Kate’s Toolbox: Knitting with Handspun Yarns
I’ve just returned from my annual late-May trek to Wooster, Ohio, for the Great Lakes Fiber Show. This year I taught a class that doesn’t appear on my roster very often: Knitting with Handspun Yarns.
I stopped by Maple Row Stock and Wool to pick up some handspun yarn to taste-test during class. Deb was sitting, as she often is, at her wheel near a wall of her beautiful handspun yarns. She and her husband, Bob, travel to many of the major fiber festivals: Wisconsin Sheep and Wool, New York State Sheep and Wool, Maryland Sheep and Wool, and more.
So, let’s imagine you are in Deb’s booth ready to buy a few gorgeous skeins (or perhaps you are a spinner with a wall o’ yarn of your own!) and you want to start a project. Abundant, woolly skeins always set my mind racing along into sweater patterns and cozy cowl ideas, but we often get stuck: How much yarn do I need? What needle size should I use? What gauge will my fabric be in different stitch patterns? Having a few tools can help us answer these questions. Here are a few of my favorites.
Knitting with handspun toolbox:
Needle gauge. One of the quickest ways to make a rough guess about needle size for a yarn is to slip a loop of the yarn through the holes in a knitting needle gauge. It should fit comfortably without being too tight or too loose for an average sweater gauge. This is similar in principle to testing wraps per inch (WPI), which I only use for a preliminary gauge estimate before I knit a swatch.
Blocking mat, pins, and tape measure. Now it’s time to get an accurate gauge. After I have knitted a gauge swatch in a few different stitch patterns or needle sizes, I wash my swatch and roll it in a towel. The idea is to treat the swatch just as you would the finished piece. If I’m working on lace or colorwork patterns, I gently tug the wet swatch vertically and horizontally and then pin the swatch out to block as I would for the finished piece. For other types of knitting, I usually lay it flat to dry. After the piece is fully dry, I measure my stitches per inch and rows per inch.
Knitter’s Handy Book series by Ann Budd. This series of books, as well as the laminated tri-fold page that fits neatly into your knitting bag, are fabulous resources for yardage estimates. For example, you query, “How much yarn do I need to knit a sweater?” You first need to know the knitted gauge of your yarn and the size of the sweater you want to make. Then you can use Ann’s easy-to-use charts to determine the yardage needed.
Knit with your handspun!