Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Knitting with fine yarn

I've been trying to do more of my garment knitting with fine yarn, by which I mean 3- and 4-ply yarn, or fingering yarn. Not lace yarn - I'm not completely crazy! There are several good reasons to knit with fine yarn, not least of which is cost.

Yarn is packaged by weight - usually 50 or 100 gram balls or skeins, while I tend to think of garments in terms of yarn length - around 1000 metres is plenty for a small to medium sized sweater. The thicker the yarn, the less length you get in a ball - essentially you trade thickness for length. So, for example, a 1000 metre sweater knit in Rowan pure wool aran (£8.50 per 100 gram ball, 170 metres per ball) will take around 6 balls and cost £51, while a similar sized sweater in Rowan pure wool 4-ply (£4.95 per 50 gram ball, 159 metres per ball) will take around 6 balls and cost £30.

Of course, thinner yarn is knit on smaller needles, which create smaller stitches, so your garment takes longer to knit. But for me this is an advantage, because I already have too many sweaters. I actually need to slow down my knitting productivity!

But the most important advantage of thinner yarn is fit. Thicker yarn has volume which adds thickness to your body. Basically, garments knit in thick yarn make you look fatter. Also they are stiffer and don't drape as nicely. Sometimes this can be an advantage if you want more structure, but alternately there is the danger of looking like you are wearing knit armor.

Tvinni 3-ply from Isager
I've decided my optimum weight is 3-ply, a weight which is relatively unusual in the UK but very common in Scandinavia. I'm slowly knitting through yarn I picked up on various trips to Scandinavian, and when I need more I order it from Holst Garn (also carried by my favourite yarn shop in Paris, Le Comptoir).

I just finished a pattern from Cookie A in Finnish Ohut Pirkka-lanka. Cookie A is well known for her sock patterns, but her first foray into garments, Cookie A Knitwear Volume 1: Shapes + Form, is a resounding success, in my opinion.

I started with her Conic shrug, and although it took me about three months of actual knitting (plus several months sitting in a bag untouched) I am incredibly pleased with how it turned out.

You start out by knitting a cabled panel in the back, then cast on and pick up stitches around the edges and knit the arms in a decreasing cone shape. Then you go back and pick up stitches all around the arms and body to make a ribbed border. Knitting the cable panel was tedious (hence the several months in a bag), but once I gritted my teeth and finished it, knitting the rest of the garment was a breeze.

Pine Conic

The garment photographed in the pattern was knit in a lime green - usually my favourite colour, but I prefer my choice of a dark colour. The dark green makes the ribbed panel in the back less prominent, creating a elegantly subtle effect. Also, my 100% wool yarn has better structure than the merino used in the original, so the garment is more boxy and slightly less drapey. It is absolutely stunning (if I may say so myself).

This success has made me eager to start another knitting project with 3-ply yarn. Patterns in this weight are not that common, but fortunately I own one book with a large selection - Japanese Inspired Knits, by the Danish designer Marianne Isager.

I've already started swatching with my Tvinni 3-ply for the Summer in Tokyo pattern.

My yarn selection is too similar in shade so the fair isle pattern is not an option, but I'm thinking a nice stripe pattern will work perfectly. Stripes will also knit up quicker than fair isle - though even so there is no way I would finish this before next winter. Never mind, I'm sure it will be amazing.