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Comparison of Lace Yarns

Lark Burger

This article grew out of my desire to knit the Wedding Ring Shawl pattern from Heirloom Knitting. I started looking for the "perfect" gossamer-weight yarn for the project and turned up more candidates than I expected, all very different from one another. I thought that sharing photos of my knitted swatches and my impressions of the yarns might be useful to other knitters.

These are just MY impressions- you may have very different opinions if you try these yarns. Each one has its own positive characteristics. I still haven't decided which I'm going to use for the project; it's a big commitment and I want to be sure of my choice. In making my decision I will consider the appearance and hand I want my shawl to have, the working characteristics of the yarn, my ability to see fine threads on small needles, and my skill level in blocking and finishing. Since the shawl is for myself and not a gift, I won't consider the wear and care that a recipient might give it.

The swatches were all knitted on the same US #1, (2.25mm) Inox grey-coated needle. I've included photos of the yarn before knitting, the swatch before blocking, and the swatch after blocking. I've tried to describe what the yarns were like to knit with, their strength, and the appearance and feel of the knitting. A different-size needle would be more appropriate for some of these yarns, but I thought using the same needle for all of the swatches would facilitate comparisons.

When using yarn this fine, the challenge is often being able to see what you're doing. If you can find needles of a contrasting color, that's great. Spreading a cloth of a contrasting color on your lap will help your eyes to focus on your work. Make sure you have plenty of light and try using magnifying glasses. Even if you don't normally wear glasses, they can be a big help.

Look for a needle with a good point to make it easier to get both stitches when doing a K2tog. Use a light touch with your tension because these yarns don't have the elasticity you're used to in other yarns. Don't forget to use lifelines and markers; many of these yarns are slippery and a dropped stitch can get away from you quickly. A lifeline will keep the stitch from going too far and will facilitate any frogging you may need to do. Using plenty of markers will help keep your place and facilitate counting.

In terms of care, cotton is the most durable choice, will take the most hand-washing, is the easiest to care for, and might be the best choice if you're knitting a gift. Silk is the next most durable, but can be slippery to knit with and could be damaged in future years by someone who thinks the best way to "brighten up" your heirloom is to bleach it. The fine wools are delicate, require care in blocking, and must be protected from moths while in storage. Do consider archival-quality storage boxes and tissue paper to help your beautiful work survive into future generations. Tape a note into the top of the box detailing who made the shawl, what the occasion was, what material you used, care suggestions, etc. Your great-grandchildren will thank you as they take your lovely work out of the box to use at the christening of THEIR grandchildren!

Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Silk
Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Silk <Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Silk <Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Silk
This is beautiful- elegant, filmy, smooth, with a lovely drape and sheen. This swatch doesn't do justice to the yarn- it should really be knitted on a smaller needle. I like the way it looks and feels very much when worked on a #0. A couple of other knitters thought the absence of a halo made the swatch look a little "cold." I think this yarn would make a lovely wedding veil. Make sure you have a needle with a good point for this one. I tried my older aluminum double-points with this yarn and had a hard time reliably picking up both stitches when doing a K2tog. The pointier Inox needles worked much better. Be vigilant for lost loops- a stitch that's gone astray is difficult to get back under control. Bind off with a light touch- it's very easy to make your bound-off edge too tight.

Treenway Wool/Silk Blend
From Treenway Silks, this is a blend of 60% silk and 40% wool, in a 60/2 weight. I think it combines the positive qualities of both of its component fibers. It's easy to work with, not slippery and has a nice sheen. The wool content seems to give it a little "grip" so that a dropped stitch was pretty easy to pick up again. An added benefit, if you want to knit in a color other than white or ivory, is that Treenway will dye their yarn for you in your choice of 100 colors.

Mad Angel Creations Silk/Wool Blend
This yarn was purchased on Ebay, and described as "Cobweb Laceweight." It's a 50-50 blend of wool and silk. It's very strong, not slippery, easy to work with, and the swatch has a nice "crunchy" feel. This probably isn't suitable for your finest work because it has slubs and is rather uneven. Be sure to check any yarn you're considering for heirloom work to ensure the yarn is even enough to show your knitted pattern well.

Tencel/Silk Blend
I purchased this on Ebay, but this combination shouldn't be hard to find from various suppliers. I found this very pleasant to work with and not as slippery as pure silk. Although it's rather loosely plied, I had no problems with splitting the yarn with my needles. It has excellent strength and a nice sheen. I think it would be a very good choice for a project by someone who's moving into knitting with finer yarns.

Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Cotton
Gossamer, indeed!! This was pleasant to work with, even though I've never cared much for non-elastic threads. The blocked swatch shows the pattern very clearly, weighs next to nothing, and has a light halo that gives a softer, warmer appearance than the silk. The thread was stronger than I had expected, given its fine weight. I didn't find it slippery on the Inox needles, and I think it would make a truly lovely shawl.
#100 Cordonnet Crochet Cotton
This cotton would make a more robust shawl that would be easy to care for after knitting. If you want a bright white shawl, this will do it. It's very smooth and strong, but I thought it was a bit slippery on the Inox needles. It might be better to work with this on wooden or bamboo. I had trouble getting dropped stitches back on the needle for some reason.

Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Merino
This wool from Heirloom Knitting is truly lovely stuff. Knitting with it was a real treat; it has a good strength and dropped stitches were relatively easy to recover. The blocked swatch is beautiful, but the finished fabric isn't as sheer as I would want for my wedding ring shawl shawl. In order to get my desired relationship between thread and holes, I'd have to go to a larger sized needle. I'll knit some swatches, but I think this particular shawl would come out way too large. That said, I would use this yarn for other projects in a heartbeat; it's a very nice product and I plan to stock up.

Lacis Shetland Cobweb
This wool from Lacis was very nice to work with, and stronger than I thought it would be. The blocked swatch is very sheer and developed a surprising amount of halo. I'd definitely want to protect the knitted fabric as I worked so the yarn wouldn't take too much wear while the shawl was in progress. The yarn was easier to knit than I thought it would be, but I had a hard time seeing it against my grey needle. Sharon Miller describes this one as ".....potentially, the most authentic yarn. Will need very expert knitting and aftercare." It's also the swatch that made my husband say "Oh, wow!"

Ukrainian Laceweight Wool
I purchased this on Ebay, and there seems to be a steady supply of it available there. I've found it to be quite pleasant to work with. It's 2-ply and has a bit of elasticity that's nice. Dropped stitches stayed put until I could pick them up again because of the slight fuzziness of the yarn. I've included a photo of the label so you can identify it. I've purchased it from this vendor before, though she doesn't have any white in stock at this moment. Do a search on Ebay for "lace yarn" every now again and you'll find it.

Colourmart Cashmere
Colourmart sells cashmere yarns through their Ebay store. This is one of their offerings, a 1/28 weight. It's very soft and quite pleasant to work with. Good-quality cashmere is tougher than you might think and can even take machine washing and drying. It will "bloom" quite a bit with washing, so be sure to wash your swatches to see if this is an effect that you like. Colourmart also has a finer cashmere/cotton that I've heard good things about, but I didn't order in time to review it here.