Sunday, December 6, 2009

The matter of vegetable matter

"My expensive tweed yarn has straw in it!" my knitting gal pal, Teresa exclaimed. Her pictures prove her point: little "splinters," as she says, are sprinkled throughout her skeins. She posted her issue to the Yahoo Ample Knits group and several people responded that her yarn has VM or vegetable matter.

What in heck is vegetable matter? According to the Bedford Country, PA, Cooperative Extension:
Vegetable matter in wool comes from feed particles as well as burs, seeds, twigs, leaves, and grasses. Vegetable matter is removed from a fleece using a process called scouring. A certain amount of vegetable matter is expected in wool, however, an excessive amount is considered a defect and the wool may be discounted in price.

Several ways to minimize the amount of vegetable matter in wool include the following: removing belly wool, wool on the top of the head and around the cheeks, and removing manure clumps or tags. Carefully feeding sheep to prevent contamination can also decrease the amount of vegetable matter in the wool.
Manure clumps? ACK! I now feel about yarn the way I do about steak: steak doesn't come from a cow - it comes from the Safeway. Therefore, yarn doesn't come from a shit-laden sheep - it comes from the yarn shop!

I thought the vegetable matter problem was unique to Teresa's yarn, but I was wrong. Last night, I swatched some red yarn I bought several months ago in preparation for the Comfy Cardigan in Clara Parkes' new book, The Knitter's Book of Wool. (The pattern is really cute and presents some interesting challenges for upsizing, so watch this space soon to learn more.) The yarn, Briggs and Little Selkirk, should be 100% percent wool. Instead, it's 5% splinters and 95% wool - way too much VM for me. I picked out a bunch of straw as I knitted and still found the swatch littered with crap (no pun intended) after washing and drying. Therefore, I'm going to sell this yarn on eBay and knit the Comfy Cardigan in Berroco Peruvia. I used this for Tom's Ice Scraper Glove and really liked it.

Remember that Lace Inset Pullover I'm supposed to be making? Well, it sits in my knitting basket while I finish Sharon's slippers and Michael's Lusekoft hat. I dread going back to the sweater because knitting that vast field of stockinette for the back is BORING. So this morning, I splurged and bought myself an early Christmas present: a Bond Ultimate Knitting Machine Deluxe. Thank you Joann Fabrics for the 50% off coupon!

My plan: knit the tedious parts of my sweaters using the machine and finish up the interesting parts by hand. I'm hoping I can make the Lace Inset Pullover back and sleeves quickly and just focus on the lace front. Maybe that way I can finish the sweater for my family's Christmas party. Plus hopefully you'll get something out of it, too. I'll get my upsized sweaters done more quickly and share the results and lessons learned. Stay tuned!


  1. Yep! VM IS a pain to deal with...I hate paying so much for the pricey yarn which has it just to be 'eco friendly'.
    I wonder how many other VM laden skeins are being sold as a bargain on ebay?

    I am beginning to see your point after knitting this aran I am working on with the fun cables all over. St st IS a bit boring. Cables and bulky yarn are a great combo.

  2. As a spinner and knitter, I've had my share of VM in fiber and yarn. I've actually found more VM in some commercial yarns than I have in my fiber.

    I haven't had any manure in the fiber after it's sorted, washed, and prepped. Just saying. It's not unusual for me to be knitting with my yarn and have a little bit of hay that needs to be picked out. Most of it comes out in the processing. I just deal with it since it's part of the craft.

    I'll be interested to see what you think of the knitting machine. I have a couple of knitting/spinning friends who have them and really love using them.

  3. Calicokitty, if I were buying handspun yarn, I'd be more than willing to put up with VM in my yarn. That wouldn't bother me at all. It is objectionable to have all the hay in commercially produced yarn though. I'd love to see your yarn... do you sell it on Etsy or Ravelry?

    Thanks so much for reading my blog. Keep coming back!