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(17.8km north of 401 exit 410. Look for the green house with the red roof a few doors north of the Myrtle Station railroad tracks)

Friday, May 4, 2018

Faux Afterthought Heel

This month at the guild we began the afterthought heel technique.
I first encountered this method in Elizabeth Zimmerman's 1980 book "Knitting Without Tears". Personally I don't mind cutting my knitting, however, in my experience, many people have reservations about the practice, so I used the variation where the chosen stitches for an opening are temporarily knitted with waste yarn.
This technique is also used in folk socks, where the main pattern is quite ornate. I imagine a skilled and practiced knitter works the main pattern and the heels and toes worked by a student or apprentice knitter. My friend Samu tells me that in Zimbabwe, a garment is often made by a group. Someone knits the back, another the front, another a sleeve etc. so the garment (i.e.) is produced efficiently.
There are lots and lots of people on the internet with wonderful instructions for afterthought heels, like here and here. In this post my aim is to show my lesson prep plus thoughts on the process.
First I made 12 samples, each 48 stitches wide, and 36 rows long, on my regular gauge machine using a sport weight acrylic, tension dial 10, hand fed.
At row counter 12, I hand knit 18 stitches with a piece of contrast waste yarn. This is so the knitters can practice picking up live stitches without fear of cutting the knitting. At row counter 24, I marked the centre stitch, so if the knitter is inclined to cut it is easy find the exact centre point for the snip.
Stocking stitch likes to curl, so I paired the swatches right sides together, basting them around the edges. My favourite low tech blocking approach.
Because the yarn is acrylic, I used my handy vintage tea towel, dipped in water and wrung out, laid on top of the swatches and steamed by lightly touching the wet cloth method. The swatches are small and fit on the ironing board, no problem.
Now the swatches are flat and ready for the sampling work
A blunt tapestry needle with a well spun piece of contrast cotton yarn makes splitting and snagging less likely.
Poke through the stitches on both sides of the waste yarn I like the purl side of the fabric, as I find the individual stitches easier to see.
Then pull out the waste yarn. Heel opening created!
Flip the piece over to the knit side and put the stitches on my sock needles.
The red yarn stays until I am sure I have picked up every stitch.
Then divide the stitches into quarters, ready for shaping, just as a regular toe shaping process.

Knit the "Toe" heel. Everyone has their favourite way of toe shaping, my practice is:
  1.  knit 2 together at the end of needle 1 
  2. knit 1 slip 1 pass the slipped stitch over, at the beginning of needle 2
  3. knit 2 together at the end of needle 3
  4. knit 1, slip 1, pass the slip stitch over at the beginning of needle 4.
I like to put a brightly coloured marker at the beginning of the round, because the number of stitches is so small and life can be so interesting that I don't notice when I pass the starting point.
When the shaping is complete and I work a final last plain round I stop at the end of needle 3, leave about 8 inches of main yarn and knit a few rounds of stocking stitch in a contrast colour.
I much prefer to work grafting from stocking stitch than off the needles, especially with such few stitches. Here is a blog post about this method.
In this photo, the yarn between the 2 middle stitches was snipped, the stitches unravelled and picked up with sock needles ready to divide for shaping, the authentic afterthought heel method.
Here are photos from one of my beloved Japanese books showing grafting from waste yarn. 
It is important to use a nice blunt tapestry needle
And a clear contrasting well spun yarn for the waste knitting. I like mercerized cotton close to the weight or slightly thicker than the main yarn.
I also use the waste yarn technique for my honeycomb mittens thumb opening as well as the armhole opening on a sideways waterfall vest or cardigan. Very handy indeed

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Steeking Surprise

We had a great time at the April knit guild meeting working on the practice of steeking. The knitting is done entirely in the round, then cut open afterwords for the front opening bands.
There are many advantages to this method:

  1. The right side of the work is always facing.
  2. The focus is colour and pattern, shaping is addressed afterwards
  3. All of the colour change ends are simply trimmed away.
  4. There is no "jog" at the start of a new round
  5. Using a traditional "sticky yarn" like Shetland Jumper weight or Lopi and a pattern with lots of diagonal elements makes for a fabric with excellent integrity
Many knitters have not had the experience of cutting hand knitting, so I used my vintage knitting machine to make samples for the members. Note the samples don't illustrate the line by line colour changes as would be natural in hand knitting.
I worked out a simple typical pattern with snowflakes on either side of the steek. There is a 3 stitch vertical stripes on either side of an 8 stitch, one dark, one light small fair isle pattern.
The experience is to cut up the middle of the sample and pick up on either side of the stripe for the bands. Cutting is the work of a moment, the longer journey is making the band and facing.
Here is an illustration of part of the steeking process from Alice Starmores' book on colour work.
The big surprise for me was the difference in my own picking up stitches habit.  Guild members pick up the actual edge of the main knitting and then use the band yarn. Their technique reminded me of picking up a sock heel flap.
I have always picked up with the band yarn one or two edge stitches in.
Perhaps it is because I sew that I don't mind a seam on the inside.
Here is an illustration from one of my Japanese books. You can clearly see 3 stitches picked up for every 4 rows, one stitch in from the edge of the knitting.
I picked up and knit the band, using my regular pattern of 3 stitches every 4 rows. It was not quite satisfactory, so I redid the sample picking up 4 stitches for every 5 rows.
Then I trimmed off the the small colour work pattern...
...and cross stitched the facing in place. Traditional Shetland knitters wash the garment after sewing and stretch it on a frame to complete the process. Careful washing felts the fabric just enough to add more integrity to the fabric, making a reliable, quality piece suitable for generating income for the knitter.
Here is the inside of a cardigan I hand knit 20 years ago. You can see the stranded "floats" on the main fabric look nice and straight and the cross stitched facing still looks fine, even after lots of wear and washing.  I think picking up 3 stitches for every 4 rows worked better on my cardigan because the band itself is fairisle.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Look To Norway - Book Review

