Swatch It! Fall 2014
By Clara Parkes
I have a weakness for any design by Susanna IC. She has a gift for transforming knitted fabric into glorious calligraphy, artfully combining stitches to form broad arcs, dips, and elegant swirls that are as much a joy to knit as the finished shawl is to wear.
Many of Susanna IC's projects beg for a smooth, three- or four-ply hand-dyed yarn with Merino at the base and a dusting of silk or cashmere (or both) for extra luxury. That's exactly the yarn specified for Hausti, the project I chose to swatch. It uses Madelinetosh Pashmina Worsted, which renders the leaves and lacy edges splendidly.
But just as in calligraphy, the shape of the yarn dictates the kind of drawing you make. I wanted to see how Hausti's lace and leaves motif would look in other yarn constructions, namely the singles, the two-ply, and the S-on-S cable.
Singles are somewhat illogical for most projects because they have the least amount of energy holding the fibers together. Under abrasion (think armpits and heels), the fibers can easily slip from one another's embrace, accelerate pilling, and, ultimately, lead to a breech in the fabric.
But for shawls, and especially half-moon shawls like Hausti that want to be wrapped around and around for a cozy fit, abrasion is rarely a concern. In fact, singles will render the motif with the most clarity of all because there are no ply shadows to interrupt.
For the singles experiment I picked Freia Worsted, a 100% wool singles that's been spun in the U.S. and hand-dyed by Tina Whitmore in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a squishy, succulent but well-wearing yarn with generous staple length and superb color options including Semisolids, varying shades of slow-shifting color (she calls them Ombré), and more intensely variegated colors (called Flux).
Too much variegation in any kind of stitchwork can be dangerous, so I chose a rich pink Semisolid for swatching. A few of the motif's more acrobatic lace stitches pushed the yarn near the edge of its comfort zone, but otherwise it behaved beautifully. With nothing to interrupt the flow of color and fiber, the motif was rendered with beautiful, doughy smoothness.
This being 100% wool, the fabric is more spongy than it is fluid. If you actually were to knit a complete Hausti out of this or a similarly constructed yarn, you'd get something rather like a big cozy cowl. Wrapped around your neck multiple times, it would easily form an impenetrable wooly fort that would repel the wind and snow of winter.
From here, I moved to a two-ply blend of 50% wool and 50% alpaca that was hand-dyed by my friend Liz Fiorini of Peace Love & Yarn. (Liz doesn't always have this base available, but it's pretty comparable to Quince & Co. Owl, another 50/50 wool and alpaca blend that's spun in the U.S.)
By adding a second ply to the mix, we've moved from a smooth rollerball to a genuine calligraphy pen whose flatness (from the two plies sitting side by side) renders pleasantly wobbly stitches. As those two plies rotate around and around one another, like airplane propellers in motion, they hold open the space around them, rendering the YOs with a yawning grace.
While the 50% wool wanted to give a puffiness similar to that of the Freia, the 50% alpaca subdued the blend, bringing greater sheen and fluidity to the fabric. The alpaca also introduced a glossy halo after the first wash.
The results were a muted, mossy contrast to the puffy clarity of Freia. This kind of yarn would be a great compromise if you wanted earthiness, a cowl-like feel, but also a hint of halo and shimmer.
Finally, I wanted to try a yarn construction that we rarely see in Susanna IC shawls: the super-rounded, super-twisted S-on-S cablespun yarn. Susanna's patterns beg for vibrant hand-dyed yarns, and I suspect that most hand-dyers don't have access to such a base.
Then there's the yardage issue. Most S-on-S yarns tend to come in tidy 25-gram or 50-gram balls that require many, many joins for any significantly sized project. There's no invisible spit-splicing an S-on-S cablespun yarn, so you'll inevitably have to deal with wobbly knots and joins. Which may be the real reason I chose Zitron Zeitlos: It comes in huge 100-gram hanks containing 262 yards of wool. Not just any wool, either, but extrafine Merino, by far the finest grade used for this swatching experiment. It's heavenly to the touch.
Something else was going on here too, a succulence and faint squeak on the needles that I couldn't place. Studying the label more closely, I realized that the yarn had been infused with rose oil. You can't smell it, and you can't really tell anything's there, but it adds a lovely finish to an already lovely yarn.
Zeitlos was by far the most eager and willing companion for Susanna's stitch patterns. It embraced the fiddly k1YOk1 with ease, barely breaking a sweat with each kfb and s2kp2. S-on-S cablespun wool yarns are notoriously limber and acrobatic.
The fabric was the knitted equivalent of a perfectly round felt-tip pen with millions of teeny tiny bristles filling in the detail of each perfectly defined stitch. Visually, Zeitlos is closest to the yarns you normally see used for Susanna's projects—but with an added clarity, as if you'd used a photo-editing tool to sharpen the fabric's focus.
Yarn is a marvel. A subtle tweak in twist or ply composition can produce strikingly different results, as we saw here. It's what keeps me coming back for more. I hope you'll give this a swatch, and let me know what yarn you choose.
Clara Parkes is the brilliant mind behind knittersreview.com and the author of several fantastic fiber books.