Monday, March 30, 2009

Breaking a Knitter's Heart - on Altering

I recently broke a knitter's heart.

I was teaching a class on finishing techniques. Knitters usually bring their half-finished projects, and we examine them and talk about how to seam them up, how to weave in ends, and how to make make sure the garment looks as good as it possibly can.

(It is amazing to me that good seaming techniques aren't well known... they make all the difference in how a garment looks. The quality of finishing can make a break a project. I saw a hat the other day that was beautifully knitted, but the seaming was an absolute disaster -- and it looked really rather awful. Anyway.)

This particular knitter took the pieces of her sweater out of her bag. It was beautifully knitted, a tailored jacket style with a set-in sleeve, in a gorgeous Fleece Artist angora blend.

We lined up the pieces on the table and my heart sank. The sleeves looked oddly narrow, and as I started to pin the sleeve cap into the armhole, I realized we had a serious problem. The sleeve cap was significantly shorter than the armhole. It was never going to fit in - the sleeves simply couldn't be sewn to the armhole.

I asked about the pattern. "Well... " the knitter began. "I liked this sweater, but the gauge didn't quite match, so I reworked the numbers."


I have a degree in Mathematics, have spent a lot of time studying garment construction, and like to consider myself a reasonably skilled knitwear designer. And I won't do the math for an alteration like that.

I asked how far off the gauge was.

The original pattern is for a yarn that knits to 15 sts on 4 inches, and the yarn the knitter was using gets 24 sts on 4 inches.

That's over a 50% difference.

She'd started off well enough... The body of the garment looked about right, but the sleeves - and in particular the sleeve caps - were totally off. The sleeves were about 50% narrower than they should have been -- wouldn't even go around my wrist (as I've said here before, I'm a petite sort, and have petite wrists) -- and the caps were at least 3 inches too short.

We talked about it at length. This knitter should be commended for her positive attitude in the face of difficult news. She said that she would find another pattern that works better and alter that for the yarn.

I told her to remove the word alter from her lexicon.

There are so many great knitting patterns out there -- thousands and thousands -- that if the gauge is off, all you need to do is find another pattern that does work. Chances are you might even find a free one from some of the great online sources -- Knitty and Berroco are two of my favourite online sources. Berroco in particular has a lot of great basic designs - classic shapes and styles in all sorts of different gauges.

And for the adventurous, there are Ann Budd's terrific books - The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns and Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. They map out all sorts of basic designs in a wide range of sizes for kids and adults, in a huge range of gauges. I go back to these books again and again.

There are just too many variables to consider to make the fit of a garment work -- particularly a tailored, set-in sleeve style. It's not just about recalculating the number of stitches to cast on - that's pretty easy. The hard part is making the curves fit. And to make a set-in sleeve work, you've got to match up the curve of the armhole -- which is rows -- with the curve of the sleeve cap -- which is stitches. That's more math than anyone should ever have to do. I *like the math, and I won't do it. Me, I go back to the Ann Budd books, or some of my other references, or various templates I've created over the years, and use those.

Oh yeah, and the "I'll just knit a bigger size" trick doesn't always work either.

Please just find a pattern that matches the gauge of your yarn.

Trust me. I'm a mathematician.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Challenge Even for Denny, I Think?

It's well known that Denny likes weaving in ends.

I don't have a problem with it, but then I'm not particularly obsessive about how good the inside of my garments look -- and so I don't always do a complete and thorough job.

Except when I'm working on a design sample, something that's going to be photographed. Then I'm very careful about tidying up all the ends, weaving everything in, making it look perfect.

I'm working on such a piece right now. I have just finished the knitting. I can't show the finished object yet, but what I can show you is the heap of ends I'm dealing with...

There are four colours, and 40 colour changes. That's 82 ends. But then I ran out of yarn in one section, so that's another 2. And then there's of trim detail I have to attach, which will make another 8-10 ends.

So I'm looking at more than 90 ends.

It's slow going, needless to say.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yes, TracyKM (and others!), Let's Trade!

Can't figure out how to email you back. Drop me a note! I'm Wisehilda on Ravelry, or kate at wisehildaknits dot com.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

If You Blog About It, It Will Come

After reading my post - nay! plaintive cries! -- about the sad discontinuation of Paton's Kroy 3 Ply, knitters are digging through their stashes. I have received a motherload of the yarn...

