Saturday 30 January 2010

Collar Decisions

The Eco wool cardigan that I am knitting has a big collar, knitted separately rather like a sailor collar, and sewn on afterwards. The  instructions are for two versions, one in bramble (or blackberry) stitch and the other in garter stitch with the yarn doubled.  Given my opinion of garter stitch, knitting a collar in over-size garter stitch would be like saying I'M NOT VERY GOOD AT KNITTING, so that's out.  I started knitting the blackberry stitch collar, but the slightly fuzzy yarn combined with the variations in colour meant that the texture of the stitch wasn't apparent.  After knitting about an inch, it was starting to look a bit like lumpy porridge - not a good look for a collar (or even for porridge).  So I switched to moss stitch, to match the cuffs, button band, etc. and that is looking much better.

The first attempt at the collar, following the pattern, was also ridiculously wide.  The instructions don't say how wide it should be, but from the photo, it appears to be wider than the shoulders of the model.  That's much too wide, I think, so I have reduced it by about 25%.    I have started stitching the body of the cardigan together, so that I can see how long the collar ought to be - it's looking good.

(later)  It's finished! All I have to do now is finish sewing the whole thing together. 

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Duttons for Buttons

When we were in York last week to visit the Sashiko exhibition, I went in search of buttons for my cardigan.  I had read  about Duttons for Buttons in the current issue of The Knitter, and checked on their web site.  They have shops in York, Ilkley and Harrogate, all nice places to visit in Yorkshire (and coincidentally the locations of Betty's tea shops).  I imagined that the original Mr or Mrs Dutton (no doubt a relation of Betty's) started selling buttons to live up to their name.  Actually, according to their history page, the button business was founded (in 1906) not by a Dutton, but the owner later bought a lingerie shop in Harrogate called Duttons, so that he could acquire the name, and changed the name of the whole business to match - that's nearly as odd a story.

It's a very small shop (on Coppergate) - but then you don't need much space for a lot of buttons.  I bought two horn buttons for my cardigan - horn seemed appropriate for the undyed Eco wool.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Casting On

I recently found a copy of The Handknitter's Handbook by Montse Stanley in our local Oxfam shop (£3.99 - a bargain). I hadn't heard of it, but it is an excellent book,  that covers everything you can think of in amazing detail, and is also entertaining. (Not sure if it's still in print - it was first published in 1986, and later reissued as just The Knitter's Handbook. There is a book that seems to be doing a similar job by the same author called Simply Fabulous Knitting  - much shorter (164 pages v. 318), but definitely in print (and cheap too).)  Now that I am knitting again, I thought that I should go back to basics and make sure that I am doing things properly.

 I've been casting on for years and years in the way I was originally taught, although at some time I adopted a variant of that method, and I have always considered that my method was just the way to do casting on. It turns out that there are dozens of casting-on methods listed in the Handbook - the method I use is called (by Montse Stanley anyway) cable cast-on, and she says of it: "A firm, cord-like edge. Not very elastic." Hmmm. She makes still more disparaging remarks about using cable cast-on with single rib: "It would be acceptable on aesthetic grounds if a definite edge was required, but functionally it is a disaster." I have been using a disastrous cast-on all this time! I didn't read this in time to use a different method for the back and fronts of my cardigan, but I have tried one for the sleeves. She says that alternate cable cast-on is better for single rib (and I think for moss stitch for the same reasons) and it does indeed give a neat and elastic edge. Essentially, while with cable cast-on you create a new stitch by knitting into the last stitch, with alternate cable you alternately knit and purl (and then on the first row, you knit where you created a stitch by knitting and purl otherwise).

Alternate cable with single rib:

Cable cast-on with single rib:

As she says, cable makes a very definite edge of both sides of the work (though the two sides are different), and it is relatively inelastic;  with single rib, alternate cable is much less obvious and both sides look the same.  (For the samples, I used some nasty cheap acrylic yarn I bought at the yarn stall in the local covered market - £1.20 for 100 g./300m.  I bought it specifically for knitting samples and  I will never ever knit a garment in it.)

