Starting on a new project can be like embarking on an unfamiliar journey. You have a vision of the destination, the anticipation of trying something new, and the fun of making preparations. Whether you start with a lovely yarn or an untried pattern, you probably have an idea of how you want the final project to look and feel. I know that I do. One of the best things about working at The Stitchin' Den is the opportunity to learn about various yarns and how very different they can be. Wool or alpaca, superwash or not, can impact the fit, look, and feel of a final project — even if they are labeled as the same weight. For example, Cascade 220 and Cascade 220 Superwash are 100% wool worsted weight yarns produced by the same company. The superwash yarn has been treated to remove the barbs on the wool fibers that cause the fibers to interlock and felt when agitated, which causes shrinking. In the case of Cascade 220 Superwash, the yarn feels lighter, looks thinner, and drapes more than Cascade 220. They knit up, however, very differently.
A couple of years ago, I knitted the same pattern with Cascade 220 and Cascade 220 Superwash. Same knitter, weight of yarn, manufacturer, needle sizes, and pattern. They turned out to be different. They both fit (I checked gauge each time and ended up using the needle sizes recommended). The actual fabrics, however, were different in look and feel. The swatch above in green is knitted with Cascade 220 and the blue swatch is knitted with Cascade 220 Superwash. The sweater knitted with the superwash yarn is softer and the knitted stitches are not as dense as the regular worsted. This is probably because the strand of Cascade 220 is thicker than the superwash. This makes sense because the regular yarn still has the barbs on the wool fibers. The lesson here is to remember that not all same-weight yarns will produce the same finished fabric.
This is an important idea that I have taken to my new project. Included in the pattern are directions for both Aran and bulky weight yarns. I decided to knit the Aran weight version and started to shop. The gauge listed on the pattern is 17 stitches per four-inch swatch. The challenge is that there is not as much selection in the Aran weight category. Knowing that both Aran and worsted weight yarns fall into the medium weight category of yarn, I decided to look at both. Although listed in the medium weight category (4), they differ in weight and thickness. In general, Aran is a little thicker than worsted, and patterns that call for this weight often recommend a needle one or two sizes larger than ones recommended for worsted weight. It is important to keep in mind that the recommended gauge for comparison.
My project is a sweater for my husband, and he likes soft fibers. Because he generates a lot of body heat, 100% wool is a better choice than an alpaca and wool blend (alpaca is very warm). The pattern includes cables, so I need a yarn that has a good stitch definition and will hold its shape. These are characteristics of 3-ply yarns. This is where it becomes important to read the yarn bands. For example, Encore Worsted (200 yards per 100 grams) has a gauge of 20 stitches per four-inch swatch on size 8 needles, while Simplinatural by Hikoo (183 yards per 100 grams) has a gauge of 17 to 20 stitches for a four-inch swatch. Both yarns are classified as worsted. On the other hand, Plymouth Hannah (a cotton and bamboo blend, at 175 yards per 100 grams) is classified as an Aran weight, yet the gauge is 16 stitches per four-inch swatch using US 8 needles.
Although my pattern calls for 17 stitches over four inches and I can adjust my needles a size up or down, I want to stay close to the recommended gauge to achieve a fabric dense enough to maintain the shape of the cables and garment. I found a great 3-ply 100% wool yarn with a gauge of 17 stitches per four inches on a US 8 needle. It was labeled as worsted.
So, whether classified as worsted or Aran, the recommended gauge is a key factor. When trying to determine which yarn to select, remember to keep in mind how you want the final fabric to look, feel, and drape. If you want a soft, drapey fabric, consider a superwash or wool and silk blend or a wool and alpaca blend. If you are knitting cables, think about a 3-ply. It is all a journey.