Saturday, January 23, 2016

When Stash Busting Goes Wrong (And How to Knit the Decalage Scarf By Weight)

Warning: Hilarity ensues. Or boredom, based on your own predilections.

So, I realized on rereading the Decalage pattern (which is knit using 4 colourways of 2 types of yarn - merino and stainless silk) that I initially lowballed the yardage of merino required. Actually, I also misread the yardage of Habu Stainless Silk required - but in the opposite direction. Had I realized that I was only ever going to get through 1/3 of my stainless silk stash, I think I would have reconsidered my pattern choice. But, as it happens, the pattern takes @1750 yards of lace-weight merino (yeah, I had to go back to the store to double my initial purchase). Furthermore, it only uses a mere 250 yards of the stainless silk. Um, WTF, people!?

On no planet is this a viable stash-busting exercise.

The best I can say is that I hatched a mathy plan (details below) to use every last yarn of the newly-purchased merino on this very project. And, if this pattern yields a beautiful outcome - as I really hope it will - I can reknit this project twice more in the future. At which point all of the Habu will be gone and I can forge ahead with my life unencumbered. Not to mention that it will be much easier to knit this project next time - as I've done most of the thinking this time around.

Let me say that I'm not upset by where I find myself. I've actually enjoyed this process tremendously so far. I mean, it's freezing outside and I was motivated to get my ass to the yarn store when it opened at 10am. This project is kind of keeping me sane. (Question: Does this make me a process knitter?)

But, before we go to the calculations (which will thrill a few of you and bore the rest), I'm compelled to clarify the number of ways in which this project has already failed as a stash-bust:
  • Buying 1750 yards of freakin' dental floss yarn is not a good offset for the usage of 250 yards of other dental floss yarn (even if it that yarn is in the stash).
  • When I bought my first half of the merino last week, I had a discount. This week there was no discount PLUS I couldn't use either of my stocked US5 needles (Addi) because the cables fucking suck and I reflexively buy 32" and 40" cable lengths (for maximal utility). As this scarf is only going to be 9" wide, and I'm going to be managing numerous small balls of yarn simultaneously, I decided I could not also bring myself to wrangle a bad, long cable. I want this project to be enjoyable. So, while buying new yarn, I also bought a new, metal Chiaogoo needle with a 24" cable. Note: The ones with the red or metal cables are the best needles out there, IMO - especially if you always use cable needles and you do a lot of magic loop. Also, they're really affordable. 
  • The upshot is that this stash-bust project has cost 100 bucks?!?!? I have not been to the yarn store so much in the last year, as in the last month. And my current stash has grown by 3000 yards, between the lace-weight merino (admittedly, it's almost on the needles) and the Sweet Georgia worsted I re-stashed after ripping back the KNUS. Don't panic! I have a plan.
  • Best of all (and this is where we'll segue into the math), in order to use all of my yarn - given that one holds the same colour in 3 strands for 2 sections of this project (and I only have 2 balls/skeins of each) - I had to figure out how to apportion the yardage within each ball. That took a couple of hours. Yes, I've barely put string to needles and I've spent 5 hours on this project, between the choosing and the buying and the mathing and the ball-winding by hand. Actually, it's 7 if you include the time required to create this post. Secret admission: I kind of love the analytical prep.
Let's kick off the math with a pic:

At the bottom of that heavily graffitied page, you'll see a schematic of the 6 sections of this simple, flat-knit, stockinette scarf. The sections vary by yarn type used, number of strands held simultaneously and colours of strands held simultaneously. In brief - the first and last sections (1 and 6) are the shorter sections and they use the Habu stainless silk held with one strand of merino (2 strands in total). All other sections (2, 3, 5 and 6) are knit holding 3 strands of merino - either all in one colour or 2 in one colour and 1 in the other.

How to Make this An Easy / Enjoyable Knit (Note: It involves a complicated set up.) 

Who should read on? Anyone intending to make this scarf or anyone who'd like to understand the mechanism of "knitting by weight".

What I realized pretty early on is that I wasn't going to be able to just pick up a skein and knit unless I was willing to buy 3 balls of each colour of merino (the only way I'd be able to hold 3 strands of the same yarn in the same colour without chopping up the individual balls). That is not in the stash-busting handbook, as then I'd be left with ends of skeins. So I knew right away I'd need to break up the balls into mini-balls.

