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August 19, 2011 / KristenMakes

On Yarn…

Welcome to our first post on ‘The Newbie & the Knitter’ knitalong!  We will be knitting the Cadence pullover by Jordana Paige, which is free from Knitty!  The pattern isn’t necessarily beginner but I am confident that we can successfully make it through and enjoy the knitting experience together.

Today’s post is about choosing yarn, but before I get in to that I want to tell you something lots of knitters forget.  Knitting is meant to be fun, relaxing and enjoyable.  It is not meant to be frought with worry, doubt or second-guessing.   If at any point you are finding yourself stressed and not enjoying the process, take a break!  Turn off your mind, get some tea and a good book, and distance yourself with your work, even for a few days, if necessary.  I find that when something isn’t making sense to me or is stressing me out, a little break always helps!  And by all means, talk with us!  Sarah, as a fellow-newbie will gladly commiserate with you, and I, the knitter, will help you through it!  Now that being said, let’s talk about yarn!  I’m going to start off with a bit about knitting yarns in general (fibre & weight) and then finish off with tips about shopping for yarn for KAL pattern.  So if you already know a bit about fibre and weight, skip to the end!

First off, fibre. 

Wool:  My main favourite!  Find more info on Wool from this article.

9_Sheep Friends

  • PROs:   It is hardy, durable, easy to care for (it rarely needs washing), warm and it smells delicious!
  • CONs:   scratchy, warm, can irritate skin
  • Eco-rating:   depends.  As a renewable source, it is great but not all wool is organic.  Quite often the sheep are treated with a ‘sheep-dip’ to kill pesticides in their fleece.  However organic wool can be expensive.
  • Wool I’ve used & loved:  Twilley’s of Stamford Purity Eco-wool, anything from New Lanark (a charity/museum that spins wool for the visitors to see, and sells it too!), Rowan Renew, Scappa (local to Edinburgh’s K1 Yarns), Jamiesons Shetland Wool, Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool.

Noteworthy: there are variations of wool.

  • Merino a breed of sheep that yields softer wool, albeit too soft for me!
  • Superwash wool has been treated so that it will not shrink in the wash, but should still be treated carefully and test washed first.
  • Different animals’ wools have different qualities.  Wool from cashmere goats is super soft/luxurious/expensive.  Lambswool is soft. Alapaca is also soft and lovely have tends to stretch a wee bit after washing.

Cotton:  summary derived from this article.  A great staple, esp. to warmer climates

Image Source

  • PROs: lightweight, breathable, strong, washable, inexpensive
  • CONs: the fibre is inelastic which can be more difficult for knitters, can get really heavy and stretch when wet.
  • Eco-rating:  also depends.  Cotton usually requires LOADS of water to cultivate, and most cotton is pesticide-heavy.  However, organic cotton is easier and cheaper to find than organic wool (I have found).
  • Cottons I’ve used & loved: none!  I haven’t used any, I think!  I’ve just only had need for wool here in Scotland.  If you have found a good cotton brand, please share with us!

Silk:

  • PROs: lovely and luxurious
  • CONs: delicate; as such, it is usually part of a blend
  • Eco-rating: it is renewable, but as most silks require the killing of the silkworm that creates it, many vegans disapprove.  There is peace silk emerging in clothing markets that uses a process that does NOT kill the silk worm, but I have not yet seen it present in knitting yarns (if you have seen, please share!)
  • Silk blends I’ve used & loved:  Fyberspates Scrumptious (a merino/silk blend)

Bamboo: summarised from this article

(Image Source)

  • PROs: Strong, Flexible, VERY eco-friendly, anti-bacterial, soft
  • CONs: may split, loses strength when wet
  • Eco-Rating:  Amazing.  Renewable (easily and quickly) and biodegradable
  • Bamboo yarn I’ve used & loved:  Naturally Caron Spa (although this is a bamboo/acrylic blend)

Acrylic: information taken from here and here.

  • PROs: not irritable like wool, washable, durable, moth-resistant, non-animal fibre
  • CONs: non-renewable, most people don’t like the feel of knitting with it, not as warm as wool
  • Eco-rating:  not very good.  It doesn’t break down in landfills when  tossed, it is made from plastic, which comes from oil
  • Acrylics I’ve used & loved:  none.  I’ve used it before I became the yarn snob that I now am, but didn’t think much of it.  It is great for babies and those with wool allergies, but I just don’t enjoy using it.

Another yarn options is also to used recycled yarn from old or second-hand sweaters.

