24 May, 2006

"It's bad luck to talk about works in progress"

Yolanda, in The Dancer Upstairs (2002). I don't know if this is true only for dancers, but I am taking it to heart. So I won't talk about the fact that I am having to redo the right front of the Nellie cardigan. Or the fact that I fell one week behind on the Red Yellow Green sweater because I was unhappy with my ribbing and the size, and ripped it all out.

Instead, here are some summer projects which are not yet in progress. I have such a problem taking pictures of yarn! Finding the combination of the right light, and a good background is very hard for me. I therefore took my yarn out for a nature trip, and I tried not to flatten too many buttercups.

Blossom (she is the sweetest!) sent me this package of beautiful Berrocco Denim Silk yarn. I love the dark denim color, with small flecks of white and lighter blue. Indigo blue is so soothing. She even included a skein of Berroco Glace in light blue for trim. The yarn is very soft and I think it will be drapey. I want to make something to wear with a summer dress, maybe something like this:

Elspeth, Rowan Magazine 37

I might rethink the lace, but this the shape I am thinking of, a short sleeved, v-necked, cropped bolero style jacket. I ran this past Trinny and Susannah and they approve. The object is to draw focus away from the hips, and the arms, and my short neck... I will wear it with a simple dress; tan with a few scattered denim blue flowers...

Another project for the summer (don't worry, it's not even close to being hot here yet) is this cotton twisted yarn called Flash. It has three different colors twisted together, turquoise, lime, and lilac. This is going to be a tank top, but the style is not yet decided. I can't decide whether I want something cabled, to showcase the sheen of the mercerized cotton, or something very plain, to showcase the colors.

Then there is this fun cotton, Katia Jamaica in earth tones.

For someone who has never been into variegated yarn, this is quite radical. It looks really cool knitted up, and it might become a stockinette sleeveless top. I really like the styles in the Katia spring 2006 magazine, so maybe I will select something from that. I hope I will get to this one before summer is over, but the beautiful denim silk is definitely the highest priority.

20 May, 2006

Knitting made easier..... kind of

Once upon a time I purchased an excellent knitting belt.

I had read of the legendary Shetland knitters who could knit 200 stitches per minute in the days before circular needles were invented, using long double pointed needles and a belt. I was hoping that I, like them, would be able to finish a fair isle sweater every week, and that I would be able to indulge my passion for yarn and try all the patterns I desired, make all the Alice Starmore sweaters I coveted, and experiment with the colors of the rainbow, all to my hearts content.

Doesn’t it sound like a dream?

I experimented for a while, and although I loved some things about the belt, I was not able to get proficient at the technique, and threw the belt and needles into a dark corner in disgust. They have remained in my box of knitting paraphernelia until I recently thought I would attempt this again.

My reason for wanting to make another attempt was that I felt my knitting was slower and my stitches less regular than they used to be. Also, I have some problems with my hands and wrists. And elbows and shoulder… And I still have the dream of being able to knit faster so that I can finish more of the garments I want. I can’t help it if I love Norwegian sweaters, Fair Isle sweaters, Aran sweaters, ganseys, elegant sweaters, modern sweaters, Andean bags, lace scarves and shawls and gloves… A coworker once said to me that she used to knit but stopped because she got such a glut of sweaters. Well, to me, that just sounded like crazy-talk.

Above is a picture of the belt and the long needles. As you can see, the belt has a pouch, which is stuffed with horsehair, and has many holes which are used for holding the needle. Since there are so many holes, you can customize your belt to hold different size needles. In Norway they had a "knitting stick" which served the same purpose.

The technique seems simple, you attach the belt around your waist, and you stick your working needle into the belt to keep it supported. This way, your hands do not have to support the garment, and your right hand is free to guide the work without also holding up the weight of the knitted fabric. With stranded knitting, this fabric can be very heavy.

The needles I was able to get were 40 cm (16 in) long, and came in sets of four. The three needles created a very rigid triangle, with the fourth as the working needle. For a large circular sweater, I found it impossible to maneuver my working needle with this configuration. How could you hold it in your lap so you could see your stitches when the triangle wanted to lie in one direction only?

After my difficulties using a four needle set, I added a fifth needle from a different size set. This made a huge difference for me, as the configuration was now more flexible and made it easier to manipulate the work. I will have to order another set of four, because the seller was not willing to break up their sets.

An awkward pose to show the belt without hiding it with my elbows.
Since the needles are so long, I ended up with the pouch of the belt hanging very low on my hips so I could keep my hands closer to my body.

1. Because the weight is no longer supported by the hands and wrists, you will feel much less fatigue. It felt WONDERFUL to have the right needle supported this way.
2. Your left hand guides the fabric onto the needle, your right hand is completely free. With a circular needle, you guide the right needle into the fabric and move it up, behind, around…
3. Gravity is helping you somewhat, because the left hand moves the stitch onto the needle, and then you just drop the left needle slightly to make the stitch.

All this adds up to knitting faster and with less fatigue.

1. The work is not as portable as a circular needle. Lots of long, lethal needles poking in every direction.
2. A lot of practice is required to become proficient. As a matter of fact, when I called the seller (they had a technical support line) they said that they could offer me no guidance on the use of the belt, and that this belt was only for knitters who had grown up using this method.
3. You have to sit very upright to use this. No lounging and collapsing into a soft couch, because you don’t want the work to tilt upwards, it needs to tilt down away from your body. In all the pictures I have seen, the person was either standing, or sitting very straight. I was only successful if I perched on a pillow or on a dining chair.

