by Stephannie Tallent
When I was planning The Wild West: Stranded, I wanted to show variety in not just the designs but the yarns. I chose to work with two yarn companies, Elemental Affects and Sunday Knits. Each company offers exquisite yet completely different styles of yarn.
Elemental Affects, owned by Jeane deCoster, is hand dyed, minimally processed, 100% US Shetland yarn. Jeane was first introduced to Shetland sheep through handspinning herself.
These Shetland sheep are from Montana, and Jeane deCoster works closely with the rancher. Jeane sorts fleeces during shearing; consults with the rancher and her assistant; records data on every single fleece shorn that year; compares this year’s data to previous years; and identifies which sheep should be continued in the program (high quality fleece, healthy, characteristics of hair coat versus undercoat (fine, shorter hair coats are preferred) or not.
The yarn is woolen spun at small commercial spinning mills here in the United States, incorporating both the undercoat and haircoat (which later lends depth to the different colors once dyed).
The sheep come in all the various Shetland colors: whites, greys, tans, browns, and blacks (see sidebar). Jeane hand sorts the fleeces so that she can get the various base colors of yarn. Her goal is seven natural colors each year; occasionally she’ll be able to get eight natural colors.
The colors are fabulous for colorwork (though of course they’re gorgeous in any type of knitting). Jeane typically dyes the same colorway over up to five different color bases (never black) to achieve a gradient that lends incredible subtlety to stranded patterns that take advantage of the range.
The only color dyed on white is yellow; yellow dye on any of the other bases ends up green. From Jeane: “Lime Juice is yellow dye on Musket, Lichen is yellow dye on Fawn and Forest Moss is yellow dye on Emsket.”
Because the fleeces are hand sorted, and the variety of colors of the fleeces themselves, the base colors can vary year from year; the same color recipes are used every year, but since the bases may be different, dye lot is very important to keep in mind.
The yarn is rustic and earthy and beautiful, capturing the wildness of the western United States. It wears beautifully, and due to the nature of the American Shetland fiber, doesn’t felt no matter how you abuse it – it just softens.
Shetland Sheep colors
Black is black wool.
Shaela, rarely available, is blue/grey.
Emsket is dark grey.
Musket is a light, cool grey.
Moorit is dark brown.
Fawn is medium brown.
Mioget (pronounced mee-o-jay) is a light, warm brown.
White is white.
Different parts of any fleece (not just spotted fleeces) can be different colors.
Sunday Knits, created by designer Carol Sunday, is 180 degrees different, both in fiber content and production.
Fibers include Australian merino, French angora, and Mongolian cashmere, with the yarn spun in Italian mills, and dyed to Carol’s gorgeous palette (specifically designed for colorwork, but lovely in lace, cables, and stockinette).
Like Jeane, Carol considers humane treatment of the animals a priority; Carol only sources fibers from animals that are humanely treated (no mulesing, for example, of the Australian merino sheep). Though the fibers and milling are not locally sourced, she also chose to use energy efficient processing and milling, with sustainability a high priority. Skeining and labeling of the yarn takes place in her studio.
Yarns are offered in 3 or 5 plies (light sport or light worsted weight), in either 50g or 20g skeins (246 yds / 225 m or 99 yds / 90m), in four different fiber blends: Eden (100% merino); Brigadoon (100% merino tweed); Nirvana (92% merino, 8% cashmere); and Angelic (my favorite! 75% merino, 25% angora). The yarns can work up at a gauge consistent with sport or worsted yarn due to the lofty spin.
The 60 different colorways vary across the different yarn lines; the yarns all work to the same gauge, so you can mix them. For example, for the Ringtail hat, I used Eden, Nirvana, and Angelic.
Carol offers color cards for sale – I highly recommend getting one if you’re planning on doing your own colorwork designs.
These are yarns to treat delicately – they are incredibly soft, and they are not superwash. You’ll end up, however, with a beautiful finished object that you should treat like a potential heirloom or couture.
Stephannie Tallent is the author of The Wild West Collection, California Revival Knits, and Hitch: Patterns Inspired by the Films of Alfred Hitchcock.
She also teaches Aran Lace Knitting in the Aran Lace DVD & Aran Lace Online Class from Interweave Knits. She talks about Aran Lace in an episode in the upcoming season of Knitting Daily.
Her favorite type of knitting is colorwork…and cables…and lace…and twisted stitches. Yep, no favorite! She’s inspired by nature, architecture, and pop culture (she’s a self-avowed movie geek).