My Best Knitting Discovery

As a designer, I think I probably do more swatching (and ripping out), than the average knitter. Part of figuring out a design is to experiment, and I accept this as part of the job. Deborah Newton is a big proponent of swatching for fun and says this is the most important stage of her design process.

I am not sure how yarn companies decide what needle size to suggest on their ball bands, but it often functions as a starting point for me. If I’m starting a new project, and I’m not sure what needle size I want to use, I start swatching with the suggested needle size and then go up or down based on what fabric that makes and what kind of fabric I’m trying to achieve.

Recently, I did a bunch of swatching with different yarns, and I started noticing a pattern. I realized that no matter the thickness of the yarn or the fiber type, every single swatch came out much more drapey when I went up a needle size or two from what is on the ball band. And I realized almost every knitted piece I’ve been most happy with has always been using a bigger needle size than what is on the ball band.

These two swatches are done in chunky yarn with the same number of stitches. One is knit on size 11’s, and the other on size 17, and you can see the difference in drape. I liked what I was getting on the 11’s until I did the one on 17’s. Now the swatch done on 11’s feels and looks very stiff to me.

Again, both swatches have the same number of stitches, just different sizes. This is a sport weight yarn done on size 6 and size 8. Again, I am happier with the drape of the swatch done on the larger size.

You get the idea – same number of stitches, this is double stranded done on sizes 7 and 11. This one surprised me – I really loved the first swatch done on smaller needles, and was considering just going with that. But when I did the second swatch, I realized what a difference in drape there was, and if I were to make a sweater out of this, I would definitely go with the larger needles.

This would be the best tip I could offer fellow knitters: don’t be afraid to go up a needle size or more to get the best possible drape in your fabric. In all of these swatches, and usually in most of the projects I’m happiest with, the best drape has come from using needles at least 1 or 2 sizes larger than what is recommended on the ball band of the yarn. If you can spare the time, even if you like the swatch results, try it on larger needles and compare your swatches because you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

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Series: All About Mohair

Closeup1As a follow up to my previous post in this series, I wanted to share more details about mohair specifically. This fiber is often maligned, and people write it off as scratchy, annoying to work with because of fluff going up your nose, too difficult to get stitch definition, etc. In truth, I used to be one of those people – I never liked the stuff and didn’t have any interest in working with it. Even when our shop got the entire Colinton Australia line, I resisted it, and only ended up giving in because I was attracted to the array of colors.

Obviously, once I started working with it, I changed my mind, and I am now knitting my fourth piece for them. Now that experience has taught me all that this fiber has to offer, I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

The first thing to understand is that not all mohairs are the same. Many of the yarns marketed as mohair are actually mohair with a nylon core. It is very important to know this when choosing your mohair, because if you are planning to capitalize on its natural properties, you will not get the desired results with a blend.  Pure mohairs such as Colinton Australia have alot of halo and loft, but are also very soft and lustrous. They are pleasant and soft going through your fingers, and despite their halo, they still give good stitch definition.

Another misconception is that mohair yarns are weak and break easily. It’s true that mohair is delicate and should be hand-washed, but that is the case with the majority of fine, pure fibers. Contrary to alot of the mohair blends, pure mohair is actually very strong. It is also much more slippery than blended mohairs, which makes it very easy to unravel or to tear out a swatch. The new garment I just designed with Colinton is done in Ultrafine Lace, single stranded. Many of the mohair patterns I’ve seen use a strand of mohair paired with something else, either to strengthen it or provide some softness. However, when working with pure mohair, you don’t need an extra strand for these purposes, and it’s very easy to frog back if needed.

While fiber blends have their place, I’ve found that it’s important to be aware of what you’re buying and what results you expect to achieve. The blends can be great to work with, and are often designed to bring the best qualities of the individual fibers to the mix. However, in the case of mohair, I prefer the pure fiber. I really love its strength and sheen, and I like being able to block it to specifications and count on it to retain the measurements when dry. I also haven’t found a blend that has the softness of the pure fiber, which of course is important for clothes.

Mohair has become one of my favorite fibers to work with, and I’m really proud of the design work I’ve done with it. But until I learned how to choose a good mohair yarn, I couldn’t fully appreciate its capabilities. I hope this will save you the trouble and make it easier to pick a good mohair that will be enjoyable to work with.

 

Series: All About Animal Fibers

As you already know from previous posts, I have been collaborating with Colinton Australia and as promised, I want to share with you in a series the things I’ve learned as I’ve been working. I had a little crash course in working with mohair when I was designing Urban Lines, but I wanted to start by sharing with you what I’ve learned about animal fibers in general. I realized how important it is to understand the properties of different fibers and how much this knowledge will help you achieve a successful final outcome of a project.

Until I started working on this design and learning from Colinton, I did not realize that animal fibers can be separated into two basic categories. Even though they are all made from animal hairs, just as with human hair, they have different properties. There are the fibers, wool being the most well-known and popular, that have memory and those that do not, such as mohair. To say a fiber has memory means that when you wash it, it will “bounce back” to its original shape when it dries. The fibers without memory can be blocked aggressively and will hold whatever shape you block them to when they dry. Because I made Urban Lines with a luxury fiber, I wanted to get the most out of my yardage, and the pattern is written with aggressive blocking in mind.

