Knitting Pictures

I've never been really good at the blogging+picture game, and while maybe once upon a time it was technical limitation--taking photos and getting them online was complicated--anymore it's probably not. To this end, I've started a knitting specific Instagram account as a kind of photoblog for knitting things. It's @gestaltknitting, if you're interested.


While I took this picture a while ago, I must confess that my knitting basically looks the same now.

The same, not because I've made no progress, but because sleeves take a while and it's just plain knitting, so unless you have a very discerning eye, you might miss the details.

Indeed, I really want my next project to also have a lot of plain knitting with black yarn: I expect the photographs will be captivating. Perhaps it will be enjoyable for people to be able to spot the different patterns of embedded cat hair in the sweaters.


I get that knitting is visual for a lot of people, and I do like a smart looking sweater as much as the next guy, but I've always felt somewhat resistant to this view: knitting is about the process and the act more than it is about the product, and so the things that are most exciting aren't the visuals.

While it's gotten much easier to take high quality pictures, my intention for this book that I've been writing is that it mostly would not be a book with a lot of picture, though we'll see: If anything, I suspect that diagrams and cartoons may be more effective for this kind of application.

Having said that, it's nice to see what other people are knitting, and I like the way that the ephemeral nature of instagram stories make it less daunting to post in-progress updates on projects. So I've definitely been enjoying that.

We'll see!

Pattern Fragment 0

I was doing some knitting pattern math, [1] and I thought I'd share it without a lot of context:

Cast on 228 stitches using the "German Twisted" method, [2], placing a marker half way, after 114 stitches. Knit 2 inches of knit 1 purl 1 ribbing.

After two inches, switch to stocking stitch: knit 21 stitches, increase 1 stitch, place a marker, knit 72 stitches, place a marker, increase 1 stitch, knit 21 more stitches. You should have arrived at the "half way" marker from before.

Over the next half (115 stitches), space out 14 increases. This doesn't divide evenly, so try: knit 5, increase 1 stitch and then knit 8 stitches, increase 1 stitch 13 times, or in short hand: K5 M1, * K8 M1, repeat from * 13 times, K5).

The "first half" is the back of the sweater and the "second" half is the front. Increase one stitch before and after the markers on the back of the sweater 7 times, every 1.5 or 2 inches (somewhere between 10 or 20 rows,) depending on how you'd like the taper.

Meanwhile [3] insert 3 sets of short rows across the back of the sweater, which should get wider. For the first short row stop 3 inches from the edges, for the second 2 inches, and for the last 1 inch. I'd put an inch or two between each short row, maybe half way between the first three increases.

Notes

[1]I've not, to be clear, actually knit this yet, though I plan to soon.
[2]As in this video, though there are many videos that may be more clear for you. I'm pretty sure that learned this method from Meg Swansen and/or Amy Detjin.
[3]I have to say, that the "meanwhile" part of knitting patterns is always my favorite.

Reknitting Projects

I'm presently in the middle of knitting a sweater that I knit and designed years and years ago, with only minor modifications, and I have a number of projects that I'm thinking about that involve "reknitting" past projects. While I don't think that I've peaked, or am out of ideas for knitting, it's very clear to me that novelty isn't exactly my guiding principle as a knitter: I enjoy the process and the act above all else, and the pleasure of wearing handknits is (for me) mostly about custom fit and less about novelty or fashion, exactly.

The chance to re-knit things, removes a lot of the questions of a design from the process and not only fix mistakes, but also polish and iterate on a garment with less guess work. It's also the case that these projects often feel like returning to an old friend, which is incredibly comforting. Some of these projects, on my backlog include:

