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A few weeks ago I started working on a Visible Mending commission from the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Avid readers of my blog might remember the horror of this sleeve:

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

A sorry sleeve in desperate need of some Visible Mending love

The lovely people at the Knitting & Crochet Guild believe that this damage may have been caused by some corrosive fluid that might have spilt onto it during a flooding at their archives. And indeed, when I was trying to tidy up the holes before starting the repairs, the stained wool was so brittle it almost crumbled in my hands. I have collected this as the Guild might be able to get it analysed at a forensics lab. There were four small holes and one large whopper. What follows is not a repair tutorial; instead I wanted to give you an insight in the technicalities of this repair.

I first tackled the small holes with an advanced method of Swiss darning; or duplicate stitching as it’s also known. Usually you can simply embroider over the existing stitches, but to do this on a hole, you’ll first need to provide some support for the stitches you’re making with your tapestry needle. After that it’s simply a case of keeping track of the colours, just as if you were knitting the pattern.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 1

A framework made with sewing thread to support the new stitches as they are worked

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 2

Then the Swiss darning proper can commence, staying strictly in pattern of the original Fair Isle pattern

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 3

The completed Swiss darn. The top row grafts the new stitches to the old

Once this was completed on four small holes I could start with the large hole. I wanted to employ a technique I had found in a very old Dutch booklet on teaching darning and repair skills to girls (seeing this book was originally published in 1888, of course it would only be girls that would need to learn these skills at the time; the authors would probably be mystified why I would want to use this book in earnest!) For this mending technique you knit every row with a new strand or strands of yarn for each row. The beginning of the strands of yarn are Swiss darned in over the stitches of the original fabric, and after knitting the row, the ends are darned in, too. The last row which will close the hole up, is grafted in place.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 1

the first few rows completed; you can see the beginning of a new strand of yarn being darned into place

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 2

Grafting of the last row was also a patterned row. I used the Sock Toe Chimney grafting method, hence the bits of white cotton knitting that suddenly appeared

After finishing off all the ends it was time for a wash ‘n’ block and the excitement of seeing the finished Visible Mend was almost too much to bear for me – this surely must be the technically most demanding repair I’ve done to date.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Completed Close-up

The repaired areas blend in beautifully with the original Fair Isle fabric and colours

For this original Fair Isle hand-knit cardigan I wanted to stay close to its provenance. Therefore I wanted to use a Shetland wool for this repair. I settled on Jamieson & Smith’s Supreme jumper weight, as it comes in so many natural undyed shades. I set the camera on my mobile phone to take black-and-white pictures, and that way I chose the natural shades that came closest to the original colours, as seen in black-and-white. It turns out that the black-and-white filter on my phone gives different results than the one on my proper camera, as you will have to agree that in the following picture the Shetland Supreme shades look a bit lighter on the whole. Perhaps the light was different, too. Who knows.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in black and white

The finished cardigan in black-and-white

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in colour

 

And the cardigan “in glorious technicolor”

This weekend the Guild will have their annual convention and I’m pleased that this cardigan was ready in time to be shared with all Guild members. Angharad, volunteer Textile Archivist of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, emailed me to say she and her colleagues were very pleased with the end result, as they feel “it has made the garment into something very special whereas before it was very sad and folorn.” What a great result of such a lovely commission!

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I’ve known fellow glove knitting enthusiast Angharad Thomas for a few years now. Apart from knitting beautiful gloves she also volunteers for the Knitting & Crochet Guild as their Textiles Archivist. If you don’t know the guild, it was founded in Preston on 27 April 1978 for practitioners in the crafts of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet. It’s a charity that aims to tackle the subjects of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet at a higher technical level, encouraging critical approaches to technique and historical study and also recording contemporary developments.

Angharad approached me for a commission to visibly mend a beautiful hand-knitted Fair Isle cardigan they hold in their collections.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan Label

This Fair Isle cardigan bears a “Shetland Hand Knit” label, and a catalogue number from the Knitting & Crochet Guild archives.

The cardigan arrived last week and it’s given me an opportunity to explore the construction up close. The cardigan is a bit felted, possibly from having been washed in Fair Isle or Shetland after being knitted. Angharad doesn’t think it was ever worn as it was part of a donation that formed the earliest part of the collection (1991) from a person who bought knitwear as she visited places where it could be found, like Shetland; this was Audrie Stratford, who also wrote “Introducing Knitting.”

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan construction

The inside shows the sewn-down edges after cutting open the front opening and armholes

The cardigan has clearly been knitted in the round, as there are steek stitches that have been folded down. Both the neck and the armholes have been shaped, and there is no underarm gusset. The lack of an underarm gusset doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an uncomfortable garment to wear; Kate Davies has written about this in a blog post about a vintage Fair Isle cardigan she owes. The sleeves have been knitted in the round, too, after picking up stitches up from armhole; there are decreases along the underarm seam.

