Tips and tricks for knitting: Yarns

Tips and tricks for knitting: Yarns



Yarn Fibers
Yarns are made of m any different materials, often referred to as content. There’s the traditional wool
and cotton (natural fibers) and acrylic (man-made). There are also exotic animal fibers from the alpaca, the angora rabbit, the angora goat (mohair), the cashmere goat, and even possum from New Zealand and the occasional hand-spun dog hair! Qiviut comes from the downy underwool of the Arctic musk ox, quite rare and expensive. T h ere’s been a return of vicuna, an even more uncommon and expensive yarn from a relative of the South American alpaca and llama. In my stash, I have such rarities as yarn from fox, chinchilla, m ink, yak, and buffalo.
Blending different fibers can impart the best of all worlds. A bit of acrylic can lighten up and make stretchy the inelastic cotton. Acrylic can also make wool machine washable and/or dryable. Wool introduced into an exotic can make it m ore affordable.

Type: Wool
Origin: Sheep (including Merino, Shetland, Icelandic)
Characteristics/Comments: Versatile, warm , and very elastic. Feel and appearance can vary with breed.
Type: Silk
Origin: Silkworm (a cocoon secretion)
Characteristics/Comments: Slick and sleek. Both warm and cool with no elasticity.
Type: Alpaca
Origin: Alpaca (from South America)
Characteristics/Comments: Warm with medium elasticity.
Type: Mohair
Origin: Angora goat
Characteristics/Comments: Hairy or fuzzy. Warm with limited elasticity.

Type: Angora
Origin: Angora rabbit
Characteristics/ Comments: Very hairy. Very warm with limited elasticity.
Type: Camel Hair
Origin: Camel

Characteristics/Comments: Warm with medium elasticity.

Type: Llama
Origin: Llama (cousin to the alpaca; originally from South America)
Characteristics/Comments: Warm with medium elasticity.
Type: Cashmere
Origin: Goat
Characteristics/Comments: Very warm and luxurious. Medium elasticity.
Type: Yak
Origin: Yak
Characteristics/Comments: Very rare. Warm with limited elasticity.
Type: Qiviut
Origin: Arctic musk ox
Characteristics/Comments: Similar to cashmere but warmer.
Type: Guanaco
Origin: Guanaco (a threatened relative of the llama from South America)
Characteristics/Comments: Very rare and expensive. Warm with limited elasticity.

Type: Vicuna
Origin:  icuna (an endangered relative of the llama from South America)
Characteristics/Comments: Very rare and expensive. W arm with limited elasticity.
Type: Cotton
Origin: Cotton plant
Characteristics/Comments: Cool. Can be left matte in its natural state or made shiny through mercerization. No elasticity.
Type: Linen
Origin: Flax plant
Characteristics/Comments: Stiff, but softens upon w ashing. Cool with no elasticity.
Type: Rayon/ encel
Origin: Reconstituted tree pulp
Characteristics/Comments: Cool and slinky with no elasticity.
Type: Bamboo
Origin: Reconstituted bamboo pulp
Characteristics/Comments: Smooth and cool with no elasticity. Type: Ramie
Origin: Reconstituted pulp of ramie plant
Characteristics/Comments: Combines the properties of cotton and linen. Cool with no elasticity.
Type: Hemp
Origin: Hemp plant
Characteristics/Comments: Linenlike. No elasticity.
Type: Soy
Origin: Soybean by-product
Characteristics/Comments: Cool. No elasticity.
Type: Banana Fiber/Corn
Origin: Reconstituted fiber (from fruit tree bark or corn plant)
Characteristics/Comments: Cool with no elasticity.

Type: Milk Protein
Origin: Milk casein (milk protein)
Characteristics/Comments: Cool with no elasticity.
Type: Chitin
Origin: Reconstituted shrimp and crab shells.
Characteristics/Comments: Cool with no elasticity.
Type: Metallics/Metals
Origin: Metals
Characteristics/Comments: Slinky or scratchy, depending on the method used and construction
method. Shiny and cool, some can be sculpted.

