Have you ever finished a project and been disappointed that the reality of the project didn’t live up to the vision?
We have all been there.
Sometimes it’s because the project was a little beyond our current skill level, but more often (and sometimes more difficult to foresee) it was because the yarn and the project had relationship problems.
Maybe it was a sweater for your granddaughter with a mock neck that sagged, or a wrap that was warm but too stiff to settle comfortably on your shoulders. You can almost hear the yarn and project fighting. And when you put on the sweater or shawl or floppy hat, you feel like you are caught in the middle of the argument. (Thankfully, little granddaughters couldn’t care less about the relationship problems of yarns and patterns – they wear the saggy sad sack with glee).
So how can we know what the problem was, and more importantly, how can we prevent it next time? It could be because you used the wrong gauge for the yarn, or that the yarn itself just couldn’t handle what you were asking of it. Or a little of both.
So let’s talk about gauge first. Your yarn label most likely came with a suggested gauge. Many of them will give you a range – for example, Mad Hatter by Wonderland Yarns gives you a range of 20 – 24 sts per 4”; that translates to 5 – 6 sts per inch, so you could use a pattern written for a light worsted, DK or sport weight!
That gives you a lot of leeway for how to use this yarn, but it makes your gauge swatch even more important! You not only need to know what size needle will give you the gauge your pattern requires, you need to know what the fabric feels like when knit at that gauge. Is it a little see through? Does it feel like it will hold up in a cable? Does it give the drape you need in an elegant evening wrap? The Mad Hatter is 100% superwash merino – it is squishy (part of the reason for the range), so you are getting a yarn that can fill in the spaces when knit at 5 sts per inch, but not be rigid at 6. However, while 5 sts per inch might not make a see-through fabric, it will be quite relaxed and probably not what you were hoping for if you want to use it for a tailored cardigan.
Other yarns are more rigid in their specifications. Plymouth Reserve Sport Solid says you should get 6 sts per inch. That’s it. No range, just 6 sts per inch. This yarn is 45% extra fine merino, 35% mulberry silk and 20% bamboo. That fiber combination is luscious, but again, if you are looking for a yarn to use for a tailored cardigan, this might not be your best bet. However, the drape will be exquisite, and it would make a fantastic wrap for an evening out.
Not only is the gauge a factor, but the fiber content is a huge consideration. We all know silk and bamboo will give nice drape, but did you know that there are significant differences even between breeds of sheep? Merino may not be the best choice for a structured sweater, and superwash merino can even be a little limp. Blue Faced Leicester gives crisp cables, and a rustic Highland wool will make the kind of impervious outerwear that survives generations.
With all that said, my favorite way to begin a project is to pick the project first, then go in search of the yarn that will give the best results.
If you feel overwhelmed by all the different things to consider before choosing a yarn, come in and let us help!