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Archive for October, 2014

When I visited the Fries Museum earlier this year, their textile conservator, Gieneke Arnolli, showed me an old Dutch knitting book that I just couldn’t get out of my head. I felt it would be an indispensable addition to my knitting library, but it took me a while to find a copy of this book.

a better course in knitting - breien in betere banen

A Better Course in Knitting – “Het Breien in Betere Banen” by L De Vries-Hamburger

Het Breien in Betere Banen, which I think translates best into A Better Course in Knitting was written by L De Vries-Hamburger and published in 1949 by DA Daamen’s Uitgeversmaatschappij n.v., ‘s-Gravenhage, The Netherlands (you may know ‘s-Gravenhage better as Den Haag.) So far I have not been able to learn much about De Vries-Hamburger. From the introduction I know she taught knitting after the Second World War, and she wrote this book as result of many requests by her students.

The introduction is an essay about her one-woman quest to shift knitting from the realm of domestic craft to that of applied arts, and an attempt at creating a new folk art movement. De Vries-Hamburger recoils at the thought of knitting patterns written out row by row, as this will lead to the mind-numbing copying of someone else’s creative thoughts. She makes this very clear in the opening paragraph:

What is the purpose of this book?

Is it necessary that another new item is added to the reams of existing ones and is the publication justified?

Those that speak thus expect a knitting book, preferably brimful with new patterns.

This book, although it deals with knitting, is not that book.

She feels that every girl and woman is capable of creating unique garments, and following knitting patterns to the letter can never be fully satisfactory. Handicrafts can be much more than that! This book aims to point out possibilities and make knitters more confident in their own abilities.

BreienInBetereBanenSidewaysKnit

left: blouse designed by the wearer and knitter, aged 16; right: both dresses designed and created by the wearer: no. 1 by a girl aged 9, no. 2 by a girl aged 11. De body of dress 1 is knitted in red and white cotton; the other in pale yellow, white, and rust-brown cotton. Skirts and sleeves made from cotton fabric

So, this book then doesn’t give you any knitting patterns, but plenty of hints and tips on how to approach the knitting of garments. De Vries-Hamburger is a fan of knitting from the top, as she feels it’s easier to try on works in progress on and ensure a good fit. When knitting from the top is not desirable for whatever reason, she advocates knitting the ribbing last. The knitting starts with the main part of the body or sleeve. These then get blocked and sewn up, and the ribbing is knitted in the round from the cast-on edge down. This way it’s easier to adjust length, or replace fraying cuffs and welts.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Creating tweed effects by using two or more colours in a “mistake rib” pattern

This book was written not long after the Second World War, and in one section where this becomes apparent is on how to create colourful fabrics without resorting to stranded colourwork. Yes, stranded colourwork is good way of using up odds and ends, but she points out that by playing around with mistake rib (cast on an ODD number of stitches, then K2, P2 to end (you’ll end with 1 knit or 1 purl); turn work, and again K2, P2 to end (again you’ll end with 1 knit or 1 purl) and using more than one colour can be even more economical. The purls on top of knits in different colours create pleasing tweed effects. By using double-pointed needles it is possible to knit the right side of the fabric more than once, by sliding it back to the other side of the needle once a row is knitted. This way it’s possible to knit odd numbered repeats. For instance in the little swatch above, in the top section I knitted two rows in white, and one in blue.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Creating dazzling effects with simple stitch patterns on top, and using short-rows for shaping fabrics

However, De Vries-Hamburger also likes to play with colour in a more traditional way and has lots of lovely examples of stranded colourwork. She even devotes a whole section on sideways knitting (knitting from side seam to side seam instead of knitting from top to bottom or vice versa,) and how a few simple stranded colourwork rows can look very sophisticated when used this way, such as the blouses shown in the second picture.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Short-row shaping used to great effect in this detail for a gored skirt

