a new skill

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I’m guessing that today many people are going to be writing about steekingentrelac and spinning. I, however, have a much simpler skill whose lack looms over my head like a dark cloud. It’s not so much a skill, actually, as knowledge. Knowledge of yarn.

Where I started knitting, in Croatia, there aren’t that many yarns on offer. There is one yarn factory which mainly does wool-synthetic blends in various ratios, and the range of weights is pretty limited (I never saw real bulky yarn nor lace-weight). So, when I started, being ignorant of the different weights and compositions of yarn, life was pretty simple. I chose yarn primarily on the basis of colour. It did not even occur to me that you couldn’t make any project with any type of yarn! I would use the needle size recommended in the pattern, but I didn’t worry about the yarn weight… This resulted in some interesting outcomes, such as this hat below. I was making it for myself, but while I was working on it in public, a lady came up to me and asked me politely if it was for a baby!!! Erm, I managed to get it onto my head eventually, and wore it for quite some time, but in hindsight I think I know what she meant!

And then I started noticing the swatch instructions in patterns. The indications of what yarn to use. The world of weights and fibers opened up to me. And I was completely lost. I found some good guides, like the one on Ravelry, or this one, but I can’t carry them around when I go to yarn shops and whenever I am choosing yarn I am always terrified that the shop assistants are going to realize that I don’t have a clue! Now, why, tell me why, aren’t yarns organized by weight in yarn shops?! I still don’t get it!

Then came the types of yarns by composition. Ok, I’m not so ignorant to not know what silk, cotton and wool are, but then there is also tweed, mohair, malabrigo, alpaca and heavens knows what else! Well, heavens may know, but I don’t. So when buying yarn, I try to wing it as much as I can and figure out what is what.

I am utterly annoyed by the fact that different companies have different names for the same yarn weights, and that some do not mark them at all! I pray that the shop assistants think that I am just unable to decide for colour while I am furtively trying to figure out if the yarn is even approximately the right weight for what I need! What I usually do is check on Ravelry before I head out shopping, but once I reach the shop (especially the lovely local yarn shops here in London), I am faced with a bunch of unfamiliar and bewildering (while gorgeous and irresistible) yarns! I recently considered applying for a part-time job at a yarn shop, but one of their requirements was that you were “a good knitter”. That scared me off – not because of my stitching capabilities (I am pretty confident with those), but because I was scared they would expect me to know a good deal about yarns and that I would have to retreat in shame… On the other hand, working there, if they had accepted me, would have been a great crash course in yarns. Otherwise, I’m afraid, it’ll take me years, probably even decades. You don’t really know a yarn until you’ve worked with it, and there are so many to discover.

So, that’s my big secret. I love yarn. I am eternally grateful for the huge variety and choice I have here in London. I could spent hours in the yarn shops. But I am still clueless about it. :(

Do you have any good tips? How did you get your yarn knowledge? Am I really going to have to be patient and only able to say I know yarn when I’m like that grandma from the beginning of the story, or is there a shortcut?

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About fridica

I started knitting completely by accident, when I was visiting my parents for a holiday in 2008. On a boring Sunday afternoon, I decided to dig through their stash of books to see if there was anything interesting to take back to my apartment. A knitting manual happened to be one of the books I found. I got curious, my mom immediately dug out her old needles and yarn stash (which she hadn’t used in a decade at least), and in a few minutes we were both casting on - she by memory, I by following the instructions from the book… :) Since I normally prefer learning from books, this was ideal.. I took the book home with me, and very very soon - I was an addict.

23 thoughts on “a new skill

  1. I’ve just discovered your blog this week (I came over from the Blog hub on ravelry) and I’m really enjoying reading it.

    I think it is a shame you didn’t apply for the job at the yarn store. You’re such a very enthusiastic kntiter and your knits are lovely. I’m sure you’d have been an asset!

  2. When it comes to fairly smooth yarns, you really can tell a fair amount just by looking at them. And there are some clues on the ball bands – suggested gauge will give you some idea. But I have sympathies for the people who have to categorize the yarns – my daughter leaves that to me for her yarn dyeing business and it’s amazingly hard! Swatching can be amazingly useful – and important, because you can’t wholly trust the labels.

  3. Yes, look at the ball band – what I do is look at the pattern first, to see what needle size it says; then, go find a yarn that has that needle size recommended on the ballband :-)

  4. I’m still learning about all the yarns and different blends. It seems when I find one I like, they discontinue it! I spend hours looking at the yarn before I pick one for my project. I didn’t know about the chart. Thanks.

  5. I certainly don’t “know yarn” as well as I would like to! I usually use the recommended needle size as a general guideline. I knit really loosely though, so I usually have to use smaller needles than recommended, but it’s still a good guideline.

