Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Alpaca Meets Linen, Round, Round, Round (and a small rant)

You know that alpaca-linen blend yarn I mentioned yesterday? Here it is. And that's the shawl I'm knitting with it—though it's bigger, now.
I'm up to 250 stitches, and a diameter of about 14 inches. Long way to go. Goal: 72 inches across. I figure I'll end up needing at least three 60-inch circular needles, US size 2.
Size 2. That's right. I'm getting a nice fabric at 6 stitches and 8 rows to the inch, on a 2. A tighter knitter could maybe get the same gauge on a 3 or a 4, but not on the size needle the yarn label says it needs.
Which leads me to my mini-rant. The ball band for this yarn claims that it knits at a gauge of 5 stitches to the inch on a size 7 needle. That claim is actually why I bought 10 skeins of the yarn—if it really worked to that gauge, I'd be making a sweater with it. I bought the pattern at the same time I got the yarn.
I even swatched on a 7, then on a 6 because I tend to be a loose knitter. (Stop that giggling in the back, there!) At five stitches to the inch this fabric would sag woefully the first time a garment made from it was worn. The fibers are too dense and smooth to be worked that loosely, unless fishnet is the goal.
So here's my paranoid theory du jour. I think that it's quite likely that yarn manufacturers will put pretty much anything on a label that they think will help sell the yarn. Lots of knitters are drawn to yarns that knit at 4 stitches to the inch on a nice, big needle. (Size 8, 9, 10, for instance.) 5 stitches to the inch on a 7 is still quite un-frightening to most knitters. Tell 'em they've got to knit on toothpicks, and your market immediately contracts dramatically.
Hence the dishonest ball band.
A friend of mine had a similar experience in just the past few days, with a yarn she'd bought for her shops. Ball band says 4 to the inch on a 10. My friend—who is a tight knitter—gets 4 to the inch on an 8. Me, I'd probably have to go down to a 7 or a 6. On a 10, as directed, the yarn works at closer to 3 stitches to the inch, and would produce a garment that would probably need underlayers to be decent, and would sag and pill with dismaying swiftness.
It's my own fault I got suckered with my blend, though. I should have realized that a yarn composed of smooth, heavy fibers (like alpaca and linen) with 219 yards to 100 grams was more than halfway to sock yarn, and unlikely to be suitable for a worsted pattern. But I believed the label. I'm going to be a LOT less credulous from now on.

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