Choosing Yarn: The Importance of Drape

Obviously, when I knit Susan's Bulletproof Sweater at age 14, I had no concept that there was anything much beyond color to consider when choosing a yarn. I just pretty much thought that you used whatever yarn you wanted to for a sweater; and then you sweated and said bad words your mother would cringe at until you managed to produce a gauge swatch that was somewhere in the territory decreed by the gauge statement in the pattern. Once you got gauge, then whoo! you were ready to cast on! And that was it–right?

Clearly not, or Susan's Sweater would not be bulletproof.

Once I bought that charming creamy acrylic yarn, I worked very hard to get the pattern's gauge of six stitches per inch. I kept changing needle sizes, going to smaller and smaller needles until I finally got a decent swatch with the elusive six stitches per inch. I remember being really frustrated, trying to scrunch ever more stitches into the space on my stitch gauge, knitting every more tightly, until finally I got the magic number.

However, the yarn, a worsted weight, was just too thick. Those six stitches per inch were jammed in next to each other, with no room to breathe, and no room to move. Thus, even though I eventually got the correct gauge, THAT yarn at THAT gauge gave me the wrong type of fabric–so for this project both the gauge and the yarn were definitely wrong for each other.

That's how I learned about Drape. Drape, loosely defined, is the ease with which stitches are able to move past each other. The more easily the stitches can move against each other, the more the fabric flows and the more drape the fabric has. If the stitches cannot move against each other, then you have stiff body armor–and thus, no drape, and a sweater like Susan's, that could stand up with arms outstretched even without Bertha's help.

The Drape Mistake is a very common one, made even by folks over fourteen not blinded by a girlfriend crush. We fall in love with a yarn, and we are determined to use it to knit a favorite pattern. We mess around with the gauge until we get something "close enough"–and we completely forget that gauge is only part of the story when trying to substitute yarn.

In other words: If you are trying to substitute yarns, don't stop with the swatch. Got gauge? Good for you. Knit on that swatch some more. Knit until you have a largish swatch, and then live with that swatch for a bit. Carry it around in your pocket. Pin it up on your wall. Scrunch it and stretch it and wave it in the air like a queen's hankie. Wash it and dry it and then repeat the above with abandon.

Did you knit a swatch of Kevlar? If so, maybe you need a thinner yarn. Did you knit a lacy mesh washcloth? If so, maybe you need a thicker yarn. Or did you knit a swatch worthy enough to grace a lovely, creamy movie-star pullover? Ah, then perhaps you have found the yarn of your dreams.

Only your swatch will know for sure.

— Sandi

By the way–

Thank you for all your wonderful comments on Monday's post. They really touched me–all those stories of sweaters-gone-wrong, all sweaters made with such love.
Next: Why, yes, I did get my hair cut–and dyed! The color is called Violet Expresso, so it's dark dark dark (what else?) chocolate brown with just a sheen of (what else?) purple. Thank you for all the lovely compliments. They quite made my day!

And finally: Some of you asked,"Well, if this is the Second Sweater You Ever Knit, where is the First Sweater You Ever Knit?" Um. It's in the garage. In a box. There are many boxes in Sandi's garage, so we'll all just have to be patient until the First Sweater shows up. (I knit that one when I was ten, so it will be worth a post of its own, methinks.)


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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