Whether a yarn has memory or not depends on the structure of the fiber itself. Sheep’s wool has lots of crimp, which gives it the characteristics of being elastic and retaining memory, even after blocking. Other fibers with good crimp are yak and qiviut. Both are more expensive because like cashmere, they are produced from the underdown of the animals (qiviut is from the muskox) and therefore take alot of work to harvest. The animals don’t produce alot of it, which also raises its value. But if you are allergic to wool and looking for suitable substitutes, they are good options and are considered to be heirloom fibers because of their rarity.

Mohair, angora, and alpaca are very straight fibers, and therefore do not have elasticity. They are extremely responsive to dyes, have lots of lustre, and will retain whatever shape they are blocked into. People often confuse mohair and angora because mohair is made from angora goats. However, angora itself is from the Angora rabbit. Cashmere is another goat fiber, but is made only from the soft down combed from underneath the goat’s more coarse exterior hair.

Mohair is much stronger than angora and cashmere, and also cheaper. Angora and cashmere will retain whatever shape you block them into, but it is harder to find them in pure form because they are often blended with other fibers to keep costs down and give them a little more strength. Alpaca has the same properties of being blockable and retaining its shape. It is very soft in its own right, but if you are looking for something finer like angora, baby alpaca is a good alternative. If you buy blends of these fibers mixed with wool, then you will not get the same results when blocking.

Looking back over the course of my project experiences, this information explains alot about the projects that didn’t quite turn out right, even when my gauge was spot on. I am the queen of substituting yarns – in fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever gone out and bought the yarn a pattern actually calls for. But after designing this piece and learning more about the properties of fibers, I’ve changed how I choose yarn when making substitutions. I realized that when deciding what size to make, you should always consider whether the finished measurements are given with the expectation of blocking, and what fiber the pattern is made with.

For instance, in this case, I wrote the pattern based on final blocking measurements because I knew the mohair would “grow”. The pieces you knit are not the same size as the final measurements in the pattern, which are written for the final size you achieve after it is blocked. I would never substitute wool in this pattern unless I was prepared to do alot of swatching and adjusting.

If, like me, you have had problems in the past with pieces not fitting the way you expected, even when you thought your gauge matched the pattern, I would encourage you to revisit the pattern and see what fiber the designer used. Consider the nature of that fiber, and if substituting, try to find a fiber that has similar qualities. It will make a huge difference in the final result!

 

A Hack for a Swift

SwiftHack2

I’m a big believer that you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, in the case of ballwinders and swifts, you always end up spending a good amount, even for the ones on the low end of the cost spectrum. I will be nice and not name the company I bought my swift and ballwinder from, but let’s just say it’s one of the inexpensive ones, relatively speaking, and sure enough, I’ve had tons of problems. Usually when I want to wind my yarn, I just take it up to the shop, which defeats the purpose of having the equipment at my house. The main problem with my swift is that the screw you use to hold it in place after you expand it to the size of your skein has never worked. It seems like the company never made it properly, and it has never held the swift up. The company even sent me a replacement, which didn’t work any better than the first one!

A closeup so you can see just how simple this hack is!
A closeup so you can see just how simple this hack is!

Then the other day, my husband dug around on a shelf and came up with what you see in the photos. It works like a charm, and I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out such a simple hack! But then that’s the thing about hacks – they are genius, yet simple at the same time.

Adding Fringe: A Tutorial

Every knitter and crocheter I’ve ever met has certain things they’re afraid/intimidated to try. I hadn’t been knitting for very long before I made myself a sweater…then I did some cables, and then some colorwork…but for some reason, I avoided projects that required fringe. However, in my experience, once I put my mind to learning something new, it is rarely as difficult or scary as I anticipated. I just designed a chunky knit scarf, and looked at several different ways of finishing it, and kept coming back to fringe. Let me just say, of all the knitting techniques you might be intimidated to try, adding fringe should NOT be one of them! I’m sure there are many other tutorials on how to do this, but I decided to do my own, just to show you all how simple this is to do!

Your tools: scissors, your fringe, which I advise pre-cutting before you sit down to add it, and a crochet hook (I used a size N - 9.00 mm
Your tools: scissors, your fringe, which I advise pre-cutting before you sit down to add it, and a crochet hook (I used a size N – 9.00 mm
Folding the strands of fringe in half, use the crochet hook to pull them through the edge from right to wrong side.
Folding the strands of fringe in half, use the crochet hook to pull them through the edge from right to wrong side.
At this point, you can pull the ends taut against the hook to even them out, if needed.
At this point, you can pull the ends taut against the hook to even them out, if needed.
Use the crochet hook to draw the loose ends through the loop created on the folded end.
Use the crochet hook to draw the loose ends through the loop created on the folded end.
Tighten it up, and you have your fringe! This is what the wrong side will look like.
Tighten it up, and you have your fringe! This is what the wrong side will look like.

Free pattern and my styling ideas are soon to follow. If anyone decides to make this, I would love to see your FOs when they’re done. 🙂