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30 November 2015

All Fingering (Sport, DK, Lace, Worsted, Aran ...) Yarns Are Not Created Equal

(Note: I originally posted this on October 20 .... to the wrong blog site.  Took me awhile, but I found it and am finally posting it where it belongs!)

I'm so glad to be back with you!  Feels like forever since we chatted -- and I've been B-U-S-Y!  Christmas is fast approaching, and I am not nearly ready for it to arrive.  I'm feverishly knitting, the better part of every day and evening, trying to get all these gifts finished for my family and special friends. I'm finding lately that I'm having more difficulty with yarn substitution than I used to have.  I don't know if it's the yarn standards that have changed, or if I've become more exacting as I gain experience in the needle arts.  But I've found lately, much to my frustration, that one woman's worsted is another woman's light worsted, or Aran.  For that matter, all size 4 (US) needles are not the same!  I have some that are 4.0 mm, and some that are 4.25 mm.  The lack of standardization makes it a wee bit difficult to make up a darling pattern in a yarn other than that for which the pattern was written. You've heard me talk about the Yarndex database, and I highly recommend it.  I also recommend Ravelry's yarn pages, which offers, in addition to the info provided by Yarndex, the number of wraps per inch (WPI) for each yarn profiled.  What exactly is WPI?  Well, the simplest explanation is this:  Take a length of yarn, and wrap it around a knitting needle.  The size of the needle is immaterial.  (You can also use a ruler, but I find it easier to get an accurate measurement using a needle.)  The most important thing to keep in mind is that you neither stretch nor scrunch the yarn as you wrap it.  You want each loop to sit nicely by the loop next to it, touching but not compressed.  Then you take a measuring tape or ruler, and see how many loops there are in one linear inch.  That's wraps per inch, or WPI, and some say it's a much better indicator of yarn weight than ply or yardage/weight.
Image credit:  June Gilbank
 Image credit: June Gilbank
Ravelry has a WPI chart, and so does Spinderella, and so do many other websites and shops.  But here again, we find inconsistency!  In fact, I found an article discussing which WPI chart is correct.  (The article references spinning, because WPI has traditionally been a unit of measurement used by spinners.) Even if you're using the yarn specified by the pattern designer, you can "come a cropper" as my British friends say.  A few weeks ago, I found a pattern I wanted to knit, and it was absolutely essential that the fit be correct.  I not only purchased the exact yarn, in the exact amount, specified by the pattern, I purchased the needles the pattern called for.  My thought was that in buying the specified yarn and using the specified needles, I would be assured of perfect gauge and perfect fit .... .... and boy, was I wrong.  My gauge came out so far off from the specified tension, I was bumfuddled wondering how that happened.  I know I tend to be a "tight knitter", but I didn't think I was knitting that tightly.  So I changed to another set of needles, same size, and came up with a different gauge, but still too small.  So I went up a size, and behold, my gauge was now too large. I changed to a different pattern, and I'm having good success.

 So what have I learned from this?  I have learned, after half a century of living and about a decade of knitting, that I really do need to do gauge swatches.  They are not a waste of time, effort, and yarn.  In fact, they save all three in the long run, by helping me avoid the inevitable "frogging" (unknitting, raveling, ripping, whatever term you use) that happens when I get halfway through the back of a sweater and find that I'm not in gauge.  (Yes, I know.  I should have been doing gauge swatches all along.  I confess my guilt, and will submit to 50 lashes with some worsted weight wool.) Here's my question for you:  what horrors have you experienced when attempting to substitute yarn?  And do you have any tips/tricks/advice for those knitters or crocheters who find themselves wanting or needing to use a yarn that is different from what is specified by the pattern?  Share your experiences in the comments below!

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