Polyester Rant

“A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85% by weight of an ester of a substituted aromatic carboxylic acid, including but not restricted to substituted terephthalate units, and para substituted hydroxy-benzoate units.”

Wow, a lot of chemical jargon in defining polyester; to summarize, polyester is a common plastic with wide application beyond just the fabrics we’re familiar with. In part, polyester is derived from the petroleum and oil manufacturing industry – not exactly environmentally friendly. In addition, during manufacturing, special disperse dyes are required to impart color to polyester. These dyes do not easily decompose, and enter our environment via the waste water from textile plants.

Why begin a post on the pitfalls of polyester on a knitting blog? Well, I haven’t done much shopping for clothing in the past few years, but lately I decided to venture out and look for some new wardrobe pieces. Because of my textile background, I always check the fiber content of clothing purchases, as well as yarn purchases. Up front, I prefer natural fibers like wool suits, silk blouses, skirts or dresses, cotton blouses, and my favorite hand knitting yarn is merino wool. I have never seen so much polyester for sale. Rack after rack of polyester is disconcerting to me. Even high end collections use polyester. I get the cost factor; it is much less to produce clothing made from polyester. It has “desirable” qualities: quick drying, strong, wrinkle resistant, and resistant to stretching and shrinking. But I refuse to pay a high price for a fabric, that if it had been made in a natural fiber would be comparable in cost, but have more desirable properties. Thankfully polyester is not seen much in hand knitting yarns, and if so, it’s usually found in combination with other fibers, providing strength and stability to the yarn.

The drawbacks of polyester are many. Wearing polyester in the winter months in Canada is a static nightmare, not to mention the difficulty removing stains, and its propensity to pill. The most serious drawback is that polyester is a petro-chemical synthetic – harmful to the environment.

“Fast fashion”, a contemporary term used by retailers to describe cheaply made current fashion trends, and their quick movement (in a few weeks) from the runway to the stores. The fast fashion movement is due in part to the excessive use of synthetics such as polyester – inexpensive fabrics. There is a backlash to fast fashion – with “Slow fashion”, meaning all things “ethical” and “eco-friendly”. This means attention is paid to quality production, value is given to products, and consideration is given to the connection between production and the environment. But most important is the slowing down of consumption, so the earth can regenerate.

I certainly can’t wait for the day when people will appreciate the beauty of timeless pieces in high quality fabric, over a cheap synthetic purchase. I should have lived in a different time when classic design was encouraged, ensuring the longevity of garments. There is a terrible price to pay in the quest for cheap, and over consumption. Something worth thinking about, and I say “hurrah to all the designers involved in the Slow Fashion Movement”.

Weekly Fave!

Capri Pullover – Designer Erika Knight

Striped Ts and pullovers are a fashion trend this summer. This design by Erika Knight is on trend and knit in one of her yarns, Studio Linen. Churchmouse Yarns and Teas is offering the pattern for sale. Erika Knight, a UK designer was part of a group of English designers who revolutionized knitting in the early 1980s, along with the infamous Kaffe Fassett. I am a fan of Erika Knight’s designs, and this linen pullover is a classic to keep for years to come.

Weekly Fave!

Super Easy Blanket – Crochet Version from Purl Soho

Super Easy Blanket – Knit Version from Purl Soho

What a great idea – knit and crochet versions of the same project. Purl Soho offers this free and popular Super Easy Blanket pattern in a knit version and a crochet one for the wee ones in your life. A simple color pattern, works quickly in beautiful merino wool or other worsted weight yarn.

What Comprises The Best Pattern Instructions?

There are many sources for pattern instructions: fashion magazines, yarn manufacturers pattern books, designer books, social knitting groups, yarn stores, and the internet. Just as there are many well written patterns available; there are many poorly written pattern instructions, particularly the online sources. The problem is that  anyone can place instructions online, but often these patterns aren’t edited. As a beginner, when you don’t enough practice reading patterns, poorly written ones can be very frustrating. A knitting pattern needs to contain all the information required for someone to reproduce the design – meaning the knitter can understand and successfully follow the instructions.

