Substitution with Vintage or Handcrafted Yarns: How to get care, gauge, yardage and more

Many patterns specify a yarn and number of skeins, rather than yardage making substitution difficult. This post is designed to help you use vintage or any yarn on which you have little information.

I’ll be outlining ways to get yarn weight, yardage and care in order to make informed substitutions. This is especially relevant to me, since I inherited a huge stash of wool from my grandmother when she forgot how to knit when she developed Alzheimer’s.

For this blog I used a vintage yarn Zegna Barrufa Lane Borgosesia dal 1850 Peacock. This yarn is not in the Ravelry database or any other online source.

It seemed like I had a lot of this yarn. My grandmother had 17 skeins (!) in her stash. But that turned out not to be the case. They are on cardboard spools–so there is more air than yarn. I’m also dealing with three different dye lots and minor sun damage. Grandma was a penny-pincher and often bought remainders, smoke/fire damaged and sun damaged, and unlabeled yarns at bargain prices. This is only one example of many “problem children” from her stash.

Getting the Weight:

What you will need:

  • Yarns of several weights that follows the standard yarn weighting accepted today. I generally rely on Cascade Yarn for this, but any major yarn manufacturer will do.
  • Appropriately sized needles for the weights.

Methods:

Twist method: I learned this several decades ago in a class, I believe, Lily Chin taught at one of the early Stitches West. This is where you take a yarn that is a good standard for different weights of yarn.

The trick here is to have lots of “known good” weights of yarn. I have loads of leftovers that work perfect for this.

You hook the yarns around one another and then twist in opposite directions. If there is a “smooth” transition when you run your fingers across the join, you have likely found your closest yarn weight.

For the Peacock, I started with a DK, then tried a worsted, aran and bulky. What I learned was that because of the variance in the yarn, it ranges from worsted to aran and it is too big for DK and too small for bulky.

Gauge swatch: Now that we have an approximate weight. I recommend knitting a gauge swatch of the matching weight yarn and your “unknown” using the same needles. Measure and compare the swatches.

If they have the same stitches to the inch, you are done. If not, knit a swatch with the yarn that is one size up if your mystery swatch has fewer stitches or one size down if your mystery swatch had more stitches to the inch.

And keep your swatch of the unknown yarn. It will come in handy for determining the care.

Getting the Yardage:

What you will need:

  • A yarn swift (I’ve also used chair backs–anything you can measure around)
  • Flexible measuring tape
  • If the yarn is in a skein, a yarn bowl or way to hold it steady while you wind it onto a swift

Method:

  • If yarn is in a hank, place it on the swift and extend the swift to the maximum size; If yarn is a skein, wind yarn onto the swift (Steps 1 and 3 in image below)
  • Measure around the swift (Steps 2 and 4 in image below)
  • Count the number of strands (step 5)
  • Multiply the number of strands by the number of inches (e.g., 50 strands time 60 inches) and divide by 36 (inches in a yard) (not shown)

In my case, I got 50 strands at 60 inches, so that’s 3,000 inches of yarn. I divided this by 36, to get ~83.33 yards. Keep in mind, yarn is sold by weight not length, so you shouldn’t expect to get a round number. After getting the yardage, I wound it back into a skein (Step 6).

With 17 skeins I actually only have about 1400 yards total and only 833 yards of a single dye lot.

Getting the Care:

As you can see from the yarn label, it says to wash in temperature 30 (F or C?), it is possible to use an iron and it is possible to wash with most detergents, but not bleach. This still leaves a lot of missing information.

There are three (maybe more) ways to determine how to launder the fabric you create with this yarn. They are as follows:

  • Look on the label. Sometimes “superwash” or similar phrases are there. In my case the yarn came with symbols and these can be looked up online. I’ve included the reference chart below.
  • Look at yarns with similar composition. On Ravelry there are wealth of yarns which have this information. If you find one of similar percentages, you came mostly rely on this information.
  • The most foolproof way is to swatch (the same one you made for gauge) and do to it anything you might do with the finished item. Wash, it dry it, dye it, bleach it, etc.

