Photo: Woolfolk FAR
As knitters, we are familiar with 2-ply and 4-ply yarns, but have you ever picked up a ball of yarn that is super light and on closer examination, discovered that the yarn itself looks like a knitted chain? Discovering chainette yarns is exciting and opens up new possibilities for your knitting. But what exactly is a chainette yarn?
Chainette (from the French word for Chain) yarns are made up of narrow plies that are machine knit into a strand that resembles mesh You will be knitting with something that has already been "knitted". They have a chained construction that provides a hollow, airy core. Since you’re using less fiber to create the same yardage, this allows the cost per yard to decrease which is why many luxury fibers like cashmere are spun into chainette. If you want luxury at an affordable price, search for chainette.
The hollow core traps air between the fibers and creates a lofty, lightweight garment. They are good for heavily cabled garments to show off cables without the weight, especially since chainette yarns offer excellent stitch definition. If you've ever knitted an Aran sweater, you know how much yarn goes into one of these garments. It's not unusual to see a medium sized adult garment with close to 2000 yards of yarn, which is needed to create all of the intricate cables and deep texture. Chainette yarns give you the yardage you need with less weight so you'll have a comfortable finished garment that feels lighter, with less stress on the shoulder seams, and less weight pulling on the neckline.
Chainette yarns are also great for heavy fibers like alpaca, yak, llama, cotton who benefit by becoming lighter. If a fiber has a tendency to hang with gravity or grow lengthwise as you wear it, and it is spun into a chainette construction, it will be less prone to that drop and the downward pull will be controlled. This is great for cardigans with buttons, since it's common for buttons that are evenly spaced on an alpaca cardigan (for example) while lying flat, to look "off" when you wear it. There will be more space between the buttons at the top than between the buttons at the bottom, since the yarn at the top is stretching down more in an attempt to hold the weight of the garment. The yarn towards the bottom of the garment is only holding a couple of inches and can retain it's fluffy shape.
Since chainette yarns are stretchy (like i-cord) they help rigid cotton and plant based yarns become more elastic. This opens up more stitch possibilities for cotton yarns and allows you to create cables or lace with greater ease since the yarn will have some give to it when being stretched with a cable needle or when making decreases. This added stretch is also helpful when you're working with ribbing or for garments with negative ease. You want a fabric that will spring back and retain it's shape.
Savvy knitters know that the softer the yarn, the less durable the finished product will be. If you want a garment to last, you need to knit with a yarn with more substance. But because the fibers have already been “knit” into a tube which keeps them in place, chainette yarns prevent pilling of super soft yarns that normally have a tendency to pill like cashmere and merino, so you're able to knit soft garments that will last. This is especially important when investing money in expensive, luxurious cashmere.
If you want the softness of cashmere without indulging, you're able to achieve a similar effect with merino. Soft yarns like merino will take on an ultra soft feel, making it feel more like cashmere than wool, with a nice drape thanks to the airy core.
Heavy yarns become lighter, inelastic yarns become more elastic, soft yarns gain strength; everything you knew about fibers and yarn is turned upside down with chainette constructed yarns. But this opens up more projects to you, as a knitter, and allows you to do more with a wider variety of yarns. When knitting with chainette, think about these qualities and make sure your knitting takes them into consideration. For example, because it is stretchier, side seams will help give your garment structure and keep it in shape. Patterns that have turtlenecks or cowl necks with the fiber next to your neck, are perfect for chainette yarns.
Once you understand chainette properties, you're better able to pair this yarn with the right project. Davos Pullover, designed for chainette yarns, takes advantage of the super soft chainette merino by incorporating a fluffy cowl neck which snuggles next to your skin to keep you cozy and cuddly. It has a fit that can be worn against the skin and feels as soft as fleece. Seams give it stability and keep it at its original length. Davos is knitted in luxurious Woolfolk Far, which goes a long way thanks to the chainette construction. Davos uses only 1130 yards for a size 36". Davos Pullover can be found here.
"Melange, Jaspe, Ombre." Schachenmayr.com 2019, <https://schachenmayr.com/en/news-events/whats-new/melange-jaspe-ombre>
"Chainette Yarn at WEBS." WEBS.com blog. 2019., <https://www.yarn.com/categories/chainette-yarn>
Babin, Meghan. "Chainette + Wool Studio = Luxury." Jan 20, 2017. <https://www.interweave.com/article/knitting/chainette-wool-studio-luxury/>
Hello! I'm Donna Estin, knitwear designer, certified master knitter and instructor. I enjoy designing artistic knitwear that is comfortable. I specialize in sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.