Laceweight cardigans – a cautionary tale

Today I hoped to bring you lovely photos of my Coraline cardigan. I wore her today for the first time, but it was the bleakest of days today, more than even me, a lover of bleak days, could really cope with. The rain fell sideways. That kind of day. No good for outdoor shots and indoor shots aren’t as nice.

I’ll save all the waxing lyrical about the marvels of my new cardigan for the final write up, but I can offer a sneak peek here and just this one comment. Rowan Felted Tweed – a great yarn to wear on a day when the wind is howling and the rain is blowing sideways. I’ll leave it at that.

Here’s the yoke. I love it. More later.

coraline buttons

Now, about laceweight cardigans. There’s a problem. For a refresher, here’s my Featherweight cardigan, completed two months ago, made from Knit Picks Shadow, a very nice laceweight yarn.


It was lovely. Notice the past tense. Now, not so much.

Let me preface what I’m about to admit by saying that before I felted my Featherweight cardigan, it was already not wearing well. I got probably half a dozen to a dozen wears out of it and by then, it was pilling like nobody’s business. All around the middle section, where my arms rubbed against my body, there were great big lumps appearing in the form of pilling. Pilling happens. We’re wool wearers. We live with it. But we don’t expect it to happen immediately and so dramatically.

So there was that. And it really didn’t keep its shape. I already knew, two months in, that it was going to be a round the house/weekend kind of cardigan and felt resigned to accepting this.

One weekend, while doing the washing, I inadvertently put it in the wash. I have no idea what I did that for. The water wasn’t hot so the damage wasn’t horrendous, but it was bad enough. My lovely stitch definition is no more.

featherweight - band

It’s a lot shorter now. All over. It’s not what it was. Featherweight probably now fits someone shorter and thinner than I am and that’s just how it is.

But felting aside (I’ve beaten myself up about it heaps, so will refrain from doing so here. Let’s just move on, shall we?), I think I decided before that that laceweight yarn is not for cardigans. The Featherweight cardigan is written for Malabrigo laceweight. We all know how soft and feltable that stuff is. I know of at least one version knit in Malabrigo, by DrK, that hasn’t gone the distance. She went straight ahead and knitted another in 4ply Polwarth silk and is, all told, delighted with it. More weight, more structure.

I thought at first I’d blame Knit Picks. Their yarns are cheap as chips and, well, not fabulous. They’re really nice, but they’re hardly high end. Then I got to thinking. If I had knit my Shadow yarn into a shawl, it would have draped over my shoulders, or wrapped around my neck, and not endured half the friction that it did as a cardigan. It’s probably not the fault of the yarn at all.

Laceweight is, I now believe, meant to be made into garments that are not for every day. It’s gossamer nature means it’s not durable. It’s delicate. It’s light. It should be treated as such. In short, I won’t do it again. I’ll follow the lead of people like DrK and Knitabulous and make a 4ply one because the pattern is great. It’s beautiful AND functional. And for as long as my Featherweight and I were together, there was love.

I’d be keen to hear from anyone else who’s made a Featherweight, or similar, in a laceweight yarn. How did it wear? Did it last?



37 thoughts on “Laceweight cardigans – a cautionary tale

  1. I saw a beautiful shawl made from a triangular design with a “Bell” ruffle on 2 sides. The yarn was laceweight and it was very light and large enough in variegated purples. A friend has agreed to make it for me since I don’t knit, and we’ve gotten the pattern. I have been reading your comments because I cannot decide what yarn to buy. Tomorrow I am going to a knitting shop in our area and I don’t know of another one. So I have been looking at the websites such as Yarnmarket. Any ideas or suggestions? I would really appreciate tips so I don’t get the wrong kind of yarn. I gather a yarn with silk in it is good, right?

  2. Hi,
    I read your article with interest. I’ve just bought some Sweet Georgia Merino Silk Lace in Boysenberry for a girlfriend. I’ve never like variegated yarn and have never bought it but this is STUNNNNNING! I would really like to make a cardigan for her to wear on special occasions but it is only laceweight so wondered if it would be appropriate. I have found a lovely wrap that I am going to modify and will probably make that now.
    Perth Aust.

  3. Pingback: featherweight cardigan « princess pea

  4. Sorry to hear about your FW. I have knitted 2 FW in lace yarn & they are great. I have worn them a lot & they feel so soft & light. Both my FW are knitted out of merino/silk & it does not pill or felt. I have seen a couple of FW knitted in Malabrigo lace & was told the yarn literally felt during knitting. I believe it’s the choice of yarn.

  5. This is good to know in advance!

    I have a skein of Malabrigo lace that hasn’t called out to be something yet. I guess it’s not going to be something that gets that kind of rubbing/felting wear!

  6. oh how disappointing! vale featherweight cardigan, it was so lovely! very interesting thought about the suitability of this type of yarn, i’m sure you’re right. it will make me think more carefully about yarn choices, something i’m normally a bit blase about. i think bendi classic does a 4 ply, and i’ve found it to be good in not pilling too much.

