Karie Bookish Dot Net

Tag Archives: Knitting

A Little Something

I’ve begun looking back at the year now almost over. I’ll be writing about all my knitting adventures soon, so stay tuned for that. However, 2015 was a hard year in many ways that has nothing to do with knitting, friends, or family. It was a year that worried me and made me want to spread kindness and beauty.

And so as we make our way towards the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere, celebrate the return of light and look towards a new year, I thought I’d do something a bit unusual (for me).

3

I don’t usually do sales and discounts – I don’t like buying something only to find it cheaper the next day and I’m not a fan of the whole “tag five of your friends, follow me on 17 different social media accounts and tell me a secret about yourself” spiel. I am too old and grumpy for that! However, I do want to celebrate we are nearing the end of a tough year. So, without any further ado..

The first pattern is Chinese Kites.

CK1aaa

I won’t be updating this blog everyday with the new patterns and codes, so keep an eye on Facebook and Instagram. You don’t need to follow me as such. I am just posting the pattern names and codes those two places. If you do follow, it makes it easier to keep up with the annnouncements (and I would love for you to say hello too if you are a long-time lurker).

‘ll be back soon with my look back at 2015 and a sneak peek at what 2016 will bring. I’ll also share my favourite makes of 2015, designs that caught my eye, and what I hope 2016 will bring (apart from kindness, light, and open hearts which I definitely think we all need).

Going Old Skool: Here’s What I Am Making

October 2015 021

Sometimes all you need is a toasty jumper. Earlier this month I decided to grab the nearest yarn and turn it into a cosy winter jumper for myself. No pattern to grade across multiple sizes, no tinkering with spreadsheets, no charts to haul about, and no worries. Just a plain, cosy jumper.

October 2015 017

Last year my gran gave me twelve balls of Drops Air in a soft green shade. I am going to be honest here: I would not have bought this yarn myself. It sits on the wrong side of fashion yarn for me with a slightly too-novelty construction. The yarn is basically a very delicate nylon tube filled with alpaca and merino fibres (I think you can juuust make out the nylon netting on the left strand in the photo above). The result is a very lofty yarn with no fibres escaping. As a Continental knitter, I find it quite hard to work as the tip of my needle keeps catching on the netting. I spend a fair amount of time fiddling with my needles when all I want is to knit smoothly in the round.

But knitted up, it does look exceptionally cosy and it feels great against the skin. It just isn’t my preferred knitting experience.

I decided to do a very simple top-down raglan for my toasty jumper. I decided upon a broken rib as the sole decorative element and I’ve added short-row shaping to the back neck (better fit) and lower back (I’m always cold there).

October 2015 020

I’ve just begun my sixth ball out of the twelve. I’ll have enough for quite long sleeves .. and then maybe a cowl for those extra cold days? I’m using a 5mm needle for the main body (as recommended by the ballband). The resulting fabric is quite thick – for extra drape I would probably have used a 5.5mm but I wanted cosiness rather than drape. The ribbing is done on a 4.5mm – less rigid than a 4mm would have been (4.25mm would have been optimal but where do I get such a beast?).

I’ve taken this project everywhere with me and it’s so mindless I have been working it through meetings, mornings, and headaches.

October 2015 022

I have an actual pile of things I need to make – ranging from exciting new collaborations to class samples – so this will be put on the backburner a bit. But this winter I’ll have a new cosy jumper which doesn’t need to be anything but a jumper. And this makes me happy.

HYGGE Pattern #2: Skovtur

Sept 2015 307-horz

Time is a rare gift. This month sees friends and family celebrating big birthdays or momentous life changes; I am travelling a lot for work; and I struggle to find pockets of time between it all. The air now has a slight touch of chill to it in the mornings or evenings. The world is slowly tilting and I feel the pull inside me to embrace it.

Skovtur is the second pattern in the HYGGE collection to be released. Skovtur means “a trip to the forest” or “a walk in the woods” in Danish. I designed these fingerless mitts knowing that I’d be reaching for them again and again. Right now they are a perfect layer of protection against that slight chill, but soon the long cuffs will come into their own as the autumn winds hit Scotland. The colourwork lends an extra layer of warmth as well.

Sept 2015 055Skovtur [Skorw-tur] uses two colours of Thick Pirkkakanka from Midwinter Yarns. I used the Teal and the Deep Orange (I also used this colourway in the Fika shawl but in the thinner Pirkkalanka yarn) – but the world is your oyster when it comes to colour combinations.

