Rhinebeck Sweater: It Ain’t Ease-y

Since the stars have aligned to allow me to attend Rhinebeck this year (for the Indie Untangled trunk show, check it out!), and since this was also the year within which I completed my first ever handknit garment, I’ve decided that the coveted Rhinebeck Sweater needs to happen. I thought it might be educational to detail my thought process and first-real-sweater experience as I go, and since timing will be especially tight, it should make for entertaining blogging! (Will she or won’t she?!?!!? You can read about my pattern decision-making process here.Today, we’re going to talk about ease and choosing a size.

Rhinebeck Sweater: It Ain't Ease-y

Swatch, swatch, swatch.

I’m going to just get right to the point: swatching (in pattern!) with the needles and yarn you plan to use and blocking that swatch to measure gauge is the only way to reliably choose an appropriate pattern size to knit. Sure, you can wing it, but I can’t handle that kind of cavalier attitude around large amounts of potentially wasted time. If I’m making a garment from scratch, by hand I want the damn thing to fit, and fit well, when it’s (finally) done. This ‘knit a swatch, measure gauge’ song has been sung by many others before, see some excellent tutorial posts by TinCanKnits here and Amy Herzog here.

Photo copyright BabyCocktails. Click for pattern page.

What I want to focus on today, is how do you know what to do with the gauge information derived from your swatch? What size do you actually cast on? The tricky bit is, all patterns approach sizing a little differently. Some tell you a letter size (like S, M, L, etc) and then give measurements in a schematic. Some tell you a finished size that the piece will measure right at the beginning. Other tell you a bust size in inches, that incorporates a certain amount of ease already, either positive (finished size is larger than the body size, for a roomy fit) or negative (finished size is smaller than the body size, for a snug/stretched fit). Read your pattern carefully to determine what information is available. In the pattern I’m knitting, Chocolate Stout, the sizes are given as a ‘typical’ bust size that already incorporates five whole inches of positive ease. That means if you choose to knit the 32″ size, it will actually measure about 37″ at the bust when finished.

It’s all about the measurements.

Only when armed with knowledge of gauge (pattern gauge was 5 sts/inch and 6 rows/inch, my gauge was 5.25 sts/inch and 6 rows/inch) and detailed size information copied down from the pattern schematic, can I determine what size I want to knit. It also helps to have a sense of what is flattering on your own body. For instance, I’m a larger and curvier person, and very oversized / baggy sweaters tend to look sloppy on me while they might look chic and comfortable on a thinner, straighter body. Therefore, if I just went ahead and knit the 46″ size based on my bust measurement, I might be unhappy with the oversized fit when I was finished. And here lies the dilemma, which size to knit?

stitchmath

Crunching the numbers.

The math above should illustrate why it’s important to know your actual gauge when knitting a sweater. As written at the pattern gauge, the ribbing portion of the 44″ size would measure 47.8″ around the hips. In my gauge, the same piece of fabric would be two inches smaller, measuring only 45.5″. With my 47 – 50″ hips, I might not want quite that much negative ease there. But the 46″ size has 249 stitches in the ribbing section, which would measure 47.4″ at my gauge, so I’ll start there after all. I’m thinking of decreasing the 2″ for the waist shaping and then just proceeding with a smaller size around the bust area, rather than increasing back out again, to keep it a little more fitted around the shoulders. These are the kinds of decisions that I’ll have to make as I see the sweater develop.

How do you decide what size to knit? Are you methodical about it or do you just give something a try? How much ease do you like in your garments?

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Ply Experiment

A few weeks ago, I watched Jillian Moreno’s spinning class on #Craftsy called Ply to Knit: Spin the Yarn You Really Want. If you’re not familiar with Jillian, she writes and edits KnittySpin articles as well as a weekly spinning blog post on the Knitty blog. I enjoy her writing and her spinning very much, so when Craftsy had a sale I figured I’d give the class a try.

Screenshot from Craftsy.

Screenshot from Craftsy.

I don’t intend this post to be a thorough review of the class, but I will say that I probably would have been a little disappointed if I had paid full price for it. I think Jilllian is a great teacher and I love the Craftsy platform, I just don’t think there was enough material in the class that I didn’t already know for me to feel it worth the money. I would recommend it for an absolute beginning spinner. As a very beginner, or as someone who has only spun on spindles and just started on a wheel, it is always worthwhile to watch someone else’s spinning technique. You will invariably pick up little tricks and tips you never thought of if you are primarily self-taught. If you’ve never plied singles together before, the class will likely provide lots of little lightbulb moments all at once. Since I’ve been spinning for three years now (how did that happen?!) and I’m a voracious reader of spinning-related books, blogs, boards, and magazines, not much in the class was news to me. At one point, I thought she was going to start getting into some of the more unusual ways to ply yarns (for art yarns and such), but then she stopped and implied that those topics were for another class.

