Why I love lighter weight yarns

I've written about this before, I know. 

I was browsing YouTube this past week when I noticed a video title "Top Nine Fingering-weight Sweaters Even I Would Knit". So I clicked on it, expecting to find a kindred spirit who enjoys lighter yarns.

Before the video really got underway, the host surprisingly admitted to having next to no interest in knitting with fingering weight yarn, but that what she was about to present were the top nine patterns that might provoke cast-on negotiations.  Fair enough, I thought.

Her first offering seems to have made it to her list because the pattern was inspired by a musical reference, as she was not a fan of the colors presented, and it was a fingering weight pattern. She referenced another video where she talks at length about her feelings on fingering weight yarn, and even acknowledges the role of fingering and DK weight yarns in color work, but she clearly has no interest in casting on large numbers of stitches.

And she is not alone!  I follow a number of knitters on Instagram and many of them have a real preference for DK, worsted weight, bulky and super-bulky yarns. I understand that for some, the preference is practical: they are designing patterns for busy people who want to see results in a short period of time.  For others, they are knitting garments from their own original patterns for sale, so they need weights of yarns that will yield results quickly too.

This preference is also being reflected more in what yarn shops carry. Some online yarn shops that I've frequented have fewer lines of laceweight and fingering yarns than they did a year ago.  The exception here is sock yarn. Indie-dyed sock yarn is readily available, everywhere. And I love indie-dyed sock yarn too, but I don't make a habit out of knitting larger pieces from yarn that sells at $30+ per skein. I've stopped frequenting several online shops as they no longer carry lighter yarns in a budget-minded range.

Luckily, this past summer I was gifted a large quantity of laceweight yarn by a pattern designer and knitter with whom I am acquainted. Some of the yarn lines have long since been discontinued, but happily fibers such as tussah silk, merino, bison and alpaca will never go out of style.  Color preferences change; however, lighter yarns and laceweight in particular offer opportunities for color mixing that other weights do not.

At the moment I've got a plain shawl on the needles that is using a variegated laceweight as the main color, and two solids of different value.  By alternating the second color every twenty rows, the different colors in the variegated yarn get to take turns being featured.  The color changes are quite pretty and by letting the yarn do the heavy lifting in this project, I can enjoy the simplicity of a stocking stitch crescent shawl.

But color-mixing isn't the only reason I like lighter weight yarns. They are economical - you get generous yardage per skein, and you have more control over the fiber content, thickness and drape of your knitted fabric.  One of my favorite shawls features two laceweight yarns: a mohair-silk and a blue-faced leicester. The combination is unlike any other I've yet come across (though mohair-silk and llama comes close behind). It is the perfect weight and drape on my favorite 4 mm needles.

I live in a northern climate, but the window for wearing very bulky sweaters is limited. Layering pieces, in lighter weights are far more versatile in a northern capsule wardrobe. In the right fibers, they can even be four-season pieces. I aim for most of mine to be at least three-season! 

While there is a case to be made for knitting more than you actually need when learning different knitting techniques (as these garments can be passed along to others), my goal is to create a smaller more versatile wardrobe for myself over several years. I made a good start in 2023 and will continue in 2024. A key feature of this capsule wardrobe is hand-knitted pieces in laceweight, fingering and DK weight yarns.  

I am considering making a heavier Icelandic style sweater as I lost the previous one I made over 20 years ago in the Vancouver airport. Layered under a sail-cloth anorak, an Icelandic wool Lopapeysa is a formidable winter garment. And I dearly loved knitting with Lopi wool for decades before discovering my love for lighter yarns.

I think part of the draw of heavier yarns lies in the fact that knitting is no longer taught to children nor actively encouraged in the young. Muscle memory, good technique and practice go a long way in bringing up knitting speed, making lighter yarns less of a disadvantage. I am an English style knitter who uses a flick technique so I never fully release the right hand needle when I wrap the yarn.  My speed, while not particularly fast, enables me to easily finish a simple, top-down, fingering weight pullover within ten to fourteen days. 

I love watching Scandinavian knitters online! Their fingers fly as many are continental knitters.  Even colorwork doesn't slow then down.  And Shetland knitters using the lever method are almost unbelievable. I've seen historical footage where you have to slow the recordings down to actually see the hand movements, they are so fast. And of course they had to be.  Yarn used was made locally and often a finer hand-spun. Knitted garments were made for sale to supplement the family income, so speed was key.

Nowadays, speed is not as important  and knitters seeking fast results are free to choose bulkier yarns.  But as a friend once said to me about fishing, it's not always about catching fish. People don't while away hours on river banks, or in boats on lakes, solely to catch fish. The whole process of fishing, where and how it happens, is what draws them back again and again.

Knitting is much like that too. Sure, the satisfaction of completing a project or mastering a new technique can be compelling, but its the process of knitting, how and where it happens that keeps drawing me back. My favorite needles feel good in my hands, my eyes take in the beautiful colors and my fingers revel in the textures. The rhythm of a simple stitch pattern can be a soothing mantra against the chaos of our everyday. The favorite chair, quiet corner, complete with windowsill, warm cuppa, and sleeping fur-babies, are all integral parts of the refuge of knitting. 

And it makes no difference whether I've cast on 50 stitches or 400.  The magic is always the same.

I hope your knitting brings you joy today too.


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