Great Instructions Need to Include the Following Sections of Information:

  • Name of the Pattern
  • Photographs – Garments should be shown on an appropriately sized model to give an idea of the fit. Multiple views are helpful to show close-ups of stitch patterns or other details. Lace shawls look best with a photo of someone wearing it, and one of the shawl lying flat to reveal the pattern. Most knitters prefer to see an image of the entire item.
  • A Brief Description – This could give an overview of construction, inspiration, or what’s interesting about the design.
  • Level of Difficulty and Skills – Some pattern writers use a “difficulty level rating” (beginner, intermediate, advanced), or some writers prefer to address the challenge level. However, it is most helpful to the knitter to describe the required skills. For example, mentioning that a pattern requires knitting in the round, able to read a lace chart, grafting with kitchener stitch, or how to knit with beads.
  • Materials List – includes the yarn manufacturer and name of yarn, fiber content, yardage and meterage (plus ounces/grams) per ball/skein, and required number of balls or hanks for each size. Note: *yardage and meterage is most important when substituting yarn. The color codes used for the design, and some form of yarn guidance is useful to aid with substitution, such as the yarn weight category, whether yarn is self-striping and variegated, or non-superwash wool for felting. Needle sizes and type (straight, circular, double pointed needles), and accessories required including notions (buttons, zipper).
  • Gauge – is the most important section of the pattern. To knit the appropriate sized project, requires that the knitter obtain the gauge in the instructions. Gauge is written as the number of stitches and rows over a 4 inch square in pattern stitch with the needles given in the materials section. It is best to write the gauge for the pattern stitch(es) used. Some pattern instructions only show the stockinette stitch gauge, even if the item is knit in a different pattern stitch. For a design with different pattern stitches, gauge should be given for each pattern stitch. For ease in substituting yarn, indicating the yarn weight category or writing “using yarn that knits to gauge” is helpful. As well, mentioning the stockinette stitch gauge may help with substitution, since yarn ball bands show gauge in stockinette stitch.
  • Sizes and Finished Measurements – Instructions should provide two sets of information. One set includes the sizes reflecting actual body measurements, given in inches and centimeters. Sizes are an indication of whom or how the item fits (eg. 34(36, 38)in [86.5(91.5, 96.5)cm]. The second set is the finished measurements or dimensions of the item. This information should be used to choose the size, rather than the relative size. Finished measurements are typically given after blocking. Note: Indicating what size a model is wearing, shows how the garment is worn and the amount of ease.
  • Schematics – A schematic is a line drawing of the pieces, showing finished measurements, and what the pieces look like. I think a schematic is extremely helpful in understanding the shaping and construction of garments. The best instructions include schematics.
  • Abbreviations/Pattern Stitch Instructions/Special Notes and Techniques – Abbreviations are the shorthand of knitting. Pattern magazines often have a section devoted to abbreviations, and a glossary. Usually in this section of the pattern, terms, techniques such as cables, or special notes important to the design are explained. What type of increases and decreases are helpful in this section; often patterns forget to include this information. The more information to help the knitter, the better, particularly with complex instructions. The writer shouldn’t be vague or assume the information is known.
  • The rest of the instructions are devoted to knitting the pieces, written in text and abbreviations with any charts. Finally, there should be instructions on finishing and assembly. Many patterns forget to include a section on blocking and the assembly steps.

I don’t think you can have too much information in pattern instructions. A major problem by pattern writers is the assumption that a knitter understands what you mean when information is eliminated, or that a knitter already knows how to work a technique. As with any instructions, it’s all in the details, and the reader’s ability to interpret this information to reproduce a project successfully. Pattern instructions should include most of the above information to make your knitting easier.

Weekly Fave!

Polka Dot Scarf – Churchmouse Yarns and Teas

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I love scarves – the ultimate accessory to add a little finesse to your outfit. This one by Churchmouse is knit in Rowan’s light and airy Kidsilk Haze. The dots aren’t made with colored yarn, but knit in a large eyelet pattern stitch – simple yet creates a luxurious lace. I would love to try this piece.

Weekly Fave!

