Thursday, July 3, 2008

An Ice Cube Tray and Yarn

To start off our SKIF Knit-a-long out right, for those trapped underneath something heavy and can't make it in on Tuesday nights to hangout and get your SKIF knit on, I present to you today's topic:

Choosing yarn

I know it sounds absolutely thrilling. Right now one of you is thinking, "If I can pick out my own socks in the morning I can certainly manage choosing a yarn that I love."

Au contraire, mon frère (and mon soeur). Choosing yarn is sometimes as hard as finding that perfect bottle of soft drink to go with backyard barbecue. Would you pair Jolt cola with Brats? How about Chocolate Yoo Hoo with German style potato salad? I didn't think so.

So let us just consider for a moment the weighty (worsted-weighty) decision you are about to undertake and let's travel to the magical world of the Standard Yarn Weight System as brought to you by those wacky kids at the Craft Yarn Council of America (cue music).

The SKIF patterns are knit at gauges from 4 to 4½ stitches per inch on US needle sizes 8 or 9 (4.5 or 5 mm). If you were to create a garment from just one yarn for these patterns, you would choose a worsted (or Aran) weight yarn. In the land of yarn, this is medium weight.

However, you are no sissy. You are going to take on the full-throttle joy of knitting a SKIF International pattern for the full Monty effect so you choose multiple fine gauge yarns. (Deep in your psyche your alter ego sports a bicep tattoo that features yarn and needles with the old-time banner caption of "Balls of Silken Stainless Steel".)

Now here comes the perplexing part: how do you find fine gauge yarns to equal a worsted weight?

Think of the worsted weight in terms of its parts (I won't use the word fraction here because as I think about typing it I hear cogs grinding and springs sproinging in the collective minds of the math-phobic masses). Think of worsted weight yarn like an ice cube tray! As illustrated here:
Does your brain-machine feel better now?
Worsted weight yarn is composed of many skinny yarns called plies just like the tray is composed of several little ice cubbyholes (what else can you call the individual hole that makes ice other than a cubicle? I already lost half of our two readers with the math reference. I don't want to loose the other one with office-speak). Most worsted weight yarns are about 8-ply. About is a very important word. Sometime the crafty mill-mongrels will make really pretty worsted yarn that is single-ply, double-ply, and whatnot. But for illustration purposes we shall pretend all worsted weight yarn is the same and is made from 8 plies. As we have taken the trolley to the land of make believe, we shall also pretend lace weight yarns equal a single ply.

Worsted = 8 plies
Lace = 1 ply
Ergo 8 strands lace = 1 worsted yarn.

HURRAY! Whoopee! Yay we did it!

Not so fast my young Padawan. We used a word of infinite magical power. We used the word: about. The reality is yarn is made by madmen, purchased by the insane, beloved by the stark-raving mad, and coveted by the crazier-than-owning-three-vacuums (I fall into the last category... none of them work properly either but that's a story for another day). Due to this unhinged quality in the world of knitting, you might find that seven, six, or even five strands of lace can equal a worsted weight yarn. You may decide you aren't feeling the lace weight love and want to use sport or double knitting (DK) weight yarn. How do you manage that?

You let go of the control and dare to imagine:

Lace = 1-2 ply
Fingering = 2-3 plies
Sport = 3-4 plies
DK = 4-5 plies

Your head might be swimming at this point. Take the edge off with some fresh yarn stash enhancement. Don't worry we'll wait.

So now that you have some fresh stash, the next thing you do is prune some of your old stash-beast to go with it. Take those single skeins that you bought "just because" and those leftover skeins and sort them by color. Pick your favorite color(s) then sort that pile by animal/vegetable. Anything that is the hair from an animal goes into one pile and everything else (including silk) goes in the other. If you have a blend use the primary fiber as a guideline. Choose the yarns that seem to go best together, but make sure you choose a some of each: animal, vegetable, smooth, and textured yarns. The combination you choose will make your garment completely unique. If all this gives you a headache, don't fret. Tomorrow's post will show you examples of how to blend and mix your yarns together.

Until then lets see some examples from real live coworkers:

Fyberduck is using Joseph Galler's Inca Cotton in Ecru for "Neptune".

Inca Cotton=Worsted weight=8plies

Here is a great example of the use of the word about. Below is "Martha" in Tsumugi Silk Combo carried with doubled Sea Silk by SandyKay:

Tsumugi Silk Combo=Fingering Weight=3plies
Doubled Sea Silk= Doubled Lace Weight=2plies x 2

That's crazy! SandyKay is making her's with 7plies! Aaaaaaa!!!! Panic! Panic!

Feel better? Did you get it out of your system? There's no need to panic because she's getting gauge so there is no need to worry.

This one is a whole bucket of crazy... like owning-three-vacuums crazy:

I have taken my stash apart and grabbed all the silly little leftover balls of lace weight mohair and sock yarn and added some Tsumugi Silk and Bamboo from Habu, Flaxen, and Alpaca 1 for my Zena. Who knows, the urge to buy more yarn might come on me again and I might just add something else.

The patterns require anywhere from a pound to a pound and a half (.5 to .6 kilo) of blended yarn. In terms of yardage (or meter-age for the rest of the world) that is approximately 890-1350 yards (815-1230 meters).

The nice thing about the patterns are they emphasize and encourage knitters to just go with the flow and think of the experience like a Sous chef thinks of cooking: blend, mix, experiment. Some of the tips offered in the patterns are: "Be glad when the shop runs out of your dye lot" and "Keep switching yarns the whole way through".

Think of it as an opportunity for anarchy.

For those of you Anarchists out there who want to post pictures and progress on your own SKIF knit, write a blog post on this all inclusive blog: skifkal dot blogspot dot com!


Sara M said...

3 vacuums, huh?

laurainpdx said...

Au contraire, mon frere (and MA soeur).

Frere is brother and masculine and soeur is sister and feminine.

We don't want the french mad at us for any other reasons.

3 vacuums, really????

The Knit Purl Blogger said...

The acquisition of three vacuums is entirely the fault of the felt-phobic roommate. I like to remind her anytime she makes a crack about my lovely stash-beast, that we have three vacuums because of her. (We shan't discuss her lamp fetish.)