Swatching to answer: Why?

A friend who primarily knits with her hand spun, emailed me with a question the other day. She was trying to crochet with her yarn, but the plies would untwist as she worked. Did I have an idea what was wrong? She’d heard something that s and z twist mattered for crochet. Could she use the yarn for her project?

My first answer was yes she could use the yarn!

My second was that I had an idea what was happening. The twist didn’t matter as much as how she was working with the yarn. However, I wasn’t sure how to explain it beyond that. I also couldn’t remember the specifics of which actions caused this to occur.

So, I did the logical thing. I went riffling through my bins of neglected hand spun, began swatching, and to take notes.

Initial Swatch

While the question my friend asked was related to crochet, I knew I could more easily show how technique changes influenced the yarn and fabric by knitting.

Yarn Choice

The hand spun I chose was one of my early efforts, a very inconsistent 2-ply Polwarth. Unfortunately, the plies have essentially fulled together as I’ve moved it from various storage solutions over the years. To make matters more challenging, it doesn’t photograph well due to the deep navy and bright green in the yarn. I didn’t help anything by doing all this quickly at my desk.

Knitting Style

I knit in my own combination style that I’ve never bothered to properly define. When I first began knitting, because of how I wrap the yarn, I twisted my stitches when I knitted flat. It was my first project in the round that alerted me to all my twisted stitches!

That’s why this was a challenge to knit, I had to be mindful of my wrapping. The bottom of the swatch, to the YO line, is where I was careful to wrap over the needle. After the YO row, I wrapped under.

handspun yarn and small hand knit swatch. handwritten card notes "polworth. limonene designs"

Initial Results

Because of my handspun choice it wasn’t super obvious in the swatch, but I was able to notice as I worked that the twist changed a little when I wrapped a certain way.

It’s why I gravitate to highly twisted yarns, because of how I knit they won’t be that way when I’m done!

Additional Resources

As I worked my stitches, I recalled reading about how knitting style can affect fabric. Sure enough, two years ago Jillian Moreno wrote two comprehensive articles on the subject for MDK:


I sent my friend the results of my quick swatch and the above links.

But that wasn’t the end. I couldn’t stop thinking about this question all week.

Introducing a new swatch experiment

My next step is also a logical one for me. I want to better understand the why beyond regurgitating the theory. Yes, I learn by reading and Jillian’s posts explain it all clearly. However, I know I will better understand the why when I’ve worked through all the different parts on my own.

For over a year I’ve wanted to return to the practice of regular hand spinning. However, without a new project in mind I’ve not be able to pick up my spindles or sit at the wheel. This project should help me with that.

I also want to be able to build reference materials I can use when I’m asked this type of question. Over the years I’ve answered many different questions, but I’ve not listened to my own advice and built a library of answers I can easily reuse.

That will begin to change with this project.

This week I pulled out some commercially spun yarn, needles, fiber, and spindles. I’ll examine and explore how twist, yarn structure, and knitting/crochet style can influence the fabric.

The yarn I picked is some Bartlett Yarns 2-ply, 4 oz and 210 yds/skein in color cranberry. I’ve been using this for cat toys so I’m not sure how many swatches it will create.

The fiber is 4 ounces of a Suri Alpaca/CVM blend that another friend picked up for me at a fiber festival several years ago.

a ball of fiber, a ball of yarn, knitting needles, two spindles on top of open notebook

My plan is that every few weeks I’ll check in here with my progress and any results.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *