Monday, December 31, 2007

Lesson 2: Thoughts on Choosing Yarn Weights

Here are some thoughts on yarn weights for Norwegian Sweaters.

Traditional Norwegian sweaters are made out of fine yarn, usually of fingering or sport weight. Dale of Norway is the most well-known and popular brand, for obvious reasons.

Here are some blurbs from their website about a few popular choices:

Introduced in 1938, Heilo is Dale of Norway's flagship yarn. This classic high quality yarn is 100% Norwegian wool. The 38 colors available range from classic to fashion and include a great selection of neutral shades. Garments knit with Heilo are sure to become heirlooms. Heilo also felts well, including the white shades. Recommended gauge for Heilo is 24 stitches per 4" (10 cm) using U.S. size 3 or 4 (3 or 3 1/2 mm) needles. Hand wash in cool water using a mild/neutral detergent; fabric softener is recommended. Lay flat to dry. Each 50 gram (1 3/4 oz) ball has approx 109 yds (100 m).

Falk is a 4-ply combed, machine washable yarn in 100% pure new wool. Falk is a very soft 4-ply combed yarn in 100% pure new wool; it's great for those who feel wool is too scratchy. Available in a wide range of colors (56 to be exact!), Falk is ideal for the entire family. Recommended gauge is 24 stitches per 4" (10 cm) using U.S. size 3 or 4 (3 or 3 1/2 mm) needles, and is interchangeable with Heilo. Falk is machine washable in cool water using a mild/neutral detergent; fabric softener is not recommended. Lay flat to dry. Each 50 gram (1 3/4 oz) ball contains approximately 116 yds (106 m).

Svale is an exclusive yarn spun from 50% cotton/40% viscose/10% silk. Its soft, elegant drape and subtle tone-on-tone colors make this an ideal yarn for cool summer dressing and is available in 24 delicious colors. Svale is also a good choice for the entire family; it is machine washable in cool water using a mild/neutral detergent. Lay garments flat to dry. Recommended gauge for Svale is 23 stitches per 4" (10 cm) using U.S. size 4 - 6 (3 1/2 - 4 mm) needles. Each 50 gram (1 3/4 oz) ball of yarn contains approximately 114 yds (104 m).

For other Dale yarns, visit their website.

The reason for the fingering or sport weight choice is that most Norwegian sweaters are knit with stranded colorwork covering the entire body and sleeves, adding extra weight (in both thickness and heaviness). The lightweight yarn also allows you to use large motifs and multiple repeats on many different sized garments. The sweaters are warm enough for outdoor wear in fall and mild-winter weather, and are also comfortable indoors in most climates. Some people might even like to wear them in air conditioned offices during the summer months. Sweaters made with fingering weight yarn will become family heirlooms. They will take quite a bit of time to knit, but the results will be stunning and well worth the effort.

Many knitters today like to work with heavier yarns, such as worsted weight (approx 20 sts = 4"), aran (approx 18 sts = 4"), chunky weight (approx 16 sts = 4"), or even extra chunky yarns (approx 12 sts = 4"). I've seen Norwegian style sweaters worked up in all of these weights and they are all beautiful.

The extra heavy yarns are best if you keep the colorwork portions to the yoke or other small areas of the sweater, perhaps a band around the hips or somewhere on the sleeves, as accents. That way you're not knitting a six pound sweater that will be too hot to wear unless you live in above the Arctic circle (and if you do, you very well might want to make one of those super-bulky super-warm sweaters!). If you decide to use a very thick yarn, look for something that is lofty and light in weight for the girth, to keep your sweater from being too heavy to lift. You also have to be careful with the selection of your motifs, because you could end up with just one or two large snowflakes or reindeer spanning across the front of your sweater, and a large motif may not fit at all on the smaller pieces for the sleeves. If you want patterns on the upper body or the top of the sleeves, you also have to be careful to make sure you have enough rows to complete the motif in the desired length.

These heavy yarns were very popular last winter, and I saw colorwork sweaters made with super-chunky yarns in several fashion magazines. One thing's for sure, they are very fast to knit! Ease is a strange thing with these very heavy yarns. Sometimes the stitches are so stretchy that you can make a sweater with very little ease when you use huge needles and fat yarns. But you loose that stretchiness with stranded colorwork, so be sure to make a sweater that is big enough to fit comfortably. You may need to make what would be considered an oversized sweater to be have freedom of movement in such a bulky garment.

The in-between yarns, like worsted or Aran weight, have in-between results. I have a worsted-weight all over color patterned sweater that I made that I wear as a winter jacket. For me, even this weight is too hot for indoor wear except when I go up to the mountains or to visit Alaska. Again, you can limit the amount of colorwork to key accent areas to make a more temperate garment. You can use a variety of motifs on medium weight yarns, but you still have to be careful about what will fit on the sweater pieces, especially on the sleeves down near the cuffs where you don't have very many stitches. Still these weights are a good compromise between the slow knitting of the finer yarns and the extreme warmth of the chunkier yarns. Worsted and Aran weight yarns are good choices if you don't want to spend the time required to make an heirloom but you want something with a more classic look and more flexibility than a super bulky sweater.

Those are my thoughts. Feel free to add your comments or discuss in our Yahoo! Group.

Lesson 1: Choosing Yarns and Colors

Here's some information I posted to the Yahoo! Group in December for early birds to get started choosing yarns and materials.

The votes are in and the Ethnic Knitting Discovery knitalong participants will be designing and knitting Norwegian ski sweaters, beginning in January.

Here's a drawing showing the basic sweater elements:

Here is an interpretation of the sweater designed by Debbie O'Neill. The first shows the colors used on the cover of Ethnic Knitting Discovery; the second shows the colors used for the sweaters in the Interweave Knits Gifts Issue. If you look closely, you can see how Debbie deviated by the basic plan when she implemented her design. That's right in line with my philosohpy which is: break from tradition when it suits you!

In this interpretation of the sweater, we chose non-traditional colors to show how a traditional design can be updated with a more contemporary feel. This sweater still has a classic look and style. If you want to be more outrageous, you could try using a very chunky yarn or use a solid for the main color and a self-striping or variegated yarn for the contrasting colors. The main point I'd like to make here is that you can work within a tradition and outside of the tradition at the same time, combining techniques and design elements that have been passed down through generations with modern and unique elements that spark your own creativity. It's all about not being afraid to experiment.

In this interpretation, we kept with the tradition of using black and white with red accents. Actually, we used gray because black doesn't photograph well. But the main idea was to create a traditional style Norwegian ski swetaer. The sweater design and placement of the motifs is the same as on the version with contemporary colors, but the resulting look is much more traditional. By reversing the colors in the adult and child sweaters, we show that you can be very creative with color placement. Also, the same basic sweater recipe was used for both sweaters. The large size was actually designed for a man, but when they put the magazine together, they decided to photograph it on a woman.

For more ideas on colors, check out the design that Kristi at Fiber Fool has been working on. She tested a bunch of different color combinations by drawing them on her computer (so she didn't have to make a dozen swatches!), and ended up with something quite traditional, but she used interesting motifs from different sources to spice it up:

It's not too late to sign up for the knitalong! We won't be getting our needles out until January. This month we'll be discussing yarn and color selections and ordering our copies of the book so we can be ready to work on our ski-headband gauge swatch after New Year's.

Cross posted to the Ethnic Knitting Discovery Gallery blog.

Illustration by Deborah Robson.