Friday, August 20, 2010

Noro Love

It took me a while to understand Noro yarns.  Perhaps you have seen them in our yarn departments - lovely little swirls of color with Japanese names: Kureyon. Silk Garden. Taiyo.  For so long I could not understand the color combinations, the wooly textures, the uneven twists of the yarn.  I knew people who were "real knitters" (as opposed to myself, a quilter who dabbles) loved Noro, but I failed to understand why.

But then I was too pregnant to sit comfortably at my sewing machine, and I needed a nice lengthy project, and this beautiful lace-weight Noro called Sekku arrived at our Northgate and Bellevue stores, so I decided to give lace knitting a try. Lace has always intimidated me a bit, so I selected a simple pattern and started to knit - and started to love Noro. 

As my scarf drifted from color to color, I realized that if it had been a simple solid, or even a splattery hand dye, my knitting would have been tedious - over and over, repeating the same stitch pattern would have become exceedingly dull. But the magic of my Sekku skein was that as I knitted, I would see flecks of red dotting the black, till the yarn had turned crimson, then I would notice that it was beginning to variegate to a soft dove grey, then drifting into purples, emeralds, teals, browns, limes -  Noro's colors kept me knitting to get to the next transition, never growing bored. Texturally, the delicacy of the thin yarn was broken up by slubs of thicker, less twisted fibers, giving my knitting a more interesting surface as well as shading.  I am on my third skein of Sekku now, and I want to explore them all.

But it isn't just Sekku I have learned to appreciate  - now that I recognize the magic of Noro, I am finding myself drawn to all of the yarns - Kureyon and Silk Garden, the Noro classics, let me have the same variegations in a worsted weight for much quicker or larger projects, and make amazing hats, scarves, or sweaters. Both also come in a sock weight, and with huge yardages per skein, they ignite my mind with possibilities.  I love Taiyo - a gorgeous blend of cotton, silk, wool, and nylon, it is simultaneously soft and natural feeling.  I designed an afghan in it that is so lovely, it will be making its appearance in a book about Noro next spring!  I'm going to be published! And the crazy part is, it isn't really my kntting that is so great - remember, I am a dabbler. It is the yarn that brings the blanket to life.

You must always remember when selecting your Noro skein to look into the heart of the ball - from the outside you see only the colors that wound up on the edges, but in the heart you may find a whisper of neon, a moment of darkness, or a diversion into pool blue.  I was shocked to find a section of fuschia in my skein of greens, blacks and reds - but as I knit it into my project, I found it had that magical "zing" that quilters always seek - the contrast that makes a piece interesting. The ball of Kureyon I am holding here, for example, is all rich darks on the outside - but if you peek in the center, you see the sparks of yellow and apple greens.  When you knit with it, those will appear as electric waves of color, making your project vibrant. Of course, you can not look into the heart, and let those bursts of unexpected color come as delightful surprises.

If you also have struggled to understand the appeal of Noro, I strongly suggest finding a simple project - a seed-stitch scarf would be perfect - and discover the wonderful power of color.

Seed Stitch Scarf:
Use a worsted weight yarn - Kureyon or Silk garden, for example.  You will want about 220 yards for a nice length, so you'll need two skeins.
Size 7 knitting needles.

Cast on 41 stitches.
All rows: Knit 1, purl 1 to end of row.
When  you only have a few yards of yarn left, bind off.

All Pacific Fabric stores have a selection of Noro yarns, although not all stores carry all of the yarns.  Check at your local store for the Noro of your dreams.

 - Anna-Beth


Praxidike said...

Noro yarns are fabulous--but you need to work them up to understand the appeal. My first skein was a singlet I found in a clearance basket. I made a hat from the book "One Skein Wonders" and by the time I had a few inches, I was in love. Before that I had thought that Kureyon was too scratchy, but it softened up as I worked, and you're right--the subtle change in color kept me from getting bored.

Erica said...

Thank you for your insight into this yarn! I am a crocheter, and have just bought my first two skeins of Noro Kureyon after eyeballing them for sometime. I've been reading online about the love-hate feelings toward this yarn - the unevenness or coarseness, the straw and/or plant fibers, the knots... but it is such a beautiful yarn and I am looking forward to using it (in a lacy scarf) for the same reasons you described - the transition of the colors and not really knowing HOW it's going to turn out, visually. Seems like an enjoyable mystery to unfold. I had also read that it's best to unwind your skein and deal with the knots that result in sudden color changes, before you get going... so I'll be doing that. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!