You may associate knitting with winter. Maybe you don’t even believe in summer knitting. I myself am hopelessly in love with warm, fuzzy fibers like alpaca and cashmere. The ones you want to wrap yourself in when it’s chilly outside. There is this delightful image always lingering in my mind of a woodstove, a cup of steaming tea, an oversized blanket, snowflakes, snuggly kitties, comfort, gratitude and yarn – lots and lots of yarn. You know – the definition of hygge. Jennifer wrote about it once.
But let’s get back to summer knitting. Imagine this instead – an elegant lightweight top knit in linen, an ethereal shawl draped around your shoulders while you take a stroll outside in the evening, or a lacy cover-up to wear while knitting on the beach and sipping icy lemonade. You can wear your hand-knits in the summer too.
Today, I’m in the midst of a summer sweater called Cullum, designed by Quince & Co. for their sport-weight 100% linen yarn, Sparrow. It’s the first time I’ve worked with linen. It behaves differently from wool – it’s not springy. Instead, it’s slick and drapey. It almost feels rough in the skein, but it’s not. It’s just the lack of elasticity that I’m unaccustomed to.
We have a few light, summery yarns for sale at the shop, each with their merits, but Sparrow is the one that most resoundingly shouts summer, in my humble opinion. Linen is a summer fiber. I associate it with elegance and warm-weather daydreams.
Above: The Arena Cardigan by Norah Gaughan, and the Shoals Tank by Carrie Bostick Hoge, also designed for Quince & Co. Sparrow. There are an impressive array of designs for Sparrow available on Ravelry.
Are you in getting in the mood yet? I don’t know about you, but I was also inspired by the latest issues of Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits. This summer, both magazines featured stunning but uncomplicated lace shawls and sweaters with a delicate, classically feminine vibe. I love it. I really love it. If you’ve been in the shop lately, you might have already heard me gushing about this issue of Interweave Knits. Here, you can even preview the patterns on Ravelry.
And by the way, we have a whole album of light and dreamy summer knits on Ravelry. You really can knit and wear your knits all year long.
So there’s this thing — and you probably know what thing I’m talking about– where as someone works on their craft over a period of time it may start to seem like they’ve stopped improving, or they may feel like they were never really doing a good job to begin with. They feel like they’ve been tricking people all this time. With this April marking my 2nd year of being with the store, I had started to feel that way with my knitting. “People coming in and asking me for help? I barely know anything oh no I’m going to mess things up ohnoohnoOHNO-“
Then one day I stumbled across the first project I ever made that wasn’t a garter stitch scarf hiding away amongst other old sample garments. It was the first time I learned how to purl and how to knit in the round.
And OH BOY.
No, I definitely know things and I just panic and doubt too much. Let me share this glorious first hat with you all.
It all seems well and good… but let’s take a look at that “ribbing”.
That flawless K1xP1 ribbing.
Ah yes, that’s the good stuff.
Sometimes it’s good to dig out your old work to remind yourself that you have been improving and you do know what you’re doing.
There are some words in the fiber universe which can cause confusion between people from different geographical locations, different age groups, and practitioners of different fiber crafts. So, in order to aid your ability to properly communicate about yarn, let’s begin!
What Does “Worsted” Mean?
Most knitters today use the term “worsted” to refer to a medium-weight yarn with a gauge of 16-20 stitches per 4 inches, usually knit on size US 7-9 needles. But, guess what? It’s more complicated than that!
The term worsted originates from “Worstead”, the name of a village in Norfolk, England where woven textiles were crafted from the 1200s through the 1800s. The woven cloth produced in Worstead was known as worsted.
In the spinning world, worsted yarn is that which is smoothly spun from combed fiber. The fibers interlock in tight, parallel formation. Only long fibers are used, which typically come from breeds of sheep with longer fur. In contrast, woolen yarn is spun more loosely from carded fiber. Short fibers are retained. Woolen yarn could be described as more lofty, fluffy or “hairy”.
In the weaving world, worsted cloth is woven from worsted yarns, like the traditional worsted cloth from Worstead. It is smoother, tighter, and less warm but better for blocking the wind. Woolen cloth is thicker and warmer since the air trapped within the lofty strands acts as insulation. (Of course alternately, woolen cloth might just refer to any cloth made of wool). For example: sharkskin and serge are types of worsted cloth; tweed and boucle are types of woolen cloth.
In the knitting world, worsted is a yarn weight category like sport and chunky. Unfortunately, there aren’t worldwide standards for yarn weight categories. If you’re from England, you may be more likely to categorize yarn as DK weight (equivalent to light worsted) or Aran weight (equivalent to heavy worsted). And if you learned to knit in the olden days (not actually that long ago), you may be more likely to categorize yarn as 2-ply, 4-ply or 6-ply. These days, the number of plies in a strand of yarn has no relation to its weight.
Speaking of plies…
What Does “Ply” Mean?
But, ply is also a verb which refers to the process of combining multiple plies into a single strand of yarn. Plies are combined to produce a yarn which is stronger, more durable, more consistent in width, and more balanced in twist. A ply has a natural tendency to curl up in a particular direction because it is produced by twisting fibers together all in the same direction. By plying two strands (plies) together, one can introduce twist in the opposite direction to produce a balanced yarn which does not curl up on itself. An infinite number of plies can be combined into a single strand. So, a 2-ply yarn is composed of two plies; a 4-ply yarn is composed of four plies; etc.
Once upon a time, commercial yarn manufacturers could only spin plies of one consistent width, so that adding more plies would increase the thickness of the yarn in a consistent, linear manner. 2-ply yarn was a very fine yarn suitable for lace; 4-ply was a fine yarn suitable for socks; and 8-ply was a thicker yarn suitable for sweaters.
Now that yarn manufacturers can produce plies in an infinite variety of sizes, the number of plies has no bearing on the thickness of the yarn, and the terms “lace weight”, “sport weight” and “worsted weight” are generally more useful for communicating about yarn weight.
Note: Many people still refer to finer yarn as 4-ply and thicker yarn as 8-ply even though the yarn they are referring to may not actually have that number of plies.
Speaking of weight…
What Does “Weight” Mean?
Weight can be a confusing term as well! Most knitters use the word “weight” to refer to the thickness of a strand of yarn. Like I mentioned above, there are different systems for categorizing yarn weights depending on where you’re from and when you learned.
It is important to note, though, that weight also refers to the put-up of a skein of yarn. A skein commonly contains 50 grams or 100 grams of fiber, but may contain any arbitrary amount. The weight of the yarn in grams is usually noted on the label, and the cost is generally based on the number of grams of fiber (not the number of yards). Some patterns also refer to the grams of fiber required rather than the number of yards or meters.
That’s all, folks. Maybe next time I’ll tell you about the meaning of skein and gauge.