I feel that De Vries-Hamburger really understands knitting and the qualities of knitted fabric. She is very clear on why knitting is a unique way of creating fabric, as it is possible to shape it whilst you create it. Compare this to sewing, where one uses a piece of cloth, which needs to be cut to make the shaping. With this in mind, she believes that a knitter should start by asking: what kind of fabric do I need to make this item fit for purpose, and once this is determined, start looking what yarns and stitches will lead to the desired effect. This in contrast to what often happens: a knitter has some pretty yarn and a stitch dictionary, and then tries to find a garment  to which these can be applied.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Some of the inspirational images in “Het Breien in Betere Banen”

As has been made clear to the knitter and reader in the introduction, this book does not contain a single knitting pattern. However, it is full of inspirational pictures, which De Vries-Hamburger hopes will be a starting point on an exciting creative journey for the intrepid knitter.

Reading this book, which was written in 1949, I came across many prescient ideas that resonate with latter-day knitters who probably have never heard of De Vries-Hamburger. To name a few: Barbara Walker advocates knitting from the top in order to create well-fitting garments. The inimitable and opinionated Elizabeth Zimmermann also wanted to free knitters from the yoke of the knitting pattern and preferred to give knitters “recipes” in which they can plug in their own ideas. And even finding links to the 21st Century is not difficult: Amy Twigger-Holroyd‘s PhD research on home-made fashion, sustainability, and design is partly based on the believe in the inate creativity of knitters to design and adapt their own clothes – something she calls Folk Fashion.

So, why did I decide to use a herringbone tweed fabric as a backdrop for my pictures?

a better course in knitting - breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger men's outfit

An inspiring outfit!

I was smitten by the only men’s garment in this book. It is knitted in alternating stripes of brioche rib, and honeycomb brioche (if you want to know more about brioche stitches, then look no further than Nancy Marchant; what she doesn’t know about brioche stitch is not worth knowing.) As you may have gathered, there is no pattern for this jumper, and I have done a lot of swatching to arrive at the right fabric. I also happen to have a length of herringbone tweed I purchased from Jamieson’s of Shetland during Shetland Wool Week last week.

Taking a leaf out of De Vries-Hamburger’s book so to speak, I started with thinking about the fabric I wanted to make for this jumper, and then started to look for an appropriate yarn. I ended up with a very surprising choice: Blacker Swan merino 4-ply. I’m usually not a fan of merino yarns. Yes, they’re soft, and yes, they take dye beautifully, but they seem to lack any character. I also have a notion (unsubstantiated at this point) that the merino fibres finding their way into hand-knitting yarns are often not the best quality that can be offered by merino sheep. I have more than once been disappointed in the amount of pilling that ensues after a few wears. On top of that merino is often treated to be superwash, which to my mind alters the handle of the yarn unfavourably. Blacker Swan seems to be different, and although this may be due to the fact it has some Shetland fibre mixed in, I’m more than willing to give merino a chance once more.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - brioche stitch swatch

A whole outfit in the making

I’m looking forward to cast on and start knitting, and use my long Christmas break to make a smashing pair of tweed trousers and keep you updated on my progress. And, of course, to let you know how I got on with my renewed interest in merino wool.

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When Magnus from Foula Wool asked me last year to design a pattern for a men’s cardigan using his Foula Wool, I did not only delight in all the natural colours it comes in, but also by its texture. After I designed the cardigan I kept playing with the wool, and decided to try out some travelling stitches (also known as twisted stitches or Bavarian cables.)

