Tips for Knitting with Your Handspun Yarn

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Knitting with yarn that you have spun yourself is a special pleasure. Whether you decide to use a commercial knitting pattern or design a project yourself, here are some tools and ideas to help you get started.

Make a swatch

Before you start a knitting project using your handspun, you should make a sample swatch to see how your yarn will look like and feel when you knit it into fabric. Knitting a swatch also helps you to figure out your gauge — the number of stitches per inch and the number of rows per inch in knitted fabric.

Take a length of your handspun, fold it in half, and slip it through the holes on the needle gauge. Check the needle size on the hole that it moves through best. It should move through easily, but not have a lot of extra space.

Knit your first swatch with the knitting needles that you have selected. Cast on twenty stitches, and then knit twenty rows. Knit using a stockinette stitch (knit one row, and then purl one row), or use the stitch pattern that you are planning to use for your project.

After knitting this first swatch, knit a second one using needles that are one size larger. Then knit a third swatch with needles that are one size smaller.

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Lay your swatches on a flat surface, and lightly steam them with a steam iron. Use a cloth to cover each swatch as you press it. Let them lay flat until they are cool. Don’t block it with pins — later, when you measure the swatch, you want to measure its natural size.

To assess your swatches, ask yourself: How do they look? Rub them with your fingers. Does the knitted fabric feel good? Does it hold its shape?

If the yarn twists out of shape, try using a moss or a seed stitch. If this doesn’t work, wash the yarn in warm, soapy water and then rinse it in clear water. Hang it up wet to dry with a light weight on it. A washcloth through the loop of the skein works well as a weight.

Figure your gauge

After you check your fabric and select which swatch you want to follow, place the swatch on a flat surface. Use a needle gauge or a tape measure to count the number of rows per inch in your swatch. Take the measurements toward the center of the swatch. Measure 2 inches, count the rows, and divide by two. This should give you a more accurate measurement than just measuring 1 inch. Be as accurate as you can, and don’t round the number off.

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Calculate the number of stitches per inch in the same way. Measure 2 inches, and divide this number by two. Again, don’t round off. Calculate to a quarter of a stitch.

Use a McMorran balance

A McMorran balance is a simple, inexpensive tool that measures how many yards there are in a pound of yarn. It is available in most weaving supply stores. You can use it to calculate how many yards of handspun you have.

If your yarn has a lot of texture or an uneven surface, you should take three measurements, add these measurements together, and then divide by three. This gives you an average for the yards per pound and is more accurate for this type of yarn.

Choose a pattern

Once you have figured out the right gauge for your handspun, it’s time to choose a pattern. You can use a commercial pattern or create a pattern of your own.

  • Use a commercial pattern: Look for a commercial pattern that uses a yarn similar to your handspun. If possible, look at a ball of the commercial yarn that the pattern is using. Check the gauge and compare it with the gauge from your swatch. Count both the stitches per inch and the rows.

    Most packaged yarns give you the number of yards in the skein. Multiply the number of yards out to a pound and check it against the yards per pound in your handspun.

    If the yarn used in the pattern and your handspun are the same yardage and the gauge is similar, then you will be able to use your yarn with the commercial pattern without adjusting the pattern.

  • Design your own pattern: Start with something simple, such as a favorite sweater or sweatshirt, and use this as a guide. Take the measurements from this garment and, with the information from your swatch, calculate how many stitches you need to cast on and how many rows you need to knit.

    You can figure out parts of the pattern, such as the increase for the sleeves, by measuring the length of a sleeve. Begin by calculating the number of rows that it will take to knit that length, based on the figures from your swatch. Then measure the width of the top of the sleeve and of the wrist. Figure out how many stitches you need to increase from the wrist to the top of the sleeve, and then distribute these increases evenly from wrist to top of sleeve.

    You can also use sewing patterns to make a knitting pattern.


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