When you're substituting yarns for a pattern, knitters know that if that pattern calls for a worsted weight yarn, that substituting another worsted weight yarn is the thing to do. But all worsted weight yarns are not the same. Some yarns like cotton are inherently heavier than yarn made of angora. But even within the vast area of Worsted Weight Wool, you'll find balls of yarn that will weigh differently.
Why does weight matter?
When you finish your garment, you will either end up with a fairly lightweight sweater or an extremely heavy one. If you're doing a lot of cables which takes more yarn, a sweater knit with a heavy fiber will be even heavier. This affects your shoulder seams, the neckline drop, the sleeve length, and the overall comfort. If you're knitting with lace, a heavy yarn will really widen the openwork and leave you holes bigger than you wanted. Brioche uses almost twice as much yarn as stockinette, so you'll definitely want to minimize the total weight.
In these cases, you'll want to select a yarn that weighs less. This is a yarn that gives you more yards per gram in each ball/hank/skein.
On the other hand, if you're working with a "puffy" stitch pattern that you want to lie flat, a heavier yarn will help pull the garment down and stretch out that pattern to a pleasing texture. If you're working with elongated stitches that only look cool when actually elongated, you don't want a yarn so light that the dropped yarn overs puff out and glob together. You want them stretched out to give the full effect.
In these cases, you'll want to select a yarn that weighs more. This is a yarn that gives you less yards per gram in each ball/hank/skein.
Also think about the size. You can use a heavier yarn with a Woman's XS than you can with a Men's size 5X.
When substituting yarn for a pattern, first figure the weight per yard of the yarn listed in the pattern. Divide the total grams by the total yardage on the ball band to find out how many grams one yard of yarn weighs. This is easier to do in grams than ounces since with ounces you'll end up with a slew of fractions to contend with.
Below is a comparison of WORSTED WEIGHT YARNS, ranked from lightest to heaviest:
As you expect, the cotton blends are the heaviest. But look at the difference in wool! There's a big difference in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter at 0.36 grams per yard compared to Sugar Bush Bold at 0.53 grams per yard. A sweater that uses 1300 yards of yarn will weigh 468 grams with Shelter and 689 grams with Bold. That is a substantial difference that you will notice as soon as you pick up the garment.
Sometimes you want it light, sometimes you want it heavy. But knowing that the weight will have an effect on the finished garment, is an important tidbit to tuck away in your brain.
Before you make your next substitution, think about what you're creating and how you want it to behave. Then grab your phone to do a quick calculation to figure out how much one yard of yarn weighs before purchasing your yarn. When you invest time and money into a hand knitted garment, you want it to turn out the best that it can be. This quick little trick helps to do just that!
All this chatter about seamless knitting leaves me feeling a need to defend the humble seam. I know, I know, you either knit or you sew but not both. Knitters generally don't like to sew. A cast on or bind off with a tapestry needle leaves many knitters shaking their heads NO. We all know how to Kitchener, but how many knitters say, YIPPEE, I get to Kitchener!
Frankly, knitters go out of their way to avoid sewing. So when a flat piece can be worked in the round, it is. When working a baby cardigan, many knitters cast on the left front, place a marker, cast on the back, place another marker and cast on the right front, all to avoid stitching a seam.
But there are benefits to seams! They provide stability, keep the garment in place and give it a nice shape. A pullover knitted in the round can take on a barrel shape around the middle, which is not the look we want. A seamed sweater tends to hang flatter, giving a more flattering look.
One of the most important areas to seam is the neckline. So many of us place the back and front neck stitches on a holder instead of binding them off, then pick them up again when working the collar. Why go through the trouble of binding off 40 stitches if you need 40 sts back on the needle to continue knitting. The reason... is that it provides stability.
A seam holds the garment place. It keeps the neckline the width it's supposed to be. Stitches that continue from the back into the neckline are stretchy and will expand outward. A nice, high turtleneck will quickly slip down into a crew neck that runs down into your collar bone. If a sweater stretches down your shoulder and takes on a shape of it's own, it is most likely due to the absence of a sturdy, seam. The few minutes that you save by putting the stitches on the holder will cause disappointment later when the garment is worn. To keep your sweater squarely on your shoulders, with your lovely collar in place, bind off the front and back entirely. Sew the shoulder seams in place, then pick up your stitches and work the neck.