  7. First off, the Coraline is mouth watering. Just lovely. Second, thanks so much for sharing an epic fail. I think reading about and seeing pictures of success stories is motivating and helps me see what I want to try next, but it is every bit as important to steer people away from making a potentially expensive mistake. What’s that adage? If you can’t be a good example, at least be a horrible warning. ;D

  8. I’m so glad you posted this, Bells. I’m thinking about a Geodesic cardigan, and your experience gives me pause even as I have had my own skepticism about how such a light garment would wear. However, my yarn of choice, Mountain Colors Winter Lace, is 50% silk, so I might just give it a go anyway.

    Your Coraline is wonderful!

  9. I’m looking forward to our lyrical waxing about your Coraline.

    Thank you so much for your cautionary tale about the laceweight. Both the pilling and the felting must have been must have brought you anguish. Sometimes I think it would be wonderful to be able to take a ‘so be it’ attitude when such things happen, but having put so much care and time into crafting your cardi, it’s just asking too much.

  10. So sorry about the untimely demise of your Featherweight Cardigan. Sad.

    I have been eyeing the pattern for Cia, but it’s also laceweight and requires sewing the lace borders onto the sleeves…meh. So pretty, though. It’s made with Louet KidLin so maybe the linen would help…or not. Just idle rambling. No, I haven’t made a laceweight cardigan, yet!

  11. Your first picture looks wonderful, how beautiful. I cant wait to see the whole thing! Pity about your fw cardigan, how awful for you. Do you think you can sew it into something else so it wont be wasted. Maybe you could sew it into a smaller garment for Alice to wear!

  12. Hmmm. Speaking as someone who has almost finished making one of these in Malabrigo laceweight, this is disappointing to read. I must admit, as I knit the collar I have noticed the very slight felting that has already occured at the top of the body – the first bit to get made. But it is just so darn soft and floaty that I really had high hopes! We’ll see…

  13. As I tweeted my whisper in malabrigo lace died – it has felted so much under the arms it is so much smaller.

    I do perspire quite a bit and aloot of my less durable wool knit do tend to felt underarm but whisper was insane how much it felted.

    I have been mulling over this exact point for a while now as I have knitted a few things that just don’t stand the wear of time. Ailsa has a good point though whether we are process or product knitters.

  14. I’m so sorry about your Featherweight.

    This post has made me want to take a good hard look at the Geodesic Cardigan I’m knitting out of Malabrigo lace. Maybe I’ll put my swatch through some wear tests before I get to the really complicated bits.

  15. I think it is not so much the weight of yarn as the fiber content.. I’d be wary of knitting a garment in Malabrigo Lace, Sock AND Worsted, simply because of the way their merino yarns are constructed (maybe the Sock less so but def the lace & the worsted). You’d want a relatively tightly spun lace and preferably in longer fibers than merino. I can see a laceweight shetland working – and I know that Icelandic laceweights wear like iron.

    Hey, there is a blog post in this..isn’t there?

  16. The lessons knitting teaches us after all our hard work–well, that’s why your cautionary tale is so very vital. I sometimes go on yarndex to see if any reviews of a yarn indicate its durability, or pilling tendencies, etc. but frequently there is nothing. I am about to start two sweaters and don’t know if either will be inclined to pill, but they are high end yarns (Cherry Tree Hill Charmed and Sirdar Kaya) so I have high hopes. I LOVE your Coraline–looked at the many examples of this gorgeous cardi and tried to imagine making one of these sweaters in that pattern. In a few years . . . you are a world ahead of me in your capabilities!

  17. First, I am in serious love with your Coraline. That yoke is just lovely.

    Second, I’m really sorry to hear about the cardigan. I was seriously thinking of making one for myself since the idea of a very light cardigan appeals to me. I guess I’ll pay attention to what yarn I use. I appreciate the heads up.

  18. Looking forward to seeing more of Coraline, that yoke looks great.

    I’ve never made any garment bar a shawl out of laceweight – and that was silk. I have some very soft 4ply though, that pilled, and then also got accidentally felted (it was a Rowan 4ply – I think rowansoft or something like that, 100% wool anyhow). What do you do with a felted item, other than lining hanging baskets with them?

    Not a happy though:(

  19. From my project page –

    “So after a few months of wearing this, it has felted terribly under the arms, and I think Iā€™m going to felt the whole thing and cut out drink coasters from it. I would not use Malabrigo Lace for another garment”

    I tell customers this if they are looking for yarn for Featherweight/Whisper.

    I made Honeybee Cardigan from Mal Sock, and it has worn really, really well. šŸ™‚ I wear it almost every day, and it’s pilling, sure, but it is holding up much, much better than the lace.

  20. I had the same problem with my Featherweight Cardigan. I knit it out of Malabrigo lace and by the second or third time I wore it, it was already pilling. It’s pilled so much and kept it’s shape so little, that like you, it’s just for around the house. If I had it to do over again, I’d use a wool/nylon sock yarn.

  21. Ugh. I just bought laceweight to make 2 cardigans this year. One Malabrigo- I know it will likely be destroyed. The other, DIC lace. Despite your cautionary tales, I’m probably going to still do it anyhow, at least the Dream in Color. It’s got more of a heft. And now I’m going to go bookmark the 4ply jumper information, and contemplate what else I could do with the malabrigo.

  22. Coraline must be a happy cardigan after the Featherweight debacle. My Tempest in 4ply Kaffe Fasset sock wool is pilling a bit. I am sad about that but it too is loosely knitted. Hence the pilling.

  23. Lucky i’m a process knitter, and not much bothered about whether I wear my knits or not (I don’t wear my knits hardly at all. In fact, I’m not a fan of knitwear. But I LOVE knitting.) because I’ve got another featherweight lined up in knitpicks alpaca cloud (iris, beautiful colour) and another one in malabrigo lace in pearl ten – a complete copycat purchase because I saw one in that colour and nearly died of love with it. Even though Malabrigo lace felts while I’m actually knitting it – I really don’t know what people see in it to be honest. But first I have an adrift already started in the 4 ply polwarth silk and another kind of featherweight in malabrigo silky merino – being a single it’s probably not going to go the distance either.

    I like what Tia said about the superwash laceweights – there are a few out there – Bendigo 2 ply is superwash, as is centolavaggio (but that’s a cobweb and you’d have to be INSANE to knit a cardigan from that. I wonder if those yarns would pill much – it’s a very good point I think.

    Shame about your felted featherweight though, because even a house cardigan is nice if you knit it yourself. But Coraline looks like an amazing consolation – I can’t wait to see the full FO post! Beautiful..

  24. Thanks for the cautionary tale! I love knitters who share this sort of information – it’s great to hear about the successes, but sometimes, hearing about the fails is really helpful. And that Coraline is looking scrumptious! Can’t wait to see it in full.

  25. Hm… interesting. I’ve made a couple and haven’t had a problem, but there was silk content in one and the other I don’t wear too much. I’m in the midst of a Geodesic (Sleeveland, since you ask…) and will let you know what happens. Generally, though, looser stitches will pill more because there is more room for the yarn to move around and rub up against other stitches… (Or so I’m told.) So the looser gauge required for a lace weight cardigan will ultimately destine it to pilling, I suppose. Hadn’t thought of this! Glad you brought it up, and will be on the lookout (and maybe not wear the geodesic too much – after all that work to have it ruined, I’d be so annoyed!) Sorry about your featherweight, btw!

  26. Oh that is so sad about your Featherweight šŸ˜¦

    The early photo of your new cardigan is very appealing – that smocking is just stunning. I’m interested to hear what you think of the Rowan Tweed, as I’ve got a pile of it ready to knit up into a jumper, starting any day now! Although I don’t think mine is the felted variety …

  27. I’ve just finished knitting the body of the Featherweight Cardigan and I’m using Colourmart Merino/Mohair yarn. Although on the Colourmart website, this yarn is classified as 4 ply, it feels more like a normal laceweight yarn. I’m not sure how this yarn will wear as I didn’t knit a swatch. Hopefully it wont pill that much either. We’ll see šŸ™‚

  28. I think you’re right. Agree (100)

    I knit Whisper cardigan last year and it is OK because there aren’t many points of contact but I realised it wasn’t very durable. When I knit my Featherweight I used Malabrigo Sock. I don’t think I’d use anything lighter than a 4ply for a garment again (especially not after your sad story) and I’ll definitely look for tightly-spun sock yarn as I think fine yarn knit loosely needs to be very tough!

  29. Yes, my lovely malabrigo fw has not gone the distance either. I wore my new one today (post to come) and am far and away happier. I think the structure of mal yarn makes it beautiful but sometimes impractical, and it seems like Shadow is the same. Annoying but at least its all good GaaK!

  30. I’m glad I haven’t knit this yet, based on yours and DrK’s experiences – although I am sad that both your lovely cardi’s are no more. I think you are right though, laceweight is really not for cardigans – although I’ll be interested to see if anyone else has had more success than you both.

    Can’t wait to see the full Coraline photo shoot!

  31. My featherweight was knit in Dream in Color Baby, which is a heavy laceweight, but I haven’t worn it a lot yet. On the other hand, I knit Evie in Rowan 4ply Cashsoft. It has pilled like buggery, and looks like your Grandma’s 50 year old beat-up house cardi. Seriously, it looks like crap. And it’s been handwashed, dried flat in the shade, the whole lot. Depressing, really, considering the cost of it!

  32. *sads*

    Do you think, however, that it would hold up in a superwash laceweight?

    Or maybe a laceweight blend, that has maybe a little bit of silk/nylon/something in it?

    But yes.. I think a 4ply weight one would definitely be more practical.

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