|When Stitches Lean (NOT on purpose)
I should expect this by now: scratch the surface of an assumption about crochet and cool stuff happens!
Today’s issue is about probing exactly why a few of my ribbed crochet swatches lean. I crocheted twelve of them with the same yarn, same hook size, different stitches. Only two lean, and a third leans slightly. Why?
Occasionally my stitches have leaned. This time it’s serious business! I’m swatching ribbed stitch patterns to see which can double as good ribbing for future sweater designs. I don’t want to find out the hard way that a ribbing leans and biases! (Except when I want it to…)
I enjoyed using the single-ply z-twisted Lamb’s Pride yarn so much that I ran out before I finished swatching. Should I buy more if it’s the yarn’s fault that some swatches are leaning? Will I stay inspired if I change yarns? While I was deciding whether to buy more of the same yarn, a reader (thank you Marie-Christine) echoed my worries that that the yarn is the culprit.
I found NO EVIDENCE (below) that my favorite yarn for these swatches is the culprit! YES I should buy more.
I don’t recall paying attention to leaning crochet stitches until March 2007
. To commemorate (Inter)National Crochet Month
I made a crochet-covered pencil cup for my son’s second grade teacher. (Photo above; cute story about it here: "Crochet for the Classroom" http://bit.ly/yHHL0w
) Rows of half double crochet [hdc, or in UK, htr] covered a pencil cup quickly, but it biased
(leaned). I remember being disappointed, and then liked how it looked when I seamed it
into a tube.
Was it me, the yarn, or the stitch? Should I count the turning chain-2 as the first stitch of the row or not?
By then I’d seen complaints in online forums about hdc stitches leaning, but in my notes I suspected the yarn too; see below for why. (Hdc tutorial for when the turning chain-2 doesn’t count as the first stitch: "That Tricky Half Double Crochet Stitch" http://bit.ly/ePAZpt).
It's hard to believe but I found NO EVIDENCE that the hdc is necessarily to blame at all.
Only one of the leaning swatches is hdc. One of my NON-leaning swatches is ALSO hdc! The only difference is that I alternated one row of back loop hdc, one row of lower front loop hdc. This caused a mild lean (see top two swatches in photo below).
Why suspect the yarn?
Over the years I've learned from spinners and knitters to consider how a yarn is made for clues to how it will behave. It can be one ply or many, and each ply can be twisted to the left or right (Z-twist or S-twist; see Doris’ recent blog post on this: "The Crochet Twist" http://bit.ly/rB4wh2)
Some have a discernible nap, for example. Early on, I discovered a preference for Z-twisted yarns because, like Doris, I like the experience of crocheting them, and how they make my stitches look.
Spinners and knitters emphasize "balanced" yarns. Singles are often balanced by S-twisting them together with other Z-twisted singles. Combining the two twist directions results in a plied yarn that has a lot going for it: it’s strong, resists wear, can have a wide range of cabled or smooth surfaces, and is “balanced.” (Why not S-twist singles and then Z-twist them together for the same benefits? I can’t find a good explanation for why it’s not common, except for crochet threads.)
The two blue swatches in the right column of this photo are crocheted with a “balanced” yarn of comparable thickness. Vanna’s Choice yarn has four Z-twisted singles (I’ll call them “Z-plies”) plied together with an S-twist. I used the same hook size.
The lower right corner of each swatch is lined up with the darker grid lines to help make it clear how much the right edge of each swatch leans to the right. The top two swatches curl a bit, so they might not look exactly lined up on the grid, but they are.
Both types of yarn lean the same amount.
The swatch that leans the most (bottom of this photo) is one row of single crochet [sc; or UK: dc] in the back loop alternated with one row of slip stitch [sl st] in the back loop. My swatch of all back loop sc doesn't lean, nor does all back loop sl st, or alternating rows of back loop and front loop sl st.
I'm thinking that the real cause, at least with crochet, has to do with how the stitches in even rows balance the stitches in odd rows. Most crochet stitches, not just the hdc, have some innate lean that normally gets evened out by other stitches. Occasionally it doesn't, and I still can't predict when. It can be mild enough that simple blocking fixes it, though. I don’t know how applicable this is to knitting, if at all.
I have my eye on some Z-twisted Madeline Tosh and Manos Silk Bend yarns at my yarn shop!
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