Knitting Yarns

knitting yarnsAnother book that I got for Christmas was Knitting Yarns edited by Ann Hood, given by my friend Anne, who is a voracious reader. (Last year she set a resolution not to buy any new books – unless it was to read for her book group – and instead to read books that she already had but had never read. That took more self discipline than I could muster – she blogged about the experience under the delightful title Mrs Dalloway is in the Cludgie.)

But I digress. Knitting Yarns is a collection of essays by different writers that celebrate knitting and knitters. There are stories about learning to knit, knitting as therapy, the memories evoked by knitting and the role it plays in relationships. There are even a few knitting patterns, though sadly no photos.

I haven’t read the whole volume yet – I just dip in as the mood takes me. But I was delighted to find a piece by Barbara Kingsolver, whose book The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favourites. (And Anne says that her new book Flight Behaviour is the best thing she read last year.)

Barbara wrote a piece called “Where to Begin”, about shearing a sheep and the transformation process of turning the fleece into yarn. I was reminded of it by a comment on yesterday’s post by Avril of Stitch in Science, wishing that a photo could convey the feel of an object.

Here’s an extract from “Where to Begin”:

“It starts with a texture. There are nowhere near enough words for this, but fingers can sing whole arpeggios at a touch. Textures have their family trees: cloud and thistledown are cousin to catpelt and earlobe and infantscalp. Petal is also a texture, and lime peel and nickelback and nettle and five o’clock shadow and sandstone and ash and soap and slither. Drape is the child of loft and crimp; wool is a stalwart crone who remembers everything, while emptyhead white-haired cotton forgets. And in spite of their various natures, all these strings can be lured to sit down together and play a fiber concerto whole in the cloth. The virgin fleece of an April lamb can be blended and spun with the fleece of a fat blue hare or a twist of flax, anything, you name it, silkworm floss or twiny bamboo. Creatures never known to converse in nature can be introduced and then married right on the spot. The spindle is your altar, you are the matchmaker, steady on the treadle, fingers plying the helices of a beast and its unlikely kin, animal and vegetable, devising your new and surprisingly peaceable kingdoms. Fingers can coax and read and speak, they have their own secret libraries, and illicit affairs, and conventions. Twined into the wool of a hearty ewe on shearing day, hands can read the history of her winter: how many snows, how barren or sweet her manger. For best results, stand in the pasture and throw your arms around her.”

Isn’t that fab? I’m off to the felting table to generate an illicit affair between some merino tops. 😉

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Spontaneous scarf

This is hardly the weather to be thinking about scarves (hurrah!), but as I’ve suddenly acquired a large stash of odd balls of wool from a friend, I thought it was worth trying out this pattern for a spontaneous scarf by Charlene Anderson.

The scarf is knitted lengthwise, changing the yarn every row and leaving a length of 7-8 inches of wool at each end that later forms the fringe. By using moss stitch (that’s British moss stitch, not American moss stitch*), you achieve an almost woven effect.

It’s so effective but so simple – certainly simple enough for me to be able to watch Scandinavian thrillers with subtitles without any problem while knitting! And because you change yarn every row, it’s great for using up leftover balls.

*Another example of two nations divided by a single language. In British moss stitch you knit one, purl one across the row, and then on the second row you purl the knit stitches and knit the purl stitches. Americans call this seed stitch. American moss stitch is alternating knit and purl across two rows, followed by two rows of alternating purl and knit.

3D nuno felting

I’m currently working on a series of spherical felt samples, experimenting with different techniques to introduce additional texture to the form.

I started with straightforward nuno, enclosing the plastic resist with silk cut from an old scarf,  felting over it, cutting it open and turning it inside out:

I also tried knitting with strips of silk scarf knotted together and then felting it – on a flat piece this time.  I put some wisps of wool over part of the knitting to help it felt in, but it didn’t really need it. The silk knitting felted in very well, but I think the stitches needed to be more open to get the contrast between the felt and the silk:

So then I used crochet – first with 100% wool (Rowan Felted Tweed) and then with a mystery yarn donated by a friend. I suspect it’s synthetic, because it’s quite shiny, but I thought I’d still give it a go, because the contrast in texture would be very interesting.

The wool version did felt in, though it also went quite hairy. The other version didn’t felt in, but seems quite happy sitting on top of the felt. I may try stitching on top just to catch it in and make sure it stays in place.

I’ve got some lambswool yarn that is used at Morley for machine knitting – I’m going to try using that to see if I get a less hairy finish.

Felted entrelac

I’ve been doing quite a lot of knitting over the holidays, probably as a change from all the felting and embroidery I did before Christmas. But I don’t have the patience for big projects like sweaters any more, so I’ve been looking out for quick items that are still challenging or unusual, like the pinwheel purse.

So when I came across these felted entrelac fobs, I had to have a go. Not just because I’d never knitted entrelac (a stitch that looks like basket weave), but also because I could felt it afterwards.

