Choosing Yarn with Ann Kingstone

To celebrate the publication of her book Novel Knits, Ann Kingstone is on tour – and today she’s visiting my blog.

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I’ll start by saying that I have a bit of an interest in this as a couple of the patterns in the book are knitted in Knitting Goddess yarns – but even if that wasn’t the case I’d still love this book for several reasons.

I love books. I love knitting. So a book of patterns based on 3 great authors (Jane Austen, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling) was always going to be a winner.

Then I love that this isn’t yet another book which fills half of it’s pages by teaching me how to knit. I know how to knit. Really. Honest. So I’d sooner see pages filled with patterns and techniques rather than instructions about hoe to cast on. That isn’t to say that some of the designs aren’t suitable for beginners. The unbreakable vow mittens would probably be my choice for a very new knitter – or for anyone who wants almost instant gratification.

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If I was picking a yarn for these I’d go for 4ply alpaca, silk and cashmere for utter luxury.

Then there’s a perfect shawl – Hartfield

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This was knitted in our (sadly no longer available) laceweight cashmere – but I think it might be even more gorgeous in our fine alpaca, silk and cashmere laceweight. Even more of a bonus is that only one skein would be needed.

My final favourite is the Luna Socks

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These are knitted in Knitting Goddess semi solid sock yarn in slate.

There’s a real range across the patterns in this book – so not only will you find something you’ll love but I’m sure you’ll spot lots of perfect gifts too. For Christmas 2012!

When I knew Ann was visiting the blog I knew that I wanted to ask her about yarn – how she selects yarns, what yarns she loves most – the ususal knitter chat!

Do you start with an idea for a design, or see yarn and design with that in mind?

Usually I start with an idea for a design, then go hunting for the perfect yarn for it. I do know designers whose designs are generally yarn-led though.

Occasionally I have felt inspired by a particular yarn and attempted to create the perfect design for it. That was the case with the Luna’s Moonlight socks. The yarn reminded me of dappled moonlight, and I wanted to make it into something very feminine.

By contrast the Hartfield shawl resulted from my determination to use Shetland rose lace in a more knitter-friendly design than traditional rose lace projects. The shawl I came up with is knitted in one piece with simple increases and decreases for the shaping. I developed my own stitch pattern for the edging so that i could have an integral edging (knitted at the same time as the maion shawl). From the very start I knew that I wanted a very luxurious, rose-red yarn for the sample. Luckily I didn’t have to look far; your red laceweight cashmere was perfect for it.

What is your favourite weight of yarn to design with? Why?

My favourite is 4ply/fingering weight. It’s so versatile! Because it knits to a small gauge I can get far more pattern into a small area, making it ideal for small projects like socks. Also it is light enough to make a drapey fabric when used for stranded knitting. As I do a lot of colour-work this is a primary consideration!

What is the fibre makeup of your favourite yarn? What makes you love that so much?

The more I think about this question, the harder I find it to answer. I love so many fibres for so many different reasons; angora is so soft and snuggly, alpaca is incredibly warm, silk is luxuriantly shiny, wool is such a good insulant, bamboo and linen are so cool… So when it comes to designing, my answer pretty much depends on the intended end use.

If I had to plump for one top favourite, it would be wool. I have so much history with sheep; I’m a Yorkshire lass, with sheep-framing relatives and a long tradition behind me of Yorkshire knitters working with wool. So wool is very special to me. In fact, I love sheep so much that I work at being able to recognise the different breeds on sight, swotting up on their characteristics to be able to do so. The wonderful little book ‘Know Your Sheep’ often travels with me, like a train-spotters notebook! Many of the projects in Novel Knits are made with British wools; the jumpers are both in shetland wool, Lanthir Lamath is in a blue-faced leicester, and the Fleur Tote is made with a British wool blend.

As far as fibre makeup of my favourite yarn goes, I think that wool and silk is a marriage made in heaven. Yarns featuring these have such a range of properties; warmth, springiness, slinkiness, and shine!

Yarn substitution is something that many knitters find tricky. What tips can you give?

The safest thing is to look at the weight (thickness), fibre composition, spun characteristics, and colourway of the recommended yarn, then work to match these as far as possible. These are the key variants that affect how yarn functions in knitted fabrics. Of them all, colourway is the safest to vary.

Swatch the stitch patterns with your mooted yarn and assess whether or not you like the look. Some stitch patterns are best with smooth and crsipy yarns, while some are best with soft and squishy yarns. Even slight variance from the yarn used in the main sample can spoil the look of some designs. For example, cable patterns are particularly sensitive to yarn differences, and can look very flat and indistinct with the wrong yarn choice.

Avoid multi-coloured yarns for almost anything but stocking stitch! Though some stitch patterns do work in variegated yarns, it is safest to follow the lead of the designer in this. If they’ve used a very multi-coloured yarn, then go for it! For similar reasons avoid very dark yarns for anything with texture stitches.

I have created a tutorial in the Knitting School at my website about selecting colour for colourwork. This will help if you are thinking of substituting different colours for designs such as Kellynch, Pemberley, Durmstrang, Fleur, or Lissuin.

If you could design your perfect yarn what would it be?

Well, at the moment it would be a linen and silk blend laceweight, because I’m planning a lacy summer top! I am having incredible difficulty sourcing a suitable solid-coloured yarn for this. The yarn I want seems so impossible to find that I may end up going with a bamboo yarn for it instead. That would be cool and drapey, but not as luxurious as I prefer.

My perfect yarn for general use would be a woollen-spun (so, slightly fuzzy, springy and elastic) wool and silk yarn with a massive range of solid and marled colours. In other words, a particularly luxuriant version of a shetland jumperweight!

You can find out more about Ann and her work on her website.

Thanks Ann – and happy knitting to all of you.

Joy x

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2 Responses to Choosing Yarn with Ann Kingstone

  1. Willa says:

    Oooh – lovely designs – particulary the ‘Lion’ mitts ☺

  2. Love the Hartfield Shawl, and I have just the KG yarn for it too!

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