At Wool on the Exe we love helping our customers find the right yarns for their projects! A good yarn match can make all the difference to the success of a project. And by this we not only mean that the yarn should suit the pattern, but also that it should work for the individual, their lifestyle and how they will use the finished item.
When it comes to making sweaters, it seems all the more important to think carefully about the yarn choice. Sweaters are often a large-scale project with a real investment in terms time and money. So, we want to get the yarn choice right for a successful finished item!
It’s important to remember that you do not have to use the yarn recommended by the pattern! Granted the designer of the pattern has probably chosen the yarn for a reason, or inversely designed the pattern to suit the yarn. But there are always alternatives, and some may be, for whatever reason, be it cost, or care instructions, or colour choices, an even better option for your sweater.
Pattern gauge and Yarn thickness
The first most important thing to consider is the gauge (tension). Most patterns will specify a gauge (and if they don’t then I recommend ditching that pattern and looking again!) The gauge tells us the size of the stitch required to ensure that the pattern works up to the right size. For example, most patterns will tell you how many stitches and how many rows make 10cm square of fabric using a certain needle (or hook) size and stitch pattern. Everyone knits to an individual tension, and each person’s tension may vary depending on the needles/hook they’re using, or even their mood. It’s not an exact science, but it’s an important consideration. At this stage, the key is finding a yarn that works up to a similar tension as the yarn suggested in the pattern. Luckily this is usually made easier by the categories we give yarn depending on their thickness. Something like this:
- heavy laceweight (light fingering)
- 4ply (fingering weight)
- Chunky (bulky)
When knitting a DK sweater, you can use pretty much any DK yarn that you like. An aran weight yarn can be substituted for a different aran weight. It’s also possible combine two different yarns to ‘build’ a thicker yarn. For example using a light-weight fluffy yarn such as Cumulus held together with a 4ply yarn can make a beautiful DK fabric, and this is a popular technique for lots of patterns available on Ravelry.
It’s also possible to knit or crochet a lighter yarn at a larger tension to make a lighter and more open fabric. Or slightly denser at a tighter tension if you prefer. Part of the fun of knitting is the range of options to customise your own makes!
Once you’ve narrowed down the yarn thickness you might like to think about the fibre content that will work for your project – and for you! Different materials have different attributes.
Animal fibres tend to be our favourite at the shop, and you might have guessed that we’re particularly keen on wool! Here in the UK we often call all yarn wool, but really it’s a term for sheep fibre. We have lots of different wools in the shop from different breeds of sheep. Wool is warm, and springy, meaning that it keeps its shape well. It’s odour resistant, so doesn’t require washing as often as synthetic garments. And it doesn’t have to be itchy! Some of our wools could be considered itchier than others, and we all have our own tolerance levels, but many of our wools are incredibly soft, and even the coarsest ones soften over time. We also have lots of alpaca in store, which has similar properties to wool, but with added softness and drape. And we have a little warm and fluffy yak, as well as silk, which is luxuriously soft, smooth, shiny, and strong!
Plant fibres are also a natural material that can work well for garments. They tend to have cooling properties, ideal for warmer weather garments, and to be quite drapey. We have a range of cottons, some linen, hemp and other fibres such as Tencel, made from wood fibre.
We also have man-made fibres such as acrylics and nylon. These can often be a lower cost choice and they are light-weight, durable, and easy to care for.
We have a huge range of fibre blends in shop. These combine a variety of materials, giving the yarn a range of qualities. We think most yarns benefit from at least a little wool content, especially when it comes to making garments! Our alpaca yarns contain some wool that lends the soft and drapey alpaca a little strength and structure. We have a beautiful wool/cotton blend that is a good choice for summery garments, as pure cotton can sometimes be a little stiff and heavy to wear. Although some of this is down to individual taste.
Some people will also have reasons for avoiding certain fibres, such as an allergy, or an ethical concern. We really do try to meet every individual’s needs and stock a range of choices so that everyone can find something that works for them.
