Swatch It! Winter 2011
by Clara Parkes
Angora is one of the unsung heroes of the fiber world. Blended and spun properly, this tender, fluffy fiber can produce extraordinary results. Unfortunately, most yarn companies spin angora far too loosely, hoping to create a heavenly bird's nest of fluff that will look tempting on the shelf. Once on your needles, however, those fibers can quickly slip from their stitches and attach to everything around them—including your nose. As a result, angora has gotten a bit of a bum rap over the years.
Classic Elite Lush is one of the longest-running examples of how angora should be spun. First of all, it's not entirely made of angora. That would be far too dense, warm, and inelastic for most purposes. Instead, it's blended with 50% wool and tightly twisted into a four-ply worsted-weight yarn. The wool gives body, structure, and elasticity, while the angora lends warmth and a tremendous, decadent halo.
My spidey senses were already tingling before I even knew which yarn Amy Herzog had used for her fitted cardigan, Oscillate. It features smooth, tailored stockinette punctuated by slender vertical panels of undulating ribs down the front and back. Three-quarter-length sleeves and a tidy line of mother-of-pearl buttons complete the effect. Herzog has a gift for designing sweaters that flatter the figure, and this one is the epitome of what a "sweater girl" sweater should be. Sure enough, it calls for Lush yarn.
While the original "sweater girls" of the 1940s and '50s were renowned for their bust lines, I do think the sweaters themselves played a role in the allure. They all shared a certain come-hither halo and huggability that enhanced what lay beneath. With that in mind, I decided to swatch the motifs from Oscillate in three other yarns that incorporate other kinds of twists, plies, and fibers for a similar come-hither huggability.
First is Rowan Kid Classic. Imagine that a nice, trustworthy worsted-weight wool married a slinky skein of Kidsilk Haze and had babies—that's what Kid Classic would be. Against a 70% foundation of lambswool is a bright, fuzzy halo of 26% kid mohair that is stabilized with 4% nylon for strength. There's a faint airiness to the whole thing. What it lacks in the meaty depth of pure wool, it makes up for in a discreet glow like that of a smooth pond on a foggy morning. Knit at gauge for Oscillate, this yarn produces a fabric that errs a little on the loose side. Then again, a perfectly matched camisole beneath a Kid Classic version of Oscillate could create quite the sweater-girl effect.
Next I chose a yarn that incorporates a small amount of angora within a dramatically different context. It's called Crystal Palace Yarns Bunny Hop. Six two-ply strands are all plied together in the same direction to produce a plump S-on-S cabled yarn constructed almost entirely of synthetic materials: 50% "micro" acrylic and 42% "micro" nylon. I assume the "micro" refers to fibers of one micron in diameter, which is, to put it in technical terms, really really fine. Into this entirely man-made blend has been added an unexpected 8% angora.
The S-on-S construction gives this yarn extraordinary bounce and a firm roundedness that almost feels like you're knitting with spaghetti. Stockinette appears completely round and even, while the cables reside far above the fabric surface. You'll have to wait until the first few washes to see the halo appear, but when it does, you'll be pleased.
Finally, I decided to move away from angora and mohair, the traditional halo-producing fibers that they are, in favor of a thoroughly modern creation from Blue Sky Alpacas: Techno. What looks like a plush, invitingly soft singles is, in fact, a complex concoction of 68% baby alpaca and 10% extra fine merino that have been blended together and then literally blown through an I-cord tube of 22% silk.
Techno produced the thickest, most substantial fabric of the yarns I swatched, and also by far the most inviting. Sometimes the most alluring garments are those that reveal less and leave more to the imagination. My only warning: This fabric will be as irresistible to others as it is to you. Wear at your own risk, and prepare to be touched.