- Arts and Design»
- Crafts & Handiwork»
Yarns and Knitting Oddities
What is Yarn?
The yarns are as varied as colors in the rainbow. People have knitted with wool, cotton, acrylic, nylon, ribbons, threads, hair from rabbits, dogs, sheep, llamas, camels, goats, humans, and any combination of these. Some yarns are 2 ply, 3 ply, or 4 ply. Some are lumpy and bulky and some are smooth and thin. Some are hairy and some are curly. Each kind of yarn is categorized by the weight of the yarn, using numbers between 0 and 6.
Most yarn is just fibers twisted together. The longer the fibers the stronger the yarn. However, even short fibers can be made strong by plying them together. The plying is done by taking at least two or more twisted threads and twisting them together in the opposite direction. This is called plying. Several threads plied together make the yarn thicker and stronger.
Imaging knitting using rolls of fiberglass insulation and your arms as needles as Dave Cole did when he knitted the teddy bear pictured above. My father worked with heating and air conditioning, and often worked with fiberglass insulation. Because of this I've seen them up close. They are long rolls of pink fiber that look soft a fluffy. Don't be deceived. Fiberglass is anything but soft and fluffy. My father described it as literally rolls of spun glass, in the same way cotton candy is spun sugar. The thin glass gets under your skin like tiny needles and doesn't come out easily because it is hard to see. To work that closely with this sharp fiber, Dave Cole had to cover his arms and face so as not to breath in any loose fiberglass shards. That makes this Teddy Bear all the more amazing to see.
Ever seen Knit Art like these?
Michaels Stores, featuring arts and crafts including knitting, has locations of local stores and many coupons and sales that are available regularly. Every year they feature a Vanna’s Choice knitting, craft or crochet contest with Vanna White on their website.
Dave Cole and The Knitting Machine
Have you ever been to the Boston Museum of Modern Art? If not then you may have never seen the display of Dave Cole and the Knitting Machine. He is fairly famous for knitting flags of all sizes, but this one is nothing short of fabulous. Even if you aren’t a knitter you will be pretty amazed. Forgive me MEN, but only a MAN would think of knitting on such a large scale. He got together two large John Deere Cats and used sharpened utility poles for needles and, well… you have to see it to believe it.
The best results will be obtained if you used the yarn specified in the instructions. This is the only way to be sure that the look and the texture will match the item photographed. However, the specified yarns may not be readily available. If you must substitute yarns, choose a yarn as close to the original weight as possible. Also different yarns may have different yardages per ounce. The pattern may say that you need 5 skeins of the specified yarn, but the substitution yarn may take much more or even less. To be safe, always buy an extra skein of yarn if you must substitute. To assure the right texture and size, knit a gauge first.
Maybe even Dave Cole knitted a gauge first to see how big his flag would end up in the end.
More Knitting Resources
Nancy's Knit Knacks is a family owned business out of North Carolina, offering innovative products and patterns for fiber artists, including knitters. Their patterns seem to be reasonably priced.
0 Lace: This is the smallest of yarns and is really a thread. Also called fingering 10-count crochet thread, usually used for knitting lace or with openwork patterns.
1 Super Fine: This is a lightweight sock yarn or baby yarn. Also sometimes called fingering yarn.
2 Fine: This is called a sport-weight yarn but can also be used for baby garments. Makes lovely fine lightweight pullover sweaters and garments.
3 Light: This is sometimes called DK or Light Worsted weight yarn. Perfect for summer weight garments, shawls and baby items.
4 Medium: This is the worsted weight normally thought of as a 4-ply afghan yarn. It is the most popular thickness of yarn.
5 Bulky: These are the chunky, craft and rug yarns. Very popular for scarves because they knit up quickly and are thick and warm.
6 Super Bulky: These specialty yarns are usually fuzzy and fluffy. They may look thick but some are very thin with lots of fur or fuzz that stands away from the thread. (Standard Yarn Weight System, 2011)
Careful with Weight
Notice that many of the acrylic and wool yarns look and even feel the same or similar. Make sure you know which you are using. It will make a big difference in the laundry!
A friend of mine saw a pattern for a baby blanket that she liked in a magazine. She went out and bought yarn that looked good to her without checking if the instructions called for a different weight yarn. She bought a 4-ply medium worsted weight acrylic yarn on sale. The instructions called for a fine sport-weight baby yarn. The baby yarns are “softer” as well as thinner. The blanket looked great but it wasn’t. It was bulky and heavy, but worse, it was scratchy. She knew halfway through the project that she would never put this blanket on a baby. Needless to say, she was very disappointed.
The Manly Art of Knitting
Knitting in Novels
The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood is about dealing with loss of a child and the knitting circle in Providence, Rhode Island, as a way of filling the hole and grief left behind. Like the other knitting books mentioned, knitting becomes not only a way for women to bond, but also a therapeutic way of dealing with pain and loss.