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan buttonband detail

A close-up of the buttonband; what appears to be the folded-over edge stitches overlap the buttonband, not the main fabric

Examining the buttonband up close, reveals that it has been sewn on afterwards. That the steek was knitted in garter stitch, but only for the part of the neck-shaping. I was so impressed by the neat finish of sewing down the folded over edge, that I ended up looking really closely, and then realised that the edge was not folded inward, but outwards. The steek stitches were purled, not knitted, using the background colour only, and then folded outwards. The buttonband hides this as by sewing down the very edge of it, the cut edge has been hidden. Then the edge of the fold is sewn down against the buttonband. However, it’s extremely difficult to be certain about this, as by using the same grey yarn and very neat sewing, it’s almost completely camouflaged. The pattern colour yarn is mostly hidden inside this fold. A new technique to be tried out!

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan deatil

A close-up of the underarm seam

The underarm seam also shows a very neat approach to the working in of yarn ends. The colours are carried up along the rounds until a whole motif has been knitted, leaving very few strands to work in at the end.

So far, so good, but perhaps you have started to wonder why the Knitting & Crochet Guild contacted me for a repair commission? There is a big hole in one of the sleeves. Angharad and her colleagues at the Guild think that the damage may possible be caused by caustic or corrosive liquids, perhaps in the flood that occurred at their Lee Mills archive some while ago.

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

The horror of a damaged sleeve!

Luckily I like a challenge and I’m really excited that the Guild has asked me to repair this beautiful cardigan. I’ll keep my repair strategy a secret until I’ve returned the mended cardigan to the Guild, but if anybody is familiar with the following old Dutch book on marking, darning and damask darning, I’ll be using one of the techniques it discusses.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken - merken, stoppen en mazen - The Feminine handicrafts: marking and darning

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning), written by A Theunisse and AM van der Velden in 1888, was written for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques.

Keep an eye out for the follow-up post where I will show you how this book has helped me repair this beautiful Fair Isle cardigan!

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan

 

A Visible Mending challenge given to me by the Knitting & Crochet Guild

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Today sees the launch of my Tom of da Peathill pattern, a fitted men’s Fair Isle cardigan inspired by the seven natural shades of Foula wool it was designed for.

TomOfDaPeathillCardigan4

Tom of da Peathill cardigan – alas, there are no peathills in Brighton to serve as a backdrop

When Magnus Holbourn approached me last year to ask what I thought of his Foula wool, I didn’t expect to end up working with him on a pattern. The minute the samples of yarn arrived, I was excited by the natural colours of the wool, and its very own character. Foula is the most isolated inhabited island in Britain, so it will come as no surprise that the strain of Shetland sheep on Foula is very old and has plenty of character.

balls of Foula wool in 7 natural shades

Seven shades of wonderful Foula wool: clockwise from top mioget, grey, black, moorit, light grey, fawn, and white in the centre

I tried out various patterns before settling on the combination shown in the cardigan. Having played around with many colours as part of my Aleatoric Fair Isle experiment last year, it was an interesting exercise to use only seven colours. This did make me more confident in putting the colours together in pleasing ways, and in fact, one of the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches guided me in the choice of some of the patterns in the cardigan.

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Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch No. 03

Tom of da Peathill Cardigan Back

The back of the cardigan. Can you spot the patterns from the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatch?

The cardigan is knitted in the round, with steek stitches for the front opening and the armholes. As the yarn is a sturdy DK weight, I didn’t want to use a method that would leave very bulky seams after cutting the steeks open. Therefore I employed the knotted steek method: before you cut, you need to drop down the steek stitches, so you get a massive ladder. The strands are then cut and knotted in pairs. To finish these after knitting front edges and sleeves, the strands are darned in. Once you’re in the rhythm, it goes quite quickly; you can find a knotted steek tutorial here.

knotted steek on Tom of da Peathill cardigan

The ends of the knotted steek have been darned in, dramatically reducing bulk, thus giving a very flat finish to the edges

And if you’re wondering about the name of the cardigan: I originally wanted to call it the Foula Cardigan, but Magnus was reminded of the peathills on Foula, and the way that the cut peat is stacked up to dry when he saw the cardigan. And who could resist a name that is so reminiscent of the very place where the wool comes from?

You can download the pattern from my Ravelry store here. And Magnus has put together a yarn kit for the cardigan here.

