29 November 2016

Negative Ease

When making garments that fit the human form, we sometimes talk about "ease." Ease is a measure of how much extra fabric is in a garment. For example, if a bust measurement is 36 inches, then a sweater that is exactly 36 inches around has no ease. If the sweater is 38 inches, it has 2 inches of positive ease at the bust. If the sweater is 35 inches, is has one inch of negative ease. A big, boxy, oversized sweater might have 6 or 8 inches of positive ease.

This is important when you are making garments that both fit and flatter. And ease behaves differently if the fabric is woven than if it is knitted. Woven fabrics generally don't stretch if they have been cut with the grain. (Cutting on the bias is a whole different story.) Knit fabrics are different. They stretch. They move. They might even grow.

This also means knit fabrics can match our shape. If the shape you have underneath is not one you want to display to the world, then this is maybe a bug rather than a feature. On the other hand, this can be advantageous. I recently made a simply shell using Takhi Yarns Ripple. Ripple is a thick and thin cotton yarn with no elasticity in spite of its i-cord construction. After a great deal of swatching through stockinette, reverse stockinette, garter, ribbing, seed stitch, and the like, I decided to work the garment in stockinette brioche stitch (Nancy Marchant's term) or column pattern (Elise Duvekot's term). Although brioche is a somewhat slow knitting technique, it gave me two advantages. First, brioche is very stretchy. The resulting fabric is stretchy in spite of the yarn. Second, brioche is a more solid fabric. I tend to wear only a thin silk slip as an undergarment, so I wanted a top that wasn't too sheer.

The pattern was relatively simple.

Make a gauge swatch in the desired stretchy stitch pattern and write down the math.
Cast on in the round in an amount that is close to zero ease at the waist but is slightly negative ease at the bust and that is a multiple for the chosen stitch pattern.
Work in the round to the underarms. Be sure the lower hem will hit your body at a point that is flattering — i.e. either above or below the widest part of your hips.
Park the front stitches and continue working back and forth up the back to the top of the shoulder. Work a selvedge treatment at each edge, if desired. Notice the fabric will end slightly towards the back of the body, so that there is a straight line across the back of the shoulders and neck.
Park the back stitches.
Join a new skein and work a couple inches back and forth across the front. Once again, work a selvedge treatment at each edge, if desired. Notice you can try on the garment and work until the neckline is a height that looks good on you.
On right-side row, knit across, bind off center stitches, continue knitting across. Bottom of neckline is now bound off.
On wrong side, work across first strap, jump to other strap, join new skein, continue across second strap.
Continue working back and forth with two skeins to complete the front “straps.” Notice that the length of the front might be different than the length of the back depending on what is needed to fit your body. This is fine.
Try on garment to double-check fit.
Turn the work inside out and work three needle bind-off to join the shoulder, bind off the back neck, bind-off second shoulder.
Turn work right-side out. Block if necessary.
Edgings — particularly in crochet — can be added after the fact at the neck, armscyes, and hem.

Notice there is no shaping anywhere in this garment. It is rectilinear, as if it had been constructed from Lego building bricks. Off the body, it is nothing special.

But on a body, it sings!

Now this top does not look *quite* this good on me, unless I wear a Frederick's water bra underneath. I'm small-breasted, but I know I can use foundation garments to give me more shape. Notice the key to making it flattering is the placement of ease. Negative ease stretches over the breasts and emphasizes that shapeliness. If you are sewing, this effect is difficult to achieve with woven fabric. But with knit fabrics, we can achieve this result without even increasing and decreasing!

The bottom line: when we knit, knit for the intended body. Allowing the knit fabric to stretch just a little over a feature will emphasize it by making it look a little more shapely and a little larger. Giving the knit fabric just a little positive ease so that it skims a less-delightful feature will disguise it without making it look like you are trying to hide something under a circus tent. And while there are lots of tutorials out there to help you shape garments using increases and decreases, sometimes a wise choice of ease and stitch pattern is all you need to make a flattering garment.

02 November 2016

Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair 2016

The end of October means time for SAFF! This year, I taught Thursday through Saturday. That meant I had Sunday free to crawl the market.

I checked out the fleece sale on Friday before I left for dinner. I knew I wanted some locks for lockspinning, corespinning, and just general art yarn mischief. The best fleeces get picked out early; and there are unusually fewer longwool fleeces from the start. Fleeces were arranged in the barn by type of animal (goat, alpaca, and sheep) and then in categories. Wool categories included fine, medium, long, and primitive. There was also a table in the corner for "other." These are fleeces that don't fit well into the established categories. Some people feel very strongly that shepherds should not mix up sheep genes willy-nilly. Others feel this type of cross-breeding experimentation is just more of what humans have been doing for millennia. I don't have a strong opinion. I wouldn't care if you crossed a balrog with a unicorn. If it produced a great fleece and was a happy animal, it's all good from my perspective. On the "other" table I found a beautiful fleece from Cher, an Icelandic Cotswold cross ewe whose home is Dry Creek Sheep of Sugar Grove, Virginia.

Cher in 2015.
Photo credit: Susan Hmurciakova of Dry Creek Sheep.

Cher's 2016 fleece.
Photo credit: Susan Hmurciakova of Dry Creek Sheep.

Cher's fleece was not judged this year. She won third place last year. This is definitely an art yarn spinner's fleece. There are two different types of locks. Her fleece has some Cotswold-like locks that are tight waves, lustrous, darker grey at the cut end fading to pale at the tips. There are also some Icelandic-like locks that are more wire-y with a gentle wave, black-brown at the cut end fading to light brown at the tips. And there is some rough but bouncy and shorter dark fiber. Then again, I haven't scoured the fleece yet; it may soften. This is a fleece that will definitely need to be sorted by hand, all 5 pounds (over 2 kilograms) of it! My housemates looked aghast when I said I might overdye. With this much, I am sure there will be enough fiber for both natural and dyed spinning.

And Sunday I shopped the market. I really do need more adult supervision.

The bottle of Power Scour is, of course, for the fleece. I also found another Japanese stitch dictionary to add to my library. And I found the smaller lace-size Fix-a-Stitch. Galina's video is about using intarsia in traditional Russian lace. The wooden box is from Knitting Notions. It is well-made and designed. It even has a small magnet to keep the lid from opening accidentally. In a home with cats, this is a nice way to keep a special skein safe while you work. The wolf in sheep's clothing felted ornament is from Lanart. They carry beautiful garments made from alpaca. I've seen this ornament before and always resisted because I don't know what I will do with it. I still don't know, but this time I decided I should indulge!

The last place I shopped was Hillcreek Fiber Studio. Someone in the workshop barn was playing with a 12-inch square "potholder" loom earlier in the weekend. She was making a block that had a diagonal line across the middle. I purchased the Mini Module set, which is a square and a triangle that are 6 inches on a side. I also purchased the great tome of continuous strand weaving and a locker hook. Carol Leigh has done a tremendous job promoting this type of weaving. I tried couple quick swatches yesterday; and I am already fascinated by this method. It is fast, fun, and with little waste. This would be a great way to use up leftovers and spinning samples. With the mini set, there are quite a few quilt patterns that can be reproduced in weaving. Adding color changes within the weaving, there is even more to explore. And the book has many, many ideas for projects. This rabbit hole has potential!