The Manly Art of Knitting is now available in Amazon. Includes a hammock pattern using the largest needles made from shovel handles and rope for yarn.
Knit Space Installation
A skein is the term used to refer to the ball of yarn. This could be any weight or any fiber or any yardage. The manufacturer defines the skein, or how much is in one. They can hold a small amount or a large amount.
Also, today, we have what is known as “pull skeins.” Yarn used to come directly from the spinner in long hanks, which had to be rolled up into a ball before you could start knitting or crocheting. But now the skeins are rolled up at the manufacturers so that the yarn should pull easily out of one end, preventing tangling and balls of yarn rolling away from you. This also keeps the yarn cleaner and tends to attract fewer playful cats. You can’t know what a problem this is unless you are a knitter with a cat.
Sometimes the end of the pull skein is hard to find; some manufacturers mark on the label with an arrow showing which end the thread can be found. Even with this helpful arrow I have had an obstinate skein refuse to give up the end thread without my having to pull out a large clump of yarn. It happens to the best of us. We knitters usually call this yarn barf…
More fun Knitting Books
Also not a novel but well worth the time to read is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter. I can totally relate to this title and premise. Stephanie has a wicked sense of humor about knitting, coupled with really good advice about balance knitting and a normal life, yarn stash and the misconceptions that knitters must be ancient grandma types. There are zillions of us knitters around the world who are a bit younger and who horde yarn just the same. Hilariously funny.
Dye Lot Explained
It used to be very important to buy the exact amount you would need for a project because of the dye lot. Yarn (even white yarn) was dyed in large amounts in containers or dye lots. Each lot was numbered and there was no guarantee that the next lot number would be the same shade as the last, even though it had the same color name. So going back to the same store and the same shelf for one more skein of yarn didn’t mean that you would get the same color. It may even look near the same color but the garment you made would show where one color ended and a new dye lot began. I found I ruined a sweater by not buying enough of the same dye lot the first time. The only way I could fix it was to take one of the sleeves apart to use for the second sleeve. The sweater ended up with three-quarter sleeves because there wasn’t enough yarn to finish it.
Today, this problem is not as prevalent as it once was. Yarns manufactured in this country have dye lots that are computer measured. Therefore one lot is exactly the same shade and the last one and the next one. These yarns are labeled “No Dye Lot.” It is those yarns manufactured in other countries that still use a more human element that still include dye lot numbers. These yarns are lovely and desirable. Just be sure you are aware of the amount you will need for a project and the dye lot numbers listed.
All knits should be washed in cold water on a gentle cycle and dried flat, whether it is knitted in wool, cotton or acrylic. By throwing knits into the dryer they can be misshapen and not fit correctly again. It is a good habit not to machine dry hand knits, even acrylic, because they will develop fuzzy balls. Also it is less likely to make a mistake with your wool knits if you have developed the habit of drying all the hand knits flat. People have argued that they dry their afghans and large blankets in the dryer with no problems. Actually I have too. But the question is do you want to take the chance that something may go wrong with all your work?
Most skeins have washing instructions on the label in “international” codes so most people can read them. However, sometimes I find these codes to be more confusing than if they were written in a foreign language. This language barrier can be easily avoided by just treating all yarn the same and wash them all in cold water and dry flat.
“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit. And it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.”
— -Elizabeth Zimmerman
Spinners and Spinsters
I used to hang out with folks from the Society for Creative Anachronism. A great group of folks lost in the Middle Ages. They love recreating accuracy of craft and costumes from the Medieval Times. Knitting, lace making, costuming, weaving and spinning our own yarns were just a few of the crafty things we had workshops for. I found those crazy spinners loved spinning anything, not just wool or cotton, flax or hemp, but also dog hair, human hair (which by the way doesn’t spin well because it isn’t curly enough), llama, alpaca and anything else with long curly hair or fiber. At one point I even got an angora bunny to breed because I thought it might be fun to have angora wool, but let me tell you, one bunny doesn’t shed enough hair for even a sock. And I just couldn’t face killing the little guy over some hair.
If your catch the bug, there are a few groups out there you may be interested in joining. Look here for more info.
Medieval Invention of the Spinning Wheel
No one knows exactly who or when the spinning wheel was invented but it sure cut the time the spinning process took by quite a bit. It made it possible for more yarn to be spun and therefore more garments to be made in half the time. A great timesaving device, to be sure.
In Medieval times a spinster was a woman who spun yarn. During Medieval times this was one occupation a woman could successfully engage in and often they were single women. Later the word came to be known as a woman who was unmarried instead of just a woman who spun yarn. A dastardly disservice to women, I think!
Interested in joining a group in your area? Check out SCA.