Wednesday, September 29, 2010

May you never run out of buttons

I think this is a good all-purpose blessing for knitters. (Another might be, "May you never be too bleary-eyed with a cold to count to three." That was my fate last week.)

This etsy seller has various quantities of mother of pearl buttons for sale. Since mother of pearl buttons are my very favourite, and since I don't foresee myself ever running out of things to knit that require buttons… I bought some.


Maybe a few too many: I have half a pound of these cream-coloured ones, plus 100 little grey ones with shanks. Here's to not needing buttons for a while!

Another thing is that the excellent Dale of Light Brown Hare got a new base yarn recently, a soft and luscious laceweight wool/mohair blend. I couldn't stand how lovely it was and snapped up the first skein, and here it is:

Light Brown Hare Lace + buttons

I'm chronicling these two news items in the same post, buttons and yarn, because look how well they go together!

I'm not sure what kind of soft and wispy thing needs buttons on it, but I'll come up with something, because this is too beautiful a coincidence to ignore. A wide scarf with closures like this one, a floaty cardigan, a shrug perhaps with buttoned cuffs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Glove Fever

I have a pattern in the Deep Fall 2010 issue of Knitty, right over here. It's for a pair of gloves that resemble the Ringwood gloves that Nancy Bush based her Ringwood Half-Hose on, and that Richard Rutt describes in his monstrosity of a book. Instead of a ribbed cuff, though, there's a tidy seed-stitch cuff that buttons closed. The pattern is for worsted yarn on 4mm needles and it is basically the fastest thing to knit; I think they'd be great emergency last-minute presents.

Relatedly, you know you have picked a good romantic partner when you say something like "Hey, do you want to come outside into the alley with me and take a few dozen pictures of my hands"; and they reply, "Sure, let's go!"

The Thing of last week is currently on hiatus, its calculations finished and its yarn neatly wound, while I work through two new things that came in the mail on Friday. These are more pattern ideas for Knit Picks, both gloves worked at relatively small gauges, and I want to get them out the door as quick as I can, so that the patterns are ready for high glove season.

Thing One is gloves with wide lace cuffs, knitted sideways. The yarn is Alpaca Cloud worked double-stranded. I chose a lace yarn instead of a fingering-weight offering for a couple of reasons. First is that the fabric double-stranding lightweight yarn makes is different from the fabric that a single strand of a heavier yarn makes, even where the gauge is identical. The double-stranded one will be a little thinner and a little drapier, which I think is ideal for something intended to be soft and pretty. Since the yarn is alpaca, they'll be warm as anything in spite of their relative thinness.

This is the cuff so far:

ugly alpaca cuff

Ugh, right? This was my swatch, in a different yarn of around the same weight as the double-stranded Alpaca Cloud:

Less-ugly cuff

I think it blocks out pretty nicely! The swatch yarn is something of a novelty: Winter's Tale from Taiga Yarns, previously known as Unusual #15. I knitted a Faux Russian Stole out of it a couple of years ago and it turned out to be too warm for even an Edmonton winter. It's 100% goat down plus many coarse and wiry guard hairs, some of which fall out during the knitting while the rest stay put. The down beneath is very soft and vaguely silky-feeling, with some subtle glossiness. I might turn the swatch into its own pair of gloves, because I have a feeling that they would be great for October weather.

(I'm not allowed to make doubles of things before I even finish the first sample, though!)

Thing Two is a pair of elaborate stranded colourwork gloves that are not for the faint-hearted. Most rounds require stranding three colours at once, some rounds require four. I'll add a fifth colour with duplicate stitches after the knitting is finished.

And let me tell you: stranding three colours is a pain. The knitting doesn't have much of a rhythm; I keep dropping a strand of yarn off the tip of my right index finger and having to fish around for it behind the work. When I try to knit while something is happening on TV or I'm listening to music that is distracting or unfamiliar, I lose my place.

But the results are enormously rewarding.

guardian cuff

I hesitate to praise this snippet of knitting—it's destined to be unknit and reworked on needles a size smaller (2mm, not 2.25mm). The fabric is a strange combination of too stretchy because of the loose gauge, and rigid and unyielding because of the extra stranding going on behind the scenes. But I think adding a third colour to the mix after the corrugated ribbed cuff makes the work look elegant in a way that leaving it at two colours would not have been. And it's surprisingly thick, and will be a useful warm thing in a couple of months. (And I need to psych myself up for knitting it again.)