  • This basic two-color sweaters (colorblock, I suppose,) that I'm presently knitting and have/will knit again where the lower part of the body is in black--or similar very dark--except for the top 3-4 inches of the body in a contrasting color, matched by the sleeves and the collar, which I try and push into the black section.
  • Alice Starmore's Faroe Sweater, from Fishermen's Sweaters, but scaled to actually fit and maybe with a more fitted shoulder. I've also, apparently knit a very heavy weight version of the Norway sweater that I never wore, and they're such great classic designs that are very fun to knit that knitting them again to modernize them sounds like a fun project.
  • A round pi shawl in a dark color, with no lace work (including using raised bar increases rather than yarn overs), and a contrasing set of stripes along the outer edge. There's this stripe pattern that I think of as "Calvin Klein" stripes, but I don't kno what the origin of that association is, the basic plan is three stripes, two wide stripes in the contrasting color, and a thin stripe of the original color in between, with the wide stripes being 3 times the width of the interior stripe.
  • I've knit two sweaters from Joyce Willams' Latvian Dreams book, the sweater on the cover and one that I knit from several charts, using yarn that ended up pilling a lot. They were delightful to knit: the patterns were originally weaving charts rather than knitting patterns, and thus had a 4-way radial summary symmetry that was just fun to knit. I'd like to try some of these again with better yarn and perhaps use this as a space to explore color work again, but in ways that might be more subtle and also well suited to cardigans and the like.
  • I've knit a handful of sweaters with all-over mitten or stocking patterns from various extant knitting traditions, mostly Scandinavian and Turkish, and I think it would be fun to revisit these patterns.

For and Against Garter Stitch

I never used to like garter stitch [1] very much, and hadn't really knit things with a lot of garter stitch. Sure, a scarf here or there in the beginning, and I think I used it for the hem of an early sweater that didn't turn out particularly well. There are so many clever patterns that use a lot of garter stitch, and I'd never really felt it. While I don't know that I'm rushing to knit or design patterns out of a lot of garter stitch, I've definitely discovered that I've softened on it over my hiatus.

My earlier discontent with garter stitch was the combination of:

  • garter stitch is quite dense, because the fabric pulls in so much vertically, so it takes a lot of yarn and a lot of time, and results in a warmer fabric that I often don't like'
  • the vertical pull in of the fabric can get pulled out by blocking or by the weight of the fabric which can be rather uneven.
  • normal tension irregularity is super apparent.
  • I've never much liked the way that knitting things with rows require you to flip the knitting and I don't like the way that this can break up the rhythm of the knitting.
  • the strong horizontal line of the garter ridges always feels awkward to work with.
  • I always struggled to get a selvage edge that I really liked that wasn't totally sloppy.

These, however, are tractable problems I realized, and I've always used a few garter stitches for selvage on the edge of sock heel flaps. The things that I've realized:

  • garter stitch often works best with very fine yarn, which helps ameliorate the additional bulk, and at least for me, helps provide for more even tension.
  • the look of garter stitch sideways is quite compelling, for me, and in most cases it won't stretch out in the same way.
  • a little bit goes a long way, particularly when embedded in another piece of knitting.
  • I've settled down and find that knitting, rather than slipping, the first stitch and giving the yarn a slight tug when knitting the second stitch leads to a pretty clean edge.
  • designing with garter stitch is quite compelling, because the ratio of stitches to rows is basically 2:1, because of the way the ridges pull in, you can sort of approach it as "square," picking up one stitch for every garter ridge lays very flat, so the math is never very complicated.

I'm working on a hat where I knit a ~2 inch wide garter stitch strip to fit around my head and then picked up to knit the crown of the hat along one of the sides of the strip, and along the other to knit a lining. I could have used a provisional cast on, of course, but the strip allowed me to be more confident about sizing, and it ends up being pretty sharp.

I'm not sure I'm going to plan to knit things out of primarily garter stitch, but I've definitely softened rather a lot.

[1]The fabric that results from knitting all stitches on both the front and back of the fabric. The fabric is dense, and it grows slowly, because the "ridges" account for two rows of knitting and it pulls in rather a lot.

Sweater Measurements

Hand knitting provides the opportunity to customize sizing and shaping to fit your body (or that of whomever you're knitting for,) and it's possible to produce garments that really fit, but even though it's possible it's not always easy.