Yarn Texture
Fuzzy, smooth, nubby, tufted— yarn comes in all textures. A unique construction or way the yarn is created results in interesting yarns known as novelty yarns. A boucle has bubbly loops, a brushed yarn is hairy, a tape yarn looks like ribbon. Combine construction with content and you have an abundance of combinations such as a cashmere tape or a mohair boucle or a brushed acrylic, and many more.


Type: Boucle
Description: From French word meaning “curl.” Loopy. Often hard to see stitches.
Type: Chenille
Description: Fuzzy, plush. Beware of tendency to worm (or loop out), and to bias and shred.
Type: Eyelash
Description: Hairy, fuzzy. Often hard to see stitches.
Type: Vlicrofiber
Description: Very fine thicknesses achieved m ostly with synthetic fibers.
Type: Ribbon
Description: Flat tape. Can be crocheted or woven.
Type: Slubs, Nubby, Thick and Thin
Description: Uneven thicknesses of yarn throughout. Som etim es lumps or bum ps appear after thin areas.
Some yarns may seem small but will work up to a larger stitch (and gauge) than you would think. Yarns that have fuzz, such as mohair, or yarn that takes up “airsp ace,” such as boucle, can be deceiving.

Yarn Thickness
In the United States, the m ills have traditionally spun certain standard thicknesses for the com mercial hand-knit market. These weights are known as fingering, sport, worsted, and bulky.Traditionally, finer yarns are used for socks, underwear, and baby item s. Since there are more stitches required, these item s, though small, may take the same amount of time to knit as a larger item
(such as an adult sweater) in a medium – or heavyweight yarn. The advantage of using finer-weight yarns is that the fabric produced is thinner and drapes nicely. Bulkier yarns are usually used in jackets and outerwear. Though the resulting fabric is generally chunkier and does not drape as well, projects are usually quicker to finish.

knitting patterns

A good place to start with yarn weight is to look at the information on the yarn label. There is usually a recommended gauge size, such as 4 stitches per inch (2.5cm ) or 6 stitches per inch (2.5cm), as well as a suggested needle size. Remember that these are just recommendations and suggestions.
Feel free to use the needle size that will get the recommended gauge. Conversely, if you feel the fabric of your swatch is just fine on the needles that you’ve chosen, which are different from those suggested on the label, feel free to deviate.

European and Australian Standards
Imported yarn often uses different weight standards. In the United Kingdom and throughout most of Europe, you will get names such as four-ply, double-knitting (or DK), Aran, and chunky. To confound things even further, Australia classifies its thicknesses as four-ply, six-ply, eight-ply, and so on, even though there may not be that m any strands or plies in that yarn. See below for the Australian yarn equivalents. Even if the names are different, the recommended gauge is a great clue to the yarn weights. Again, refer to the standard yarn weights chart from the Craft Yarn Council for help in sorting out yarn thicknesses.

Another way of classifying yarn weights is a system used primarily by weavers that is called wraps per inch or wpi.

Wrap yarn around a pencil or ruler and count how many wraps there are in one inch. The heavier the yarn, the fewer wraps; the thinner the yarn, the m ore wraps. Here are the wraps per inch for U.S. yarn weights.

A big key to success in knitting is matching the appropriate needle type to yarn type. Not only do you want a proper needle size to use with the proper w eight of yarn, but the type of needle you choose can make knitting with a particular yarn easier and m ore pleasant. For instance, when the yarn is slippery, such as a mercerized cotton or a slinky rayon, use a grabby needle type such as bamboo or wood or even some plastic varieties. Conversely, when the yarn is grabby, such as a matte chenille, try a slick type of needle, such as a nickel-plated one. If a yarn splits easily, go for a m ore blunt tip. If a yarn is thin, a pointier tip helps you work into the stitches much better. Sometim es, a luxury yarn such as angora might call for a luxury needle such as ebony just for the sheer decadence of it!
If you find yourself struggling with your project, a change of tools may be the answer. Another type of needle, even in the same size, can alter your gauge. Experiment with a few different ones. If you find that you c an ’t seem to get gauge, try birch instead of aluminum , or plastic instead of bamboo.
Needles can induce “moods” into your piece. Metal, cold to the touch, can cause some knitters to tense up. Wood,

which is warmer to the touch, can relax other knitters. These factors can also affect your gauge.

See also tips and tricks for knitters


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