Thursday, February 5, 2015

Perfect Knitting?

Christopher's Prescott Vest

Last week at breakfast, Grace brought up an interesting topic, and it's a conversation that I've had with more than a few of my Ravelry friends as well.   Here's how it goes:  You see a knitted item (could be a sweater, a shawl, socks, a toy, but we'll use sweater in this example)  You really, really want to make that item.  You look at the materials list.  The yarn for that amazing sweater is going to cost you $200+ !! That's eight hanks of hand dyed sock yarn!!!  (hand dyed sock yarn is my personal weakness... fortunately my favorite weight of yarn to knit with, but really since my catphew lives almost 2 hours away, I pet my sock yarn instead) That's a lot of money for yarn for just one project.  Sometimes it can be justified, a knitter I know knit a full length swirly duster coat from Dream in Color's Starry in winter white with clear, silver lined white and pearl white beads, to wear over her wedding dress (it was a Vermont winter month wedding) Or what I think about - how often will I wear/use this?  If it's a cardigan I'll wear 4 times a week all  winter and it's style is classic enough I know I'll wear it for a lot of winters the cost per wear goes down.  ( I justify  a lot of things via cost per use) 

My Moustache Cowl

Realistically though, what a lot of knitters do, because we aren't independently wealthy and have developed a habit of eating occasionally, and we like not living in a tent (where would you keep your yarn if you lived in a tent???) is we look at other more economically priced yarns.  Now, unless you want to do a shit ton of maths (I love math, but not in terms of converting an entire pattern) the most important thing to look at in a substitute yarn is the gauge.  You want a yarn that knits up at the same number of stitches per inch.  You can finagle this a little bit by changing up your needle size - but if you stray too far one way or the other you will totally change the fabric, making it too loose or too tight.  

The trouble with just looking at the yarn gauge, is there are a lot of other factors.  The twist of the plies, the sheen, the halo, the type of fiber - all these affect how the finished project comes out.  There is also how you knit.  Some people knit so evenly the stitches could be machine made.  Some people knit a little lumpier.  My stockinette stitch has a texture  to it because when I taught myself to knit, my yarn gets wrapped under the needle when I purl instead of over it. It took me a long number of years to figure out WHY my purls twisted, and then I decided I liked the more textured stockinette anyway.  And finishing techniques.  You can be sure the finishers that work for Vogue are perfect at the seams they make, never a buckle or a gap anywhere.  ( I personally despise seaming... ok hate weaving in ends more, but ugh) 

Blocking skills also come into play.  Not just how well you block, but what type of blocking you use.  There's wet blocking, steam locking, mist blocking - all affect the yarn finish look.  Different yarns and stitch patterns respond differently to the different types of blocking, yet the magazines never seem to mention how it was blocked.

So with all this - is it any wonder that our projects don't look exactly like the picture in the magazine??  (not even touching on lighting, computer editing of the photos after they are shot etc)

These discrepancies normally don't bother me.  I rarely want exactly what's in the picture, I usually have a different yarn in mind,  I hate haloed yarn - it just seems too fuzzy.  Even then, I don't always end up with the picture that was in my mind.  I think that's why it's easier to cast on a bunch of projects than finish them.  When you cast on - perfect is still possible, finishing is admitting it isn't perfect.   I'm not a perfectionist when it comes to knitting.  I'm a I'm happy with it, if I'm not- I'll give it away.  I think this is why some knitters also are afraid to try new techniques.  A knitter I work with will do phenomenal lace work, has never knit a single cable - because it looks hard!!!!!!   It took a really good friend of mine (yes you!) a really really long time to try DPNs.  Now she makes a ton of toys.

My only suggestion??? Knit what makes you happy, be happy with what you knit.  Don't try to duplicate another project - if the person who knit it made two they probably wouldn't be identical either.  And as much as I hate to admit it - when in doubt swatch.  One of the best things I gained from NerdWars is that you had to submit a swatch with your dissertation proposals.  While I am convinced swatches lie - especially about gauge, if you swatch and block you can get a better feel for how the final fabric will turn out.  Do I do this?  Mostly NO.  But, these things don't bother me, I'm just trying to understand why others get so bothered.  

My two pictures above show a successful and a not so successful substitution.  I knit Christopher's vest in Knit Picks Brava, don't trust his mom with anything not seriously machine washable.  Here's the pattern picture. I actually like how my yarn choice shows off the stitches better.  (granted both yarns from same manufacturer and approximately the same price)

My moustache cowl was a different story.  I used Cascade 220 fingering.  it's the first time I used this yarn in a fingering weight.  Cascade 220 is a workhorse yarn , great color selection, blocks well, felts well (if you don't accidentally get the superwash)  I've made a lot of projects with it - and loved it.  So I felt very confident when I decided to substitute the 220 fingering for my cowl.  I hated working with this yarn!!  SO much that I haven't worn the cowl! I even did a small swatch since learning double knitting was my dissertation theme last spring.  The brown yarn seemed thinner and more twisted than the cream yarn, so there were tiny gaps- that didn't block out. I may try reblocking it now that I have a steamer to see if that helps.  Here's the pattern picture - much smoother, even taller..



  1. if you look really close at the picture of the cowl that is from the pattern there appear to be 6 rows of staches, maybe the original knitter knitted it differently from the pattern. really good post!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


I've gotten rid of the word verification for posting comments. To tell the truth, I have trouble reading the new stuff they are using. Feel free to disagree, but spammy or obnoxious comments will not go up.