Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quick Tip Tuesdays: Yarn Selection

For today's quick tip I thought I'd address yarn selection. I remember back when I first learned how to knit and crochet and I would venture to the yarn shop, find a pattern I liked, and then the sales rep would point me to yarns that would work for the pattern. But, as nice as everybody was, it drove me NUTS that I couldn't see for myself why some yarns were right and some wouldn't do. It took a few projects and reading some magazines and books before I went in and said to let me pick something and then verify with them if it was right. Finally, freedom and success! So, what would I have loved to have had as a cheat sheet? Here you go:

  • Yarn goes by weight. When we say "weight" we don't actually mean the literal "how much does it weigh" but instead how thick or thin the yarn is. It ranges from crochet thread, lace, fingering/sock, sport, dk, worsted, chunky, bulky. This is governed by the Yarn Council and there is a handy dandy little breakdown on their site, here.
  • The weight of the yarn directly relates to how many stitches you will get to fit into an inch of knitting or crochet. It also has recommended needle and hook sizes that work best with the thin or thickness of the yarn. Why is this important? Let's say you are going to make a sweater that needs to be 40 inches around. The pattern says to use a worsted weight yarn with a gauge of 5 stitches in one inch and on a size 7 needle. It then gives you a cast on stitch count of 200 (i.e. 5 times 40). If you buy a sock weight yarn (that gets around 7 stitches in an inch), all of the sudden your 40 inch sweater becomes a 28.5 inch sweater (i.e. 200 stitches divided by 7). Oh my! So, get the right weight of yarn and make a swatch to make sure that you don't need to change that needle size from 7. Every knitter and crocheter has different tension. I often change my knitting needle size from the pattern by 1 or 2 sizes to get gauge.
  • So we have the right weight and the correct needle/hook now, that's all we need, right? Nope, we need to have ENOUGH yarn to make the project. Yarn is measured in length by yards and meters. Your pattern will either say you need XXX yards/meters or it will say you need X balls of Such and Such yarn. If it outright gives you the yards/meters, you already know your total. If it give the number of balls, you need to figure out how many yards/meters are in the ball and take it times the total balls you need. Now you have your total yardage/meters needed. You find the yarn you like in the right weight and take your total yardage/meters divided by the yardage/meters in your selected yarn ball. This will tell you how many balls of the yarn you like you will need to purchase.
  • As if all this isn't enough, you need to consider fiber content. Yarn can be man-made or animal fiber or a combination. And, there are lots of combinations of natural fibers. You have to think about what you are making and this will help you know what fiber will be best. For instance, silk feels great but it doesn't hold shape well. Probably not the best option for a heavy sweater. If you live in Florida and want a light shawl, you wouldn't want to buy alpaca. For me, I cannot do mohair. Yuck, yuck, yuck. It makes me swell up like a balloon. I also hate scratchy yarns and I mean even the slightest bit. So, I use a lot of merino wool. So soft and nice.
  • And last but not least, do you like it? Is it the right color of red? All those normal things you think of when shopping for clothes and things that appeal to you come into play here. Everybody sees colors differently, too. Recently we were at a yarn shop to pick out a grey yarn for my hubby's sweater. The sales rep and I looked at a section and saw no grey there. As we went to walk about PK picked up a ball and said, "Isn't this grey?" Myself and a few ladies at the table all said, "WEEELLLLL...." It was very funny. It was technically a grey tone, but I saw it as having too much purple it and one lady saw blue and one saw pink.
I hope you find this useful in trying to go about selecting your yarn. Shopping around by yourself can be daunting, but you can always double check with the sales person before your final purchase. Over time you will also find yarns that you love and yarns that you hate. 

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