Last month we talked about sampling in general. My favorite reason to sample – and it includes gauge swatches – is for a large project. We spin to make fabric after all, and we should use our handspun for big projects! In this case, I wanted a chemise to wear under garb that would breathe well, have amazing color, be a bit lacy, and just be fun and unique.
Sampling for a garment means sampling a yarn AND sampling for gauge. The key is keeping a “fresh” singles of the final yarn wrapped around a card nearby while you spin, as well as a ply back sample of the same yarn matching the number of plies with which you intend to knit.
Taking careful notes and keeping a sample card from start to finish is the best way for me to make sure I use the right yarns throughout the process, so I tend to take a sample from wheel to blocked swatch before moving on to my next attempt.
I like to make sure I have 4-6 oz available just for sampling if I am familiar with how a certain breed and put up behaves; if I’m not, I’ll go with a solid pound so I can play with prep, singles weights, number of plies, finishing methods, and swatching on different needle gauges.
I had a pattern in mind already (The Hush Chemise (from the book Needles and Artifice), which you can purchase on Ravelry), but I had to get gauge and I did not want to buy yarn when I could spin my perfect yarn for my perfect chemise. I’ve been sampling breeds for a long time so I have a decent understanding of what breeds I wanted to consider and ultimately decided that a Southern Cross Fiber club offering in the Cavern colorway in a 50/25/25 Falkland/Mulberry Silk/Royal Alpaca blend that I had gone crazy over and ordered tons of extras of, was the best choice for drape, as well as the thinner lace to fingering weight needed for the chemise. It needed to be a fiber that I could spin finely enough to be a light 2-ply.
Then I just had to work out the best singles weight for the best ply back sample, that finished to the best finished yarn weight, and the best gauge swatch! Easy!
I know, you’re all laughing, “right, sounds easy; she’s crazy!” But I’m not really. See, all that breed sampling pays off. I already knew my default yarn was nearly perfect because I have spun and knit with it so much. I knew I had to aim just a bit thicker, but not by much, because of the Falklands and the alpaca getting fluffier in finishing. A few ply back samples and singles wrapped around cards later and I knew I had candidate. I plied up a few dozen yards, finished it, and knitted a gauge swatch on the called for needle size, one up and one down, then washed and blocked the swatches. And there it was! As I suspected. I tend to need to go down a needle size and that tendency held true.
I took that sample card, the whorl notes – which in this case was an RPM note because I spun the yarn on my Device of Questionable Origin, and the gauge swatch with needles noted, and set forth on spinning up my four pounds. I saved a half pound or so back in the event I run low and need to spin some more. Once spun, plied, and finished, I cast on my sweater and started knitting!
The fabric drapes just as I wanted it to, and my sampling paid off – my piece measurements are right on track. The color is perfect and it’s fabulous under my garb!