Hello, Alchemy.

We are delighted to announce that we now carry two Alchemy yarns: Silken Straw and Sanctuary.

Before we went to market in June, looking for new yarns to bring into the shop, a friend pointed us to Alchemy, a company known for their exquisitely hand-dyed silks and silk blends. That recommendation along with Clara Parkes’ glowing reviews of Alchemy Yarns meant that we had to take a look.

What we saw at Alchemy’s booth at TNNA was a riot of color and texture, a tempting array of unusual yarns and knitted garments. We spoke with Gina and Austin Wilde, the creators of Alchemy Yarns, about their fibers and dyeing process, and were delighted by their passion for both. We were particularly wowed by Silken Straw, a sport weight ribbon made of silk which, yes, feels stiff, like straw. Once Silken Straw has been knit up, washed, and worn, it softens somewhat spectacularly, and drapes in just the way you’d expect from a 100% silk yarn: beautifully. Silken Straw is a yarn like none other, and we’re thrilled to make it available at the Hillsborough Yarn Shop.

Our first Silken Straw project is this White Caps Cowl, a free pattern from the Purl Bee. Anne knit a shortened version, using just half a skein of Silken Straw and one skein of Habu Cotton Nerimaki Slub. The combination of fibers and textures makes an otherwise simple stockinette tube an intriguing accessory. I’ve been playing with color pairs, matching up the Alchemy with the Habu.

Sanctuary is a sport weight wool and silk blend that we ordered in just two colors, for they’re meant to be combined with Silken Straw in Alchemy’s shibori felted patterns. These unexpected wraps are knit in bold color blocks, then felted, which shrinks the parts knit in Sanctuary, but leaves the Silken Straw sections as they were. The result is something very special, a flat rectangle made into a sculptural garment by applying hot water and agitation.

We saw some finished shibori felted pieces at TNNA and had to bring the patterns into the shop, which meant ordering Sanctuary, too. Austin himself helped us select two colors that could go with most any of the ten colors we ordered in Silken Straw.

Come by the shop to see these delightfully unusual yarns from Alchemy! We’re just tickled to have them. Read all about Alchemy Yarns on their website, where they’ve written more about their thoughtful, labor-intensive dyeing process.

Hello, Sincere Sheep.

This past Wednesday, a box arrived at the shop that we’ve been eagerly anticipating since June. We’re proud to announce that we now carry three yarns from Sincere Sheep. Based in Northern California, Sincere Sheep produces naturally dyed yarns from U.S. sourced fibers. We met Brooke at TNNA in June and were blown away by the vivid colors she achieves with natural dyes.

I was the lucky knitter who got to play with a skein of Sincere Sheep Equity Sport while we deliberated at market. The Equity Sport is 100% Rambouillet wool, grown and spun in Buffalo, WY. I read up on Rambouillet wool in Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Book of Wool, a favorite resource, and learned that Rambouillet is a breed of sheep, a relative of Merino known for its soft, springy fiber.

Where Merino stretches and drapes, Rambouillet has a surprising sturdiness, given its softness. I used the Equity Sport to knit a sample fingerless mitt for the shop, a garment it’s well suited to. I also think it would make lovely hats and sweaters.

When we saw that there was an Equity Fingering as well, we had to get both. I think it would be perfect for colorwork projects, or on a bigger needle for draping shawls and cowls.

On the last day of market, we came back to Sincere Sheep to order a third yarn: Luminous, a dk weight blend of Tussah Silk and Polwarth wool. Polwarth is another finewool, like Merino and Rambouillet, but one with a slight sheen and greater strength from longer fibers. Luminous comes in big, 330 yard skeins, enough to do a generous scarf, cowl, or small shawl. We got two patterns from designer Kira Dulaney that call for dk weight yarn with single skeins of Luminous in mind.

Come by the shop to see these gorgeous yarns from Sincere Sheep!

Hello, Green Mountain Spinnery.

We’re so excited to announce that we now carry two yarns from Green Mountain Spinnery, a Vermont company that makes yarn exclusively from U.S. grown natural fibers. They process those fibers without the use of harsh chemicals, which is better for the world as well as the yarn. Green Mountain Spinnery is also known for its commitment to sustainability and to supporting regional sheep farmers and organic practices, and, oh yes–they are also well known for their beautiful yarns.

When we first saw Green Mountain Spinnery at TNNA in June, we were taken by the cozy-looking display of all their yarns.

It was hard to pick just two to bring into the shop, but there’s only so much room for new inventory, so we settled on Sylvan Spirit and New Mexico Organic, two dk weight yarns with distinct personalities.

Sylvan Spirit is a single ply yarn composed of 50% fine wool and 50% Tencel, which gives it a slight sheen. Clara Parkes gave Sylvan Spirit a glowing review back in 2004, noting in particular that this blend of fibers makes it a particularly good choice for those who live in warm climates. It has the elasticity of wool and the breathability of plant fibers: a perfect pairing for North Carolina, and one of our reasons for choosing it.

