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Technique, etiquette, and lifestyle advice for the modern knitter

By Patty Lyons  

Dear Patty,

I love to make my sweaters on circulars—even cardigans. That way I know all my pieces will line up.  Are there any guidelines to know when a pattern calling for "separate pieces seamed after knitting" cannot be changed to knit as one piece?


Dear Stashmaven,

I remember when I first learned to knit in the round, I started converting every pattern for circs. After I learned about balancing stitches the hard way, making a k2, p2 ribbed hat that ended up k2, p2, k2, p2 . . . k4 – doh’!, I moved on to other more advanced mistakes. When I started converting sweaters I also learned the hard way that seams add structure. My biggest FAIL was when I converted a flat, all rib sweater, knit in negative ease, to in the round. Think about another item of clothing all in rib, knit in negative ease—tube socks! You know how when you walk, the rib of your tube socks torques and spirals around your leg? That’s exactly what my sweater did when I walked!

I’m a fan of the structure of seams. If a designer created the pattern to be worked in the round, grab your circs and enjoy. If it was designed to be worked flat, embrace mattress stitch and a row counter. You’ll be happier with your finished sweater.

Dear Patty,

I'm a fiber artist and I have had many kind things said about my work, but I also get the same complaint from knitters all the time "What a waste of yarn." What do I say to people that feel I'm wasting yarn that could be used for charity knitting or making clothes?

Unappreciated Artist

Dear Unappreciated Artist,

I love fiber art and have been amazed at some of the incredible pieces created with yarn, felt, weaving, and crochet. It does not excuse such comments, but it helps take the sting out of them when you remember how knitters feel about yarn. We love it, we love knitting with it, and sometimes knitters have a blind spot when it comes to yarn.

Yarn is your medium just as a painter uses paint, a potter uses clay or a photographer uses film . . . well I guess they don’t use film anymore, but you get the idea. My suggestion: counter the question with a question. Do you ask an artist why they are not using their paint to paint houses? Do you ask a sculptor why they are not using the clay to make dishes?

Chin up and keep doing what you do.



Hello Patty,

As a new knitter, I'm not exactly sure what the density of a swatch—or any knitted fabric—should be like (other than lace). If I knit a swatch and get gauge but I can see light through the fabric, could that mean the yarn is actually too thin?

Here's why I ask. I'd like to knit a hat and I've begun knitting the swatch with a fingering weight yarn and size-3 needles, as called for in the pattern. After about an inch, I can see that I'll likely achieve gauge, but the fabric is much less dense than that of a pair of socks I just knitted. While not exactly lacy, light easily passes through the fabric. I'm concerned that it's a little too "airy," even if it is at the gauge called for.

I sure wish that along with suggesting a yarn weight, that patterns also gave the wraps per inch of the yarn used. It seems like wraps per inch (WPI) is a much truer measure of the size of a yarn!


Dear Vicki,

Oh if only it were that simple. Let me first answer your general question about fabric and then we’ll dig into the “what’s in a name” of fingering and WPI. When you swatch, it’s not just for gauge, but to make a fabric that you like. In general, for things like hats, socks, gloves, and other items knit to negative ease (the item being smaller than the body part it’s going over), you want a fabric dense enough that air is not rushing through it.

When it comes to yarn category names, things get a little tricky. You see, not all fingering weight yarn (a broad category) is the same and even not all WPI  are the same. Here’s my handy-dandy WPI sheep gauge and you can see the notation for fingering weight is 14 WPI

patty's purls of wisdomMy sheep-shaped WPI gauge.

Here are three different yarns that are all listed as fingering weight with a WPI of 14. Let’s take a look at the contenders for your hat and how different they can be.

In this corner is a fluffy soft little wonder . . .

Yarn #1 is a four-ply alpaca and although it’s marked 14 WPI, I only got 13 WPI. The yarn’s published gauge is 28 stitches/ 4” on a U.S. size 4.

patty's purls of wisdom

Fingering yarn #1 wraps up at 13 WPI.

Next up is this rustic, rugged beauty . . .

Yarn #2 is a three-ply 100% wool. I got 16 WPI! The yarn’s published gauge is 32 stitches / 4” on a U.S. size 2.

patty's purls of wisdom

Fingering yarn #2 measures 16 WPI

Finally, this smooth, sophisticated darling of the yarn world . . .

Yarn #3 is a six-ply 100% superfine superwash merino wool. I got 14 WPI. The yarn’s published gauge is 28 stitches / 4” on a U.S. size 2 – 3.

patty's purls of wisdom

Third time’s the charm;  yarn #3 achieves the predicted 14 WPI

So what type of clues can you look for when substituting yarn beyond weight category and WPI? In the October 2017 Twist Collective, I wrote about yarn density and other elements to consider in yarn substitution. Now I’ll add one more: look for the gauge range and what size needle is used to get that gauge.  

Remember this important fact: needles go with yarn and knitter, not with pattern. So, in looking up the yarn originally used for your hat, I see it’s 100 percent wool, and it’s listed as 28 – 32 stitches / 4” on U.S .1 – 3.  The yarn you are subbing is a wool/silk blend and it’s listed as 28 – 32 stitches / 4” on U.S. 1 – 2. That means to get the same gauge with two different yarns, you might have to use different needle sizes. But, beyond that, the type of fabric that yarn makes might be very different.

So swatch on my friend, and don’t let weight category, WPI, or the gauge on the label sway you from judging the fabric you love.

patty's purls of wisdom

  Have a question for Patty? Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Patty Lyons teaches nationally at guilds and knitting shows around the country. Her popular classes can also be found online and on DVD at Interweave, Annie’s, and Craftsy, where her “Improve Your Knitting Class” was named Craftsy’s most popular class of 2013. Her designs have been published in Twist CollectiveVogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, and many more magazines and pattern books.