Knitting with Chain Yarns and Knitscene Fall 2015

Wool yarns are a traditional favorite of knitters, but given the wide variety of materials available today, it’s understandable that the yarn world goes through trends every few years. Five years ago there were tons of novelty yarns hitting the market, and soon I think we’ll see more denim-inspired yarns showing up in yarn shops. One of the trends I’ve been seeing lately is chain or chainette yarns. Chain yarns are created by blending fibers together as usual, but instead of spinning the fibers into plies and then plying those strands, the fiber is essentially knit or worked into loose chains.

Here’s an example of one of these yarns—it’s Cascade Yarns Cloud, worked in a mini-swatch by designer Courtney Spainhower. You can see how the yarn is not plied, but chained, and how it adds visual interest to the fabric. You might think the chain construction would make for lumpy knitting, but these yarns result in nice, smooth fabric that get a pebbly look after knitting.

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In the fall issue of Knitscene, we built a story around some of these cleverly constructed yarns. Courtney’s Caldwell Pullover is one of them. Mixing garter stitch and stockinette stitch with simple eyelets, this oversized women’s sweater is knit seamlessly from the top down. Cascade Yarns Cloud is a lovely blend of merino and baby alpaca, making this a cozy pullover for fall.

Caldwell Pullover by Courtney Spainhower, Knitscene Fall 2015

Leah Thibault’s Cormac Sweater uses another chain yarn, Shibui Maai, to create a slouchy, drop-shoulder sweater. This yarn is another blend of alpaca and merino, but unlike Cloud, Maai features 70% alpaca and 30% merino. One of the benefits of working the yarn into the chain construction is that the yarn is more stable and springy (has more memory) than the fiber would simply plied—while alpaca is a lovely fiber to knit with, it can stretch out a lot. Blending it with merino and then working it into a chain construction gives it more support. Leah adds extra stability to this garment by knitting it flat and then seaming the pieces to help the pullover keep its shape.

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The O’Connor Cowl by Harry Wells is knit in S. Charles Collezione Enya, distributed by Tahki-Stacy Charles, Inc. Enya is a cotton and ramie blend chain yarn, combining two plant fibers into one soft but sturdy yarn (ramie is a relative of linen). In this long infinity scarf, Harry worked a woven block stitch to create undulating waves of texture before grafting the ends for a completely seamless piece.

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Rowan Lima, distributed by Westminster Fibers, is another alpaca and merino blend chain yarn, but they’ve added just a touch of nylon for even more stability. I love how the different fibers take the dye and yield a subtle heather effect in the finished knit piece. Angela Hahn used Lima to knit the Faulkner Hat. This knitted cap starts from the cabled brim (worked flat and grafted), then continues up to the crown in simple stockinette stitch. Worn low over the ears, this hat is soft and warm, perfect for fall evenings.

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Finally in this collection, we have the Williams Cloche from Sarah Solomon, knit in Juniper Moon Farm Moonshine, distributed by Knitting Fever.  Moonshine is not a chain yarn, but it is a beautiful blend of alpaca, wool, and silk, giving it an oh-so-soft feel and slightly shimmery look. This hat also starts at the bottom brim, but a small Möbius loop worked in alternating channels of stockinette stitch and reverse stockinette stitch creates the slightly lifted effect. When the “cross” is worn to the front, this hat reminds me of a Greta Garbo turban; if you shift it to the side, however, it feels like a classic, stylish cloche. You really can’t go wrong!

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All five knitting patterns are available in Knitscene Fall 2015, along with seven other seamless garments, an introduction to brioche knitting, six chic pieces inspired by 1970s style icons, and more.

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