Choosing a Yarn for Seamless Knit Sweaters
You most likely realize there are a lot of incredible yarns out there today. Ranging in price, fiber composition, dye technique, treatments and values. One of the biggest (if not THE biggest) choices you make for your handknit sweater is which yarn you will use. This post is part of a series I am working on which can help you in choosing a yarn for your handknit garments. In this post particularly, you'll learn about which yarn to use for seamless garments.
Seamless Construction - Pros and Cons
As a designer, I embrace all kinds of construction. You'll find I have both seamless and seamed knitting patterns in my shop. My focus is on which construction will best support the overall experience of both knitting and wearing your garment.
While I equally enjoy seamed and seamless garment knitting, I do recognize that there are pros and cons to these construction types. On the plus side of seamless knitting, many knitters find knitting in the round easier and faster than knitting flat. It's also easier to try on a seamless garment while you knit. (A word to the wise - without blocking this is not a true test for your WiP's fit!) It can be extremely satisfying to see your knit come together before your eyes on the needles with minimal finishing.
On the other hand, seamless knits particularly can lose their shape faster than their seamed counterparts. This means larger and heavier garments will stretch and distort the most. Seamless construction can also be a little fussier as the garment grows on your needles, so alternating skeins is sometimes more difficult or less easy to hide. Additionally, if you are using hand dyed yarn, the differences between skeins may be more noticeable in a seamless design.
- Faster and easier (for many)
- In progress try ons
- Minimal Finishing
- More likely to lose shape
- Stretchier and distort more with larger or heavier garments
- Alternating skeins can be fussy
- The differences in skeins may be more noticeable.
These cons should not deter you from knitting a seamless design. In my opinion, a well made seamless sweater pattern has taken these factors into account. I take this into account in my seamless designs. I include techniques and design elements that help add structure to your finished sweater.
One of the best tools you have to help your seamless sweaters turn out great is your yarn choice! The right yarn can greatly help to mitigate future problems and create a garment you'll enjoy wearing for years to come.
Choosing a Yarn for Seamless Knit Sweaters
Beyond the structure of a garment, your yarn choice is going to greatly impact the wear of your hand knit. Some yarn is excellent for seamless knits, and some will exaggerate the characteristics of seamless designs - for better or worse. Additionally, each type of yarn has characteristics of its own which will contribute to the fit, look and feel of your finished piece.
Here are a few examples of yarn types and characteristics:
- Superwash wool is stretchier than non superwash because it has lost some of it's texture. It will grow considerably more during blocking.
- Woolen spun yarn is lighter than worsted spun and creates a garment with more air trapped in it and more "fluff."
- Plant fibers and Silk drape more...aka are heavier than wool.
- Superwash yarns that have nylon added will retain shape better than superwash wool without nylon.
- Single Ply yarns pill more than their counterparts. In fact, typically, the fewer plies = the more pilling.
- Different breeds of sheep have different length hairs (and different types of hair) which means breed specific yarns will have varying characteristics from each other (but will still also include characteristics of non superwash vs superwash yarns).
- Folks with sensory issues will not wish to wear some non superwash yarns. This varies from person to person but I have found Merino and Rambouillet to be good non superwash yarns for folks with these sensitivities.
This list is a place to start, it's not exhaustive. It's important to remember seamless knits have less structure. Additionally, lighter weight yarns hold their shape better than heavier yarns or slicker yarns. For this reason, non superwash wool is by far my favorite choice for seamless garments. Let's look at more specific examples of some of my seamless designs below.
Hypatia Pullover available Jan 2023.
This is the Hypatia Sweater, coming January 2023. It's a seamless set-in sleeve sweater knit from the bottom up. This sample is knit with Forest Lane Fiber Co. BFL DK, a non superwash worsted spun wool.
Blue Faced Leicester, or BFL, is actually a bit slick and heavy even as a non superwash yarn. However, with the tooth of the wool in tact it's still a great choice for a seamless garment. I chose to use this yarn because of the way it emphasizes the gathering of this sleeve. The resulting sweater is very warm with decent heft. This design has several structural elements that allow a yarn like this one to hold it's shape. There are faux seams with slipped stitches along the sides of the body and sleeves. The shoulders are stitched together, and there is some sewing on the sleeve caps to create the gathers. You could probably use a superwash yarn with minimal problems for this design (as long as the knitter is precise with their gauge swatch and blocking process!)
The Anna Tee available here.
The body of the Anna Tee is seamless, although the sleeve caps are seamed. This is for ease in working the lace sleeve caps in pattern. It's much easier to bind off a stitch each row and maintain a lace pattern than to do so while working in short rows.
This tee is knit in Knitting Niqabi's Non Superwash Merino Fingering. This is a woolen spun yarn that is one of the softest I've worked with and is excellent for a tee worn against the skin. This yarn is also incredibly light and airy. The wide scooping neckline of the Anna tee stays in place perfectly while I'm wearing it because of the lightweight fabric I created with this yarn choice.
In testing, one person found her version made with a superwash merino/silk blend did not stay on well. This makes sense as her version would be a lot heavier and a lot slicker, all that drape will slide this wide neckline around! I designed this tee for an airy fluffy fiber - like this wonderful non superwash Merino. Pro tip, wool is actually a great fiber for Spring/Fall tees. It regulates temperature and stays dry during transitional seasons when your underarms may not.
Sarah Pullover is available here.
Your Project Your Choices
I think it's important to note - you can use whatever yarn you'd like for whatever pattern you like, it's your project. This post is really meant to be a starting point for your exploration of fiber. I encourage you to work with all kinds of yarn and fiber, this is the best way to grow your own body of knowledge.
When choosing a yarn for your project it helps to ask yourself:
- What type of yarn did the designer use? What are the characteristics of that yarn?
- If I choose a yarn with different characteristics, what impact could that have on the fit of this design?
- What are the characteristics I want the fabric of this garment to have?
- Who am I making this for, and what kind of sensitivities do they have to fiber?
There is ultimately no wrong choice, however; the more you know the more you will feel in control of the garment you're making. If you're interested in learning more about yarn in general I highly recommend Clara Parkes' Knitter's Book of Yarn. This is a great resource for your knitting library.
This is the first blog in my series on choosing yarn for your hand knit garments. I hope you learned something or felt inspired to try a new yarn. Drop me a note and let me know what you liked about this post or what you hope to learn more about in this series! I'm excited to share more with you in the future! To stay informed when the next post drops be sure to sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this page.