Last but not least, I also would like to take this opportunity to thank a few people who helped me along the way with my first garment knitting pattern: my comrades in wool, Felix and Kate, who have both been very encouraging. Anna Maltz for her cheery chats. And of course Magnus of Foula Wool, who started it all of. But most of all my partner Anthony, who is always supportive of my crafty pursuits, even if I occasionally struggle to keep my wool stash under control.

 

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Wovember 2013 is here!

Dear readers, Wovember 2013 has arrived! Another round of Woolly Wonders to be shared with the world. Like last year, I will be working hard, together with Kate Davies and Felicity Ford, to celebrate wool in all its myriad aspects. This means I will be a bit quiet on my own blog. You can join in with the fun over at WOVEMBER!

That said, I’m planning to track my WAL progress here. What is WAL? A WAL is a Wool-Along, where we invite Wovember blog readers to join in on a woolly project of your own choice, for the month of Wovember. More details on the Wovember blog.

wal_badge

 

I’m going to work on a new pair of woollen trousers, using a herringbone tweed I bought at the Jamieson’s of Shetland mill in Sandness, my first ever machine-knit cardigan, also in Shetland wool, and last but not least, I’m already working on a Fair Isle cardigan in Foula Wool. Come join us in a woolly project. What will you be working on?

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People often ask me: Tom, how do you manage to do so many projects? The answer is very simple: I love stitching on the train. My daily thirty-minute commute means I have at least one hour a day of crafting time, and I’ll have something to work on during lunch hour, too.

However, there is a limit to what is manageable on the train. My Foula Cardigan is making good progress, which is great news, but it does mean it is now becoming somewhat unwieldy.

FW_Cardigan_01

Foula Cardigan in progress

So I have been looking for a smaller project to take on the train. When I met Sandra Manson and Martin Curtis during Wool House back in March, they asked me to work on some cushion covers, using Jamieson & Smith’s Heritage yarn. The Heritage yarn is a bit different from their regular jumper weight yarns: first of all, the colours are based on jumpers from the Shetland Museum and Archives collection. This means they are all flat colours, as opposed to the current trend of heathered shades. Secondly, the Heritage yarns are worsted spun. Therefore the yarn is smooth, and stronger than the woollen spun jumper weight yarns: perfect to indulge in a spot of embroidery.

CC1_01

Shetland wool cushion, embroidered with Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

An easy project to take on the train, and it’s something I can do free-style. No need for patterns or charts to refer back to once in a while. No need to count stitches. I couldn’t help but use a stitch which I have been using a lot in darning lately: Scotch darning, although there are some other names going round for this stitch, too.

CC1_02

Meta-embroidery: the lot numbers of the ball bands found their way into the design

At work I have a scrap paper doodle pad, as I find that doodling helps me think through things, and often I end up incorporating words I hear, or numbers I see on my computer screen, and this habit is hard to supress. Indeed, I ended up stitching the lot numbers of the ball bands.

Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book is endlessly inspiring, and I was intrigued by the square fillings used in crewel work:

CC2_01

 

Patches of square filling stitches

Once you understand the principle, it is very easy to create your own variations. As the cushion cover fabric is very forgiving due to its thick, felted surface, it’s easy to try something and, if you don’t like it, to undo it again. No holes or other marks remain! I have made every patch free-handed. No measuring out or marking the fabric beforehand. This feels very natural, as my doodles are also often made up of grid-like structures that I fill in one way or another, and I relish the slight wonkiness this creates. To me it makes the rigid grids more alive.

CC2_02

 

Couching, back stitches, French knots, weaving, and satin stitches

As you can see, the needles have not been put back in their needle case. I don’t think this cushion cover is quite finished yet. So keep an eye out on the train, you might see me stitching away, adding a last flourish to this cushion.

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Due to my Dutch heritage I’m an avid coffee drinker, but living with an Irish man has shown me the joy of tea. Recently we switched from tea bags to loose tea leaves and we moved on from brewing in a cup to brewing in a new, shiny Brown Betty:

FW_TeaPot

The latest addition to our ever-expanding collection of crockery

But it looks like there’s something missing in this knitter’s household. One, where are the biscuits? And two, what about a Tea Cosy?

FW_TeaCozy

Tea pot with the obligatory tea cosy and biscuit tins

The stitch pattern is a classic honeycomb stitch, which, despite appearances, is a very easy slip stitch pattern. In other words, you only knit one colour at a time. However, I did use a genius technique to avoid the jog in the stripes on crown of the cozy. TECHknitter explains all on her blog – I used her so-called travelling jogless stripes variation. Can you see where I changed colour?

FW_TeaCozy_Stripes

Invisible change of colour on the crown of the cozy.

When I had finished the cosy, it looked a bit bare. In my mind a tea cosy needs a whimsical flourish on top. Enter i-cord. I made a long cord using all available colours, and added it to the crown of the cosy.