Dealing with Multiple Dye Lots or Sun Damage:

The easiest way to deal with inconsistent dying or sun damage is to group them by color and alternate in your most different skeins, every other row. Another thing that works very well is blending it with another yarn for a marled look. If the color problem is minor, it will be invisible.

Do Try This At Home

It can be hard, these days, to get to your LYS. So, I hope this post helps you use up more of the yarn you already have. I’ll be posting an afghan I’m working where I’m blending vintage yarns in an effort to get something both useful and beautiful by using up my grandmother’s stash.

Brioche Made Simple Reprise

I LOVE brioche—both the stitch and the bread. I fell in love with fabric the moment I found it in a Vogue Knitting pattern from the Winter 1998/1999 edition. It was pattern #10 which sadly is not online, so I’m happy to have the printed magazine.

Brioche was not new 20+ years ago when I discovered it. It’s been around for centuries and is believed to have originated in the Netherlands for fisherman sweaters. Think Aran Isle only Dutch.

In the hunt to find projects to use up odds and ends of my stash, I looked back at a previous post I made on simplified brioche knitting, but many of the links no longer worked, so this is an update to that post as well as a free scarf pattern in case you want to try it for creating stretchy, beautiful knitwear.

Brioche is almost as simple as garter because it is  the same and knitted both directions. And brioche is far stretchier than a standard rib. This means that it will stretch farther sideways than rib patterns. Which makes it great for a horizontal piece, but not good for a vertical one. I learned this the hard way.

As you know, there are loads of Brioche patterns, but few stand out as good references. The good ones use standard knitting terminology instead of BRKs, BRPs, etc. I call these the “brioche without tears” patterns.

Simple Brioche Instructions

In single color, flat brioche, all rows are the same—no matter which way the work is facing. Only the setup and bind off rows are different.

Across any even number of stitches:

  • Setup Row: (prep for pattern rows) *K1, yarnover (yo), slip 1 purlwise; repeat from * to end of row
  • Pattern Rows: (repeated row) *K2tog (the slip 1 and yo of the previous row), yo, sl1; repeat from * to end of row
  • Final Row: (prep for bind off) *K2tog P1* repeat across
  • Cast off: in pattern (K1, P1)

Below is a pattern for a super quick knit scarf that I call 12 Feet of Love. It’s knit in a discontinued yarn called Kitten, by Reynolds, a wool-blend that creates a slightly fuzzy, bumpy fabric that was popular in the 80’s.

12 Feet of Love Scarf

This pattern can be any length, width or use any yarn you desire. This makes it a great stash buster project.

Length: As the title suggests, the project I knit was 12 feet including fringe. You can stop at your desired length.

Width: I you want a wider scarf; you can make it wider simply add pairs of (2) stitches until it is the desired width.

Yarn: I used Aran, but this pattern works for any yarn weight. If you use a thinner yarn, add more pairs of stitches, a thicker yarn will require a pair or two less. The best thing is to knit a gauge swatch with the whatever yarn you plan to use.

Supplies:

  • Needles: Size 9 or whatever gives you the appropriate or preferred gauge.
  • Yarn: I used 600-700 yards of Aran weight
  • Darning needle to weave in ends.

Directions:

  • Cast on 16 stitches.
  • Start setup row: *K1, yarnover (yo), slip 1 purlwise; repeat from * to end of row
  • Next row and every row after: *K2tog (the slip 1 and yo of the previous row), yo, sl1; repeat from * to end of row
  • When the scarf is the desired length, do bind off prep row: P1, K2tog across
  • Bind off 16 remaining stitches
  • Weave in ends
  • If desired, add fringe and trim to preferred length

What’s Next?

I hope the reference is useful for you. I’ll probably expand it to include more and more “conversions” as more as more simple brioche patterns (once again) are made available.

My next big thing is two-color brioche and it turns out that knitting brioche in the round is even easier than two-color brioche flat. Below are a pattern and a video to help without a BRK or BRP in sight!

Pattern: Joann’s two-color cowl

Two-color brioche cowl video tutorial: Milk Shed: Easy two color cowl video (knits and purls only): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRt0i1dQfJc

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Call to Action!!!

If you know of other brioche patterns using standard knitting terms, I’m collecting them, so please share!

