A Playful Day: Swatch it out this Wool Week
Kate from A Playful Day gets swatching to unearth the wonder of wool for her Wool Week special post…
Each year, Wool week rolls around like some sort of woolly Christmas for knitters, spinners and textile lovers. This is a week to celebrate wool in all its glory and think about the many ways we use this wonder product. It’s a time of year I’ve always enjoyed, beautifully timed with our thoughts turning to warm, weather proof clothing.
Wool has some incredible characteristics: it is biodegradable, odour resistant, insulating and resilient. Due to the crimp in the fibre, it is also breathable, wicking away moisture. These properties have made it an essential for carpets, clothes and loft insulation alike. Wool is also a renewable source, the by-product of annual shearing of flocks and 100% natural. After years of reading headlines about different types of ‘Super Foods’, I would argue that wool, is a Super Fibre.
However, not all wool is destined to sit next to our skin. Each breed of sheep has a distinct difference in the characteristics of their fleece which means that some produce long air filled fibres and others are shorter and denser. It means that when we select a new to us yarn and read the label that (hopefully) tells us which breed the wool was spun from, we have a number of choices to make about how best to use our knitting time. Being able to tell the exact type of animal that made a ball of wool means you can tailor your knitting to tap into its full potential. Some wool will work far better for sturdy boot socks for example than a cosy hat that keeps ears warm and protected from biting winds.
It’s why lately, I’ve been doing a lot of swatching. Most of us tend to only swatch when we need to know the exact gauge (tension) we are working at when sizing knitwear. However, swatching is a lesson in itself and something that I’m growing to love. If I want to know more about a ball of wool, I will plan a glorious hour or two hand winding, knitting and blocking to see what properties I unearth.
For me the process of learning starts with the winding, even when the yarn is already in a ball. I like to learn with my fingertips, threading the fibres through my fingers as I go. How dense the ball feels at this point can actually tell me a lot. I like to give it a good squeeze to see how much ‘bounce’ it has. Some wool has an incredible elasticity that is recognisable even before you work it into stitches on your needle.
Then after an hour or so of peaceful knitting, there’s the magic of blocking. Blocking can change the fabric that’s been created enormously. Some yarns soften up nicely which, had I knit them into a project straight away, I might not have realised had I not tested the waters first. Some wool can feel pretty rustic in the ball and swatching means I can test the fabric out once it’s been worked a little to see if it would in fact work well on the brim of a hat. Measuring my swatch can also give me some insight into the way stitches settle from fresh off the needles to fresh out a warm bath. If a wool puffs up nicely after a good warm bath, that swatch will save me from heartache when aiming for a good fit later. If there’s one thing that I can encourage you to do this Wool Week, it’s take a learning journey with your finger tips and swatch.
What about you, are you a fan of swatching?
“Wool is the most common animal fibre, and is used as a base in many blends. There are hundreds of breeds of sheep. A few common and rare breeds used for wool are: Blue-faced Leicester, Border Leicester, Corriedale, Icelandic, Karakul, Lincoln, Merino, North Ronaldsey, Rambouillet, Romney, Shetland, Suffolk and Teeswater.”
Merino wool is as soft as a kitten and super warm too – perfect for knitwear next to the skin! Malabrigo is an 100% merino wool from Uruguay that many knitters love.
Shetland wool will keep you warm, a great choice for fair isle jumpers and cardigans. Jamieson’s of Shetland Yarn has very special yarn of 100% wool, spun with pride in the Shetland Isles. Jamieson’s is a family-owned business that has specialised in producing wool from Shetland sheep for generations, turning it into a range of beautiful, traditional yarns.
Blue Faced Leicester wool is magically soft and warm, lustrous and strong – a perfect all rounder! Erika Knight, Debbie Bliss and West Yorkshire Spinners all have some beautiful Blue Faced Leicester yarns
Love wool? Find out more about it in our 15 Wonders of Wool special
Last updated: October 7th, 2015.