Can all of your special qualities be discerned by squishing? (I do not advocate trying!) Nope? So why do we insist on judging wool this way?
I talk a lot about the Hand-Squish-Grab when I review yarn. If you are new to KnitBritish you might be wondering what it is and why I tell you not to be swayed by it too much.
| What is the Hand-Squish-Grab™*
When we go to a yarn shop, or we are at a wool festival we are very lead by touch. We squish a ball of yarn and – do not deny it – a lot of us will make a purchase decision based on the feel.
We are such sensory beings that we do like to touch and feel (and smell!) yarn, so when I review a yarn for you on the podcast I will tell you what the hand-squish-grab handle feels like, but I am very keen that we STOP buying yarn based mainly on the feel, because the feel of that ball is so different from how the knitted fabric will be a month, a year or even 10 or 20 years from now.
Wool is a many textured thing
We have over 60 breeds of sheep in the UK and they range from superfine Shetlands and BFLs to incredibly tough hardy Herdwicks, Scottish Blackfaces and a whole lot of handles in between. All of our sheep breeds have their own unique textures and characteristics. Some of it is great for carpeting and upholstery, but lots of them are great for knitting and these breeds (and blends) really deserve your attention.
We need to stop the faulty thinking, along the lines of “That won’t make a great X, Y or Z because it doesn’t feel soft”
Before getting into a different knitted fabrics of single breed and blended British wool, it is worth talking about the construction of a ball of yarn. I interviewed Sue Blacker, of Blacker Yarns for Wovember a few years ago. This is what she had to say on the subject of feeling yarn balls.
The wool in a ball is often somewhat stretched on the outside, so it’s a good test to put a finger into the centre of the ball where the wool is loosely wound and it will almost always feel much softer. This is why hanks/skeins are usually much softer to handle than balls of individual breed yarns. Then a woollen spun will soften and “ripen” with handling and use, to a much greater extent than a worsted spun yarn, so a little patience will often bring huge rewards – this applies to the handling at knitting, and then more so to washing and wearing over time.
I’ve long been an advocate of feeling the wool *inside* the ball of wool rather than the outside. Try this next time and then feel the outside of the ball. It can be very different.
So my first tip is …
1. Do the Hand-Squish-Grab, but then think of other ways you can feel your yarn. Unceremoniously stick your finger inside the ball. Also, if you can, feel along the length of the yarn (this is easier to do with a hank) – this is how you will feel the yarn more commonly as you work it – not with a palm squish.
The second tip is….
2. Swatch. *Wash. Block. Wear. Repeat from * two or three times.
The only way you are really going what your wool is best suited to and truly get an idea of finished texture is to swatch it and give that swatch a few road tests. Washing, blocking and wearing makes a huge difference. I know some folk do not like to swatch but, honestly, it can be an eye-opener. Not just in terms of knowing your gauge, but just how your wool can become so different from the ball. Another thing to consider is the treatment your wool has gone through. It could be oiled, for e.g and so washing will mean an immediate change.
By wearing your swatch in the band of your jeans, or tucked under your sleeve you will get a good indication of feel and how that can change each time you wash and block.
Don’t be swayed by the initial feel!
If you grasp anything firmly in your hand you are going to feel every lump bump, or prickle, or inconsistency. You do not knit with wool in this way, you knit with it flowing through your fingers, which is a different feel all together. When you weave that yarn into stitches it takes on another texture again. Even if you do not want to have to go to the lengths of tip 2, just remember tip 1 when you are on your next wool shopping trip.
| Further Reading
Here are further posts by me on
An example of a breed swatch road test
FAQS about our ongoing (self-managing) Swatch along
and this post from Felix Ford, AKA Knitsonik, contains some personal stationery you can use for your own swatch tests
* The Hand-Squish-Grab™ is not really a ™, but it is very much my own phrase!