I mentioned yesterday that Mr. Kninja asked me to write about achieving the fabric you want, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do today. I know many of you already know what I’m about to write, but I’m hopeful that this will be helpful for new knitters, such as Mr. Kninja himself. It’s another overcast day, and while I’d planned on taking pictures to accompany what I’m writing, I think I’ll wait until the sun comes out again to do so.
There are many, many factors to keep in mind when knitting, all of which affect the end result of your project. One of the first considerations is, of course, your yarn. Most projects start with a skein that catches your eye and whisks you off your feet. But wool, linen, cotton, silk, and alpaca (and possum and yak and cashmere and mohair and so on) all have their own characteristics and can be combined endlessly to make all different types of yarns with different personalities. Is the yarn nubbly or smooth? Is it thick or thin? Does it catch or slide?
Once you’ve looked at the yarn and gotten to know its many facets, it’s time to think about what you want to use the yarn for. Slippers require different characteristics than a scarf or a towel or a headband. Are you dreaming of an endlessly draping fabric, or a tight, stiff fabric? Which will hold up best for the project you have in mind? You’re presumably going to be walking on slippers, so a slightly stiffer fabric seems appropriate there, while the drapey scarf could be a dream wardrobe item for fashion’s sake, but not be terribly warm for winter, when you want a thick, cushy scarf. Consider your fabric needs long and hard for the particular project you’re working on, and don’t be limited by the yarn used by the project originator. Sure, she may have knit the project in airy mohair, but you might like it better in a worsted weight merino that will show the lace pattern in a completely new way and wrap around your neck in a completely different way. It’s worth considering.
I’ll talk about gauge in more detail at another time, because, after writing a long passage on gauge, it occurred to me that what I was then about to do was going to have little to do with gauge at all. So. You’ve got this great yarn, and you’ve got an idea of a project. The only real question left is how to achieve that idea in your head. If you’re just starting out, you may not have a sense of how tightly or loosely you knit, and that’s fine. But the basic idea is this: Most yarns come with a suggestion of needle sizes that work well with it. If you knit a fabric on a needle size smaller than suggested, the likelihood is that you’ll end up with a stiffer, tighter fabric, and if you choose to knit your project on larger needles the likelihood is that you’ll end up with a looser, more flowing fabric. This is why I’m knitting with a chunky yarn on size 6 needles to make my slippers. Normally, a size 6 needle would most likely be used with a worsted weight yarn, or to make lace with a thinner yarn. With a heavy yarn like the Lion Brand Homespun, it’s a little difficult to knit, but the resulting fabric is cushy and tight and stays in shape very well. If I were to make a scarf out of Homespun, I’d probably want to use a size 11 or thereabout in order to open up the stitches and show off the rippley texture of the yarn. My linen towel is being knit on size 3 needles. I tried larger ones, but the fact that the yarn itself was so drapey meant that a larger needle made it too loose. The smaller one makes a tighter fabric, true, but it maintains the drape and form inherent in the yarn itself. That is why it is important to consider the yarn as well as the intended result.
With a very little practice, you’ll find that the same yarn can yield a wide variety of textures. Variations in stitch pattern also help with this, but just changing needle size can do a lot, a surprising lot. It’s well worth trying.