Some possibilities:

+ Barely There Grey & Stonewashed = wintery North Sea colours.

+ Raspberry & Plum = fruity jams and preserves.

+ Mulch & Mustard = earthy, autumnal leaves.

+ Denim & Natural Pale Grey =  your favourite jeans.

+ Blush & Soft Turquoise =  stones and the sea touching each other.

+ Black & Barely There Grey = class Scandi combination of high contrast

As long as you use two colours with sufficient contrast, you will be fine. If you are unsure whether there is enough of a contrast, take a black & white photo. Do the two colours look identical? Then you need to switch out one of them. Do the two colours do distinctly different? Then you are fine!

Note that Skovtur uses one hank of each colour – but in reality you are using roughly a quarter of a skein of the contrast colour. The next HYGGE pattern is also knitted in Thick Pirkkalanka and uses just over 1.5 skeins. In other words, if you think you might want to knit something to go along with your Skovtur mitts, you will want to order an additional skein of Thick Pirkkalanka in your contrast colour of choice. 

You’ll be able to see the HYGGE samples at Yarndale later this month (note to self: stop wearing them!) and Estelle of Midwinter Yarns will be super-happy to offer colour advice.

Enjoy – I am off to knit :)

In the Loop 4

Most of my late August was taken up by work for In the Loop 4. If you don’t know ITL, it is an academic conference about knitting and crochet. This year it took place in Glasgow – the culmination of many years’ work by the Knitting in the Round crew at Glasgow University – and I had been persuaded by the organiser, Linda Newington of the Knitting Reference Library at Winchester School of Art – to submit a an abstract. Lo, my paper on Faroese jumpers and Nordic knitting traditions was accepted and much time was spent researching and writing. I am very thankful for the staff at The Mitchell Library for being particularly helpful.

 

Miss @kariebookish talking at #intheloopglasgow

A photo posted by Louise Scollay (@knit_british) on

In the Loop was exceptional. While I talk knitting every single day, I found it invigorating and useful to discuss my discipline in a more academic way: Just how do we define the idea of authenticity in knitting? What role does gender play? How do we address the problem of sustainability within our practice? What about knitting and lifestyle commodification? These are just a few of the topics the conference touched upon. I felt my brain stretch with every paper and I left thinking about my own work in a new way. I also relished being able to spend time with my woolly chums: Louise, Susan, Jeni, Tom, Helen, Zoe, Anna and Anna. And meet new woolly chums like Tom, Alison, Anna, Siun, Helen and Mary. I salute you all for inspiring me, making me think and making me laugh.

There were many great papers. Here’s a short selection of the ones that have stayed with me.

Dinah Eastop on archives, preservation, and digitalisation. Some real problems facing the archivists trying to digitalise cultural heritage,

Annemor Sundbø on the Setesdal jumper. An absolute honour to listen to Annemor talk about the evolution of a Norwegian design classic.

Helen Robertson and her textile practice was incredible. Helen places Shetland textile practices within the landscape – I was blown away and completely inspired by her thoughtfulness.

Alison Mayne and Kate Orton-Johnson on knitting communities in the digital age. Two very different, yet very similar approaches. This is a topic dear to my heart (for obvious reasons) and both nailed their papers.

Rose Sinclair delivered an outstanding paper on 19th and 20th c women’s craft guilds, clubs, and societies. She also spoke with authority of the erasure of race within crafts. I really hope she publishes this paper – more people need to know about her research.

Jonathan Faiers delivered a plenary talk on knitting on the runway. This was my other ‘goosebumps’ moment as he moved from Schiaparelli’s bow-knot jumper through 20th C high fashion history towards today’s super-bulky knits. Very, very thought-provoking work on trompe l’oeil knitting. So thought-provoking that I had to skip the next session just to digest and unpack Faiers’ words.

Sustainability was given a lot of thought. Tom van Deijnen spoke about his visible mending work whilst Tone Tobiasson and Ingun Klepp delivered a call to arms about wool being part of a sustainable future. I found both talks incredibly engaging and inspiring.

Finally, I want to leave you with this film by Anna Kouhia. I found it very moving and poetic. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Anna about how our bodies influence our crafts – the movement of our hands, in particular. I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did.

