Crochet and Yarn: Seriously Twisted

I just freaked myself out, seriously.  My entire crochet life I assumed, and was assured by the writings of others, that it makes no difference whether you begin working with a skein, ball or cake of yarn by pulling from the outside or by pulling from the center (see here). HOKEY SMOKES!  As a result of some geeky experiments I did this morning while snow bound at home, I now know that there is a difference. Yes, I should get a life.  But if you’d like to know what I discovered, then read on.

Let me take a step back and talk about yarn twist for a moment.  I’ve been examining and writing about yarn twist for years (see here) and hope you’re all caught up, but I will summarize.  Except for ribbon, tape and tubular constructions (and perhaps roving, but I never work with unspun roving so I can’t say for sure) where the finished yarn is a wider or flatter product and the spinning, plying or twisting of the yarn fibers is not evident and not an issue, every yarn has a finished twist.  Yarn is either S-Twist or Z-Twist.  That particular twist is always the same no matter how you are viewing the strand, no matter which end is up or down.  How can you tell which twist?  Look at a single strand of yarn; if the fibers or plies make a slant this way \, like the center stroke of an S, then it is S-Twist.  If it slants this way /, like the center stroke of a Z, then it is Z-Twist.  Below, Z-Twist on left, S-Twist on right. That’s all pretty straightforward… so far.

twist

Z-Twist yarn on left; S-Twist yarn on right.

The huge majority of commercial yarn is finished with S-Twist, no matter how the individual fibers, strand and plies are spun.  No idea why.  Maybe it’s a manufacturing thing.  I suspect that it is an end-user thing.  Most hand-crafting yarn is designed to be used for knitting, by right-handed knitters.  S-Twist favors the knitting process; knitting reinforces S-Twist and keeps the plies coherent and the strand stable.  The opposite happens in crochet by right-handed crocheters.  Because the yarn is wrapped around the crochet hook (yarn over) in the opposite direction of the knit yarn over, and because crochet stitches have height and may contain multiple yarn overs each time, crochet tends to un-twist the S-Twist.  Eventually, if this continues throughout the length of a skein (exacerbated by the act of fixing mistakes, frogging and re-crocheting) then that S-Twist yarn will become seriously untwisted, splitty, lose coherence and begin to fall apart.  When the yarn is a loosely S-Twist product to begin with, crocheting it can result in disaster.

Manufacturers create the final put-up (ball, skein or cone) without additional twist.  They do this by rotating the spindle that holds the skein, so the yarn is wound straight onto the core, not twisted around the core.  You do this as well when you wind a hank onto a ball-winder.  From the perspective of the yarn itself, you are not putting any additional twist into the strand.  However, from the perspective of the user, there is more twist happening.  Why?  When you go to use the skein, you either pick up and begin with the end on the outside of the skein, or you dig inside the skein for the center pull, right?  The skein stays put, the yarn winds around the skein as it comes off.  You are adding twist.

If you consider the orientation of the skein each time you draw some yarn from it, you can choose for this user twist to be S or Z.  If you’re looking at the skein from one end, and if you continue to wind the skein it would be in a clockwise direction, then pulling the feed directly from the outside from this end will add S-Twist.  If you pull from that center end, you will add Z-Twist.

clockwise end

If you’re looking at the other end of the skein, and the yarn is winding around in a counter-clockwise direction, then pulling directly from that outside end will add Z-Twist.  If you dug around and drew the center of the skein through this same end, and you pulled from the center, then you would add S-Twist.

counter end

For most yarn users, this matters not, really.  The amount of twist may be negligible in the overall picture, and you may never have a problem. But if you have noticed your yarn feed getting ratty and loose, if the splitting gets worse and worse as you go, if you tend to crochet and un-crochet the same sections over and over, if you like to work loose gauges and tall stitches, if your finished fabric looks crappy and worn before you’ve even worn it, then you may have an issue with twist.

There is a way to eliminate user twist, and that is to rotate the skein as you use it, pulled from the outside.  Know how it is when your yarn ball flips and jumps around while you pull from it?  That’s your feed coming off the ball without twist.  I have a tool, a contraption, that holds skeins, balls and cones, lets them spin freely and allows you to pull yarn in the manner it was put on.

YP-2013A-W

It’s called the Yarn Pet, designed and crafted by my friends at Nancy’s KnitKnacks, and adapts (a tiny tool and some assembly required) to all sorts of yarn packaging.  The commercial Yarn Pet is what we use at DesigningVashti when winding Lotus into cakes from the manufacturer cones.

Not everyone needs to get so geeky about twist, but if you are experiencing twist issues, at least now you know it’s not your fault!  Just saying….

Foundation and Crochet: The Webinar

Break free of the chains that bind you to ordinary crochet!

Hokey Smokes, that makes me sound like some nut-job activist.  But mine is a career-long crusade that stirs in me (and in all those it touches) much passion and wonder.  It reminds me why I chose to do what I do; it reinforces my belief that our craft is dynamic, relevant and totally cool.

