Yarn For The Gathered Pullover: What I Chose and Why

Before we begin, it turns out I have an apology to make. Y'all don't mind holding on for a sec, do you?

Dear Silkworms,

I am so sorry that I offended you by calling you bugs, or even worms. You are animals, full and respectable members of the animal kingdom, and if my words caused you harm, I sincerely apologise. I hope that we can put this ugly misunderstanding behind us, and that, when I hold your lovely dried spit–er, hardened extrusions–in my hands, that you and your ancestral spirits will look kindly upon me and guide my knitting, so that my work will do honor to you and all of animalkind.

There. Whew. I had visions of silkworms dancing all around my bed, with little signs, chanting, "Animal Rights For Bugs! Animal Rights For Bugs!"

I needed to make amends, you see, because I am going to talk about the yarn I chose to make the Gathered Pullover, which is part silk. (Good to appease the silkworm union before I venture into touching their extrusions. If you know what I mean.)

But let me start at the beginning.

Hana Jason's Gathered Pullover

Today, I'm going to walk you through how I chose the yarn for my Gathered Pullover, because maybe I chose the right yarn…and maybe I didn't.

The original yarn specified for this pattern is the always-lovely Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb. I own so much Brown Sheep yarn that I think the warehouse has me on speed-send. ("Back up the truck to the driveway, folks…just back 'er in!")

But as I have discovered from past sweater adventures, my skin does not adore this yarn as much as I adore it. Like many wool yarns, it is a bit on the prickly side. This "prickly factor" is common to many wools-from-sheep, depending on the breed, the way the yarn is spun, and probably the phase of the moon. The prickles are due to short fibers within the wool itself, fibers that stick out of the yarn. Some of these fibers might be slightly thicker fibers than the main wool, some might just be the main wool being unruly. Different breeds have different amounts of Prickle Factor, and different spinning and processing methods alleviate this Prickle Factor to some degree.

And some folks do not even feel the Prickle Factor.

The Gathered Pullover is meant to be worn fairly close-fitting; I would want to wear it next to my skin. Thus: Prickle Bad. So, I needed to walk away from the lovely Brown Sheep, and choose something different.

What are the special needs of this sweater in terms of yarn?

The Gathered Pullover is drapey, so the yarn cannot be too stiff. (Part of this drape is achieved via a rather large gauge, but still, the yarn must cooperate.) The most noticeable feature of the pullover is the central cable…and now we have a challenge. We have to find a non-stiff yarn which will also accommodate a cable.

What yarn is best for cables?

Well, what exactly is a cable? A cable is a structural, almost sculptural element in the fabric, where the two-dimensional fabric is built up upon itself, via twisting and overlapping stitches, in order to create a three-dimensional effect. One important element of the yarn is The Grab Factor: in order to hold the shape of the cables, the yarn has to grab on to itself a bit. If the yarn is too slippery, the cables will just sink out of sight, pulled by the weight of the yarn into oblivion. If the yarn is too stiff, well, again: we need a bit of drape here.

If you look at the royalty of cabled sweaters, the Arans, they are made out of very "sticky" wool—the yarn definitely has the ability to grab on to itself and hold the intricate shapes of the cables. We learned in the last post that wool has lots of little scales running along the fiber; these scales, even when closed, give the wool just a little roughness, just enough texture to not slide around too much. In traditional Aran wools, there is also quite a bit of lanolin left in the yarn, which helps the grab factor.

However, for this sweater, Aran wools are not want I want. I want something a little grabby, but smooth to the skin. I also need drape. I also need….purple.

What alternatives to 100% wool could I find?

Cotton was out–it has no memory, thus is way too stretchy. 100% silk was out, because I am on a budget. But silk…I like silk. Hm. What about a silk blend? Silk and wool together. Silk for the drape and sheen, wool for the grabbiness needed to hold the cable together. So I wander around my LYS until I come up with Crystal Palace Creme, which is 60% Merino and 40% silk. (Sadly, this yarn has now been discontinued.) I knit a swatch, and the cable seems to hold, the fabric feels good against my skin, and the purple is gorgeous.

And so the knitting began. Yes, I swatched until I wanted to scream, switching needle sizes (and materials–I got more accurate gauge on my size 9 wood needles than on my size 9 metal needles!) until I got exactly the fabric I wanted. It is true that I knit it in the 44.75" size, and before I even got to the sleeves, I had lost enough weight so that I will have to go down a size in order to make the sweater look right. But: What do you think of my yarn choice, given the cables and the drape? What would you have chosen, and why? Let us know what you think!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Laceweight alpaca/silk, and on another set of needles, lovely tan worsted wool-from-sheep, and on another set, silk/merino DK.

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