Last year I was extremely fortunate to be among the first to try Olla - the new Irish-milled yarn from the Dublin-based indie dyer Townhouse Yarns. To my delight, I was invited to design a garment with this yarn, and the result was the Scéal Grá pullover. You can read my impressions of working with Olla here. And one of the questions I was asked most often after that review, was: How suitable was the yarn for colourwork? Because demand has been steadily growing for hand-dyed yarns which used non-superwash, woollen-spun bases - and Olla was exactly that. Playing around with some leftover scraps of the yarn I had in different colours, my impression was that indeed it was suitable. In fact, I was quite looking forward to making something in colourwork for myself to wear out of Olla, as soon as I had free time …which of course never happened!
Fast forward a year, and imagine how pleased I was when Townhouse Yarns once again invited me to design a garment - this time, in colourwork! Needless to say, I was itching to do it. And having learned that they had tweaked the Olla base since its inaugural release, I was also curious how Olla No.2 compared to the original. Well. Having completed an all-over stranded colourwork garment with the yarn, I think my curiosity has been satisfied!
The new iteration of Olla has several key features in common with the original yarn: It is spun for Townhouse Yarns by Studio Donegal. It is fingering-weight. It is woollen-spun. It is not superwash-treated. And it benefits from the same signature Townhouse Yarns colour pallet beloved by fans of this indie dyer..
As for the differences: The main one is that Olla No.2 is noticeably softer to the touch than the original. That is not to say that I found the original harsh; not at all. It was more like the original had a crispness to it, which the new yarn does not. Olla No.2 is a fluffier, more buttery, rub-your-face-in-it sort of yarn.
Is this a good thing? Part of that answer is subjective: If you prefer softer yarns as many knitters do, then obviously yes.
But speaking more objectively, it depends what you want to do with the yarn. That ‘crispness’ in the original Olla translated into jaw-droppingly sharp stitch definition, which is what made the lacework on my Scéal Grá samples ‘pop’ the way it did. When worked in Olla No.2, lace still has plenty of definition, just not quite as much as the original batch.
On the other hand!
Those same features that make Olla No.2 a ‘blurrier’ yarn, make it an ideal choice for stranded colourwork. And the more I worked on my stranded sweater design, the more I came to realise how deliciously appropriate Olla No.2 was for the task.
To explain in brief: When you work in colourwork, you want the yarn to be ‘sticky’ - so that the differently coloured strands create an impression of fusing together for the benefit of the motif. Olla No.2 does this amazingly well. Once knitted together, the strands of yarn attain the look of a smooth printed fabric - as if the motif was painted on after the fact.
The airy manner in which this yarn is spun, also makes it exceedingly forgiving as far as gauge - meaning that you can knit it in a much looser gauge than typically recommended for fingering-weight yarns. This is quite handy for stranded colourwork, as it makes it possible to knit a lighter-weight garment. It also makes the yarn more economical, since working in a looser gauge means using up less yarn.
Finally, all of these properties also make Olla No.2 quite bouncy and stretchy - which can prove a life-saver if your colourwork technique is less than perfect (i.e. uneven, or floats too tight), and needs to be ‘massaged’ into a more presentable state after the fact!
In short: the original Olla was suitable for colourwork. Whereas Olla No.2 is incredible for colourwork. It has the same colourwork-friendly qualities as Shetland, Norwegian and Icelandic wools, while being remarkably soft to the touch.
Of course, the added benefit of being hand-dyed, is the colour pallet. Townhouse Yarns offers Olla No.2 in semi-solid, as well as speckled colours, which can be used in seemingly infinite combinations to ad interest to what might otherwise be a rather conservative, and repetitive, 2-colour motif. I knitted the original sample of the Tea Room Pullover (pictured here) in the delightful combination of ‘Port’ and ‘Bad Girl RiRi’… but I am already picturing myself wearing other versions in a variety of colour combinations! Ah if only there was time to cast on all the colour combinations!
And speaking of the Tea Room Pullover… As you may have already deduced, this is my design with Olla No.2. It was released at this year’s Woollinn Yarn Festival (which, alas I could not attend due to being very uncomfortably 8 months pregnant!).
Having replenished their stock, Townhouse Yarns have now launched pre-orders for kits - which you can peruse and purchase here. The pattern is available in sizes 35" - 51", and it’s worth noting that the larger sizes are discounted.
The Tea Room Pullover is my third design with Townhouse Yarns (see also: Scéal Grá and Pale Fire Socks) and I absolutely love working with this unique and wonderful dyer. While in my ideal world, I would have loved it if they kept both the original and the updated Olla bases, if I had to choose between the two at gunpoint I would opt for Olla No.2. It may not be as razor-sharp for lacey stitch definition as the original. But being a yarn that is both soft and rustic, it is more versatile. And if colourwork is your thing, then really it does not get any better than this… You can have your cake, and eat it too, and drink it down with tea.