Anne quickly knit up a sample fingerless mitt in Sylvan Spirit, and we were both impressed by the crisp stitch definition in spite of the tweedy quality of the color. The pattern is Cafe Au Lait Mitts, available as a free download on Ravelry.

New Mexico Organic is undyed, and thus comes in only two colors: white and gray. These two colors don’t disappoint, though; to my eye, they are perfect in their simplicity. (Clara Parkes, who reviewed the yarn in 2007, seems to agree.) The yarn is hearty and wholesome to knit with, sturdy yet bouncy. Anne has kindly saved the sample skein for me to knit, and though I’m anxious to get my hands on it, I haven’t decided how best to show it off yet. Another pair of mitts? Mittens? A cabled hat?

These yarns truly excite and inspire us, and we hope you feel the same way. Come by the shop to meet these two yarns from Green Mountain Spinnery!

Bluestocking. Again.

Last week, we got another bunch of String Theory Bluestocking in another bunch of gorgeous colors.

This weekend, I finally cast on for a pair of Bluestocking socks, anxious to get my hands on a kind of wool I’d never tried before: bluefaced leicester. I chose a pattern from Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Book of Socks, called Hickory, with a barklike ribbing down the leg and instep. The whole leg was done in three evenings, which is how I know I love both the yarn and the pattern.

Come by the shop to take a closer look at the Knitter’s Book of Socks, where there are 200+ pages of serious sock knitting inspiration, and to admire the String Theory Bluestocking. See you at the shop!

Hello, Ewe Ewe.

Once again, Clara Parkes inspired us with a recent Knitter’s Review. She never fails to peak our interest. Sometimes it’s a tool, sometimes a book–this time, it’s yarn, from a new company called Ewe Ewe.

Ewe Ewe Wooly Worsted Washable is a squishy, soft yarn which is well described by its alliterative name. With 95 yards of machine-washable merino wool in each 50 gram ball, Wooly Worsted Washable is an excellent choice for accessories and baby things.

The color palette is limited but vibrant, and the pattern support makes good use of it in stripes and colorwork.

This yarn is a pleasure to knit with, with brilliant stitch definition and a springy texture. “It knits itself,” Anne has often remarked since Ewe Ewe’s arrival, and she should know. This baby hat was completed in less than 24 hours, with enough yarn left over to make another with the colors inverted.

Come by the shop to pet Ewe Ewe Wooly Worsted Washable, and remember it for baby- and gift-knitting. Find it on the teacart, and find Ewe Ewe patterns in our recently reorganized pattern binders.

Extra Yarn.

A phrase I’m always delighted to hear at the shop is “I brought some show and tell.” Fascinating things are pulled from purses and knitting bags: projects in progress and recently completed, intriguing patterns, years-old handed-down hand-knits, and sometimes most interesting–books. A knitter brought this one in for show and tell a few weeks ago, and immediately, we knew we had to stock it here at the shop. Then Clara reviewed it, and the point was driven home. We placed the order, and Extra Yarn now lives here with us.

Extra Yarn is a children’s book, but its knitterly subject matter and gorgeous illustrations make it equally appealing to adults.

Come by the shop to flip through this sweet storybook. You’ll find it on the teacart, perfectly at home among the newest grown-up knitting books. See you at the shop!

The Color Grid.

A few weeks ago, our hero, Clara Parkes, posted a particularly intriguing review on her excellent and very informative blog, Knitter’s Review. As soon as Anne arrived at the shop that day, I said, “Did you read Clara today?” Her response: “I already ordered it.”

The subject of that Knitter’s Review post, and the object of our desire, was the Color Grid, a tool developed by hand-dyer Gail Callahan for choosing colors. The Color Grid is a sturdy little pamphlet with a spectrum of colors arranged in a grid, as the name suggests. One of the panels is black, with holes of different sizes.

Hold the largest hole over the color that most closely matches your main color, and the smaller holes highlight the closest relatives of that main color.

A thin, rectangular slot below those holes highlights a contrasting color which Callahan calls the “spark.” A bit of that spark color is sure to make your main color sing because of their relationship on the color wheel.

The color wheel, by the way, has always been on my list of Things I One Day Plan to Understand. Until I take the time to sit down with some color theory and study, the Color Grid will join my intuition in my color-choosing toolbox. And along with the color-choosing comes my favorite part: diving into a pile of knitting books, preferably of the colorwork variety. Many of these books offer more information on color theory, if you’re curious about exactly how the Color Grid is working, and how colors interact in knitted patterns of many kinds.

What a fun toy it is! Come by the shop to snag a Color Grid of your own.

The Knitter’s Book of Socks.

Clara Parkes has done it again, and by “done it again,” I mean “provided a practical, beautiful, fascinating, rigorous resource for knitters.” From the author of Knitter’s Review, the woman who brought us The Knitter’s Book of Yarn and The Knitter’s Book of Wool, here’s The Knitter’s Book of Socks.

