Monday, June 21, 2010

Designer Secrets - The Hand of the Fabric

The hand of the fabric is a term not generally used by Knitters. It's a definition that generally exists in sewing and clothing manufacturing venues. It is however a nuance of fabric creation that Knitters would benefit by understanding. It refers to the characteristics of the fabric being created. Many of those qualities are determined by the fibers that you are working with. The gauge that the yarn is knit at will also have an impact on "hand" as well as the original spinning method used for the yarn. It has a large impact on whether you will be happy with the end product coming from your efforts. Understanding the qualities of hand will also help you to achieve successful yarn substitutions. A stunning design can be ruined or enhanced by yarn choice. A gorgeous yarn can be wasted when used in a project that fails to showcase its best qualities.

Yarn falls into three categories: protein, vegetable or synthetic. Each one of these categories has specific qualities related to that particular category. The length of the staple fiber also has an impact on the resulting fabric. I'll do some future posts that will focus on individual fibers.

Hand really just means how does the knitted fabric feel. The following are terms that you should become familiar with to begin to educate yourself on the concept of hand. Many of these are intuitive but if you start analyzing your swatches while thinking about these qualities I guarantee that your end results will be improved. What you are aiming for is an overall comparison of performance between all your knitted fabrics in relative terms. Do this after your swatch has been blocked and you have achieved the correct gauge. Take your swatch and think about these qualities. Is it stiff, crunchy or does it drape. Will it stretch out of shape becoming to long? Do you need to compensate and knit the pieces shorter? Is the surface smooth, rough, scratchy or fuzzy? Crush it in your hand. Do wrinkles appear or does it immediately pop back to its original shape? Is the knitting springy? Are the stitches lofty or flat? Is it soft enough to wear against bare skin or will you need to have a garment between the knitting and your body? Did you knit a swatch with a border? If you did compare how the yarn behaved when different stitches were used. What about temperature? Some yarns feel cool to the touch and make great summer projects. What about pilling? Is this a yarn that abrasion will cause pilling under the arms? Is it stretchy or limp? Is the swatch thin or thick? Are the stitches close together or so far apart that you can see the yarn between the column of stitches in stocking stitch?

Do this analysis on all of your projects both on the swatch and on the finished item and think about how you could improve each project. The subtlety of what you are learning will improve all of your future knitting projects. I promise!

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