Even though I hadn’t totally devised my yarn resolutions yet, Aviary fit a lot of my new, picky, criteria for a good purchase. It’s a limited-run farm yarn, which meant whatever I made out of it would be totally unique, something no one else had. It was undyed, a captivating off-white with little slubs of natural black (the blackest natural black I’ve ever seen). So, it’s a neutral, which will be versatile in my wardrobe, it’s 100% undyed wool, and even better, it’s yarn that tells a story.
I tend to pick out yarn before I pick out a pattern. If I love a yarn but not enough to make a sweater out of it, I’ll buy one skein for a hat or cowl, or to keep in my stash in case I need to make a gift. I spend tons of time browsing patterns, but I rarely decide that I’m definitely going to make a particular pattern and then start shopping for yarn.
In her book Sweater Design in Plain English (which is sadly not in my library), Maggie Righetti talks about the process of letting yarn tell you what it wants to be. She suggests spending time with the yarn before you start knitting, kind of like how you should spend a long time playing with a litter of kittens before you decide which one to take home. Working in yarn stores, I practiced the art of “spending time with yarn.” And I’ve found Righetti’s advice to be true. Give yarn the time and space, and it will tell you what it wants to be.
This idea came back to me recently as I was reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, a new book with the power to make cleaning house exciting even to me. Like Righetti does with yarn, Kondo attributes a sort of sentience to material things. She advises the reader to handle each and every one of their possessions, in order to “bring the item to life.” She also thanks her handbag when she gets home from work at night, and she prays to her clients’ dwellings when she goes on her private tidying consultations.
Before my Aviary arrived in the mail, I had a pattern 90% picked out. With a yarn like this one, the pressure of picking the perfect pattern can be intimidating. This was a beautiful yarn, that might never be available to me again, so I had to get it exactly right. Tolt described the yarn as between DK and worsted, and I wanted a garment that would show off the yarn’s natural irregularities in color and texture. Most of all, I wanted something I would wear all the time, something that made a statement, but was simple enough to wear every day. I’d had my eye on Dusk, and from this description, this yarn seemed like a perfect match for the pattern.
When Aviary finally arrived, though, something about my pattern choice just wasn’t working with the yarn in my hand. It was heavier than I’d anticipated; the 200yd skeins weighed 120 grams, not 100. The wool itself reminded me of Bluefaced Leicester: long, silky fibers with a little sheen. A pullover in this yarn would be oppressively warm, and something in plain stockinette stitch, with lots of ease, might end up hanging forlornly, losing the yarn’s specialness. Instead of casting on my project right away, I put my six new skeins in a little heap next to the couch, for easy reach, and periodically would pick one up, pet it, and listen to see if it was ready to tell me what it wanted to be.
By chance, I was admiring a design I’ve loved for awhile, when the yarn called to me from its little camp by the couch. Svalbard is a cardigan, in an allover ribbed pattern that would help the garment hold its shape while playing up the slubs and subtle stripes. The sweater looked classic, but the pattern was deliciously complicated, according to many project notes on Ravelry. This was it. The yarn told me what it wanted to be.
I’m about 80% finished with my Svalbard, which I’ll talk more about in another entry. So far, it’s one of my more successful pairings of a yarn with a pattern. How do you pick your projects? Do you choose a pattern first, or a yarn? Have you ever mismatched a yarn with a pattern (I know I have!), and what did it teach you?