Montse Stanley is not entirely dismissive of cable cast-on - she lists it as a method for "ordinary edges".  My next project (a shoulder bag) has a cast-on edge to stocking stitch, so it will be fine for that, I think.

I've also been reading The Best of Vogue Knitting (borrrowed from the local library), a fascinating collection of articles from Vogue Knitting (American edition), published in 2007 to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

There are several articles on casting on, including one by Meg Swansen that describes both methods that I have used in the past as the two versions of Knitted-On Cast On. And I learnt something new from that article too. She says: "When you have achieved the wanted number of stitches, you may be displeased with the way the final cast-on stitch slants to the right on the needle and how the bottom of it merges with the penultimate stitch." Well frankly, I had never thought about it, but she's quite right: where you start casting on creates a nice right angled corner eventually, but the other end is rounded off rather than square. She suggests a simple remedy. Just before you put the last stitch that you cast on onto the left needle, you bring the yarn to the front (so that it emerges between the last two stitches). And it works! It's amazing how much there can be to learn about the simplest things.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Me and Garter Stitch

The cardigan I'm knitting has garter stitch cuffs, bottom edge and front borders in garter stitch, as well as one of the two alternative collars. I have a strong aversion to garter stitch - I think it's because when my mother taught me to knit (over 50 years ago! I am so old!), garter stitch was the very first stitch I learnt to do. So as far as I'm concerned, garter stitch is what you knit before you know how to do anything else. It's childish and unsophisticated, to me. So I've used moss stitch instead, and I think it looks much better.

Another change is that the instructions call for the front borders to be knitted separately, once the bottom edge (4cm in garter stitch) has been knitted. The borders are knitted afterwards, to fit the edge of the front when slightly stretched, and then sewn on afterwards. That seems an unnecessary seam to me. What's more, with this shaded wool, it would be better to get the colour of the border to match with the main part of each front, which wouldn't happen if they were knitted separately. So I knitted the borders in moss stitch at the same time as knitting the rest of each front in stocking stitch, and that seems to have worked very well.

Monday 18 January 2010

Japanese Sashiko exhibition

I went to a wonderful exhibition of textiles at York Art Gallery yesterday. Sashiko means "small stitches" and refers to clothing made from multiple layers of cloth held together with lines of running stitches. It was the traditional clothing worn by the poorest working people of Japan until the Second World War - and later in some areas. The clothing was mainly workwear, so very functional, but the sashiko stitching is very decorative as well as functional. Some of the garments have simple parallel lines of white stitching on indigo fabric, others have intricate patterns made purely by masses of tiny stitches. Because cloth was expensive, when parts of the garments wore out, they were patched with new fabric and more stitching. The shapes of the garments are very simple - just rectangles of cloth assembled into a T-shaped coat. The exhibition has garments that were worn for work for years and mended many times, others in their original state - they are all beautiful.

The exhibition has some examples of how sashiko has influenced present-day artists. There are garments made in a Western style, but with a form of sashiko stitching. The stitching is crude in comparison with the traditional garments and I didn't find the results very appealing. An interesting approach to using sashiko ideas is some fabric made by the Nuno Corporation, which has two layers of different coloured cloth, with an overall pattern of (machine) stitching holding the two layers together - I think that would be an exciting fabric to work with.

The exhibition closes on Friday (24th January) although it then moves on to Glasgow (27 February - 11 April) and Plymouth (31 July - 26 September). A couple of illustrated publications about the exhibition (pdf) are available - well worth looking at. And I recommend a visit to the exhibition if you can get to any of the venues.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Eco wool cardigan

In my first year of knitting again, I made four lacy scarves (three in 4-ply, for Christmas presents) and the Gilda jumper I've described, and a pair of socks. (Knitting the socks wasn't entirely a happy experience. Maybe I'll write about it when I feel better about it.) So after that I felt that I needed to knit something straightforward and fast for a change. I chose Sirdar Eco wool, which is double knitting weight, 100% wool, undyed. It comes in five sheep colours, and two that are variegated (shades of brown or shades of grey). I chose the shades-of-grey, which is called Shale (though it doesn't look much like shale to me). It reminds me of sheep on the Pennine moors (a good thing, btw).

