Last March I carried out some experiments in the style of short-row knitting that is variously called tapestry knitting or swing knitting. I modelled a lot of swatches on spreadsheets and then knitted a few of them to prove to myself I understood what I was doing, but I didn’t actually knit anything for real. But at New Year I decided to give myself a treat by making a little scarf from 2 balls of Debbie Bliss pure silk DK that I’ve had for over a year. It’s a self-striping yarn, and knitting plain stripes with it seemed too boring. I was waiting for the right pattern to catch my eye, but I’ve waited long enough and a self-designed swingy project should fit the bill instead.
Never one to perfect walking before attempting to run, I started out knitting on the bias to make things a little more interesting. I swatched in garter stitch with some multi-coloured sock yarn, starting with 2 stitches and increasing at each side until I had enough stitches, then working increases at one side and decreases at the other, all the while swinging away with short rows. Amazingly, it seemed to work.
So I started afresh with the silk DK, and all was going well to start with. But when I got to the end of the increases at both sides and weighed the remaining yarn I realised I wasn’t really going to have enough to make a usable scarf. I kept going anyway, to see how the swinging would work out with a constant number of stitches. It proved tricky to keep the number of stitches (more or less) constant, given that short-row “fields” that impinge on an edge result in a large number of increases or decreases that aren’t balanced by decreases or increases on the opposite edge until some time later. Result: potential edge distortion. If any of the swatches I knitted last Spring had been anything other than rectangular, I’d have realised this a lot sooner. Clearly, the standard rhythm of short rows, and/or the choice of which type of field to knit next, needs to be adjusted when knitting anything with an increasing or decreasing edge.
Another, related issue I have discovered is that some forethought is needed with regard to field choice when there is a decreasing edge. Rather like playing chess, it’s necessary to look a few moves (fields) ahead to ensure that short row ends of a particular type (say right side to wrong side turns) get cancelled by the opposite variety before they reach the edge. In other words, when using safety pins of different colours to mark each type of turn, all the pins beneath a particular pair of stitches need to be removed before that inter-stitch gap becomes the edge of the work. Actually, I doubt it is strictly necessary to achieve this every time, but it seems logical that short rows ought to be completed, as far as possible, if fabric distortion is to be avoided.
Having a discrepancy in the number of stitches after some fields, compared with the number there would be for a non-swing version, is inevitable when one side or both is increasing or decreasing. For a swing-beginner such as myself, it was proving too difficult to count stitches and pin positions with all that going on as well as everything else. By the time I’d reached this stage, an inch or so beyond where the constant stitch section of the scarf started, I concluded I was fighting a losing battle.
I pulled it all out and cast on again for a narrower scarf knitted straight. I did a few calculations first to find out what number of stitches best worked with the formula or rhythm I’d chosen (7 / 1, 2, 3, 4 and 2-row furrows between the fields) to produce fields of different colours with this self-striping yarn. Answer: 32 stitches. It’s working out so far anyway.
With the bias version I was having to put in a lifeline after every field just so I could see at a glance where one ended and the next one started – you need to be able to see which field a pin is in for this technique. Now I don’t need to, the colour changes tell me all I need to know. Let’s hope that continues up the scarf.
I finished the cowl last weekend and sent it off on 2nd January, after I’d blocked it. I got an excited call a couple of days later – suffice to say, my friend is very pleased with her present. (And too polite to complain that it didn’t arrive until after Christmas.) I’m pleased with how it turned out too, to the extent that I’m planning to submit the design to a magazine for publication later in the year – they won’t be soliciting winter woollies patterns until the summer. Which is, I’m afraid, why I’m keeping the photos of the finished object under wraps for now.