I’ve gotten some questions via eMail about yesterday’s yarn crawl.

How do you know what to buy?  Do you go with a list?

Some people do.  My pal Kathryn did.  She had a prepared list of patterns and requirements, and went looking for yarns specific to those needs.  I don’t.  When I go to an "exotic" yarn shop I look for things that aren’t available at my local yarn store.  Most of the stuff in the front retail store area at Webs is available in my own neighborhood.  (I am lucky enough to live in one of the most yarn-shop-dense areas in in the US.)  I went looking for back room bargains, off labels, mill ends, and other oddiments that I am leery of purchasing sight-unseen over the ‘net.

In terms of what I was looking for, I do admit that experience with yarns is a plus.  I know a bit about different types of yarns and their properties.  Not as much as a spinner – but enough to know what yarns are likely to improve with washing, and which ones will remain prickly for their entire life.  I’ve got a rough grasp of what both yards per pound figures and the number system of yarn descriptors used for woolen and cotton yarns translate to in standard hand-knitters terms and gauge.  I’ve played with wraps per inch (though I admit I didn’t use that measure this trip).  I’ve got a calculator and know how to convert pounds to grams, so I can figure out a rough equivalent cost per mythical 50-gram skein.  Plus I have a good idea of what colors appeal to me, look well on me (or my target),  have classic appeal, and would be fun to knit. 

So what I did was wander the back aisles in the walk in warehouse, looking for goodies on special.  The goodies had to be of excellent quality, in an appealing color that will transcend trends, of versatile type or construction (not a novelty yarn that will look dated in a fortnight), and represent a significant cost savings.  If any "spoke to me" (inspired a particular creative idea upon first sight) all the better.  But I was not buying for immediate consumption and went with no particular  projects in mind.

Have you ever bought "the wrong yarn"?

Yes and no.  I’ve got all sorts of things that have sat in my stash for extended periods of time, but I’ve never bought anything I wished I could return.  For example, right now I’ve got two bags of well-aged Classic Elite Artisan in a deep green somewhere between khaki and hunter.   At the time I bought it (circa ’99) I had an idea that I’d use it for a cabled sweater.  But since then I’ve reconsidered.  It’s a bulky weight (3.5spi) and has alpaca in it.  A cabled thing in it would end up being both weighty and ultra-warm.  Too warm to wear as an indoor/outdoor sweater.  Plus I’ve found I prefer knitting in smaller gauges.  So it sits, awaiting inspiration, but I wouldn’t say it was a bad purchase or it was "the wrong yarn."  Eventually I’ll figure out what to do with it, or I’ll swap it for something else. 

How much did Webs pay you to post yesterday’s ad?

Nobody pays me nothin’.  I go where I want, and I write what I want on String – bad or good.  Please send my greetings to the other conspiracy theorists whose company you must enjoy.

So what are those number system/yards per pound bits you mentioned?

(This wasn’t actually asked, but I’m sure it will be if I don’t address it here).  There are several very cogent explanations of the number system and how it’s calculated elsewhere on the Web, but here’s a quick cheat sheet of equivalents for wool.  Remember that although this chart makes it look like there are absolute definitions of size, these are approximate average numbers.  There is considerable overlap with the values shown above and below each category, dependent on all sorts of things including fiber blends, texture, or how tightly the stuff is twisted (how dense the yarn is).

(ply weight
Some Count
For This Weight
(100% Wool)
Fingering (4-ply) 7 spi 1,920 wool
16 4/30, 2/15, 4/24
Sport (6-ply) 6 spi 1,500 wool 14 6/24, 2/16, 3/9, 3/11
DK (8-ply) 5.5 spi 1,400 wool 12-13 3/8,
Worsted (10 ply) 5 spi 1,280 wool 11-12 2/10, 10/24, 4/8
Aran (12 ply) 4.5 spi 850 wool 10-11 12/24, 2/4,
Bulky (14 ply) 3-4 spi 680 wool
Super Bulky (16 ply+) 3 spi or fewer 500 or fewer 8 or fewer 2/2

*In wool the first number refers to the number of plies (physical construction, not "ply weight equivalence"), in cotton, the second number refers to the number of physical plies

Please feel free to send me corrections and additions.  I’ll be adding to this chart as time goes on, and possibly supplementing it with one for cotton when I get a chance.

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