IMG_3787

Here are a few tutorials on how to choose a sweater and how to unravel it: Crafting a Green World & Craft Stylish.  Know of a good video or tutorial in this?  Please share!

More links: Eco-friendly Fibres, Yarn brand reviews

On to Weight.  Referring to yarn, this is the different categories of yarn thicknesses.  Different countries have different categories, but here is a table I’ve compiled from Ravelry and Wikipedia that displays the bulk of the categories and their elements:

Most of the specifics in this chart you don’t need to worry about (like wpi, or wraps per inch, I have never used this as a way to check yarn weight).  For gauge, everyone  knits differently, uses different tension, gets different results.    If you use the recommended needle size for Aran weight yarn (4.5-5.5mm needles) and don’t get 18 stitches per 4 inches, don’t worry!  We’ll talk more about gauge and swatching in the next post and this will start to make more sense.  I’m just using this example to demonstrate that this is a guide, and by no means a concrete law!

More links: standard yarn weight system, comparison chart

What to Buy…

Now for dear Cadence, the pattern calls for something called ‘Silky Flammé’ by Elsbeth Lavold.  Does this mean we have to search out this exact yarn for ours?

NOPE!  You can if you like and you can bet it’s a good yarn if the designer suggests it.  But if any suggested yarn is out of your price range or hard to find, it is quite easy to find a substitute.  It is as simple as finding out the WEIGHT of the suggested yarn, and buying yarn in that same weight category.  But what weight is ours?  Well I like to use Ravelry to find a yarn substitute.  Follow these steps if you are new to the site or unfamiliar with yarn substitution.

Step 1.  Sign up to Ravelry already!  It really is such a help to knitters/crocheters and it’s free!

Step 2.  Click ‘Patterns’.

Step 3.  Type in Cadence & hit ‘Search’.

Step 4.  Click on the Cadence Pullover thumbnail or link.  Steps 1-4 will bring you to this link, but if you are new to Ravelry, now you know a bit about navigating the site.

Step 5.  You can see that the yarn we need is Aran weight.  I’ve highlighted the Aran category on the chart in the Yarn weights section above.

Step 6.  Click on the ‘Yarn Ideas’ tab.

Step 7.  Now simply knowing you need Aran weight yarn is enough, but after step 6, you can now browse at other yarns people have used, and see what they thought of the yarn.    From this point you can play freely to research yarn, find price, where to buy, etc.  You can also click on the tab that says how many projects are on the go (the picture now says 202, but there could be more by the time you are reading this).  I love looking at other people’s projects when doing pattern research.  Sometimes, it can be quite telling about how good/bad the yarn or pattern is.  I’ve already trawled through the Cadence FO’s (Finished Objects) on Ravelry and love them all!

OK, so you know what kind of yarn to look for, but how much do you need to buy?

8. Leaving Ravelry and going back to the Knitty pattern page, look at the sizes listed on the ‘Finished Measurements’ and choose your size.  As these are finished measurements, you are not looking for your actual bust size but what the sweater will measure at your bust.  If you don’t know what this is, pull out your favourite-fitting sweater, lay it flat, and measure the bust circumference.  In my case my ACTUAL bust measurement is 34” so I will knit the size that corresponds with the 35” FINISHED bust measurement.  Length measurement isn’t really an issue because this pullover knits from the neckline down and as such, you can just knit to your heart’s content until you are happy with the length you have (if you have the yarn to keep knitting!).

9.  Using my measurement as an example, my size requires 8 skeins (balls) of the recommended yarn, which is 75 metres per ball.

8 balls x 75 metres = 600 metres total that I will need.

You can also measure by grams but I feel measuring by metres is more exact.  So, I need 600 metres of Aran weight yarn to make the pattern as is, BUT if I want to knit longer sleeves or a looser torso, I will have to guestimate how much more to buy.  Usually I just wing it & buy 1 or 2 more balls.

So, you are ready to go to your LYS (local yarn shop) and tell the yarn guru you need ____ metres of Aran weight yarn, and she or he should be able to direct you to your options.

Purchasing Precautions:

Before you buy, have a think about whether you want to buy it all together or in smaller, more affordable doses.

Now, the yarn shop worker will most likely tell you that you ought to buy all the yarn you need in one go and they are for the most part right.  If you buy 2 balls for now and plan to come back after pay day for the remaining lot, they may not be there!  You could then search online for more or wait for them to come back in stock but be sure to mark the dye lot.  Colours may look similar but knit up in different shades if they were dyed in separate batches.  Another thing to consider if you think you may be a picky knitter is how the yarn knits up.  Here is why:

Last week I went to the yarn shop to pick up some yarn that my husband had picked out for his next sweater.  I had my doubts about the yarn so I only bought three balls.  I was glad I did because I did not like how the yarn knitted up when I went home and cast on a wee swatch.  It was too soft and pilly, and would not last to a lot of stress.  So I returned the other 2 untouched balls and we continued our search.