First, measuring a body directly is complicated:

  • posture impacts the measurements, and it's difficult to get measurements of the body in the kinds of shapes and positions that you're likely to hold while wearing the garment.
  • ease, or the difference between the actual measurement of your body and the actual measurement of the garment, is both subjective and a matter of preference.

For this reason, I normally recommend measuring another sweater that has a fit that you enjoy as a starting point, but there are challenges:

  • measurements for different styles of sweaters can have different internal proportions: the length of the sleeve depends on the width of the shoulders, and the depth of the armhole
  • most machine produced garments and conventional knitting patterns are based on typical measurements and proportions which are good as starting points but typically leave something to be desired.

While people's measurements are broadly similar, and proportional, they're not the same, so if you have slightly longer arms or shoulders that are a bit more broad or angular, the "average" might be off by an inch or two, which might be enough to care about.

I'd still recommend starting from a garment that you know fits well, and record the garment's measurements as clearly as possible, but also note modifications separately. The basic idea is lay the garment out as flat as possible and measure the garment which is less likely to move than a person. There are three or four measurements that are really critical:

  • width of body at across the chest below the arms.
  • width of the body at the bottom hem/edge.
  • distance from the middle of the back of the neck to the cuff.
  • length of the sweater from the top of the shoulder to the bottom hem.

Sleeve length is pretty stable when measured from the bottom of the sleeve (where it joins the body at the underarm) to the cuff, as this avoids the impact of shoulder shape on the sleeve. Measuring arm length from a common point, the middle back of the neck, to the cuff is also a stable way to take this measurement. You may also require additional measurement's if you want the body of the garment to have contores.

While it's true that you can deduce other measurements from the four basic measurements, there are other fit considerations that are worth noting: width of the sleeve at/above the cuff and at the shoulder; depth, height, and aperture of the collar; as well as "true" shoulder width. May of these details I've figured out empirically and iteratively for myself: it's sometimes difficult to get these measurements correctly from a model garment.

Yarn Thoughts: HD Shetland

I've been knitting a sweater out of HD (Harrisville Designs) Shetland yarn for the past week or so and it's been great, but there's not a lot to look at because it's just a plain sweater in black yarn, but I thought I'd write a bit about the experience.

I've knit a lot out of this yarn, mostly in stranded color work, and it's probably the yarn that I have the most of in my possesion, but I've never really used it alone until recently, and hadn't really knit anything with it in years. I'm a bit more than half way through a plain sweater in this yarn, and I find myself entranced.

It's a simple 2-ply yarn, woolen spun, dyed before spinning, and it comes in hanks (which I've never used,) and on half pound cones. In color work, I tend to get 8 or 8.5 stitches to the inch (US 2.5/3mm), against a plain 7 stitches to the inch (US 0/2mm), and the fabric is light but solid. There are a bunch of colors, which is why I started using it for color work, including a number of heathers as well as natural colors. I would by a pound (2 cones) of each color to make a stranded sweater, but I always ended up with a lot of left overs. A plain sweater (for me) is under a pound, though I expect fewer left overs.

The name "Shetland" describes the weight, not the fiber contribution: the wool is a blend of unspecified breeds (probably some collection of Corriedale, another Merino cross, and/or Merino), but the effect is quite similar to actual Shetland Wool. While the wool is imported, the Mill is in New England, and the yarn is stocked by many yarn stores that supply weavers (though you can buy directly from the mill as well.) There's something classic about the yarn: it smells like wool (probably the spinning oil, but still,) and the way that the fibers cling to each other makes it a jot to knit with.

HD Shetland isn't exactly soft, but it isn't rough either. I think part of this is about expectation management: because we know that this isn't going to be yarn to wear against more sensitive skin (wrists, etc.), the fact that it's actually pretty soft is a pleasant surprise. I also think that because the yarn is lofty and woolen spun the ends of the individual fibers end up less likely to be irritating or trigger reactions in the same way that smoother yarns can.

