Choosing yarn for a project

Yarns, garment shapes, and stitch patterns must work together for your project to be successful. With so many yarn choices available, how do you choose? If you plan to knit a scarf or a blanket — something for which sizing doesn't need to be precise — pick any yarn you take a fancy to and let its characteristics dictate the outcome of your project. If you're making a sweater (or anything else for which sizing is important) from a pattern, purchase the yarn the pattern specifies or one with a similar gauge to be a suitable substitute.

Matching the yarn to the stitch

The yarn you choose can either accentuate the effect you're trying to create or camouflage it. As a general rule, the wilder the yarn, the simpler the sweater shape and pattern stitch should be. The plainer the yarn, the more texture and shaping details will show up. Here are some guidelines:

i Smooth-plied yarn in a solid color: Use these yarns for cables and more complex stitch patterns. They give your stitches a crisp look, showcasing your effort. Cables and pattern stitches worked in soft single plies have a slightly softer appearance than when worked in highly twisted yarns. In general, plied and twisted yarns are sophisticated and classic. Single plies are rustic and relaxed. Smooth-plied yarns in contrasting colors are also good for Fair Isle and intarsia patterns because they give you clear and readable patterns.

i Variegated and novelty yarns: Don't knock yourself out with tricky stitch work if you're using variegated or highly textured yarns. The stitches won't show up, and all your stitch-making effort will be for naught. Simple stitches, such as stockinette and garter, are best with these yarns.

i For cotton, silk, soy, bamboo, and other inelastic yarns: Look for patterns that don't depend on ribbing for fit. Find patterns that hang straight to highlight the drape of these yarns.

^ If you shop in a specialty yarn store, chances are that the people who work there have experience with their yarns and with knitting in general. Feel free ■ vqj ■ to ask questions about the yarn you're considering for your project. Here are some good ones to keep in mind:

i Does it pill?

i Is it colorfast?

i Will it stretch?

i Is it easy to knit with?

i Does it work with the pattern I've chosen?

i What size needle will it work best with?

Remember that your local yarn store (LYS, in online parlance) is an excellent resource for other knitting help, too. Sales associates can help you avoid many of the common pitfalls beginning knitters make in choosing yarn for projects.

^ It isn't easy to predict what yarn in a ball will look like when it's knitted up. y^JL This is especially true of novelty yarns. Check to see whether the yarns you're ■ (oj■ interested in have been knitted into a sample. Many yarn shops knit up sample swatches or entire sweaters in the yarns they carry so that you can see what they look like worked up.

Substituting one yarn for another

Substituting one yarn for another can be tricky. It's not enough to pick a yarn that looks the same or that you like. You have to think of other things as well, including i Yardage: Be sure to pay attention to actual yardage listed on the label, not just number of grams or ounces. A 50-gram, 1.75-ounce ball of yarn that's 148 yards isn't the same amount as a 50-gram, 1.75-ounce ball of yarn that's 126 yards.

i Weight: If you're substituting yarn, be sure the weight is the same. If the pattern you've chosen expects you to get 4 stitches and 6 rows to the inch and you substitute a yarn that gives you a different gauge, your sweater will turn out a different size than the one given in the pattern. (See the earlier section "A weighty matter" for general information on yarn weight and gauge; Chapter 3 explains how to measure gauge.)

i Fiber: Yarns of different fibers, even if they have the same gauge, will have different characteristics. Be sure you know the characteristics of the yarn and are comfortable with the way these differences will affect the finished piece. (The earlier section, "Fiber fundamentals," covers different kinds of yarn fibers and their characteristics.)

If you don't want to use or can't find the yarn specified on a pattern, the safest option — at least until you're experienced enough to take into account all the factors that effect gauge, drape, and so on — is to talk to a sales associate in a specialty yarn shop. Chances are that anyone working in your local yarn shop is a knitter and can give you good advice based on experience. In a chain store, that may or may not be the case.

Just because two yarns have the same gauge doesn't mean that they can substitute for each other successfully in a given pattern. If they have different characteristics — texture, drape, fiber, and color — the final garment will look and feel different from the one pictured on your pattern.

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