Friend S has wanted to do a sort of knit along. Basically, she and I doing the same project at the same time. A part of this, I think is so that when she comes upon something weird in the pattern, I can hopefully help. Another part is that we live over an hour away from each other. Even living in the future, it’s hard work to maintain friendships over that distance. So, needs must.
I was able to cajole her into coming to a retreat at the end of last month. (We are both making efforts) The retreat piggy-backed on OFFF (Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival). While there, she found the pattern she wanted to work on–Waiting For Rain. Let me just interject right here how appropriate the title is since the PNW has had a dearth of rain. I think I’m withering away. The featured image is the shawl we will be embarking on.
Eventually, I will do a post on choosing a pattern, and what to look for. For right now, lets just assume this was done, and we are now looking at yarn for the project we’ve chosen. The easiest thing to do, of course, is to use the yarn in the colorway the designer recommends. You know me better than that, though, right? Each aspect of yarn can be chosen to match the pattern, or be different to the pattern (look at me being all British).
Yarn has many qualities to look at/for. The least of which is color. Picking a yarn (in my opinion) solely on color is like picking a car or house on the basis of color alone. You can do it, but I will judge you–harshly. We will ignore color for now.
Gauge is generally one of first things I look into. This means how thick the yarn is…lace weight? bulky? If you like the general appearance of the piece the pattern designer has as an exemplar, you’ll want to choose a yarn of the same/similar gauge. Please, Dear Reader, do not think you have to limit yourself to what the designer recommends. Remember, it’s recommended to wait 20 minutes after eating before you swim…who does that?
I mean, unless you’ve eaten your weight, and might explode. Otherwise, do whatever makes you happy. Shawls are a perfect project to play with yarn substitution, since surprises aren’t as catastrophic in a shawl.
This particular project calls for a fingering weight yarn and size 6 needles. I tend to knit pretty close to what most designers call for, so I’ll go with that. I have friends who tend to knit looser, in which case, they may use a size 4 or 5 to get the same results. Likewise, those who tend to knit tighter would go up to 7 or 8. I could go on and on about needles and construction, but we’ll also forgo that conversation for now.
All else being equal, if I go with a thinner yarn, using the same needles, then the fabric I create will be looser, and airier, than the designer intended. This may also have the effect of making a project more “drapey” than it otherwise may have been. It may be less sturdy, and/or less warm.
If, however, I use a thicker yarn, the fabric will be denser. It will tend to be stiffer, and will impede airflow. The project could go from being a lovely spring shoulder warmer to something better suited to the wilds of northern Finland.
Please note, none of these effects are inherently good or bad, they are just different. While you do have to be prepared for the consequences, consequences can be good things.
When we discuss fiber content, we will talk about some ways you can offset some of these effects, or how some of these effects will be necessary to offset the effects of the fiber you *really* want.
Now, if we use a commensurate needle–size 4 needle with a thinner yarn, or size 8 needle with a thicker yarn…then that is another way to adjust size. The smaller needle/yarn will make a smaller project with the same density of fabric. The larger needle/yarn will make a larger project with the same density of fabric. This can be a fun way to adjust sizing on a pattern which doesn’t go into the size you want. However, if you are doing this on a garment…please, please, please gauge swatch. There will be math. Lots and Lots of Math. Or, you can do what I try to do, and make a garment, and trust it will find it’s own home.
Adjusting yarn thickness and needle size can affect the amount of yarn you will need as compared to what is recommended. My personal belief is to have way more yarn than you think you need. I recommend this to all my knitting friends. The fact that this means I get to receive all their leftovers (seriously, 1/2 my yarn wall is hand me down partial skeins) is just a bonus. But…if you are spending all that time and money, you don’t want to run out of yarn.
Also please note…there are *tons* more sizes of yarn than just these. In the US, commercial yarn manufacturers have sizing charts on the ball bands. I cannot stress enough that this is a guide only….kind of like the movie ratings. (There are R movies that a reasonable teen can watch, but PG 13 movies I wouldn’t want them to come near) A size 4 (worsted) can vary greatly in thickness between yarn lines, and then you have so many indie spinners and dyers who may or may not subscribe to those conventions. Or, the dreamy yarn your friend brought from Europe….or…or…or
So as with other things in life, size matters…ish. Within a certain range, who cares? But…get too big or too small…and well…you need to make adjustments. Again, not better or worse, just different.