Choosing Yarns

Picking a yarn is a dicey enterprise.

Sometimes it’s relatively straightforward; a simple, textured stitch pattern looks good in just about any yarn, you choose the fiber you want for the drape and long-term care and wear that you’d like, and there you are.

But with a project like History on Two Needles, well, it’s a little dicier.

First I have to look at the inspiration and try to determine what drape I’m actually trying to achieve. Is it firm? Very loose (woodgy, in costume shop parlance)? Does it have to be lightweight/ephemeral or should it be heavy and dramatic?

Then I have to look at the many yarns out there – what can give me the drape, texture and weight I’m looking for? Should I double the yarn? Use extremely large or small needles?

And – very important in this case – does the yarn actually come in the colors I seek? I’ve found some very nice yarns for various projects so far, but their colorways don’t include the combinations I need, or the feeling is just too bright or dull or something.

I’ve set a very loose deadline of late Summer to have the pieces for this book finished. If I get them done sooner, yay! If later, no great loss. I refuse to do sub-standard work on this book because I have to get 26 pieces knit and finished in 3 months (it’s happened before…)

I’m in a good place because I know so many yarns intimately. When I get a new yarn I try to knit a bit with it, even just a few rows, so I can get a sense of what it might do. This is time consuming, but when I’m looking for yarns for a book it really pays off. Having said that, I still feel painfully inept at telling folks what might be a good substitution yarn for projects – it’s such a personal decision to make…

So in the past few days I did some swatching for 3 projects, trying to marry the right yarn with a good stitch pattern to create a good, workable fabric for the specific project. I never look for perfection – a good fit between yarn/stitch/drape is hard enough…

Colorwork Hat
I’m using Trendsetter Cha Cha for the ruffled scarf, which – in addition to the ruffly fabric, requires a smooth, strong yarn (in green in image of prototype) to create the structure of the piece. Yes, I’m aware that when I lay the prototype out it’s a rather unfortunate – ahem – shape…

In the painting, the hat looks as if it could be knitted color work, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by using the same yarn for the collar structure AND the color work hat.

Trendsetter has a very nice sport weight merino – Merino IV – which is not as fine as the yarn which may have been used to create the original hat, if indeed it WAS knitted.

But it’s fine enough. I’m not trying to make copies of the clothes in the artworks as much as I’m attempting to recreate a feeling or detail from the art in a modern hand knit garment.

I created one colorwork chart and knit about 3″ of the hat when I decided I just hated it. It didn’t capture the feeling of the original, and it looked like a tablecloth. The gauge was too large, (too few sts per inch) and the piece didn’t have the required subtley.

So I reworked the chart, went down a few needle sizes, and I’m much happer with the results (I’ve further altered the chart so it no longer resembles an alien’s face)

Let’s hope I continue to be happy with the chart as I move into the crown & tip shaping!

I’m trying to create a tunic with a chiton feeling, which means it needs to be a rather lightweight fabric with a nice drape. If I were working in woven fabric I’d look for something with a Fortuny-pleated feeling, but since I’m working in hand knit fabric I need to create a ribbing effect that is strong enough to loosely pleat, but soft enough not to look like a cuff.

I’ve tried Louet’s Mooi, which is just lovely!

It may be the color I’m swatching (French blue), but the Mooi seems more flat than I’d like. However, the drape is quite good.

Maybe it’s the fact I can’t pronounce the name of the yarn that’s keeping me from loving it? The website’s not a lot of help – “Mooi (pronounced moi)” – which makes me want to say “mwa”, and I know that’s not right. Perhaps they mean moh-ee?
I’m leaning toward Buffalo Gold’s Lux (a bison/silk/ cashmere/ tencel blend, and easy to say…) which has enough of a heathery feeling to make the ribs more defined (at left in camel, and above in red). Now I just need to play around with lace and ribs to create a fabric that is lightweight but heavy enough to drape and fun to knit.

I very much want to knit up the samples myself. Ideally, I’d like to knit them up, write up the patterns, then have someone else knit up a sample, too. It’s an idea I’m toying with, and something that I think should be part of any design process. However, with the rates that designers are paid, it’s just not possible to put twice as much effort into the process. Dilemmas abound.

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