PS. ITL4 featured a fashion show which included work by Gudrun Johnson, Lucy Hague, Kate Davies and myself. You can catch it here. I don’t usually think of my work as being part of fashion, so seeing it in this context felt a little strange (I need to think more about this, clearly). I also only had one sample home that I could lend the show which I slightly regret. Oh well. It was interesting.

Introducing Mahy – Design & Writing Considerations

I have a new design coming out shortly. It is possibly the prettiest thing I have ever designed and knitted; it is also the first design that has challenged my ideas about what a pattern should do. I have been designing and writing knitting patterns for a handful of years now. I like patterns that look deceptively complicated, yet can be explained on an A4 page. I prefer to combine written instructions with charts. While I am a chart knitter myself (and the majority of my designs start out as a chart doodle), I don’t write patterns for myself. Knitting patterns should be clear, concise and inclusive. These are my pattern writing principles.

My new design is lovely. I knitted most of it whilst travelling around the United Kingdom: on trains, in buses and on underground trains. I found it intuitive to knit and the lace straightforward to read. After a short while I found I could actually work the lace without looking at the charts – the lace flows in a way that subsequent rows suggest themselves once the lace is established. So, I was surprised when I began writing the pattern and I realised that the written instructions made the pattern seem exceptionally complicated.

writtenThe intuitive lace becomes daunting and obscure as soon as you write it down. The flow turns into a Chinese Box structure of repeats within repeats within repeats. I looked at the written instructions – even as I rewrote them to fit my own style sheet – and I knew I had to axe the written instructions. I am the designer of the pattern, I knitted the sample with great pleasure in just over two weeks, and the written instructions read like a horror story completely at odds with a lovely, relaxing knit.

For the first time since I began doing this professionally, I am not going to offer written instructions but just a fully charted pattern. It has been a tough call to make (I know many people like written instructions) but I think it’s the right one.

So, having scared everybody with my tale of terrifying written instructions, I’ll share a little preview of the thing itself. It has been a remarkably lovely knit – when I look at it I still get a “gosh, that’s my work” glow in my stomach. Everything little thing about this design feels right to me – the way it was constructed, the structure of it, the design idea, the motifs, the yarn and how it feels when it’s draped around my neck. June 2015 014

Let me introduce you to Mahy. It’s the next installment in the Authors & Artists series and I blooming well love it. We’ll be doing a proper photo shoot soon – I cannot wait to share the story behind the shawl and show you just how absolutely gorgeous it is. Proper details soon.

 

A Yorkshire Retreat

I don’t think many hen nights turn into a knitting retreat, but it’s the logical solution when every participant is a knitter. One of my best friends is getting married later this year and we all met up in Yorkshire for a weekend of knitting and relaxation. I had been to Yorkshire before for work, but I had never had a chance to spend time in a stunning landscape filled with textile heritage.

May 2015 386

We took the train from Carlisle to Settle – to our great surprise (and delight) the train journey turned out to be spectacular. It runs past the Pennines and through the Yorkshire Dales.

May 2015 194

Every station was a Victorian delight with ornate architecture and beautiful details. I can only recommend taking the train journey – it is absolutely stunning and I feel fortunate to have experienced it.

May 2015 335

May 2015 435

May 2015 227And there are sheep everywhere. I was particularly interested in seeing the varieties of sheep in the fields we passed. The Swaledale sheep is the official ‘face’ of the Yorkshire dales and I spotted a few on my train journey. I am not Deb Robson, so I could not identify all the little dots scampering around the fells but it was still great seeing so many varieties.

May 2015 289

We had rented a house a few miles outside Settle. It was pretty much my dream house: Georgian proportions, a country kitchen (though I found cooking on an AGA fairly intimidating), a small conservatory with built-in book shelves and open fires in each of the living rooms. Did I mention the views?

May 2015 238

This was the view from my bedroom (where I sat in the window seat as I took this picture). It looked like merino sheep in the cow-parsley/buttercup field. They fled as soon as I tried getting closer for a better view. Roses in the front garden and a beautiful back garden with views across the dale.

May 2015 269

It was a bit too cold for me to sit outside and knit, but I was tempted! Once inside, the house offered many temptations..

May 2015 243

.. but I stuck to my knitting mostly. I currently have three projects on the go – one that requires a lot of maths, one that requires a lot of concentration and, er, one that’s 1 ply lace. I mainly worked on the latter as it seemed more straightforward given the high level of hilarity.

