Oh happy day!
Today we reveal a Mystery Yarn that we have struggled mightily to keep on the down low until we could put it out in the world.
What is it? It’s from Backyard Fiberworks.
Yes! The same Backyard Fiberworks beloved for the gorgeous dyeing work of Alice O’Reilly.
But this new yarn is undyed.
When would a brilliant dyer choose to leave a yarn undyed?
When the yarn is so special and beautiful, in its natural state, that it didn’t need one little thing more.
Both Woolly and Luxurious
We proudly introduce Alice CVM Silk.
This heavy worsted weight, woolen-spun, undyed yarn is 85% American CVM wool and 15% silk. Each skein is 150 grams/300 yards of woolly, silky goodness.
CVM stands for California Variegated Mutant, which we prefer to call California Very Marvelous. (Less weird sounding; more accurate.)
We are carrying in the MDK Shop a limited supply (the entire mill run) of Alice CVM Silk, in three undyed, natural shades.
It’s a delightful yarn that we are thrilled to share with you.
The Story of Alice CVM Silk: Short Version
May 2017. Alice [calling from the fairgrounds at Maryland Sheep & Wool on a scratchy cell connection]: You guys! A giant pile of CVM . . . bought it all . . . [sheep bleating] . . . it’s already on the truck to Vermont . . .
Ann and Kay: YES ALL THE YES PLEASE YES.
The Story of Alice CVM Silk: Director’s Cut
We had a feeling that our version of the story was leaving out quite a bit, so we asked the maker of this yarn, Alice O’Reilly, to tell the tale. What is CVM? And how did Alice, a passionate dyer, end up making a rustic-luxury yarn in a gradient of natural shades?
Take it away, Alice!
Rambouillet + Romney (aka Romeldale)
Once upon a time, the Panama Canal had just been built, and it was time to celebrate the new global shortcut. What better way to do that than to have a World’s Fair? The Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco invited countries to Show & Tell the best they had to offer. New Zealand showed everyone who’s boss by bringing sheep—the New Zealand Marsh Romney.
A.T. Spencer, an American sheep farmer raising Rambouillets, was duly impressed and bought them all up like the last skeins of the original Rowan Denim. He bred the Kiwi rams to his “California Girl” Rambouillet ewes, with the goal of producing soft, fine wool with good fleece weight, as well as lambs for meat. This group of Romney-Rambouillet crosses were bred for several years and selected for both wool and meat quality, eventually becoming known by the supercouple portmanteau, Romeldales.
The Romeldale breed really took hold in the 1940s and ’50s, thanks to the J.K. Sexton family. Good sheep farmers, the Sextons bred for high rates of twinning, maternal ability, and non-seasonal reproduction—basically, two-for-one lambs, moms don’t kill them, and no one is entirely committed to the “seasonal breeder” identity. Things were going great, the animals were hardy, their fleece was fine and crimpy, and most importantly for commercial purposes, that fleece was white.
Baa Baa Black Sheep
Cut to California in the ’60s. People were wearing flowers in their hair and tie dyeing everything that wasn’t tied down. Before this point, that old saw “whose fleece was white as snow” had real economic meaning. The price for less-than-snowy fleece was much lower, and the usual method for resolving this would be to cull the outliers.
However, Glen Eidman, insightful breeder and a partner of the Sextons, became interested in these dark-fleeced Romeldales and linebred them for several generations to reproduce the coloring more consistently. He referred to this group as California Variegated Mutants, usually shortened to CVM. The classic color pattern of the CVM is the badger-face, a light body with dark belly and head, which creates natural variegation on a single fleece. Fleece colors darken with age, rather than fade, further evidence of their mutant status.
Have You Any Wool?
One of the best things about the world of yarn, from farm to fiber to festival, is the enthusiasm people have for each other’s projects. Whether it’s a knitalong, a yarn bomb, or outfitting an entire political movement in pink hats, knitters are an “all aboard” group.
The idea I floated—making a worsted-weight-woolen-spun-
Since we all know that gray is the perfect neutral, the idea of three shades of gray—light, medium, and dark—was compelling. The darkest and lightest fleeces would be the darkest and lightest colors in the gradient, and a combination of the two would make the medium.
Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont agreed to spin it up, and we were rolling! True to their cooperative roots, Green Mountain Spinnery helped me decide to add raw silk (rather than bleached), to keep the rustic quality and avoid white flecks in the darkest shade.
The resulting yarn is truly one of my favorites. For me, of course, it’s largely emotional. But people who don’t know the whole story like it, too! This yarn lends itself to beautiful shawls, cozy cardigans, and my own version of the Fern & Feather sweater with its exquisitely neutral colorwork. The yarn is soft, the silk shines through, but the sheepiness shows in every stitch. And this is what I hope knitters will enjoy, as well.
More Pattern Ideas for Alice CVM Silk
Since last October, when Alice pressed a few sample skeins of her CVM Silk into our hands at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, we’ve been thinking about patterns for Alice CVM Silk.
There are so many possibilities for a yarn like this; it’s a luxury natural yarn, and it’s also a workhorse you can wear forever. To our minds, it calls out for classic cardigans and pullovers, and generous, cozy shawls.
Let’s be clear: a pattern has to deserve this yarn.
In the Cozy Wrap for Life department, we love the aptly named Authenticity by Sylvia McFadden.
Our thanks to Kate Salomon of The Green Mountain Spinnery for knitting this beautiful sample in the dark shade of Alice CVM Silk.
In the Granddad Cardigan That Your Kids Will Fight Over Department, we recommend Roger by Nell Ziroli.
Here’s the current state-of-play for a Roger that Nell is knitting in the dark shade of Alice CVM Silk.
The fabric pocket lining for Kay’s Roger, I mean the Roger sample that Nell is knitting that just happens to be Kay’s size.
R O G E R ! ! !
We have one other pattern on our short list-in-formation, but we’re waiting to make sure the gauge really, truly works out before we give it the MDK Seal of Approval/OK to Knit in Alice CVM Silk. (Yes, it’s Carbeth, by Kate Davies.)