Monday 28 March 2011

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week 2011 - Day One: A Tale of Two Yarns

One of the first yarns I ever bought was Sirdar Snuggly DK.  I bought it because I was learning to knit at the Adult Education Centre (AEC).  The AEC was across the road from Fenwicks.  If you don't live in the UK, you won't know about Fenwicks.  It is an old school department store which sells cough sweets, three piece suites and everything in between.  I went into this cornucopia of all things ancient and modern and wandered around until I found the haberdashery department.  I looked at the yarn wall and gulped.  There was so much choice.  I knew I needed a double knit yarn and I knew I was broke.  My sole criteria in buying my yarn other than it's weight, was it's price.  I bought a few skeins of Sirdar Snuggly DK.

Little did I realise at the time, but this was actually a pretty good choice for a beginner.  The yarn, though acrylic, is very soft and machine washable.  It also comes in a reasonably wide range of colours.  It is a perfect yarn for baby knits, and as such it has become a bit of a "go to" yarn choice for me.  In fact I have 8 different colours in my Ravelry list.

This yarn was used in my first attempt at design.  The course at the AEC required us to try Fair Isle knitting.  The patterns that were available at the local library and on Ravelry were not what I was looking for.  In the end I tried knitting in the round and designing my own pattern for a Fair Isle messenger bag.

The bag wasn't great because the yarn was all wrong.  The softness of the yarn gave the bag no structure and the acrylic just stretched when I tried to use it.  Because it was the wrong yarn choice I ended up learning how to sew so I could line it and strengthen it.  Learning to sew is another thing for me to be grateful to Snuggly for!

I never did write the bag pattern up, but you can download the chart for free.  Having people ask about this bag pattern, was my first step on the road to publishing my own designs.  One day I intend to use the right yarn and create a new pattern and knit a Fair Isle bag I can be proud of.  This yarn may not always be the right choice, but it has been a staple of my yarn stash since the beginning.  Sirdar Snuggly DK will always have a place for knitting and crocheting for babies and the like, in my stash.

Since I started knitting in 2008, my yarn tastes have changed radically.  I now gravitate towards the bright and colourful and away from the man made fibres.  I know that synthetic fibres are great for adding strength to softer yarns, but I prefer to have nylon and acrylic making up only a fraction of my yarn content these days, rather than the entirety.

Since the days of buying cheap acrylic I now splurge on fancy hand dyed yarns, created by artisan craftspeople.  I have become a yarn snob.  I yearned to be able to afford to knit with silk.  So last year I finally dived into the flashy and expensive world of hand-dyed pure silk  yarn!  I bought two skeins of Artist's Palette Gleam Lite.

I believe this yarn is now discontinued, but you can still buy it in the sale section of the website.  It weighs 50g a skein and has a 200m length, which makes it a sock weight yarn.  My justification for buying this yarn, after I fell in love with it, was that it would look perfect with my OH's mother's colouring.  I knew that this yarn would definitely score me brownie points!  My argument with myself was won, I cracked open the wallet and splurged!  I am so glad that I did.  This yarn was everything I dreamed it would be.  The colour was elegant, the fibre soft and the drape amazing.

I loved everything about this yarn but as I had no experience of knitting with pure silk, I chose completely the wrong pattern for my first attempt with it.  I chose a really beautiful pattern, Andrea's Shawl by Kirsten Kapur.  This pattern is very beautiful, but it requires a yarn with an element of "bounce" in it,  in order to caress the shoulders and show the stitch pattern clearly.

I started with the edging, which didn't go too badly.  I really liked the faggoting stitch.  The picot edging was a bit scruffy but I thought that would be sorted out during blocking.

When I started on the main body of the shawl I started to have my doubts.  It looks very pretty laid out, but when it was picked up, all semblance of the pattern disappeared.

I went a little further before deciding this pattern and yarn were just NOT meant to go together.  I needed a pattern that wouldn't fight the drape of the silk.  I needed something that would be accentuated by the yarn, rather than be demolished by it.  A short time after I decided to pull this project apart, I got an email from KnittingDaily.  This is a daily email that comes from Interweave, that really just promotes the knitting magazines, but sometimes has really interesting tutorials or free patterns.  In this instance the free pattern was perfect for this yarn.

The Wakefield Diagonal Scarf by Melissa LaBarre, was designed to be knit with Mirasol Tupa, which is 50% silk and 50% merino wool.  I looked carefully at the pattern and decided that this could really work.  So I cast on and got to work.

As this was a scarf rather than a shawl, draping works well and the yarn isn't fighting the stitch pattern.

This scarf came out perfectly.  The yarn and the pattern were a perfect match.  This has become one of my all time favourite projects and I had a really hard time giving it away.

The look on my OH's mother's face when she unwrapped it at Christmas was worth the wrench of parting with it.  However, because I loved this combination so much, I did go back and buy some yarn just for me.

Pure silk is a delight to knit with and gorgeous to wear, but you really need to find the right pattern, or you will be disappointed.  I think this has to be the moral of this blog post; get the right pattern for your yarn.  It doesn't matter what kind of yarn it is, there will always be a pattern which it works well with, you just have to find it.  There is no perfect or horrible yarn, there is only perfect or horrible pattern choices.  The more I knit, the more I realise pattern choice is everything when trying to get the most out of your yarn, no matter how cheap or expensive it is.  Get your combination wrong and you will be tearing your hair out, but it get it right and your knitting will sing!


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