Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Mixing Yarns

It isn’t easy to source yarn grown on Irish sheep. So I was quite happy when I had made contact with Kerry Woollen Mills to find that their woollen knitting yarn, which they sell via their website, is a blend of Irish and New Zealand wool. (I actually had contacted them to ask if they could spin my own sheep’s fleeces, they need at least a batch of 2000 kg, however.)

But here is the best news: they also purchase Irish organically farmed wool and spin this into both woollen and worsted knitting yarn. The woollen is for hand knitting yarn and is available in white only in 2 and 3 ply. The worsted is for machine knitting or fingering yarn and is available in white, light grey, oatmeal and Jacob. Whilst not all these yarns are offered on their website, they sell all these except the fingering weight Jacob, as they need it for producing their own organic garments range.

I ordered 200g samples of the white organic knitting yarn (3 ply), the mid Jacob regular knitting yarn, and the light grey organic fingering weight yarn, and I was pleased when they arrived about two weeks ago.

As you can see I had no dark and bright colours of any of the three types to knit my patterns. So I took the opportunity to do what I had intended to do anyway some time: mixing different yarns and write about it here.

First I tried the dark regular knitting yarn and the fingering yarn together. I had done extreme mixes with other materials before, and it can work out nicely. If one does it, one should always use a needle size that one would use for the heavier yarn on its own. Some stitch patterns – but not all - give then a lace like effect, which I hope, is visible here:

In this case I felt the contrast of the character of the yarns too big, however. The regular knitting yarn has a somewhat rough feeling to it, whilst the loosely plied worsted spun fingering yarn feels nicely smooth.

Then I tried the organic knitting yarn and the dark regular knitting yarn together. You can see the result in the following picture at the bottom. The organic white knitting yarn is very solid – I would probably in future prefer the two-ply type; the fabric that resulted from the two is rather thick. That wasn’t what I wanted at this time, however.

So the next thing I tried was mixing the regular knitting yarn with two strands of the fingering white yarn. I had already knitted a swatch with two strands of the latter on its own and felt that makes it very suitable for hand knitting. I would love to be able to try my patterns in this yarn only.

I loved the result of this mixture, which you also can see below. I felt the colours go well together; the contrast is less bold than in the other mixture. The worsted yarn also took away much of the roughness of the dark woollen knitting yarn in the fabric that emerged.

I then decided to knit a waistcoat for a small child with this mixture. I chose a stitch pattern and three different colour sequences, one for each part of the waistcoat. Here is the finished project:

Mixing colour sequences in a work piece is usually straight forward – when all the yarn used is of the same size. That is not necessarily so when one mixes different yarn weights. In this case for example one front part turned out to be a little wider than the other with the same amount of stitches. This would matter more in a larger garment, and I recommend knitting swatches to determine the gauge and adjust the number of stitches needed accordingly, if necessary.

Here are the patterns in detail:

You might wish to compare these with the swatches of the current A Stitch A Day patterns. These and the waistcoat were knitted to the same chart.

When different yarn weights or materials are mixed, texture becomes more dominant and in most cases very interesting. There is a lot of room to experiment.

Mixing different yarns in these stitch patterns is also a good way to be able to create something when the amount of each yarn on its own wouldn’t be enough for a project.

I have much of the fingering weight and half of the dark regular knitting yarn left, so I am trying to “stretch” this supply with another yarn. I felt the 100 % wool yarn I had dyed with onion skins last year would be suitable to put into the mix, and I’ve meanwhile done these swatches:

I’m definitely going to knit another project with this mixture next. Here finally is a picture that shows a strand of each of the four yarns mentioned.

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