Lace knitting and knitted lace

I am starting a new job this week.  The rush to finish up everything at the old job, and the stress about starting up something new, means that my attentions have not been on knitting lately.  Nevertheless, I’ve managed to accomplish a bit.  I finished up the knitting on my Laelia cardigan (designed by Hanna Maciejewska) and gave it a wash. I had hoped to bring you modelled shots of the cardigan this past weekend, but that was not to be.  I still have the finishing to go (ending off threads in lace!!!) and because of the delicacy of the fabric, I need to do this in a bright morning light when I have plenty of time to concentrate.  This may not happen right away.

The yarn, Merino Silk Fingering by The Uncommon Thread, reacted beautifully to being washed, and the lace opened up without being stretched or pinned into place.  Here is a sneak peak:


I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the lace in this one.  I adore the way the lace patterns keep extending across the front and back of the cardigan to meet up at the back. (This, by the way, is a variation of the pattern, in which there is a separate laddered lace pattern between the repeats at the back.  I had to fiddle just a bit with the stitch count to get it to work out this way.  This isn’t possible with every size.)   I think the “cascade” of lace that is produced is really pretty.  But the lace pattern itself has always struck me as a bit fiddly.  First of all, it combines both lace knitting and knitted lace.  The former (and, to me at least, most common) consists of a lace pattern where every other row (usually the purl row) is knitted plain (or purled plain, as the case may be).  Knitted lace, on the other hand, incorporates yarn overs and decreases on every row of the fabric – front and back.  The lace pattern used in Laelia is a 20 row repeat of which 8 rows are knitted lace and the other 12 are lace knitting.  This is a bit difficult to get used to, especially if you are not accustomed to incorporating a lace pattern on the purl row, where it is difficult to “read” the knitting. I found that I always kept the chart at hand, never feeling as if I had truly internalized the pattern, despite the many repeats.

The other fiddly bit has to do with the visual impact of the lace, which is a bit of an optical illusion. Hanna says on the Ravelry project page “Laelia is a beautiful subtropical orchid with petals that fan out into stars.”  I found when knitting it that sometimes your mind sees the orchid shapes and sometimes not, depending on whether your eye is drawn to the petals, which are shaped by the decreases, or to the holes in the fabric, which are shaped by the yarn overs.  Now that I’ve washed it, and the lace has opened up, I can see better what Hanna had in mind.  It is definitely growing on me (perhaps because I am done with all the work of knitting it).


Hopefully, I will be able to bring you some modelled shots of this soon, especially as it is by now definitely autumn here, which means that I am yet again a season behind in my knitting.  Alas.

In addition to the Laelia cardigan, I cast on for a new project.  This one is intended to be a gift, and so it’s a surprise.  After the fingering weight lace, all of this stockinette in DK weight is growing rapidly.  One little photo shouldn’t give away the surprise:


I’ll tell you about the new job in another post, once I have settled in and have a chance to relax.

Just in time for autumn

I have finished knitting Sel Gris – a light, summery, linen tee – just in time for autumn.  Never fear – this will give me motivation (and ammunition) for planning a sun-filled winter holiday.  (One can only dream.)


I knit this as a test for Claudia Eisenkolb.  She released the pattern a few days ago after a very successful and fun test knit.  It was my first time participating in a test and it was interesting.  I liked the intellectual challenge of helping the designer be as clear as possible, and I very much enjoyed the interchange with the other testers, all of them lovely and generous knitters.


The detail at the neck, together with the ribbed sleeves, give this tee just a little extra – it is cute and professional at the same time.  I believe that this will be a great contribution to an office wardrobe and will lend just the right touch of femininity to a suit.

I followed the pattern almost exactly, making only the following slight modifications:

  • I made one extra set of waist decreases and bust increases,
  • I added 1 inch in length (before 1st waist decrease),
  • I picked up more stitches around the sleeve (94); thus I knit the body in a size Medium, but the sleeves were just under the size Large


I can’t  help but notice that Claudia is designing up a storm right now; she has a bunch of test knits in progress, for some lovely designs.  I am very tempted to sign up for another one, but I think I need to exercise some restraint.


Besides, I have only 30 more (albeit very long) rows of lace to go to finish my Laelia cardigan……

A better fit

Thank you to all for the thoughtful comments on my last post.  I have not yet replied to them all, but I intend to.  I can see that I struck a chord with many of you, who like me, tend to be conflicted about the trend towards longer patterns.

