Swatchfest: Comparing Black Water Abbey, Jamieson’s, and Virtual Yarns

A while back, I posted a report on my Swatchfest celebration.  I was only part-way finished at that time, but I wanted to give you an interim report, nevertheless.  I held Swatchfest with a few goals in mind:  First, I wanted to test out yarns from Black Water Abbey and Jamieson’s, two brands that I’d heard a lot about and wanted to try out in a way more meaningful than simply fingering the bits of yarn on shade cards.  Second, I wanted to build up a swatch library.  I love knitting Aran sweaters, so I wanted to build up a library of options to consider for cabled knitting.  I’ve got swatches from Virtual Yarns, but no others.  Swatchfest would remedy that problem.  Third, I’ve got Arans for my husband and younger son on my short list of things to knit, and having the swatches done would allow them to choose the yarn for their sweaters without having to squint at shade cards and make an educated guess about how those little snippets would look all plaited up in cables.   Finally, I wanted to compare these three brands of yarn in terms of colors, texture, and overall knitability.

Knitting up the swatches was fun — swatches are great take-along projects (although non-knitters always seem a bit bummed when they find out that the thing I’m knitting is just a swatch).  It was often easier to talk myself into swatch knitting in the evenings, rather than picking up a complicated lace chart, as evenings tend to find me rather worn out from the day’s efforts.

Here are the results from Swatchfest, Round Two:

From Black Water Abbey:

Old Purple is an intriguing blend of purple and brown.  I think a sweater knitted up in this yarn would go well with brown or khaki pants or a skirt.

Despite its very dark color, the cables in Peat stood at attention.  The dark color was very hard on my eyes unless I knit in direct sunlight, however.  Because of the eyestrain, I won’t be knitting up anything in Peat any time soon.

Ocean is a deep teal that would look good on men or women.

From Jamieson’s:

Aubergine is a lovely blend of indigo, purple, and wine.  A nice unisex color.

Purple Heather is hard to characterize.  It’s overall shade is more burgundy than purple, with elements of wine, purple, rust, and even green.  With most of these colors, it’s best to knit up swatches to see how the colors work in something larger than a shade card snippet.  That’s particularly true for this shade, I think.

Oceanic (not to be confused with Ocean, above) reminds me of the surf at the Maui beaches I’ve visited — deep turquoise with a bit of apple green.  Probably too effiminate for the guys’ tastes, but it would be great for me.

North Sea is a steely, granite grey with bluish undertones.

I got excited when I saw Cedar as an unknit skein.  I couldn’t wait to knit it up and see how it did.  It reminds me of Virtual Yarn’s Selkie, except that Cedar is predominately mallard green, rather than Selkie’s Indigo, and Cedar has more prominent elements of fuchsia missing from Selkie.  That said, I think that Cedar is more feminine and Selkie is more unisex.

Comparing the Yarns:

Virtual Yarns and Jamieson’s are three-ply Aran weight yarns, and to me, were equivalent in terms of feel, how they held cables, and intricacy of color blending.  Both knit up into sturdy fabrics with prominent cables.  Both have beautiful heathered blends of colors.  Both washed up to similar degrees of softness.  One thing I liked more about Jamieson’s was the wider variety of 3-ply colors.  Virtual Yarns has a wider variety in 2-ply, but I prefer the 3-ply for Aran knitting.

Much virtual ink has been spilled regarding Black Water Abbey’s rough texture.  I found that the yarn was rougher than either Virtual Yarns or Jamieson’s, but after it had been washed and blocked twice, I thought the degree of softness was about the same as the other two.  Why twice?  I wash and block each sweater piece separately, then the whole sweater again once it’s finished.  So, I think the end product would be just fine, particularly because we always wear layers under our sweaters.  I did find, however, that the yarn was rougher right off the skein than the other two.  I didn’t think that was particularly bothersome, but a knitter with sensitive skin may need to load up on moisturizer when knitting this yarn.

Another distinguishing factor is that Black Water Abbey is a 2-ply yarn, which knit up into a somewhat lighter fabric than the other two, and which may cause the cables to really stand out.   I thought that Black Water Abbey’s variety of colorways was similar to the choices offered by Jamieson’s, and had no trouble at all finding a lot of selections that I might want to knit up.  One more thing I liked about swatching Black Water Abbey was that I could buy it in 1-ounce “snack size” balls, which made it more economical to swatch up a bunch of different colors.

Comparing Colorways:

Virtual Yarn’s Selkie and Jamieson’s Cedar

These are two of my favorite colorways.  Selkie is more indigo and Cedar is more mallard.  Each is beautiful.

Virtual Yarn’s Lapwing and Black Water Abbey’s Forest

Lapwing is more of a teal, owing to the dark blue elements running through it.  Forest is a deep emerald, as it contains black, rather than blue.  Both are stunning.

Black Water Abbey’s Ocean and Grey Sea

These are two different shades of teal, both of which are lovely.

Black Water Abbey’s Old Purple and Jamieson’s Purple Heather

Seen side-by-side, you can really see that Purple Heather is more of a wine color than Old Purple.

Aubergine, Bluestack, and Wood Violet

This trio of purple-indigo colorways shows how they shades differ.

Aubergine, Limpet and Old Purple

Trio of purple colorways.  Limpet is predominately purple with some fuchsia blended in, while Old Purple has brown instead of fuchsia.

Ocean and  Virtual Yarn’s Lapwing

This shows the teal aspect of Lapwing, and illustrates how its blue elements differentiate it from Ocean.

To sum up, I’m glad I invested the time and money into Swatchfest.  I think I can make some good decisions for my upcoming projects based on what I’ve learned.

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