Spinning for a Project – Part One: How much fiber?

This post is about establishing amount of wool/fiber needed for a sweater, without knowing what I want to knit, and before I even spin the yarn, or have a gauge. But first, a little disclosure…

Disclosure: I am nearly a self-taught knitter and spinner, so I want to say that what I am about to experiment with is not from anything  I have read, but only from what I have personally experienced, and am continuing to do — please do not quote , copy or paste any of this anywhere, it is probably all wrong.  😉

Then a little backstory: I had a spinning mentor in the early 90’s who guided me through my first spinning and knitting projects. I recall being so overwhelmed with the spinning ahead of me when I decided to spin for my first sweater (had never even knit a whole sweater before), wondering about how on earth a person could know how much to spin to make one, and I recall my mentor saying “It takes about two pounds of wool to make a sweater.”   That’s it?  How did she know?   Well now I know that was her personal general sweater weight guideline, and she was likely speaking for her size; she was a tall and larger person than I was then, so I think she may have pared it down for me to about 1.5 pounds of wool. I do remember spinning up a lot of yarn for a project and having a lot left over after knitting it, thinking her overly simple guidelines impossible and inaccurate and was maybe even a little frustrated at all the extra spinning I was required to do to get the sweater I wanted. This is especially so because I had so much yarn left over ended up reknitting the sweater two more times in order to use up more of it.  Looking back I realize my mentor must have wanted  to be safe, knowing it to be safer to have too much yarn rather than too little, and the garment to be too big rather than too small, so I spun up way more than what was actually needed.  That sweater is a distant memory now, as I lost all in the wildfire, but I did post  that sweater knit in 1994 (scroll to bottom) back when I first began this blog in 2010.

That sweater was knit over 25 years ago, but the memory of it has come back to challenge me — and  I would like to experiment with the 2 lbs per sweater theory.  A couple of things to say right off is that now I am accustomed to the international yarn lingo and think in grams for yarn, and so I’ve got to put the conversion here:  2 pounds = 907.185 grams.  Let me round it to 900 grams of wool per sweater. That sounds rather generous though, maybe right for a large sweater, which would be 9 balls of Cascade 220 (up to 1980 yards) in worsted weight, or 7 balls of Cascade 128 (up to 896 yards) in bulky weight. Indeed an overshot by several hundred yards for most, but maybe as a safety barrier, the start-with-more-than-you-need thinking.  Hmmm,  I think I’d like to refine my theory a bit more that that.

I have no sweaters with me as they were all lost to wildfire,  but I have many knit for myself and others on my Ravelry pages with notes, and I see that  the last sweater I knit for myself using Studio Donegal Aran Tweed, used only 450g  or 9 (50g) balls of yarn.  450g = .99 pounds, that is roughly a 1 pound sweater.  Of course, I think it would be safest to round it up to 500 grams per sweater, or 1.1 pounds. Giving a wide berth for a comfortable yardage overshot, I am thinking maybe that I should have 500g per sweater be my personal “basic sweater” weight, with a comfortable overshot.  The comfortable over estimate is because in my experience most hand-spun is denser than most mill-spun yarns, and can often weigh more per yardage than the light fluffy balls we get from the yarn shop. I just want to be safe when spinning for something to knit like a sweater. If my sweater ends up being too small, I’ll happily keep it for the day I lose a few pounds, but this is my starting point of my experiment, and a 500g sweater it will be.

Now, one might wonder how the grams and yardage play out in a size.  Basically, the bigger or smaller your stitches, the fewer or more stitches in your tension gauge will be. My experiment is to see that weight of fiber and yarn remains approximately the same, even though yardage and gauge change. That 500g of yarn, whether dk weight, worsted weight, or super-bulky, in theory it should end up the right amount of yarn; given the stitch gauge is accurate, the appropriate size needles are used for the gauge, and I make consistently the same size and proportions.

Going from this theory; that weight remains consistent through the changing and varied selections of yarn & yardage, I have a hunch that if any of you out there who are reading this and are interested in experimenting along with me, if we go into our sweater chest, and pick out our favorite sweater (of average length & proportions) and weigh it, we will have a starting point, because as sure as can be, we can’t all abide by the Two Pound general rule of my old spinning mentor’s, and you can see how I’ve figured out my own from general rule.  I may not have any sweaters in my closet to weigh, but fortunately I have that sweater I knit for myself in Autumn 2016 in my Ravelry project page, right here, and I will go by that.

Your sweater might be 1 pound/450 grams , or 1.5 pounds/ 680g, or  2.25 pounds/1020g , or whatever. Also as all of us experienced knitters know, its essential to round up to more yardage & weight to allow for anomalies.  Where is all of this going? Okay, so I want to spin yarn again for something to knit, as its been a few decades since I’ve undertaken such a huge spinning project, and I want to aim for the yardage to be very close. I’ve got myself some roving all ready to go, and I just need to weigh it all and then I can begin the magic on my blending board! 500 grams sounds like an easy enough job of wool blending and spinning to me.   Watch this space for Part 2, the wool blending!

See all posts “Spinning for A Project” series HERE.

4 thoughts on “Spinning for a Project – Part One: How much fiber?

    • I know , isn’t that archival piece just so enchanting? I will make another one day, oh but John’s antler buttons are gone forever. ::sob::

        • Oh boy am I too! I am just happier than can be surrounded by my Tools Of The Trade, and all set up and not feeling there’s a thing between Me & My Best Work. xx

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