Saturday, June 2, 2012

Working in Vintage Yarns

Have you ever worked with vintage yarn?  Something lovely from a friend's or relative's stash?  Something you stumbled across at a yard or estate sale?  A sweater or knitted coat you unraveled due to damage or staining?

Vintage yarns often don't list a yardage or a modern weight category.  So how do you know?  WPI is your friend.  WPI=wraps per inch.  (See glossary)  Different yarns have different WPI, and that will give you an idea of what needle size will work.  This WPI chart will help you know what weight you actually have.  Yardage is a little tougher.  Sometimes the label will tell you the yardage, but usually just the weight.  You can estimate based on a gauge swatch, or by comparing a modern yarn with similar WPI.

What about the reclaimed yarn?  It will have already been stretched from the knitting, wear and tear of the original garment.  You'll need to wind it loosely into a large letter "O", and in three or four places bind it with some twist ties.  Submerge it in some water with a little Soak, or Woolite, or some shampoo.  Leave it there and come back to it in 20 minutes or more.  Swish it around, and do not  wring it!  Rinse it by submerging and swishing in successive baths of clean water.  Without ringing or stretching, hang it to dry or dry it flat.  Ignore it until the skein(s) are dry.  It's much fluffier, and probably a different color now!  Now you're ready to measure WPI.  Again, compare it with a modern yarn with similar WPI. 

Remember that most vintage yarns will not be superwash, some are not particularly color fast, and vintage fibers often become brittle over time.  If you want to use it with a modern yarn, there may be a big difference in how they launder, and how they block. You may wish to be careful in high tension knits like cables.

How do you know what the fiber is?  The "burn" test will tell you if it's a natural animal fiber.  With tweezers over a baking dish, ignite a 1.5" piece of yarn.  If it self extinguishes quickly and creates a brittle, yarn shaped ash, it's wool, goat, or one of the camelids.  If the ash becomes powder if jarred or poked, it's silk.  If any of it melts, it's a synthetic fiber.  If it just keeps burning, it's likely cotton, linen, or hemp.

Washing any of these should be hand wash only, just on the basis of their age.  The garment you create will last longer.

1 comment:

f1bercat said...

This is so interesting. I especially like the information in the burn test. Thanks!