Design Workshop: Part 3 – Choosing Yarn And Stitch Pattern

For me, purchasing yarn is pleasurable and key to the design process. The yarn choices out there are immense and fun to explore. Part 3 provides some basic tips on choosing yarn and stitch patterns. As you gain experience, choosing the best yarn for your projects becomes easier.


1. Consider the project’s characteristics – Ask yourself questions concerning the project’s purpose. What is the project? A pillow cover? Scarf? Evening sweater? Is it an outdoor garment? In what season will it be worn? Durability important? Lacy? Answering these types of questions helps in deciding what would be the best type of yarn to use.

2. Important that the yarn and stitch pattern work with the type of project – The thickness or weight of yarn affects the design. For example, a thin, twisted yarn works well in an intricate textured or color pattern. A thick yarn creates weight, and for this reason would not be suitable in a multi-colored project, due to stranding the yarn across the wrong side.

Also the type of yarn affects the design. Yarns that lack resiliency (elasticity) such as silk and cotton may not be suitable for patterns that require elasticity (ribbing and lace). Fluffy yarns (mohair, angora) are better choices for simple pattern stitches (stockinette stitch, garter stitch), as the long fibers hide a complex design.

Color is also important. Using a dark color makes it difficult to see a highly textured stitch pattern.

Pattern stitch books are a great resource for pattern ideas. The only way to find out what works well with your yarn choice is to experiment. My favorite pattern stitch books are those by Barbara G. Walker.

3. Fiber content – I’m biased towards natural fibers, and my favourite is classic, medium weight wool. The wearability and longevity of natural fibers is far better than for synthetic fibers.

Natural fibers consist of those from cellulose (vegetable) sources, and protein (animal) sources. Cellulose fibers include cotton, flax (linen), bamboo, ramie, and hemp. Protein fibers include wool, mohair, cashmere, alpaca, llama, quiviut, angora, vicuna, and silk. Manufactured fibers consist of cellulose based fibers, synthetics, and metallic fibers. Rayon and lyocell are cellulose based and manufactured using the same methods as for synthetics. Synthetics include nylon, polyester, and polypropylene.

A great example of how a fiber affects design is a result of a yarn mistake I made, even though I knit with the bamboo yarn suggested in the pattern instructions. (See the image below). The cardigan knit with bamboo was too heavy and draped too much. In retrospect, I think it should be made in a firm wool, to maintain the shape of the pleats. Bamboo is a slippery yarn, and drapes over the body.

Debbie Bliss Spring/Summer 2009
Debbie Bliss Spring/Summer 2009

4. Planning yarn amounts – Estimating yarn amounts is not an exact science. From my experience I know that approximately 4, 50gram or 2, 100gram balls of yarn knits a basic scarf (approximately 7″ x 65″). Some yarn ball bands give an estimate for sweaters. The yarn shop can give you an idea as to yarn amounts for a project. If you are not sure about the yarn, buy one ball, knit up a swatch and measure to get a rough estimate. Always purchase 1 or 2 balls extra for the unexpected. Remember that the more complex a pattern stitch, the more yarn needed.

So for my scarf, I chose a bright red, medium weight wool yarn inspired from Carrie’s Chanel scarf. I purchased 3 hanks of Cascade 220. The stitch pattern is a long cable, each divided by 3 stitch rib (k1, p1, k1). I did not try to replicate the scarf she wore. I chose wool because it is warm and the cable pattern adds the texture I want.

My scarf in progress
My scarf in progress

I have given you very basic information for choosing yarn. Your decisions about yarn choice depends upon your experience, as you learn about fibers, what you like about them, and how they perform. Have fun experimenting with your yarn choice. Don’t be afraid to change direction, if your plan is not working.

Next time I will discuss the gauge swatch.

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