If you’re a sock knitter, this is an indispensable book. If you’re an aspiring sock knitter, this book may be a good place to start. While many of the patterns include cables, lace, or colorwork, the first is an introductory-level sock with a simple texture pattern, using worsted weight yarn. Once you’ve worked up a pair of those, you’ll likely be ready and eager to dip your toes into some of the more complicated patterns. Also: those of you who are worried that your knitted socks will be too baggy or too tight, not stretchy enough, or that they’ll fall apart after one wear will be encouraged and emboldened by The Knitter’s Book of Socks. Parkes spends entire chapters on the effects of various fibers, twists, plies, and stitch patterns on the structure of a sock, giving knitters the information they need to avoid the potential pitfalls that may concern them.

The patterns come from an astounding group of designers, using all kinds of techniques to make socks in a wide range of styles. Cat Bordhi, Lucy Neatby, Ann Budd, Norah Gaughan, Nancy Bush, Cookie A, and Jared Flood all make appearances, as does a favorite new yarn of ours: the Swans Island Organic Merino, in fingering-weight.

I’m almost halfway through a sweater using this yarn, and had never considered it for socks, as it’s hand-wash only. Then I came upon Parkes’ ode to hand-washing hand-knit socks, which made the task sound more pleasant than inconvenient. Having just accidentally felted a pair of colorwork socks, I’m ready to make the switch to hand-washing, and it sounds like my socks will look better and last longer that way. Suffice it to say, I’m reconsidering putting that beautiful Swans Island yarn on my feet, and I have no doubt that The Knitter’s Book of Socks will change the way I pair yarns and sock patterns, making me a better, more educated sock knitter. Come by the shop to peruse this new book, and plan your next pair of socks!

Hello, Swans Island.

I could not possibly be more excited to introduce you all to this thrilling new yarn, an organic, hand-dyed merino from the Maine-based company Swans Island.

If you’ve been in the shop in the past two days, then you know that our excitement for this yarn has been obvious, reflected not only in our squeals of delight and our ear-to-ear grins, but also in its placement: front and center on the teacart.

Swans Island Organic Merino is spun and dyed in Maine, and comes in two weights, a worsted and a fingering. The worsted is put up in 100 gram skeins with 250 yards each, while the fingering boasts 525 yards to the skein. These details blur into the background, however, when you touch this yarn. Immediately, the yarn’s main feature is obvious: it is incredibly, amazingly soft. The secret to this softness is in the gentle, minimal processing that comes with ecologically-friendly natural dyes, which you can read more about on the Swans Island website. My new hero, Clara Parkes, author of the Knitter’s Book of Wool, wrote a characteristically in-depth review of the Swans Island Worsted on her blog, Knitter’s Review–a great resource if you’re thinking of giving this yarn a try. And if you’re thinking of giving it a try but don’t know what to knit, check out the first wave of Swans Island patterns, which can be found in a binder between the two Swans Island baskets.

Myself, I’m the lucky girl who gets to knit up a shop sample with this wondrous stuff, a hat, which I’ve just cast on for. Only four rows in, I can already tell you that this yarn is a dream. I have several Swans Island sweater daydreams floating around in my head, competing with one another. I’m so excited, I have no idea which to cast on for!

The Knitter’s Book of Wool.

Though I breezed right past it in last week’s round up of the shop’s newest books, there is one book in particular that I am really excited about: The Knitter’s Book of Wool, by Clara Parkes. I flipped through it once or twice at the shop, and quickly realized it was the kind of serious resource I’d have to take home to add to my own knitter’s library. I spent the better part of a Sunday with this book, learning more about yarn in general and wool in particular than ever before in one sitting. Though I am a serious and devoted lover of wool, and though I consider it by far my favorite fiber for knitting, I realized as soon as I began reading that I actually don’t know as much about it as I thought I did. Different spinning and dyeing processes, different breeds of sheep and respectively different qualities of wool, the variety of ways and reasons to combine wool with other fibers–all of these pieces of the puzzle I had only a vague understanding of.

The Knitter’s Book of Wool brings specificity and clarity to these issues, which only makes sense, given the author. Clara Parkes is the author of The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, a similar tome which tackles fibers of all kinds, and of Knitter’s Review, a weekly e-newsletter where she reviews yarns, knitting books, needles, and other knitter’s tools. For each yarn reviewed, she describes not only the experience of knitting, but also the washing and wearing, making sense of the fiber content and best uses for the yarn along the way. Parkes brings this same thoroughness to every aspect of wool, from sheep to skein, in this book. And then there are patterns, of course, from well-known designers like Cat Bordhi, Pam Allen, and Nancy Bush, for sweaters, mittens, shawls, and scarves, among other things. The patterns, too, are full of helpful information regarding the behavior of wool yarns.

I reached for The Knitter’s Book of Wool because I wanted to know more about wool, and now I do, of course, but what really excited me about it is that it made me aware of how very much more there is to know about wool, and how much can be gained from looking more closely at each skein. It is the kind of book that makes you want to read more books, and I know I’ll return to it regularly, for information as well as inspiration.

Come to the shop to peruse Clara Parkes’ books for yourself, and in doing so, become a more informed lover of fiber.