Saturday 31 August 2013

Knitting with Eartha and Jasmine

Since I finished the Honeycomb lace infinity scarf that I wrote about in my last post, I have been thinking about what to knit with the two balls of alpaca DK yarn that I got as a Christmas present - I wrote about them here.    Some sort of scarf seemed the best choice - there isn't enough yarn for anything big, and it is very soft and warm, just right for a cosy scarf.  There is no yardage on the ballband, so I don't know how far the yarn will go - probably not very far.  So I needed a design that would allow me to stop knitting whenever the yarn runs out. I also wanted to make a feature of the two colours - each ball is labelled with the name of the alpaca that it came from, and Eartha is a darker brown than Jasmine.   I decided that the design had to use both colours equally, and at the same time.   After a lot of deliberation and experimentation, I came up with a 'two-tone' design for a scarf.   I started with a provisional cast on, so that I can join the two ends when I have finished to make a loop.

I switch from one colour to the other in the middle of the row, intarsia fashion.   I wanted something a bit more interesting than stocking stitch or garter stitch, and I chose a zigzag stitch.  It's a very simple k3, p3 rib, but after every two rows, I move the pattern one stitch to the right or the left, depending on whether I'm on a zig or a zag.

I had to knit two or three swatches before I got the changeover to look neat.  It's hard to change colours while also doing a zigzag, and not have the light brown straying into the dark brown or v.v.  I haven't quite managed to achieve that on both sides, but one side is perfect.

Apart from the (very slightly) untidy changeover on one side, the knitting is reversible.  But in fact, I don't think that is going to matter much, because probably when the yarn runs out what I'll have is a cowl.   We'll see.  More later. 

Friday 30 August 2013

Honeycomb Infinity Scarf

One project that I have been working on for several months is an infinity scarf for my daughter.  It was intended as a birthday present (for her last birthday), but it's been too hot to wear a woolly scarf since then (that's my excuse).  I started it in May, and wrote about it here.   I finished the knitting several weeks ago, at least I think it's finished.  I haven't actually broken off the yarn, or blocked it, just in case she wants it to be longer.  

 So I sent her a photo of myself wearing it, to see if she liked the length as is.  And she has not yet replied, so it is still unblocked, not quite finished, not yet sent.   (And if you're reading this, child, it's you I'm talking about.)

It's designed to loop easily round the neck twice - it's very stretchy, and when it's pressed it will be a bit longer and looser.  It's lovely to wear - the yarn is Blue-faced Leicester and very soft.  My friend Steph, who dyed it, says that one skein will make a pair of socks, so it's quite surprising that I still have quite a lot of the skein left.

I took the stitch pattern from the article "An Orenburg Honeycomb Lace Scarf" by Galina Khmeleva in the Spring 2013 issue of Knitting Traditions.  I might write more about that later.  

Thursday 29 August 2013

Needlework Samples

We have been staying with our friends Sue and Henry in Kent for  a few days, and had a very good time with them, visiting Deal and Walmer, Ightham Mote and Ightham church, and the historic dockyard at Chatham.  (Also several cemeteries and churchyards, and a militaria fair, featuring "the world's largest multi-period re-enactment show" for those members of the party that like that sort of thing.)

Sue's mother was a domestic science teacher and her training, in the 1930s, included needlework.  Sue showed me some of the work that her mother did on her training course - a set of needlework samples. 

Knitting samples

Most of the samples demonstrate various sewing techniques, including two delightful outfits for small children.  There are only three knitting samples - one is a doll's scarf to show basic casting on and off, and plain knitting (i.e. garter stitch).    Then there is a leap in difficulty to knitting socks - one sample shows a sock toe, and the other a sock heel, except that the sock toe is shown in a little drawstring bag, and the sock heel is converted into a doll's bonnet.    These samples also show stocking stitch and rib, so anyone who could make these three little pieces had mastered a useful range of knitting techniques.  I'm sure that Sue's mother was a very competent knitter, and knitting these samples would have been a simple task for her.  Perhaps the point was not to show that she could knit, but to devise a set of knitting exercises to use when teaching children to knit.  I think they would have worked well - little girls could have made things for their dolls without a lot of effort, and practised several knitting techniques at the same time.  

All the samples in the collection are beautifully made, but one in particular is an amazingly neat piece of work. It  demonstrates darning a tear in a woven piece of cloth, and is almost invisible on the right side.   (In fact, I think the line of red running stitches must be to point out where the tear actually is.)

"Hedge tear" darn - right side

"Hedge tear" darn - wrong side
Even though it is visible on the wrong side, the darn is still very neat.  It is worked in much finer thread than the piece of cloth, so it must have taken a long time to do.   I don't know how it's possible to do so much sewing on the wrong side without it being visible on the right side.  But I don't think I really want to find out - I'm happy just to appreciate Sue's mother's handiwork.

Saturday 17 August 2013

A Knitted Lace Sampler

One of the (many) really special things in the Knitting & Crochet Guild's collection is a 19th century hand-knitted sampler of lace stitches.  Angharad and I had a photo session with it this week to try to get a better photo of the whole sampler than the one we already had.  It's  difficult to show it off properly, and especially to give a good impression of the fineness of the knitting.  Our photo includes a 50p pence for scale.   