Next is the shoulder. This join can take on a lot of stress with heavy garments made from cotton or longer tunic length sweaters and dresses. Heavily cabled sweaters also add weight which tests the shoulder seams. This is where you'll likely need extra reinforcement to keep the garment from stretching out too much. Heavy fronts and backs that are joined with the 3-needle bind off will often exhibit stitches that are stretched out of shape and add extra length at this junction. When dealing with a heavier fabric, it's best to bind off the shoulder stitches then seam them together. For fine fabrics, and lightweight, cropped garments, or children's sweaters, the 3-needle bind off works just fine.
Seams done properly look neat, finished and professional. They enhance the garments and give it a polished look. They are also wonderfully slimming on skirts. A solid piece of skirt fabric has little to distract the eye. Two or more pieces seamed together break up the width, create slimming panels. Seams can be turned inside out and worked with a different color yarn to create a whimsical, accent especially fun on children's sweaters.
There are many seaming methods to chose from depending on your needs. The versatile Mattress Stitch allows the benefit of working with the Right Side of the fabric facing you, so you can match up color work, patterns, and cables. It is virtually invisible and can be used to join many different types of stitches. If you learn only one seaming method, learn the Mattress Stitch. The backstitch is fast. The crochet method is easier on the hands/arms and doesn't require the same length of yarn to constantly move in and out of the fabric, which is good for yarns that pull apart easily like Icelandic yarns. Whichever seaming method you chose, do consider the function of the particular seam. If you don't want a bulky ridge, you might want to pass on the crochet method.
When you bind off that last stitch, think of the knitting phase finished, and the fun "finishing" phase is next. Put the work down for the night, wait until the next morning when you're fresh and have new light streaming in the windows, and embrace the finishing technique of seaming. You'll thank yourself later with garments that just wear better.
Ages ago, I walked into my local yarn shop and said I was done with superwash yarns. Sweater after sweater ended up so much larger than the pattern called for and had super long sleeves that were unwearable. Yes, I had swatched, and I had knitted the pattern exactly as written, but ended up with an expensive, time wasted mess.
With more and more amazing superwash yarns popping up, the desire to knit with them is becoming irresistible. When wool yarn is treated to become "superwash" it is stripped of it's natural elasticity properties. It won't spring back into shape after being soaked in water. It grows in size. And this can ruin a carefully hand knit garment.
But there is a way around this. You can knit with a superwash yarn and have your sweater turn out as expected. You just need a bit of planning and math. (just a little).
I always list in the notes section of my patterns that are worked in superwash yarns, to measure lengths vertically with the weight of the garment hanging from the needles. But there is just so much explanation that you can write into a pattern before it becomes tedious to read, especially for knitters who are already know this.So I'm taking a few moments to elaborate here, and arming you with the knowledge and steps to take to be able to knit a garment that fits with superwash yarns.
1. Knit a swatch. As a wise knitter told me once, "We all knit swatches after all! We either knit 4x4" swatches or 18x20" swatches." With superwash yarns, this is a must!
2. Measure the UNBLOCKED swatch. Write down your stitch and row gauge over at least 4".
3. Block it. Soak it in water, roll it in a towel, lay it flat, pin it and let it dry.
4. Unpin it and fluff it out. Lay it back down and with a ruler, measure the dry, blocked swatch and again write down your stitch and row gauge over 4".
5. Your stitch gauge, after blocking, must equal the stitch gauge of the pattern. Some patterns list both the pre and post blocking gauges, and if they don't, it is standard practice that patterns will list the gauge after blocking. If your stitch gauge doesn't match, try a different needle size, make a new swatch, and measure it before and after blocking.
6. Once you have a blocked swatch that matches the pattern's stitch gauge, use this swatch and figure the percentage that your swatch lengthened. Compare your pre-blocked row gauge to the post-blocked row gauge. If the pre-blocked row gauge is 32 rows=4" (8 rows=1") and after blocking it's 28 rows=4" (7 rows=1"), 8 div by 7=1.14. The length increased by 14%. You can also measure the new swatch. If the old one was 4" and the new one is 4.57" 4.57/4=1.14.
