Yarn Selection is Just as Important as Gauge

February 26, 2008

Just a few posts ago, I had mentioned my struggles in blocking the Flower Basket Shawl.  The issue definitely was not gauge – this was shawl after all.  The issue was the yarn I had selected.  It contained polyamide, which technically, is a compound structure similar to protein.  Silk is a natural polyamide, while Nylon is a synthetic polyamide.  Can we guess which type of polyamide my yarn selection contained?  Yup, the Nylon.  While I was able to block the shawl, it was not as simple as it should have been.  Lesson learned – don’t use yarn with synthetic polyamide for a shawl.  I won’t make that mistake again. (smug)

Oh but we must learn the hard way before a lesson is truly learned, right?  At least, I must.

This month, my favorite organized swap, Monthly Adventures, featured a theme titled ‘Tops and Pots’.  The idea is to knit a head covering (hat, band, etc) and send a recipe for a one-pot meal to your swap partner.  Easy-peasy, right?  I decided to knit the Calorimetry, as the weather is easing up and my swap partner is not fond of hats.  My first thought, after seeing a picture of my swap partner, was that her hair is so fine and a bulky knit would be too much yarn on top of her head.  I decided that a Calorimetry knit in lace or light fingering weight would be more suitable.  I did the math, OUCH!  I would have to nearly double the cast on stitches and do additional math to obtain the correct results.  Since my soon-to-be-three-year-old was pounding a plastic toy against the tile floor of our highly acoustic house as I attempted the math, I decided it was best to use the suggested yarn.  And, since my stash is well-stocked and I really can not justify to WMH why I should go and purchase more yarn, I decided to make a substitute.

Well, little ole me started feeling ‘o-so-smug as I selected a yarn from my stash that had the same WPI as the suggested yarn.  I knit a swatch, obtaining the same gauge as well.  Feeling extra smug now.  I CO and began the Calorimetry, which is a relatively quick knit.  In a few hours I was nearly finished and inspected my work.  Wow, this thing looked like a feminine pad for an elephant, I am not even kidding.  I would show you pictures but I was so horrified that I frogged the thing immediately.  Trust me, your mental health and suffering has been spared by lack of photos.

What was the dealy-o?  I mean, I did everything right, right?  Why was this happening to me?  Wha, wha, wha (the sounds of violins in the background)

Well, lets examine the yarn itself: 


This is the yarn I used    


and these are two strands of the yarn   

If you consider that the end is curling back in the top strand, then you would realize that the two pieces, which are the same length, are almost exactly the same length when one is stretched and the other relaxed.  There isn’t much ‘give’ to this yarn.  But, how is it that the WPI and the gauge are the same as the suggested yarn?  Well, WPI is WPI… you can’t change that fact.  If I get 8 WPI, then I have 8 WPI, unless I want to squeeze another wrap in there.  Gauge however, well that gauge is a tricky thing.

You can knit a piece that is 4″ x 4″ and it will look, feel, stretch in just the way you expect it to, as in this case.  But, if you knit a piece that is 22″ x 22″, you may get very different results.  Why?  The added stitches will weigh the fabric, particularly if it is a dense fiber, and you may find that you knit differently when you are knitting a larger piece such as a sweater or afghan than when you knit a smaller piece such as mittens or scarves.  In my case, the yarn I chose to substitute, while it was 8 WPI and I did obtain the same gauge of 20 sts x 22 rows in a 4″x4″ swatch, seemed to g-r-o-w as I added the stitches necessary for CO.  The fiber itself is very dense, resulting in very little stretch in a larger piece, making a heavy fabric.

What to do now?

Well, I went with my original idea.  I mean, if I was willing to spend my precious time knitting a piece I was only going to frog later, then I can spend 5 minutes to do some math, even with noisy toddler in the background.  Using lace weight yarn, I figured I would have to CO 210 sts and the results are working out great:


I have one gripe about the pattern, it does come out a bit wide for an average person’s head.   Of course, if I just do a bit more math, the problem is solved.  If I make this again, I will definitely shorten the width.

I am nearly finished, then off to the Post to send out to my swap partner… :) 


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