One of the most important decisions in creating a new yarn line is what fiber combo to use. Most dyers use merino or some combination of merino along with nylon or cashmere or even silk. When winding, dyeing and knitting the many options, I found one to be a stand out for what I was looking for in Poste Yarn. And it doesn't include merino wool. Instead, I chose a superwash Corriedale wool and nylon blend that we skein in-studio. Why Corriedale? I've invited journalist and designer Lara Neel answer that question. She's a much better writer than I could ever hope to be, so I'll pass the podium over her.
The Case for Corriedale
I blame Clara Parkes for my Corriedale obsession.
It started out small. I bought one precious skein of Corriedale at a small fiber festival on the weekend that I graduated from college. I was trying to be “good” and not buy anything, since all of my worldly goods had to fit into a single car, but I couldn’t resist this one bouncy, lovely skein that was about worsted-weight.
Eventually, I knit a scarf out of it, to help take the edge off of my stress levels in graduate school. The resulting scarf, while soft enough to wear against my neck, has stood up to regular wear for about 10 years with no complaints or pills.
I love it.
When I read The Knitter's Book of Socks, Clara Parkes deepened my obsession by mentioning that Corriedale should knock Merino down a peg or two off of its super-hegemony over sock yarn...or maybe that's just how I interpreted what she wrote.*
In Marilyn Kluger’s The Joy of Spinning, Corriedale is listed as a crossbreed-wool breed, among Columbia, Panama, Romeldale and Targhee. Kluger notes that wool from these five breeds has a “Long, silky fiber; good for beginners.” Of the five, Corriedale is the easiest to find as a spinning fiber. It’s not impossible to find in yarn form, but, generally, most commercially-available yarn in the United States that isn’t marketed simply as “wool” is identified as “Merino.”
Sources of Corriedale yarn tend to be small, family-run farms. If you don’t like buying yarn, sight-unseen, from the internet, fiber festivals can be great sources of Corriedale yarn. I can’t recommend that course of action strongly enough. We need those farmers and they need us.
However, sock yarn that is identified as Corriedale is hard to come by, unless you are a handspinner, know a handspinner or want to pay a handspinner to make it for you. According to Clara Parkes (yes, again), in The Knitter’s Book of Wool, generic “wool” is a blend of all of the fleeces available, usually chosen for softness. “...any unique traits of specific breeds have likely been toned down for the greater good of the blend.”
The yarn you’ve been buying for years might have a high concentration of Corriedale in it, but you’ll never know about it. I hereby confess that one of the reasons I finally said “yes” to learning to spin is because I couldn’t think of a way to force my sister to spin nothing but Corriedale yarn for me for the rest of her days. When I’m obsessed, I don’t fool around.
I’m not claiming there’s anything at all wrong with Merino. But, there are reasons to consider the idea that Corriedale may very well be the perfect wool breed for socks.
Corriedale comes from crossing Merino sheep with longwool sheep, like Lincoln and English Leicester, according to Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics. So, it gets the most of the softness of Merino with the toughness of longwools. The staple length is about the same as for Merino, which helps it spin into a strong yarn. It has about half as many crimps per inch, though. In my experience, this leads to a yarn with more body and heft, and the yarn doesn’t have to be spun as tightly as Merino to hold together. Corriedale also reflects light a little more than Merino, although it doesn’t have the luster of a material like silk.
This all leads me to a yarn I was recently asked to test. A Corriedale/nylon sock yarn. Hand-dyed, superwash, self-striping Corriedale sock yarn, at that. I jumped at the chance, and cast on the night that I got the yarn.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here are my notes.
It was love at first sight. The yarn is spun into a three-ply, which gives it a very round, bouncy feel. The slight halo on the yarn bloomed a little when I washed the socks. There were a few stitches that looked irregular as I knit it and I did have some slightly loose stitches at the points in-between my double-pointed needles (which is probably all my fault), but they all evened out in the wash. The fabric became softer and draped a little more, too. Gauge did not change with washing. I hung the socks to dry, since that’s how I dry socks, and they didn’t stretch out, as some superwash socks do.
Photo by Lara Neel
The yarn is dyed to be self-striping and created stripes that were about half an inch high in my sock. The colors were deep and beautiful in the skein, and the fabric didn’t bleed in the wash. I love the slight color variations within the colors, that show up as a hand-dyed sense of depth. There were no knots or white spots in my skein.
It’s been warm here, so I haven’t worn the socks yet, but the feel of the fabric, especially in heel stitch, is dense without being stiff. I think they will last for a very long time.
I admit I did “torture” the bottom of the toe of one of the socks a little, just to see what it would do. With warm water and soap, I rubbed the fabric together, hard, to see what would happen. There was no pilling and, actually, you can’t tell which one I messed with now.
I am thrilled to pieces that this fantastic yarn is being dyed right around the corner.
The Source for this Fantastic Yarn
Simply Socks Yarn Company's new Poste Yarn
Sources of Information
Field, Ann. Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics. North Pomfret: Trafalgar Square Books. 2010.
Kluger, Marilyn. The Joy of Spinning. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1971.
Parkes, Clara. The Knitter's Book of Socks: The Yarn Lover's Ultimate Guide to Creating Socks That Fit Well, Feel Great, and Last a Lifetime. New York: Potter Craft. 2011.
Parkes, Clara. The Knitter's Book of Wool: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Using, and Loving this Most Fabulous Fiber. New York: Potter Craft. 2009.
*Clara confirmed my impression by answering my tweet about it. I just about died.