  6. LOL! I love the hat story. I also was slow to understand yarn (and still have a lot to learn). I really learned a lot from Clara Parkes’ books: The Knitters Book of Yarn and The Knitters Book of Wool. These book also have some wonderful patterns, like the ever-popular Maine Morning Mitts.

  7. Thank you all for your wonderful advice. I do look at the ball bands, of course, I study them AT LENGTH, but still, every company gives different types of info and has different names for sometimes the same weight of yarn, so it takes a lot of effort to achieve anything…

  8. I learned about yarn from trial and error (error, error, and more error). I don’t think you should be afraid to ask at yarn shops, the people that work there usually love to give their two cents on what you can use. Then over time, I think you get a feel for it (I think I might be starting to get just a little bit of a feel for it, ha).

  9. If need be ask the people who work at the yarn stores that is one reason why they are there. They aren’t going to make fun of you.

  10. Gauge can be dastardly even when you know a lot about yarn! Trying to match the given gauge to a pattern can require lots of swatching and measuring with different needle sizes to get it just right.

    I usually note the recommended needle size and yarn weight on the pattern then try to match it to the yarn I’m considering. I am an extremely loose knitter and by trial and error I’ve just learned that I’ll generally knit on needles 2 sizes smaller than the smallest recommended. I usually buy 1 skein of yarn and swatch before committing to buy for a large project.

    • Wow that’s really loose! I’ve found that my gauge is pretty similar to what the label says usually, so that’s a big help. But with some yarns, even though the weight is the one I need, and everything is supposed to be in order, I just can’t seem to get the proper gauge! I’m stalling on starting a project now for exactly that reason. Frustrating…

  11. I learnt about yarns with the old owner of a yarn shop : she was so sweet, I could spend hours listening to her, or touching balls.
    So I thought I knew everything about yarns.
    And one day I discovered Ravelry and… yarn in English ! Now I know I have to learn again about lace, DK, worsted… .-)

    • Tell me about it! English is not my first language (though it is the language I learnt to knit in), so I’m simultaneously learning both the English and the American versions of everything! I’m still not sure if DK and double-knit are the same thing! And not to mention that I don’t know any of the Croatian terms (if they even exist!).

  12. I second the suggestion of Clara Parkes’ books. Knitter’s Book of Yarn is a great reference for different kinds of fibre/spin/plying.

    I’m lucky that my favourite yarn shop DOES organize the yarns by weight – very handy. But I still spend a lot of time on Ravelry trying to figure out which yarns are considered which weight, since I can never remember what typical gauges correspond to which yarn weights when I’m in a shop.

  13. I feel everything that you feel! :)
    When I was there I wanted to buy yarn I thought that it is going to be easy like it is easy to buy yarn here on the Balkan. OMG , I was embarrassed!!!!
    And about tweed, mohair, malabrigo, alpaca …here is what I usually do: I choose mohair and search internet about it.Then when i go to stores I read the labels carefully and try to touch the mohair as much as possible. Then I go and buy some mohair yarn. There’s no way to to learn properly about the yarn but try my best.
    p.s.You should try working in a yarn store.You would learn a lot.And if you don’t know something just learn to except that and say that you will learn it :)

    • Hehe, I was just hinking today how I miss my ‘old’ readers too! I love all these new voices springing up but it occured to me that the ‘old’ ones were kind of quiet – glad to see you’re still here! :) Hahaha, and so glad to have someone who understands ‘the Balkan perspective’ ;)))) I think there’s really no getting around buying different yarns bit by bit and working with them – that’s the best way to learn. I made one hat in alpaca and it has become my absolute favorite yarn so far. Maybe it’s not a lot of knowledge, but it’s at least one thing I’m certain of. :)

  14. I look at the ball bands and then ask if I can’t find it. I find that if you can match the 4″ stitch count and the basic fiber type to the pattern you are usually ok. And, it’s a lot more helpful now when at least some of the magazines and patterns include a picture of the yarn used. Even a strand is helpful to see what something looks like.

    Glad I found your blog by the way!

  15. I just found your blog through AC Engineered knits. I was just telling her that I have trouble choosing yarn, too. I wish I was better at it…especially since I have no LYS and when I do get to one, I hate the thought of making the wrong choice.

    • Aw that’s so sad that you don’t have a LYS! It also reminds me that I don’t have a proper one back home… Ugh I don’t miss that…

  16. I know only a few yarns well because I knit one or two projects with them. Like everyone says that really is the best way!
    I also look up yarn names on the Internet when I come across them on blogs or Ravelry – the online shops often have all the weights listed and you get different photos of a specific yarn on different sites. Sometimes I find the yarn I investigated in a shop and can put the online info together with how it feels – I find that I am starting to understand yarn better from doing all these things. It is fun to slowly make discoveries!

  17. Pingback: guess what was just announced! « fridica

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