I posted some new yarn in the shop today and thought it might be a good idea to answer some of the questions I often get about the differences, if any, between handspun yarn and commercial, as well as the best way to choose patterns, etc. Hope this helps, and hope you have a great weekend!
Working with handspun yarn can be quite different than working with commercial yarn. Each spinner's handspun is totally unique...some folks spin really consistently, and some like more of a thin/thick variation throughout the skein. What makes handmade yarn so special is exactly that: it was made by a person rather than a factory, and the resulting texture can be anywhere from subtly slubby to wildly thick and thin, with coils and beads and all kinds of crazy awesome things woven in. Here is some information that I hope will be helpful to someone working with handmade yarn for the first time :)
When you buy commercial yarn, you will usually see the thickness (or weight) of the yarn printed on the label (fingering, DK, worsted, bulky, etc). This makes it easy to pair your yarn with a knitting pattern, since most patterns call for a specific yarn weight. But let's say that you have a hank of yarn that's missing a label, or a skein of handspun yarn and aren't sure what the weight is. Thankfully, it's pretty easy to figure out by "wraps per inch", or WPI. This just refers to how many times a particular yarn will wrap around a tool (I have this one, or you can even use a wooden ruler) in the space of one inch. Then you can look at a WPI chart like the one here to determine the weight. Most commercial yarn is spun quite consistently, so the WPI measurement is the same all throughout the skien. With my handspun, there will usually be some variation in thickness, so I like to give an average WPI. For example, the bulky yarn I spin can vary throughout the skein from 5 WPI to 8WPI, but the average is 7. So I classify it as a bulky yarn. And, as with any knitting project, it's important to achieve the gauge called for in the pattern instructions, especially with items that require a specific fit.
I often get asked what kind of patterns work best with handmade yarn. Really, you can knit anything with handspun, as long as you're able to achieve the gauge called for in the pattern. But because most handspun yarn has a bit of texture already built into it with the thick & thin variations, I especially like simple patterns that let the yarn do the talking. To me, there's nothing more wonderful than a simple stockinette stitch in bunny-soft handspun wool. Other simple stitch patterns like seed stitch and garter are wonderful too. All the patterns in my shop are developed especially for handmade yarn (although they can certainly be used with commercial yarn too!). And my personal preference is to knit items in handspun that don't require too specific of a fit, like scarves and blankets. If you're on Ravelry, the pattern browser is about the coolest thing in the universe. If you have a hank of handspun and are wondering what to do with it, I would recommend entering your preferred craft (knitting vs. crochet), then your yarn weight, and then the amount of yardage you have. From there you can narrow it down to age, size, etc., but oh, the possibilities!!!
Truth be told, I'm not a big crochet-er, so I don't have any crochet-specific tips to share! But, the same guidelines apply and I have seen beautiful items crocheted with handspun yarn....blankets, scarves, cowls, hats...all lovely!
I hope this helps a little! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I am more than happy to help however I can! :)