Spinning to Match a Project
You know how it is, the new Knitty comes out and you fall in love with a project and want to spin for it, but the pattern is made from a commercial yarn.
A failed attempt:
Left: Wanderlust arm warmers; Right: what I spun for them (I chose a dense fiber (BFL) and spun with so much twist that a single armwarmer would have weighed more than 4oz!)
What’s a spinner to do?
I used to dig in my handspun stash and find a yarn I had made and hope for the best, that my yardage was there and my gauge would be close enough. Some times it works – a lot of the time it doesn’t.
Alternately, I would grab the amount of fiber (by weight) called for in the pattern from my stash and spin to gauge. This worked out a little better than the Livin’ on a Prayer version of grab and go.
While this way worked better I sometimes didn’t have the yardage I needed and frequently didn’t like the knitted fabric – too limp or stiff , stitch definition wasn’t right, I just didn’t like how it looked
I may have mentioned before that I’m a pretty lazy spinner, I want every short cut known to spinner-kind, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be smart.
I set this on my back burner. I love that thing. I can’t have too many things bubbling there or it won’t work, there need to be a clear path to the indirect heat of ruminating.
Here’s what I figured out. Two main things were causing me to trip up:
- Not really knowing the yarn I was replacing.
- How (and if) the commercial yarn chosen really worked with the pattern in a way I liked.
Once I started puzzling those things before I started spinning, it gave me a check list of what my spun yarn needed to be.
Let’s look at a golden oldie from Knitty.
Calorimetry by Kathryn Schoendorf, Knitty, Winter 2006
Here’s everything I know about the yarn:
- Filatura Di Crosa 127 Print (variegated)
- 100% wool
- 93 yards 1.76 ounces, which means the yarn is 848 YPP
- 4.5 on US 8s –Aran, which ranges between 8-10 WPI
Here’s what I know about the pattern and the yarn I want to use to knit it:
- It will touch my head and ears, maybe my forehead, the yarn needs to be reasonably soft.
- The pattern is 2x2 rib, I think stitch definition would look good.
- Pattern gauge is 5 stitches to an inch, over 2x2 rib, slightly stretched.
- It has to hold up and have spring, as I’ll be stretching it around my head. Drape is not a good characteristic for this pattern.
- It has to be durable. I would wear this a lot in the fall and winter. It will get stuffed in pockets, bags and generally get tossed around.
Cjkoho Designs 80% BFL/20% silk, color: Margaret Sanger
What fiber am I interested in using?
I am in love with this fiber from Cjkoho Designs. It’s 80% BFL/20% Silk, top.
The colorway is Margaret Sanger. I love the colorway and don’t want to rearrange it.
Here’s what I know about the fiber I want to use.
BFL is durable and had great shine and drape. It does have some spring but elasticity isn’t what it’s known for, and it can get heavy quickly. Silk is shiny, durable and has no elasticity.
What about my fiber choice works for the pattern?
It’s durable and soft enough to touch my ears. It can easily be made into a yarn with good stitch definition.
What about the fiber isn’t great for the pattern?
It’s really good at draping. Both the fiber blend and the preparation are weightier than average. It’s not as elastic as I would like.
What about the stitch pattern?
The rib stitch, compresses the fabric, making it heavier, but it also helps to make a more elastic fabric, so I’m calling it a wash.
How can I spin the fiber to bolster the not great bits of the fiber?
To counter the weight I would use fewer plies, a singles or a 2-ply. I would spin the fiber with a woolen draft. To add elasticity, I would add extra ply twist without making the yarn hard or heavy.
Focusing on making as light and elastic a yarn as I can will help mitigate some of the drape.
That is my process of thinking through spinning a yarn for a project. I find the puzzling out of things fun, and it gets much faster the more I do it. Then I spin samples and knit them.
How many samples I make is down to a two things: how closely I feel it needs to match the yarn I’m aiming for, weighing all of the parameters listed above against how much fiber I have. I may only do one or two samples if I only have a tiny bit of the fiber I want to use. The last and most honest thing is, how many samples can I stand to spin and knit? Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing many, but I always do one or two.
Top to bottom, Singles drafted woolen, singles drafted worsted, 2-ply drafted woolen, 2-ply drafted worsted
This time I spun four yarns. I spun woolen and worsted drafted singles and woolen and worsted drafted 2-ply yarns, with a little extra ply twist from balance.
Singles woolen drafted top left, worsted drafted top, right
I have such a thing for singles. I love how they look and how whisper light woolen singles are. With BFL I rarely full my singles (I do full most other fibers for a little more stability and durability), and I didn’t this time, but in retrospect if I had, I would have liked these yarns better for this project.
My woolen drafted singles has a WPI of 9 and 875 YPP. It knits to under 5 stitches to the inch in the stitch pattern. I didn’t reknit the swatch when I didn’t hit gauge, because this yarn just doesn’t feel right for the project. It’s very drapey, and not very elastic.
My worsted drafted singles has a WPI of 10 and 775 YPP. It knits to 4.75 stitches to the inch in the rib. A worsted draft takes away some of the soft drape, but the yarn still isn’t elastic.
Yarn geeks please note color and grist when comparing these two yarns. The color is darker, richer in the worsted sample, because the fibers are compressed, allowing light to reflect better. Grist fans, see how draft affects these yarns? The worsted yarn is finer, but heavier than the woolen drafted yarn, because it is denser. There is more fiber a measurement of the worsted yarn due to the compression of a worsted draft.
2-ply woolen drafted top left, worsted drafted top, right
The 2-ply yarns are much more what I was thinking of when I dreamt of the yarn for this project. I added extra twist in the ply to add spring to these yarns. The extra twist didn’t make the yarns prickly. I wore swatches tucked behind my ear to test them. And yes, I almost left the house with one curled behind my ear, the folks at my grocery store are used to me draped in all kinds of fiber bits.
The woolen drafted yarn is springy and light. It has a WPI of 9-10, 775 YPP, and knits right on gauge. It would work great.
The worsted drafted yarn is very springy and had good stitch definition. It is 9-10 WPI, 525 YPP and knits a hair over 5 stitches to the inch. This is a firmer yarn than I usually like to knit with, but it would server the purpose well.
In the end the worsted drafted 2-ply yarn is my winner. It’s firmer than I’d like for say, a scarf, but the worsted draft makes it durable and the extra twists adds to the durability and the elasticity. It will stand up to my failing to unbutton it and just pulling it over my head, to daily wear and to not the kindest handling.
Taking the time to think through a use and intention and making a plan to match a yarn to a project isn’t as daunting as it may seem. Try it a few times and you may find that taking that little extra time results in yarn and projects that hit the mark more times than not.