February 26, 2012

Knitting vs Crochet, Part 2: Does Crochet Really Use More Yarn? (Part 1)

I hear this one a lot.  I hear it in my craft group, I read it on Ravelry forms, I read jokes about it in knitting books.  In the craft world, it seems that it's common knowledge that crochet uses more yarn. 

As a crocheter, knitter, and a wannabe skeptic, my first reaction to all of this is 'is it really true, or is it one of those non-facts that take a life of their own?  Does crochet really take more yarn, or is it a perception issue?'  The good news is that this can be tested, and that is exactly what I'm going to do.

The first concrete quote of this fact that comes to my mind can be found in the knitting humor book Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, where she claims:
"Another bad thing about crochet: It uses three times more yarn than knitting to cover the same area" (Kindle location 1372; chapter 3, part 6, para. 7).
This is also the only quote I've read so far that gives an amount.  Three times as much?  I find that a little hard to believe, even if crochet does take up more yarn than knitting.  This also give me a starting point for my method, but I'll get to that later.

(On a unrelated note, she's the only knitting blogger I check every day.  There's a reason for that.  Go read some of her stuff.  Really.)

Unfortunately, you'll have to go with my word on the rest, as they were spoken or I can't find them again.  I did Google 'crochet yarn amount' and found a quote on a blog that repeated a variation of the above.  So it's out there.  From somewhere.

What I'm Testing and Method
So, what this comes down to is, does crochet really use more yarn?  But this is a trickier question than it looks. By what do you mean 'crochet takes up more yarn'?  The quote above mentions that crochet should take three times as more yarn as knitting for the same area, that is, the same swatch size. However, that doesn't take into account gauge.  I could knit a 6st to the inch swatch and crochet one with 3st to the inch, and I wouldn't be surprised when the knitting swatch takes up more yarn.  I could knit the same 3st to the inch, and maybe use less yarn.  I also may create a fabric with a shit-ton of holes as well.

Another way of looking at it is by calculating how much yarn each stitch in both knitting and crocheting take up.  I suspect this is where the 'fact' comes from: my guess is that a single crochet, done on the same diameter tool and in the same yarn as a knit/purl stitch would take up more yarn.  The crochet stitch would also be bigger. But that's the thing, you use more yarn but get a bigger stitch, and therefore you cover more area.  So the first way is the better way to look at it, if we standardize for gauge, though I'll do this for kicks to see if my guess has merit.

A third is by stitch type.  Single crochet will take less yarn than double crochet stitch wise, but more row wise.  Stockinette...well, I don't know enough about knitting to guesstimate it.  And once you start looking at shells or cables or any of the multitudes of ways one can manipulate yarn it gets crazy real quick.  I think this highlights the simplicity of this question (after all, if I compared my crazy cable blanket to that baby blanket I did...it'd be meaningless, actually.  One is tons of cables, the other is shells and clusters.  How do you compare the usage of yarn between them, even standardizing for size and yarn weight?).  How much yarn you're using depends on what stitches you're doing, and a simpler stitch is going to take less yarn than a crazy clusterfuck of stitchery, but it may or may not gain you more row height.  However, for the purpose of this test I will assume that what is meant is the simplest level, and by that I mean the stockinette stitch for knit and the single crochet for crochet.  Now, I know there are simpler (garter and slip stitch, to be exact), but stockinette and single crochet are the 'standard' gauge measurement stitches. They also make my life easier.

So, my official plan is:
  • Pick a yarn for the test.
  • Find out what hook size and what needle size will get me the SAME stitches per inch for both the knit and the crochet.
  • I'll crochet with one and knit with the other using the needle sizes determined above, making a swatch about 4" by 2", including COs and BOs and Chain 1's.  I'll knit in stockinette stitch and crochet in single crochet.  I'll mark where the tails end, so that when I pull it out, I won't count the tails in the amount of yarn (as they are too variable).
  • I'll then, taking the same yarn, swap out the hook size for the needle size and vise versa and knit and crochet two more swatches.  This will give me two knit swatches and two crochet swatches that can be compared two different ways: one set will be the same gauge.  The other two will be the two crafts at the same diameter size but not at the same gauge (for stitch sizes).
  • I'll record the gauge size, and the size of one stitch for each swatch.  I'll then rip it back out and measure how much yarn I used (not including any tails of yarn).
I'm using this yarn:

Which is a part skein of some Bernet Softee Baby.  I picked it because it's a standard, acrylic yarn that's a light color (for visibility).

My rough swatches have determined that a size G hook (4.25mm) and a size 8 needle (5mm) get roughly about 5 stitches per inch with this yarn.  The same diameter needle size to the G hook is a US 6.  The same diameter hook size to the US 8 is an H hook:

As you can see, I'm using all the same manufacturer as well.

...Are to come, since I got to make all the swatches!  I have one done:

But I got to do the rest.  I do need to make sure that it's just barely 4", as my first swatch is a little on the short side.  Hence the ruler to prove that all the swatches are as close to the same size.

UPDATE: The results are in!  Click here to go to Part 2.

