12 January 2015

Review of Yokes

As it is a new year, I've been cleaning up the house, putting away the old, and starting new projects. The stack of unread knitting books is embarrassing. I used to be able to keep up!

Just before Christmas I purchased Kate Davies new book, Yokes. As usual, this is one of those purchases where I innocently walked into The Whole Nine Yarns and Jenna the Yarn Pimp thrust the new book in front of me, suggesting I must have this now. As you might guess, Jenna is very often correct about this sort of thing.
Kate Davies holds a doctorate in Eighteenth Century studies. For those of us with too much background in academia, this book is a wonderful treat. (Full disclosure, both Jenna and I have degrees in Art History. Just for the record, so does Franklin Habit. The world of knitting is surprisingly well-populated with defrocked art historians.) Yokes opens with seven short chapters exploring the history and tradition of yoke sweaters in the North Atlantic. Some of these chapters are short essays derived from research in libraries, museums, and interviews. Kate actually spoke to Bohus designer extraordinaire Kerstin Olsson of Vild Äpplet/Wild Apple fame. Two of the chapters are interviews -- one with Hélène Magnússon and the other with Meg Swanson. By the time you read through these 38 pages plus a page of bibliography, you are chomping at the bit to contribute to the tradition yourself.

Fortunately, Kate is as good a designer and pattern-writer as she is an academic. The 11 sweater patterns are all good, primarily classics that will never go out of style. The most daring pattern is "Westering Home," a cabled extravaganza of warmth and style that seems to be the union of cape and cardigan coat. The photography by Tom Barr, mostly set amidst the Scottish landscape, will have you wanting to knit the sweaters and visit Scotland simultaneously. My favorite pairing is "Buchanan," where Kate pairs a red/gold/teal tartan skirt with a short-sleeved yoke pullover and is photographed above Loch Lomond.

I haven't knit any of the patterns, so I can't speak directly to the quality of the directions. At a glance they appear to be well in order. The list of abbreviations is inside the back cover, making it ever so convenient to check. The sizing tables are thorough, allowing the knitter to know ahead of time what to expect not just at the bust, but also at the waist, hips, arms, and neck. Charts are clean and clear, and printed at a size that can be read by someone over 40.

About the only downside of the book is the price: $44.00. For a 112-page paperback book, the price feels a little steep. It does, however, come with a Ravelry download code so you can download a complete .pdf of the book for free. If you don't want to purchase a hard copy, the digital version is available for $19.95.

Overall, a book worthy of shelf space if you have an interest in the history of knitting, or if you just want to make classic sweaters that will flatter you for a lifetime.

07 January 2015

Rovaniemi Swatch

Yesterday I wrote about the cell phone bag I made using this technique. Today I want to write a little more about the technique.

I've posted the picture nice and large so you can see details (I hope!). The diamond at the bottom was worked using the techniques and chart Susanna Hansson provides. The red and yellow lines when running from lower left to upper right are worked by knitting two stitches through the back of loop, dropping the first stitch, and knitting the second stitch through the back of the loop again. When you knit a west-facing (left-facing) stitch through the back of the loop, it twists to form a "p" with the vertical strand (formerly the right leg of the stitch) on top. It is these vertical strands that mimic weaving. In the bottom diamond, there is no special technique for the lines running from lower right to upper left. They do end up a little distorted because the vertical stranding is two stitches wide. Since most people knit from right to left, if you knit two stitches and then shift the pattern one stitch to the left, you are working the same wale of stitches twice in a row.

The little black motif in the center is also a bit distorted. If you knit the bottom stitch from right to left, then on the next row the left leg of that stitch is pulled back to the right as you work the three center stitches. As Lucy Neatby teaches, happy stitches have a friend on both sides, so their left legs are drawn to the left and their right legs are drawn to the right. There are a whole lot of unhappy stitches in this swatch.

The middle diamond was worked in the same way as the cell phone bag. I still worked lines slanting to the upper right using the technique Susanna teaches in class. But now I mirrored the stitch twisting on the other side. Here's what I did.
Turn all the stitches to be twisted so they face east (right).
Instead of working k2tog-tbl, k1-tbl work knit 1, leave it on the left needle, then knit it together with the next stitch, coming at the stitches from the normal direction.
By changing the stitch facing and working the stitches from the normal direction, the stitches are now twisted into a "q" rather than a "p". The vertical strand was formerly the left leg of the stitch.

My change to the central black motif was to knit the three stitches in the center back backwards. While this doesn't make the top and bottom single stitches completely happy, at least they get some tension in roughly the proper direction. I also slightly changed the overall red and yellow diamond in the chart.

