What Makes a Great Summer Yarn, and Why I Am so Obsessed With This One Blend

Posted by Robyn Berkel on

I've finally released my 2020 summer yarn!! Though I’ve done a summer base before, this is something completely new.

 

My journey of finding a summer-ready base did not start this year…

Last year I was living in San Diego and running this hand dyed yarn business. Not much there I can complain about, except the fact that wool and beautifully warm weather don’t always mix….especially for me because I sweat more than ANYONE ELSE I KNOW. (Not ashamed of it!!) But it does render my handknit wardrobe almost useless in the summer.

 

It became increasingly important to me that I offer a base that could be worn truely all year round. So late into the summer of 2019 I released a limited number of skeins on a fingering weight base that was a blend of cotton and linen. Plant based fibers like these are remarkably breathable and delicate on your skin, but they need a completely seperate dye process with all new dyes and tools….

 

For those that run creative businesses - do you ever commit to something in your head so strongly that when it becomes clear its not feasible you just completely ignore all warning signs and power through? I did that with the cotton/linen base. It wasn’t that it was a “bad” base at all. The yarn was high quality and wonderful to knit up. The problem was that changing my entire dye process and introducing completely new materials was way too much for my tiny studio and tiny business to handle.

 

Those skeins eventually sold out, but I still lost money. And made a complete mess of my studio.

 

I decided to sell the supplies to get back a little bit of what I had lost finacially, and maybe a little bit to prevent myself from trying the fiber-reactive dye process again. It’s not that there is anything wrong with using fiber-reactive dyes and dyeing plant based fibers, its just that a lot of the dye techniques and skills I had been honing for several years didn’t apply to this new-to-me process. Maybe in the future I’ll write a post about the differences between the two processes and why I didn’t particularly like dyeing plant based fibers. It would also be interesting to hear from a dyer who primarily uses these fibers and the reasons for it, because there are definitely pros and cons to both.

 

Thus began the search for a new summer yarn

…one that I actually enjoyed dyeing. I’ve built up so many colorways and dye techniques over the two years I’ve been running this business and I knew the only way this could work moving forward was to find a base with which I could reuse all of that.

 

I dabbled with a 50% wool / 50% cotton base for a while, but in the end realized that fifty percent wool is still fifty percent wool. Wearing a knitted tee that was half as hot as my 100% wool tees still wouldn’t cut it, especially in the hot humid summers I now face living in the midwest. (On top of that, the 50% of cotton fibers couldn’t be dyed at all with my acid dyes for protein/animal fibers, lending to faded looking results.)

 

Just google “list of textile fibers”. The first portion of the wikipedia page that lists animal based fibers is wrought with words like “insulating”, “warmth”, “heavy”. Except for…..silk :)

 

I had never dyed silk before, and if I’ve ever knit with it, its been in a blended base alongside wool or cashmere. The only things I really knew for sure about it was that it had a high shine and good drape, which marked it in my mind for shawls only and I never knit shawls.

 

I started looking in my closet for store bought garments that contained silk, only to find that everything I though might be silk or contain some silk was 100% polyester. That’s absolutely why I always thought silk was hot and bad for summer weather! More research lead me to discover that silk is very low density, meaning it feels very lightweight and it is temperature regulating - which means it can keep you cool in the summers and warm in the winters. It also has a fairly high elasticy, almost comparable to wool. Ever knit a with cotton yarn to find the stitches aren’t gliding through your fingers like they do when using wool? And you can forget stranded colorwork knitting with it, unless you’re planning to fight your project the whole way through.

 

Let’s talk about sweat 

The elephant in the room, if you’re familiar with silk. I started this post complaining about sweating, after all. Silk does show sweat - it’s not going to make you hot - but it does have a tendency to repeal water, opposed to cotton or linen which would absorb it and dry quickly. However, even with my cotton and linen tops, I take precautions to limit sweat stains (which could be a whole other blog post too!). One of those precautions is to knit my sleeves with extra postive ease. The further the armpit of my top is to my body, the sunnier it has to be before I start to notice stickiness and feel uncomfortable. Thankfully you don’t have to be a knitwear genius to add inches to your sleeve dimensions, because more and more designers are prioritizing highly adjustable patterns and inclusive sizing. Shoutout to some of my favorite designers that regularly release easily adjustable patterns! (Jacqueline Cieslak, Jessie MaedShay Johnson)

 

All that said, taking precautions to prevent sweat stains is a bit of a cop-out. I wanted a yarn that dyes well AND wears well in the summer. Which is why 100% silk still doesn’t sound like the perfect alternative to cotton and linen. And it’s not. Because its also incredibly expensive in comparison.

 

Getting the price down

Remember earlier in the post when I said I went to look in my closet for silk tops and found only polyester? There’s a very specific reason for that, and it happens to be that I am a yarn dyer, not a drug dealer or business tycoon. Silk is EXPENSIVE. Blends of silk are not :) Some blends of silk may even show less sweat…may even be more breathable…and offer an even nicer catalog of properties, a “best of both worlds” if you will.

 

Introducing Silk & Linen, a glorious blend of 65% silk and 35% linen 

Take all those things I said about silk, and add even more breathability, more drape, more absorbency, and less weight. And the best part is that there was one more quality of silk I forgot to mention - its dyeability (which my autocorrect tells me is not a word). My precious acid dyes won’t be able to dye the linen in this yarn, but the silk more than makes up for it, displaying color with same richness and depth I mix up in the dye pot. It's a speckler’s dream - each fleck of dye power is a bright, distinct spot on the yarn. And it stays in place, allowing me to use all the same speckle techniques I love on my other bases.

 

I decided to be pretty straightforward in the naming of this base, particularly because I didn’t want to stamp it with anything that seemed seasonal. After all, silk is temperature regulating, therefor will provide a degree of warmth in the winter. Its a bonus quality I wasn’t particularly looking for in a yarn - I was only interested in its warm weather helpfulness. But now that I’ve been knitting with and wearing this yarn for sometime, I can tell you with complete certainly that I am going to be perfectly comfortable going from the hot, humid outdoors into office building and malls over-compensating with unnecessary amounts of air-conditioning. And I’m going to be very happy come winter when I have a full length, full sleeve sweater knit with this stuff that I can layer with and not overheat indoors.

 

I’m pretty stoked about the release of this base, and I hope you are too!

 

 

 


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