Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cotton -- not just for dish rags

For the first post in my thoughts on fiber series, I'd like to look at cotton.  Cotton tends to get a bad rap.  It is scratchy, it is inelastic, it pills.  Banish the "scratchy" assumption right now.  It is a misconception started because for most of us, the only 100% cotton yarn we encounter on a regular basis is Peaches and Creme or Sugar and Creme.  Don't get me wrong, these are great yarns for kitchen and bathroom items.  They are durable and absorbent, and come in a wide range of attractive colors.  But they are not all cotton can be.  Knitpicks Simply Cotton, for example, is like working with a soft fluffy cloud.  Another factor in the softness of cotton is what kind of cotton it is.  You wouldn't expect all wools to feel the same, and cotton is no different.  My personal favorite for softness is pima cotton.  Soft, soft, soft!  I have also found it to be less pilly than some other cultivars, which is a double bonus.

Which brings me to the other complaint about cotton: it pills.  Unfortunately this is a fact of life when working with very soft fibers.  Because cotton fibers on their own really are soft -- comparable to very fine wool.  The difference with cotton is that those fibers are also very short.  It takes a lot of twist to get all the teeny tiny ends bound tightly into the yarn, and all that twist tends to make the yarn feel hard, like Peaches and Creme.  When it is spun more loosely, the fibers have a tendency to escape a little, forming those irritating little pills.  Of course wool does this too -- a very fine merino, for example, will pill just as much as any cotton yarn.  This is where a sweater shaver comes in handy... most yarns, regardless of fiber content, pill like crazy for a little while, then stop.  Shave off the pills, and it's good to go.

An important thing to remember about cotton is that when you block it, it will GROW.  Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, depending on the stitch and blend.  In my experience, it gains much more length than width, especially if you encourage it to do so.  I like to take advantage of this, personally... it gains a lot of length when washed that first time, so I don't have to work as many rows!

Another common complaint about cotton is that it's inelastic.  This is true!  It's only a downside, though, if you expect cotton to behave like wool.  Yes, ribbing in cotton will stretch out and never go back.  Cotton socks do not stay up well without the addition of elastic.  But cotton lace is virtually self blocking.  Yeah, if you make a big ol' cabled sweater out of cotton, it will grow and stretch and sag under it's own weight.  But it makes great baby clothes, and again... lace that stays blocked.

Another advantage of cotton is how incredibly well it breathes.  It doesn't insulate the way wool does, which makes it fabulous for summer knits.  It does insulate some though, especially some of the fluffier yarns, which makes it great for transitional weather, as well.  My very favorite hand made sweater is in fact a cotton/silk blend.  It is soft and scrummy, and keeps the chill off without overheating me.  The drape of it (it is a lace sweater) is also very flattering, whether I can fit into my skinny pants that day or not!

So in conclusion, cotton is great as long as you don't expect it to behave like wool does.  It won't.  But it has it's own properties that make it a great fiber in its own right, as well as having a lot to bring to blends.  It's not just for dishcloths!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts on fiber

I've noticed that a lot of people tend to have one go to, fail safe fiber.  For most, this is either wool or acrylic.  I've been thinking about that lately, and am slowly coming to the conclusion that it is because, as fiber artists, we simply have too many choices.  I mean, there was a time when you were pretty much limited to your flock, and maybe your neighbor's flock.  No more.  Now you can get alpaca, six kinds of wool, silk, a couple kinds of cotton, acrylic, nylon, a few flavors of rayon... just by going to your local yarn store, or even closer, the internet.  This is a good thing.  But it is difficult to know or predict how each of these fibers will behave, alone or in blends, so we tend to have a go to.

And it is true that a good wool yarn can be made to do just about anything, as can acrylic if you know what you're doing.  But it might not be the best answer.  So I've decided that I'm going to do some posts on fiber types.  Because once you know the basics, it becomes so much easier to get the effect that you want.  Now, it is of course possible to just always get the same yarn (or a comparable blend) as the designer used to make their pattern.  I encourage this, frankly, however it's not always going to be what you want to do.  Sometimes the recommended yarn is unavailable.  Sometimes it's too expensive.  And sometimes you just want a bit of a different effect than the designer got.  All perfectly valid reasons for a substitution... and if you know your fiber, there will be fewer unpleasant surprises along the way.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And now, a review.

Nothing remotely design related today (nothing interesting, anyway), so I thought I'd do a review.  Anybody who knows me in person knows how into metal knitting needles I am.  They are fast.  They do not cause my hands to cramp.  They are shiny, and everybody likes shiny things.  But then I started to do lace.  Yeah, metal needles were NOT cutting it.  So I found these:
 These are the Knitpicks interchangeable Harmony tips.  Now, I did learn to use DPNs on bamboo, and quickly switched to Harmony DPNs.  But they were really more of a stepping stone to metal DPNs, which are now the love of my sock knitting life.  Lace, however, is a different beast entirely.  These needles are nice and smooth, but not so slickery that the teeny, tiny little lace stitches pop off.  And they are pointy.  My favorite part of them, however, is how very light they are.  The difference is quite minimal when using something as tiny as DPNs, but with a circular, it is definitely noticeable.  With these, I feel like I could knit for days, they are so light.

Downside?  There is a bit of a catch to them, right where the metal and wood come together.  I don't find it particularly problematic, but it might drive some knitters round the bend.  I like them.  Will I be buying a set?  No.  I am still a plated nickel girl, really.  But for lace, this is my new go to.

(And yeah that's a swatch under those needles.  No, I'm not telling you what it is.  You'll find out soon enough.)

Do you have something you want me to review?  Needles?  Yarn?  Notions?  Drop me a line!  marusempai at gmail dot com.  Put "Maru reviews" in the subject line.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


More yarn support came today!  This is two balls of Plymouth Cotton Kisses in a fun spring green color:
The best part of designing?  When it goes all wintery, that is my cue to think SPRING!  And ignore the snow and horrible wind.  Well, it's not cold yet, but seriously, it's only a matter of time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My first ever for sale pattern!

The Raspberry Sherbet Footies pattern is live and available for purchase! Find it on Ravelry, or click through the button below.

Upcoming patterns

Not one, but TWO patterns are perilously close to publication. One will be the first in what I hope to be a collection -- Maru's Two Dollar Socks! I'm tired of all the cool sock patterns being five dollars and up, so I'm going to try and fix that. The second is a great crochet sweater pattern. Soft and lacy, perfect for transitional weather! It's not as close to completion, but will be available on Knitpicks fairly soon. Everything after that is still a secret. Some crochet, some knit.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Welcome to Maru Designs, the official blog for the knit and crochet designs of Kim Driggs. Please note that we are still HIGHLY under construction, so please pardon our dust. There should be pattern announcements in the near future though.