What should you know about your yarn?
Yarn thickness. Here’s a handy chart! These are common yarn classifications and weights to get a rough estimate of the weight of yarn you have on hand. But, of course, the most important thing is gauge and getting a nice fabric.
Gauge. Ideally, you should be matching your gauge to the project that you’re working on. For example, socks generally should have a tight gauge for strength, but sweaters usually want some amount of stretch and give so that the fabric moves with your body.
Ply structure. “Ply” refers to the individual strands of fiber that are twisted together to make yarn.
- Singles yarns. They’re not as sturdy as plied yarns, they tend to pill, and they tend to bias your fabric because there’s only twist in one direction, making an inherently unbalanced yarn. Great for soft accessories and items that won’t see a lot of wear or friction.
- Two-Ply yarns. Two energized single strands twisted together to create a balanced two-ply yarn. Common in laceweight yarns, because the loose ply structure is great for open lacework. Also common in handspun, because two-ply is easy for the spinner to make.
- Three-Ply+ yarns. More plies equals more strength! Three- and four-ply yarns make really round, strong yarns. The rounder construction make cables and stitch patterns pop. Really common in sock yarns, and some sock yarns will even have six or eight plies to add more durability. Multi-ply yarns make excellent sweaters!
- Unusual ply structures. Cable plied yarns might be well known to handspinners, but aren’t very common in commercial yarns – although they’re somewhat common in ColourMart yarns – warning, ColourMart is dangerous for stashers! Chainette yarns are basically a tiny i-cord, which gives the yarn a nice bouncy texture while still being airy and lofty.
- Chainette examples: Cascade Eco Cloud+
Here’s a photo of some of Sarah’s cable-plied yarn, so that you can have an idea of what they look like:
The pattern that Sarah mentioned is the 1898 Hat, which is really simple, free, and incredibly warm. Our local yarn dyer is Youghiogheny Yarns, and her colors are lovely. If you’re a Pittsburgh local, you can find Youghiogheny Yarns (and both of us!) at Indie Knit & Spin this November.
Woolen and worsted spun yarns. There are two ways to prep fibers, combing or carding. Worsted spun yarns are spun from combed top that align all of the fibers in the same direction to create a smooth, shiny, durable yarn. Most commercial yarns are worsted spun, but woolen spun is becoming more common. Woolen spun yarns are spun from carded roving or batts, with all of the fibers going in different directions. This adds air into the spinning and creates a lofty, light, warm yarn with a more rustic look. One of the popular woolen spun commercial yarns is Brooklyn Tweed Loft. Woolen spun yarns can be a little delicate and prone to pilling.
Swatching! Swatching is important! Even if you’re using the yarn called for in the pattern, you should swatch, because every knitter and crocheter is different – see my tragic sweater example. Make a nice large swatch (be sure to swatch in the round if you’re going to be knitting in the round), and treat it the same way that you will treat your finished garment. Measure your swatch before and after washing, to note any changes. You can also gently weight your swatch by putting a couple clothespins at the bottom to simulate the weight of the final garment – be sure to note the changes! Ravelry is a great place to record any information that you learn from your swatch.
If you absolutely can’t stand swatching – pull an Elizabeth Zimmerman and start with one of the sleeves, since they’re really just a giant swatch anyway.
TECHKnitter has an excellent article about making flat swatches that simulate in the round knitting: Circular swatches knit flat (back and forth on two needles)