For those of you who tuned in late, a few days ago I knitted four swatches of gossamer yarns on size #0 needles and blocked them. I then examined them for visual appeal, as well as a flimsy/dense appearance.
I was rather surprised at the results, and, given the answers I received on the last blog post, you guys are going to be really surprised.
Here's the picture again.
And here are the answers:
Upper left: Heirloom Gossamer merino (48/2)
Upper right: Yarn Place Angel (48/3)
Bottom left: Yubina cashmere (45/3)
Bottom right: Colourmart cash/silk (45/3)
The Holy Grail Heirloom Gossamer Merino basically flunked this swatch test. Only 1 person picked it as the most visually appealing and 4 people thought it was the heaviest.
Thirteen people picked the Yubina cash/silk as the finest (only 2 people liked it best), but it has the exact same NM number (45/3) as the Colourmart cash/silk on the bottom right. Technically both the Yubina and Colourmart yarns are 30% heavier than Heirloom's Gossamer Merino.
Note: I had to calculate Yubina's number from the information given on their website, that is, 800 yards/50 grams. I teased apart the yarn and counted 3 plies, ending up with the 45/3 NM value.
Ten people, including myself, chose Colourmart's cash/silk as their favorite and 5 people thought it was the heaviest, probably because it is the fuzziest (and softest, too).
One person picked Yarn Place's Angel as the heaviest; 1 person thought it was the finest. Five people chose it as the most pleasing. It was definitely the most pleasing to knit--springy and forgiving. I wish Yarn Place would stock more shawl-appropriate colors. Would anyone knit a fine Shetland shawl in dark gray or tangerine? There's not even any white offered so you can dye it yourself.
Now for some more fun and games. Here's a list of the published yards/pound for each of these yarns:
Heirloom Gossamer Merino: 11811
Yarn Place Angel: 8423
Yubina cash/silk: 7264
Colourmart cash/silk: 7264
I whipped out my trusty McMorran balance, which let's you easily calculate the yards/pound of any yarn using just a small sample. (You can read about the balance here.) It is not the most precise tool in the universe--figure within 10% of true, although Siva Harding reports that she got accurate measurements by stretching the yarns slightly as she measured.
Here are my yards/pound results from the McMorran balance (I weighed all of these twice):
Heirloom Gossamer Merino: 9750
Yarn Place Angel: 8500
Yubina cash/silk: 7750
Colourmart cash/silk: 7000
And here are my conclusions (for what they are worth):
1. Apparent yarn weight is more a measure of how tightly the yarn is spun, rather than the published NM number. Both Yubina and Colourmart yarns are 45/3 cash/silk. The Yubina yarn is very tightly spun, the Colourmart yarn is much fluffier.
2. Visual and tactile appeal are more important than published NM numbers. Most people chose the visually heaviest yarn as their favorite and disliked the stringy appearance of the Yubina. (Clearly, the Yubina yarn is so thin that it would benefit, as one reader suggested, from being worked on a #00 needle.) I personally prefer less airy lace--I think the holes appear more prominent set into a dense background. Other folks want their lace as wispy as possible.
3. Yarn selection can start with publishing NM numbers, but the deciding factor shouldn't be how fine that number purports to be. Knit your swatches serially at one sitting and compare them. Decide which yarn you would most enjoy knitting and which one gives the most visually appealing appearance. Keep knitting swatches until the pleasantest knit also looks the bestest.
None of these yarns are for beginners, and even advanced lace knitters will find them a challenge. Before embarking on a hyper-complex shawl like Princess, please be sure you are choosing the right yarn for you. You'll be working with it for a long, long time.