Posts Tagged ‘Rookie Mistakes’

Rookie Mistake: yarn substitution

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
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We’ve all been there, you see a sweater you love, but the colors aren’t right. The yarn is right but the price is wrong, or unavailable, or just not what you had in mind. We are no stranger to yarn substitutions and no stranger to mismatching yarn to patterns!

We’ve covered gauge considerations, but one largely overlooked detail is fiber content. This can dramatically affect drape and style of a garment. A garment made from crunchy wool, will look much different in 100% alpaca, or 100% cotton!

I think the yarn sub rule deserves a motto: “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. Yes, you can make that cabled sweater out of cotton, yes you can make a throw rug out of cashmere, yes you can make a bathing suit out of mohair…but should you?

Dena, our Ecommerce marketing manager, had a few things to say about the subject, “I had been knitting less than a year when I started this Vogue sweater. I knew gauge was important, but had not yet learned how to substitute yarn in a pattern. I thought if I got the right gauge with my new yarn selection, then I made a good substitute. But it turns out that subbing 1 strand of Misti Alpaca Chunky and 2 strands of Cascade Indulgence is not a good sub for 1 strand of Rowan Big Wool and 1 strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze…unless you work in an office that is 45° F.”

To avoid this familiar pitfall I’ve gathered up some helpful hints:

First, consult a pattern’s original yarn suggestion. What is the fiber content? Does the designer note what other yarns may be a good substitution and why?

Secondly, pay attention to the style of the garment. Is it drapey, cabled, structured, loose or fitted? A structured garment will need a more structured fiber and likewise for less structured garments. A jacket is usually one for a crisper fiber as well as a good vehicle for very warm winter fibers. Whereas, summer garments are generally made with cotton or cotton blends meant for breathability.

Wool is traditionally the fiber with the most elasticity, meaning it will retain its shape, bounce back and resist stretching compared to other fibers. Bamboo, cotton and other plant based fibers have little to no elasticity, meaning once they stretch there is no coming back. Some of this can be sidestepped by choosing a blend or accommodating with a slightly tighter gauge. If the pattern is designed with less elastic fiber choices the designer has likely taken this into consideration.

The plies of a fiber refer to how many strands of yarn are twisted on itself. More plies equal more durability in most cases. Also, you will want a plied yarn for cables as it boosts stitch definition. Not to say that single plies are not useful or desirable, but it helps to know that high friction areas (such as the heel of a sock) are better behaved with multiple plies.

The recipient is another strong factor to keep in mind. A turtleneck pullover in alpaca on a warm blooded person could be a disaster, as alpaca is a very warm fiber reserved for colder weather. Likewise, a delicate fabric on a rough and tumble child would be heartache. Many knits for families and children are wisely offered superwash fibers for their durability in wash and wear. Also, if someone is fussy about scratchy fibers, this is one to wrestle with before casting on!

Clara Parkes is the undeniable master in knitting fibers (don’t hesitate to check out her website and publication Knitters Review for yarn information). She’s created a great resource in The Book of Yarn which is a handy tool for choosing and utilizing the right fibers. Her follow up book The Book of Wool is a great supplement. (Keep your eyes peeled for her new publication, The Knitters book of Socks coming out in October).

Trust us when I say we at WEBS have learned the hard way and we can only hope you learn from us. Don’t hesitate to ask us for help along the way!


Rookie Mistakes: Gauge

Monday, August 22nd, 2011
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One of the most mystifying and elusive facts of knitting is gauge, especially for newbies. Most of us start with scarves oblivious to the evils of gauge and then we launch enthusiastically into project #2 running into the brick wall of gauge. Without the tender guidance of the more experienced this is quite a blow. What happened?

Tina, our educational director, set out to make a skull cap on her second project. Right weight, presumably right gauge, right? Since this was the days before Ravelry, I searched until I stumbled upon a pattern that said “fitted winter hat” and “easy” and “knit flat” (since I hadn’t yet conquered dpns). It had no photo, but I forged ahead, trusting that all would be well.  As you can see, this did not turn out to be the fitted beanie-type hat I envisioned, and yet it is not quite a cute slouchy style hat either.  It is something…in between. We had a lot of fun trying this on in the store. All the more fun because we’ve all been there.

Mine is a little more ….grandiose.  I had attended a class for a small felted purse from light worsted weight yarn. We knit a medium sized purse that came out the size of a little girls’ purse. I thought: double the size and get a bigger bag…right? First of all, I picked Lopi, which is much bulkier. And I neglected to do a felting swatch because I figured you could always make it smaller…right? The bag is not as atrocious as the handles, which did not felt down, at all. Of course I could cut them off and salvage the project but instead it hides in the corner, and now I bring it to you as a cautionary tale!

I know we’ve all been there. And we spend the bulk of our time in the store trying to gently guide the general shopper to more attentive gauge considerations in their yarn choices. Here are couple tips we find really helpful in the store. Usually this begins with a pattern we are matching yarn to.

-First, gather all useful yarn information: general weight, yards, and stitches per inch. Generally patterns list gauge over 4 inches. We like to break this down to stitches per 1”, which is how yarns are labeled in our store.

-From here we double check to make sure the gauge is listed in stockinette stitch. If it is listed in pattern stitch we will double check the original yarn suggested and its gauge in stockinette stitch. That is the most accurate jumping off point.

-Although older patterns may list ounces we usually Google until we find the information to match yard for yard.

The intended needle size is a suggestion only and can vary wildly on the tension of the knitter (loose or tight knitters, in other words). I often pay attention to the needle the yarn suggests to match gauge. If it is a 5.5 stitches per 1” yarn and the pattern is too I’ll use the yarn’s suggested needle size to get gauge. If I know I’m a tight knitter I might go up a size. If the yarn is 5 stitches and I need 5.5 stitches per 1” I’ll go with a smaller needle.

Even once you’ve found the “perfect” yarn it still has a bit of scrutiny to face. A gauge swatch is essential! (Which is not what you want to hear, I know!) The larger a  gauge swatch is the more accurate it is. It should be at least 4X4” and often a little larger. After which I highly recommend washing as you would your garment. It is also very important to check your gauge as you knit to make sure your tension doesn’t change and make adjustments accordingly.

Mostly, despite our funny pitfalls we realize that it’s all a learning experience. As Tina says, “in the end, I still felt accomplished that I had created an item that wasn’t a scarf and wasn’t unraveling! I wore it around the house and giggled about its size. And then I tucked it away and it never left the house until I pulled it out for this photo.  Interestingly, hats are still my absolute favorite items to knit.” I similarly remain undeterred. Despite the embarrassment of my earlier projects I know it’s a testament to how far I’ve come as a knitter.

Such brave knitters are we! We can laugh at our mistakes, seek comfort in our shared experiences and learn from them. I know you have funny gauge stories too, don’t hold out on us!