Midway through working the bag, I thought of another way I could have handled the problems this technique presents. The diamond at the top is worked this third way. I used my changes to the chart. Fair warning: this way of working is a mindful knit. When I really sat and thought about where yarn was tugging on the back of the work, I realized that my mirrored solution was not quite perfect. The lines running upward to the right would have the yarn from one row to the next pulled diagonally across the back of the work, while the lines running upward to the left would not because the same wale would be worked in the same color. So, I decided to make the yarn run diagonally across the back for the left-leaning lines. To do this, I worked the right-leaning as I had before. When I got to the first pair of stitches meant to be twisted for left-leaning, I slipped them knitwise to turn them. Then I worked k2tog, k1 again by knitting back backwards. I only did this for the yellow and red strands. The white strand I continued to work as I had in the middle diamond, because the white yarn is background and runs all the way around the swatch. Yes, this is just a fiddly and crazy as it sounds.

For the black center motif, I worked plain white stitches and duplicate stitched the five black pattern stitches afterwards. This does make the black a little more raised and textured than working it as an incorporated color motif. On the other hand, all the twisting to make the diamonds adds a great deal of texture. More texture is not at all out of place. And the duplicate stitch has better tension and less distortion.

Overall, I'm happy with the experiment. But, I don't think I'll be designing anything with this technique and motif anytime soon.

06 January 2015

Better Late

One of my goals for 2014 was to work down through the unfinished object pile. I've mentioned previously that February is typically Knitting Needle Liberation Month in my household. At the beginning of the year, I like to look through what I have and make decisions about what to knit and what to frog. January and February are the months to clear out the stalled projects.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to the Rovaniemi wristlets until quite late in the year. I've taken many, many classes; and I typically store the handouts in three-ring binders. Susanna Hansson distributes her class handouts in a two-pocket folder. Since the class came with yarn to make wristlets, the folder looked a little strange, bulging with yarn and not fitting well on the shelf. I took the “Lapland Hand Garments” class at STITCHES South in April 2009, so it seemed it was about time for me to pull the dang thing off the shelf, knit the yarn, and make the handout folder fit. Sometimes cleaning up really is my motivation.

I decided I didn't need wristlets or fingerless mitts. Also, I had taken Susanna's “Lovers and Runders” class in 2013. I decided to combine the two by making a cell phone bag and working the braid at the top. I used a provisional cast-on and worked several rows in white -- including a row with two yarn over openings for the cords. Then I worked the braid, folded the fabric in half, and knit the casing closed. In order to avoid having a lot of ends to weave in, I carefully divided each color of yarn into appropriate pieces. I then started the pieces in the middle, so as to create two live ends. This meant all the yarn ends except the orange in the central motif were woven in only at the bottom of the bag. I worked the bag until the pink yarns became too short. I turned the bag inside-out and worked three-needle bind-off across the inside. After weaving in ends, I used leftover yarn to create cords (love my Ashford fringe twister) and threaded the cords through the casing.

This is not my favorite technique. The purpose is to create a fabric that visually mimics weaving, but there are some significant downsides. This technique is both slow and messy. The vertical stranding means you are constantly dropping strands and picking up other strands. Because I worked the motif on both sides of the bag, I had twenty-two different strands in play plus the white background. The zig-zag motif involves knitting stitches together and twisting stitches, which makes for slow and difficult knitting -- bring your very pointy needles. In terms of time, this project resembles embroidery more than knitting. And the whole thing is a little lumpy, too, because of all the strange tension issues. The central motif is not worked with twisted stitches, but it took extra thought to eliminate some of the unhappy stitches (those that don't have a proper stitch on both the left and right sides), and I even worked some of the central diamond by knitting back backwards. The twisted stitches also make this project difficult to rip back and fix. You would definitely not want to drop strands down and latch them back up.

On the positive side, the pattern is intriguing, and I think most knitters will not know how it was done. Puzzle your friends! I did like the contrast between plain knitting and the twisted knitting on the side of the bag. There's a depth and texture to the fabric, as the twisted zig-zags are raised and the white diamonds recede. I was also surprised by how tidy the interior is. I expected a lot more mess and long strands, but the vertically-stranded color traps down the background white on each round.

I initially did not like this technique in class because the left sides and right sides did not mirror each other. Part of why this sat in time out for so long is I needed to advance my skills before I came back to it. Now I was able to devise a way to mirror the technique so both side would match. After I made the bag, I went back and worked a swatch three different ways. I'll post that tomorrow.