Ply Experiment | Woolen Diversions

Three bobbins of Falkland wool, ready to ply.

There was, however, one excellent nugget of information that I gleaned from the class, my own personal aha! moment that inspired this post. I’ve sometimes been underwhelmed by my handspun, feeling that some skeins lacked the oomph that other lovely skeins had, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why or what was different. I plied them to the point where they seemed balanced, I did the same to one skein as I did to another, but I didn’t really pay close attention to exactly what I was doing. This class taught me that the secret to great yarn is in the plying twist.

Ply Experiment | Woolen Diversions

(L to R): Ply 1, Ply 2, and Ply 3

You see, I knew that handspun skeins lost some twist after finishing, but I didn’t really understand how much, nor did I know how to tell how much twist was enough to add in the first place. Jillian does an excellent job demonstrating how to detect the amount of plying twist you are adding, and how to get a feel for when enough is enough. So I conducted a small experiment to see what difference the amount of plying twist really made in the finished yarn. I used the same Falkland wool singles for a all three 3-ply yarn samples (spun Z twist on a 8:1 ratio whorl), and I changed the ply twist as follows for each one:

  • Ply 1: ply ratio = 8:1 (same whorl), treadles per length = 5
  • Ply 2: ply ratio = 8:1 (same whorl), treadles per length = 3-4 (roughly alternated)
  • Ply 3: ply ratio = 6:1 (larger whorl), treadles per length = 4-5 (roughly alternated)

By adjusting how many times you treadle before you allow a set length of yarn (whatever is comfortable and consistent for you) wind onto the bobbin, you are adjusting the amount of ply twist that enters the yarn. You also adjust the amount of ply twist by changing your whorl or drive ratio, which determines how much twist energy is inserted with each treadle (higher ratio/smaller whorl = more twist, while lower ratio/larger whorl = less twist). Ply 1 seemed to have way too much ply twist, while ply 2 (not pictured above) had too little with 3 treadles per length, but too much with 4. So I lowered the ratio and aimed for roughly 4 to 5 treadles per length, which resulted in the nice easy loop on plyback that looked just about right, and this amount of twist is what I used for plying the rest of my singles.

I then took a series of notes and measurements about the different yarns. I measured wraps per inch (WPI), which helps classify the thickness of the yarn, and yards per pound (YPP), which you can think of as a measure of the density (or grist) of yarn. In the photo gallery above (hover for captions or click for closeups), you’ll notice that the sample strand for Ply 3 (to the right) is much longer than for Ply 1 or Ply 2. Those samples were strands that were cut until they balanced out on a McMorran Yarn Balance (one way to measure YPP). The Ply 3 strand is longer because the scale could hold a longer length before it balanced out, meaning that yarn had a much higher YPP. (Translation: you could spin more yardage out of a pound of wool at this grist because it is a thinner, less dense yarn.) I used a chart from an old issue of Spin-Off to help determine what the knitting weight was (classifications are not very standardized at all so it differs by source) but another chart you could use is here. The stats:

  • Singles: WPI = 25, YPP = 2,350, knitting weight = laceweight to fingering
  • Ply 1: WPI = 9 -10, YPP = 525, knitting weight = aran to bulky
  • Ply 2: WPI = 10, YPP = 625, knitting weight = aran
  • Ply 3: WPI = 10 – 11, YPP = 900, knitting weight = worsted
Ply Experiment | Woolen Diversions

Swatches, pre-blocking.

While the changes in measurements were subtle for WPI, I was a little shocked at how big of a difference small tweaks in the number of treadles per length or the size of the whorl made in the YPP measurements, or the grist of the yarn. More ply twist (Ply 1) lead to a thicker, denser, chunkier yarn while less (Ply 3) resulted in a thinner, fluffier, more pliable yarn. I commenced swatching each yarn on size US 8 needles in a variety of stitches.

From a distance, the swatches don’t look all that different and their stitch gauges were practically identical, but you’ll have to trust me that they each felt different to knit. Ply 3 (which I knit first) was delightful in every way: fluffy, soft, smooth, and it produced a cohesive, fluid fabric in all stitch patterns. Ply 2 was distinctly beefier than Ply 3, it was a tad thicker and denser and it felt it, but it had a pleasant ‘toothy’ feel to it and I could see adding a little extra ply twist to purposefully make an extra spring-y yarn. Ply 1 was the least pleasant to knit with, I would have wanted to go up a needle size to relax the knitting process. If you look closely, you might notice that the extra ply twist is much more visible in the stitches of Ply 1, making the fabric as a whole look less smooth. The extra twist created great 3D relief in the seed stitch sections, but is somewhat less desirable in the stockinette and garter stitches.