May 2015 284

I did not move from my comfy chair most of the weekend, though I discovered just how bad I am at playing pool. The adjacent house had a ruby spaniel that loved cuddles, so time was spent doing that too. And copious amounts of tea, tea and tea. Cake was had from the interestingly-named local pub/bakery.

May 2015 441

It was a lovely weekend. We took the train back to Carlisle yesterday.

May 2015 224

May 2015 437

May 2015 369

And then a rail-replacement bus back to Glasgow (when I fell asleep – all that fresh country air!). I’m having the day off today as I’m oddly exhausted after my relaxing weekend away. While it was fun waltzing around a 19th country house for a few days, it’s rather lovely to be home in my humble abode again. I’m down to London next week – when I pass Carlisle on my way down, I’ll think fondly of this trip.

Flawed Shawls – Responses to Knitting as Lifestyle

Thank you so much for all the insightful and thoughtful comments to my piece on why I worry we are slowly killing off the craft revival. I am going to highlight a couple of responses and then, perhaps paradoxically, I am going to respond to my own post.

Austen wrote about her own personal and professional experiences in Craft/Life and also linked to this fascinating blog post about similar(?) issues in food blogging (skip halfway down for the good bits). Heather took her cues from one of the many Twitter discussions and examined the representation of the Self in everyday knitting. Finally, Ellen wrote quite a meaty response in which she pondered knitting as a subculture.

April 2011 018aa

I have been mulling over my own response.

I am not sure where knitting is heading as a community but I worry we are starting to talk way too much about ‘personal brands’ and ‘lifestyle’ instead of talking about the actual things we make. I love the act of making something – seeing something come into existence because my brain and hands made that thing happen – and I love seeing what other people make. Making is an act of story-telling and it is a story so much more powerful than any photo of me holding a branded ‘limited-edition’ purse with needles sticking out. No, the branded purse photo does not exist but it’s the sort of thing I worry we will see emerging on social media a year from now.

(You don’t see this happening? That’s okay. I don’t think I would have felt the urge to write all this if we were already in this place. Like most future predictions, this is all about the paths we choose to take right here, right now.)

So, let’s talk more about making things. Make things you love, not because you think you should. Choose to make things because they will bring enjoyment to you in your life. Share the things you enjoy making and do so with pride. Making stuff is not a race and not a competition – everybody’s life is different and that is fine. Make only that which is beautiful and useful to you at the pace you find most compatible with the rest of your life. And if making something sucks, it’s okay to stop making it even if everybody else thinks it’s awesome.

(And if you do not agree with me in any of this, that is sort of the point too.)

oct 09 027

Yes, part of it also comes down to my personal struggle to think kind thoughts of myself. I have a strong streak of perfectionism in me and I never feel like anything I do has any merit (until six months later when I look back and am surprised by how nice something is). And this makes it tough to accept compliments. Louise once said something to me when I was having a bit of a wobble:

We are [all] like the shawl that gets admired and we cannot help but say – “Oh! but there is a hole here that you can barely see. I am showing you this because I made a mistake. Am I not a less accomplished knitter due to this flaw?”

This struck a chord with me because one of my pet peeves is when somebody comes up to me wearing a beautiful shawl they’ve knitted and then react to my compliment by pointing out all the places they’ve deviated from the pattern. I tell them to own the shawl they have made, to celebrate their accomplishments as a knitter and as a maker-of-things, and yet I do this knee-jerk self-effacement myself when people say nice things to me. Working on accepting compliments is on my list.

So, when I receive emails talking about “lifestyle branding strategies” – well, it weirds me out a bit. Partly because I am not sure why anybody would want lifestyle commandments from me and partly because I’m not really sure who I am. Life is an on-going process and we all contain multitudes – so why try to pin things down? Why not just throw ourselves into this wonderful mire we call life and try to muddle our way through? And maybe, just maybe, try to make sense of it all by making stuff (creating order from chaos!) and sharing our making efforts with strangers who may/may not become friends?

We are all in this together, flawed shawls and all.

Where Are We Heading? Knitting as Lifestyle Brand?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about celebrity, privilege, aspiration and the craft world. Could I have picked thornier topics? Probably not. Apologies for the long rant ahead. I had a lot to squeeze in and I could not always go as in-depth as the subject required.