FW_TeaCozy_Top

I-cord crown in all its glory

I knitted this tea cosy using left-overs from a number of Fair Isle swatches, using Foula wool. Magnus and Justyna from Foula Wool have asked me to write a knitting pattern for a men’s cardigan, so I’ve been swatching like crazy. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instragram will have seen some swatches already.

FW_Cardigan_Swatch1

Foula Swatch Number 1

FW_Cardigan_Swatch2

Foula Swatch Number 2

FW_Cardigan_Swatch3

Foula Swatch Number 3

Knitting the swatches and the tea cozy has allowed me to get to know the yarn. It has a great handle and is full of character. And of course, I love the seven natural colours it comes in. As it’s a DK weight, it knits up quickly. As somebody asked me this on twitter: the swatches are knitted in the round, with additional steek stitches. These are knitted with both colours together. I only casted off the fabric, not the steek stitches, as these were all dropped down all the way. Then I cut all the loose strands and knotted them in pairs using a reef knot. For swatch two I made a calculation error, so I ended up with only three steek stitches, so I used a crochet reinforcement instead.

I have now selected the stitch patterns I want to use. If you want to know how the cardigan will turn out, you will have to be patient, as I will reveal the cardigan and knitting pattern during Wovember 2013. But don’t be surprised if I post some teaser pictures in the meantime.

The Tea Cosy is Ravelled here.

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WOVEMBER2012 is approaching fast, about which a bit more later. First, I want to tell you about a blanket I have just finished – just in time for Wovember! Having worked on a few projects which required a lot of thinking, I wanted to knit something from a pattern, so I didn’t have to think too much about what I was doing. Having ogled at Kate Davies’s beautiful Rams and Yowes Blanket ever since she released the pattern, the choice was quickly made. It’s knitted in nine, yes NINE! natural shades of Shetland wool. Just look at it:

Isn’t it just gorgeous? Kate has used this natural pallette to great effect in this very contemporary design. But there is more to this blanket than meets the eye. It juxtaposes modern design against traditional construction – although it also includes Kate’s very own ‘steek sandwich’, about which you can find more on her tutorial page.

The construction mostly follows that of a modern Shetland lace shawl (traditional Shetland lace shawls were knitted in pieces and made whole with a combination of picking up stitches and grafting together): first you knit the centre square, then you pick up stitches all around to start the border, lastly you finish it off by knitting on an edging. As Kate used a stranded colourwork technique, the centre square is actually knitted as a tube, as that makes that MUCH easier. The tube includes a few steek stitches. Once the tube is finished, the steek is cut, and you can open up the tube into a square.

Then you pick up stitches along all four edges of this square to start knitting the border in garter stitch; of course, as the border is knitted in the round, this means alternating knit rounds with purl rounds. In order for it to lie flat, the corners are mitred and I accentuated this by knitting the corner stitch on every round. It also neatly disguises the jog when you change colours.

Like a traditional lace shawl, this blanket also has an edging:

It may seem inconsequential, but this garter stitch border has an applied i-cord edging (difficult to see in this picture I’m afraid). As the border consists of a double layer (this hides the cut edges of the steek), it had a very soft rolling edge where it folds over from front to back. Adding an i-cord edge makes it look much sharper and finished. As each new colour is introduced on a purl row – often a no-no in colourwork knitting – they visually blend in really well. Genius! Here’s a shade card I made of all those gorgeous nine natural colours of Shetland fleece. The numbers refer to the Jamieson & Smith official shades:

I really like the steely grey of shaela and at some point I’d like a jumper knitted in just that colour. In the blanket, I particularly love the combination of sholmit against gaulmogot, although secretly the garter stitch border is my very favourite element. Although the design itself is not traditional, Kate has used some typical Fair Isle colour combination rules: both background and motif colour change within the pattern and these colour changes are usually mirrorred along the central axis.

Despite the appearance of the patterns, which shows highly stylised yowes (the Scottish word for ‘ewes’ or female sheep) and rams’ heads, this is not the easiest pattern to knit, due to the long floats at the back. I solved this by weaving in extra-long floats. Additionally, after washing the blanket, I ‘fulled the back’ by rubbing the back of the blanket with the palms of my hands. This starts the felting process, but you stop well before the knitted fabric turns into felt. This means that the floats start to integrate a bit with the knitted fabric, giving a neater finish.

I can’t think of a better blanket to celebrate Wovember2012 with! As I will be busy helping out over at Wovember, I will be spending less time on my own blog for the duration of it. In addition to all the admin side of getting blog posts together and scheduling them etc, I have also planned to sew a pair of woollen trousers, so I will be very busy indeed – come join me at WOVEMBER and share your love of WOOL with us!

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