Chart for the Watson Shrug

I’ve been getting some pings about the Watson Shrug I created because it doesn’t use the chart that was provided in the original pattern from Crystal Palace Yarns (sadly now closed). I believe you can still download the Aran Cabled Shrug as a PDF from Ravelry HERE.

This chart is for the 36-stitch repeating cable pattern I used instead of the one in the original pattern. I changed it because I don’t like looking at, or knitting, bobbles.

The delay in sharing is that the chart, my first ever, was originally done on graph paper with pencil (which I threw out—head shake). To share it I needed to digitally recreate it. Thankfully, in the project photos, I took a partial picture of the graph when I posted it. With that photo and the shrug as a reference, here is the pattern.

This cable pattern is over 36 stitches and repeats every 24 rows. All cabling is on odd numbered (right side) rows and all rows except the first and the middle row, have cables.

Pattern Key:

Watson Cable:

As I mentioned, with color patterns, in an earlier post, charting is hard. My hat goes off to those designers that not only create charts for the rest of us, but no doubt, like me, swatch them too. I have a newfound appreciation for the designers that use color and cables (sometime both) in their published patterns.

And please, your feedback is greatly welcomed should you find errors. This time I created it on my computer, so it won’t be so hard to make changes and upload a corrected PDF. 😊

Happy knitting!

Rock ’em Sock ’em

Extermely Fitted Socks

Many times, I’ve said, that socks are my least favorite to knit. And yet…

Socks are the first to mind when I cast on these days. Partly, its demand pull (Nick is a sock fiend) and partly it’s what’s in the stash (READ: went on a MASSIVE sock yarn buying spree). Mostly, it is the need for a traveling project.

With a commute like mine from Orcas Island to Seattle (a once a week round trip), I need the packable project. And I must admit, socks are growing on me. They can be hard or easy, depending on the level of sophistication. I’d say, other than extremely custom fitting of Nick’s funny foot, I’m still in the “plain” sock mode as an “intermediate” sock knitter.

I envy the beautiful projects by experienced sockers, with all the intricacies of lace, braids and such. I also started with patterned socks. These days I tend to be more plain and practical, with the exception of fitting. And I must be getting better because this final pair, still on the needles, is my own pattern. Not only is there lots of fitting, it’s got a Turkish cast-on and a German short-row heel.

In the future, I’ll try and make it a download, but with a new job, long commute and very little free time (even for knitting and blogging) that might be a while. Certainly not until they are finished.

For now, I’ll just have to be happy about the Blacktop Ferry Socks I just finished. This happy accident is because I ran out of the Yarnachy Liberty sock wool I started with.

Now you see the blacktop, now you don’t. 🙂

A Really Useful Gift for a Knitter

My mind has been on gifts for Christmas. In fact, I’m a bit worried how I’ll complete all the presents I’ve planned to make. I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of some yarn for some of those gifts–hoping it will arrive before Thanksgiving when I’ll finally have some time to knit.

This past weekend I went to Knit Fit in Seattle and picked up a few of the skeins I need, but some are still in transit. Meanwhile I took a master class on decreases and increases, because I’m always struggling to know which one to use when and what each one looks like and is best for certain projects.

On the wrist of the instructor, Andrea Rangel, had on a tool I truly coveted. It’s the one thing I’m always wanting close to hand, but isn’t handy—a measuring tape. Instead of it being in a toolkit there it was as a fashionable bracelet on her wrist.

When I got home I made a quick search and discovered they are made in Oregon by a company called ILOVEHANDLES. For a mere 19.95, I think it’s a beautiful, affordable gift for any knitter in your life.

A Yarn Weight Key for Holding Two Strands Together

Holding two strands of yarn together can make some beautiful projects. I came across several blogs and lovely patterns on Ravelry which show some spectacular outcomes of holding two yarns of the same weight together.

I’ve got it in my head to do a gradient sweater with a set of Miss Babs Fingering Weight yarn and I’m not too keen on knitting it at a fingering weight. I once knit a sport weight and it took me over a year to complete it (of course not knitting monogamously).  And yet, patterns like the Happily Sweater by Katy Banks, the Progressive Pullover by Faina Goberstein and the Gradient Pullover by Amy Miller are calling my name!

     

I’ve been looking for a key to holding two strands together and couldn’t find a definitive source. This won’t be one either, as this is not an exact science. But after researching and testing I came up with what you could use as a good rule of thumb. After that, swatching should get you the rest of the way.

First to the Craft Yarn Council to get the “standard weight” categories, including a “new” knitted yarn weight called Jumbo—which I often get by hold three worsted weight strands together. The table below is a modified version of what you’ll find at their site. I encourage you to look there for the full table.

Category
Fingering 10-count thread
Sock, Fingering, Baby
Sport, Baby
DK, Light Worsted
Worsted, Afghan, Aran
Chunky, Craft, Rug
Super Bulky, Roving
Jumbo, Roving
Gauge Range Over 4”
33–40 stitches
27–32 stitches
23–26 stitches
21–24 stitches
16–20 stitches
12–15 stitches
7–11 stitches
6 stitches or less

In general, from standard yarn sources (e.g., Quince and Co, Lion Brand or Cascade Yarns, in general I find the following is true:

  • 2 strands of thread weight = Lace weight to fingering
  • 2 strands of lace weight = fingering to sock to sport weight
  • 2 strands of sock = sport weight to DK
  • 2 strands of sport = DK or light worsted
  • 2 strands of DK = Worsted or Aran
  • 2 strands of Worsted = Chunky
  • 2 strands of Aran = Chunky to Super Bulky
  • 2 strands of Chunky = Super bulky to Jumbo

Always check your gauge, since your mileage may vary. I’m selfishly sharing so I could put the list in a place I could find it. 😊

Maybe next time I’ll do some tests with mixed weights, since I do an awful lot of those combinations too. And after that maybe three strands.

Like so much with knitting, the possibilities are endless!

Fabulous, Fully-Fashioned, Fitted, Fuchsia Funnelneck

Let’s face it, the original is hard to improve on. Stefanie Japel’s Perfect Periwinkle Turtleneck Tube Vest is an awesome pattern. And I’ve made it before and received compliments. So why mess with perfection? Because I’m not perfect and neither is my shape!

I’m a bit crane-necked, small breasted and a bit hippy (or as the lady at the Eddie Bauer store selling jeans says, “Your style is ‘Curvy’”). I also feel that while the Bernat Panama yarn is true to gauge in the stockinette, the ribbing always felt a bit looser than I’d hoped in some places on the previous garment.

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I cast on 96 stitches (extra small is 108 sts) to narrow the neck and only bound off 3 sts each side for the start of the armholes. They I increased following the directions until I was following the pattern for a medium size in the bust (I just kept doing increases until I hit 192 sts). From there I followed the direction (excepting some reductions I hid in the back shaping as I narrowed towards the waist (12 sts) to get it back to size small for the waist (180 sts).

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Pre-blocked, but still looking great!

From there the shaping was done more subtlety—with needle decreases and increases. I knit as directed with the “smaller” needles and then dropped a needle size in the garment just above my natural waist and knit for 1 inch. I switched to the needle requested for 2 inches then increased needle size every two inches after to widen the bottom of the garment it.

And voila! Pleased with self.

Naming Your Photo Folders to Find Things

I take lots and lots of photographs. Let’s face it, in the digital world, “film” is cheap, so I convince myself to take multiples to make certain I get the best possible shot. However, I’m only moderately good about going back and sorting through them and I’m jealous of my husband who somehow manages to get this done (it takes me hours because I fixate on fixing them and deleting the bad ones).

We recently (April 2015) moved to Orcas Island and I have loads of pictures from when we were house hunting as well as just kayaking with our friends from Body Boat Blade who were some of the first folks to tell us (you should live here!).

I was looking for a specific visit—after we moved, but fairly early. I opened my folder for 2015 to find the shot in question. Instead I found a folder naming structure which used to serve me well when I traveled the world for work and hardly ever visited the same place more than once a year.

Year Day Month Location or for longer visits Year Month Location so for a visit to the Isle of Skye it would be 2015 05 Skye and that would be perfectly identifiable.

