In pre-internet days I fondly thought that I was a skilled knitter. Then, when craft blogs began to appear and Ravelry started up, I realised that I was at best competent in a small area of the knitting realm, chiefly heavyweight sweaters in the British tradition. The reality did not cause disappointment though, because I simultaneously found there was a whole world out there of techniques, yarns and designs that were previously unknown to me. How marvellous it was to discover that there are independent designers who are reinventing their own local knitting traditions while developing new ones and aren’t fettered by being tied to a single spinner and its products. But there is a downside to self-published knitting patterns – they are not always well written and there isn’t the spinner’s helpline number printed on the bottom for those occasions when you think you’ve discovered an error.
I try to learn something new with every major knitting project. Often this means that I start off with my laptop in front of me and knit along to a Youtube video that demonstrates the technique. In the last few months I’ve learnt the Italian 2-Colour Cast-On and German Short Rows in this way, amongst many other new skills. The two colour cast-on was invaluable for the brioche stitch scarves I knitted, Rodekool and It Takes Two. (By the way, the designer of both, Nancy Marchant, has a new book out called “Knitting Fresh Brioche: Creating Two-Color Twists & Turns”.)
I don’t expect to be using the technique for much else, although it’ll be useful to have in my armoury if I ever knit a welt in 1×1 vertical stripes. The German Short Row technique, in contrast, is incredibly useful. I think it produces a much better appearance than the usual wrap-and-turn method of avoiding a hole when turning the work before the end of the row, and it’s less fiddly. I will certainly try it out for turning the heel the next time I knit a pair of socks.
Starting to swing
Sometimes developing skills has to be a step by step process, with each new step building on the one before. I’m glad I learnt German Short Rows in order to knit my Wingspan shawl, because one of my targets for 2015 is to learn “swing” knitting. This is the name that is most commonly used for a short row, intarsia technique that gives curvy, wave-like blocks of colour that fit around each other cleverly so that it is still possible to produce rectangular pieces of fabric, if you wish. The prime example of swing is a dramatic shawl design called Dreambird. Unusually for a paid-for pattern, a huge number of Ravelry users have knitted it, over 2,000.
Despite being so popular, the Dreambird pattern has generated a lot of criticism for the confusing way in which it is written. The designer has nobly attempted to explain the swing technique and how it is used to create her design as well as providing a chart and writing out the row-by-row instructions that most knitters expect. The result is a lengthy pattern (20+ pages) that is still lacking in clarity, and certainly lacks simplicity. Bearing in mind that this volume of printed matter is not for a 3-D garment in several pieces but a shawl, and one that basically consists of repeating “feathers” (not unlike the “leaves” in Leftie), it does seem unduly complicated.
That is only one reason why Dreambird is relegated to my one-day-I’ll-knit-that-but-not-right-now list. I keep knitting shawls and shawlettes because they are a suitable size to try out something new, give a pop of colour to an outfit or make use of one or two balls of a yarn that was too expensive to buy in larger quantities, but I don’t actually wear them much. They aren’t formal enough for work and if I put a shawl on when I’m at home I usually end up taking it off within half an hour because it’s getting in the way while I’m doing the chores. I wear them when I go out to social events and that’s about it. So I can’t really justify the time or expense of knitting a large shawl like Dreambird, which needs good quality yarn to do it justice.
In the meantime, I’m going to learn the swing technique by knitting a simpler project. Mixed Wave Mitts should fit the bill. From what I have read about swing knitting, it involves a lot of counting and marker placement, which suits me but isn’t for everyone. Maybe I’ll give the fingerless mittens a try when I’ve got my Natalie jumper finished, and the chenille hat that hasn’t made any progress since my last post.
Natalie feather-stitch sweater
Natalie is doing OK, the back is finished and has had the grease washed out of it and been blocked to size.
It will be an inch smaller overall than the 38″ that it’s meant to be, but that’s fine. I had to give it two gentle hand washes before the water stopped looking filthy, but now that it is dry it is a lot less harsh to the touch and smells sweetly of clean wool instead of lanolin and fustiness. The fusty smell is undoubtedly because the cone has been sitting unused in a cupboard for the last three decades, but it doesn’t look like any lasting harm has been done.
I only hope that the other two cones I have of Shetland 4-ply, of a similar vintage, will also turn out to be unscathed when I finally come to use them. The pale blue has spots of mould all over it – you can see them in the photo below. I’ll have to knit up a swatch and wash it to see if the discolouration is permanent.