If the swatch is 10% larger, then it increased 110% of the original size. This equates to (110/100) or 1.1. This is the number you'll need.
10% = 1.1
15% = 1.15
20% = 1.2
22% = 1.22 etc.
(If blocked is 10% larger, you can't just reverse it all and say the pre-blocked swatch is 90% smaller. It's close, but not accurate.)
7. Back to row gauge! If your blocked swatch was 10% larger, you'll divide by 1.1 remember. Use this knowledge when knitting lengths. When a sweater says to"work until piece measures 18" and divide for armholes", you'll want to lift your needles up and measure the length with the weight of the piece hanging from your needles. Place the tape measure just under the needle so you're measuring the last row of stitches worked that are lined up under the ones that are on the needle. Let the tape measure hang until it reaches the bottom. You'll stop knitting when you've reached the length called for in the pattern, in this case 18" divided by 1.1 which equals 16.36". That is a big difference, especially if you're working sleeves.
Since you've done the pre/post block experiment, you know that, in this scenario, a piece of knitted fabric measuring 16.36" unblocked, will grow 10% after blocking and become 18". The percentage changes with every project. Yarn, needle size, tension, and stitch pattern all affect the percentage of growth. So you'll want to do this every time you're knitting with superwash yarns.
If you're unsure of your math, or just nervous about proceeding, you can always stop 3-4" short of the length that the pattern states to knit to, take a tapestry needle threaded with yarn and run it through all the stitches, remove your needles and soak the unfinished piece. Block it and measure it after it's dry. This will help you to figure out how much more you need to knit before proceeding. Once it's dry just re-feed your needle into the stitches, remove the waste yarn and continue on. You can always start knitting the sleeves or front while it's drying, because we need to keep knitting right?
There are many reasons why you might end up knitting with a superwash yarn, and I hope this helps you to knit garments with confidence. You've mastered the hardest part - knitting stitches into a lovely fabric. By tweaking your process just a tad, you'll end up with a garment that fits. And expand your repertoire of yarns in the process.
If you have any questions, please ask here. (It's not a live a chat, the link will direct you to an email, just so you know.)
[NOTE - this article applies to those who knit either English or Continental style. Both are considered "Western Knitting", and proper orientation of a knit stitch is where the right leg of the stitch is on the front needle. If you practice "Eastern Knitting" where you knit and purl in reverse, and the left leg is on the front needle, the below article will not apply.]
Unintended bias in knitting causes a garment to twist to one side in a spiral nature and is caused by too much twist in the yarn. This is more common in inelastic yarns like cotton and in yarns that are 2-ply. In wool blends yarns it is most often caused by the yarn being overspun.
Z twist yarns rarely give us trouble with creating bias. It’s the S twist yarns that are the culprits. This is because when a yarn is inelastic or twisted too tightly and you knit it, the very process of wrapping the yarn around the needle for each new stitch adds more twist to an S twist yarn. Knitting removes twist from a Z twist yarn. When the twist tightens, the entire fabric will slant or skew to one direction, which ends up wrapping around the body if you’re knitting a garment. If you've ever had a cheap t-shirt or cotton shirt that twists, this is why. The side seam ends up swirling around to the front and back of the top and it just won't hold straight no matter what you do it.
It doesn’t matter whether you knit English or Continental style, because when you knit either style, the yarn is traveling around the needle in the same direction. In Continental style, your fingers make smaller movements and the needle moves around the yarn instead of guiding the yarn around the needles with your fingers which happens in English style. But when you examine each in slow motion, you’ll see that the yarn is wrapped counterclockwise around the needle in both methods. Once you've knit a stitch, the right leg of the stitch will be on the front of the needle and the left leg of the stitch on the back of the needle.
Bias is more noticeable in Stockinette stitch. When you incorporate a combination of knit and purl stitches, it can help but not always. Cables can actually increase the bias because of the extra tightness that occurs when forming them. Working in twisted stitches can cause more twist as well which is what we are trying to avoid in overly twisted yarns.