I'm trying to evoke this mosaic ceiling, which is in the lobby of a magnificent art deco office building in Detroit. My knitted rendition is substantially simplified (for example, it's missing the little green diamonds between the blue diamonds that divide the columns of yellow and orange!), but it's fun to look at, too. It had better be fun to look at because I'll be knitting it for a while!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Horror vacui

Or, now for something completely different

This is a post about bending your knitting to your will using the power of mathematics.

So. If you're like me, you like to knit rectangular shawls in one piece from end to end, with scalloped edging all around that's knitted more or less simultaneously with the body of the shawl. This means starting with a provisional cast-on and a strip of edging, turning the corner somehow, picking up stitches from the straight edge of the strip and from the cast-on, and knitting perpendicular to the original direction for the length of the piece. The live stitches are dealt with by knitting on edging at the end, growing out of the edging from one long side and ending by grafting it to the remaining edging stitches. (This construction method might sound familiar—it's the one that Galina Khmeleva describes in Gossamer Webs.)

The problem with this method is that there's not a whole lot of room for fudging if the total edging row count and the total row count of whatever central pattern you've chosen don't have a common denominator. It's obvious (and unattractive!) to have corners that don't match because you were on a different edging row when you turned the second pair than when you turned the first. And it's not necessarily going to be clear how or if things will match up at the end, when you're just starting the project. When you're knitting on an edging after the centre is finished, you can count rows and ease in the corners by knitting the last edging stitch together with two live shawl stitches, say, or by working some returning rows without attaching them.

My preference is to calculate how everything will fit together before beginning the project. I don't like to have much space between the edge of the edging and the beginning of whatever pattern is in the centre—this is a personal preference (i.e. a personal problem) and you can add "frame" stitches to your calculations without much trouble if you wish.

When I was knitting a stole a while ago that I managed to give away before documenting, I wanted to use a border pattern that had a 17-row repeat, and a central pattern with a 12-row repeat. There was a 16-row buffer section between the border and centre on each side, and there should be one extra plain row at each end of the stole. The edging I wanted to use had a 20-row repeat, and I wanted it to fit perfectly with no easing at the corners.

You can make an equation out of those requirements.

17x + 12y + 16 + 16 + 2 = 20z
17x + 12y + 34 = 20z

There's more than one solution here, actually an infinite number, but most will not be realistic for knitting—they might require you to knit thousands of rows, for example, and while I think that a hundred-foot-long stole would be totally cool it's really not for me and my 1200m skein of yarn right now.

If you're a math person: come up with an integer solution! If you're not a math person: go to Wolfram Alpha and plug in your equation, and copy down the integer solution it gives you.

x = 2(2a + 1)
y = a + 5b + 1
z = 4a + 3b + 4

Now each variable is neatly isolated—number of repeats in the border, number of repeats of the centre, and number of edging repeats along the length of the stole—and you can start plugging in integers for a and b until you come up with a reasonable-sounding answer. Seriously just pick your favourite integers.

When a = 6 and b = 4,

x = 50
y = 27
z = 40

Since x is both of the border sections put together, that number of repeats will eventually be divided in half: 25 17-row repeats on each side of the centre, which has 27 12-row repeats, and there are 40 edging scallops along the length. That's a total of 800 rows. If the gauge is around 32 rows = 4" after blocking, not an implausible gauge, that's a stole 100" long.

No, thanks.

When a = 5 and b = 1:

x = 22
y = 11
z = 27

That's a lot more realistic; 540 total rows at my gauge is 67.5". There will be edging on the short ends of the stole, too, which will add about four inches to that number—two inches at each end—for a grand total of just a hair under six feet. Now you can knit in peace, knowing that the pattern will fit perfectly and that you are not in for any nasty surprises.

Obviously you need to calculate for width, too, but that's much less fussy. My pattern repeats were all a multiple of 16 sts + 1 wide. With a stitch gauge of 24 sts = 4", and a desire for a stole 24" wide including the edging… 24" - 4" for edging width = 20", or somewhere in the neighbourhood of 120 stitches. 7 repeats would require 113 stitches, close enough to 120.

It is easy to fudge the number of stitches picked up from a strip of edging, and in fact I prefer to. 9 edging repeats yielded a straight edge from which I could pick up 90 stitches, and increase to 113 on the following row. (That's one of the +2 that figured into the row calculations; the other is decreasing those extra stitches away before knitting on the final edging.)

I'm codifying this here now because I am working on a thing! More later, when it's more than a crumpled strip of edging.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Do you guys remember the Queen Susan? I don't think I've mentioned it here before, but it was an outstanding reverse-engineering project that some amazing knitters took on. The original shawl is a piece in a museum that has some interesting features to it—in particular, there were very elegant, curvaceous garlands on the border. It was interesting enough that some members of the Heirloom Knitting group on ravelry charted each section from photographs, swatched the pieces and tweaked the charts until they were right, and then assembled them into an entire pattern. It's a 73-page .pdf and represents hundreds of hours of effort. Links to download it are here.

