic yarn.
Enough said. Here's my list.
1. Galway Classic Heather. Have a look at my Wakefield Redux to see this wool in action. It comes in a ton of complex shades, knits at 4.5 sts per inch, is fairly soft when worn next to the skin, wears extremely well, and has great stitch definition.
2. Ella Rae Classic and Classic Heather. Same remarks as for Galway, except this knits at 5 sts per inch. I used this for my Downtown jacket, inspired by Downton Abbey. The photos of the jacket don't do this yarn justice. It drapes softly and feels luscious. I'm not much of a felter, but I can tell you that when felted (fulled?) this wool creates a delightfully nubbly texture.
3. Berroco Ultra Alpaca. This is REALLY soft against the skin and offers the best of wool and alpaca in amazing colours. I used it for my Tumnus scarf and I'm about to start a new Downtown jacket in it. Comes in three weights, but I love the worsted best.
4. Green Mountain Spinnery's Mountain Mohair. The great thing about this yarn is that it works at an incredible range of gauges (3 1/2 to 6 sts per inch). The blues and purples are fantastic. If you love corals and oranges (I look awful in them), there are some beauties here.
5. Cascade Ecological Wool and Eco+. Ignore the label on this wool. It knits up best at 4 sts per inch. My upcoming pattern, Wheatsheaves, is knitted in it. It's soft, and comes in a huge array of undyed and dyed colours. Be prepared to clean up your garment after the first few outings with a lint shaver. Worth it, though.
6. Peace Fleece. This is not an especially soft yarn (a mix of wool and mohair, for most colours), but the colours are simply breathtaking and, like most hardier wools, it wears very well, with almost no pilling. It has a lovely halo after washing. I made the prototype for Harriet's Jacket in Siberian Midnight.
7. Briggs and Little sport weight. This is one of the most overlooked wools for warm shawl knitting. My MacKay shawl is made in this. Note that it comes in over 40 shades! and is cheap, cheap, cheap! One of the best buys out there.
8. Green Mountain Spinnery's Sylvan Spirit. This is a dk-weight wool/tencel blend with subtle sheen and nice drape. My Lucy scarf was knitted in "Sterling".
9. Lanett Babyull. A superwash that doesn't misbehave. This is what my blue/grey "Brookline" is made from. Just don't do what I did and use it for socks. There's a reason why they tell you to avoid pure merino, with no nylon added--mine lasted for about half a season as bedsocks before the heels went.
10. Kauni Effektgarn. Feels like shetland, but knits up into beautiful fair isle and lace pieces without the need for multiple skeins of wool. For inspiration, check out some of the gorgeousness on Ravelry. Hmm, maybe it's time for me to do another fair isle piece...

The above list is comprised only of commercially available yarns. However, I must say up front that my most favourite yarn of all is my own handspun. Both my Buttonbox and Zora designs were knitted from yarn I spun with my own hands. To my surprise, my handspun doesn't pill as much as commercially spun yarn, and both my spindle-spun and wheel-spun wools have been a joy to knit with and to wear.

Today is a day for crunching the numbers for Wheatsheaves. Yesterday I took a time out to play a little with Briggs and Little's new "Lite and Fancy", a handpainted softspun sport weight wool.

The jury's still out on this. I have to finish the swatch and block it. So, what are your favourite yarns?


  1. Lately I have really enjoyed knitting with Paton's Classic Wool. It knits up with good stitch definition, it comes in lots of nice traditional colors, and it is very economical. Also love Briggs and Little Tuffy for heavy winter socks. I have made several projects using O-Wool Legacy DK and it is wonderful. I believe the company that makes it has been purchased by another company and it now has a different name, though the wool is supposed to be the same. I love Malabrigo sock yarn for shawls; I'm not sure how well it would wear as socks. The Fibre Company's Acadia is luscious, but a bit pricey for me. I've made several nice cowls out of it. I like the Cascade Eco Wool too, although I can't say I love the Cascade 220 as much as many seem to love it, although I do love the colors it comes in. I find it pills constantly. --Ann

  2. Thanks, this list is very helpful as a Kingstonian. Where do you purchase the Ultra Alpaca and Peace Fleece?

  3. I get Ultra Alpaca online from Eweknit in Toronto and Peace Fleece from Camilla Valley Farm or direct from Maine.