Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Malabrigo: The Agony, The Ecstasy

Full circle: Iris wearing the Epitome hat designed by Tonya, made out of the very yarn we are now discussing.

Tonya of The Shizknit is a woman of many talents. She's a fabulous knitting teacher and designer. She has 19 designs on Ravelry right at this moment, my favorite being the Acerola. (Where did she find that adorable model?) She's mom to three boys, including one very new boy. And I bet she still knits more than I do! Amazing!

Tonya writes that she has Malabrigo Worsted in Azul Bolita, which is a jaw dropping shade of blue, that she would like to turn into a sweater. She mentions that she has been thinking of Que Sera or another cardigan, but also that she doesn't want too much stockinette. (I fully empathize.) "However, a primarily stockinette pullover would be okay (though cardi might be more practical for nursing)."

She then adds, "Bonus points for non-complicated but non-boring patterns, like something with an easy to memorize repeat. I do have three kids, after all! Something to showcase the beautiful color and moderately quick to knit. I prefer longer sweaters to cropped ones, but that's easily modified."

Ah, the holy grail of sweaters. Not too boring, but not too complicated. Easy enough to pick up and put back down five hundred times a day while enduring the constant interruptions of small children, but still interesting enough that it doesn't make you want to gouge out your eyes with the nearest size 17 needle.

That's okay, I like a challenge.

First, let's address the yarn. The ubiquitous, beautiful, treacherous Malabrigo Merino Worsted. Like a yarny Siren, it draws you in with its magical colors, its plump roundness, its squishable softness... and then dashes you on the sharp rocks with its pooling, pilling, and felting if you look at it the wrong way. It's currently the fourth most popular yarn on Ravelry by number of projects (80,000+), and is very most popular by star ratings. The Malabrigo Junkies group boasts over 10,000 addicts members- and it's true, if they made cards, I would carry one. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Despite its ongoing popularity, this can be a pretty polarizing yarn. There are those who love it, those who hate it, and those who just don't get what the big deal is. Personally, I have found myself in all three camps at one time or another. It really does seem like a cruel joke that a yarn so bouncy and beautiful is also so prone to cause heartache in finished object. But it's not the yarn's fault, you know. The softer the fiber, the more fragile and apt to pill. Single ply yarns are also more fragile and wear out more quickly than their plied counterparts, especially if they are loosely spun like classic Mal Worsted. There is a lot of scientific blah-bitty-blah about why this is true, but let me sum it up for you:

soft merino + loosely spun single ply  = despair, wailing, and gnashing of teeth

Needless to say, it's not the most straightforward and logical choice for a sweater that is going to experience a lot of friction. But the heart wants what the heart wants! Far be it from me to stand between a knitter and some fat skeins of  yarn begging to be sweaterfied! Just about everything in knitting is a trade-off. If you want soft, you are going to lose some durability. In the end, I think that is okay. But, you should know what you're getting into beforehand so you can make the best decisions for your project. Adjusting expectations is key to knitterly happiness.

I've sworn it off before, more than once. The thing that seems to draw me back in every time is that stitch definition. I am a big time sucker for texture in knitting that really POPS. While plain stockinette in Malabrigo is beautiful, I find myself drawn to more dimensional fabrics. Bring on the seed stitch! When I see a big puffy cable rising out of my knitting like a nice yeast bread dough, I can't stay mad too long.

Interestingly, while I like the Que Sera cardigan Tonya originally mentioned, I wouldn't have naturally paired it with this yarn. I try to avoid combining lacy pattern with single ply yarns. I'm having a devil of a time locating the source of this idea, but I have heard that single ply yarns knit into lace patterns have a tendency to want to collapse on themselves a little and lose stitch definition. I think I read it in Evelyn A. Clark's book, Knitting Lace Triangles, but I can't verify that at the moment. In any case, I personally knit a very large lace shawl out of another single ply Malabrigo yarn, Silky Merino, and while it is definitely still recognizably lacy, it's probably not as crisp as it could be. In a shawl, it's not a huge deal. I pretty much wad it up around my neck when I wear it anyway. But in a sweater? That would be a deal breaker for me. 

So what DO I think is an appropriate sweater for this very special yarn? You'll just have to come back next time and find out. This quasi-knitter is up way past her bedtime. 

No comments:

Post a Comment