If you’ve been following Indie Untangled for a while, you know that we are all about non-Superwash yarns and custom-milled bases. Mary of 29 Bridges Studio, who we are excited to host for the first time at our in-person show on October 15, has expanded her offerings to include more non-Superwash yarn. In anticipation of seeing and feeling it in real life, I decided to ask Mary about the process of sourcing and dyeing this yarn.
Why did you decide to offer more non-Superwash yarn?
It’s about walking the walk and listening to our customers. In my personal life, I try to minimize my impact on the environment so, of course, I wanted that for our business too. Additionally, we heard requests from customers for non-Superwash yarns, especially at fiber festivals. So I started taking classes, talking to shepherds, and educating myself. I was hooked. I like how non-Superwash yarns honor the beauty and natural characteristics of the fiber. Our non-Superwash Merino sock yarn is a dream to work with and it blooms beautifully. It’s a perfect choice for sweaters, socks, or shawls and it’s very soft against your skin.
What was the process of sourcing these bases like?
At first, non-Superwash bases seemed harder to source but through networking and research, we were able to find a good fit. There was an initial upfront investment that is changing the way we do inventory planning but we’re adapting.
Are any of your bases custom milled?
We’re excited about our first custom base that will be available in December 2021: a really beautiful, non-Superwash Merino DK. It’s Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified which means that it meets social criteria, ethical business behaviors, and environmental management. I can’t wait to get it in the pots and on the needles.
How does the dye process change for non-Superwash yarns?
The process of dyeing non-Superwash yarn requires a gentle approach and can sometimes take longer. The surface of wool is made up of overlapping cuticles, or scales. Heat and moisture raise the scales allowing them to grab onto each other. This is what enables felting. Since we don’t want to felt when we’re dyeing, we’re careful not to agitate the yarn. Non-Superwash yarn absorbs dye a little more slowly than Superwash and typically has a softer and more muted result. Speckling can also look more diffuse and, at times, can be a completely different color from how it dyes on a Superwash yarn. Because of this, we have a few colors that we had to reimagine or reformulate for non-Superwash.
What have you learned through the process of sourcing non-Superwash yarns?
I went down many rabbit holes while researching and sourcing our yarns. First, I had to take a step back to understand Superwash vs non-Superwash and GOTS. From there, I explored the different types of wool — fine, down, medium, long — and the differences in the fleece. And, finally, choosing and working with a mill.
Are there any fibers on your non-Superwash wishlist?
Right now I’m exploring all the different types of sheep wool. There are so many I want to try, Merino is just the tip of the iceberg. My next in-person fiber festival will be seen through a new lens.
What kinds of garments can people make with your non-Superwash bases?
You can make any garment with a non-Superwash yarn — even socks. Lacy shawls and sweaters really lend themselves to non-Superwash because when they are blocked the yarn blooms and forms a halo which is not only beautiful, it helps it keep its shape.
I’d like to give swatching and blocking a plug. There are many fiber experts who have researched and written about swatching with Superwash and non-Superwash yarns. The takeaway is, before your start a project, make a swatch and block it. Not only can check your gauge, but you can also try out the pattern and colors you’ve chosen, and you’ll know how much yarn you need to complete your project. You spend countless hours knitting or crocheting the perfect handmade piece, swatching will help ensure that it turns out as you imagined.
You should also keep a few care details in mind. Garments made with non-Superwash yarn should be gently hand washed in tepid water, then carefully squeeze out the water, and lay them flat to dry. No hot water, no washing machine, no dryer.