80% Milk Protein, 20% Superwash Merino
+/- 500 yd / 457 m
8.5-9 sts / in US #1
Milky Way presents vast possibilities and could easily fulfill many of your yarn needs. Milk protein fiber seems new and cool, so I was surprised to find that it was developed in the early 1930s. Milk protein fiber was extensively used through the 1930s and 1940s, but nearly disappeared in the late 1940s. It continued to be used, but was not part of the consumer conciousness again until the 1990s.
Milk protein is a natural product, and the process for creating fiber from the casein protein derived from milk is a wet spinning and drying process. It is not listed as a manufactured fiber on government and international standards lists. I thought it might be a rayon, but casein is a protein, not a cellulose fiber so it doesn't qualify. I learned quite a bit reading a patent application for a new process of producing milk protein fiber, and from historical information. You can get a nice idea of the state of milk protein fiber here.
If you look at this second post on the Fiber of My Being blog you will get the information that I think as a knitter, you really want! You can see from the photos of the fiber, that it has a distinct luster, and that is what gives Milky Way its soft sheen. It also makes it a little slippery which gives it good drape and allows the stitches to open up. The stickiness she refers to is both a positive and a negative.
I originally selected Milky Way for an update of Belon, a garter lace shawl. A revision of the current pattern, with the sample done in Milky Way, is due out in the fall of 2017. I have personally knit Belon in three different yarn types: 1) pure silk, 2) a cotton-merino-possum blend, and 3) a rayon. The silk and rayon were quite slippery and had lovely drape. The silk was light-as-a-feather, while the rayon was a similar weight to Milky Way, so had more substance. The cotton-merino-possum made a slightly more casual fabric, but it still had great drape.
So Milky Way had to meet some high expectations. What I found was a perfect blending of the characteristics of the three other yarns I had used. I ended up with a lovely shawl (knit by someone else!) with great drape that showed off the stitch pattern to perfection.
Eventually I got curious about what else you could do with this yarn. Milky Way has a lot of projects on Ravelry (324!) with a lot of smiley faces, proving its vast possibilities. I was struck by the variety so I started doing an exploration swatch. I’m a loose knitter, and started with a US size 3(3.25mm) needles. I started with seed, then did some garter.
I got to thinking this would be a great yarn for a camisole in my archives, so I cast on to try the Lifted YO pattern (hated it) and tried it with a seed background instead of stockinette. I liked it, but it was not worth the effort of working seed stitch. I moved on to the Berry Stitch I loved from some projects I did for Love of Knitting, pairing it with a 3x3 rib. I wet blocked the swatches, which made everything better, and mostly smoothed out some sticky stitches.
After a couple of days of looking at the patterns on Ravelry I decided to try something else. I wasn’t convinced I wanted to work in stockinette because the stickiness of Milky Way makes some stitches uneven and I would need to go down to a US size 2(2.75mm) or smaller to get denser fabric. I’ve got more than a skein of Milky Way on my shelf and I started considering what I would most enjoy making. I started swatching Pinnacle Chevron, on US size 2(2.75mm). I got a really interesting fabric as the knits and purls curled around each other.
But we know that what we see in its raw form isn’t always what we end up with, don’t we? So off to wet block and see what I would end up with. My experience is that this rib flattens out quite a bit.
To round up my thoughts on the vast possibilities of Milky Way:
- This is a lovely soft, smooth, yet not slippery yarn, with great luster, and significant drape.
- It is perfect for a shawl, but there vast possibilities beyond shawls.
- Try different stitch patterns to make it sing for you—peruse those projects on Ravelry.
- There are some Milky Way advantages:
- blended with 20% merino, it has the softness and springiness of merino although it is a flat-ish yarn;
- the properties of milk protein are moisture absorption and conduction (i.e., comfort and quick drying), luster, similar feel to merino, and it takes dye well.
- Blocks well both wet and steam. Find instructions for wet blocking here and steam blocking here.
- Stickiness of the milk protein fiber can cause stitches to be uneven* and made it a little maddening when I split a stitch. *There is an argument that I shouldn’t read subtitles and knit!
- All fibers made with wet spinning are weak when wet, so wash away, but take care when taking it out of a bath.
I am including charts for the stitch patterns I used. Note that I make Action Charts, which mean that a knit is always a knit, and a purl is always a purl—or what you see is what you do.
What I used:
Milky Way in Seaside
Size 3(3.25mm) Addi lace circular needles
Brittany size 2(2.75mm) dpns (as straight needles)
Clover ring markers.