All this adds up to less convenience.

Some knitters who use straight needles brace their right hand needle under their arm, and this works on the same concept. You can use the knitting belt with straight needles, you would just enlarge one of the holes in the leather to accommodate the cap of the needle you want to use.

According to Sheila McGregor, in her book “The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting” (B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1988), the Fair Isle knitters achieved their speed using the continental style, not the English style of knitting. This is good news, because I suck at the English style. Also, they used sets of four needles, 35 cm long (14 in). This is trickier, because I don’t even know that 14 in needles are available anymore. In my experiments, I determined that for me, more, and slightly shorter, needles would be easier.

I absolutely loved the way it felt to have the right needle supported by a belt. It was a complete delight. My hands and wrists felt infinitely better. Curiously, my knitted fabric was more flat, as if it had been pressed, even though the gauge was the same. I credit this to the fabric being under tension on the straight needle, instead of collapsed on a circular wire. I am still not any faster.

I know I need a lot of practice with this, so I am going to have to practice the knitting belt technique on some smaller project. I will definitely use it with any non-circular project. I am not willing to experiment on my current sweaters. They are too important to me and I want to get them finished without trauma. But this is definitely something that I want to pursue further, and if you have a lot of patience, or any kind of hand and wrist problems, I would really recommend learning the knitting belt technique.

Edited March 1st, 2010: I bought my knitting belt at Schoolhouse Press. You can also get them from Jamieson & Smith.

10 May, 2006

One border down

The yellow, red, and green sweater is coming along now. The honey and brown border at the bottom is done, and I am very excited about working with the yellow and red yarn for the body. It is such a jolt of color! It has about five large pattern repeats, so it will take a while. I hope to finish one pattern repeat every couple of days. Also, my hands are starting to feel strained, so I am trying to intersperse working on this sweater with finishing the Nellie cardigan.

At one time, I bought a knitting belt and long needles from Schoolhouse Press to try knitting the old fashioned way. Shetland knitters were able to do one sweater a week using those things. I didn't quite master the technique, but I think it's worth experimenting with again to relieve my wrists and hands. I will let you know if it works out. Anything to make it possible to knit more!

Finally, spring is here. I have been so looking forward to the flowers coming out, that I had to share a couple of pictures. This little shrub is a surprise. It has been sitting there quietly all winter, and I was wondering what it would become when spring arrived. Well, spring has arrived, and I have no idea! I haven't found it in my gardening book, but I see it everywhere along the roads around here.

The periwinkles in the background behind the daffodils can be found everywhere in our yard. I love them! They cover the woods under the all trees, and I know they are invasive, but I don't mind, they are so beautiful.

04 May, 2006

Two more projects

Peer Gynt ski sweater

I have too many unfinished projects lying around my house. It's bad Feng Shui to have this kind of thing hanging over your head. My goal is to finish the projects, and also to make a dent in my stash. My stash, in plastic totes, is as tall as me. Actually, maybe twice as tall as me.

The green and white Norwegian sweater above has been put aside for a number of years. Let's not open ourselves up to ridicule and say how many... And those of you who know, please don't tell.

The yarn is Peer Gynt, from Norway, which is excellent. I am actually very happy with the knitted fabric, so why has it not been finished??? Blame it on living in the South for years. That one day of year when it was necessary to wear a sweater just didn't motivate me to finish...

The second item is a cardigan called Nellie from Rowan. A few years ago I bought as many of the Rowan back issues as I could, and in Rowan Magazine 16 I found a simple cropped cardigan.

Kaffe Fassett Kid Silk in antique gold.

The yarn is Kaffe Fassett Kid Silk which I was able to get as a closeout somehow. The color is antique gold. Look how it shines in the unused balls. It actually looks even nicer in the skeins, than in the knitted fabric. It's wonderful.

It's kind of exciting, cleaning out the ufos.

01 May, 2006

My favorite part of the project

This is the best part of starting on a new sweater. The pattern has been worked out, and everything is coming together. The counting of stitches, over and over, is done. And I am still in the beginning stage where I am extremely enthusiastic about the project. The sleeves are already done in this case, so only the body is left to do.

This is what I am aiming for:

I love the bright colors. The brown and honey border is hardly visible in the photo, next to the red and yellow. This is Sweater 1 from the Norwegian book Sweaters! After working with the bamboo yarn, the wool feels so nice, much easier on my fingers.

Having kept this yarn around for years, and knowing/thinking that I had at the time purchased enough of all the colors, I ran out of the chocolate brown, and had to make an emergency phone call to Arnhild's Knitting Studio, the american distributor of Rauma yarns for more 3-tr Strikkegarn. Problem solved immediately. Thank you, Arnhild!

And thank goodness for a yarn company that keeps the same range of many, many colors for years and years, about 76 colors for strikkegarn, 100 colors for the Finullgarn. If it had been any other yarn, I may not have been so lucky. I have always loved the tremendous color range that Rauma has, it always makes me feel like I have a painters pallette of yarn to play with.