Every yarn label should have the care instructions printed on it so that you can see how to look after your finished garment. Many accessories, and smaller items, such as hats do not need washing so frequently, and are easier to handwash. A garment is not only bigger, but also more likely to pick up stains and smells! You need to consider the recipient of the sweater and whether they are prepared to handwash their garment – the last thing we want is for it to felt or shrink! We have lots of washable yarn options - including pure wools that are very easy to care for.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that non-superwash wool actually tends to need washing less frequently. It really is more odour resistant that man-made fibres. So while it might be a nuisance to handwash and dry a wool sweater, you might find yourself only needing to do it a couple of times a year.
We completely understand that each of our customers have different yarn budgets, and that each unique item might have a different budget. We may want to splash out on some things, and not so much on others, it’s completely fine either way!
Making a garment can use quite a lot of yarn, especially if you’re making a larger adult size, so the total price is an important consideration. Somewhat annoyingly, each ball or skein of yarn will have a different meterage, so it’s only after selecting a yarn that we can check how much of it is required for the pattern, and therefore what the total cost will be.
One thing we enjoy doing in the shop is working out the total cost of using each of a range of yarns for a project so that you can compare and consider the different options.
For example: this is a lovely, classic sweater from local designer Along Avec Anna. She has held two yarns together to make a DK weight. If we make the size that comes up to 45 inches (115 cm) at the bust, we need 915 meters of yarn.
Using a strand of Fyberspates Culumus held with a strand of Eden Cottage Milburn 4ply would make a beautiful, luxurious sweater. You would need 7 balls of Cumulus at £6.50 per ball and 5 balls of Miburn 4ply at £6.99 per ball, the total cost of the sweater would be £80.45.
Or you could use a lovely, rich colour of the soft and squishy WYS Bluefaced Leicester DK. You would need 5 skeins and the total cost would be £47.50.
Alternately you could go for our lovely new recycled yarn, Stylecraft ReCreate DK. It’s a lightweight yarn with 350 meters per 100g ball so you would only need 3 balls, and at £3.99 a ball the sweater would cost £11.97.
It’s entirely up to you which yarn would work best for your garment and which of these choices provides value to you.
Purpose of garment
When considering the yarn for your sweater it’s important to think about how the sweater will be used. For example are you making an oversized sweater to keep you warm while gardening, or a light-weight summer cardigan to wear out to dinner? The over-sized sweater will probably use a lot of yarn and need to be very durable, perhaps a hard-wearing wool, or an acrylic-blend would work well. For the summer cardigan maybe you’d like to use a silk-blend or a smoothly-spun wool/nylon blend – we have lots of lovely sock yarns that make great light-weight garments!
Now that you’ve picked your yarn, you really should make a swatch to test it out. Mostly to check that you are knitting at the right gauge, but also to see if you are really happy with how your yarn choice is working out. Yarn can change a lot when worked up, and even more when it’s blocked. That’s usually good thing as it tends to soften and ‘bloom’ into a lovely fabric!
Some of us aren’t’ so keen on swatching! And that’s fair enough, however, I do love a tip from the designers Tin Can Knits. They suggest knitting a hat as a swatch! You can read more of their tips on their blog post, and they have a really wonderful selection of sweater designs, some of which are ideal for beginner knitters.
And once you've picked out the yarn for your sweater, you can choose which colour to use!
There is so much choice in the huge of range of yarns available, and more are being produced all the time! It can feel daunting, or it can feel exciting; perhaps both! We love helping our customers, so if we can make the experience of picking a yarn less daunting, and more exciting, then we’re happy. The added value of shopping at a real-life yarn shop rather than an anonymous online supplier is that we are yarn enthusiasts. Finding yarn for our customers is what we do all day long – and we love doing it!
Please always feel free to contact us if we can help support you with your yarn choice!