Living in a picturesque place has rendered the system less than ideal. When I went photo hunting I found in since 2015 I have more than 20 folders all named “Date – Orcas” and even that I have them as subfolders under year, was not as helpful as I’d hoped.

Oddly this does not happen with knitting projects that go into named, rather than dated folders—like “Watson Shrug” or “Fabulous Fuchsia Funnelneck”. In those cases, I rely on the date of the photo to remind me when it was taken because knitting takes time. One folder for several dates of photos make sense—especially if you pick it a project and put it down again as I often do because of my busy working schedule which no longer includes much travel.

So today I spent the morning going through those photos and adding little descriptors like “Funny Nick” and “Lovers Cove”.

What a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

Lover'sCove
Kayaking in Lover’s Cove, Orcas Island

The Leap You Get From Frogging

“You can turn that back into string?” asks Watson—a non-knitter looking at one of my failed experiments and the potential recipient of the objects d’art in question. And while we knitters like to think of “the string” as yarn or wool (no matter what it is made of) it is basically that—balls of twine that can be made into clothing or household objects.

Frogging is simply taking made articles of knitwear back into the components of what they are made of to be remade into something else. I love the work of Grid Junky who literally buys old clothes (even jeans) from thrift stores and turns them into beautiful new things.

Lately I’ve had quite a few things that just didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. My First Crochet Project: The Seahawk Gadabout Bag. As you can see from the photo, it grew wider as it got taller. This is in part because I added a stitch each row (as directed by the pattern)–but didn’t quite understand that it wasn’t an add, but a “close the loop” stitch. I have it somewhat balled up. I didn’t want to go all the way back to the base, but I might have to because I can’t remember what size hook I used. How terrible would it be if I tossed the whole thing in the trash?

I’d mentioned I was Christmas Knitting for my Crew. Needless to say, I missed that target.

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The ball in between the article and the skeins is the frogged portion of the project.

One was a capelet based on my Big Needle Caplet I was knitting for a friend. I was trying to create an interesting pattern, but the bigger the item got, the more wonky the pattern looked. Also because it was a partial rib pattern, instead of increasing smoothly, it was smaller on the more heavily ribbed parts and wider on the less ribbed. So out it was pulled. I’ll be checking out Sequence Knitting for a better fabric.

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Then there was the Bias Scarf for Sushma. That was finished and turned out very well. Only it was finished *after* Christmas.

The one I started and finished first was the Cabled Shrug for Watson which sadly barely fits my tiny “girls” and will definitely not go around Watson’s robust bust. I modified significantly from the original—thinking to “update” the “look” and the result is that because I used garter instead of ribbing has a big bulge under the arm and across the back. So while the Watson Shrug was my first project started back in the Fall for my friends at work, it will end up being the last one I complete. It’s on my list to frog and quite likely will be a different shrug based on another pattern from Sequence Knitting. img_5382

This said, I think it is totally worth it to frog things and feel there is no shame in turning things “back into string” when they don’t work out.

Try, try again knitters!

I’d love to hear about your ups and downs of frogging!

Smitten Ain’t Quite Fittin’

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This project started out in the warm early Fall (Summer Knitting in Winter) when I was wanting a T-shirt to wear in navy, but honestly could not find a pretty fitted one to purchase. Though I’m now back on mission to “buy local” and make things instead of buy them. My money pit of a house might be partly responsible.

I’m replacing the siding and they disturbed the bats living in the soffits who when frighten took refuge in my attic. At night, they crawled out of my heat lamps in the bathroom. Imagine having a bat circling your ceiling fan! I literally slithered out of our bedroom on my belly until the husband had shooed it outside! It was the harmless small Western Brown bat—the kind that gobble up mosquitoes, so I like them around—just not zooming around dive bombing my head in my bedroom.

Back to knitting…

I love the Smitten Tee pattern and it was free, so what’s not to like! I also modified it to fit my taller frame, but I think I got a bit carried away. It turned out a bit bigger than expected and a bit longer too. But all in all, I count it a major success. I used up all of my vintage yarn–beautiful Italian Lane Borgosesia Cotone del Borgo. OR at least the navy color.

I’m curious if anyone else’s experiments have had good/bad/so-so results.