If you’re a knitter or crocheter who’s had the opportunity to use handspun yarn in your projects, you may have found it challenging. It’s true that handspun can be hard to work with. The same strand of yarn can be thin and thick, stretchy and stiff, and – especially if a beginning spinner made it – both kinky and so underspun that it almost falls apart when you handle it. It is possible, though, to make beautiful things with handspun. And there are steps you can take to make working with it much easier.
The inconsistencies of handspun may be part of its charm, but they can wreak havoc with the finished size of your item. First, try to match the thickness of your handspun as closely as possible to the thickness of the yarn required for the pattern. You probably won’t be able to get it exactly right, but try to come as close as you can; otherwise, your item may not look anything like the one in the pattern. For example, if you use a thin, finely-spun yarn in a pattern that calls for worsted or bulky weight, your item will look lacy rather than solid. If that’s what you want, great – but if it isn’t, you’ll be really disappointed and feel as if you’ve wasted your time.
You should also try to match the type of yarn required by the pattern. If the pattern calls for an evenly-spun yarn and your handspun is of the thick-and-thin type, your finished fabric will either have gaps where it should be solid, or be really dense in some places and really light in others – assuming you can get the gauge at all. And if the pattern uses an uneven yarn and your handspun is very smooth and consistent, you’ll have the same problem.
Both of these considerations lead to the most important one – gauge – especially if you’re working from a pattern. You need to get the same number of stitches and rows per inch as the pattern requires, and the only way to do this is to make a gauge swatch. A lot of people don’t like these, because they can be time-consuming – sometimes it takes more than one swatch to get the gauge right. And with handspun, there may be another problem – you may not have a lot of yarn, and handspun can be hard to duplicate. But if your yarn is different from anything you’ve ever worked with, or just different from what the pattern calls for, a swatch is a necessity if you want your item to resemble the one in the pattern. And as for the scarcity problem – you can always rip out the swatch later and use the yarn in the pattern.
When making your swatch, you may find that you’ll have to change your needle or hook size more than once to get the correct gauge. Even if you’re not using a pattern, it will probably be worth the extra effort to make a swatch or two anyway, so you can settle on the exact gauge you need to give the effect you want. If the handspun is very inconsistent and you can’t get the gauge right at all, you can always use the handspun for a decorative effect on a small section, so it doesn’t affect the overall size of the item.
Handspun yarn is unique, and so are the items made from it. Don’t let its idiosyncrasies stop you from trying it. It’s worth the extra effort.