At that point it occurred to me that I could do it in a half-assed, ad hoc fashion (resulting in lots of lace yarn twisting between larger, different-sized, multiple balls simultaneously - anyone who knits knows exactly what I'm talking about) OR I could figure out how much yardage of each yarn colour would be alotted to each section. That was a multi-stepped process, as evidenced by the pattern page, covered in scribbles.

How to apportion the yarn, by weight - and segmented into mini-balls - for each scarf section:
  • Don't worry about the Habu. It's used in only 2 sections and they don't overlap. You're only going to consider your total yardage of merino (the majority of yarn used and that which is held double or triple in the same colour). In my case, that accounts for 1750 yards. The pattern suggests that it should be @1850 but I wasn't buying any more skeins. Since I'm working this pattern by weight and proportion, it doesn't matter. Each of my 6 sections may be just be a titch shorter than the one designed by Julie Hoover, presuming I get gauge. No, I haven't done a gauge swatch for a freakin' stockinette scarf because that's where I draw the line.
  • Figure out what percentage of the overall scarf length (70" according to the pattern), each section represents. I can tell you that sections 1 and 6 represent about 8% each and sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 represent about 21% each. If you'd like to make this scarf a different length, just recalculate. Note: I might have done that before buying tons of extra yarn but I didn't want a scarf as short as it would have ended up being, in order to get by with half of the required merino.
  • Since you now know your total yardage of merino (total skeins bought) and the percentage that each scarf section represents, you can figure out how much merino - by yardage - is required for each section. For example, 8% of 1750 yards is 140 yards. This info is useful but, unless you're going to measure out every ball by the yard (which using lace-weight would take FOREVER), you'll want to know how many grams that represents. Since we're being serious about the math here, I do recommend that you start this process by reweighing your yarn before you get going. Sometimes a 50g skein will actually weigh 48 or 52 grams. You'll want to account for that when you go through the next step. It doesn't matter what the label says, work with the actual weight you've got.
  • Figure out the grams per yard by dividing the yardage by the number of grams in a ball. (My balls are 50g to 437yards each. That means that 1 gram represents 8.75 yards of merino.)
  • Divide the yardage, required per section AND per colour, by the number of yards per gram. In my case, for section 1, 140 yards divided by 8.75 yards equals 16 grams of yarn.
  • Then - and this is the zen meditative part! - you get out your scientific scale - cuz small amounts of lace-weight yarn are too light to be measured accurately on a regular yarn scale - and figure out to the 10th of a gram how much yarn is in each ball by weighing it - every 10 seconds - as you wind.
In the end you'll have a bunch of mini-skeins. Unless the original ball is such that the mini-balls created from it divide evenly into the original (unlikely), you're going to have to figure out the most efficient way to break things down into additional, partial mini-balls, so that you keep the end-weaving to a minimum and the mini-balls per section as "whole" as possible. I'm sorry if this is articulated unclearly. It's a very tricky concept to explain in the abstract.

Yeah, this process may not be hard but it is HARDCORE.

If you work with Rowan Fine Lace (50 gram ball = 437 yards), you'll end up most efficiently with 16 mini-balls (6 weighing 14 grams each and 2 weighing 8 grams each*) , some of which are represented in the pic below:

I've indicated, with stickers, what the colour is (A or B) and what section the balls will be used for (1-6). Then I've packed them into mini ziploc bags so that I know exactly what balls I'll be working when I get to each section.

Yeah, that's a lot of front-loaded effort, but now all I've got to do is open up a baggie, knit on the requisite strands and colours of yarn required in any given section, and keep going till I get to the end of the row at which its done. Repeat 6 times and bind off.

Little balls of yarn can't twist as horribly as big ones (though I do know how all work held multistrand can be a twisty pain in the ass) and I don't need to think about what I'll need to use where and when I'll need to stop. I'm not working this scarf by length, but by weight and proportion. It should still work out more or less conforming to the dimensions of the pattern, but it matters not.

Next time someone implies that my math skills are mediocre, they can jump off a bridge.

PS: I'm getting dangerously close to designing my own patterns. Between my technical comprehension of fit, construction and math, I've got the skill set. Now I need the motivation.

Oh, and here's a little photo of section 1 (merino in colour A and stainless silk in colour A):

It's not yet much to look at here but the texture is pretty amazing.

*The two, 8 gram balls of the same colour will be used in the same scarf section (section 1 or 6) to provide the 16 g required for each. Remember, this math only works if you use the same yarn that I've used - Rowan Fine Lace or the same ratio grams to yardage. The likelihood is that any lace-weight yarn is going to be closely aligned to this ratio, but it won't be exact unless your skeins are 50 g for 437 yards.

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