Sunday, April 10, 2016

Inside the Design Process: Yarn Auditions

Knitters have stashes. Some are big, some are virtuously small, but we all indulge from time to time in buying yarns that we don't have immediate plans for. We even have special vocabulary for stash: When we see a new pattern we like, we talk about going "stash diving." We go on "stash diets," especially when our stash approaches SABLE (stash amassed beyond life expectancy). We blame our "stash enhancement" on "yarn fumes."

As a designer, I'm as guilty of amassing stash as anyone else. But it's all strictly for professional reasons—I can't design without yarn, right? I also save leftovers from finished projects to use for future swatching. If I like a yarn, I will probably use it again, so it's worth keeping the odd bits.

Over the past week or so, I "auditioned" stash yarns for a lace shawl I'm planning. The first two were Rhinebeck acquisitions: a fingering weight alpaca/merino/nylon blend from Tika Designs that I dyed with red onion skins, and some blue-grey Pakokku Sock from Into the Whirled

Shawl Swatching

Shawl Swatching

Auditioning yarns for a shawl design. Who will get the part? (The one on the right I dyed with red onion skins.) #bluepeninsula #knitweardesign #knitweardesigner #knitting #knittersofinstagram #knitstagram

I love this part of the design process: Seeing how a yarn knits up with the stitch patterns I have in mind. Figuring out the best needle size to use. Measuring swatches before and after blocking to learn how the yarn behaves. Hanging up the swatches and imagining how the finished, much larger piece will look.

Blocking results. A third contender is now being blocked, because why stop at two? #bonniesennott #bluepeninsula #knitting #knittersofinstagram #knitstagram #knitweardesign #knitweardesigner

Though I liked both of these first two swatches, I did feel the lighter-colored yarn showed off the lace better. I felt the fabric could have been a little less firm, though. Had I decided to go with this yarn, I'd have tried a larger needle size to see how that would affect the drape.

But these two swatches suggested to me that my design might look best in a very "crisp" solid-color yarn, and I remembered how well Louet Gems fingering had worked for one of my early lace scarf designs, Anita Caroline. Into my fingering weight stash basket I dove, looking for a bit of leftover Gems.

Shawl Swatching

I felt that everything came together with the Gems swatch: The yarn and needle size were just right for each other, the lace stitches looked terrific. Unfortunately, I didn't have any unused skeins in my stash . . .  but fortunately, Louet Gems is on sale this month at WEBS, so off I went.

Shawl Swatching

The two yarns that didn't get the part will definitely be used before long. I have another shawl idea in mind that I think the onion-skin-dyed yarn would be perfect for. The blue-grey yarn may end up as socks (which is why I bought it in the first place).

Three swatches is not bad—I sometimes knit many more than that while working out a new design. Aside from showing me which yarn worked best, they helped me tweak my charts. After making some adjustments to the placement of stitches along the edge of the triangle that "grows" with every right-side row, I was ready to cast on.

Shawl Swatching

So far, so good!  The terra cotta color from my stash is discontinued, so I went with brick red.

I hope to publish the pattern in May, during the next Blue Peninsula knitalong, Yarn Over 2016. The KAL starts April 24, but we'll start talking about yarns and patterns before then. Will you be stash diving or getting new yarn?

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