Husk Wrap – in Linen Yarn from Purl Soho

I’m fond of linen, and this beautiful brioche rib wrap from Purl Soho takes full advantage of their new yarn, Field Linen, 100% linen. Check out my post “The Ultimate Summer Yarn”  for the scoop on linen. The Husk Wrap pattern is free, and brioche rib is a great choice for this yarn. Linen gets more beautiful with age and drapes elegantly.

Confusing Terms Found On Yarn Labels

Typical Information on Ball Band

Yarns are packaged with paper ball bands containing information to help you choose the most appropriate yarn for your projects. I outline this information in my e-book “It’s All About The Yarn”. The following are “confusing terms” you may find on yarn labels.

  • Yarn Weight – Typically you won’t see the weight category (thickness of yarn strand) printed on the ball band, but some manufacturers will denote the yarn’s weight category by its number (0 – 7), term (lace – jumbo), or both.
  • Yarn Length – This is the yardage and meterage (amount in yards and metres) for one ball, skein, or hank. This is the actual length, not to be confused with weight in ounces and grams. Two different 50g balls of yarn will have different lengths. For example, a 50g ball of lace weight yarn may be 420m in length, whereas a 50g ball of sock yarn may only have 175m in length. Yardage and meterage is what is used to calculate the amount of substitute yarn.
  • The meaning of the following yarn types is unclear: fingering, sock, sport, baby, and 4 ply yarn. Historically, these yarn types were used as “names” of the yarn. Plies were often used to describe weight, because they were fairly uniform. Today, a single ply yarn can be a very fine lace or a bulky Icelandic wool. Regardless of the weight, all types can be a single or consist of many plies. The following chart is helpful, and notice that in UK, Australia, and New Zealand (not all yarn manufacturers) plies have remained as yarn weights, even though the meaning is no longer clear. Note: The differences between Fingering, Sock, Baby and Sport are small – it’s most important to rely on your gauge when choosing the appropriate yarn for your project.

Australian Yarn Label – 4ply yarn

Yarn Weights for US, UK, and Australia

  • DK, Worsted, Aran – These terms are also yarn weights, commonly found on labels, particularly DK, which stands for “double knitting”. DK is a “light (3) weight” yarn and is popular. Worsted and aran are classified as “medium (4) weight”. “Aran” is slightly thicker than worsted.
  • Color Codes/Dye Lots – Color codes are the manufacturer’s number for a particular color. Dye lots refer to the dye batch number, or the batch the yarn was dyed in. Because yarn is dyed in batches, it’s not uncommon for the same color to vary from one dye lot to another. For this reason, it is important to buy yarn in one dye lot for your project.
  • Some labels, particularly yarns manufactured in Europe may show a rough guide as to how much yarn is required for different garments in average sizes for men, women, and children.
  • You may also find a crochet gauge in single crochet (sc) and hook size for a 4 inch square, along with the stockinette stitch gauge.
  • Care instructions will be in text, symbols, or both. For symbol reference, check out this chart.
  • Flax/Linen – Flax is a food and fiber crop cultivated in cooler regions of the world. Textiles made from flax are known as “linen”. You will often see the term “linen” used on a yarn label, rather than “flax”. The collective term “linens” is generically used to describe bed and kitchen textiles, even those not made from flax.
  • Mercerized Cotton – Mercerization is a chemical finish used on cotton that adds luster, and improves its dyeing properties. Mercerized cotton is stronger than regular cotton, and less prone to shrinkage.
  • Superwash Wool – Superwash is a finishing process that alters the scale structure of wool, so that wool doesn’t shrink when machine washed. For felting projects, do not use superwash wool. Since the “felting” process shrinks wool to make a dense fabric, superwash wool won’t felt.
  • Bamboo Sourced Viscose – Bamboo fibers come from the pulp of bamboo grass. Bamboo yarn is manufactured by two different methods. In one of these methods, bamboo is processed in the same manner as rayon (viscose) fiber, with chemicals and equipment used to make synthetic fibers. Manufacturers are now required to label these “rayon like” yarns with terminology such as “bamboo sourced viscose”.

I hope in defining these “confusing terms”, that this information will help you shop for the best yarn for your projects.