Have you ever seen some lovely art yarn out there and said to yourself “I love that, but what would I do with it”? Art or Textured hand spun yarns are not as daunting to use as you might think. Here are a few tips to choosing, using, and designing with Art Yarns.
Not all Art yarns are suitable for knitting. Some spinners do make yarns that are meant only to be looked at and not used. Check the yarn for structural integrity, you should be able to pull on in individual thread and not have it come apart. My test is it should be able to take as much tension as it takes to close a set of draw string pants. Now, I don’t go around wrapping hand created yarns around my waist to check, but you get the feel for it.
Any inclusions, lumps, bumps, bobbles, tails, or textural features should be well spaced. If they are too close together you will find it hard to be able to knit in a way that showcases the yarn. Too far spaced and they might seem more a mistake than a design feature. Keep in mind your project as well, a small cuff will need closer spaced elements than a shawl.
Also, take an assessment of the thickness. This is tough for art yarns as they tend to vary. The two things to pay the most attention too is the thickness of the majority of the skein, I call the base of the yarn, and the width, length and diameter of the features or elements.
Look at how the yarn hangs. Does it twist around itself? If so there is active twist in the yarn that you will need to incorporate or account for in your design.
You aren’t going to get a great result unless you match the yarn to the project to the knitting technique. Want a funky cool neck cowl out of an extreme tailspun yarn? Wear the yarn around your neck for a while to make sure it’s not going to be to scratchy or stiff to tolerate. Yarns heavier than worsted weight don’t make very good socks as a rule, they are hard to get the shaping right and bulkier than what you can fit in most shoes. Textured stitch patterns usually either obscure the unique details of the yarn, or get lost in the texture and color of the yarn. Why make more work for yourself?
I like to stick to simple knit structures. Stockingette and simple ribs are my most used knit structures when it comes to art yarns. I only use cables, lace and other texture techniques when they can be used to showcase the yarn.
Gauge is something that has to be sampled. I hate swatching. I hate, hate, hate swatching. Unfortunately, there is no way you can get around it in this case. I don’t swatch the normal way for art yarns. They are too rare, precious and expensive to sit around in a swatch, I want to use every last inch! Here’s my quick and dirty art yarn sample technique:
I’ve implied it already, be flexible make sure you find the right project to go with your art yarn, don’t try to make the yarn fit your pattern if it doesn’t want to. There are all weights of art yarns, from cobweb lace to extra super bulky. The types of yarn structures are endless, with more being developed every day.There is a yarn for every project and a project for every yarn. Don’t get so married to your initial idea that you keep on with a failing project.
You don’t need “sweater amounts” of an art yarn to use it in a sweater. These yarns want to shine and be featured. Motifs and trims only take a few yards and make huge impacts. I’m working on a series of patterns that use 20 yards or less.
The trick is pairing your art yarn with a great standard yarn. Don’t worry about them “matching” have them “coordinate” instead. Take the standard yarn and twist it up with the art yarn. Set them on a well lite surface and stand back about 15 feet. What do you see? Does the art yarn pop? Is the color of the standard yarn fighting the art yarn for attention? Do they just blend together? Find the yarn that makes the art yarn pop and you will be getting the most of your special yarn.
What about size? Here’s my own guidelines about choosing the right weight companion yarn.
For motifs that are embedded in the finished item, the companion yarn should be about the same or slightly thicker than the art yarn base. This will make a smooth transition and keep the motif from distorting the base garment.
For Edgings, anything goes. There are a few things to keep in mind. Using a smaller companion yarn with a heavier art yarn edging will make the edging flair out. Conversely, a lighter weight art yarn edging with a heavier companion yarn will draw in the edge. If this is not the desired effect you will need to add or subtract stitches to compensate. You will also need to use the right needle size for each yarn, so remember to change your needles when you change your yarn.
I hope you find this guide helpful. Working with art yarns doesn’t have to be hard, it takes skills most novice knitters already have. The results can amazing.