Conclusion: You could certainly not pay much attention to your plying and get a fairly serviceable yarn in the end. However, I did find that checking for the right amount of ply twist (and actually counting my treadles!) produced a yarn I enjoyed knitting with the most. From a practical standpoint, plying ‘properly’ also produced a heck of a lot more yardage than I would’ve obtained from overplying my singles: 375 extra yards per pound of fiber, in fact. Finally, while the stitch gauge or swatch appearance didn’t change much when using the same size needles, the thickness of the yarn and the feel of the fabric certainly did. All in all, I will certainly be paying closer attention to my ply twist in the future and I’m excited to explore its effects further.

If you spin, how do you usually ply your yarn? Do you keep track of how much twist your adding?

How To Find A Spinning Wheel

I’ve been on a whirlwind search for a new spinning wheel because A) I’m a compulsive researcher and B) timing. Here’s how it’s been going.

Step 1. Realize that for one reason or another, your current equipment is no longer meeting all of your needs. Man, this merino is being a major pain in the ass to spin. I’m kind of hating it. Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

Singles of frustration.

Step 2. Understand why your current equipment isn’t cutting it anymore. Use these reasons as guidelines for your search. Ahha! Irish (bobbin-lead) tension systems often have strong takeup and are not the best for fine spinning (thought they’re great for longwools and plying). I need a Scotch (flyer-lead) or double drive (some kind of physics magic) tension system.

Step 3. Research, research, research.

Step 4. Start a spreadsheet. Totally not joking, it’ll help sort through all the information out there. Here is a list of all the info I compiled for the wheels that I was interested in (where it was available) so I could better compare between them:

dataStep 5. Narrow it down! I looked into about 15 wheels, but narrowed it down to only 5 that I’d like to seek out and try.

Step 6. Seek out and try! (Hover over photos below for captions, click to enbiggen.)

The Fiasco and I made an impromptu visit to Madison Wool (in Madison, CT) over the weekend to give a few wheels a try. I cannot stress enough the importance of trying out wheels in person! They are all so different and there’s no better way to get a sense of what you want than to actually feel how the wheels work. The main reason I visited was to try the Majacraft Pioneer. Majacraft wheels have outstanding reputations and the Pioneer is supposed to be the ‘entry-level’ version of their more high-end wheels and it is the one the shop owner herself uses. I really, really liked the way the Pioneer treadled. It was smooth and effortless and ‘zippy’. I was not a big fan of the delta orifice (see the triangular metal piece at the front of the flyer). This shape made for a weird skip/bump with every rotation since I tend to hold my fiber supply off to the side when I spin. I could probably adapt my spinning style if I end up with this wheel, and I do believe the company offers a more typical orifice in their lace flyer, but it’s an important thing to know about the wheel nonetheless. I was pleasantly surprised with how nicely the Ashford Traveller spun, but have decided that I do not want a wheel designed for travel since some concessions must be made in sturdiness to allow for easy portability (usually). I also tried a Louet S10, and we did not get along. Part of it was likely because that model was a single treadle wheel, while I’m used to double treadle, and the wheel also has an Irish tension system, which I know I do not want.

Step 7. Find an incredibly good sale with an inconveniently short deadline that you absolutely cannot resist. Ok, this step is optional, and probably counterproductive.

Copyright Webs.

Webs yarn store is participating in the Northampton Bag Day event this coming weekend (22-23) during which they are offering 20% off a single item (spinning wheels included). The kicker is that orders for large items (like equipment) need to be placed by Friday for in-store pickup over the weekend. Since the store only has so many wheels, they could feasibly be all sold out by the weekend, which could mean no wheels for me to try if I waited until the weekend to head up. I am now debating whether or not I should make two 3-hour-roundtrip drives: one to visit the wheels earlier in the week to give them a try and decide on one in time for the sale, and another to pick it up over the weekend. Sigh. I don’t want to be pressured into making a decision just for this sale, but 20% is a lot of cash to pass up! The wheels I’d like to try at Webs are the Lendrum DT, Schacht Ladybug, Schacht Matchless, and Louet Julia (if they have it, the site says backordered).

And that’s how you find yourself in a spinning wheel conundrum… wait, that wasn’t the title of this post, was it? Woops.