We’ve had it all, weatherwise, in God’s Own County this week: snow, sun, sleet, gales and overcast skies. This is the view from my desk. At this time of year I am constantly thankful that I now work from home and no longer have to leave the house before dawn on a daily basis to trudge through snow, or into the teeth of a north wind, to my local railway station.
While huddling in front of the log fire of an evening I’ve been reading a new (to me) knitting book, “Circular Knitting Workshop” by Margaret Radcliffe.
Like many knitters who learnt the skill before circular needles became popular (or even heard of, in my part of the world), I regard them as something of a last resort, to be used when there are too many stitches to be coped with on a pair of straight needles or a set of 4 or 5 double pointeds. Of course, you can knit just about anything on straight needles, either of the single pointed or double pointed variety, provided they are long enough, but they do get rather unwieldy as the length increases.
When I turn to a circular needle it is usually with a certain amount of reluctance, in part due to the fact that I’m having to make compromises because I don’t possess the full range of sizes and lengths (and most of those that I do have are from a cheap and cheerful bamboo set with “cords” that are actually plastic tubes of limited flexibility). I bought the bamboo set for occasional knitting of neckbands and hats, and the needles are just about OK for that but the knitting experience is not pleasant. Because I never learnt to knit on circulars and only reach for them when there is no sensible alternative, I have only slowly become aware that there is a whole circular knitting skillset that I am lacking. Seeing as Father Christmas gave me a set of Knitpro interchangeables, it’s time to remedy that and find out what I’ve been missing.
I chose Margaret Radcliffe’s book because it’s highly rated online by readers. I can see why – it’s clear, comprehensive and endlessly fascinating. For example, when I was knitting my gansey last year I found that my back-and-forth tension was radically different from my in-the-round tension. Reading around the issue, plenty of other knitters have the same experience even when using the same circular needle, but perplexingly, some have a looser tension in the round and others a tighter tension. Now I know why, and the explanation is so obvious when you see it: most of us have a different tension depending on whether we are knitting or purling. We either pull our knit stitches a little tighter than our purls, or vice versa. When knitting flat this doesn’t matter a jot, it averages out over stocking stitch (= stockinette) and we never knit garter stitch by purling every row so we don’t notice that the result is tighter or looser than when knitting every row. But, when working in the round, every stocking stitch round is knitted and garter stitch involves both purling and knitting, so the tension is different.
The book contains a number of patterns to illustrate the techniques and enable the reader to become familiar with them.
Mostly these patterns are for mini versions of a garment, to save time, but there are a few full scale hats and shawls too. There are detailed instructions for anyone wanting to design their own circular-knit socks, gloves and jumpers, and the author explains how to convert knitted-flat patterns into knitted-in-the-round patterns.
I doubt I’ll ever become a complete convert to circular knitting, there are plenty of scenarios where it doesn’t make sense – intarsia, to name but one – but I shall certainly be less fearful of circular projects now that I’m armed with all these new techniques.
I’m putting a little of what I’m learning into practice on my Wurm hat, particularly in avoiding the steps/jogs at the colour changes. Previously, I’ve knitted the first stitch of the second round of each stripe into the row below to pull it up and make the step less obvious. The book suggested a couple of alternatives methods, one of which is simply to slip that stitch, and that’s what I’m going with. Simple is good.
The hat is going well since I pulled out the hem and reknitted it with a provisional cast-on. There is no uncomfortable, tight ridge on the inside now. I’m looking forward to seeing how the wormy stripes turn out, with alternating bands of reverse stocking stitch in chenille and stocking stitch in a plain yarn of a similar colour. It’s producing an interesting concertina effect so far.
I’m using my new interchangeable circular needles for the first time and finding them a real pleasure compared with the cheap Chinese bamboo ones, although I haven’t dispensed with those entirely on this project because the interchangeable points in my set only start at 3.5mm and I need smaller than that for one of the two yarns. I shall buy some smaller points, as well as the ones needed to fill the gaps in the range which has been designed to suit the US market – UK3 (6.5mm) and UK9 (3.75mm), for example. I’ll get metal tips in the smaller sizes rather than the laminated wood ones though, as too many online reviewers have complained that sizes under 3.5mm break easily. Unfortunately, nothing below 2.75mm is available even in metal – presumably the screwed joints between cable and point are too close to the point size for a smooth transition.
The Wurm is my portable project at the moment, for taking to my knitting group and other outside-the-home knitting. It would be a lot more portable if the chenille stripes didn’t involve carting around a large cone of yarn and an extra ball (because I’m knitting two strands together). I noticed there was a sticky label inside the cone the other day, on which I’d written when and where I’d bought it (Worths of Armley – alas long gone – in January 1993) and the cost, which was £3.60 for 720g. Now you can’t complain about that, can you?