8 balls of a truly fab red, one each in grey and navy blue, 2 of dusty pink and 2 of a grey stripe.

I can get one and a half socks out of a ball, so that's 21 socks' worth of yarn! I shall have to think of some clever things to do. This yarn deserves more than a simple stocking stitch sock.

Many thanks to J. and S. for their kind contributions to my stash. In both cases, the yarn came to them via the precious stashes of now-deceased knitters who were close to them. I am honoured that they were willing to part with it.

Anyone else got any they would be willing to part with? Happy to trade!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lots of Sock Knitting Going On

A pair in Araucania Ranco. It was nice to work with, and it looks great, but a couple of key notes. The ball band lies something awful about the gauge... they claim 24 sts/4 inches. It's absolutely fingering weight, closer to 30 sts. And I've noticed it felted a teeny bit on machine washing. So they've gone in the pile of socks that need to be handwashed... along with the Noro Kureyon socks, the Jitterbug socks, and the Midnight Sky Silver socks.

This other pair will NEVER need hand washing, as they are good old classic 75% superwash wool, 25% nylon mass-produced sock yarn. The tweedy portion is Scheepjes Invicta Extra sock yarn. Love it. The black is Paton's Kroy (4-ply, sniff).

I bought a single 50gm ball - bargain bit somewhere, if memory serves -- which isn't quite enough for a pair. So I did my usual trick of contrasting ribbing, heels and toes. And I actually prefer how it looks. I think the sock would be less attractive without the framing provided by the black details.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As I Was Saying...

Here you go... traditional British knitwear designs applied to a sock.

Specifically, these are gansey patterns. Ganseys (a.k.a. guernseys) are traditional fisherman's sweaters -- English and Scottish rather than Irish. The patterning uses a wide variety of clever combinations of knits and purls, with a few small cables for accents.

Ganseys are usually worked in the round, but in a peverse twist I rather like, a typical design feature is a fake seam - a 2 or 3 stitch wide section of purls or seed stitch, to replicate the seaming of a garment worked flat. A gansey usually has strong, deep ribbing, and the patterning is often confined to the yoke. A defining ridge of purl sts is worked between the plain and patterned sections. And the plain section would sometimes have the wearer's initials worked into it. (Allegedly, this was so that a drowned fisherman might be identified. I don't know whether this is true or not, but it makes a lovely detail of personalization.)

The two classic books on these designs are Beth Brown-Reinsel's Knitting Ganseys, and Gladys Thompson's Patterns for Jerseys, Guernseys and Arans. I can't recommed them enough. The Thompson book is more of a catalogue of the regional patterns and design details. Brown-Reinsel's provides a good history of the design, and a full breakdown of the traditional construction elements.

I've long been a fan of these designs, and have been noodling on a gansey-inspired sock design for a while. And here it is... It's got a seam in seed stitch which runs down the leg, and splits down the heel and along the foot. It's got the traditional deep ribbing, a definition ridge, and a plain area with my initial. The patterning uses a small cable offset with garter stitch, and a classic "steps" and ridge combination.

And it comes in multiple sizes -- so it did require some math!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Reviews on Knitty

I was lucky enough to get my hands on three preview copies of new books, to review them for Knitty.

All three were right up my alley - in different ways. A sock book, a book about traditional British knitwear designs, and a book about math.

Now, if only there was a book about the mathematical implications of using traditional British designs in sock knitting...

I'm thinking I'll have to write that one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On Mainstream Sock Yarns

One poster commented on yesterday's post about "mainstream" yarn companies making sock yarns that she'd also seen Lion Brand and Paton's Sock Yarn.

I've got a ball of the Lion Brand sock yarn, which was introduced on the market last year, in my stash waiting to be knit (thanks to E. who visited their studio in NYC over the Christmas break). No comments on it as yet, but the colour is great, and it looks like a good quality blend.

For both Lion Brand and Red Heart, sock yarn is a new product, and clearly a testament to the new popularity of sock knitting.

Paton's sock yarn is a different story entirely. Paton's has been in the business of sock yarn since the dawn of time (or at least since the 1940s, as far as I can tell). Kroy. And I love it to bits. Many of my oldest socks are in good old Kroy. They used to make a 3-ply variant, with a gauge of about 32 sts, but now they only have a 4-ply version, with a gauge around 28 sts.

This is the Kroy 4-ply in "Paintbox".