I have been busy with non-knitting matters lately, but am still managing to participate in a test knit for Claudia Eisenkolb.  This is for a lovely linen tee-shirt with short sleeves and a pretty design feature at the neckline, which is called Sel Gris.  I still have to knit the sleeves, but have finished the body:


You may recall that when I first cast this on, I encountered some serious (and laughable) gauge issues:


I had to rip and start over again – I went down both a needle size and a pattern size (to a Medium).  This means that I now have about 4 inches of negative ease, which is not what I had intended. Nonetheless, I think I have managed a better fit this time around.  It errs a bit on the snug side, but I am hoping that a good block will give it more ease and drape.  The yarn, Shibui Linen, is not the easiest to work with, but I will wait until after I’ve blocked and worn it a few times to make any firm judgements.  It does have a very rich hue, and makes a quite lovely, sheer fabric.


This is my first time doing a test knit.  I am very impressed with the thoughtfulness and professionalism of both test knitters and designer; it is a very collaborative process.  I am also left with a feeling that the other testers are all considerably faster than I am.  The deadline for this is September 15, and I think that I shall make it (just), but most of the other testers whipped theirs out in days.


Enjoy your Sunday!

The explosion in pattern length

When I started knitting, patterns were very short, and often quite obtuse.  They were sprinkled liberally with phrases like: “decrease x-number of stitches from each side every row, while keeping to established pattern”, “make raglan increases, while incorporating new stitches into lace pattern”, “decrease x-number stitches evenly across row”, and my favorite (usually in all caps) “AT THE SAME TIME”.

Every pattern had bits like this:


Work as for left front, reversing all shaping and placement of pat.

(from Vogue Knitting International, Holiday 1986, p 96)

Or, in a similar vein:

Right front shoulder

With right side facing, rejoin appropriate yarns and, keeping continuity of patt, work the 51/54/57 st of right shoulder, as for left, reversing neck shaping.

(from Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting, 1988, p, 121)

Knitters were expected to figure out how to incorporate increased stitches into a particular pattern, be it lace or mosaic or fair isle, and also how to decrease stitches in pattern.  Furthermore, they were expected to be able to naturally reverse all pattern instructions and shapings.

My early knitting projects were always accompanied by loads of hand scribbled notes.  If the pattern was complicated, I would notate each row, and specify how I incorporated increases, decreases, and other shapings.  These scribblings were filled with math – most patterns did not include all of the necessary mathematical calculations – and a competent knitter needed to know a lot of practical math in order to complete the pattern.

Patterns were sold in print medium – in magazines or books – and I imagine that they were kept short in part to save on page length.  Today, most of the patterns I use are downloaded PDF files, and one of the things that is quite obvious is that the patterns are getting longer and longer.  In fact, there is a veritable explosion in pattern length happening right now.   I used to photocopy a pattern from a knitting magazine and keep it in the project bag with my knitting; this was usually a single piece of paper, on which I would add scribbles like mad, front and back.  Now, many of the patterns I use are 8, 10, 12 pages or even longer.  Why is this?

Partly, it is because the patterns have become highly specific.   Each technique is described in detail., often with photos.  In fact, it is quite common now to have links to on-line tutorials within the pattern.  One of the things I have noticed is that it is becoming rare to have instructions like “knit as for right sleeve, reversing all shapings”; instead we now have detailed instructions for both sides.  Furthermore, instead of instructions like:

  • Keeping stitches in established pattern, bind off 3 st each end every other row 6 (8, 10, 12) times at shoulder edge; AT THE SAME TIME, decrease 1 st every row at neck edge 4 (6, 4, 6) times, then every other row 5 (7, 10, 8) times.

patterns now will often have these instructions laid out row by row, so that each row of the knitting for the entire garment (or at least the parts where any shaping takes place) is given its own set of instructions.  The thing I have found really striking lately is the tendency for designers to lay out instructions for each size separately.  Jared Flood, of Brooklyn Tweed fame, recently wrote this about his design, Rift (you can find the full discussion here):

Pattern writing and grading on this piece was definitely a hard nut to crack! Since the shoulder details would have specific idiosyncrasies based on the size of the finished garment, no specific set of rules or written instructions worked very well. So I opted for the more “bespoke” route of charting out the front and back yokes for each individual size. The end result included 6 total sizes with finished chest measurements ranging from 39.25” to 59.25” [….] The pattern is quite long as a result, but don’t be fooled—most of the pages are charts for additional sizes and you’ll only need to print the two that pertain to yours.

