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Yarn Impressions: Olla! From Townhouse Yarns



I don’t think I am revealing any shocking trade secrets here, in saying that indie dyers do not manufacture their own yarns. Rather, they purchase undyed bases from spinning mills, and use these as blank canvases upon which to work their colourful magic. To be sure, I find no fault with this system what so ever. It is only that I sometimes wish there were more variety, and more… local colour, if you pardon the pun, in the bases used by dyers. Because, as it stands, most tend to be sourced from the same selection, offered by the same several mills, located in the same general region. To me, it would be of great interest to see more region-specific bases, and more local dyer-manufacturer connections.

In that context, I was excited beyond words to learn that Dublin’s Townhouse Yarns were about to launch an Irish-spun base. And doubly so, because learning this news was part of an invitation to design a pattern with this new yarn!


And triply so, because said yarn was spun local-to-me (well, by country standards!), in Donegal. Needless to say, I was so excited when the parcel of yarn arrived, I had to lie down before I could even open it.

But I joke, I joke. What am I, a giddy schoolgirl? No. A professional, is what I am (or so I say). And I approached the yarn with utmost seriousness, proceeding to seriously play with it.

I received a 50g sample in a vibrant, variegated purple, which I attempted to use for this thing people call 'swatching,' but ultimately turned into a pair of ankle socks. And I received a sweater's quantity of a delicate, semi-solid mauve-pink (the 'Embrace' colourway), which inspired this wee pullover. The following are my impressions based on working with the yarn so far.

First, the facts: Townhouse Yarns Olla is a woollen spun, 2-ply, non-superwash, non-breed-specific, fingering-weight yarn. It is spun by Studio Donegal, in Kilcar. 

And as far as my subjective experience, it is as follows:

I found Olla to be an interesting combination of soft and crisp, not unlike BFL and Border Leicester yarns. For me, it is certainly suitable as a next to skin yarn. 

Olla is a true fingering-weight yarn, with 400m per 100g. In meeting gauge I found it predictable and well behaved: I met my usual sock gauge and my usual sweater gauge on the needle sizes I’d normally use with yarns of this weight. I must also note that, compared to other yarns of similar meterage I have worked with, Olla is mysteriously economical. For instance, my design sample sweater, with 36” bust circumference, used up less than 250g of yarn. For comparison, an almost identically sized project I worked on in parallel with a different yarn of the same metrage, is taking me a full 300g at the same gauge. How this can be I cannot tell you, but there it is.


Fabric Characteristics
In stockinette, Olla makes for a smooth, even fabric. When worked in lace, it looks beautifully defined and blocks out easily. It also makes for attractive, crisp cables (however, I do not like working cables at such a fine gauge, so I only gave this a brief try). As far as ribbing, it is visually well-defined, but not overly elastic (yet still sufficiently so to hold up a sock cuff). One thing I have not had the opportunity to try this yarn for, is colourwork. Based on its characteristics and behaviour, I suspect it is highly suitable and would love to give that a go.

Knitting Experience
Knitting with Olla was easy on my hands, and the yarn played well with both wooden and steel knitting needles. I would also describe this as a very fast yarn. What do I mean by that? Well. Knitters who knit a lot and value speed, notice that some yarns - holding all other factors constant - seem to knit up faster than others. No one knows why this is. But when we find such ‘fast’ yarns, they certainly tend to become our favourites! And Olla is a fast yarn, especially considering its fine weight.


Suitability For Socks
There are those who feel, quite strongly, that sock yarns must be superwash treated, or that they must contain nylon, or both. The Olla base is very definitely neither of these things. However, it is my opinion that most yarns can be used for socks if you knit them at an appropriately tight gauge and hand wash them. And Olla, knitted up at a gauge of 35 stitches per 10cm, makes for a splendid, bullet-proof sock yarn. I have worn the socks shown for several months now, mostly as ‘bootie socks’ (worn inside ankle boots) and cycling socks. They show hardly any signs of wear.

Suitability for Garments
I have not worn the pullover pictured as a personal garment, because it will be used as a sample at Woollinn - so I cannot yet say how it will behave in daily wear and how durable it will prove to be. What I can say so far, is that it drapes and holds its shape beautifully. I would absolutely love to have more of this yarn, and to fill my closet with garments knitted from it, for personal use!


In Summary… 
If I had to use one word to describe Olla, it would be ‘versatile.’ The yarn is minimally processed and natural in feel, yet soft. It is fine, yet knits up quickly. It looks good in plain knitting and in textured motifs. It plays nice with a variety of knitting needle materials. And it is as suitable for garments, as it is for socks (and no doubt accessories). What else can I say? I love it, and may I have some more please?

And if you are wondering about the name: Olla means 'woollen,' or 'wool' if used as an adjective, in Irish. An apt name if ever there was one!

As spinning mills everywhere become increasingly familiar with the indie dyeing culture, more local relationships are starting to form between yarn dyers and yarn manufacturers in different regions of the world. This is wonderfully encouraging to see. And I am extremely grateful to be part of this Ireland-based collaboration between Townhouse Yarns and Studio Donegal.

The Townhouse Yarns Olla base  will be launched at the Woollinn Festival in Dublin, where it will be available for purchase in dazzling array of hand-dyed colourways, along with my Scéal Grá pattern from This Is Knit.

I hope my feedback was useful, and I look forward to seeing some of you at Woollinn! {Remember that I will be there on Friday the 25th only; if you are interested in meeting up drop me a note.}