Monday, June 02, 2008

Knit So Fine Blog Tour, Day 2

Welcome to day 2 of the Knit So Fine blog tour! Carol and Andrea Lyn had a great time talking yesterday on the Fiber Forum.
It's Courtney here and today I am interviewing Lisa Myers, who is also incidentally the owner of Rosie's (ie, my boss!).
So today's yarn is Rowan Yarn Classic Cashsoft 4-Ply, but first: Congratulations on the book!

Lisa: Thanks! It's great to see it in print finally.

C: You guys did a really great job making accessible what have before been considered "niche" yarns. I know a lot of knitters were afraid of smaller gauges, but more specifically I think manufacturers and publishers thought there was no market for it when in fact we knitters knew it was the next trend. There is no other way to get that tailored look than a fine gauge knit.

L: Which we should have seen coming, since ready-to-wear has been showing us really fitted stuff for years. And if you want to make things with shape -- not just boxy cardigans, but blazers or boleros or bedjackets -- you're going to need yarns that allow you to shape the fabric.

C: Exactly. I know that large gauges are great for a quick scarf but anyone who's ever tried to knit a sweater at 2 sts per inch knows that unless you are a size 0 you are going to look like a linebacker.

L: But those size-0 people need finer yarns too, because at 2 sts per inch, every stitch makes such a big difference that you can't get precise fit.

The finer the yarn, the more you can DO to your sweater too. Your cables can get more intricate, your colorwork more defined.

L: Even though fit is the most important thing,
I admit that all the patterning possibilities -- like cables and such -- were what excited me about the book. As you can maybe sort of tell from some of the stuff I did.


Yeah, I got that.

The cables were really amazing on the legwarmers and the gloves. I've always loved that traveling stitch Bauerliches Stricken look. And the keyhole shaping detail on the back of the calf is incredible. I admire your attention to detail when it comes to making design and fit/function come together. I've always thought that it isn't enough to just make the thing fit but that the form has to have...whatever the design equivalent to "conceptual purpose" would be.

L: That's one of the things I love about knitting -- it's an observation Charlene Schurch makes in Mostly Mittens, that it's cool to be making the fabric and shaping it at the same time -- I love to be able to turn the functional parts into design elements, and vice versa.

What's really hard about something like a book, though, is that space is limited, so you're always trying to give people good value -- which usually means the most designs in a given number of pages -- which means writing the legwarmer directions for one leg, and then adding only the vaguest suggestions about how to customize and adjust. But everybody really needs to adjust, because there's no point doing this kind of work and not making it fit, and it's not that difficult to make it fit at your ankle, your calf, your knee, etc.

I think most knitters have really taken on fit as the next technical challenge. So many of our customers now say things like 'oh, i never follow the pattern exactly. My arms are so short or my waist is really high,' etc. People are becoming their own designers more and more, which is really impressive.

On integrated shaping, one of the garments that also really struck me is the Dolman Top that Laura did. Maybe it's not shaping but the construction here that is so fascinating.

I love Laura's dolman. There's a case where the shaping is the major part of the design story, and where the whole style is kind of dependent on gauge -- a dolman at a bulky gauge won't drape well, won't be comfortable with all that fabric at the underarm.

Yeah, but here the drape is perfect. The design is really dependent on the gauge here, but also the fiber itself. The same design in another fiber--a shetland or a rayon/cotton--and you've got a whole other sweater.

For some reason, fiber content seemed to matter more in this book than most. Maybe because narrowing the range of weights made us really aware of the huge variety of fiber blends and yarn structures available right now. And maybe because thin yarns have been, as you said, sort of a niche product for a few years -- manufacturers have targeted specific types of knitting, like socks, or lace, or shetland jumper-weight. You can get all-wool yarns for any of those, but they'll be so different: tightly-spun and multi-plied yarns for socks, supersoft/superfine for lace, the traditional lofty, heathery Shetland look. Cashsoft 4-ply is really different from all of those, though: it's merino/microfiber/cashmere, so it's very very soft but also washable.

C: It's true. Aside from baby yarns, smaller gauges are niche-y. Cashsoft 4-Ply is just *yarn*, but smaller. Though it's also great for heirloom baby items. But washable ones.

And durable ones. All the RYC Cashsoft yarns are fairly durable (for what they are -- I'm not pretending merino or cashmere aren't fragile), but the physics of yarn means that the lightest weight is going to be the most durable, just because it's the finest.

C: Huh? Are all the Cashsofts technically 4-plies?

L: Here we come up against the yarn-name problem: as you know, Cashsoft 4-Ply has 4-Ply in the name because there's a traditional yarn weight in England that they call "4-ply" (it's what we in the U.S. tend to call "fingering" or "baby" weight). But any yarn made of 4 strands twisted together is a 4-ply, including Cashsoft Aran (more or less our "worsted" weight), and Cashsoft DK ("sport"). It's just that the component strands, the 4 plies, are thinner in the DK than the aran, and thinnest of all in the 4-Ply.

BUT the thinner the strand, the more tightly it has to be spun to hold together. And the more tightly a yarn is spun, the less vulnerable to abrasion it is.

So, the thinner the ply the more durable, as in less pill-y. Right?

Yes, thinner plies + more twist per inch = less vulnerable yarn.

The Cashsoft 4-Ply seems to have a lot of twist per inch for something as lofty as it is, it's certainly not overspun but it has great stitch definition. I mean, you can practically count the rows per inch on the photo of Laura's Dolman! I wonder how much of the definition is attributable to the microfiber giving it strength and a "sheen" and how much of it is the cashmere giving it a soft hand and fluffiness. What's the exact content again?

57% merino, 33% acrylic microfibre, 10% cashmere.

The long staple of the merino must be helped by the 4 plies making up the yarn. Long staple fiber gives it strength, as does the acrylic microfiber. The merino is also what gives it that soft hand, but the plies make it a practical choice for the main fiber in the blend. We all know how disappointing a merino can be when it isn't structurally sound, it is great to touch, but don't touch too much or you'll end up with a pill-y smashed nightmare of a sweater.

L: Agreed.

C: Well, I want to thank you for chatting with us all about these great technical aspects. There really is so much that goes into good design. You guys all did such a great job, again, congratulations!

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