I’m pleased to say that I managed to persuade Magnus that textured knits also work well in his yarn, and that it would be shame to limit his patterns to colourwork only. And here, dear readers, is the end result of my pleading:

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

Crofters Mittens, showing a Celtic knot design on the back, and a twisted garter rib on the palm

The Crofters Mittens are designed to show off the excellent stitch definition of the Foula wool, and comes in three sizes (please note: cuff not included, which measures 2″ when folded back on itself):

Small: 7.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 7.5”

Medium: 8” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8”

Large: 8.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8.5”

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

The first half of the ribbing is knitted on a bigger needle than the second half; this means the ribbing folds over nicely at the midway line and falls right into place

This pattern assumes you know how to knit twisted stitches and how to knit in the round using the Magic Loop technique. The mittens start of with a tubular cast-on. The first half of the ribbed cuff is knitted on slightly larger needles than the second of the cuff, to ensure it folds over neatly. The wrist is knitted in stocking stitch. The hand and the thumb are knitted in twisted stitches throughout. The shaping of the top at the back of the hand is cleverly hidden within the pattern.

The following special techniques are used in making these mittens:
Tubular cast-on with waste yarn, the tutorial follows below!
Twisted stitches (sometimes known as travelling stitches or Bavarian stitches, see Donna Druchunas’s detailed explanation of a number of techniques here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEff12/FEATff12EK.php I prefer the technique that doesn’t require a cable needle)
Twisted decreases (see abbreviations for explanation)
Magic Loop with long circular needle (see Kristin Fraser’s explanation here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEss14/FEATss14VT.php)

Of course, a pattern launch by me would not be complete without a tutorial! So, today I want to show you how I did the tubular cast-on for these mittens. I used to favour what’s usually called the Italian cast-on or alternating cast-on, which is a variation of the long-tail cast-on (although the needle movements are completely different.) But after reading Catherine Lowe‘s The Ravell’d Sleeve, I tried out her method and it gives me better results, and doesn’t depend on accurately maintaining the tension of your cast-on in order to look good.

You can buy the Crofters Mittens pattern here.

Tubular Cast-On Using Waste Yarn for Knitting in the Round

Assuming you want an even number of stitches for a 1×1 ribbing, first calculate how many stitches you need to cast on. If your ribbing is X stitches in the round, then add 2 to X. Then divide this by 2. This is how many stitches you will need to cast-on (for example, if your ribbing will be 52 stitches in the round, then 52 + 2 = 54, 54 / 2 = 27, so cast on 27 stitches.) Using smooth waste yarn and a circular needle one size smaller than you want to use for your ribbing, very loosely cast on calculated number of stitches with the long-tail cast-on method. Make sure to space the stitches far apart to create lots of stretch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 01

long-tail cast-on with stitches spread wide apart

Now knit across the first row. At the end of the row, break off the waste yarn and attach the main yarn to the tail of the waste yarn. Turn work and then purl across to the end, then turn your work again.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 02

One row knitted with waste yarn, followed by a purl row in the main yarn

Now the fun begins! * knit 1, then increase by purling into the running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch *, repeat from * to * to the last two stitches, and knit 1, purl 1. You have now reached the end of the row. Turn your work one more time.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 03

The running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch is clearly visible just underneath the left needle tipTubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 04

With the left needle, you can lift up the running thread so it’s easier to work

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 05

The purl increase in the running thread completed

This is the last row worked flat. * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end. You have just ended on a purl stitch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 06

The purl stitch is slipped from the left needle to the right needle without working it. Notice that the working thread has been brought to the front before slipping the stitch

You are now ready to join in the round. You can place a marker if you find this easier to find the beginning of the round. I’m using the Magic Loop technique. So, here goes: join in the round, and again * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end.. The tubular cast-on is now completed.

Now change your needle size to the one you wanted to use for your ribbing and knit the knits and purl the purls (so no more slipping of stitches.)

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 07

Tubular knitting of an extremely small tube in progress

You can leave the waste yarn in place until you have finished the object you’re making.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 08

One tiny tube of knitting. The waste yarn was left in place

Once you’re ready to remove it, first unpick the knot holding the main yarn tied to the waste yarn, then very carefully cut off the cast-on row with scissors. As there’s an additional row of waste yarn, it should be quite easy to stay away from the edge of the ribbing.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 09

The cutting of the cast-on row has started

 Once the cast-on row has been cut off, it should be fairly easy to unpick the remainder of the threads. Depending on where exactly you cut, you may be left with one last row of waste yarn peaking out of the ribbing. This is easily removed by carefully pulling on the waste yarn: it will come out as one strand.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 10

As I cut close to the cast-on edge, I had a row of waste yarn remaining after I removed all the cut ends

All the is left to do, is use some judicious darning in of the yarn tail, et voila, your tubular cast-on is complete!

