How To Adapt Shrinktastic Denim Yarn for a Non-Denim Yarn Pattern
I am always confused when people rave about denim yarns -- you know, the ones that shrink significantly after you wash them? How on earth is that a good idea?! Especially for someone with monkey arms, like moi. Oh wait, do I hear a knitting dare? did you just dare me?? Ok, I'm doing this.
Rowan has carried a denim yarn in one form or another for many many years. The forms change because the mills and sources change, and denim yarn lovers really weren't thrilled with the last version "Denim" which was discontinued last year: too soft, too floppy, no good denim feel. "Original Denim" replaced it this Spring and I got me some.
You can certainly feel the difference. I know because I've got them both in front of me as I type this -- and the new one is strong and sturdy, like a pair of workman's Levi's. The old one? It's so soft that it's that pair that is going to rip a great big hole in a very compromising location... tomorrow.
Now, there aren't a gajillion patterns out there for denim yarn: specifically, patterns that account for the rate of shrinkage of the yarn after washing. The best source by far is Kim Hargreaves's Denim People, and you'd never be able to tell it was published 10 years ago, the designs are brilliant and timless (that's the magic of Kim Hargreaves, of course!)
But Rowan also just released a booklet, Denim the Next Generation, filled with patterns by Martin Storey including my fave, Penzance Cable.
I really didn't want to do anything that complex though, and anyway, I find long-sleeved cotton sweaters to be too heavy to wear. I wanted to be able to take *any* worsted weight yarn pattern and adapt it for denim. So I did me some math on the gauge difference (28 rows changes to 32 rows after washing), and I'm going to give you the secret.
Let's put this in the context of a pattern:
1) After every 7 rows of stockinette stitch, knit one extra row. Then knit 7 more, and knit another row. Repeat.
2) If the pattern says to knit 50 cm, knit (50cm + (50cm x 0.125), or 56.25 cm with Original Denim. An easier calculation for this is: 50 cm x 1.125 = 56.25 cm.
I've been told by Rowan that stitches other than stockinette may shrink differently, so if you want to tackle a non-stockinette pattern, you probably want to make a swatch and wash it to really figure out the difference. But I heard that knitting dare ringing in my head, so I decided to do something wild and crazy with a ton of different stitch patterns and show you what happens.
I chose a pattern from the Silkystones book, which is another worsted weight yarn released by Rowan last spring. This is Cascade by Marie Wallin.
It's awfully oversized, so I thought this would be ideal in case it shrank in all directions. But to be honest, I removed a ton of stitches in width because it just looked gigantic: I went from 109 sts per side to 89! I also followed my rule to add 1 row for every 7 knitted, adding them easily in the reverse stockinette sections.
I started this in Maine, where I discovered that those pockets in foldable chairs actually have two functions.
I also learned that denim yarn makes your hands blue! It's easily washable and it takes a good stretch of knitting to start seeing it -- but be aware. This also translates to washing your piece *alone* for the first time, ok? It's going to be in hot water and it is going to bleed like a smurf.
I decided that all this would be the most informative for you if I showed you how it shrank. So I laid the finished piece onto cardboard and traced its outline. Then I washed it in the hottest water I had (which wasn't even the recommended 60C) and paid $2.50 at the local laundromat to tumble dry the darn thing, as we do not have a dryer in the house.
Holy crap, it had shrank like mad in all directions! Not only that, the dye had really run off, and some of the stitches were almost white! Let me tell you, this was not what I expected. However, what I absolutely loved was how the stitches suddenly popped out of the top. I mean, every stitch was tight and defined and looked perfectly performed. OHHHHH>>> THAT'S WHY PEOPLE LOVE DENIM YARNS..
But please don't despair if it seems to have shrank too much! Guess what? You can get a lot of your size back if you wash in hot water but AIR DRY. (The laundromat was horrific, I was not ever going back.)
Phew! I must say this was a fun experiment. Although, I might have been crying if it wasn't wearable, who knows. Actually, on the crying side, I spilled strongly steeped Earl Grey all over the lower front of the thing shortly after all of these photos, and oh the irony: you wash denim garments repeatedly just so that they'll get this lovely fade to them (due to the overdyed nature of the yarn), but the moment you spill any color on it, it sticks like nobody's business. There is NO getting it out, sigh.
If you like or hate denim yarn, tell me! And tell me if I've scared you off or made you curious, lol.
See my Cascade in Original Denim on Ravelry