The yarn varies from pale grey to dark grey, and gives a nice sort of blurry stripy effect. The stripes occur at random, as far as I can see, and it's not possible to match them up, say from the left front to the right front. But I'm treating this as a feature not a bug, as we say in computing. However, it is important to match the colours when you start a new ball, I think, otherwise the changeover is very noticeable, but this has not been a problem. Only once have I had to wind quite a long length of wool off the new ball.

The recommended needles are 4mm, but I found I had to switch to 3.5 mm to get the right tension, which makes a rather firm fabric - it softens quite a bit after blocking though.

I was planning to knit a jumper orginally, but it's been so cold lately that I am wearing lots of layers with a big cardigan on top, so switched to a big cardigan instead (from the Sirdar Eco Wool DK Book, no. 336).

It's mainly stocking stitch, so quick to knit, as required. I am reading Wolf Hall (by Hilary Mantel, 650 pages) at the moment, so it's useful to have some knitting that I can do at the same time. I'm pleased with how it's turning out. I still need to decide what to do about the collar, though - there are two alternatives (bramble stitch and garter stitch), and I'm not sure I want to choose either.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Gilda jumper

After starting knitting again with a scarf, I decided to be more ambitious and knit myself a jumper. I was seduced by a photo in the Rowan Pure Wool Collection book - Gilda, a jumper designed by Martin Storey, I think.

I didn't knit it in pure wool, though, but in Rowan wool/cotton, also a double knitting weight. I found the yarn lovely to knit with. The colour is Clear - a pale grey-blue.

The pattern is very intricate, so I suspect that it might in fact show up better in wool/cotton than in pure wool. Very intricate - maybe if I had read the instructions thoroughly beforehand I would have chosen something a bit simpler. It's a 16-row repeat and you need a cable needle on 9 of them. See the twisted stitches, on the branches of the little tree (?) motif, and separating the panels? They are twisted on every row. So you don't get an easy ride on the wrong side row, as you usually do.

I am not complaining though - I could have simplified it, or changed my mind about what to knit, but instead I stuck with it and I am very happy with the result. The main problem knitting it was not with the overall stitch pattern (what's the word?) but with the neckband, where I'm sure there was an error in the instructions - I had two attempts before I got it looking right. But as I said I am very happy with the finished jumper and enjoy wearing it. And it looks like the photo. Although not when I'm in it.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Starting Again

Once upon a time, I did lots of knitting. I did complicated knitting too - several Aran jumpers and some Fair Isle.  One jumper that I still wear is a Patricia Roberts design with cables of thick wool in cream divided by panels of mohair. But then I stopped - didn't have enough time to knit. Until about a year ago I hadn't done any knitting for about 25 years. (My daughter is now 24, so that had something to do with it. I was a bad mother and left all the baby knitting to the grandmas.) I would occasionally think about knitting, and even dream about knitting, so part of me evidently missed it. So when at the end of 2008, it looked like I would be retiring in a few months, I decided to try again. I asked my husband to buy me some yarn for Christmas, and made myself a lacy scarf in double knitting - not too taxing or time-consuming, and immediately wearable. Since then, I have indeed retired, and now I am doing a lot of knitting, especially this winter. This blog is intended to help me organise my thoughts about what I want to knit and why, and how it turns out. Maybe other people might even want to read it?

Here's an example of my past knitting.   I knitted the pullover  for my husband and  he posed in it recently - he doesn't wear it any more, but I am not going to let him throw it out, of course.

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