top of page

When "Superfine" actually means itchy

I set out to create an ultrawearable spring knit tee

A wooden bowl filled with soft, creamy pale yarn. Set on a dark background with while silk flowers.

I’m working on a seamless, top-down, in-the-round raglan. I know, I know. WHO IS SHE?! Here’s why. I know a lot of you are newer knitters, or you struggle with your purl tension, or you’re most familiar with an in-the-round raglan. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a great fit, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t excited to dabble in making some of the modifications we talk about around here. When I say everyone deserves a great fit, I mean everyone.

A knit tee on a dress form. It has a v-neck and short sleeves and is creamy pale sesame.

Classic LBD is a fingering weight, stockinette stitch tee shirt with a moderate v-neck. I wanted something I could wear as a basic tee shirt, every single day, from February to May. I also wanted something affordable and neutral and clean.

I settled on Purl Soho’s Sweetgrass. It’s 65% cotton and 35% superfine alpaca. I typically work with wool and know that superfine merino (at 17.6-18.5 microns) is a very wearable fiber for me, so I thought, “bingo.” At $18 for a skein and 437 yds / 400 m per skein, I’m looking at a sweater that’s $36. Unheard of, perfect, wonderful. I knit it. I blocked it. I tried it on. I nearly collapsed in frustration.

Yarn descriptions are subjective

Why is this sweater so itchy?! It’s superfine alpaca, and I’ve never had an issue with that before! I emailed Purl Soho and they wrote right back. “The superfine alpaca used in Sweetgrass is 26 microns.” Ah. I see. I was furious. “This is a damn lie. How can they call it ‘superfine’ if it’s super coarse?!” After all, I teach about this. I know what superfine is. And this, dear reader, is not it.

Except, actually, it is (with caveats) Alpaca gets sorted into grades based on the diameter of the fibers (measured in microns, one millionth of a meter). The following information is from the Alpaca Owners Association (AOA).

"Alpaca fiber shall be recognized within the seven (7) grades defined by micron span as

follows: Grade 0: 15.0 – 16.9 micron Grade 1: 17.0 – 19.9 micron Grade 2: 20.0 – 22.9 micron Grade 3: 23.0 – 25.9 micron Grade 4: 26.0 – 28.9 micron Grade 5: 29.0 – 31.9 micron Grade 6: 32.0 – 34.9 micron The Fiber Committee chose not to assign names (baby, royal baby, superfine, fine, etc.) to the standards, as the committee found these terms to be inconsistent across the world. The committee used quantitative measures instead of subjective terms.”