I do like making hats, especially this one in classic Sandnes Peer Gynt. Just to play with colour for short periods of time works for me. We can send you a PDF of this pattern if you like, just send us an email.
To my surprise and delight, in these August days of my knitting career, I found this wonderful book by at the local library by Trond Anfinnsen has done exactly that in the delightful Hat Heads book, published in 2009.
The fundamental reason I am a knitter gets delightfully validated in this book.
Choose and knit for a specific person, reflecting affectionately as you design on physical attributes as well as character. There is also nice clear guidance about design and shape.
I am reminded of "The 5 Love Languages" another library book I recently enjoyed.
Trond writes beautifully about the meaning and purpose of knitting, especially in Norway. He includes a totally unexpected, yet relevant story about  David Aleksander Toska, the bank robber who wore a traditional sweater during his trial to gain sympathy. The power sweater, my goodness!
Trond knits each hat, then he is photographed by his friend photographer Klaus Nilsen Skrudland and presents us with portfolio in the book. Portraits both of himself and his recipients.
For example his mom in a cheerful red and white spiral pattern.
His friends (here is Ingrid in a fetching blocky rib, checker effect)
and acquaintances (Oddvar in a snowflake star pattern)
Just look at how the blue matches her eyes (Tonje in stripes and fish with a rolled brim) 
Knitting in the context of relationship! This quote from the book made me think of so many of the knitters and knitting recipients I have had the pleasure and privilege to meet over the years.

The Joy of the Give

"Throughout the project, and particularly once my hats reached a certain level of quality, people started asking, “Why don’t you start selling your hats?” My gut feeling has always been not to sell them, but to give them away. It simply gives me a good feeling to give gifts and receive gratitude and surprise in return. The simple fact that, one; you have made the gift yourself, two: that is has obviously taken a considerable amount of time to make, and three: that the gift is specially designed for the now who receives it, makes it extra special to give. the receiver will know that you have actually been sitting for hours working for and thinking about him or her. It’s great."

Tronde uses Sandnes yarn, just like me, Smart and Alfa.
He also uses lovely Dalegarn which has come and gone in the Canadian market a few times over the years.
I found a youtube channel about camping in Norway by a fellow named Martin, titled Norwegian Woods  he wears a spectacular sweater in his winter videos. I especially enjoy how thoughtful and relaxed he is as a presenter, and love the sweater. Just a guess on my part, but I think the cuffs are reinforced with suede, the shoulders either suede or fabric. Certainly though, the sweater is a magnificent work of art. It makes me super happy to see it in action. If anyone can tell me more about the trimmings on Martin's sweater feel free to get in touch by email.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Blocking Practices Part 2

Here I am, blocking the very soft, kid mohair scarf I knitted using the "Wisp" pattern freely available from Knitty the free online magazine. Absolutely the opposite of my previous Debbie Bliss cable cardigan in both form and substance.
I think this is a good example of showing how to block a piece that is very soft and much larger than my blocking board. I have folded it in half.
As usual, I baste all around the double thickness edges with a running stitch using a pale, sturdy yarn, as I mentioned in Part 1.Then I place pins in the corners to mark the expected (half) measurement of the finished scarf.
I have put a dowel in the fold and anchored it behind the pins by tension and then pinned the opposite edge, then pins at the half way point on the length, then split those distances in half and so on until I have pins about 2 inches apart.
I use an ordinary iron, with steam first hovering over the scarf, pressing the button all the while, to give it the general idea. I then move closer and closer to the fabric until I am almost touching it, still making lots of steam.
By using a dowel at the fold I don't create a sharp crease at the midpoint, and can happily steam the piece to the very edges.
For a nylon/synthetic yarn, which melts and hardens when touched by an iron such as classic Sirdar Snuggly, the method varies.  I use an almost wet well worn tea towel, laying it on the piece, section by section, dipping it and wringing it out in a handy nearby bowl of water. I rather enjoy the sizzling sound it makes as I work, almost but not quite as much as I enjoy the smell of steamy pure wool.
What about wet blocking, well... for sure there is little risk to your knitting by pinning it out and spraying it with water, then leaving it to dry. The action of washing also smooths out the hand knitting fabric, especially over time. However without heat, the fabric won't have memory of the desired shape and dimensions. Think about the result of using a curling wand on hair. Further, should you wash the fabric in hot or warm water without blocking, it will take that memory, but in an unorganized manner. So by using sufficient heat, and setting parameters, and unless you wash it at a higher temperature than steam, which you are unlikely to do, the blocking memory will stay.
Extra note! Pure Cotton and Linen don't keep a hot blocked memory, the process above applies to animal and synthetic fibres. You need to remind such fibres after every wash by laying them flat to dry. A good reason to use blends like Regia Tutti Frutti . Remember when people used to iron the household linens after each wash? I have found over the years that my cotton sweaters go short and wide after washing, without exception. I now choose a size with negative ease and add 25% more length than the pattern states.