If you think you may not fall in love with the yarn once you get it home, first check with you LYS’ return policy.  Most often they may not accept returns past a week so you may need to act fast in testing it out.  Of course this is me and I’m a picky yarn snob, so you may not have to worry about this at all.

I just cannot stress enough though:  If you are going to put in the time and money to knit a sweater, please make sure the colour, fibre, yarn choice is one you are positively in love with!

21/08/11 update:  Please check out the Newbie’s post!  Sarah posted on her yarn choice here!

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13 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Debi / Aug 20 2011 6:33 am

    SUPER FABULOUS post!!! Heading over to ravalry right now to check out the finished sweaters!!

    btw. JL is apparently having a sale on Simplicity patterns: http://elationcreations.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/john-lewis-simplicity/#comment-63

  2. Sue / Aug 20 2011 9:55 am

    Even though I’m not going to knit, I couldn’t resist reading your tutorial. You do a great job of explaining things. Education is definitely one of your strong points.

  3. Sarah / Aug 20 2011 2:46 pm

    This is such a terrific post!! Well done!

  4. Becky / Aug 22 2011 9:38 am

    Thank you for helping us newbies with this! I already have my yarn, but I do have one question for future reference. What is the difference between worsted and aran? Is aran just a slightly thicker worsted?

  5. Rue / Aug 22 2011 10:43 pm

    What a great first post! You did a fab job summarizing the important intro bits that new knitters need to know (and some of us more experienced knitters need to remember).

    I just want to add two bits to the wool/acrylic debate, especially for baby knits. Wool is flame-retardant and acrylic is not. As you mentioned, acrylic is plastic and, should that horrible of horribles happen, acrylic yarn will turn into hot melted plastic when exposed to flame. Thanks for listening to the new mum in me!

  6. Carol / Aug 24 2011 8:58 pm

    Holy Smokes! There’s a lot more to knitting than I would have ever thought!!!

  7. KristenMakes / Aug 25 2011 4:24 am

    @Becky: good question! most people consider Aran & Worsted the same but generally I think (key word is think, I’m not positive) as you said, aran is slightly thicker than worsted.

  8. shivani / Aug 26 2011 11:03 am

    hi Kristen – thanks for the detailed post – so helpful (and bookmarked for reference!). I’m going to buy my yarn and needles this weekend! 🙂

  9. shivani / Aug 30 2011 9:59 am

    me again! thanks for the comment you left on my blog re the yarn. I’ve picked up some 100% lambswool aran, which wasn’t ruinously expensive. But I have a question re needles: if the recommended needle size is 4.5 – 5.5, will I need to buy one set of each size to try out for the correct guage? Also, instead of DPNs, is it ok to use one of those small circular needles (or are DPNs not that scary really, but will I also need to get one in each of the sizes as above)?

    sorry about all these questions! 🙂

  10. KristenMakes / Aug 31 2011 4:18 pm

    @Shivani: (I emailed you, but wanted to reply in the blog as well in case others had the same question – GOOD question by the way!!!)!

    Normally I would ask if you currently have any needles in that size range, as I start with what I’ve got in the recommended range, and can judge from there whether to go up or down in size.

    However in this case, the pattern calls for 6.0 mm needles, as it is a slightly looser knit. I knitted up a swatch already (to be posted in the ‘Swatching’ post!) and the 6.0 mm worked fine for the gauge required from the pattern (for me, but we are all different). Yes, most aran yarns call for 4.5-5.5 mm, but start with what the pattern suggests and go from there.

    I would try out buying a 6.0 mm first, checking with the LYS’ return policy to be safe. If they don’t accept needle returns (some don’t), buy cheap first, or try your luck from a friend or charity shop. The more knitting you do, the more you needle stash builds and this start-of-project-needle-size-issue resolves itself.

    I hope this is helpful, PLEASE let me know if you have any more questions! I’m so happy you are knitting-along!

  11. Crafted by Carly / Sep 6 2011 1:18 pm

    Hi Kristen,

    Thanks for the great tips!!! I’m VERY new to knitting, and I found your notes on different yarns really useful! I don’t think I’m ready for a sweater yet. But, when I am, I’ll be sure to come to you…..

    Carly
    x

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  2. To Swatch or Not to Swatch « KristenMakes

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