Monday, August 17, 2009

Yarn is yarn? Worsted is worsted?

Yarn is yarn, right? And cotton yarn is cotton yarn. And worsted weight yarn is worsted weight yarn. So if you have a pattern that uses cotton worsted weight yarn, you can just substitute another cotton worsted weight yarn in that pattern, and it should be okay. Right? Well, no. That's not right.
Let me tell you what a designer does when she or he thinks up a design. I'll tell you what I do, at least. If I can choose the yarn I want to use, I think of the design. Is it a tote? It needs a sturdy yarn. Is it a scarf? It needs a flowing yarn. Is it a sweater? It needs a yarn that will drape the way I want the sweater to drape, and that won't be so heavy it will stretch out of shape. Sometimes, the editor of the book or magazine will choose the yarn, and most of the time it's the right choice. When I get to choose the yarn, I can swatch with different yarns, and see which swatch works the best for the design. Now, when the pattern gets published, I often hear about people making the design using a different yarn. And I encourage that. To an extent. You have to be very careful when you change yarns, if you want to get the same feel, effect, etc., of the original design. I thought I would do a little experiment to show you what I mean.
I crocheted two swatches - one in Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece, the other in LionBrand Recycled Cotton. The Cotton Fleece label says the yarn is 80% cotton, 20% Merino wool. The skein weighs 3.5 oz, (100 grams), and has approximately 215 yards. The yarn weight is 3, which is a little lighter than worsted. They suggest you use a needle size 6, which is 4mm, and is comparable to a G-6, 4.00 hook. The Recycled Cotton, which is a new yarn that I was eager to try (and I like it tremendously), is 74% recycled cotton, 24% acrylic, and 2% other fiber. The skein weighs the same as the Cotton Fleece, 3.5 oz, 100 grams. But it has only 185 yards, because the yarn weight is 4, which is worsted weight. They suggest you use an I-9, 5.5mm hook with it. So - you can say these yarns are not really equivalent. Oh, yes, the gauge for the Cotton Fleece is 5 stitches per inch, or 20 stitches for 4 inches, using the recommended knitting needle. They don't give a crochet gauge. For the Recycled Cotton, the gauge is 13 sc, or 18 stitches (knitting) to 4 inches. You can see the gauge is not the same with these yarns.

I crocheted 2 swatches, one in each yarn. One right after another, so I was relaxed for both of them. (Gauge can change when you are tense, or relaxed, or pick up your crocheting at different times.) And, instead of using a G hook, or an I hook, I used the one in the middle of these two, an H hook.

I got interesting results. But first - which yarn do you think would be thicker? The #4 weight - worsted - or the #3 weight - light worsted or dk? You'd think the worsted would be a heavier yarn, right? Check this picture out.

The beige yarn is the #4 - Recycled Cotton. The turquoise is the #3, Cotton Fleece. The Cotton Fleece looks thicker than the Recycled Cotton, even though it's a #3, and the Recycled Cotton is a #4. Hmmm? Interesting.

Now, what about the swatches? Do you think one would be longer and wider than the other? Check this picture out.

They are both about the same size. If one is wider, it looks like the Cotton Fleece is a little wider than the Recycled Cotton. I used a larger hook than called for on the Cotton Fleece swatch, and it is at least as big, maybe bigger, than the Recycled Cotton swatch - on which I used a smaller hook than called for. And finally, I wish you could touch the swatches through your computer. When you want to crochet a fabric that drapes, one way to do it is to use a bigger hook than called for - which is what I did with the Cotton Fleece. And when you want to make a stiff fabric, you usually use a smaller hook. Which is what I did with the Recycled Cotton. So, the Cotton Fleece is nice and drapey; the Recycled Cotton is nice and stiff. I would definitely use the Recycled Cotton in a purse or tote, or something that I want to have some body. I would defiinitely use the Cotton Fleece in something that I want soft and flowing and drapey. Like a sweater. Plus, because the Cotton Fleece is so soft, I don't think it will stretch much when worn. However, the Recycled Cotton may.

So, what does this all mean? Well, when you substitute yarn in a design, be sure you substitute yarn that will give you the same look as the original; yarn that will behave the same as the original. That is so important! If you use a different yarn than one that's called for, but use the same hook size, you may end up with a tote that has no body, or a sweater that can stand up by itself! (It may even happen with a different size hook.)