The object of my crusade, the subject of my fast approaching webinar, is this:

4 Trim Fsc

In a naked state, it’s the cord that blazes across the banner that’s in your face every time you visit this site: the Foundation Single Crochet, one of a family of chainless foundations that I swear will change your life.  Since I don’t do any in-person teaching yet, this is my best opportunity to pass on what I have learned. For the first time ever I will be up on my virtual soapbox talking about this technique and showing you everything you need to make chainless foundations your own.storeimage

Join me, Wednesday, 7 August, starting at 2 pm Eastern, for the live on-line seminar (webinar), Foundation and Crochet hosted through Interweave (F&W Media).  Click on the image for details on how to register. The event is not free of charge; there is a $20 fee. During the live feed there will be opportunities for you to ask questions and get answers from me, but if you can’t attend the live feed you will be able to view or purchase it later. Although the presentation will be in PowerPoint format (a glorified slide show) I promise there will be tons of close-up detailed images to illustrate each step and show you the way to chainless glory.  Even if you already have chainless foundations in your crochet bag of tricks, I think I can still show you a thing or two on August 7th. Hope you can be in the house, as I could use some moral support from the posse. :-)

 

On Choosing/Not Choosing Yarn for Crochet

(Note to picky readers: Please pardon the less than professional photography. I had the devil of a time with shaky-cam after dozens and dozens of attempts just to get the few good shots. I’m a crocheter, not a shootist!)

OK, so that was a trick question.  There is nothing essentially wrong going on with that crochet swatch.  Although most readers and comment-leavers are totally correct in assessing the yarn used in this swatch as having a final S-twist, most have also assumed that this is a bad piece of crochet.  S Twist DK yarn

Not so fast there, cowgirl.  Compare that previous image to this one:

Willow detail blockedThe same piece, but blocked.  From how crappy the stitches look in the before image, you thought this might be cheapo yarn.  Definitely not. This is a DK blend of 75% New Zealand Merino wool and 30% cashmere (Zealana Willow) that retails for around $15 a 50g skein. As a participant in a program that provides knit and crochet examples for new yarns that will be on display at TNNA in a couple of weeks (an exhibit aptly named the Great Wall of Yarn), I was given this yarn on which to work some crochet magic.

So how do I evaluate a yarn that’s new to me?  First impression is important. Here’s Zealana Willow in the skein:Willow in the ballImmediately you can see it is finished with S-twist. Upon closer inspection (peeling apart one end of a strand) I discovered that it is composed of three plies, three Z spun singles. This construction is fairly unique in my experience. The hand of the yarn in the skein is wonderfully soft, but not completely squishy.  By adding cashmere to the fiber content, by doing the plies as singles, then finishing with a looser S-twist, they have created softness and airiness, avoiding any density that can happen with wool. The surface appearance is not totally matte; there is a nice reflective quality that some might call a sheen. I’m willing to wager that Willow knits up beautifully. My task is to make it sing in crochet.

How do I know this is a DK weight yarn?  Just because it says “Double Knit Weight” right on the ball band does not automatically mean it works to DK gauge.  Do you see the difference? This is an imported brand and does not give the CYCA category for DK weight.3-lightThese little ball band symbols are the current accepted standards for classifying weights for hand yarn. Some manufacturers, brands and distributors label their yarn by weight alone (in manufacturing it would appear as yards per pound, YPP).  In other words, if a yarn falls within a certain range of YPP, then it is put in that class.  But yardage weight alone does not tell the whole story; we need to consider other factors such as density, diameter, texture, elasticity and eventual finish of the fiber. That makes a total difference in how the yarn will work in knit and crochet, in your hands and in your fabric.

Lucky for me Zealana Willow is indeed DK, perhaps on the light side of DK, at 148 yards per 50g skein, and a knitting gauge of 22 stitches per four inches. With a design for DK wool yarn (Zodiac in Filatura di Crosa Zara) already in place in my book, Convertible Crochet, I chose to work one of those featured motifs for the swatch. My first trial, using the same hook size, H/8 (5mm), was a Copernicus Minor Pent:

GWOY Zealana Willow This is the full motif, finished and blocked.  Before blocking I did not notice any serious issues with the S-twist, and honestly the yarn seemed happy. The motif did not quite get the same gauge as listed for the sample yarn Zara in the Zodiac pattern; it came out a tiny bit smaller and the fabric did not have the luscious drape of the original design yarn Zara, but those facts were not at all a concern for this end purpose, so this is the sample I eventually submitted.  What would happen, I mused, if I pushed this yarn farther?  I went up a hook size to I/9 (5.5mm) and crocheted another motif, this time a Carina Minor Pent. That’s the one I asked you readers to examine.

What happened?  Good news and bad news.

Good news. By exploding the gauge with the larger hook, the motif did reach the target diameter I was seeking and nicely matched the stated gauge for the design Zodiac; the resulting drape was, to my taste, improved. In person, you’d judge drape by feeling, fondling, hanging and otherwise playing with the fabric or swatch.  Since readers here can’t touch the results, I tried to figure out a way for you to see the drape. I forgot to do this with the Copernicus version so that you could get a side by side comparison, but here is the look of the drape of the Carina motif:

Willow drapeSee how the motif bends by itself and hangs off my finger.  Crochet fabric with lesser drape would stick out more and stand by itself like a potholder.

