I don’t remember exactly when I first saw Jill Draper’s Rifton yarn, but I remember a sensation of falling. As a longtime devotee of Noro Silk Garden, I recognized that Rifton is made in a similar way: the long color changes are created by spinning in different colors of wool (not by applying dye to sections of a finished yarn).
This process means that the color changes are gradual, hazy. When you’re knitting with Rifton, you don’t know that one color is over until you are well into the next color, and in getting there you’ve passed through a transitional phase where the yarn is neither the Before color nor the After color. This subtle, perpetual shift of color is exquisite while you’re knitting it, and in the finished product.
Rifton is a yarn that is a metaphor for life: you don’t see the changes as they’re happening.
Although I recognized the marvel of Rifton’s construction, it blew my mind to learn that Rifton’s colors are achieved by using two colors of natural, undyed wool–straight off the sheep’s back, more or less–and two dyed colors. The natural shades anchor the dyed shades, somehow. The yarn is colorful, yet neutral. Alchemy!
I finally got my hands on some last year, in the Winter colorway of blues and grays. I held onto that 600-yard cake of love for ages, gazing at it in its muslin kerchief, wondering what to make with it. What project could be worthy of my precious 600 yards?
Metronome. Metronome was worthy. And my love for Rifton grew.
A (Coffee) Date with Destiny
Earlier this year, Jill was in town. We had coffee, and I popped a big question: would she make an exclusive colorway of Rifton for our not-yet-exisiting shop? [cue suspenseful music]….YES! Jill would make a brand-new colorway, just for us.
What colors did we like, she wanted to know.
Um, the colors that you make, Jill? This was an impossible question. We threw it back in her lap, mumbling something about “maybe blue? green? blue/green?”
Zen and the Art of Yarn
Over the spring and summer, we’d get little Jill-grams, accompanied by baggies of dyed fiber, and mock-ups taped to cardboard.
In the spring, Jill was driving up and down the East Coast picking up bags of wool from “the clip.” She couldn’t tell us how many skeins of Rifton we could have until she had collected all the wool and had a close look at it. Natural shades are a bit harder to get, in quantity, than white wool. We had to be zen about it. With Jill as our example, we were zen. The sheep would provide!
We also had to be zen about when our yarn would be spun. We knew where it would be spun: at the venerable Green Mountain Spinnery, a worker-owned cooperative in Putney, Vermont. But the timing was dependent on the other yarns in their queue. There are best practices about when different colors and fibers can be spun. You don’t want to be putting a bunch of dark wool into the works before you’re done spinning the light colors. Jill would let us know.
Birth of a Yarn
In August, we got a text from Jill: our Rifton was going to be spun that week.
Doesn’t everybody ask their yarn midwife to take pictures at the birth? We certainly did.
Here are clumps of wool on a machine at the Green Mountain Spinnery in Putnam, Vermont. Kind of a mess. I’m not sure about this. If I’d been there, I might have cried a little.
The mixing of the clumps. I sure hope they know what they’re doing. (Also: what do they do when one of these machines breaks down? WD-40? Time travel? )
Something more organized is happening now.
Cotton candy, reminiscent of the Cumberland skies.
Our Rifton is no longer four colors of fluff: it’s Rifton, 100% American grown wool, in an exclusive long-striping colorway called Appalachian Trail, and two coordinating solid-color shades of Rifton Mono: Skies Over the Cumberland and Central Park Bench.
It’s so new that I haven’t even cast anything on yet. What are you making, Ann?
(Photos by Jill Draper.)