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Choosing yarn for your colourwork sweater

October 16, 2018

This post is part of a multi-part series that covers the Strange Brew colourwork yoke sweater recipe! To get the Strange Brew recipe pattern (it’s written for 3 gauges, and includes 25 sizes from baby through women’s and men’s 4XL) click here.

This colourwork tutorial series will cover:

We’ve broken the colourwork sweater tutorial into 10 parts. Start at the beginning and work your way through – or just jump to the technique you need help with!

  1. Introduction
  2. How to choose your size: find the right size for you.
  3. Choosing yarn for colourwork: which yarns work best in colourwork.
  4. Swatching for colourwork: a few different ways to swatch specifically for colourwork.
  5. Developing your custom sweater concept: where to place that colourwork
  6. Gauge in a yoke sweater: understanding where it matters
  7. Using the FREE Anthology pattern: a great way to try out your concepts
  8. Applying colour to stranded motifs: time to experiment!
  9. How to design a Strange Brew yoke: using our Strange Brew recipe to turn your inspiration into a woolly work of art!
  10. How to plan a steek in a Strange Brew sweater: prefer a cardigan? Learn how to plan a steek.

And many other topics too! There will also be posts highlighting some great sweaters that were designed using the Strange Brew sweater recipe pattern.

Which yarn shall I use for my colourwork sweater?

There are SO MANY YARNS out there. We love it, of course, because it’s fabulous to have a plethora of fibers, spins, colours and weights to choose from! But this can also be a bit daunting, so which yarn should you choose for your colourwork sweater?

The short answer: pretty much anything you can block, and we really recommend a wool or wool blend.

This doesn’t mean you can’t knit colourwork if you are a vegan or have a wool allergy of course, but wool tends to be the most forgiving. Wool has what is called ‘memory’, which will help your stitches stay where you want them and stop your garment from stretching out of shape over time.

There are so many yarns and colours to choose from!

There’s a big world of wool out there, from rustic woolly wools to smooth plied superwash Merinos, and everything in between. If you take a stroll through your LYS give all the yarns a feel. You will see the variety in textures, softness, and spin. There are pros and cons to any choice and a lot will depend on the yarns you have available to you and the palette you are most drawn to.

How are the yarns different?

Yarns differ in the degree to which they slip smoothly past each other, vs. the degree to which they ‘stick’ one to the next, and have fuzzy furry bits that fill in the gaps.

Brooklyn Tweed Shelter is a woolen-spun yarn

Because of its fuzzy / furry / stickiness, a rustic Shetland yarn, for example,
is more forgiving when it comes to colourwork than a smooth, round, single-ply superwash sock yarn is. It hides more of the slight imperfections in tension.

On the left is a close up of Almanac, knit up in Istex Lettlopi, a yarn with lots of fuzzy bits to fill in the space between stitches.  On the right is the Clayoquot cardigan, knit up in Sweet Fiber Merino Twist DK, a superwash wool. In the superwash yarn the stitches are more crisp and they have more definition, because of this the yarn on the right is a little less forgiving if your tension is uneven.
On the left is a close up of the Compass yoke (in Quince and Co Chickadee) and on the right is Cartography (in Brooklyn Tweed Arbor). Both are knit in smooth round yarns that are not superwash, so they fall somewhere in the middle. They don’t have the same stickiness of a more rustic yarn, but the stitches do ‘fill in’ more than a superwash yarn with a high twist. 
These Hedgehog Fibers Skinny Singles are a smooth round superwash yarn.

It is also worth noting that superwash yarns tend to ‘grow’ with blocking, and with wear. They are a bit stretchier so make sure to block your swatch and consider this effect when choosing your sweater size, as well as body and sleeve lengths.

In Strange Brew we used an array of yarns, from woolen-spun Brooklyn Tweed Shelter and single-ply softly spun Icelandic Lopi, to the smooth and round Quince and Co Chickadee, and Stone Wool Cormo, which has a textured quality because of the yarn’s 2-ply construction.

Collect a rainbow:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a discussion of yarns for colourwork if we didn’t include the colour! We love knitting colourwork in yarns that have a great big rainbow of a palette available. This allows us to add (and add and add…) to our collection, knowing that the yarns will work well together, and that our painter’s palette available for colourwork will grow and grow!

Emily’s collection Jamieson & Smith is ever expanding!

Once you find a yarn that you love, we think it’s worth investing in a rainbow of your own; colourwork is rather addictive! It’s lovely to go to the stash and pull out a new combination to try when the inspiration strikes.

Hats and cowls are the perfect place to trial a new yarn, colour combination, or stitch pattern. Download our free Anthology hat & cowl recipe pattern, which has instructions for 3 gauges and baby-to-big sizing. Cast on for a swatch hat today!

Head to the stash for some play!

Feel like taking your yarn research to the next level? Once you find a yarn you like, knit yourself a hat and wear it for a week. Then you will REALLY know how the yarn knits up and wears. It’s as accurate a swatch as you can get without actually knitting a whole sweater.

You Can Mix and Match!

Emily is a big fan of mixing and matching across yarn brands, types, and even mixing weights! It’s worthwhile knowing that this is possible, because it really opens up the palette of colours you have available in your existing stash! She has successfully worked colourwork that mixed aran, worsted, DK and even a sport weight yarn or two, all with different spin types / qualities, within the same hat. If you hold a sock weight yarn double, it could be used alongside a worsted or aran weight in stranded colourwork. So feel free to experiment with mixing and matching. Read Combining Yarn Weights and Types in Colourwork for more on this topic.

This little hat swatch combines: Aran weight single ply, sport weight alpaca 2-ply, DK weight hand-dyed yarn, and DK weight alpaca yarn. But it all came together into a cohesive fabric in the end! So don’t fear mixing and matching.

So, now that your mind is full of yarn-y possibilities you can start on your swatching journey! We will be adding tutorials on swatching for colourwork next week!

More colourwork from Tin Can Knits:


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lina permalink
    February 9, 2021 7:48 am

    Can you use baby yarn (cashmere/merino) to knit adult sweaters if you can’t stand any itchy wool?

  2. Reneelynn permalink
    October 25, 2018 12:13 pm

    All I can say is WoW!!!!!!!!

  3. October 16, 2018 7:50 pm

    Thanks for the info!

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