Saturday, September 13, 2008

Antarctic Adventure - choosing a needle size.

When Natalie at the Yarn Yard asked me to test knit her new laceweight yarn, Machair, I was delighted. I chose turquoise (as a rest from purple!) and she sent me a skein of the loveliest yarn. The Machair is 70% baby alpaca, 20% silk, 10% cashmere. 1200m/100g. Unbelievably soft. The kind of yarn you have to go back and stroke just to check it really is that soft. I checked several times, it is! I would it into a cake pretty quickly, I wanted to get this crack stuff cast on.

I cast on straight away for some swatches, with 1200yds per 100g I guess it's a 3.25 needle but it's a good excuse to get knitting so I did a 3.25mm and a 3.75mm just to be sure. Knitting swatches to choose needle size for lace is always involves a deal of personal preference. There really is no right or wrong size. You are looking for a balance between the openness of the holes and the denseness of the fabric stocking stitch sections of the sample.

After knitting the swatch it is important (but frustrating when you want to get started) to soak and block (stretch) the swatch in the same way that the finished piece will be soaked blocked. Wetting the yarn allows it to stretch without breaking (hopefully) and as it dries the shape and stretch is blocked in to the finished piece. There are differing methods of wetting the sample but I usually just chuck it in a bowl/sink and leave it for at least 20 minutes. If it were pure silk I might only pin it out and spritz it with a water sprayer to dampen the fabric but this yarn should block nicely by my usual soak it method :) The waiting is the hard bit.

After they dry and you unpin them they will probably shrink back a little but the 3.25mm size needles give a more solid background to the holes of the lace so I chose 3.25mm to knit this lace (the sample on the left in the photo below).

Actually I had already decided from the unblocked swatches that i preferred the 3.25mm test but blocking would just confirm this choice and also makes for better photos LOL

The Knit Picks needles are nice and pointy - I would actually prefer my Addi Lace needles but they're holding another project that is waiting for me to get around to finishing it. (sigh.)

After much indecision I finally chose Antarctic as my pattern, thanks to Steve for this suggestion :) I downloaded the pattern (available in English thankfully) and printed off my charts and instructions. So now I am all ready to go and looking through the pattern this is an ideal project for a lace novice as the cast on couldn't be more straight forward.
For most of my knitting life, best part of 40 years, I only knew one way to cast on, the way my Mum taught me. After discovering knitting on the internet I discovered there are many different cast ons but that the one I have been using all along is a lace cast on. It was meant to be LOL.
You are only casting on 7 stitches and it wont affect how stretchy the finished edge is you can use whatever cast on you are familiar with. If you'd like to learn the lace cast on it can be found here. Eunny's lace guide is excellent for all aspects of lace knitting, look here for everything. For the lace cast on scroll down about 1/3rd of the page.

So next time ... getting going and how to read charts :)

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