Knitting yarn has very limited outlook on life. There are certain high points in its existence: the first of which is to bewitch a passing knitter with its qualities of colour, luster and feel. It will cleverly seduce you, persuading you that life apart from this particular skein of yarn would be an unbearably bleak existence. So you make the acquisition and take the treasured skein home. This is, indeed, a great day.
Once home, the skein settles in, possibly with a few soft companions. Life is good.
Now the waiting game begins: restiveness amongst the yarn buddies begins to occur. Whose turn will it be next? A certain amount of surreptitious fiber shuffling may occur under the cover of darkness to facilitate optimal positioning to the top of the stash pile. Ah, patience is required.
The great day dawns, the skein of yarn is lifted from the pack and taken to the swift for winding into a center-pull ball. Hallelujah!!! All’s well with the world. Or, less fortunately, the skein is wound into a cannonball style presentation. The yarn feels a painfully stressed by this turn of events, but consoles itself that it will be knit soon.
Knitting proceeds, and the yarn perceives itself more on an individual stitch by stitch basis rather than collectively as a skein. The mid-row stitches are ecstatic! The end of row stitches rather less so, but it’s better than being stuck in a cupboard. As the project progresses, the remaining yarn begins to worry: is it not going to be required? Will it end up with a life sentence in a drawer, with slim parole options? Or, horror of horrors, will it be the bit that is used for sewing up?
No wonder it is anxious! Sewing with yarn spun for knitting can be painful for both the sewer and the yarn. Most knitting yarn is woolen spun (as opposed to worsted spun), which, for the sake of brevity, means it is much less suited to being dragged in and out of a hole. It has more little fiber ends near the surface of the yarn and so can become draggly and weaken quite quickly. Then there is the knitter’s tendency to use huge, long lengths of yarn to sew with (in order to avoid a couple of additional yarn tails). Sadly, the longer the yarn, the more times it has to be hauled through the fabric before it is used and the more the plies tend to untwist. From the knitter’s perspective, too, it takes just as long to haul through yards of yarn, to periodically re-twist the decomposing yarn, and every so often undo a tangle or knot in the sewing yarn as it takes to use two shorter (happier) lengths of yarn.
- Tips for sewing-up with yarn: Use only modest lengths of yarn: up to 24 inches, or thereabouts. (As an experiment, next time cut your usual length of yarn and measure it!)
- Leave yarn tails unfastened and dangling outside the work until you are happy with your seam. This way, if you don’t like a section, it may be pulled out easily.
- If the yarn becomes un-plied as you sew, twist the needle periodically to retwist the plies.
- Use the working yarn for grafting and visible seams, but consider using a finer, similarly coloured yarn for mattress stitch seams. I’d suggest using a similar fiber type as the original yarn. If you have any supplies of crewel wool (it’s worsted yarn spun in a million shades), they can be useful for sewing up wool garments.
- Remember that the pinnacle of life experience for a piece of yarn is for a little loop to be gently drawn up through another welcoming loop of yarn. So knit on, my friends!For more advice on finishing (and rescues), from before you cast on to the last tail to be darned, read my book Cool Knitters Finish in Style. It’s still available in paper and also in digital format.