Over the past two months, I have been doing some pattern design work for S Twist Wool. As you might imagine, in the course of this I have become pretty familiar with their yarns... which, quite honestly, are like nothing else I have worked with!
But before I delve into the details, here is some background.
Prior to meeting Diarmuid in person at Yarnfolk, I had been hearing about the Co. Tipperary based S Twist Wool for some time. There was a lot of anticipation building up around this yarn - mainly because it is an Irish yarn sheep-to-skein, which is a rare and difficult thing to accomplish these days. The reasons why this is so, are a topic for another time! But at the Yarnfolk festival, I had a chance to chat about all this with the proprietor, which eventually led to our collaboration.
There are several types of yarns in the works from S Twist Wool. But to start with, I agreed to work with the the Overdyed Mountain Grey - a 2-ply aran weight yarn sourced from local mixed mountain fleeces. The yarn inspired me quite a lot, and the result is the Laitís collection.
I've made two pieces for the collection so far: The Laitís sweater, and the matching Laitís hat. Both feature an intricate-looking - but actually quite simple! - all over latticed rib motif. So working on these essentially involved knitting in ribbing, with the occasional cable round thrown in.
Knitting the sweater took me about a week, alongside other projects - two of which, interestingly enough, also involved 'rustic' yarns, which made for an interesting comparison.
To be sure, S Twist Wool is a 'rustic' yarn. But what does that mean exactly? In my book, that means: minimally processed, lanolin rich, and hardy.
Ah. And does that also mean it's scratchy, some of you will immediately ask? Well. Think about it this way: The same characteristics a sheep's fleece needs to have, in order for the animal to survive in the bog-covered desolate mountains in damp Irish winters, will carry over to the yarn spun from said fleeces.
Personally, I would call this yarn a 'non-next-to-skin yarn.' Like other yarns in this ilk - including Lopi, and the basic (as opposed to the recent, more luxuriant) Shetlands - it is meant for knitting outer garments. That sweater you wear to chop wood/ catch fish / take photos at dawn? You want a yarn like this one for it, because what it lacks in softness it makes up for in durability, warmth, and - perhaps most importantly - moisture resistance.
So how does this translate to the knitting experience?
As I knit with the S Twist Mountain I found the yarn pleasantly 'buoyant' and 'stretchy.' I am not a spinner, and so I struggle to describe these things as technically as I might like. But, for comparison: Some rustic yarns can feel quite dense and stiff to knit with, whereas the S Twist Wool is spun fairly loosely. Not so loosely that it is prone to breaking, the way underpun yarns can be. But sufficiently loosely that it feels lively on the needles and doesn't hurt my hands. In the past, I have worked with yarns that have actually made my fingers bleed, and that crosses a line for me, as far as my dedication to the rustic! The S twist, however, is gentle on my hands, and also quite quick to knit with.
That said, there is a couple of things I should mention here that don't bother me in the least but might bother others: There was a not-insignificant amount of dried vegetation caught in the fibres. I would occasionally pick them out as I knitted, but sometimes I would just leave hem in. Why not! The yarn also contains these thin little black guard hairs (I got that term from Grace O'Neill's Babbles Traveling Yarn podcast!) which shed a bit throughout the knitting process.
It actually is quite interesting, because you can see the undyed Gray is really a combination of whites and blacks, making for a lovely heathered or marled look.
When that gray is overdyed, the colour is rich and vibrant - but the presence of those little black hairs create a subtle halo effect. Not unlike Lopi yarns.
In fact, if I had to compare this yarn to others I have worked with, it feels more similar to Lopi, than to either of the Irish yarns I have worked with before (i.e. Donegal Tweed, Kerry Woolen Mills, and Cushendale).
The same qualities of the yarn that make it feel airy and springy to knit with, also make it quite versatile as far as gauge. While technically the yarn is aran weight, it could be made to work at a DK gauge on smaller needles without feeling overly stiff, or at a 'light chunky' gauge (if there is such a thing?) for shawls, etc.
I knitted the Laitís sweater at a fairly standard aran-weight gauge, and the result was a beautifully draping fabric in the finished garment.
Having also worn the sample sweater on several occasions, I can say - and my model Kirsty agrees - that it is very warm, and amazingly moisture resistant. The Irish winter is characterised by that special, horrific breed of damp cold, that I find much more difficult to endure than freezing temperatures in a drier climate. Where this yarn shines, is precisely in its ability to shield against that type of cold.
Will you enjoy knitting with, and wearing, the S Twist Wool Mountain Overdyed? I think a good litmus test is: How do you feel about Icelandic Lopi? They are by no means exactly the same, but it's the closest thing I can think of.
The S Twist Wool Mountain Overdyed is a unique - and unapologetically rustic - sheep to skein Irish yarn. It is not for everyone, and I have tried my best to describe it very honestly here to reflect that.
But if, like me, you appreciate hardy, moisture-resistant sweaters to wear outdoors and like to support local fibre initiatives, you will love this long-awaited yarn from Co. Tipperary.