Despite the innovations of home knitting machines and the availability of inexpensive ready-made knitwear, hand knitting is a popular pastime as well as being a money-saver. Unusual and beautiful yarns are made especially for hand knitting and new designs and instructions are continually produced to meet increasing popular demand.
The most popular items to knit are sweaters, cardigans and accessories such as hats, scarves and gloves. You will find available a great variety of designs with printed instructions, either in yarn shops or in magazines. The designs are usually linked to a specific yarn, so that the sizing and quantity of yarn required can be calculated accurately. With basic yarns it may be possible to use a substitute quite successfully providing it is of similar thickness, but this is not usually so with speciality yarns because the tension may not work correctly.
Knitting yarn may be in wool, cotton or synthetic fibres, or a blend of one with another. Yarn is sold by ball, hank or spool, usually in weight rather than length.
The amount required for an item is specified on the pattern you intend to follow. It is wise to buy all your yarn at once because the colour of balls dyed at different times may vary slightly, and this may show up in a finished garment. Check the dye lot number which is printed on the yarn label, and buy only from one dye lot. If you cannot afford to buy a large quantity at one time, you may find that the shop will reserve some for a while.
Yarns are made by twisting together single spun threads and the term ‘ply’ describes how many threads have been used. It may be two, three or four. Ply does not describe thickness and it is quite possible that a two-ply could be thicker than a four-ply. All plies may have a crepe texture.
- Baby yarns These are available in three- or four-ply weights. They are soft to wear and may be washed repeatedly without harm.
- Double knitting This knits up quickly and is double the thickness of a normal four-ply yarn. Use for classic sweaters and cardigans.
- Chunky or double-double knitting. As its name implies, this is a heavy yarn, ideal for thick sweaters.
- Speciality yarns These have an unusual feature such as the addition of a lurex thread or a special texture as in bouclé yarns.
- Quicker knit is a baby yarn thicker than four-ply but less thick than double knitting.