Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Pleasures and Perils of Knitting in Cotton

When the new copy of Knitting Magazine arrived last week, I did something unusual for me - cast on a project within hours of opening the magazine. This pattern was in the supplement, a Patons sweater, and I decided to use some of the cotton I bought a couple of months ago. The recommended Patons yarn is a new one called "Fusion"; this didn't endear itself to me by being 80% acrylic. I can't wear the stuff as in acrylic I generate enough static electricity to power a small electrical appliance. Cotton it had to be. But this in itself creates other issues; in my experience the problems with cotton are:
  1. gauge - an "aran" cotton yarn is not necessarily the same weight as any other "aran" cotton yarn, even if they seem to knit to the same tension. While you can substitute wool aran yarns without worrying too much in most cases, the same cannot be said of cotton. My gauge for this pattern was one stitch less than the one prescribed.
  2. stretch - cotton stretches more than wool and can droop alarmingly, so finding the correct size and shape to knit can be a challenge. If you look at the photo above, the front of the neck looks high but it's not when worn, it's a not-too-deep scoop neck due to the stretch (sorry there's no picture of me wearing it but it was very out of focus).
  3. shrinkage - some cottons shrink alarmingly when first washed, so creating and washing a sample is a must, even for those of us who are normally cavalier about this! In this case I already knew that there was minimum shrinkage with this yarn, less than 1%, but you do need to take shrinkage into account for some yarns.

So taking all of the above into account, I knitted the smallest size offered, knowing that my gauge would make it a little bigger anyway. But of course when the gauge is off, the number of rows is off too so I had to compensate. As I was getting near the top of the back, I measured it and realised it was going to be too long. So I decided to shorten the last two lace patterns while leaving the garter ridges the same size.

Looking at the front of the sweater in the pattern, another thing that stood out to me was that the neckline was wide and deep; bearing in mind the stretch problem with cotton (as opposed to the original yarn used which was mainly acrylic) and my narrow, sloping shoulders, I needed to reduce that. So as I planned the shortening of the back, I also planned the front and made sure both would work. N.B., this is probably the only time I've planned anything in advance, I'm normally a fly by the seat of my pants gal!

Because of my narrow shoulders, I've long since got into the habit of completely finishing the body first so I can try it on and see where the sleeve seam lands. That way I can decide how long the sleeves need to be. In this case the sleeves were rather long in the design, so I was able to shorten them to just above the wrist by missing out two whole lace patterns. If I'd knitted them the original length, the bottom edge would have been at the end of my fingers!

So this is a rather customised sweater but I'm very pleased with it, it fits perfectly, and the assortment of lace patterns is interesting. And a very quick knit too, just over a week from start to finish. That's the real pleasure of knitting in aran weight cotton!

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