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Alpaka Tunic Swatcharama!

August 17, 2009

(Updated with weight in grams of each swatch.)

When the new Interweave Knits for fall came out, I fell in love with the Alpaka Tunic by Deborah Newton. As so often happens with magazine designs, the yarn that was called for was not only expensive (there is an error in the info for the yarn – it is 200 meters/218 yards per 100g, and it is that size skein that you need 6, 7, or 8 of, at $22.50 a pop) – it was also, to my mind, not really suitable for a garment that is constructed in such a way that you will have to SIT DOWN on it. The yarn is a “roving” yarn, which is even softer and tenderer than a singles. Can you IMAGINE? If I made a tunic length item out of a roving yarn, I would have a huge gaping HOLE at the butt in about 2 days – pilling would be the least of my worries! Maybe this is designed for people who don’t sit down much, I don’t know.

Sigh. But it’s pretty and it is a style that would look good on me and be comfortable. What’s a knitter to do?

Swatch, of course. That’s an excuse to buy samples of a whole buncha yarns.

The pattern calls for size 9 and 10 needles, and a gauge of 17 stitches and 22 rows to 4 inches. In addition, it says that the 23-stitch-wide lace pattern should knit up to be 5 1/2 inches wide.
Here are my results, with totally personal/YMMV comments. My swatches are 25 stitches wide – I used one border stitch in garter on each side of the 23-stitch pattern. You may notice that the swatches are not perfectly square. I found that the swatches were narrower at the bottom than the top. I am not sure if that was my knitting, or the pattern, but it was astonishingly consistent across seven swatches!

1) Valley Yarns Florence. This yarn is discontinued and on its way out but it occurred to me that it had possibilities as a sub for this pattern. It is poofy, light as a feather, and put together with a nylon binder. And the yardage is pretty much identical: 109 yards to 50g. I had some left from a project I did a year or two ago.

I knitted this swatch on size 9 needles. It came out pretty close to the right width – given that the smallest size tunic would have 10 inches of ease on me, I think this yarn would work great and I could use size 8s. This one is a thumbs up. Swatch weight: 9 grams.

2) Liberton Corriedales 100% corriedale yarn. I have no idea what the putup of this yarn is, I just know I have a big ol’ one pound hank of it that was given to me. It is cushy and pretty and I’ve always eyed it at Maryland Sheep and Wool and not bought it. I had it on hand and wanted to see what it would do.

I think I knitted this on size 9 also, which is clearly too big for this yarn. When I washed the swatch, the yarn softened and filled out nicely, but I still think it would need to be knitted significantly tighter to wear properly in a garment. Thumbs down for this application, but nice yarn for something else. Swatch weight: 10 grams.

3) Elann Superwash Bamboo. This is 65% wool and 35% bamboo, and 109 yards to 50g. The recommended gauge is 19-20 stitches to 4 inches. I thought perhaps something with some bamboo would give a little of the same lightness and drape that the alpaca provided in the roving yarn.

I knitted this swatch on size 8s. Although it is completely different from the yarn specified in the pattern (this yarn is not fuzzy, and it has a sheen), I really liked this swatch. Tentative thumbs up. Swatch weight: 9 grams.

4) Elann Peruvian Sierra Aran. 80% wool and 20% alpaca, aran weight, 91 yards to 50g so a little heavier. Selected because of the alpaca.

I knitted this swatch on size 8s. It has a nice fuzziness to it, but I thought it was too heavy for a tunic this size, and also not drapey enough. I will make use of this ball for something else, but for this project, I think thumbs down. Swatch weight: 10 grams.

5) Elann Incense. 50% wool, 25% silk, 25% bamboo, 114 yards to 50g, and calls for a gauge of 19-20 stitches to 4 inches. Seemed close to a worsted sort of gauge, and seemed guaranteed to have drape and be lightweight.

I knitted this swatch on size 7s. OK, yum on this yarn – drape, sheen, very soft. A little pricier than the others tested so far, but still not an expensive yarn. My only concern with this one was that I think I would even want to knit it tighter to make it into a good fabric, and the swatch was already too small. Very nice yarn but thumbs down for the tunic. Swatch weight: 7 grams.

6) Valley Yarns Stockbridge. 50% wool and 50% alpaca, 109 yards to 50g, and calls for a gauge of 5 stitches per inch. Seemed as close to the original yarn as possible in terms of fiber content and yardage per weight.

I knitted this swatch on size 7s and I think it was a good gauge for the yarn, the swatch has a nice feel. Since I am looking to reduce the size of the finished item, I think this would be a very good compromise. Thumbs up!
Swatch weight: 8 grams.

7) Araucania Aysen. 70% merino, 20% alpaca, 10% silk, 191 yards to 100g, calls for 4 stitches per inch on size 9s. I happened to see this on closeout at WEBS when I was grabbing a hank of Stockbridge, and there was something about the fiber blend and one particular color they had, that I could not resist. It is also a singles, which defies common sense (see my whining about being able to sit down, above) but which sounded like it might make a similar fabric to the roving yarn.

I knitted this swatch on size 8 needles. This is definitely the oddball of the group of swatches I made – the colors probably obscure the pretty lace too much, and it will not wear all that well, but BOY would it be yummy to swathe oneself in on a winter day! I can’t resist this. Thumbs up for yarn beauty. Swatch weight: 8 grams.

So there it is. I think Stockbridge, Florence, and even that Superwash Bamboo would make very nice versions of this. And the Aysen is very nice too. It will be hard for me to decide.

One thing I wanted to do, and didn’t, was weigh the swatches. A difference of a couple of grams in a swatch like this would make the difference between one pound on your shoulders and 2 pounds. I will do that, and come back and update this entry with a weight for each swatch in the next day or two.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 1:30 pm

    I definitely think the bamboo blends look the nicest!

  2. August 17, 2009 7:00 pm

    I vote for the Stockbridge.

  3. wells201 permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:48 pm

    Thanks for all that good analysis!
    I’m looking forward to the weights of your swatches.

  4. Melanie permalink
    August 18, 2009 11:14 am

    The stitch definition in the superwash bamboo swatch is wonderful, so that one gets my vote.
    It’s so interesting to see how all of these yarns worked up using the same stitch pattern.

  5. August 19, 2009 10:35 am

    I vote for the first one. It looks nice and soft.

  6. Jan permalink
    August 20, 2009 10:54 am

    I like Florence. Nice balance between stitch definition, laciness, and cushyness, and 5-stars for resistance to bags, sags and abrasion.
    Loved reading your analysis.

  7. September 16, 2009 10:26 am

    This was a super analysis. I have been thinking about knitting this (some day, before or after that Alice St*more pattern you made) and using some stash. Nice to know you’ve already thought about it! It will make my stash swatching go faster…

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