Thanks to a couple of recent videos on YouTube, you know the ones I'm sure, there has been some interest in super heavyweight extra chunky 'yarns' with which to 'knit' giant throws and bedspreads. You've guessed, I have something to say on the matter....
Before you head over to ask us for some of this giant yarn, I would like you to think about yarn for a moment or two. Let us consider together what yarn is, how it is made, and why it made in that way, and what we want of it.
Take a few pieces of the yarn you were last working with. Say lengths of about 4 inches long. Have a good look at the way it is made. I was using Cambrian Wool 4 ply last, which has a 2 ply construction. Two strands of spun fibres, twisted together in the opposite direction to that of the spin. Take the ends of your first piece, try and snap it. Mine breaks eventually, but it takes some effort and hurts my fingers. Take another piece. Untwist it so that you have separate strands (these are the 'singles' that are plied together in the next step of production). Take one of these strands and break that. Easier, but still takes a bit of doing. Now take another of those separate strands and untwist that, so that you have a sort of fluffy, puffed up, group of aligned fibres. Break that. Came apart as you looked at it did it? Mine certainly did. Be fair, and try this on other yarns. Come back when you've had a good play.
Ok then, what have we established? The more the fibres are twisted, and the more singles are plied together, the stronger the yarn is. That's the What, the How and the Why covered. Now for the last part, What do we Want of our yarn?
I don't know about you, but I want my yarn to be reliable. I want it to knit into fabrics that will continue to look good and show off my effort and my creativity for as long as possible. I want them to keep me warm, and I don't want to have to mend them too quickly. I am realistic, I recognise that certain yarns will pill more and faster than others, that some will fade, and some will stretch, and I treat them accordingly to get the best from them. I was given a kilo of Colinette's magnificent Point 5 yarn for my 21st birthday (20+ years ago now, and Red Parrot colourway if you're interested). I knitted it into an enormous batwing, hooded and knee-length cardigan. That thing is humungous, weighs a ton and is the warmest thing I possess. It pills like crazy. Back then the pilling was a mystery to me, but I was concerned about the intrinsic strength of the yarn. It isn't very strong because its a single strand. It is loosely spun, although it is also very slightly felted and that helps, and I knitted it reasonably tightly. To help my jacket stay together, I made a silk lining for it. That takes some of the weight of the garment so that the yarn doesn't take it all. Consequently it's going strong all this time later. I now know that the pilling is also a result of the loose spin and lack of plying.
That brings me to these gigantic blankets, looped together from unspun fleece tops. Because that's what these huge yarns are. Unspun, carded and combed fibres that would normally go for spinning into singles that would then be spun together. They are the same as that last strand that we pulled apart. Ok, they are stronger than that, because of the sheer amount of fibre they contain, but without the spin, there is little strength, and there is a LOT of weight in those blankets. Just think about it, and think about shedding, and pilling. Then think about the cost, and the effort.
I know it takes ages to knit things. I haven't ever knitted a blanket, not even a pram sized one, because of this. I know people that have, and I salute them. I also know that those blankets were pieced together from smaller parts, knitted in spun and plied yarns, and that they will stay together for years.
This has been a bit of an epistle, what can I say, this stuff matters to me. I love knitting, and I love wearing the things I have made. I want them to last so I can carry on loving them, and I want every other knitter to feel the same. I would like to save people from disappointing results if I can, but I will never get in the way of experiments, so if there is any one thing I would like you to take away from my writing it is this - a yarn depends on it's spin and it's plying for strength and longevity. Before you start your project, look at the yarn you intend to use and ask your self, will this yarn stay together when I put it to this use? Will it look good 6 months from now, 6 years from now? Will this yarn give me the results I want? Do that, and consider your answers, and I assure you you'll be getting the best you can from your yarn.
Happy wool fiddling.