Thanks to some lovely knitters who attended a conference held in Shetland recently, there are new and detailed pictures of old lace objects, and the group is currently working on this piece from the Shetland Museum. I might write some more later about why I am so moved by these projects—not just the finished knitted objects, but the reverse-engineering efforts—I suppose it drives home how enormously complicated the designing and knitting was, and what a brilliant mind you'd need to be able to knit these things without the benefit of charting software and a dozen other knitters double-checking your math.

Clearly this means that it's the right time for me to become fascinated by a completely different reverse-engineering project.

The Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service has a website with dozens of pictures of ganseys on it. Some of the images are actual sweaters in the museum's collection, and others are scanned photographs and postcards. I think ganseys are great, as you know—I don't really care for all-over cabled designs but a little cable highlighting something else is fine, and brocade-like designs made of knits and purls knitted with sturdy yarn at a tight gauge? I love those. I think it's some desire to compensate for all the wispy impractical lace items I make.

The pictures of the fishermen are arresting.

(Black and white photographic postcard image printed in negative of Walter 'Primo' Allen at the wheel of the lifeboat.)

His sweater is just great—I love the horizontal ridges that set off the areas with different patterns, and I love the embossed look of those narrow zigzagging cables, and I love how it's plain past the elbows and at the bottom, where it would be prone to wearing out. Much easier to darn or reknit stockinette than a cable pattern. It's very handy that this practical feature also makes a handsome design element.

I'm playing with a sock pattern based on a different gansey from the collection, which belonged to a Henry Little.

(Henry Little's gansey; hand-knitted woollen blue pullover with typical Sheringham coil o' rope and bar pattern; worn very thin and repaired at the neck and cuff; probably knitted by Edie Middleton; two buttons at the collar.)

My modifications are to tighten up the cable a little by working fewer resting rows between patterned rows, and to add a couple extra purl stitches to the columns that separate the patterned sections. This is partly to add elasticity to the pattern and partly to facilitate hidden calf shaping (p2togs in that gutter are a very easy way to narrow the leg without interfering with the rest of the pattern at all). The foot will be plain, of course.

henry little progress

Here's my progress so far; it's most of one sock. I think gansey socks worked from old postcards and photographs would make a fun series of patterns or an interesting informal ebook project. I definitely need a new influx of wool socks, anyway.

Monday, September 6, 2010


  1. I am really terrible at counting! I don't use stitch markers to separate out repeating patterns in lace or cables or whatever, but I do need them when I'm working on a very long cast-on edge to mark every 50th or 100th stitch.

  2. I really hate casting on. Knitting very long rows isn't a problem—if I knit 800 rows of edging and pick up 400 stitches from the straight edge, I'm happy. But casting on 400 stitches seems like it takes too much time and causes me a lot of anxiety!

I have had ample opportunity to think about these two hang-ups over the weekend, during which I failed to cast on 513 stitches twice. It took two episodes of The X-Files and ten minutes of frenzied recounting to do it right, but now I've finally got it and am off to the races.

An auspicious beginning

This will be an enormous triangular shawl with a small repeating pattern that I'm quite proud of. The lovely yarn is Juliet from Yarn Love, in a pretty new fall semisolid colour called Frosted Mulberry. I had had a stole idea for this yarn, but then it came and I swatched and it begged to be something different, and so it shall be.

(What clinched it was the way it's dyed—it has very short runs of colours that are very subtly different from one another, which means that I can put it in a triangle and it will neither resolve into stripes nor pool into blotches. Amazing! Katie is amazing.)

Because I am not a very responsible knitter, I unravelled the swatch immediately after finishing it and deciding it was worth pursuing. (It is now part of that enormously long cast-on edge.) But it's an allover pattern, which means that as soon as the knitting isn't so squished on the needles, I can show you. It me think of an enormous raspberry—or, I suppose, a mulberry—all plump circles adjacent to one another. The yarn is very round and slightly springy, and that only makes it look juicier.

I also have an exciting news item to share: the pink and yellow things from a few weeks ago are now a pattern for sale at Knit Picks! I'm happy with how that pattern idea turned out. The patterns are the same, but are differently proportioned: the stole is divided roughly into thirds, while the scarf is mostly one pattern with just a few repeats of the second pattern at either end. The stole is remarkable because of its enormity, but the scarf ended up being my favourite.