Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I made a blanket with jumbo yarn!


Oh hey, a knitting post!

I'm about to go into a detail-intensive discussion of the making of this blanket, as well as some tips if you're thinking about making one (or even buying one) yourself, so if you're interested in that, read on. If not, here's your tl;dr.

Pattern: Wonderful Big Stitch Throw

Materials: Red Heart Boutique Irresistible in Grey; 47" circular needles in size 50 (25mm)

Quick notes: I used 9 balls of yarn. Finished dimensions ended up at about 48" square. My gauge was about ~3.25 stitches x 4 rows (4" square) in stockinette stitch. It took me about two days of knitting really intensely.


Not-So-Quick notes:

Super-bulky yarn has always been a great go-to for beginning knitters and instant-gratification knitters because it works up quickly, so it only takes a day or so to knit something from start to finish as opposed to weeks or months. And because it's so huge, you can kind of just let the yarn speak for itself - no intricate stitch patterns necessary.

But as of late, it's become SUPER popular to knit with especially-super-bulky yarn, so much so that, in fact, we now have a new classification of yarn called JUMBO.

Source: Crafty Yarn Council
Yup - when I started knitting about ten years ago, there wasn't a 7. But thanks to the beginner-friendliness, the instant gratification, the rising popularity of arm knitting, and companies like Ohhio making really striking knit pieces, the demand for jumbo yarn has definitely become a thing.

Source: Ohhio
Naturally, I wanted in on this action too. I actually first looked into just buying one. That pink blanket pictured above? It's about five hundred dollars. And, I mean... I'm a knitter, and I hate when people balk at how much it costs to buy hand-knit items, because hey, knitters deserve to get paid for the work they do, as do all artists and crafters. And I know that these jumbo knit items use a LOT of fiber (and Ohhio uses 100% merino wool), so I'm not surprised at the price when you factor in the cost of materials and labor.

BUT... you know... when you can't afford it, you can't afford it. You know?

So the next logical step was to look into making it myself, so I researched. Experience (and my eyes) tells me that I would essentially need to knit with roving, which is unspun fiber. I found this pattern and FAQ, which outlines everything I would need to know about materials and the process, and what I learned from reading that (as well as some Ravelry forum posts) is that... it's a lot of prep work to knit with roving, and you still end up with a relatively not-sturdy garment that sheds a lot.

In fact, that's something everyone needs to know about these jumbo-yarn blankets: they are not meant for heavy use. They look awesome, but those glamorous pictures of beautiful people lounging in bed under their giant jumbo-yarn comforter? Highly unrealistic. I would not put this blanket anywhere where kids or pets (or even adult humans) could roll around on it, step on it, kick it onto the floor, etc., because these will pill and shed like crazy. I mean, that's just the nature of unspun/loosely-spun yarn.

So anyway, even making it myself, it still wasn't cheap, and I didn't want to spend a ton of time on prep work (I mean, hello, instant gratification?) so I ended up nixing the roving idea when I found a bunch of Red Heart Irresistible at my local Joann's. It's not as big as Ohhio's roving-style yarn, but it's still classified as jumbo:

Irresistible (gray) next to some roving from my stash
Irresistible next to Cascade Yarns Magnum (6- super bulky)
and Karabella Yarns Merino (4- medium)
Irresistible is a 2-ply yarn that is 90% acrylic and 10% wool. Even so, it's not machine-washable, but at least it's not dry-clean only - the label says to hand wash cold and lay flat to dry. It's as thick around as my finger. The pattern I found called for 8 balls of yarn (and I ended up using 9), so even then, it wasn't a cheap project, but thanks to a "40% off all regular-price yarn" coupon that I had, I was able to keep the cost under three-digits.

The recommended needle size is size 50 (!!!), and here's a thing: any time you're going to knit a HUGE piece, regardless of the thickness of the yarn, you'll want to use a circular needle to do it. I mean, I've seen people make their own size 50 straight needles using PVC pipes, which is awesome, but that means that the entire weight of the knitted item ends up completely on one side or the other while you're knitting (because the stitches move from left to right, and then you switch the needles in your hands). Using circular needles actually keeps the weight of the item distributed between your two needles at all times, which makes the process much easier on your arms, and trust me: a heavy blanket with giant yarn? Your arms will feel it. (Imagine knitting with two PVC pipes 4' long each.) Joann's doesn't sell obscure sizes and lengths of circular needles, so I had to order mine online.


(BTW - I chose not to arm-knit because this yarn was thin enough that it would've created a fabric that was too airy/holey. I wanted a fairly dense fabric of stockinette stitch.)

That said, it was still physically awkward. It was a quick and easy knit in the sense that it's basically just a stockinette-stitch rectangle with a garter-stitch border (the two most basic, beginner-friendly stitches that every knitter learns first), and each stitch is an inch high, so it grows very quickly. But it was not quick and easy in the sense that the yarn and needles were so large that it felt unwieldy, and if you're considering knitting speed (as in, how many stitches/rows you knit per minute), I was moving slowly.

And as the blanket grew, it got harder to knit. When I started it, I was sitting at my computer desk in my chair, and the blanket would just sit in my lap.


As it got bigger, I had to clear off my desk so that the blanket could sit on my table, because it was too big to rest on my thighs without sliding off (and I have BIG thighs, yo!) And of course, the deadweight of the blanket just hanging from the needle cord made it difficult to knit too, because it's so heavy.

By the time I got to the last three balls of yarn, I gave up and sat on my reading chaise (the red chair pictured at the top of the post), with the blanket spread out over my lower body like, well, a blanket. (At least I was cozy and warm while I was working on it?) With every finished row, I had to flip it over, and it was definitely a behemoth, size-wise and weight-wise. It's probably the most physically labor-intensive thing I've ever knitted.

Biiiiiiiiiiiiig stitches
I used the magic knot method to join all my balls of yarn, and I know this means that, with jumbo yarn, it leaves very visible knots, but I decided that I didn't care about that since I was knitting this for myself anyway - I'd rather have visible knots than have to weave in a ton of jumbo-sized ends.

I want to show you what I mean about the pilling and shedding:


See all those wispy hairs around the surface of blanket? Kinda like when you look at mohair or angora garments? That was just from knitting the blanket - the normal turning-around/flipping over that is part of knitting. I wasn't especially rough with it or anything, though I was wearing cotton t-shirts and either jeans or yoga pants while knitting this, so even the constant contact with my clothing could add wear and tear. So can you imagine what this blanket would look like if you left it on your couch, and your people or pets were jumping on it or sliding around on it? Or if someone with exposed Velcro or zippers was lying down on top of it? This is NOT an item that you can be even remotely rough with. (And reminder: this yarn is 90% acrylic, which is known for being both sturdy as well as the least expensive yarn you can buy, so knowing what I know now... Yeah, there's no way I would shell out for 100% merino wool for a project like this.)

However, it is SO soft and SO nice... I might not be able to do anything with it other than let it sit on my lap while I read, but I will be so warm and cozy while I do!


2 comments:

  1. that looks so beautiful and decadent. have you ended up washing it? (I say 'feh' to hand-washing instructions. . . I wash everything and have yet to ruin anything.) i'm curious how this will hold up.

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    Replies
    1. Hi! I actually haven't yet - it sheds so much even just light use, that I eventually stuffed it in my linen closet. I really don't think it will wash well, but it would be worth keeping an eye on other people's projects using the same yarn (which you can do on Ravelry).

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