One of the things that I love most about knitting is how much it provides a vehicle for continued learning.
This year has been extremely satisfying on that front. Since my paid working hours have lessened, my knitting has increased from one project on the go at a time to several at once. Projects have become more adventurous, and now mostly chosen because they also provide a chance to learn. This has been disadvantageous to the projects I am supposed to knit but that don’t pose any challenges… I keep falling in love with other projects that are more shiny and exciting… (and educational)!
This year, I’ve learned a lot about knitting techniques and gauge. And how you can’t always trust the gauge as stated on the ball band. I’ve also learned a lot about knitting tools – how wood/plastic/metal affect your knitting speed and performance depending on what fibre you are knitting with.
I think one of the most significant lessons for me this year has been about yarn. How fibres behave and feel when knitted. Joining the 10 in 2010 group on Ravelry has made me deliberately choose a different fibre for each project – which has then taught me about their differing properties. The yarns I knit are now better selected to correctly produce the desired look and feel in the completed project.
Some yarns, like alpaca, have been added to my ‘favourite fibre to knit with’ category. I really love the Garden Jumper that I knitted recently.
Even though it’s still shorter than I should like, I love the way the yarn has made the sweater feel and drape. I love the sensation of the alpaca as it threads through my fingers when knitting. When I knit with it, I can’t help but stop and stroke the project every now and again – it’s soooo soft! I also think that it has better thermal qualities than wool. Not surprising, given the alpaca’s natural habitat is up in the snowy Andean mountains! It is cool to touch, but very warm to wear.
Alpaca isn’t a good yarn for all projects. Being a hair, as opposed to wool, it behaves much like the hair on your head. It doesn’t have the springiness and memory of wool, but it has a lovely silky tumbling drape about it (especially Suri fleece). It’s also much denser than wool (in 100% form), which in turn makes the project feel heavier in a way. It does also have the propensity to stretch (or grow). So choose to knit it where you don’t mind the project ending up a bit bigger than when you finished it! You can get around the problem a little by knitting to a tighter gauge, but this isn’t always appropriate for a project.
I can’t wait to knit something else in it though, even if it isn’t as easy as wool to knit because of its lack of spring. It’s one of those love/hate things – the lack of bounce in the yarn does make it harder on the wrists to knit. But once it’s done – on my gosh! So soft, so cuddly, so drapey, so yummy!
Other fibres, like silk and cotton, have been added to my ‘less favourite to knit with’ category. Again, it’s the lack of spring and bounce that makes it hard on the wrists when you knit. Cotton is extra tricky because the fibres don’t grip each other like wool to make a cohesive yarn. By way of typical example, the cotton yarn I’m currently knitting with has five strands plied together. Each strand is a two ply in itself. But if you don’t hold the yarn right, the strands pull apart quite easily and stick out, snagging on the needle. In the case of this particular yarn, that’s 10 strands that you have the potential to snag. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but even so, I went out and bought my very first set of Knit Picks needles recently (which have nice pointy tips), just to help get around the problem! I rather like the project though – it’s quite addictive, with its pretty twisted stitches and cables.
I’d add here that cotton mixes are slightly different. For example, Zealana’s Kiwi is also cable spun (two strands of four plied together), it also still feels and behaves like cotton, but the addition of wool and possum has created a cohesive yarn that does not do the annoying splitty thing when knitted.
The other thing I’ve appreciated more is that the way a yarn is spun also affects the look and durability of the end project. For example, a multiple ply yarn will give a garment a very smooth ‘polished’ look, as opposed a single ply that will look softer and feel ‘puffier’. A tighter spin and more strands usually also mean that the project is less disposed to pill, and will also be more durable than garments with less spin and twist in them.
This does not mean that single spun yarns are bad quality. It just means that the effect will be different, and it should be used where you’re not going to subject the project to hard wear and tear.
Now that another year is drawing to a close (eek!), I’ve started to think about what I’d like to accomplish in knitting learning next year. I have projects queued that must be knitted and will take me up to the end of the year to finish. But it would be good to have a focus for 2011.
The Fall 2010 issue of Vogue Knitting gave me food for thought while I was flipping through it recently. For starters, I’d like to be more comfortable with Fair Isle, and lace, and at least try a pair of socks (I suppose). Here’s a link to the preview for the issue so you can see the pretty pictures of what I am talking about.
Some of the possibilities I considered:
1. A total mind-bender: Sandi Prosser’s multi-coloured argyle turtleneck (page 74). It looks scarily challenging. I’m still disappointed about my intarsia FAIL this year, but it might be a fun one to do (in a different colour scheme) assuming my brain will co-operate. I just have to think about what New Zealand yarn might substitute for the Zara used in the pattern. I’m thinking Touch Yarn’s single colour 100% merino might be nice, or perhaps Zealana’s gorgeous merino cashmere blend, Willow which is now happily available for purchase in New Zealand.
2. A fun Fair Isle project: Yoko Hatta’s A-line tunic in classic Fair Isle motifs (page 76). I’d love to make this, and this might just be the impetus to do a big Fair Isle project. And if I did it in some beautiful Jamieson & Smith, that would be two goals in one as I’ve always wanted to knit something with this lovely yarn. The only bummer is I need to go online to get the chart. I’m not sure I can be bothered given my currently PC-less status.
3. A beginner Fair Isle project: The very cute hat by Sheila Joynes (page 77). Maybe I should do this one to warm up on first.
4. Lace and cables: This very pretty cables and lace pullover by Michelle Wang looks too cute! I think it would be a good project to put against the lace ‘tick’. The yarn is meant to be Koigu, but it looks very much like a Fibre Alive or Knitsch yarn in terms of spin and weight. I’m thinking that Knitsch’s Silver Lining colourway would look perfect in this and fit the tension specifications perfectly! I’m having serious fantasies about it actually…
5. Lace opera-length gauntlets: Shiri Mor has designed some very pretty lace gauntlets that look good to try too. And that Peppermint Twist I got from Fibre Alive will be perfect for this.
6. Socks: well here’s an interesting project! Some pretty knee-length top-down socks with picot cast-on and classic leaf-lace pattern by Barb Brown. They might be what it takes to get me interested in socks. I’ll be able to work up confidence on the leg part before one gets to new-to-me bits of heel and toe (that could get discouraging if attempted too early and cause me to leave it on the WIP pile…). Some of my precious supply of Needlefood would be perfect for this project.
As another knitter said to me “So much to knit, so little time!”