Listen to your yarn

May 23, 2011 2 min read

Yarn talks to you. It really does.  The trick is figuring out how to listen.  You have to coax your yarn into revealing its preferences. You have to try different things and figure out what makes your yarn happy.  Teasing this kind of information out of your yarn is often more challenging than getting a straight answer from your teenager, but both are truly worth the effort. 

The key to opening a line of communication with your yarn is the swatch.  Just grab a set of needles, cast on a bunch of stitches and get knitting.  I typically cast on 24 stitches (because it’s my favorite number) and knit a few rows.  Those first few garter ridges help hold the swatch flat, so you can get a better look at your stockinette section, which you are going to work for about 4 inches.   Take a look at the fabric you and your yarn have created.  If it looks droopy and sad, it’s telling you that it would prefer a smaller needle.  Stiff and claustrophobic? Go up a needle size.  If you’re not sure, change needle sizes up and down until you get a sense of just how flexible your yarn will be.  Some yarns are easy-going and are happy at a wide range of gauges.  Others know just where they belong and don’t respond well to being far outside their comfort zone. 

Turn your swatch over and check out the reverse stockinette side.  Which side shows off the yarn’s best features?  A smooth, elegant yarn will likely prefer showing its stockinette side.  Bumpy, textural yarns look their best when the purl side gets to shine a bit.  Try more garter stitch, seed stitch, and ribbing.  Do these different stitches further enhance your yarn, or are they lost in the yarn’s texture? 

This conversation will be different with every yarn you swatch but soon you’ll begin to understand yarn’s subtle language and know where to begin the conversation with each.  You can never really know a yarn until you’ve knit with it, so be sure to leave yourself open for surprises.  The yarn that seemed so iffy in the skein can open up to reveal a delightful fiber that works into a wonderful fabric. 

A yarn tasting is a fun and safe way to have a quick chat with lots of new fibers you may not have knit before.  Each taster will receive a generous sample of 8-10 different yarns.  You’ll have a chance to swatch them up here, and play with them at home.  Try them in different stitches and on different needles.  Let the fabric talk to you.  You will be amazed what you hear if you listen carefully.

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