Bad news. The combination of this more relaxed tension with swapping out the motif style from Copernicus (more closed lace, with some stitches made into stitches, including rounds of solid single crochet) to Carina (more open lace, with no stitches made into stitches, the tops of tall stitches and the chain spaces are more exposed), exacerbates the twist issue.  The S-twist is more visibly and obviously being untwisted, particularly in the exposed loops of the outer motif rounds.

Now, here’s the lesson: block your crochet. This sample became respectable with blocking for two reasons: finishing the fiber, finishing the stitching. I already surmised that the wool and cashmere fibers would change with blocking. Both fibers really need blocking to bring out their best (most prized) characteristics: softness, slight bulking up (fulling) of each strand, and the hint of halo we expect from cashmere. And I know for absolute certainty that lace crochet needs blocking to smooth out the stitches, to lock the stitches into place, to attenuate stitch definition, to achieve finished shape and dimensions and to create an overall professional appearance. All this you can see when you compare the before and after shots, huh?

Willow full motif blocked

Blocking is your friend.  It means pretty much the same thing as “hand wash, lay flat to dry”.  I like to call it “wet and set”.  I talk more about wet blocking on this page.

So I go through this kind of special agony each time I am presented with a new yarn.  Often I am asked, as a professional crochet designer, what yarns I like to use.  HA!  Very rarely, as a professional designer, do I get the chance to actually use the yarns I like to use (I never choose the colors as published, BTW). More often I am compelled to design with yarns that suit the purposes of editors, advertisers and yarn companies for that particular magazine issue, or that specific season, as I just did with this TNNA assignment.  Working each unfamiliar yarn so that it realizes its full potential in crochet, making sure the yarn is happy, but at the same time making myself and other crocheters happy… that’s what I do.

What happens when I am given the opportunity to use ANY YARN I WANT?  I’ll talk about that next time.

Convertible Crochet Giveaway

No need for me to un-bury the lead because it’s all in the title.  Today begins the sign-up for a prize drawing, the prize being a free hardcopy of my new book, Convertible Crochet: Customizable Designs for Stylish Garments.  You may certainly skip all the doo-dah that follows here, and go straight to the comments, add yours to the list, go back to whatever you were doing and wait for the drawing on Friday.  I wouldn’t blame you.  But for the intrepid crocheters among you, please read on!

convertible_crochet_cvr

In one word, this book is about multitasking.  It is an investigation and a celebration of designs, motifs and constructions that may be re-configured, assembled and/or styled in myriad ways. It is a big toy box filled with shiny playthings with which you are encouraged to build and experiment (like Legos but not exactly because first you have to crochet the Legos, know what I’m saying?). Once you start looking at crochet in this new light, then you can get on with the real fun, which is messing around with what you have learned.

Mostly this book is about my obsessive/compulsive approach to making and assembling outside-the-box motifs. Motifs are not new; crochet design history is overflowing with ideas for squares, hexagons, triangles, octagons and circles.  But who else thinks up garments using pentagons? It can get complicated, though.  It is my hope that the weird constructions will appeal to your inner geek, rather than cause you to run screaming.

Even if my pet pents are not your idea of fun, there are other useful bits to absorb and apply to your own crochet.  It would please me greatly if you took away at least these three things from Convertible Crochet:

  • Ending a round of crochet so that your hook is left in the best position to begin the next round.
  • Finding the point singularity when joining a motif to a place where there is already a join.
  • Looking at every edge as a design opportunity; utilizing the spaces and loops of your crochet and using ribbing, strings, button studs and headers to create your own multitasking miracle.

If you ever have questions or comments about the book, or need pattern support for the designs, please do not post them here on this blog.  We have a group and a forum at Ravelry.com dedicated to my work, Doris Chan Crochet.  If  you are not already signed up at Ravelry, go do it because it is the premier on-line source, playground, and social gathering place for fiber enthusiasts. My Rav username is dorisjchan;  I am making myself available in the group chat room this week for two live sessions, Wednesday 29 May at 10pm Eastern time, and Saturday 1 June at 1 pm Eastern time, if you’d care to pile in.  Otherwise, you can post your questions or comments on the forum and the posse (led by my group moderator, Rav username Amerz) will be along to help.

So, if after reading this stuff about the book you still want a free copy, now’s the time to enter your reply to this post.  You may have to click the little bubble at the top of the post… or maybe click “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of the post, in order to get to the part where you can leave a comment.  I will announce the winner at noon Eastern time on Friday, 31 May.  If you are outside the US and Canada, and if you win, you will have to provide me with a North American address, please.  And, as always, sucking up to me, no matter how enthusiastically or heartfelt, will not improve your chance of winning! :-)

Good luck to all.  I’ll be back on Friday with a winner.