The knitting instructions looked complicated but were actually fairly straightforward. The biggest problem I had was finding a set of five 6.5mm double-pointed needles – in the end I used four double-pointed needles and one circular one.

To felt, I put it inside a pillow case and washed it with a load of bedding at 60°C. Although it felted slightly, it wasn’t enough for my taste:

So I tried again, this time putting it in the machine with a large bath towel, without the pillow case, at 60°C. Much better result:

And here it is with the cord, made from twisted wool  (I haven’t got hold of a key fob attachment yet). I think I might try felting the cord at some stage as well.

Knitted pinwheel purse

As a break last night from sewing up purses/spectacle cases/Oystercard holders/smartphone cases, I picked up my (dusty) knitting needles and made this cute pinwheel purse from Frankie Brown.

It’s very simple and very clever – the secret is in the blocking (wetting it and pinning it out to dry). It would be a perfect wrapping for a pair of earrings or for keeping a few buttons or beads in.

 

Friday favourites

Just a few works that have caught my eye in the past couple of weeks.

 

Michelle Griffiths, Cross Pollination series

Michelle Griffiths uses shibori techniques but without the dye to create beautiful 3D forms. I’ve noted before that when the fabric is pleated, folded, stitched or tied before dyeing, it often looks very attractive. Michelle has worked this concept into an art form. I missed her exhibition earlier this year at the Lesley Craze Gallery, but I would love to attend one of her workshops.

 

 

Velcro necklace by Yong Joon Kim

Yong Joo Kim received her Master of Fine Arts in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from the Rhode Island School of Design. So she’s used to working with silver and precious metals, but her latest collection of jewellery is made from Velcro.

 

 

Knitted stool covers by Claire Anne O'Brien

Claire-Anne O’Brien is an Irish textile designer who specialises in knitting. I love her huge-scale knitted stool covers.

Sea urchin hat

Well, I got my wish for another cold snap so I could wear the felted rose hat, which is growing on me, despite the fuzziness. So I thought I’d have a go at another hat, as they’re so quick to knit.

This time I went for a pattern by Scottish designer Ysolda Teague, based on a sea urchin’s shell (left). I’d bought a few balls of Gedifra Baldini Colori in the sale at John Lewis because I loved the colours, but wasn’t sure what to do with them. The yarn is a bulky bouclé with very thick slubs (55% acrylic, 45% wool). The recommended needle size is 9mm, but after knitting a tension square (I do learn from my mistakes!) I used the 7mm needles listed in the pattern.

The pattern introduced two techniques that I hadn’t used before. The first was provisional casting on using waste yarn. This is undone at the end and the ‘live’ stitches are grafted on to the last row, resulting in a seamless appearance. I followed the method recommended in the pattern, which uses a crochet hook, and it worked very successfully.

The other new challenge was wrapping. The hat is knitted sideways in garter stitch as a series of wedges, so the length of the rows needs to decrease to shape the wedges. When you knit a shorter row and turn, leaving the remaining stitches on the needle, you have to wrap the yarn around the stitch where you turn to avoid large holes appearing.

Ysolda doesn’t include instructions for how to wrap in the pattern, but I found a clear explanation here, with diagrams. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and it’s an interesting and effective way of shaping. The final result is shown below.

knitted hat

Felted rose hat

The alpaca hat I knitted previously was a little big, mainly because I didn’t knit a proper tension swatch before starting (tsk! tsk!).

So I thought I’d use it as a guinea pig to try felting in the washing machine. I stuffed it into one leg of a pair of old tights, and put it in the machine with a normal washload (mixed coloured, 40C).

The result? The hat didn’t shrink as much as I expected – it’s only marginally smaller than the original. The alpaca (from Toft) has gone quite fuzzy, but you can still see the texture of the stitches, but the rose, knitted in Rowan Cashsoft DK (57% extra fine merino, 33% acrylic microfibre, 10% cashmere) looks entirely untouched. The green leaf, in Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran (85% wool, 15% angora), looks slightly felted but is nowhere near as fuzzy as the alpaca.

Felted alpaca hat
The alpaca felted much more than the rose and the leaf

After the experiment, I  picked up Gina Wilde’s inspiring book, Shibori Knits: The Art of Exquisite Felted Knits, in which the author cautions against using all-wool fibres for felting, as they tend to get very fuzzy. “Fuzziness may be your personal aesthetic,” she writes, “but it is not the aesthetic for which these [shibori] designs are written. The fuzzy yarns hide the subtleties shibori provides.”

Even though this wasn’t a shibori knit, her point about fuzziness is well taken. For nuno, it’s obviously easier to felt all-wool fibres and yarns – you can get subtlety in the texture by adding small amounts of non-wool fabrics and yarns, and through shrinkage. But for knitted items, it’s better to use yarns that aren’t all wool, mohair or alpaca if you want to avoid fuzz.