Thanks to my job I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and looking at personal craft websites. After a while much of it blurs into one giant peach/mint blob of perfectly-coiffured people showing me how to make organic acai berry mojitos in expensively procured ‘authentic’ jam jars. It feels like much of the ‘making’ out there is now designed to get commercial brands interested in working with you rather than about the crafting/making itself. In its own way this reflects the lifestyle websites GOOP and Preserve launched by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Blake Lively. These are aspirational websites. Websites that  are full of words like ‘artisan’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘mindfulness’ – whilst making you feel you are a bit of a failure for not being tall, skinny, blonde and rich.

This depresses me. The craft revival is precariously close to becoming Gooped and I fear we could be looking at the peach/mint-coloured beginning of the end if we are not careful.

goop

Looking from a knitting industry & community perspective, we are not quite a peach/mint-coloured blob but we are looking awfully white, able-bodied, heterosexual and middle-class. I’ve thought a lot about the idea of privilege in knitting and I’ve had very long discussions with myself – from “Ravelry is showing us such a vast cross-section of body types” and “Knitting makes good clothes super-affordable” to the way I present my own identity online. It took me a long time to realise that the majority of popular patterns on Ravelry show a conventionally attractive white woman as their main photo; it took me far less time to notice how much we talk about high-end yarns. For years we have been having conversations about diversity in knitting, and yet I was strangely reluctant to start designing garments because I am plus-sized (I loathe this term, incidentally). Why did I feel so unsure of my body type in an environment that seemed to celebrate diversity? This was my personal light-bulb moment. The knitting world is not Goop or Preserve, but it is a great deal safer, more conventional and much more aspirational than we may like to admit.  I mean, when one of the most controversial topics in recent knitting times was simply that a guy was wearing make-up in photos, it is maybe time to hit pause and reflect a bit. 

So I hit upon a snag when it came to body image, but there is no denying that I am privileged. I am white, I scrub up nicely in photographs, and I can write fully-formed sentences in my second language from my charming kitchen office in adorable Scotland. It’s a nice mental image, isn’t it? You can almost taste the homemade acai berry mojito, right? I’ve written about this previously – but the knitting community does not tend to share the complexities of our every day existence (a few people do; most don’t). And I am one of the ones who shy away from writing about the darker sides of life. Writing about artisan yarns, authenticity in design, and mindful knitting is a lot nicer – even if it veers awfully close to Goop territory. I wonder if we are seeing a slow slide into lifestyle marketing of knitting? Will the knitting world eventually become a peach/mint-coloured blob as lifestyle becomes more important than what we make? 

trends

In my 2013 post I asked what would happened if we had to be ourselves online rather than a ‘carefully pruned, shaped thing that is presented to you [as] truth’ (to quote the author Jean Rhys)? The overwhelming response was that people were worried about presenting themselves as failures and that they felt compelled to be positive. I wrote that two years ago and I find it really interesting to compare the discussion to the idea of ‘a personal brand’ which is really pervasive in the knitting industry now. We have specialised marketeers now that work on defining brand identities, deliver customised social media content, and create marketing strategies for individual designers. I know some of them (all incredibly talented and hard-working people) and I am happy to see them work with some incredible designers that benefit from having a social media presence etc. On the other hand, there has been a real growth in out-of-nowhere ‘life coaches’ that talk about ‘being your Passion’, ‘finding your personal Joy’, spirituality, self-awareness, and so forth. This development confused me at first as I had assumed professional business advice would be flowing into the industry (accountants, graphic designers, admin tools) but I am wondering if it is the first sign that lifestyle branding is taking over? Working in the industry is now a lifestyle that necessitates a life coach, but not an accountant? Really? Will knitters be the next ones to need gentle guidance?

But going back to the idea of ‘a personal brand’, I have always struggled with this. Like so many other people in this knitting world, I am an introvert. I have a rich inner life; I like spending time on my own; I am quiet; and I like all those stereotypical introvert pursuits like reading a book, writing, and going to the library. Having to talk about myself and my work is really, really hard for me and while I love meeting other knitters, I find crowds quite stressful. Ultimately I rebel against the ‘personal brand’ tag because my job isn’t about me – it is about knitters. I was once asked ‘what do you want to be known for?’ and my honest answer was this: I don’t want to known for anything.’ For me, my job is to be a catalyst: Doggerland was about knitting inner landscapes and enjoying soothing, meditative knits as much as it was about making a shawl. It was about the person making the shawl, not about the person who wrote the pattern. It’s really, really not about me (even as I’m having this semi-rant).

lifestyle

Finally, a call to arms. Let us focus on the simple things in knitting. Let us make things because they bring us happiness. Let us focus on the knits and the purls. Let us embrace the joy of making something that keeps us warm in the depths of winter or on a cool summer’s night. Let us recognise and celebrate that we are all just ourselves. Reject the commodification of ‘the knitting lifestyle’. Reject narratives that tell you that you are too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too anything to wear/make something. Reject narratives that only tall, skinny, blonde and rich actresses are worth our time. Reject notions that you have to knit with super-expensive yarns or circular needles to be a ‘real knitter’. Be yourself and enjoy your knitting.

