Sunday, December 20, 2009

Testing new yarns--a peek in to the process

I haven't been doing much dyeing these past few weeks. Hopefully I will have 5 pounds of felting wool and 20 pounds of warping cotton arrive before the end of the year. In the meantime I am taking a little mini-break, working on holiday knitting, test knitting potential new base yarns and avoiding catching up on bookeeping. I thought you might enjoy some insight in to the process of testing a new yarn.

I have been looking for a bulky yarn to replace my BFL Unspun. I still love the Unspun roving yarn, but ever worsening allergies are keeping me from dyeing anything that isn't extremely clean and free from any non-wool allergens (like hay or excessive dust) when it arrives at my door. Everything I dye gets a bath first, but some wools occasionally need an extra bath if you know what I mean. Sheeps are filthy creatures.

I found a superwash merino yarn that I thought might be a good substitute for the BFL Unspun. My first step was to order a cone of it and try it out. I wound up 6 100g skeins from the cone and dyed up a handpainted color, a kettle dyed color and a sorta-semisolid color.
 My creation
I ended up with an extra half a skein in the kettle dyed color, so I passed that out to a beginning knitter to get his initial impressions. He knitted up a quick cowl with it (no pictures, unfortunately) and liked it a lot. He didn't think it was too splitty like bulky yarn can sometimes be. He liked how the color took up. He didn't find any inconsistencies in the yarn.

My next step was to farm it out to my tried and true test knitters. Deborah made these great pair of swooshy fingerless mitts:

Kate made this great matching cowl. Remind me to devote a whole blog post to how awesome Kate is one of these days, okay?  Did you see the socks she just finished? Did you see the shawl she knit with some other yarn she was test knitting for me? She knit it in like a week or something crazy like that. Love that knitter. Love her!

Ann made a great pair of Festivus mitts with her skein and for some reason I told her I didn't need pictures. What was I thinking?

If you ever need test knitters, look no further than Kate, Deborah and Ann. They are so detailed and thoughtful with all of their comments. Deborah loved the way it felt in her hands. Kate pronounced the yarn "Squishystrongbeautifulsnuggly". Ann loved it, too, and gave great feedback about price points.

 Great! So why do I have a sinking feeling about this yarn? Well....nearly every person who handled the yarn said, unprompted, that their first impressions was that it was almost identical to another popular bulky yarn. Uh-oh. It might be a problem if my test knitters can't visually tell the difference between my more expensive superwash yarn and the less expensive and more popular non-superwash yarns. The actual knitting proved that are differences between the two yarns, mainly that the superwash is softer than the non-superwash and therefore....pills faster. Double uh-oh. When I asked the testers if they would pay the extra to have a superwash yarn, the answer was a resounding 'No'. Triple uh-oh.

This yarn just looking like another yarn wasn't quite enough to put this yarn out of the running. There are people out there who are willing to pay extra for a superwash yarn. Me, for instance. I am capable of carefully hand washing non-superwash wool, but I would rather turn it inside out and  throw it in the wash and I am willing to pay extra for the privilege.

If the testers overwhelmingly like or dislike a yarn then that is often enough to overrule my own feelings on the yarn. For instance, I am not a fan of chenille but it went so well in the initial test batch and with the testers that I have sold out 2 batches since then and nearly sold out of the 3rd. The testers really liked the superwash bulky yarn, but were on the fence about the price and the superwash treatment. It was time for me to put it through its paces.

I cast on for a hat using the final 2 skeins of the initial test run.
Empire Hat
My thoughts on this new base yarn?
  • Non-splitty!
  • Soft!
  • Good color!
  • Squishy!
  • Squooshy!
  • Good stitch definition!
  • It fuzzed predictably, as all softly spun wools tend to do.
  • The yarn grew during blocking, as most non-sock sw wools tend to do.
  • And....knotty? KNOTTY? None of my test knitters reported knots,  but there were 7 ply knots between my two skein. Ply knots are practically invisible when knitting, unlike real knots, but still. 7 is excessive. Damn.
My final decision is that lovely as this yarn is, it isn't the right time for me to devote money in to developing it in to a regular line for me. Perhaps in six months when the knot issue is taken care . The first run of any new base yarn is bound to have some inconsistencies.

It is frustrating to not have a good bulky yarn for the winter season, but this is why I use test knitters. At the upside, we all have great new accessories to show for our efforts.

1 comment:

  1. ::blushing furiously::

    You are entirely too kind.

    It's really fascinating to hear all your reapsoning for why this won't become a regular yarn - it makes a lot of sense, even though the yarn is lovely. And for what it's worth, I didn't encounter any ply knots at all - unless they were reallllly hidden?


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