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I bought two nice skeins while on vacation, and cannot go get any more of the same wool. Now I want to knit a scarf, but I'm afraid it may be a bit too short for my taste, so I want to maximize the length. I want to use a specific pattern and cannot change the number of stitches per row. The length is flexible, it works up to any number of relatively short repeats.

Under the circumstances, I don't know which needle size to use to maximize length. If I were able to do a fixed width no matter how many stitches it takes, large needles would be a better choice, since I would then have higher rows and use less wool per row. But now that I will be doing a fixed number of stitches per row, no matter what width it creates, I am not sure - if I use small needles, I will get more rows out of my fixed length of wool.

Can I predict which scarf will be longer under these conditions (fixed stitch number and fixed amount of wool), or does it depend on the exact size of the needles and yarn thickness?

Update: Swatching is not an option here. I cannot afford to use up my wool on swatches, and don't want to open and reknit because the yarn is on the fluffier side and will probably change after being knit once.

Also please note that I have already made all my decisions about pattern, etc. I am certainly not going to add pieces in another yarn, change the stitches per row, or some other such solution. The only variable I want to change is the needle size, and I want to change it in such a way that the physical length (not the number of rows) is maximized.

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    I don't think there is any way to answer this without trying the pattern with the yarn and needles--which means swatching. I have heard that some people have had good luck frogging fuzzy yarn without too much damage to the yarn by putting the project in the freezer first and then ripping out the stitches. You can also limit the damage by carefully pulling out the completed work one stitch at a time, rather than pulling it out row by row. – magerber Oct 10 '17 at 17:44
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    Another suggestion--you can try going to Ravelry and looking for the specific yarn. If you are really lucky, you might find someone who has extra yarn in the same dye lot that you can purchase, but at the very least, you can contact someone who has used the yarn in the past and ask them what size needles they used, and if they had to rip out any stitches, how the yarn looked after they did so. – magerber Oct 10 '17 at 17:47
  • I'm not sure how the size needles from somebody else will help - I have enough experience knitting to know that this yarn will look good on anywhere from a 3 mm to a 6 mm needle, it is a squishy DK from 100% llama. Also, it is not on Ravelry, I had looked it up even before deciding what to do with it to see if there are patterns for it. – rumtscho Oct 10 '17 at 17:59
  • A scarf made out of llama is probably going to have a good amount of drapiness--but if you knit this yarn with size 1 needles, you will probably lose that drape and end up with a very firm fabric. Because llama doesn't have a lot of elasticity, knitting it on needles that are too large could result in a fabric that doesn't feels like it is going to fall apart. Looking at the range of needle sizes that others have used can give you a better idea of the largest and smallest needles that can be successfully used for this yarn. – magerber Oct 10 '17 at 18:07
  • Also, do you think the yarn will bloom with washing/wetting? If so, I would aim for a larger needle/looser stitch. I know alpaca is prone to shedding but doesn't bloom much--I imagine that llama is the same, but haven't worked with it enough to be sure. – magerber Oct 10 '17 at 18:12
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Take a yarn in a similar weight, measure out a few yards - knit it with the smaller needles you considered (3mm). Take that same yarn and measure out the same length - knit it with the larger needles you considered (6mm).

Measure both.

I really think the trade off between "more yarn used in a stitch but taller stitches" on the larger needles and "less yarn used in a stitch but shorter stitches" will be neigh-on impossible to predict without either a swatch or at least physically measuring a stitch.

My prediction is that the larger needles will result in a longer fabric for the same length. This is based on the idea that larger needles = a less dense fabric which means more "air space" incorporated. A smaller needle will result in a denser fabric which means more space filled by yarn and less by air. This is a theory, please at least swatch in a different yarn.

This may also help. I actually just stumbled on it yesterday:

http://www.knitdarling.com/blog/needle-material-affects-on-gauge

The link contains a summary of an experiment a blogger did on how needle MATERIAL affects gauge. The metal needles made the longest test piece for her and the resin needles made the shortest.

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In general, larger needles give less bunching up, and therefore bigger dimensions. But you don't want to go too big because then you'll end up with some strange sort of fishnet.

You may want to reduce the width of the scarf a bit in order to achieve a longer length.

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The best way to figure out the answer to your question is to think about it logically. Each stitch is slightly longer than the diameter of the needle you use. A very large needle might require one inch for each stitch, but a smaller diameter needle might only require 1/2 inch per stitch. If you can't change the number of stitches, the only way to make sure you have enough yarn for more rows is to use a smaller needle.

The problem here is that using a smaller needle might result in a final fabric that you really don't like. Depending on what type of stitch and the type of yarn, smaller needles can create very stiff, very thick fabric that you would never want to wear. This is a situation where working a swatch is really important.

Another option you might think about is to find a coordinating yarn that you can use along with your yarn to make the scarf longer. Think about working two rows in the yarn you have, then two rows in the new yarn and repeat. If you don't want obvious stripes, try to find a yarn that doesn't strongly contrast with the yarn you already have. Try to find something that has similar care instructions. Depending on the pattern you are using, you can go with something that is a similar weight, or if you go with a much finer yarn you will get stripes of solid fabric interspersed with stripes of lacey fabric.

You have lots of options, but in all cases--please plan on knitting a swatch. There is really no way to make sure you will like your final scarf without testing first.

  • Thank you for answering, but I think you misunderstood the question. I am not looking for a larger number of rows, I am looking for the longest possible scarf, no matter if it is made on small needles (many low rows of tight fabric) or large needles (few hgih rows of loose fabric). And there is no wool to spend on swatching. Also I don't want to add yarns, change the pattern or anything else. – rumtscho Oct 10 '17 at 17:37
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    I don't think there is any way to determine which way will result in a longer scarf without swatching. But, you don't have to use extra yarn to swatch. Cast on the appropriate number of stitches using whatever needles you want--start working the pattern. When you get to about 4 inches (10 cm) examine the fabric and see if you are happy with what you are creating. If not, then frog what you have done, and start over with a different sized needle. That is still considered swatching. – magerber Oct 10 '17 at 17:41
  • I prefer not to frog, because I think the slightly hairy yarn will look worse after frogging. Also, I think there is a good chance that the prediction can be done - I am not asking about the total length of the scarf (which is a PITA to predict) but about a comparison which one will be longer, and for that the relationship could be simple enough. – rumtscho Oct 10 '17 at 17:45
  • Make swatches in a different yarn of about the same size, that way you can change the needle size and see the difference without having to use your special yarn. – Willeke Oct 10 '17 at 19:45

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