February 20, 2012

Yarn Craft in Literature, or In Which I've Been Reading Tolstoy Instead of Coming Up with Good Blog Posts

Because I have nothing right now other than some pattern math and a couple of semi-defunct swatches for a certain baby sweater:

...rather expensive yarn I bought because I walked into a new yarn shop looking for buttons, couldn't find buttons I liked, and then felt bad:

....a story on how I managed to screw up the order of colors on one of my afghan squares because I didn't bother writing it down before going out and attending a knitting meetup, as well as my main idea of ordering these squares, which would mean I need to keep color orders the same:

...and very little actual knitting done, I'm going to instead mention that I've also been on a Tolstoy kick in books recently.  Being that I'm supposed to be saving money and own a Kindle (and have yet to claim the library card that got sent to my parent's house by mistake), I've been hunting around Project Gutenberg for free books to read.  If you don't know what Project Gutenberg is, click that link right now. You don't even need to own a e-reader to read these books; you can read them straight on the computer (this presumes, of course, that you can deal reading a book on a backlit screen. Personally, I can't stand reading long books and certain other things on a backlit screen, hence I was a semi-early adapter for an e-reader).

Anyway, to get back on point, I finished Anna Karenina recently (in two weeks. Yes, I can read fast when I actually decide to sit down and read).  I'm now reading War and Peace (because I'm nuts).

I really, really, recommend reading Anna Karenina.  It has a surprisingly addicting series of plots, despite the fact that they all meander.  Maybe has something to do with the fact that it's like reading a train wreck; you'll be horrified by all the characters' actions, but you just can't look away.  However, I will admit that I've never minded long wandering books as long as the wandering parts are interesting, well-written, and establish character, while I know others who hate any meandering. Tolstoy was the definition for the former on this site, so you have been warned.  War and Peace, on the other hand, I haven't read enough of it to pass opinion yet.  So far, while it has very little semblance of plot line, the characters and their antics have been amusing me.

You may be wondering what this has to do with yarn craft.  Well, one of the many details that pop up in these books is characters doing yarn crafts.  I found this more amusing than I should have.  After all, these books do take place in 19-century Russia, so of course people are crafting.  But it's how it's presented, and sometimes even who Tolstoy bothers to mention is doing such a thing, that makes it interesting.  That, and I know next to nothing on historical yarn craft, so all these references are interesting from that standpoint.  Anyway, I will provide quotes (though not page numbers since this is on a Kindle, sorry. I'll give location numbers for any other Kindle users out there, though note, however, that 1) I own the first version of the Kindle 2 (though if you have the newer Kindle Keyboard, the screen size is the same...and holy shit, you can now get it for less than $100. Can you believe I paid $320 for mine?), and 2) the version of Anna Karenina I have is the free Amazon download, but the version of War and Peace is this Project Gutenberg version.  There is a Project Gutenberg version of Anna Karenina as well).

First, you have your standard women knitting stuff, along with a case of a man not getting it.  However, I'll mention here that I think the male character not getting it is more due to the type of character he was. If you know Anna Karenina, the following quotes come from the part where preparations are being made for Kitty's and Levin's first baby, for which Kitty and her relations work and Levin doesn't want to get it.  So, yep, baby knitting:
"On the terrace were assembled all the ladies of the party. They always liked sitting there, after dinner, and that day they had work to do there too. Beside the sewing and knitting of baby clothes, with which all of them were busy..." (8996).
"He [Levin]...tried to turn away and avoid seeing the mysterious, endless strips of knitting..."(9702).
"She [Kitty] was sitting up in bed, holding some knitting, which she had been busy upon during the last few days." (11434)
"Kitty was walking about knitting rapidly and giving directions" (11453). 
I should note that the last two come from the part where Kitty is going into labor, no less.  Guess the knitting relaxes her, as this is the first time in the book Tolstoy mentions Kitty knitting directly.  Before this, she was always working on a type of lacework.

Beyond baby knitting, you also have a governess of Anna Karenina's doing some pretty standard knitting:
"The English governess...was sitting near the boy knitting a shawl" (6858)
As well as a main character (Dolly) consolidating herself with some knitting early in the novel:
"...she [Dolly] took up here work, a coverlet she had long been making.  She always set to work on it at depressed moments, and now she knitted at it nervously, twitching her fingers and counting the stitches" (1052).
However, they're not the only people knitting in Tolstoy's works.  In War and Peace, you have a man (granted, he was a servant) knitting:
"An old man...sat in a corner knitting a stocking" (1978).
Also, this isn't limited to knitting.  Turns out, Anna Karenina crochets:
"...and taking up the crochet work that was lying on the table, she [Anna] began drawing the hook out of it..."(5855).
Though I have yet to quite get what Anna is doing here with it (for background, this is the same crochet work as the above quote):
 "...pulled the hook at last out of the crochet work, and rapidly, with the help of her forefinger, began working loop after loop of the wool that was dazzling white in the lamplight, while the slender wrist moved swiftly, nervously in the embroidered cuff" (5885).
So, now that I'm done whoring out literary references, I'll go back to this baby sweater now.

