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Yarns and Knitting Oddities

Updated on August 13, 2021
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Denise was taught to knit by her grandmother, age10. She has been knitting and creating her own patterns ever since, and loving it.


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.

Knitted Art



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 the plying. Several threads plied together to 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 literal 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.

Knit Art

Ever seen Knit Art like these?

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Dave Cole and The Knitting Machine

Dave Cole and The Knitting Machine
Dave Cole and The Knitting Machine | Source

Dave Cole

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

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.

Small knitted hammock.
Small knitted hammock.

The Manly Art of Knitting

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.

Color Matters


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.

Dry Flat


Laundering Knits

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 handknits 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

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.


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