The socks are finished and have been worn a couple of times already. They are warm, comfortable and they stay up, thanks to the ribbed legs. I really ought to knit another pair, using some Rico yarn that I bought at the same time, because there is nothing like hand knitted socks. I have large feet and generally have to buy men’s socks, which are boring and, while fine for wearing with a trouser suit for work, I prefer something more colourful with casual trousers. I hope, one of these days, to have enough home-made socks to be able to wear a pair whenever I want. A friend who commutes by bus for an hour a day knits socks en route while listening to her iPod, and keeps her whole family in beautiful hosiery. I don’t have the dedication to knit one pair straight after another though, so I have instead made a start on the It Takes Two brioche scarf. This is a Nancy Marchant design that was published several years ago in Designer Knitting.
Before I cast on, I wrapped 80m of yarn from each of my two balls of King Cole Riot around the posts that hold up my washing line. (Note to self: the next time a pole needs replacing, space them 10m apart instead of the current 9.5m to allow for easy yarn measuring.) The colour changes are very long and the two balls started at approximately the same place in the cycle. As a result, the shades of grey were pretty much in synch all the way along with insufficient contrast to show up the pattern. I therefore removed 40m from the start of one ball before casting on. Fortunately, I knitted a small swatch first to decide what size needles to use, because the contrast was still too subtle to see. I did think about taking one end from the inside of a ball and the other from the outside of the second ball, but that is bound to lead to the colours coinciding once per cycle. In the end, I removed some more yarn from each ball to give a pale grey from one and black from the other. I’m assuming that the sequence of colours in each ball is the same, in which case there should be a decent contrast all the way through the scarf. If not, I’ll have to remove lengths of yarn from one ball or the other every now and again and graft the joins.
It is proving to be quick to knit, even in brioche stitch which requires two rows of knitting to make one row of progress because every other stitch is slipped. I like the subtle grey-on- black shading effect. The yarn is a little shiny for my taste, being 70% acrylic, but anything more than 30% wool against my neck would make me itch. It is also loosely spun with the result that it can be hard to tell where one stitch starts and the next, or its wrap, begins, especially given the lack of a strong colour contrast. I’m glad I’m a veteran of two Rodekools and know what I’m doing with 2-colour brioche.
Talking of grafted joins, I stumbled across instructions for the Russian graft a few months ago and have used it frequently since. It produces a strong join between two yarns and – big advantage – a sharp colour change. That makes it a great way of working stripes when knitting in the round or making something like a cardigan with integral bands down the opening edges where a knot would show. See my Craft Tutorials page for how to do it.
Use this graft with an appropriate technique for avoiding jogs/steps at the colour changes when knitting in the round and you will end up with near-perfect stripes, like these alpaca mittens I made for my niece for Christmas. It has to be said though that it’s a lot less trouble to use self-striping yarn, certainly for socks, gloves and other small things.
The only drawback with a Russian graft is that the join can be a little bulky, depending on the yarn. If bulk is a problem and I’m joining two yarns of the same colour then I use a plaited graft (or “braided graft”, if you’re North American) instead. I’ll leave a description of that to another day, but here’s what it looks like.
I’ve reached the end of the yoke on one side of my gansey and I’m working on the other side. I reckon it will be 10 days before I’m ready to think properly about shoulder straps. Anyone would think I didn’t design this jumper before picking up needles as I seem to be making it up as I go along, but I did, honestly. It’s just that the row tension seems to be all over the place and I’ve kept having to make adjustments when various elements have ended up the wrong length. The body of the gansey is very patterned and it wants to draw up widthways like ribbing does, so I’m hoping it will block out to size when I’ve finished and reduce a little in length. But if not, no problem, I’ve tried it on and it does fit me.
The cast-on I used was the Channel Island picot cast-on, also called the knotted cast-on. It is practical as well as pretty because the welt won’t come undone if it gets caught on something and the yarn breaks, each stitch is literally knotted onto the needle. And it uses three ends of yarn for added strength. It makes for quite a feminine-looking welt, but it is the traditional cast-on as used in Guernsey and Jersey for fishermen’s sweaters and, sure enough, when I looked at dear husband’s oldest Guernsey (which must be 35 years old), there are the picots. There are a few threads hanging down from his welt where it has become worn, but it has not unravelled. I really ought to darn it, I suppose. One of the many nice things about ganseys is that they are made to be repaired, with the sleeves worked down from the shoulders. In days gone by the lower sleeves would often be unravelled and re-knitted with new yarn when they became worn out.
I couldn’t find any decent instructions for the Channel Island knotted cast-on, but I managed to figure out how to do it from a combination of the instructions that came with my Frangipani yarn and this video. However, I modified the method to avoid having to use yarn from more than one cone (I only have two and the second one was still being used for swatching at the time). The knitter in the video presumably knits continental-style because she seemed very comfortable holding the yarn in her left hand, which is alien to me. The next tutorial I put up on my Craft Tutorials page will be for the Channel Island cast-on, English-style. Personally, I find well written instructions with clear photos easier to follow than a video in most cases, because the videos often go too fast when demonstrating something tricky and it’s not easy to hit pause when your hands are full of needles and yarn. Plus it is just too tedious having to watch a minute or so of adverts and introduction before getting to the nitty-gritty and finding that it’s not clear what’s going on.
On the dyeing front, my search for alum to use as a mordant is not going well. I was in Hull on business last week and popped into several Asian food shops but nobody had even heard of fatakdi powder. I may have to order some from Amazon or a dyestuff supplier, but the postage cost for a small quantity will be high. I’m sure that chemicals of all sorts were available from chemists’ shops when I was younger. Even borax has disappeared from the shelves now. Thanks to the EU REACH regime, it is no longer stocked in UK shops because of its toxicity, yet it is still available from online suppliers. I wanted some last year to make fabric flame-retardant for a light shade and the “borax substitute” that is widely available does not do the same job.
The weather here is intermittently spring-like and murky, which is typical for northern England. We’ve had wet days, foggy days and sunny days, and sometimes all three in the same day. I had a reminder the other day of just how bad 2012 was in terms of rainfall (abundant) and hours of sunshine (lacking) when I received the latest feed-in tariff (FiT) payment for our photovoltaic panels and decided to work out how much electricity we have generated since we had them installed in autumn 2011. The figure for 2012 was 5% lower than 2013’s. Let’s hope we don’t have another year like that for a while, the kitchen floor was constantly covered in muddy footprints. If you are house proud and live in a damp climate, then don’t get a hairy-footed cat like a Maine Coon.
The solar panels are on course to pay for themselves in 8 years through FiT payments alone, less when the reduction in electricity purchased from the grid is taken into account, which is actually better than expected. Of course, we may not still be here in another 5½ years, but at least a future owner will benefit from FiT income until 2036 (and free electricity beyond that, as long as the panels and inverter survive).