Wednesday, February 8, 2012


With apologies to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, for our purposes, the Holy Grail is that which is magical and practically unattainable. So how does one go about knitting such an impossible masterpiece? Well, first we have to talk about what most knitting projects are made from. That would be yarn. And the most common source of natural yarn would be animal fibers or wool. We’ve all knit with yarn made from sheep's wool. And most of us have probably knit with alpaca. Those blessed with tons of patience might have already tackled a few projects with the more common exotic yarns: Cashmere or Mohair, both from goats, and Angora from rabbits. The less common (and more expensive) exotic yarns would include muskox (Quiviut), yak, camel and bison. There are also other unusual sources. I’ve seen yarns that contain possum and mink. Llama yarn also exists but one doesn’t see it often. Actually, one could spin yarn out of any animal fiber. Dog, for example. No lie. There’s even a word for yarn spun from dog hair. Chiengora. How charming. Silk is, technically speaking, made by an animal but not really an animal fiber. Major essays could be written about all of these sources of yarn, and one day, maybe I’ll take up that challenge. But today I’m here to specifically write about one particular animal fiber. The Rolls Royce of wool. Vicuña.

The diameter of a wool fiber is measured in microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter. An average human hair, for example, measures approximately 100 microns. The lower the number of microns, the finer the wool. A wool that is exceptionally fine will measure in the low teens. Cashmere, Angora, the finest of Alpaca and the highest quality Merino sheep are examples of wool that measure in the 12 to 15 range. Quiviut averages around 11 microns. Cathy actually carries a few balls of Quiviut blend in the store.  I'm not sure if I’m allowed to touch it. Vicuña (pronounced vee-coo-nyah) measures from 6 to 10 microns. To say that Vicuña is of a fine quality is to say that Shakespeare wrote some nice plays, that Beethoven came up with some charming melodies, that Picasso drew some pretty pictures, that Michael Jordan knew how to shoot a basketball. It is a trip to the moon just to be able to say that one has touched this yarn. And to say that one has actually knit with Vicuña must be what achieving Nirvana is all about. So lookout, Nirvana, ‘cause here I come!

There is one small impediment, however. You can’t expect to pay the same price for a Rolls Royce that you would pay for a Minivan. Online sources show a woven Vicuña scarf retailing for $1,500. A man’s overcoat goes for $20,000. Unless you’re in the Bill Gates category of wealth, these are prices that make one pause. Currently, quality vicuña yarn costs around $300 dollars an ounce. This ounce will provide one with 200 yards or so of unsurpassed luxury. With it one could make half a hat or a small portion of a scarf. But what the heck. If I’m going to knit with Vicuña, I’m not going to mess around with a hat or a scarf or, heaven forbid, socks! I’m going to make me a Double X sweater. Excuse me a sec while I go do the math.


According to my calculator, a 100% Vicuña Double X sweater knit in a simple pattern would cost around $4,800 in yarn. But I will not be deterred. I think it’s time to ask Cathy for a raise.