Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
If you're willing to tolerate the terrible disservice I'm doing to Mr. Frost, hear me now: gold really is the hardest hue to hold, for my Olympus, anyway. The perpetually grey light we've been having lately - a run of rotten weather - isn't helping, either. In person, the pattern is subtle but clearly visible, creating a richly ornate, parlor carpet-like effect; in pixels, it looks like a muddy mess.
At any rate, I'm almost done with the body of this jacket; only a couple more rows until the neck shaping starts. Then, we'll just have sleeves and finishing to go. Can I ask your opinion on something?
My first sketch had sleeves patterned all the way to a close-fitting wrist, finished with a cuff covered in the same small dice patterning the collar. I've been thinking, though, that maybe the colorwork should end below the elbow, and continue into a lower arm of plain oatmeal, echoing the body welt. What do you think? Then, there's the issue of shape - should it be a tapering, fitted sleeve with a narrow hem, or a slightly belled sleeve with a narrow hem, or a fitted sleeve with a wide turned-back cuff? Decisions, decisions.
VOLUME 1, NUMBER 3
I have an idea for a spring sweater with cables on the bias, but first I need to teach myself how to do this. Can you help?
You're planning to knit the body straight up and down, crossed with diagonal cables as a design element, yes? If so, it's easy-peasy to make rope cables slant however you like:
All you need to do is create a section of biased fabric enclosing the cable, with decreases on one side and increases on the other. For the cable above, the chart would look like this:
The cable will slant towards the side with decreases, and away from the side with increases. As you can see, adding shaping on every row creates a fairly steep decrease. You could shape only every right-side row, or even less often than that, for a subtler slope.
Be aware that making a bias fabric in this way will cause the bottom edge of the fabric to scallop, and the entire piece to slope a little (unless you have a mirror-image slopes balancing each other). Both issues can be corrected in blocking - or they can become design elements.
If you mean a cable that runs truly horizontal, your best choice is to knit a cable panel first, and then pick up stitches along the sides and work perpendicularly from it. Check out this tasty pattern to see this at work.
When blocking Branching Out in Kid Merino, do you recommend the soak, spritz, or steam method? (I'm thinking soak, but I'd love your opinion.)
I almost always recommend the soaking method for lace, but it depends on the finished effect you'd like. For a very flat fabric with nice drape, soak and pin aggressively. For a cushier, cozier piece, spritz it and just gently pull it into shape with your fingers.
I generally feel that lace worked in mohair or mohair-blend yarns really benefits from a very thorough blocking - opening up the yarnovers lets the pattern shine, and has the added benefit of showing off that gorgeous halo against lots of negative space. I'd recommend soaking the scarf in lukewarm water with a dribble of wool wash or shampoo, rinsing carefully in water of the same temperature, and rolling it up in a thirsty towel to get almost all the water out. Pin the four corners out first - use a big T-square to check your angles - to your target measurements. Then, place a pin bisecting each side. Place eight more pins, dividing each new "section" in half - and again, and again, until the whole thing has been satisfactorily pinned out.
If scalloping edges are a concern (as it is for me - I usually block lace so tightly it rises off the blocking surface as it dries and shrinks, like a drumskin), you might try running a very long length of sturdy cotton yarn all around the perimeter of the scarf before washing, making a running stitch close to the edge that catches every other row. Leave a loop at each corner. Pin it out as usual - you will find that drawing the string taut will help you create very straight edges without blocking wires.
I have been working up some different ideas for doing some colour/Norwegian/Fair Isle knitting (the obsession can be viewed on my blog), and I have a question about materials.
I live in the SF Bay area and do not necessarily want a heavy wool pullover as it's never quite cold enough for one, but would like to make one of the range of Alice Starmore/Poetry in Stitches/etc pullies in cotton or a silk blend. The book "More Sweaters" by Lise Kolstad and Tone Takle talks briefly about using fibers other than wool, but not in any great detail.
My question is regarding the steeking and fibers other than wool. I have never gotten up the nerve to do a steek, so I have a lack of knowledge there, but all the things I have read on others blogs and some books talk about the wool "sticking to itself", and thus it would be hard for it to come apart.
If I knit a sweater in cotton that requires a steek in it, do you think it would hold together once cut? Obviously I have a lack of knowledge about the steeking, but thought I would ask before
attempting, what are your thoughts are on knitting a colourwork sweater with non-wool fibers? What are the drawbacks? Would it even work?
Bravo on you for thinking outside the box! It's so easy to order a kit and whip out a (gorgeous) McFairIsle; I'm glad you're looking to put some personality into patterns, thinking about how to make them work better for you. A few thoughts:
The first thing I would encourage you to consider is the reason why stranded colorwork in wool works so well.
The luminous, painterly shifting of colors in a well-planned pattern owes a lot to the properties of the yarn itself. Shetland wool is quite fuzzy, with a halo of hairs sticking out of the knitted fabric - he resulting fabric traps light, and the patterns have an organic depth. The contrast between light pattern and dark background (or vice-versa) becomes the knitted equivalent of chiaroscuro, hinting at countours with shadow and light.
A completely smooth yarn, as most cottons are, would create a flatter, more graphic effect (though the feathered lines created by knit stitch Vs blur the lines a little) - imagine a pieced quilt, or a cut-out. This in itself is not a bad thing (I hear some guy named Matisse made some cut-outs that were pretty good), but it's something to think about.
Then, make sure that the materials you'll want to use actually exist. Wools meant for colorwork - jumperweight Shetland and some nice Icelandic and Norwegian wools - come in dizzyingly expansive palettes of colors, but most other yarn lines have much smaller ranges. It will be difficult to get a, say, Starmore-style effect if the yarn you're using only has two shades of blue.
Last, some technical issues. You're absolutely right; cotton, silk, and other non-felting yarns aren't great for traditional steeks, which rely on the natural tendency of wool fibers to grab onto each other to keep from falling apart (for further reading on what will and won't work for different types of yarn, check out this series about steeks from the archives). With cotton yarn, you pretty much have two choices: machine-sew the steek before cutting (boo! hiss! In my opinion, machine sewing and hand knitting are never good for each other, though lots of people feel differently), or work a wound steek. You can either wrap the yarn several times around the needle at each steek, drop the loops on the previous row, wind some more on, and cut up the center of the ladders when you're done, or knit a steek all the way up the side and then ladder the stitches before or after cutting. Either way, you'll end up with a bush of ends (two for every row) that need to be woven in, braided, or otherwise dealt with:
and that's a royal pain. It's almost worth just knitting flat, in pieces, instead.
Cotton is also a lot less forgiving of imperfect execution than wool - almost any inconsistency in stranded knitting will block out with a good washing and pinning in wool yarns, but cotton stitches will more or less hold the shapes they were made in. Take care as you work to make sure everything already looks good on the needle.
The last thing: cotton is heavy. Remember that stranded knitting produces a double-thick fabric at a fairly dense gauge. Walking around in two layers of fingering weight cotton may not be too warm, but it might be exhausting!
All that said, I encourage you to swatch away. Colorwork in cotton and silk can look fresh and modern and very lovely - just take a second to think about how you'll handle those issues before you begin.
unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to email@example.com. Your question may be edited for style and space.