Knitting with a Machine? – Beware of the Twist!

By Linda Black

When you buy a knitting machine, the yarn that you knit with is just as important as the machine itself.

The yarn composition (natural or synthetic), the degree of twist and the resulting knitted texture are all-important to the success of your finished garments.

Very few knitting machines are bought without a certain amount of trepidation. There is always that feeling that learning how to use one will prove too difficult but, in fact, most anyone can learn to use the modern knitting machine.

The problems that most new machine knitters encounter are more often due to the yarn or pattern used than to the machine itself. It’s sadly true that being able to use the machine competently will never make up for working with a poor pattern or an inappropriate yarn.

Lots of knitters only need to see '4-ply' written on a pattern and they assume that any old 4-ply yarn will knit up just as well. Oh no!

Think of a 4-ply baby yarn compared with a 4-ply crepe. Both are termed ‘4-ply’ but the low-twist baby yarn is soft, while the high-twist crepe is very firm. There’s little similarity between these two types of yarn, even when the fibre content is the same and this is due to the extent of ‘twist’ applied by the yarn manufacturer.

Twist, texture and tension are inseparable. The degree of twist will always affect the texture and this, in turn, will affect the firmness or softness of the finished fabric.

Twist and texture affect the tension swatch. Twist (or lack of it!) will determine the shape of the stitch which, in turn, will affect the width and length of the tension swatch.

A firm high-twist yarn will produce a stitch of a certain size and shape, depending on the machine tension setting or, in hand-knitting, the size of needle used. This type of stitch is not likely to change its size or shape very much.

On the other hand, the stitches knitted in a soft low-twist yarn may fall into a mixture of shapes, depending on how the work is pulled and pressed.

These factors can have a huge effect on the tension swatch, making yarn substitution quite a risk for an inexperienced knitter!

Yarn is generally sold by weight but it’s always worth looking at the cone label or ball band to check the yarn length in metres/yards. Going back to the baby yarn and crepe example, a 1oz (25gm) ball of baby yarn is likely to contain a longer length of yarn than the same weight of crepe. This is because the crepe has been tightly twisted to give a firm non-pill yarn.

Twisting not only changes the texture, it also shortens the length.

Look at some hand-knitting patterns for crepe yarns and you’ll see they usually need several extra balls to complete the garment and this, of course, makes it more expensive to knit them!

Copyright 2006 Linda Black

Based in the UK, Linda Black has written several design books for machine knitters and is a self-confessed knitting addict. Her web site for both hand and machine knitters can be found at http://www.getknitting.com Sign up for her free monthly hints and tips newsletter here 

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