Knitting & Crocheting with Novelty Yarns

Has this ever happened to you?
You’re indulging in one of your favorite pastimes – shopping for yarn at your local craft store. Next to all the nice, reliable-but-dull worsted weight you find other yarns that tempt you with colors and textures you’ve never seen before. You pick up a ball and feel how soft it is. You think about that pattern you’ve been saving, waiting for the “right yarn,” and you decide you’ve found it. So you buy a few balls, take them home, and settle down in your favorite chair for a couple of hours of relaxing, creative needlework.

An hour later you’re sorely tempted to throw that yarn across the room (or maybe you already have). At the very least, you’d like to return it and post a “stay away” warning in the store; you know you’ll never buy it again.

What went wrong? How did this “beauty” turn into such a “beast”?
What is it about novelty yarns that pulls us in and then turns against us?

How are novelty yarns made?
Novelty yarns have been around for many years, but lately they’ve been showing up in greater quantities – and varieties. It seems that commercial yarn technology has improved to the point where it’s no longer cost-prohibitive for yarn companies to make them. Also, this same technology can be used to combine individual novelty yarns to make a completely new one. Eyelash, ribbon, and thick-and-thin yarn have been around for quite a while, but now you can buy yarn that has a strand of more than one type – for example, eyelash yarn twisted around a strand of ribbon. This makes for some really interesting effects. But for the person who actually wants to make something with it – rather than just admire it on the shelf in the store – it also combines the most frustrating qualities of each.

A summary of those “frustrating qualities”
First of all, this yarn can turn out to be thicker – or thinner – than it looks when it’s all wound around itself on the ball. When you start to unwind it, you suddenly discover that those size 8 needles you were hoping to use won’t even come close to giving you the effect – or the gauge – you want. You really need size 11s, 13s, or larger.

And what about gauge? How do you do a gauge swatch when you can’t even see the individual stitches? And how do you avoid adding or dropping stitches? You may be merrily knitting or crocheting along only to discover at some point that you now have twice – or maybe half – as many stitches as you should. And you don’t know where this started, so you don’t know how far to rip it out. Even if you decide to try, you find that you can’t rip it out – it keeps sticking to itself or tangling.

Taming the “beast”
Before you throw the yarn at the wall, or storm out to your car to return it to the store, take a deep breath. Take a break. Maybe take a walk. And consider the following suggestions.

Novelty yarn doesn’t have to be knitted or crocheted tightly. Because it fills in the spaces in your fabric so well, it actually looks better worked more loosely. Unless your fabric really is going to be too thick, it’s worth going up a needle or hook size – or two – from what’s recommended on the label. This will of course be easier if you’re working without a pattern than if you have a gauge to match.

If you do need to make a gauge swatch, try using only the recommended number of stitches and rows, and then measuring the entire piece. For example, if your pattern calls for 20 stitches and 16 rows to four inches, cast on (or chain) just 20 stitches and work on those for 16 rows. Then measure your entire piece. Is it four inches square? If it isn’t, make another swatch, adjusting your needle or hook size as you always do. That way you don’t have to try to identify individual stitches.

If you work loosely you may be able to rip out stitches if you need to; just do it gently and carefully, so you don’t pull the yarn apart and ruin it. But the best recourse is probably to not even try; buy more yarn than you think you’ll need (this is always a good practice anyway), and if things are not working out, stop right away and start over. You’ll find something to do with those little pieces later.

Try to stay with simple styles and stitch patterns; there’s no point working a complicated pattern with a yarn that will hide it. And if you can’t see the stitches, avoid shaping – you won’t be able to find your increases and decreases – or use markers.

You might also consider using your beautiful luxury yarn in only parts of the item, rather than the entire thing. If you really wanted a furry sweater, great. But if you didn’t, think about saving your novelty yarn for trim – maybe the collar or cuffs. Or make something small. How about a furry scarf, or belt?

And when your item is almost finished and you’re trying to darn in the ends, but the lumps and bumps are making that really hard, try darning the strands in separately (they’ll probably come apart easily enough). This will make the process easier, and the strands will be less likely to work their way out.

A word about care
Even if your item is made from all-synthetic yarn, don’t machine wash or dry it. There’s too much chance that it will catch on something. Follow the directions on the label to gently wash it by hand. Not only will it last longer, but it may save the rest of your laundry from a bad attack of the “fuzzies.”

A few final thoughts
Novelty yarn is definitely not a “beginner” yarn. And each different kind will present its own challenges; you may think you’ve got it figured out, only to discover with the next project that you have to come up with new ways to work with it. Think of it this way: If you’re easily bored, if you like interesting projects, if your creativity extends beyond making things to problem-solving – consider using novelty yarn. You’ll get all you want – including a beautiful item to be proud of when you’re finished.

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