If you’ve wound your own skein and are pulling from the center, pull out a foot of yarn and hang it next to a foot of yarn from the outside. The yarn in the center may be pulled tighter than the yarn at the outside, because when you’re first getting the swift going, if you allow the ball winder to pull yarn from the stationary swift, it will stretch tightly at first. Once you get some momentum going and less yarn is on the swift, you’ll notice that the tension eases off. However, this is not causing the bias.
When you examine two pieces of yarn, one from the center and one from the outside of the cake, the center strand may be pulled tighter but the amount of twist remains the same. Once you remove the tension from the center, both strands should lie the same. If you just pull on a strand, it makes it tighter, but doesn’t affect the twist. The amount of twist can be determined by looking at the number of crosses that one strand makes on the other. The closer the diagonal lines are together the more twist you have. Measure out about 6” of yarn from the center of the skein and 6” from the outside, then count the number of diagonal slants in each piece. If they are close to the same then you have the same amount of twist in each end of the yarn.
More often than not, the root of the problem lies with the way the yarn is spun before you buy it. Bias cannot be steamed out. Severe blocking may help, but once the fabric is dry it will have a tendency to skew again. Knitting flat & seaming the sides is better than knitting in the round but again, it will not eliminate it.
The correction needs to be made during the act of knitting.
For overspun yarns, one easy, but time-consuming method is to pull out a yard or so of yarn, take a clothespin and clip the yarn to the ball. Let the ball of yarn hang from the work so it untwists itself, then knit normally from the untwisted yarn. Or by hand, untwist a section of yarn, clip it to something (pillow, blanket, your shirt, anything really), and knit until you reach the clip. Then untwist another section and keep doing this. Eventually you’ll need to let the ball spin itself back to a normal position.
Another better, faster remedy when working in Stockinette is to wrap the yarn in the opposite direction (under and clockwise instead of over) when forming the purl stitch on the WS rows. Then when you’re working the RS rows, knit each stitch through the back loop. This untwists the yarn and you’ll notice instead of a tightly swirled S on the needle, you’ll find a very loose one that almost resembles a single ply. If you’re working with 2 ply yarn, instead of a twist on the needle, you may actually see both plys squeezed together and lying almost side by side, with just a little twist between them.
If you’re working in a combination of stitches this becomes a bit trickier, since the front & back of the same stitch need to be altered in order to reduce the amount of twist in the yarn, and at the same time prevent the stitch from becoming twisted. A twisted stitch has the bottom two strands of the V crossed. When you pull the stitch apart, instead of the V opening up at the bottom, you’ll see the strands crisscross and become tight. You do not want twisted stitches (unless the pattern calls for them in the design.)
By wrapping the yarn around the needle the wrong way (clockwise) when making a purl stitch, and knitting through the back loop when knitting this same stitch on the next row, you are orienting the stitches on the needle so that the left leg is at the front of the needle and the right leg is at the back. This is opposite of how stitches are normally oriented. If you were to only do one of the two, for example, knit a stitch through the back loop, then purl it normally on the WS row, you would have a twisted stitch. But since you’re knitting through the back loop on the RS AND wrapping the yarn around the needle clockwise when purling on the WS, both actions counter each other out and the stitches remain untwisted. And you are accomplishing your task of untwisting the yarn every time you work a stitch.
Most of the time we don’t realize we have a problem until we’ve knitted a few inches and the fabric begins to slant. If you notice that the yarn is kinking and doubling back on itself, that’s a sign that it’s spun too tightly. Removing some twist at this point may save you time in the long run. Watch the yarn as you go though. Sometimes you'll find sections of yarn with a tighter than normal twist, then it evens out.
I hope this tip helps and that it brings some answers to the puzzle of unintended bias. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and if you can fix the problem as you knit you’ll be able to continue creating a garment that you can be proud of.
Hiatt, June Hemmons. The Principles of Knitting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
“Adding twist to splitty yarns." 07MAY18. <https://yarnsub.com/articles/techniques/adding-twist/>
Hello! I'm Donna. I knit every day and enjoy designing knitwear that is artistic, intricate and comfortable. I specialize in women's sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.