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 11

One tube with tubular cast-on. Can you work out where the beginning of the row was?

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I have a drawer full of tea towels. Some of them are new, some of them are special, and some of them have seen better days.
Tatty Tea Towels Repair Dialogue
Two tatty tea towels
Always on the look-out for new mending projects, I’m going to find an answer to the question “How to repair a pair of tatty tea towels?” I’m not going to find out on my own though; and it won’t be the only question we will seek to answer. My friend and fellow mender and maker Bridget Harvey and I first met at the MendRS Symposium in 2012, so when I was thinking about repairing together, I knew she’d be the perfect partner for a Repair Dialogue.
The Repair Dialogue involves two menders, two towels, two questions and two end results. Once the repairs have been completed, one towel is to remain functional so it’s still fit for purpose. The other towel can become non-functional.
Repair Dialogue - Functional Towel
This towel is to remain fit for purpose
At the moment, Bridget has the “functional tea towel” and I have the “non-functional tea towel.” Each of us will do a repair, post the towel to the other, and then pick up the repair where the other left off. I’m looking forward to see what we’ll come up with, and how our repairs will influence each other.
Repair Dialogue - non-functional towel
And this towel can become non-functional
Thinking about when a tea towel is still fit for purpose is going to be an interesting question to answer. It’d be easy to just add some patches and be done with it, but that would be an easy solution, and far from thought-provoking. Both Bridget and I are excited about using these towels as a vehicle to explore the boundaries and finding out when a repair crosses over from functional to non-functional. I often discuss this at my darning master classes, as a functional repair requires certain materials and techniques. For instance, darning a hole in a fine gauge machine-knitted sock with a bulky yarn would be uncomfortable to wear. On the other hand, repairing moth holes in a jumper with that same bulky yarn might lead to spectacular results.
Repair Dialogue - non-functional towel detail
A challenge lying ahead in the functional repair category
Everyday textiles can have a very interesting story to tell, and whenever I use these towels, my thoughts go back to when I first lived on my own:
After I graduated in 1997, I moved to Amsterdam for my first job as a radiotherapy radiographer, and I found a teeny tiny house to live in. I furnished it with things gathered from many different sources. An old sofa that once belonged to my parents, now long gone. A small dining table from a colleague in exchange for home-made biscuits (yes, it’s the very table that still features as a backdrop in many of my pictures now.) A table lamp bought by my godmother on a shopping trip together. The tea towels however, I bought myself. They come from a Dutch department store called the HEMA*; they make everything under their own label, and most of their stuff is very reasonably priced and has a plain and modern look to it. I picked this particular pattern as I liked the reference to traditional textiles from the Brabant province. In the UK you might refer to this pattern as ‘gingham’ but in Dutch we call it ‘Brabants bont.’
Repair Dialogue - non-functional towel detail
The non-functional towel has a different challenge
The towels have served me well and I’m a bit sad to see that they are now so well-used that they have started to disintegrate. One of the towels has a very old grey/brown mark on it from straining home-made chicken stock as I didn’t have the more usual cheesecloth used for this purpose. The debris left in the towel after straining stained it and subsequently refused to shift in the wash. That’s okay with me. Although stained, the towel is clean and still dries dishes very well. As both Bridget and I have a lot of other things on I don’t expect them to be fully repaired any time soon, but I I’m really looking forward to the outcome of our Repair Dialogue and sharing the progress and findings on my blog. I hope you will, too!
 ——————

*) Hema opened a store in London this year: http://www.hemashop.com/gb/.

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