February 7, 2012

How Not to Wind a Hank, with Some Reflections on Designing

So, this weekend, I didn't get much knitting stuff done.  Did a couple of rows on Crazy Cable Blanket, worked on a couple of squares (partly while waiting in a waiting room; partly during the Super Bowl, though I didn't get nearly as much done during the Super Bowl as I thought I would.  Something about being at a party and being from NY, that kind of thing).  Oh, and decided I was going to swatch for this baby sweater/shirt/whatever that I can't really decide what I want it to look like, let alone actually sit down and do the math.  But anyway, that little side journey was thrawted by one of the hanks of cotton.  You see, I had these hanks:

And one, once a swift and ball winder were utalized, quickly became this:

However, the second hank quickly became this:

(Yes, that wooden thing is a swift.  It's an Amish-style swift, verses the more common umbrella type)
Yep.  A big, steaming pile of yarn mess.  Why did it become such a mess?  Well, whoever wound the hank up did a shitty job.  Both ends of the hank were tangled up with the other strands of the hank, making winding off a swift impossible.  I tried.  For awhile, I was weaving the ball winder in and out of the hank on the swift when needed.  Then, I got to a point where the space the yarn went through was not and could never be big enough for the ball winder to go through.  So, I took the partial cake of yarn off the winder, tried winding it by hand off the hank, watched the partial cake start to disintegrate while the hank tangles became more numerous, and therefore got frustrated and took the hank off the swift.  Which meant that it disintegrated into the mess in the picture above.  And that's after I spent an hour attempting to untangle it.

Ug, how hard it is to wind a hank, people?  Big circle of yarn.  Really now.  The last time I had this issue was also a hank of cotton, too.  Different company though.

I finally did get it untangled and wound up into a non-disintegrating yarn cake, though it took me at least two hours to do it, split across two days.  Which meant I got no swatching done.  Oye.

Of course, the whole swatching and knitting of this yarn is another issue.  I want to create the pattern for this baby sweater/cardigan/whatever myself and write it down.  I have some ideas, and some constraints (needs to be short-sleeved, gender-neutral, and I only have one hank of each color plus some black cotton from another FO), and no idea how the variegated yarn knits up, which is a problem I need to fix.  But what this also means is that I have to sit down, do the math for whatever I design (which will probably be way too complicated and will therefore have to be toned down), knit it, hack it, fix my math, and then figure out how to size it.  I've never done a sweater pattern before (well, I tried once, but while I did get a FO out of it, I did not get anything I liked or useful to write a pattern up with).  I have 'till June for the FO. 

Which brings me to another mistake of mine that I realized somewhat recently.  You see, when I first started writing my patterns down (back when I just crocheted), I thought that designers usually designed while knitting/crocheting, wrote down what they did, and then released it into the world.  So that's what I did, both successfully and not.  I BS'ed a pattern while I created it, tried to keep track of what I was doing and not do anything too crazy,  made it pretty and posted it.

Well, except that's not how it works in the real world.  Most designers write the whole pattern first, or at least most of it.  And, there are designers out there that never make the patterns they write.  They write the pattern, and then send it off to be tested by other knitters/crocheters.  This blew my mind.  Really?  You can design something before you make it?  How do you know it's going to work, or what it's going to look like?

Then I actually thought about it, and realized that I'm an idiot.  Of course you can write a pattern before you make it.  It's like writing pseudo-code or planning out a program to the function level.  If you know what you're working in and what it's supposed to do, you should know what's possible or not, and therefore write fine code or patterns without ever executing it or making the pattern.  Theory and thought will show you what will work or not.

Of course...I also plan a lot of my programs partly on the fly.  It's just the way I think; I need to see it working to really say 'yeah, this works'.  Now, don't get me wrong, I do plan the logic flow, gather requirements, do mockups of screens, and all the other fun planning steps that come with coding.  But I tend to plan the actual structure and/or some details of the program itself by just coding it and getting it up and running.  So is it really surprising that, knowing no designers or anything about the process, that's how I was designing as well? 

Except that, why I don't mind coding this way (to a point), on-the-fly planning in yarn craft is way more annoying.  See, to change something in code can be very simple (well, I should say in the environments and languages I currently work in).  You go, you figure out what you want, you write it (or copy and paste it), and you run it.  All the rest of the code you've written and tested is still there.  To change something while making it in yarn usually ends up requiring scrapping part of the project.  Or the whole project.  Or even the yarn you bought for the project.  You can't reuse stitches you knitted after the change, at least not usually.  And a different construction?  You can't just copy and paste what you want and piece it back together, you know.

Hence, I'm planning on writing down most of this baby sweater/cardigan/whatever pattern before I attempt to knit it.  I'll swatch to see what color and stitch combinations look good, I'll do the math and write down everything.  Sure, something will change after I start it.  But I won't be doing half-assed math calculations that lead to a too-wide neckline like my last sweater project.  Or a too-loose gauge that just didn't work, that I didn't bother pulling out because that meant losing everything I'd done before.

Famous last words, I know.