Pass me the authentic superfood jam jar mojito.

A Library of Byatts

I am really enjoying all the Byatts popping up both on Ravelry and at the events I attend. While my own group’s KAL officially ended at the end of March, several other KALs have strung up. It’s such a marvellous thing to see all the colour combinations and personal touches out there. As I enjoy looking through all the project photos, I thought I’d share a couple of the finished Byatts with you.

First up is JessieMcKitrick who chose to combine a rich red-purple with a stunning gold colour. This warm colour combination is rich and sumptuous – and it reminds me quite a bit of the Game of Thrones series wherein crimson and gold are the colours of the royal house of Lannister. Hey, I happen to live with someone who has read all the books..

JessieMcKitrick

Continuing on with the gold theme, I gasped when I first saw the colour combination that CountrySinger had chosen for her version. I have mild synaesthesia and those two colours vibrate when I look at the photos. I especially love how it’s miles outside my own comfortzone and yet I’d wear it in a heartbeat. Now that is colour appreciation for you!

countrysinger

Whitehart, aka Sadie, chose to stash-dive for her Byatt. I chose this photo because I think the blue-turquoise looks so stunning on Sadie and works incredibly well with her skin tone. I know many people have been focused on getting the contrast colour right, but here Sadie shows why it’s even more important to get the main colour right. This colour combination suits her so well.

whitehart

I have seen the next Byatt in person and it looks so delicate. EllaSkye ran into the problem of not having enough yardage to complete the pattern as written. Her solution was to add a third colour that was a slightly darker shade of her original main colour and she opted to do the cast-off in the darker colour too so the shawl had a strong sense of continuity. It looks amazing and even prettier when you get to see it and squish it in person, I can tell you that.

EllaSkye

Another Byatt I have seen in person: Helen of RipplesCraft. Helen chose a very contemporary colour combination of a neutral slate gray (she calls it ‘peat’ – who am I to debate colour with a dyer?!) and a zingy lime green. I love how this makes the stripe section sing.

ripplescraft

Finally, Noirem’s Byatt. I will confess that this photo stopped me in the tracks. A beautiful combination of subtle blue-teal with a silvery contrast colour and then the stunning shawl pin that echoes the cast-off edge. I knitted my original Byatt in a warm teal with a bronze-like edging. Jennifer has somehow made a cool, elegant twin version of that shawl.

noirem

A lot of other Byatts out there – I’ve seen gradient versions, glittery versions, and variegated versions. I have somehow managed to design a shawl that lends itself to a lot of experimentation with yarns and I’m really proud of that. Keep uploading those photos. I adore seeing every single one.

(Photos all used with permission – thank you so much!)

PS. I cannot resist linking to this thoughtful post about knitting Byatt. It really stopped me in my tracks.

So, a Few Words About Ball Bands

I have had a couple of conversations lately about gauge and yarn subs, so I thought I’d write briefly about how to read ball band labels.

First, though, two things.

1) The Seaforth hat is now free to download from Ravelry. Go on! One skein of kettle-dyed loveliness will net you a fabulous hat for Spring (or Autumn if you’re on the other side of the world to me). This one’s on me.

2) I’ve updated the workshop page with the last few workshops of Spring 2015. I’m currently developing new classes, so this will be your last chance for some of these. I think that’s a fair warning!

Now about those ball bands.

April 2015 078

A snapshot of what’s on my table this afternoon! I also liked the array of languages. from L to R: Danish sock yarn (or at least a Danish ball-band), British Black Yarns Classic DK, Faroese Sirri Art Yarn, and Malabrigo Rios from Uruguay. Knitting is a global language.

Firstly, you need to understand that the ball band gauge is more a guideline than anything.

