Can I Crochet With This Yarn?

Well, darlin’, even though the label clearly states “hand knitting yarn”, the short and sweet but hardly perfect answer is, yes, you can crochet with anything that you can wrap around your hook.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The designer question I would ask is, “Will this yarn be happy in crochet?”, and the answer to that is complicated.  Every yarn has to be treated as an individual and respected for its own qualities.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens and dozens of ‘em, from high-end luxury yarns to craft store bargain ones, silk purse and sow’s ear, the good, the bad and the totally indifferent.  I’ve enjoyed most of them, not-so-much enjoyed a few, and outright refused to work ever again with only one, maybe two. Maybe three. Back in 2010 I wrote a blog post that was going in a different direction from this one, but what I barfed up concerning my relationship with design yarn bears reprinting:

“Doris designs begin with yarn, always yarn.  I can propose, or an editor can suggest/demand, what sort of garment is needed for such and such an issue of a magazine, and we can reach agreement on an overall silhouette or impression, (for instance a fall/winter cardigan with 3/4 sleeves and collar), but that is an intellectual exercise, a step in a particular direction.  A wish.  For it is the yarn that tells me what it wants to be.  Happiness is when the editorial vision matches the desires of the yarn sent.  Agony is when the yarn refuses to cooperate and become the design it’s earmarked to be.

How does yarn speak?  How do you know when the design is right?  It’s like how you are sure you like dark better than milk chocolate.  How you feel better wearing blue and not rust.  How to tell if you are in love.  You just know.

Listen for the voice.  I pull an end from every skein and roll it between my fingers to assess the properties of thickness, density, roundness, twist and texture.  Do not rely solely on the hook/gauge suggestions or weight/yardage and fiber listings on the yarn label, or the wpi (wraps per inch) info to tell the whole story.  Your experienced fingers can gather more information about that yarn than anything you could read. This is the beginning of hearing the  yarn speak.

Each yarn has one optimum gauge for my purposes of top-down seamless lace garment construction.  A bit of tinkering and experimentation (some call this swatching, but what I develop is not your usual swatch) will soon tease out of the yarn what this gauge should be. The choice of yarn therefore is of such incredible overriding importance because the yarn totally dictates the gauge, that gauge helps determine which stitch pattern to use, that stitch pattern creates the fabric, that fabric is what makes the garment work.

I am not insisting that there is only one gauge and one way to use a particular yarn.  All I am saying is, for my very particular method of design and for each specific project, a yarn will tell me where it is happiest.  Once the piece is finished, blocked and put on the body, if you’ve been listening all along, that yarn will show you its greatness, how it behaves, moves, breathes, drapes and yes… you will hear that yarn sing.”

What was left unsaid in 2010, and what I chose not to mention at the time, is that my organic design process really chewed up certain yarns because there’s a lot of *crochet, uncrochet, recrochet, uncrochet some more*; repeat from * to * until you’re ready to scream.  Hokey Smokes, some samples were starting to look crappy before they were half-way done.  If only I had more of the technical designer in me, the type who engineers major chunks of the project first, then plugs in whatever yarn… and then can actually bundle the whole thing off to a contract crocheter who essentially tests the pattern while making the crocheted sample. Never gonna happen.  I worried about the many yarns that did not stand up well to my style of organic designing; three years ago I thought the fault was mine.

Since then I’ve come to realize that for relaxed (exploded) gauge lace crochet garments, Z-twist products are ultimately happier than S-twist ones.  As demonstrated with the mystery swatch in that previous post:S Twist DK yarn

some S-twist yarns become terribly untwisted with crocheting. This shows up as slackness in the exposed tops of stitches and the in the hanging chain spaces of my favorite lace stitch patterns, as an uneven gauge through the length of a skein of yarn, as a tendency of the yarn to grow increasingly splitty, as the appearance of sloppiness instead of the desired effect of drapey looseness. By the time I got to ordering yarns for my latest book, Convertible Crochet, it was early 2011 and I knew what I had to do.

Of the 19 yarns I cast, seven of them are Z-twisted.  That is a staggeringly huge percent compared to the ratio of Z to S yarns in the general population. In order of appearance, the Z-twist yarns are: Berroco Weekend, DMC-Cebelia Crochet Cotton, Blue Sky Alpacas Skinny Dyed Organic Cotton, Tahki Cotton Classic Lite, Prism Yarns Windward Layers, Louisa Harding Mulberry silk, and NaturallyCaron.com Spa.  I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Some of these yarns were chosen because they were destined to become skirts, in which cases a firm Z-twist contributes to long wear and stability in fabrics on which you will be sitting. I did offer two butt-covering pieces in an S-twist yarn, Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy, which worked so incredibly well as a bottom weight because of the sturdy fiber blend of hemp, cotton and modal (a type of rayon) and resulted in such beautiful drape that I put up with the untwisties.

What about the other yarns featured in the book?  How did they get happy?  Well, one of them, Southwest Trading Company Oasis, is a tubular or tape yarn, where twist is not an issue. The others, although S-twist, were perfectly fine in their roles, chosen for other properties such as luscious softness (NaturallyCaron.com Joy! and Filatura di Crosa Superior), wooly goodness (Manos del Uruguay Rittenhouse Merino, O-Wool Balance), stunning color (Misti Alpaca Tonos Pima Silk), easy care (Kraemer Tatamy), spot-on gauge (Spud & Chloe Fine and Filatura di Crosa Zara), or simply because they told me they would be fine. With a bit of TLC and judicious blocking, every piece turned out splendidly.

This begs the real question, and the point of today’s exercise: why aren’t there more Z-twist yarns on the market?  Darned if I know. :-)

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9 thoughts on “Can I Crochet With This Yarn?

  1. I love this blog and I love you for letting us know we don’t all have to use the same design process to make beautiful things

  2. Probably because s-twist is preferred for knitting and many yarn companies still cater more for knitters as they think they spend more money on high end yarn than crocheters. Hopefully this is a trend which is coming to an end :)

  3. Well don’t you know, you ARE the yarn whisperer! Excellent description of how art works. I weave baskets and we sometimes have to have a hard discussion or talking to…but ultimately the ‘spark’ comes from the weavers themselves.

  4. Thanks for reiterating issues between ‘s’ and ‘z’ twist yarns, I’d read your previous blog and try to bear it in mind when choosing yarn; and nice to know I’m not the only one who swatches to destruction! (PS the link about the ‘mystery swatch’ goes nowhere – in a nice way!)

  5. Thank you so much for this informative post; I knew there was a difference in the twists of yarn but never really considered how it would affect the final product.

    Most of all, I would like to sincerely thank you for designing for (and not denigrating) the craft store yarns. I’ve had two bad experiences in that last couple weeks in my local (knit-centric) yarn stores that made me feel pretty bad about what I love to do. The fact that a crocheter as accomplished as you can “lower” herself to use “awful acrylics” (both direct quotes) brought me some peace. Thanks.

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