I had to do a gauge swatch. I especially needed a gauge swatch because the Ella Rae Bamboo Silk yarn is 70% bamboo and 30% silk and I didn't know if it would knit up the same as the yarn called for in the pattern. Gauge swatches are NECESSARY to figure this out. You really can’t get away with not making one unless you’re making a scarf, but even then, if you don’t know the yarn, it could stretch and you will end up with a VERY LONG scarf. That said, I still just can’t bring myself to make a swatch and then have it sit around with no function. One of the many reasons I knit is because I’ll have something useful as a result (pretty, soft square = not useful). Clara Parkes would be horrified (you can hear her gently and lovingly chide Helen Stewart on podcast #72 of the Curious Handmade podcast), but I live in NYC where I do not have space for pretty, not useful things. (All spare space is being used to stash yarn, of course.) Elizabeth Zimmerman -- practical knitting goddess that she was -- understood the need for every knit stitch to be useful and suggested making a gauge swatch hat. Since I always worry that I won’t have enough yarn for the project (a real concern when the yarn is discontinued) I decided to knit a gauge sleeve. My thinking is that I’m willing to undo a sleeve since I can knit one up pretty quickly.
After I posted a picture of the beginnings of the gauge sleeve on Instagram, Meadow from The Woven Road (another fabulous podcast -- go subscribe now) asked me how I liked the bamboo yarn. Ella Rae has discontinued Bamboo Silk but there are other similar bamboo silk combinations out there so I thought it might be helpful to someone to write about it.
Bamboo Silk is very smooth and shiny. I compared it with some Debbie Bliss Pure Silk yarn (100% silk) and they are practically indistinguishable in feel except that the Pure Silk yarn is just a touch softer and more elastic than Bamboo Silk. The Pure Silk also has a greater luster, but Bamboo Silk has a great shimmer. For appearance and feel, the Bamboo Silk is a good option to replace the 100% silk called for in Intoxicating.
The softness of the Bamboo Silk yarn makes it slippery and wooden needles help keep the yarn from slipping too much. Even though the sleeves are knit flat, I knit the gauge-sleeve on wooden size 7 double pointed needles so that I wouldn't have to sew up the sleeve length later. Kristi Porter so helpfully gives you gauge pre- and post-blocking and I love her dearly for this. As I matched gauge pre-blocking, I was able to make the entire sleeve.
Many people don’t think you should ever wet-block silk (including Amy Singer), but I know I’m going to wash this pullover eventually so I’d rather know the damage before I commit to a full sweater. I washed the gauge-sleeve in my favorite delicates detergent and set it down to block. Wet, the gauge-sleeve grew a lot and fit the dimensions specified by Kristi Porter post-block. After it dried, the sleeve retained the new dimensions perfectly. The Bamboo Silk highlights the lace pattern as beautifully as 100% silk would. So, in sum, the Bamboo Silk yarn can replace the 100% silk in this pattern and a sweater will be knit!
I can honestly say I’m a fan of Bamboo Silk. It knits smoothly and blocks beautifully. It also feels great against your skin. The only negative thing I noticed is that this yarn makes my hands hurt after knitting a while. This does not happen when I’m knitting with sheep or alpaca wool, but does happen when I knit with linen. I suspect the lesser elasticity is somehow taxing to my hands, but that’s just my theory.