Suggested gauge on the ball band works to categorise yarns: this is double-knitting, this is a worsted-weight yarn and so forth. It is helpful for yarn companies as it’s easier to sell a line of yarn if it falls into a category than if it’s an outlier (many LYSs have sections based on yarn weights: “this is the lace section and here are the 4ply/fingering-weight yarns”). This way of categorising yarns makes sense for LYSs – quite simply, categories helps if you stock more than 10 different yarns. Not only can LYS employees confidently recommend yarn substitutions (“Oh, this hat is knitted in Unicorn Yarn DK? We don’t stock that yarn, but you could try this DK from Glitter Kitten Yarns”) but it makes life easier for everybody to agree on what a DK is and how it’s different from a lace-weight yarn.

So there is a definite interest in having standard weights with standard gauges.

However, one thing is what we can all agree upon and another thing is reality. I am not saying this happens but yarn companies may sometimes “force” a yarn into a category even it is actually just a smidgen too fine or heavy to fall into a category. When I worked with LYSs here in the UK, I recommended they always swatched their yarns to learn the handle of the yarn and also (coughs) if a yarn actually worked up nicely at a certain gauge. I am not naming actual examples but there is one UK DK yarn with a recommended gauge of 23-22 sts that I always felt belonged to the sport category with a gauge of 25-24sts.

So, you have a ball band gauge that is a ballpark figure and occasionally a marketing tool. Keep that in mind. The stated ballband gauge does not always spell the truth and should be considered a guideline more than anything else.

Secondly, in a pattern you should always pay attention to a designer’s gauge

Every designer has different gauge and the knitter should try to get gauge (esp. something like clothing, oh my). I often liken knitting to handwriting: we can all agree on what a handwritten R looks like, but it’ll always look slightly different from person to person. Designers are individuals too and as such their knitting gauge is also slightly different from designer to designer.

My favourite example is a Rowan magazine. I knitted two fair isle cardigans out of Rowan Felted Tweed. One cardigan used 3.25mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4” – the other cardigan used 4mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4”. Same company, same magazine, same yarn, two different designers. The ball band says a third thing, by the way.

Sometimes a designer may also deliberately play around with a yarn to get a completely different fabric than a ‘standard’ stocking stitch (whatever the agreed standard is, of course!). These days I think the most common deviation from recommended gauge is 4ply/fingering weight which many people are now happy to knit on 4mm needles at a gauge miles away from 28-30 sts over 4″. On the flipside of the coin I had a pattern where I used a yarn I’d normally knit at 16-15 sts over 4” where I took it down to something ridiculous like 28 sts – it was dense. I explained in the notes that I wanted a very firm fabric and people were generally really happy. For me, it was about communicating why I had chosen such a dense fabric and not followed the ball band gauge.

April 2015 094

 

So, how to decode a ball band – in brief

Another yarn from the pile on the table is the Rowan Creative Focus Worsted. I thought it made a good little intro to ball bands (especially if you are not a confident knitter).

  • product code: this one always baffles people. When you work with masses of yarn (say, as a buyer or as a LYS owner), you need product codes so you can keep track of stock, do orders, and track best-sellers. Most shade cards also have corresponding product codes.
  • recommended gauge: CFW comes in at 20 sts and 24 rows over 4″/10 cm. That’s pretty much standard for a worsted-weight yarn which is slightly heavier than a DK (which is 22 sts) and an Aran (which is typically 18 sts). Interestingly I get 21sts across 4″ when I knit with CFW. One stitch out over 4″ doesn’t sound like much but it does actually matter when you are working with hundreds of stitches – then that one stitch can mean the difference between a well-fitting cardigan and a sad-looking thing at the back of the wardrobe.
  • recommended needles: guideline, folks, guideline. If you are a loose knitter, you go down a needle size and if you are a tight knitter, you go up a needle size .. after you have looked at the designer’s chosen needle size and swatched.
  • product name: sometimes the actual name of the yarn gives you a clue as to the weight of the beastie. Creative Focus Worsted. Classic DK. Snowflake Chunky. Sometimes you have to look closer, though: Baby Cashmerino? Cocoon? Cascade 220?

If you are unsure about the various weights, the Craft Council of America has a great page about the North American system. The UK system is different (as is the Australian method, the Scandinavian system etc). The best person to ask about the yarn you are contemplating buying will always be your LYS employee (because they should know their stock better than anyone!) and I also recommend asking at your knitting group and, obviously, the designer!

Ah, my few words about ball bands turned out to be 1000+ words. So it goes.

Have a great weekend, folks!