I love Jared’s use of the term “bespoke” route for capturing this way of writing out patterns.  While Rift is no doubt complicated and the pattern is bound to be extremely clear (Brooklyn Tweed patterns in my experience are excellent), this method – of writing detailed instructions for each size – is now being used frequently by designers, sometimes for rather straightforward designs where it is clearly unnecessary.   My project bags now have pages and pages of pattern in them – I have to flip constantly from one page to the next.  (This problem is not solved by having the pattern on an electronic device; you still have to scroll up and down through the scores of pages.)  I also have little need for a pencil these days – since all of my scribblings and calculations have now all been done for me and charted in infinite detail, there is little for me to take note of.

There are many reasons behind this explosion of pattern length.  Here are a few of them:

  1. Self-publishing.  Designers used to mostly have their patterns published in a knitting magazine;  these publications would have established formats for pattern writing which the designer would adhere to.  Once self-publishing came to the fore, designers had the opportunity to establish their own formats and layouts.  They also had to compete to stand out from all of the other designers.  One way to do this was to provide lots of content – photos, tutorials, charts, schematics, etc.  (I am a big fan of both charts and schematics.)   If you are a designer, it is in your best interests to be as clear as possible on every front.  Sometimes, this means being overly explicit about everything.
  2. Money. When you buy a single pattern download for much the same price as you can buy a knitting magazine with 30 patterns in it, you want to get your money’s worth.  It’s human nature to feel that a 10-page pattern for $7.20 is a better deal than a 3-page pattern for the same price. (At least until you’ve read them.)  Knitters want to feel as if the product justifies the price, and designers respond to that.
  3. Sizing. Another trend recently (and a very good one) is that knitting patterns now come in a much larger range of sizes.  A pattern which is written in three sizes (S, M, L) will look much neater on the page and will be infinitely shorter and easier to read than a pattern which is written in 10 sizes.  Many designers have started writing out separate instructions for different ranges of sizes for clarity’s sake and ease of reading.  This can only be a good thing.

What do I think of all of this?   I find I have rather ambiguous feelings about this trend.  On the one hand, having detailed and explicit instructions makes it easier for beginners to take up their needles and tackle interesting projects.  It saves us from hours of ripping and trial and error.  Even the most experienced knitter doesn’t alway want to think out every step in detail.  If it’s all worked out for me in advance, then I can multi-task – knitting while reading, watching TV, chatting, having a glass of wine, etc..   If I wanted to spend hours doing the math, I could just design everything myself, right?

On the other hand, I think I am a better knitter because of all of the intense thought and concentration some of those early patterns forced me into.  I think I “read” my knitting better.  I think I learned how to “fit” a garment better.  I get a kick out of the intellectual challenge.  (Don’t get me wrong – I am not talking about patterns which are full of mistakes and typos – I hate those!  I am talking about the level of explicitness entailed in the pattern.)  And although laying it all out makes it easier on many levels, flipping the pages back and forth can be annoying.  In fact sometimes the sheer length of a pattern is so daunting that I can’t get past that to see how well-structured it may be.

I think that some of the ambiguity I feel derives from the grumbly professor in me: I believe that there is value in figuring some things out for yourself.  I never want to give my students the answer; I want them to derive it for themselves.  My job is to give them the tools they need, and also to make it interesting.   Perhaps a great pattern has this in common with a great lecture – they should both inspire one to think.  On the other hand, I can’t abide obtuseness – I love a pattern which is simultaneously explicit and concise.

I think that this discussion reflects the tension between the process knitter in me and the product knitter.  As a process knitter, I enjoy “getting my hands dirty” so to speak.  I like to figure things out.  I don’t want it to be easy.  When I am in full process mode, ripping gives me a little thrill (yes, I admit it, even if it is insane).  I love the concentration, the endless calculations, the counting.  On the other hand, as a product knitter, I want to make a garment that fits, and I want to wear it now, not some time next year after I get all the kinks worked out.  When I am in full product mode, ripping is agony – it just slows me down.  In this case what I want are very explicit instructions with no margin for error.   I think most of us fit somewhere on the spectrum between process and product.  However, I think we all tend to “bounce” a bit between the two ends – and where I sit on any one day determines how much detail I want in the pattern.

