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Yarn Testing with Mini Sweaters

April 20, 2015

One of the perks of owning (and working in!) a yarn store is getting to knit with so many different types of yarn. As we all know, you can't really know how a yarn is going to knit up until you actually work with it.  How many of us have admired a yarn on the shelf, only to find out that it is unpleasant to work with - it might be splitty, or too slippery, or maybe it is biased and knits up into a fabric that twists when washed.

This last point - the post-washing behaviour of yarn - is a particular issue with machine washable yarns. Superwash wools, wool/synthetic blends, and plant-fibre based yarns (cotton, linen, etc.) are frequently advertised as machine washable. But here again, a yarn that looks great on the shelf doesn't always look so great after its been through the washing machine - even on the most gentle cycle.  A few years back (pre-Wet Coast Wools), I bought a washable wool yarn that came with a pretty good rating, and knit myself a cardigan.  After I blocked the sweater, however, the sweater looked terrible - it stretched out of shape, it faded and lost its original lustre, and it even started to pill a little bit!  All this, and I had only handwashed the sweater once!  Needless to say, the sweater got frogged, and the yarn was re-purposed into something that didn't need to look good!

With this experience (and a few similar ones) in mind, I am now pretty selective when it comes to choosing yarns for the store.  This is especially true for yarns that are supposed to be easy care - if the yarn is supposed to be machine washable, I want your finished item to look good through many washes! (Have you seen our swatch for the Sirdar Snuggly yarn? I washed and dried that one at the laundromat, so you  know it will survive a gentle cycle in your own machine!).

Recently, I have been looking for a new worsted or aran weight yarn to add to our Machine Washable collection. After narrowing my selection, I asked my supplier for a few sample balls, so I could put the yarns through a proper test.  Each yarn had between 200 and 240 yards per ball, with a recommended gauges of 18 to 20 stitches. Rather than knit boring squares, I decided to make actual sweaters - even if they had to be baby sized!

b11-24 Vest by Drops DesignFirst up, the yarn with the least yardage - 200m per ball, with recommended gauge of 20sts/4" on a 4.5mm needle. I am always reluctant to knit the smallest size of a baby pattern (so many babies are born larger than newborn size, after all!), so I went with a vest option for this yarn.  DROPS design B11-24 is a cute little vest that's pretty easy to make.  This is the 18 month size, and I finished with 5g of yarn leftover.  The only adjustments I made were to knit 2 fewer rows of ribbing on the armholes and neck band - but its not enough of a change that you'd notice! :)

GlendaFor the second sweater, I used a purple, aran weight yarn. This sweater uses the Wee Bean pattern by Taiga Hilliard Designs (free on Ravelry).  One skein made the smallest size) no modifications) with about 8g left over.

This yarn is great - it is a blend of 70% Premium Acrylic and 30% wool, making it machine washable, soft, and very easy to care for.  It comes in a few solid shades, as well as  a number of speckled, tweed-like colourways. This purple one has specks of orange, yellow, pink, and green, which I have accented with the multi-coloured buttons (at the suggestion of some of my customers!). I followed the directions for the smallest size, but with the larger gauge I ended up with a sweater that should fit around a 6 month size (baby dependent, of course).  Pretty cute for $9, eh? (including the buttons!)

The final yarn that I tested was a blend of nylon and acrylic, and therefore had greater yardage (because synthetic fibre weighs less than wool)  - 219m, where the other yarns had only 200m.  This sweater is called 'A Simple Baby Pullover', and the designer is Erica Kempf (Ravelry link here).  I made the 6-12 month size, and was able to make the sleeves longer than suggested (knit to 4.5 cm before working the cuff).  Again, I had about 4g of yarn left over.

This pattern is super cute, but the yarn was only so-so.  Nice and soft, yes, but it didn't feel would hold up well after many washes (I washed it once and it looked okay, but you could already see where it was starting to fuzz out a little bit).  The plies didn't actively split apart as I worked with it (as they did with the green yarn), however, they did get caught on anything and everything rough or prickly (like the stitch marker, my ring, even the needle tips when I put the sweater into a project bag).  Overall, not something I would want to knit with again.

Having tested these yarns - including putting them through a gentle cycle on my washing machine and a quick tumble in the dryer - I have a much better idea of how the yarns knit, and how they are likely to hold up over time. My favourite, as I mentioned, was the purple yarn - Fashion Aran, by the British company King Cole.  You can now buy this yarn in our store - it arrived as I was typing this post!  Check it out on our website, and then come have a look at it - and the purple sweater - in store!