Oakenshield Armoured: A Tale of Two Skeins

February 5, 2015

Sometimes, you just don’t know where the knitting will take you. As part of Summer of the Single Skein, I got out all my single skeins and had a look and a think.

oakenshield armoured yarnsThese two came together initially for the colour contrast. But the more I thought about it, the more stories were told in the combination.

The silver grey yarn is pure Gotland, a long wool, grown, processed and spun in Victoria for Cheryl Crosbie of Granite Haven farm. It is a 3 ply millspun and undyed. Not the smooth worsted of her usual yarns but more semi worsted.

The gunmetal blue yarn is Cleckheaton’s Superfine Merino

They are both DK weight but that is their only similarity. The combination is like David and Goliath. Granite Haven is David, from a small farm, very simply processed, unlabelled and rather humble. The Merino is Goliath with the might of a large company behind it, teams of experts involved in everything from a new spinning method to its label design.

Despite my analogy, they don’t slug it out in battle, they actually sit splendidly together, which is actually really surprising. Both are next to the skin soft, obviously the superfine is exceptionally so. You could probably use it as a dressing on burn survivors. But this Gotland is no slouch in the softie department and provides a dense sturdiness to the knitting which might be a little too soft and floppy without it.

I received the Merino as a Christmas present. I have to admit, it is not something i would ordinarily buy. I associate merino with mulesing and over processing and the overwhelming homogeneity. I was prepared to dislike it, particularly when confronted with the semiotics of its label that I felt was trying to evoke straight from the farm goodness for a highly processed product. And it is highly processed but that is only part of the story.

IMG_6032A week or so ago, I had a very interesting chat with the Business Manager for Cleckheaton Superfine Merino, Georgie Waters about the yarn. I hadn’t meant to chat to the Business Manager. I had just left an email enquiry about where the yarn was processed, but Georgie called me back and spent quite a bit of time answering my questions which is rather amazing customer support I reckon.  This is part of the Superfine story.

Recently, many Superfine Merino farmers lost their contracts with overseas fabric manufacturers as high quality wool suiting has declined in men’s fashion. Cleckheaton decided to partner with a number of these farms and produce a luxury knitting yarn.  These are specific, individual farms and unmulesed sheep. Cleckheaton intends to include information on each farm and farmer in their website information as they develop the yarn further.

Sadly, the fleeces are sent to China for scouring, processing and spinning into singles. Sadly, I think because with the support of a company like Cleckheaton, local scourers and processors could thrive or at least survive. Knitters could feel confident that environmental and labour standards were being met and carbon miles could be substantially reduced. After processing in China, the fibre comes back to Australia where it is plied, dyed and skeined at the Wangaratta Woollen Mills.  The spinning and plying methods used for this yarn are apparently unique and Australian Country Spinners are looking to patent the process. It is unusual, almost a coil and highly energised.

thorin armourIn light of all this, I have revised my David and Goliath metaphor.  I have decided to read the relationship between my humble Gotland and luxury Merino through the stitch pattern that inspired my hat design in the first place.  Oakenshield Armoured is a stitch pattern developed from the plated, flexible armour designed by Ann Maskrey for the dwarf lord Thorin Oakenshield in the recent Hobbit films.

IMG_5988In my revised reading, the Gotland yarn is rather the oak branch that Thorin, Prince of Erebor picks up to defeat the barbarous orc, Azog at the gates of Moria in J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale of The Hobbit. The Merino is Thorin, royal and arrogantly confidence but requiring the humble strength of the oak branch to snatch victory from defeat (only in my hat, of course).

IMG_5965Here are my stitch pattern charts should you wish to create your own. The left chart is the main stitch pattern, the right chart is for the crown decreases.

IMG_6027I sized this for a small adult head of 55.5cm in circumference and repeated the pattern 18 times. Add or remove whole repeats to up size or down size, subtracting 10% of your stitch count for initial cast on and 1 x 1 ribbing. The central double decrease for the crown is centred on the edge stitch and maintains its colour pattern. After round 17, draw the yarn through the stitch loops.  The hat uses almost exactly two 50 gram balls of DK weight yarn.

IMG_6029I share my notes with you freely for your knitting pleasure but if you would like graded sizes and pattern support, please seek out a published design by a knitwear designer…that is their genius and hard work.


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  1. Everyone I know who’s used the superfine merino has raved about it. Like you, I’ve been sceptical but I’m thrilled to hear what you’ve found out.

    This is a most wonderful beanie, on more than one level

  2. Fabulous post, R., and a treat to wake up to this morning. The final photo of you is gorgeous in your beautiful hat. Nice to see your lovely face (and where did you get those fabulous glasses?). I can feel the softness of the yarn from here and it goes without saying that the thought that went into the design is evident. (PS Your charts look like mine for the few self-designs I have made. It makes me so happy to look at notes made by hand, to see the design process in action.) PPS The China for processing thing is a common story. I discovered a few years ago that fish caught on the east coast of Canada is often (or at least was, at the time) sent to China for processing and then returned to Canada for final packaging. I found out about this through the closure of fish processing plants. It blows the mind. Fish!

  3. Your new hat is quite lovely!! I’m really taken by your conversation with Georgie Waters. It seems as if you’ve opened the door to getting their merino completely processed in Australia. Keep nudging–don’t give up! Why
    should they send it away only to have it come back again?
    If it’s all processed in its homeland wouldn’t the price be more agreeable to more knitters. Win Win situation!!

  4. Wow I love the story behind the wools you had chosen for your hat. I love the pattern for your hat too. Just gorgeous and I have some of Cheryl’s gotland to spin up! Might be next on the wheel I think.

  5. Again, so impressed. Lovely beanie, fantastic work uncovering the background of the wool. I have avoided so many ‘big name’ wools because I am sceptical of their origins, but have never taken the next, most important step, which is to actually do the research. Thanks so much for taking that step, Rebecca. (Now if we can just start a groundswell of opinion that could convince the big name wool people to process here in Australia…)

  6. As I dive deeper and deeper into knitting/crochet, I get more interested in the origin and background of yarn I am using. Unfortunately I have just next to zero physical access to all the yarn goodness over there, so I really enjoyed reading what you have found out. Thank you for sharing!

  7. It is a beautiful design and I will cast it on this weekend as my younger daughter will be taking part in The Greatest Shave next month and needs hats! Thank you Rebecca! Regards Lisa

  8. And there I was feeling cross because although there is a mill in Wales a smaller producer whose ‘Welsh’ yarn I am interested is sending their fleece to a mill in Devon (a long way south) or a mill in Scotland (a long way north).

    A lot of the larger producers here use UK spinners, but some yarn is processed ridiculously far away.

    Your hat is stunning!

  9. It’s so good that Cleackheaton’s Business Manager took the time to talk to you and interesting to hear the story behind superfine merino, it sure does sound fine! It’s a good point of yours if Cleakheaton supported local scourers and processors many jobs would be saved and traditions continued. Your resulting hat is a wonder of colour, pattern and pompom glory! Thorin waving the branch in triumph.

  10. I love this hat so much! And in Gotland too … Gotland is one of my absolute weaknesses (that and Romney and Wensleydale). I need to make one of these beauties for me.

  11. I love this beanie – and the Hobbity reasoning behind it. I do think that we have rather more need of such a hat in the UK at this moment in time……….it’s cold here…brrr! As one of your other correspondents says, we think very highly of your Australian merino, but I am dismayed to hear it is processed in China – so much travel, so distant from its home turf. Hat looks great whatever – and I bet it feels gorgeous too.

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