And these are about 15 years old, in the 3-ply variant.

I love that yarn. It breaks my heart that it quietly disappeared from the market when I wasn't paying attention. I would have bought as much as I could get my hands on. It was high quality, well-priced, hardwearing plain and simple sock yarn.

(Anyone got any in their stash they'd be willing to part with?)

Monday, March 09, 2009

You Know It's Gone Mainstream When..

For reasons that aren't relevant or interesting, I had to make a quick trip to Buffalo at the end of last week.

I didn't find a yarn store, but I did spent a few minutes in a Michael's. They had the usual selection of brands: Lion Brand, Bernat, a bit of Paton's and lots of Red Heart.

I'm very fortunate in a couple of ways: that I live nearby some really terrific yarn stores, and so have access to all sorts of great products, and also that I can afford to spend more on the yarns that I buy. Not everyone has that luxury. Sometimes, Michael's is the only option a knitter has.

I have no experience with Bernat - other than what I can tell by looking at the ball band and the product itself.

I am fairly familiar with the Lion Brand yarns. They're reasonably priced, reasonably good quality yarns. They're great for newer knitters, knitters who can't or don't want to spend a lot of money on a project, and knitters who are concerned about durability and machine-washability. I don't hesitate to recommend Wool-Ease in particular to knitters who need to think about price and durability. And some of the Paton's lines are very good. Their Classic Wool is an underappreciated wonder: a reasonably priced high quality 100% merino wool worsted weight that is great to work with, and felts like a dream. Both companies are guilty of producing some rubbish novelty yarns, but both have decently priced, good quality basics.

But then there's Red Heart. I've used a couple of Red Heart products. They are definitely at the lower end of the scale in both price and quality. They are very representative of the sorts of things you get when price becomes the only consideration... They come from the same corporate thinking that produces boxed, dried mashed potatoes: it's all about price and convenience, quality be damned. And in colours and types of yarns, they focus very much on the mainstream - yarns for granny square afghans, quick-knit kid's sweaters, the sorts of winter accessories than can be knitted every fall and lost or ruined or grown-out-of by the time winter ends. These aren't about lace knitting, or fashionable adult garments, or heirloom-quality baby christening robes.

And so there I was, scanning the shelves to see what was new in the land of low-price mainstream crafting... and I nearly fell over.

Red Heart Sock Yarn.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

New Designs: Baby sets - free patterns for download

Back in the fall I worked on a design commission for Estelle Yarns to create some baby items with their Young Touch Cotton.

The are three sets -- vintage-inspired designs for a boy, for a girl, and a nice and modern non-gender specific design. The cable and seed stitch set on the home page is mine. (And how cute are those babies???)

Pattern sheets and downloadable versions are to follow -- I'll add links when they are available.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

New Book Contribution; Socks for Norman

I'm pleased to announce that two of my designs have been featured in the new book "Tops and Toes"

I've got a nice simple pair of socks in a self-striping yarn, and then a pair of men's socks in what I think is rather a clever design.

I knit a lot of socks, and I have lot of leftover sock yarn. And I tend to end up with lots of bits of self-patterning yarn. They're hard to use up, but my "Fancy Fair Isle" design uses (what I think is) a nifty trick to allow you to play with them...

who says you have to work Fair Isle with solid colours?

As seen on Norman's feet, my Fancy Fair Isle socks... I worked the leg in stranded Fair Isle using the plain grey yarn and a self-patterning yarn. The resulting effect hits that sweet spot of coloured-not-too-much, interesting-but-not-too-much, and different-but-not-too-much that makes them fun but entirely wearable for even the most colour-adverse of men. (Because 90% of socks knitters agree that their male partners seem to only like plain dark socks....)

Monday, March 02, 2009

New Sock Design: The April Showers Sock

I'm thrilled to announce the release of a new sock design - the April Showers sock. Ravelry page here.

I was inspired by the gorgeous sky blue "Tidal" colourway of Tanis Fiber Art's sock yarn. Being hopeful that this long winter would eventually end, I designed a sock based on my favourite season -- early spring.

The raindrops run down the leg to the heel, stopped by an umbrella, which is sheltering the flowers that decorate the foot...

It's a fun design with a little bit of clever cabling - suitable for intermediate/experienced knitters.

The pattern is available exclusively for sale from The Naked Sheep's new online store.

Thanks to Sarah and her very patient sister for the amazing photography.