Yarn like improvisational jazz

For my recent birthday,  I self-indulgently bought myself two kinds of really cool specialty yarns:

Habu Textile’s Wool Stainless Steel A-148

Habu Textiles Wool Stainless Steel

Habu Textiles Wool Stainless Steel

It’s a thread-thin yarn which feels soft like wool, but has a memory.  You can essentially finger-block it on the needles to whatever 3-d shape that you want.  It’s very cool, and it’s a natural for making jewelry and other artsy accessories, but I’ll post more on my adventures with it another time.

Today I want to talk more about the other specialty yarn that I bought myself:

The Be Sweet Magic Ball

Be Sweet Magic Ball

Be Sweet Magic Ball

Be Sweet is a yarn company that not only works with South African women to create jobs for artisans in creating the balls of yarn, they also give back a portion of their profits to support local educational programs.

The magic ball itself is a small skein of luxury fibers, specialty, and novelty yarns that are tied together in the skein so that when you knit with it, you are creating rows of different textures and colors.  The colorways are beautiful, and the knitted yarns are wonderfully soft and squooshy.  My Magic Ball had super-soft boucles, luxurious mohairs, fun “bobbled” yarns that had nickle-sized puffy knots, a little eyelash yarn and a segment of ribbon in the middle.  It was expensive, but it was worth it, and it feels good to know that some of the proceeds support a good cause.

The yarn lends itself to artsy accessories, so I knit up the quick Magic Cowl out of my one skein of the Underwater colorway.  I think the Magic Cowl was a perfect pattern to highlight the different textures of yarn, and it even has a special stitch to highlight the ribbon row.  I plan to give the finished product to my Mom, who has been in the hospital recently.  I think the colorway will suit her.

Be Sweet Mystery Scarf

Be Sweet Magic Cowl

Magic Cowl Detail

Magic Cowl Detail

Meanwhile, the Be Sweet ball gave me an idea.  What if I pull together some odd scraps of yarn from my own stash to make an “improvisational” mix of yarns?  I can’t match the luxury quality of the Be Sweet ball, because my stash isn’t that high-end.  But I decided that it would be a fun stash-busting adventure, anyway.

So I piled a bunch of odd ends of yarns on the table, and started sorting.  I knew I wanted a blue/grey mix with maybe a dash of purple.  First, I threw out anything that was bigger than worsted weight.  Then I played around with the order of the yarns until I got something that alternated the way I wanted, throwing out a few that I couldn’t get to play well in the mix.  Then I made sure that I had something easy to cast on on the outside of the ball, something ribbon-like in the middle, and something glitzy on the other end.  For the glitzy end, I strung some seed beads and plied together a couple of strands of mohair.  Then I started winding on my ball-winder with the beaded strands.

Yarn like Jazz Components

Yarn like Jazz Components

So here’s my recipe for an improvisational jazz yarn, inspired by the Be Sweet Magic Ball:

  • Select yarns from your stash that go well together in color, but have a variety of textures
  • Eliminate anything larger than worsted, and lean more towards the sport-weight side
  • Line everything up in the order you want them to go in, thinking about your final look
  • Do you want it to be stripey?  Then alternate strongly contrasting colors.  Do you want a smoother gradient?  Then choose colors in an order that will flow well together.
  • Start winding with something glitzy if you are doing a magic cowl
  • After you wind on a few yards, tie on the next yarn, and so on
  • End with something relatively smooth for a more painless cast-on

As long as you are doing a simple accessory where “having enough” doesn’t matter, you don’t even need to pay attention to how much yarn you are adding to the ball.  But if you have a particular pattern in mind, you may want to measure as you go or otherwise keep track of how much you use.

Yarn like Jazz Magic Cowl

Yarn like Jazz Magic Cowl in Progress

If you really care about ending stripes exactly at the end of the row, I would suggest not tying them all together, but leaving each small quantity of yarn separate.  But I think that takes some of the improvisation out, and will leave the finished object looking a little less spontaneous and carefree.

Whether you want to support a good cause and get your hands on some seriously divine luxury fibers, or whether you want to do some creative stash busting, I recommend that you channel your inner Thelonious Monk, embrace the serendipity and go knit yourself a jazzy accessory.

Until next time, keep those needles clicking…

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