Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weight, What?

The weight of fiber first intruded on my consciousness when I was in school to learn weaving. We would weigh the cones of yarn from the yarn closet on an old-fashioned baby scale before we wound our warps and shuttles. Then after weaving was done, we would weigh the cones again, giving us the amount of yarn to be charged on our school supply accounts. I never thought much about it other than that it had a nice housekeeping orderliness to the process.

The next time I thought about weight was when I was lugging armfuls of tie-dyed clothing from the car to my booth on the vendor's meadow at music festivals - rayon is heavy! Especially compared to the linen and silk items I was sewing because I couldn't find white linen or silk "blanks" anywhere. I promptly started sewing my own clothing items to save my back.

The third time I had to deal with the weight of fiber -- and I paid attention this time -- was at one of my first felting classes. The students were making hats, and I had put out the big coils of roving in all the glorious colors I had brought for them to pull from. They went wild, and couldn't keep their hands off this color and that (you know the feeling!) and by the end of the class, most people's hats weighed up to a half pound. Heavy, man! After that, I tested to see how little wool was needed for a felt hat and packaged 2 ounces each in all the colors for them to choose from. It was more work for me, but much more successful for the student's first experience in making hats - they were still colorful, but plenty light and warm. Eureka!

The importance of weight in handmade items has been on my mind lately as we package yarns and fiber for the shop, and make suggestions on what amount to buy to make what items. Fleece for felting is easy - I know exactly how much you need for each type of item, from years of weighing before and after, that good habit being ingrained since I went to Haywood. (Thank you, Catherine!)

But the amount of yarn, as well as the amount of fleece to spin yarn is sometimes difficult - so much depends on the designated size of the yarn, the stitch, the needle size, your style of knitting, the patterns you're using, etc, etc. So yardage is a moving target. That's one of the reasons knitters have such a tough time getting a pattern right - especially when they don't take the time to do gauge swatches. But weight, now there's a solid concept in knitting, crochet, and weaving that we can talk about.

Just like the felting student didn't realize that more wool than needed would mean carrying a half pound on her head (I'm getting a headache just thinking about it), you don't want a pound of yarn draped around your shoulders for a shawl, or two pounds of sweater hanging (and stretching) to your knees. And just like the linen and silk tie-dyed items I made were light as a cloud to pack and carry, linen, silk and wool yarns will be far, far lighter than rayon, cotton, and alpaca yarns, so you can get more yardage for the same weight.

I know that most knitting patterns will have the yarn brand, style and number of skeins to buy to make the pattern, and sometimes they will give the weights as well. Sure, you can tell something about the weight of the item from the photo - if it's lace, it's light, right? - but if you do the math on the weight of the yarn called for, you come to find that lacey scarf, made from cotton and rayon yarn, is actually 8 ounces in weight, a half pound hanging from your neck. If you made the same scarf from a wool or silk yarn instead, it might be half that weight.

So my suggestion is, find your favorite items in your closets and drawers to wear. Find a scale that does ounces and pounds, and find out how much it weighs. Then use that weight to buy your yarn. A scarf should be light in the summer and only a little heavier for the winter. A sweater should not weigh more than a pound, and so on.

After you've found an ideal weight for your knitted item, buy that amount of yarn in the size designation that you like to work in. Knit a swatch with the needles that seem to fit that yarn and the stitch pattern that you'd like to use. (start with the needles that a doubled piece of yarn fits through in a needle gauge) Knit at least a 4" x 4" swatch and extrapolate the size of the swatch in weight and size to the larger garment, and change the size of needles and maybe the stitch pattern til you get the right combination that will give you the size and weight of the finished item.

Yes, you can always buy more yarn if you need it, but the point is not to add weight, but to knit to the weight you prefer.
I know that isn't as thought-free as just following a pattern. But you will know with much more certainty that you'll like the finished piece.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2013 Sock Challenge

I once knitted a pair of socks a long time ago, just one pair, and it took me all year. I was not an enthusiastic knitter, then or now. The socks (I did finish them!) have felted and thickened in washing, so they’re more like slippers now than socks. I didn’t know to look for superwash wool, if they even had it for knitters then. Altogether, not a good experience and it’s a sad thing too. I learned knitting from my mom, who would knit up our Christmas stockings in the fall. I still use double point needles for hats and wristlets, they just feel more natural than circulars.

From a functional standpoint, I go through a lot of department store socks. And increasingly, they are made of non-breathing materials and sprout holes and tears in the toe seams within a year. Cheap materials and factory made, but not a good bargain. I understand that a good knitter can turn out a pair of socks in a day or two. I could really use a dozen well-made socks. I could really use a dozen well-made socks in my favorite colors too. Surely, sock knitting is a learnable skill. So says Robyn, and I’ve watched a series of sock newbies turn out lovely socks in her classes (see photo below).

So my New Year’s resolution - and Nice Threads’ 2013 Sock Challenge - is to learn to make socks with Cat Bordhi’s technique in one of Robyn’s classes and then go on to make a pair of socks by February 15th. And then a pair each month thereafter. I’ll post the results on our FB page, warts and all, but hopefully we’ll see an improvement from the first to the twelfth.

A lovely sock in progress, made by Barbara from hand-dyed superwash merino yarn in last year's Personal Footprint sock class.

In making this resolution, I’ll be taking my own advice - Make at least 3 of everything! Only in this case, it will be 12, so 4 times as much trial and error, bad technique discovered and experimentation applied. 4 times as many tries as it takes to get it right. In that view, I can relax a bit about making my first pair perfect.

One of the beauties of Cat Bordhi’s technique is that it works with all weights of yarn. That means that all twelve socks can be completely different but I’ll be working the same pattern. My first pair of socks will be of bulky yarn so it will go faster and I won’t have to squint to see the stitches. I don’t know about diamond patterns and lace cuffs, but I’m sure my twelfth pair will be made out of that smooth, glossy superwash/silk yarn I sell to sock knitters at the the shop. And notice that I’m saying my twelfth pair and not my last - I am planning to be a sock knitter from here on out.

I hope you will join me! You can ask to schedule Robyn’s class anytime you are ready, or just drop in between 1pm and 2pm on Saturdays to get started. You need an hour to get the beginning information and then an hour to make your first rounds under Robyn's discerning eye, and then you can go home and finish the sock on your own. You can always make quick visits to Nice Threads for advice and repairs.

But you can also get the book and work along with us in your far-flung, but internet connected homes. A link is below and on our website, to Amazon for Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters by Cat Bordhi, our source material. I promise you, it will be worth a book and a year of sock-making. (Who knows, you may perfect your sock knitting by May) I promise to share my sock-making insights along with all 12 pairs of good, bad and ugly, so at the least, check in to our Facebook page for updates.

If you are joining the challenge, upload photos of your socks to our Facebook wall or just send us a message and we’ll repost it. A prize will be given to the person who posts the most socks in the year. And maybe there are some intrepid experts out there who could make a pair of socks every two weeks. Amaze and inspire us and post your socks too!

Thanks and lets get knitting!

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