Last time I wrote about choosing yarns that knit on the “sweet size” for your machine and I thought I would spend a few more words on the topic before I move on to something else. Bear with me.
I do a lot of sampling and playing with new yarns before I commit to a stitch size. Sometimes I’ll just knit a few rows with a variety of sizes to zero in on the best sizes and then I do an actual swatch. Even after so many years, I still find surprises and there are no guarantees that all worsteds are created equal, for example.
One of the things that affects how a yarn knits on any machine is the yarn’s content – it also affects how the fabric stretches or drapes and wears long-term. I have spent years earning my reputation as a yarn snob. I really believe that you get what you pay for and that the yarn is still the least expensive component in anything I knit. My time always ranks first – and not just because of my fascination with hand-manipulated techniques. I spend a lot of time swatching and planning and I try not to skimp on the details as I knit. If a 2-step decrease is going to add something to the finished look of the garment, I don’t mind that they take longer to execute than the simple 1-step decreases would. I try not to skimp on finishing either. Faster is seldom better.
In addition to yarn quality and content affecting the way your garment finishes up, it also plays into the ease of knitting. Tightly twisted, in-elastic yarns are harder to knit with. They probably won’t let you cross wider cables as easily as you would like. Yes, I prefer wool to almost anything else because it is so agreeable to work with. It stretches when needed, but returns to shape. You can block it without killing the fiber. The colors tend to be richer. The list goes on.
My love for wool, however, does not mean that I am blind to the benefits of other fibers. There are some terrific wool blends out there that are fully machine washable and dryable, adopting the characteristics of the blend with the beauty and manageability of the wool. There are also some beautiful superwash wools to choose from, though I am still reluctant to take something I have labored over and toss it into a washing machine….
That said, superwash wool is really practical for children’s wear. Keep in mind, however, that while wools and many bends are engineered to “bloom” when steamed or washed – thus filling out the stitches (and maybe holding in the ends you spent hours weaving into the seams), superwash has been treated so that it never blooms. While it may soften and drape more after washing, the gauge is about the same as it is after removing the fabric from the machine and letting it rest for a while.
Yarns with some stretch to them will work better with tighter stitch sizes because the stitches can stretch slightly to slip over the closed latches and, at any stitch size, they just have more give as they are fed into the needles. They knit more easily.
Yarns like 100% cotton, linen, silk, rayon have very little stretch. What stretch they may have is usually a result of the way the yarn was plied. I still like working with these fibers, but I am probably less likely to try crossing a 5×5 cable in linen than I am with wool or a blend. The yarn’s content always affects the way the machine knits even if the yarn knits right in the middle of the dial.
To a lesser extend, you may even find a difference in the way the same yarn knits in white or navy blue. Many of the dark dyes take their toll on the yarn due to the immersion time and temperature, the amount of dye, etc. While I wouldn’t change stitch size for each color in a navy and white stripe, I would double check my gauge if the navy or the white were used for a solid colored garment. I would never use the gauge for one to knit a garment with the other.
How easily or smoothly any yarn knits on a particular machine can also be affected by how well oiled the machine is, how many weights you are using, how the tension mast is adjusted, the weather, static electricity. In short – there are lots of things that can go wrong, which is why I am even more committed to using the best yarns I can. I am convinced that none of us bought a knitting machine because we needed some sweaters. You could buy a lot of sweaters for what most of us have invested in our machines! Machine knitting is supposed to be fun! Interesting! An ongoing learning experience! Lets all strive for fewer sweaters and make them better sweaters that are worthy of the very best yarns.