What about you?  Have you noticed the explosion in pattern pages?  Do you like it?  Does it drive you crazy?  Do you think I’m crazy?  Inquiring knitters want to know…..

The gauge swatch lies!

A few days ago, I started a new pullover.  I am using Shibui Linen in the gorgeous colour, Bordeaux.


Before beginning, I diligently knit a gauge swatch.  I washed it, towel dried it, patted it into place, and let it dry.  I carefully measured it both before and after washing.  I measured it many times; seriously, you would think I was crazy with the number of times I measured it.

I then cast on for the pullover which is knit in the round, bottom-up.  While I was knitting, I took the time to measure the gauge occasionally to make sure that I was still on target.  I had knit the swatch back and forth and the garment was knit in the round.  I am aware that gauges can frequently vary when knit in the round (presumably due to the lack of purling every other row) and wanted to keep an eye on this.   I took measurements over four inches any number of times, and I was consistently hitting the pattern gauge (and my swatch gauge) of 25.  But soon, I began to feel that something was wrong.  I transferred all of the stitches  to a very long needle so that I could try on the garment and take a more accurate gauge.  This is what happened:


This is not caused by a slight difference in gauge.  What is the problem here?  I am knitting this as a test knit, so maybe the pattern numbers are wrong?  No, I have done the math (as has the designer, who is quite accomplished.)   I think it has something to do with the yarn, which is 100% linen and has a chain construction, combined perhaps with my knitting style (I am a “thrower”) and perhaps with a hundred other unaccounted-for variables. (Another test knitter, using the same yarn commented that “my piece is growing in width just by looking at it”!  However, other testers seem to be doing just fine with this yarn.  Clearly knitting is both art and science, with some mystery thrown in for good measure.)

I’m not giving up; I think both yarn and pullover will be great.  I just have to go back to the drawing board – this time I will trust my gut instead of the swatch.

Yesterday, when I tried it on, I was astonished and annoyed.  How can the yarn DO that?  Today, however, looking at these photos, I must admit to finding it pretty funny.  There are two morals to this story.  Moral number one: you are never so expert a knitter that you can’t make spectacular screw-ups.  Moral number two:  the gauge swatch lies!

Sleeves and a test knit

I usually hate knitting sleeves, especially when I’m knitting in the round.  For some unknown reason, I powered through the sleeves for my Laelia cardigan.  Here it is without sleeves two weeks ago:


And here are the sleeves:


The pattern calls for lace on the sleeves as well, but I decided that I preferred them plain.  I am very happy to have finished the sleeves, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  This is quite a long cardi, and as you knit down, the lace pattern continually expands around the back.  I find that I cannot knit this particular lace pattern with my mind disengaged, and that limits when I can knit it.  I have about ten more inches to go, I think.


That ten inches might take even longer, however, because in the meantime, I agreed to do a test knit for Claudia Eisenkolb.  The test is for a lovely tee made out of linen.  I have seen a lot of patterns for linen tees lately, but this one drew me in because it struck me as very elegant and perfect for work.  (No pattern photos while the tee is in test mode.)  I am using the stunning Shibui Linen in the colour Bordeaux.


I love the way the yarn picks up the light.  It is so rich and luminous.  The yarn has an unusual chained structure, which you can hopefully see in this photo:


I am so far finding it a little rough to knit with – the linen is quite stiff – but I very much like the crispness of the fabric.  I think that once washed a few times, it should be perfect.


I am spending quite a bit of time on the train this month, and this is a much better project for train knitting that the Laelia, which has grown a bit awkward.  To demonstrate, here I am trying to untie knots in the yarn while Doug patiently waits to take photos.  (The knots, by the way, are not in the skein, but result from having too many live threads going at once and getting it all in a tangle.)


Have a lovely Sunday!

Too lazy for words

Today I find myself in a rather strange position: I am too lazy for words.  I would like to tell you all about my slow but steady progress on the lovely Laelia cardigan, designed by Hanna Maciejewska.  I would like to wax lyrical about the magical qualities of the Merino Silk Fingering yarn  by The  Uncommon Thread.  I would love to describe in glowing detail the luminosity of this particular shade of orange.  But today I am lazy.  I want to knit, and drink my coffee, and empty my mind.  So today, dear readers, you must be satisfied with photos.  As luck would have it, Emma is home, and she kindly snapped some shots for you.




IMG_1287IMG_1282Enjoy your Sunday!