Let’s Talk Yarn

This post will get into detail about making shrugs for our Stay Strong Totes.  There’s a link at the end of the post to take you to our pattern.

We decided to share all of our tips based on our experience knitting shrugs for the past year.  Hopefully, you’ll find this info helpful.  We will post new yarns as we stumble upon them on facebook and Instagram, but all of the shrugs we’ve donated so far have been combinations of the following yarns.  We’ve listed the yarns first in case you don’t have the time to read through the whole post.   Keep in mind, our shrug pattern uses US17 & US19 needles requiring a super bulky yarn, to achieve this, we hold combinations of 2 or three strands together throughout the project.  For example, one strand of Homespun with one strand of Shawl in a Ball, or one strand Big Twist, Shawl in a Ball and Unforgettable held together throughout.  Experiment with your own combinations and have fun!  Making shrugs is way easier than you think.  Although this post focuses on knitting, we are planning to do a post soon getting into details of tunisian crochet.

Yarn suggestions at a glance:

One skein Shawl in a Ball held with other yarns should be enough for a shrug.

Two skeins Barcelona is enough with leftover.  Buy three and you’ll have enough

for two shrugs






You’ll need more than one skein of Unforgettable, again, buy three and you’ll have enough for two shrugs


You’ll need more than one skein of Scarfie.  Three gets you two shrugs

One skein Caron Big Cakes for one shrug or one skein of Buttercream for one shrug











Three skeins of Homespun makes one shrug with enough leftover to finish off the last three inches or so of another shrug.

Look how nice one strand of black Homespun and one strand of rainbow Shawl in a Ball knit up together.

So let’s talk yarn:

I have a confession to make – I’m a recovering yarn snob.  This needs to be mentioned because as we go through yarn suggestions, you’ll notice they are all sold in big box stores.  This is not because I don’t appreciate and want to support local yarn shops.  Nothing beats the service or sense of community you’ll find in your local yarn shop, and with so many retailers in all industries closing their doors, I will always promote shopping small.

As a former yarn shop owner, I can put together a huge list of reasons to shop small.  But as a volunteer, good value has to be considered as well as making the project as enjoyable as possible, so beautiful yarn that’s nice to work with is still important – as is availability.   

When I started making shawls for my local RMD House, I was using yarn from my stash.  When friends offered to help, they’d dip into my stash as well.  This was great for donating locally.  Then our donations grew into care packages and our idea expanded to include RMD Houses in other states. 

I had a wonderful opportunity last winter to get knitters in Rhode Island involved supporting their local house in Providence.  Michelle Brennan, (owner of the charming Knitting Needles yarn shop in Newport, RI), worked with me planning a simple first sweater workshop based on a longer version of a shrug.  The workshop fee was a donation to the Stay Strong Tote foundation and the yarn used came from the shop along with a nice discount for knitters signing up.  We chose Seasons by Ella Rae.  This is still one of my favorite choices for shrugs.  Lofty, lightweight, great yardage, beautiful colorways, lovely to work with – and a good price!

Not sure what Michelle has left, but that’s a yarn shop yarn I’d recommend for sure.  And many thanks again to Michelle for allowing me to teach.  Hopefully, we will add another workshop to the Knitting Needles 2018 winter calendar.











I was excited and grateful when Lion Brand Yarns donated a box of Homespun to our mission.  it gave me the opportunity to start experimenting with big box yarn and forced me away from my stash – a huge stash made up of left over inventory from my shop’s closing.  As you can imagine, I got very spoiled owning a shop and working on a daily basis with higher end yarns.   



Homespun is a bulky yarn, but is lofty and lightweight, machine washable and has good yardage.  It really worked well for our purposes.  Two strands held together on 19s works up nicely.  When we exhausted the donation, I stepped into my local Michael’s as a yarn shopper for the first time.  Nothing compares to natural fibers, or the exciting feeling a fiber lover gets when walking through the doors of a yarn shop, but I was really impressed with how beautiful and affordable the selection was.  Taking advantage of sales and coupons can bring costs down to almost wholesale prices too.  We frequently shop Michael’s, JoAnn’s, AC Moore and Hobby Lobby but another place to watch is Craftsy.com.  I’ve gotten 50% off and free shipping at certain times through their website as well.

