Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Gossamer Yarn Analysis

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.


StashDiva said...

Thanks for this excellent article, I am much more informed and have to do some serious swatches before embarking on a major project like the Princess Shawl.

fluffbuff said...

I love it when you do these comparisons.
BTW, I am fast becoming a big Colourmart fan.

Cheryl, the jungian Knitter said...

I am knitting the Mystic Waters shawl in the Colourart cash/silk. I am now completely besotted with this yarn. I have another cone of it in a deep green and will be buying more soon.

Lacefreak said...

Really great comparisons! It helps a lot to be able to see yarns that are in the same "weight class" swatched. I'm more of a "scatter gun" approach. I just swatch whatever lands in my hands LOL. Guess I will post my poor efforts too but I have no analysis and still no decision as to what to use. I will have to pick up that 3/45 again. It looks better when you knit it somehow!

Janice in GA said...

[Mr Spock voice]


[/Mr. Spock voice]

Courtney said...

My favorite one was Bottom right: Colourmart cash/silk (45/3)

LittleBerry said...

excellent review.... I think I'm more like jane... I picked mine initially it wa in the right 'weight' range and then chose my colour... I then swatched it to check the appearance... lucky for me that I liked the end result....

Suna Kendall said...

Really helpful, and makes me happy that I own some of the Cash/Silk! It was my pick for best looking, too. Thanks again for doing this!

BadCatDesigns said...

Very interesting! So colourmart it is, eh?

Arachnera said...

I admit that dark grey and tangerine aren't really appealing colors (in reference to the Yarn Place Angel) but I can really imagine shawls knit in "Summer Sky" and some people might like "Hot Fudge" or "Fuzzy Chocolate"

sarah said...

But I don't need any more reasons to buy more Colourmart yarn... I need time to knit the stuff!

Although I haven't got any gossamer weight. Perhaps I should test some? :-)

Anonymous said...

the appearance of the yubina cash/silk is disappointing. i haven't done anything but pet mine yet. btw, yarnplace.com offers some undyed hanks, but not angel. i wonder why?

Carol said...

Proof of why it is important to swatch!

Judith said...

many thanks (yet again) for sharing swatches and yardage info with us! I expect yardage to be off by a little since most natural fibers absorb moisture from the air, but some of these are ***way*** off, in the wrong direction.

A while back, I had a discussion with Sarah Siegel about the laceweight kid mohair she had (same weight as the new Habu, Alchemy and Shibui, she changed the yardage on her site from 325 yds/25 gms. to 278 yds, explaining that they used a couple of different ways to "benchmark" their yarn to get the accurate possible measurement, but she never did tell me how they did that. It would be awfully interested to know.

z's momma said...

Thank you for your analysis of yarn weights. Is the Colourmart cashsilk pretty strong in comparison(you might have already mentioned this)?

I haven't gotten any cobweb weight yarn for the reason that I think I'll snap the yarn as I'm knitting (or worse, it'll break when it's knitted in).

Batty said...

I love the one in the upper right hand corner. And I've seen the Princess Shawl... and fallen in love with it. If I end up pregnant with triplets and 6 months of bed rest, I'll order the pattern.