A few weeks ago I was contacted by a private company informing me that they were starting a line of knitting yarn. Obviously, the idea of new yarn on the market was a greatly exciting prospect, and I eagerly awaited the arrival of some sample yarn.
Pilana is a new yarn brand brought to us by New Zealand entrepreneur Roger Beattie under his company R&N Beattie Partnership.
This is a yarn that has been developed to showcase the wool of Pihepe sheep. It is an interesting woollen-spun 4 ply with very soft twist, and comes in its natural brown in three synergistic blends: 50% Pihepe, 25% merino and 25% cashmere, possum or alpaca.
Pilana is an 100% New Zealand yarn – grown, processed and spun in New Zealand. Even the cashmere has been sourced in New Zealand. The company have gone to considerable effort to produce a yarn line that reflects the true qualities of Pihepe wool, which in among other interesting qualities, has very high crimp.
According to the Beattie website, Pihepe originate from the Pitt Island wild sheep flock. This flock, in turn, originates from Saxony Merinos brought to the Chatham Islands by Baron von Alsdorf in 1841. Recognising the important commercial value of Pitt Island Wild Sheep, Roger and his wife have been bringing flocks of these sheep from where they have been living in isolation for over 100 years, to their organic land at Lucas Bay in Canterbury. The sheep, organically raised by the Beatties are known as “Pihepe”. I encourage you to read more of their fascinating story here.
I was generously supplied with two samples – the possum and alpaca blends.
What is the yarn like?
It is a very softly woollen spun, 4 ply yarn. It has about the same strand strength as that of J&S Shetland 2 ply or Kauni. True to its merino roots, this yarn is also very soft, especially so once washed.
The soft woollen spin has created a very lofty yarn, with a lot of bounce and what I’d describe as a spongy ‘squish’ factor. I suspect that the fleece of the Pihepe also has a fairly short staple, given the look of the sheep in photos, and the fact that each sheep only produces 1kg of fleece. This would also add to the loftiness of the yarn.
In terms of performance, I am not sure the yarn will be strong enough for socks, or for heavy duty garments. As a sweater, shawl, hat, baby garment or blanket, I would say it is very suitable.
Is Pilana any different to what is already on the scene in New Zealand? I think I would say yes. There are few 4 ply or lightweight woollen spun yarns in the market (in fact, I’m struggling to recall a single brand that falls into this category apart from possum yarn). There are also very few yarns with this level of airy lightness (this is probably the “soft loft” the company refers to the label). I find that quality particularly attractive as I’ve been looking for a yarn like this for a while.
Personally, I would love to see a 100% Pihepe wool yarn. After reading about how great the wool of this sheep is, this wool lover is desperate to know how it performs on its own! I find the addition of the alpaca or possum a bit of a distraction. It is difficult to get a feel for the wool’s true characteristics, with the overlaid fuzz of the luxury fibres.
I was also a little disappointed that there was no nice sheepy scent to this yarn, especially with its minimal processing claims. After enquiries, I was told that the mill required the lanolin to be scoured out as it would ‘gunk up the machines’. They are looking to get a bit of the lanolin back into the yarn. A good move, in my opinion. I gather that the fleece was scoured organically, and there are also plans to try to have this yarn spun organically, to be as true to organic principles as possible.
Despite the gauge recommendation on the label, I believe this yarn is what I would call heavy fingering/sport weight. I got a very nice fabric using 3.75mm needles, with a gauge of 22 sts to 10cm/4″.
I suspected from the look of the yarn that it would bloom significantly once I washed it, and I was not disappointed.
Compare the look of the washed samples to the balls of yarn, and you can see the level of haze that develops in the fabric. The swatch on the left is the alpaca blend, and the swatch on the right is the possum blend.
I was keen to see how much stitch definition I’d get with the possum yarn, and so I knitted a small row of diamond pattern and eyelets into one section of the swatch. As you can see in the image, it blooms so much that this yarn would not be suitable for projects with delicate stitch detail. Here’s a closer look:
I am having visions of a hat in this yarn, and once I get my current design finalised, I will most likely turn my attention to knitting one to test how it performs as a knitted garment.
Each ball contains a generous 180m. This means that you can easily get a hat out of one ball, and two would give you a nice sized shawlette or a baby garment. This makes it reasonably economical, although I am still wincing at price. At $16.45+ postage for a 50g ball of alpaca yarn, and $19 + postage for a 50g ball of possum or cashmere blend, it is not a yarn that the average person would want to rush out and buy a garment-lot of. I guess the low fleece yield, combined with the slow processing time has added to the cost to produce this yarn.
I do hope that they continue to develop this yarn, and I’d love to see a 100% Pihepe yarn. I wonder if there is also enough fleece colour variation to eventually produce different shades of natural yarn?
I love that New Zealand’s unique sheep breeds are being utilised, and kudos to the Beatties for their love of the sheep and their work with wool! It’s a good thing to see.