Because we are constantly delivering and shipping Stay Strong Totes to RMD Houses, we have to produce a lot of shrugs.  Using smaller knitting needles would take us too long.  Of course, you can use your favorite needles, pattern and yarn, as long as your finished measurements are between 45-50″ wide (wrist to wrist) by 28-32″ long (top to bottom), your project can be seamed into a shrug.  

Let me take a sec to address the needles needed for our suggested shrug pattern.   You’ll need to work on circulars (29″ is best), to accommodate the large amount of stitches you’ll be casting on.  We work shrugs from side to side (wrist to wrist).  This allows you flexibility if you run short of yarn.  If you run out, you can finish your last few inches with a coordinating yarn and create a fun “collar” across the top of the shrug.  Here’s where your leftovers come in handy!   Also, being that a cast on is typically looser than binding off, when planning your shrug, we recommend  visualizing your work from the bottom up.  It’s better to have more “give” across the bottom than around your neck.  Getting used to huge needles was a challenge at first.  The only time I picked up US19 needles was to teach in my shop.  I was surprised at how quickly I got used to them – and even more surprised at how quickly I could complete a shrug!

Here are some tips for using large needles.  Your gauge might be a lot looser than usual.  We found that when making a shrug, rotating with US19 and US17 works really well.  You simply hold one size in each hand and work as if using straight needles.  It’s not a requirement, but we found that using two sizes creates a lofty row from the US19s with a slightly tighter row from the US17s adding a little structure and helping to eliminate some of the natural stretching that can occur with these bigger stitches.  Stockinette is also preferred over garter stitch as it tends to stretch less too.  If you’re a newer knitter and want to make a shrug using all knit stitches, definitely go down and only use US17 needles and cast on 6 more stitches.

The other challenge of using oversized needles is finding yarn combinations that won’t become too heavy.  General rule of thumb, it the skein feels heavy in your hand, it will knit up heavy.  Heavy yarns will create heavy fabrics.  This might work nicely for afghans or lap blankets, but not so much for shrugs.  When using big needles, you need super bulky yarn to fill the stitches.  We look at this challenge like a chef creating a new recipe.  Not every experiment works out.  But the rewarding part of mixing yarns is the surprising positive results you can get.  Our shrugs are super simple.  You’re basically knitting or crocheting something the size of a baby blanket, folding the four corners toward the center and making two short seams to form sleeves.

One might think this would become boring.  But experimenting with different yarn combinations is always interesting.     


Most of the time you’ll find you have leftover yarn from one or more skeins used in a shrug.  Save all of this.  This shrug stash will come in handy.  Homespun leftovers are a great way to finish off a shrug creating a pretty collar and side panels after seaming.


Another tip –

Make sure after you cast on you have an extra 10″ of tail to use for seaming later.   When binding off cut a 10″ tail as well.  Work your bind off very loosely beginning over the corner where your cast on tail is.  This way when the bind off row is completed you have tails in opposite corners to use for each of your two short seams.

And lastly, If you knit a few inches and realize your width is too wide (over 50″), don’t rip out.  Our pattern has you begin the stockinette portion after 2-3″.  You can decrease a few stitches to shorten your width.  Start by decreasing 2 stitches as follows:

Knit to marker, slip marker, decrease one stitch by knitting two stitches together, knit across row to last two stitches before other marker, knit 2 sts together, slip marker, knit to end of row.   Depending on how much you need to decrease, repeat this step after knitting another inch or so to make your decreasing gradual.

Hopefully, these tips and yarn suggestions will give you the confidence to get started.   Here’s a link to our post with our pattern:  Shrug Pattern and Notecard for Shrugs/Shawls

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *