I just completed some yarn comparisons for a company as a consultation and it was a total blast.  For the last seven days I have been elbow deep in either merino or alpaca…real hardship case. (giggle!)  I was also delighted to see how many of you read and/or reacted to my soapbox blog about swatching.  Here is some more evidence to help you see what I see when I look at different yarns.  Below is a photo of the three swatches of merino candidates for a new machine washable yarn, one of which was an epic fail.

The blue sample felted, while the two white samples stood up well to three washings. I have doubts about the middle sample, that it might perhaps felt given enough washings. The right-hand sample was just awesome!

While knitting with each I became very aware of how differently they each felt in my hand.  The differences were less obvious when just looking at the skeins before knitting them.  The moral:  yarns feel different after you work with them, if a yarn catches your eye but you feel unsure about it, buy just one skein and dance with it…you might find you like it very much.  Read the label and then see if it lives up to what the label promises.  Can you get gauge with the needle suggested on the label?  Is it really washable?  Are there tie-ons in the skein?  Does it really weigh what it says it does on the label (use a postal scale)?  Be wary of hand-dyed yarns that approximate their yardage…always buy more than you think you need.  If you are purchasing at a Fiber Festival get the business card for each yarn you buy and stick it into that yarn…that way if you need more you know who to harass  contact.

this sample was very fuzzy to begin with and felted during the third wash

this 2 ply was nice but the hand felt "off"...just not as soft as it should

This 3 ply yarn was my favorite, with great stitch definition, zero fuzz after washing three times and was the softest of the three yarns.

When I swatch a yarn for the first time I like to really put it through its paces.  I use all kinds of stitch patterns: stockinette, garter, seed, cable, lace, and slip stitch.  This tells me how the colors in the yarn will pool or not, what kind of stitch definition I can expect, and whether a certain kind of stitch works better with the yarn than any others.  If I am working with worsted weight yarn, I cast on 30 stitches so I can measure my gauge in the middle of the swatch…i.e. no where near the edges.  This way, my gauge numbers are as accurate as they can be.

Another issue:  if a yarn does not swatch to gauge within one size of the recommended needle size…be concerned.  This is a yarn that has not been given the proper attention by its company and will not work out well for you.  That said, you also have to know your own average gauge for the weights of yarn you work with.  Like, I tend to need to go down one size from the needle recommended to get perfect gauge…sometimes.  Catch me on a stressful enough day and all bets are off.  Know your strong points and your limitations.  No judgement…just know what works for you and have fun.

loads of love, laughter and light always,

Mary Ellen and Summit Yarn Studio  ;-D