The 1891 knitted sampler of lace stitches
Kathleen Kinder has studied the sampler in detail, and counted the gauge at 78 stitches and 100 rows to 10 cm., over stocking stitch. The yarn is a very fine cotton, and she estimates that the needle size was about 1.5 mm. There are 63 different stitch patterns in the sampler, some of them not found anywhere else, and the knitter has added the initials AF and the date 1891 (see below).  (Kathleen has recently published her study of the sampler, as a book:  Inspiration of  Lace Knitting.)  It is altogether a wonderful piece of knitting.

The sampler has accumulated several small stains since it was made, including a particularly nasty one at one end (which I am not going to show you).  It has an edging that was intended to be frilly, but has settled into folds over the years.  Altogether, it is hard to avoid it looking like a crumpled old bandage, but I hope that we have achieved that. 

It is much easier to see the quality of the work if you focus on the detail.  Many of the stitch patterns are lovely and the evenness of the knitting on this tiny scale is remarkable.     One of the patterns is similar to Old Shale, and I noticed that one immediately because it seems familiar.

But there are other stitches that you have to examine very closely to appreciate their complexity  - it feels almost like exploring a hidden microscopic world.  Some stitches combine eyelets with cables - sometimes they look very dynamic, with the stitches moving to and fro.

 Others are more open and lacy, sometimes with motifs resembling leaves or seeds.

And finally, in the last square of the sampler, the knitter worked her initials and the date 1891 in eyelets.  (I assume that it was made by a woman.)  

I wonder how she felt when she finished it?  Maybe she then went on to use the stitches in lots of other knitted articles - certainly seeing the sampler now, you get the urge to try out the patterns and make something with them.  And her efforts have had lasting value - her sampler is still inspiring other knitters more than a hundred years later. 

Thursday 15 August 2013

You can never have too many knitting bags

Last week, Susan Strawn from the United States visited Lee Mills for a few days, and stayed with me and John.  She teaches and researches the history of dress, especially knitting, and writes frequently for Piecework and Knitting Traditions.  Angharad and I met her at the In the Loop 3 conference in Winchester last September. She was visiting the U.K. again to go to the In the Loop 3.5 conference at the end of July in Shetland, so she stopped off in Huddersfield for a few days on the way back to Heathrow.   We took her to Lee Mills last Thursday and Friday, and showed her some of the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.   We had thought that she  might want to see more at the weekend, but there is so much to see that it gets exhausting, so she decided to be a tourist instead - we took her to York and the Quilt Museum on Saturday, and she went with Angharad to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Sunday.

It was fun having her here - it is great to have visitors who appreciate what a wonderful collection the Guild has, and having someone knowledgeable visiting is really exhilarating.  (Though tiring as well - we all felt exhausted after 2 days talking about knitting.)

Susan brought knitting bags with her from the U.S. to give to me and Angharad.  They are Tom Binh bags, made in Seattle, and very splendid.  They are made in very durable and waterproof ripstop nylon (ballistic nylon - don't know what that means. Presumably not that they are bullet-proof.)   They are very roomy and have two transparent zip pockets inside.  And one of the pockets has a little ruler in it (very handy), with a Latin motto on it:   Siquid mantica non capit, domi reliquendum est , which according to the Tom Binh FAQs page means: If it doesn't fit in your knapsack, leave it behind. The handles are a nice length so that you can carry it either over your shoulder or in your hand.  And they look very smart. 

The bag has a yarn stuff sack, too, which clips inside.  It's in dark gray check, to match the lining of the big bag, and has a transparent base - so that if you use it as a yarn holder you can easily see how much yarn you have left.

When Susan gave me the bag, she said "You can never have too many knitting bags".  I have said that myself before now (as an excuse to get a new one, obviously).  But the Tom Binh bag is so superior to all my others that I can't think that I will ever need another. A very generous gift.   

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Top of the (Knitting) Pops

Bellmans 596

In my continuing efforts to get all the pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection sorted, I dealt with the Bellmans patterns recently.  Bellmans was a chain of yarn shops that sold their own brand of yarn, and issued pattern leaflets from about 1960 until 1975 - they were taken over by Coats Patons  around 1970.  We had two boxes of their leaflets - about 530 different ones, so only small potatoes compared with the giants like Patons and Sirdar.  

 As usual, I made a note of the leaflets that we had most copies of, as an indication that they were the most popular.   This time, there are two clear winners.  One is a pattern for a helmet/bonnet thing, issued in 1966.   You could make it for yourself, so it's trying to be trendy (Mary Quant was designing similar crocheted bonnets about then)  and for your children as well, so it's trying to be practical winter wear.  I don't think it works for both - you wouldn't look cool in your bonnet if there was an 8-year-old boy wearing the same thing anywhere nearby.  (Although in practice there might not be much danger of that - any self-respecting 8-year-old boy wouldn't wear it.)  And the other winning leaflet has two crocheted ponchos.  This one dates from about 1970 - the price is in the process of changing to decimal.  I never thought that ponchos were a good idea, even when they were popular - all those draughts underneath.  So neither of them appeal to me, though I suppose we should appreciate them as part of our rich heritage.  (Sorry - feeling a bit intolerant today.)     

Bellmans 1248

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