Conclusion: heartily recommend!

Epic Knitting

One of the things I've realized about myself is a knitter is that I really like epic projects, or sequences of projects.

Before my knitting hiatus, I bought a kilo of undyed sock yarn--because I liked the fiber content, and I wanted to explore knitting sweaters at finer gauges, because heavier weight yarns always made sweaters that felt too warm. Seemed like a good project. Due to a sizing error, I was only really able to get 2 sweaters out of the cone of yarn, but I think in the future three sweaters from a kilo seems useful. There's something epic about this as a project, and I definitely intend to knit more sweaters in this vein. I was thinking about "epic knitting projects," and came up with the following ideas:

  • 10 identical socks: After many years of having a somewhat hodgepodge and recently well worn collection of socks, this year, I purchased 14 pairs of new socks and it's been great, both because nothing is teetering on the edge of being worn out, and I decided to buy 5 pairs of two different kinds of socks that I like a lot, plus 4 of a heavier weight, and I like that every day is a "good sock" day. I also like that having a bunch of identical socks socks makes it easier to wash and pair them up. I've never really knit more than one pair of socks that matched so it seems like a fun challenge.
  • Knit all of Elizabeth Zimmerman's Yoke Sweater shaping variations. I think I've made about three of them, and none of these yoke sweaters have really ever entered more regular rotation. I think knitting them in lighter weights, and reducing the yoke depth a bit to fit more could help a lot.
  • Knit a collection of sweater's inspired by classic Alice Starmore patterns, but modified for modern sensibilities in terms of fit and shaping. I've knit three patterns (Henry VIII, Norway, and Faroe) and would gladly knit them all again and I'd love to try the cabled sweaters as well. While the designs and stitch patterns of these sweaters are compelling the fit is not, which is probably a feature of these patterns being written in the late 80s and early 90s. I think the changes would be mostly to knit things at a finer gauge (Faroe, Norway, and the cabled sweaters,) but also to modify the shaping for better fits at the shoulder, and maybe modify neck shape for v-necks or open necklines.

I've also thought about knitting a bunch of lace, but I lack the floor space in my current apartment to actually block any kind of lace shawl reasonably.

Anyone else have Epic-scale knitting projects for this list?

Sweater Backlog

While I've been working on this knitting book project, I've realized that I've developed something of a backlog of sweaters that I want to knit (for this project, and others,) and I thought I'd write them all down for our collective enjoyment.

  • A second version of the favorite sweater I knit during college: a plain sweater with a black body, gray at shoulders, drop shoulder, steeks, and gray sleeves. I want to do this out of fingering weight wool, probably HD Shetland. [in progress]
  • The same sweater as above, except with set in sleeves, and probably light blue as the contrasting color at the sleeve.
  • Sock yarn sweater, superwash, with v-neck, and some kind of textrued stitch pattern at the yoke that would be knitted without. I made one of these sweaters already, but it came out a touch smaller than I think I really want, and there are a collection of small modifications that I'd like to make, again for verification purposes.
  • A fully gray sweater, also out of HD Shetland, with the sleeves knit cuff-up, and with the yoke knit with "set-in sleeves," in the round. I knit a sweater like this in the fall, and I want to verify that a basic a set of changes would make the sweater really wearable.
  • I have the first 3-5 inches of a color work cardigan that I started before my hiatus from knitting: I think there are a number of flaws with this sweater: the sizing is off, I didn't handle the bottom hem correctly, and I don't think I have enough yarn in these specific collors, but I think I'd like to attempt the pattern again.
  • A color work sweater with set in sleeves. Because knitting rows (back and forth) in stranded is annoying and a bit fussy, most patterns use drop shoulder shaping, but I'd like to experiment and see if I can perfect the technique a more fitted style for these sweaters.
  • Using a "garter rib" stitch for the full body of a sweater, both because I like the idea of a gentle rib pulling in to provide more fit, while also being fun and keeping a fairly simple shape over the entire length of the sweater.

I think that's enough for now!