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Posts Tagged ‘lace’

As a knitter, I’m somebody who likes to plan ahead. I knit numerous swatches; I try out new techniques and compare them with firm favourites; I take gauge measurements; I sketch and calculate. I knit up accordingly. This doesn’t mean I always get it right, but that’s okay. I will have learnt something new, and I can use that knowledge when planning the next thing. But in the last couple of years or so, I have been exposed to other methods of working. A more carefree and let’s-see-what-happens approach. A good example, and great inspiration, is the work by Rachael Matthews who runs Prick Your Finger.

Rachael Matthews Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael Matthews’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives contains a cornucopia of textile techniques. Hand knitting, machine knitting, crochet, darning, and who knows what else, all find their way into the shamanic bedspread. Ideas come into her head and these magically flow into her hands and make a fabric, as she comes up with them. Some of these will work, and others will not. Knitting and crocheting allows one to shape the fabric while making it, this in contrast to woven fabrics, where one has to cut and sew to shape it. In addition, knitting and crocheting can easily be undone without loss of material. It is possible to use the ripped out yarn and try again. So if an idea doesn’t work, then it’s a lesson learnt that can be put to use straightaway. It’s even possible to start something without knowing what the end result will be, like Rachael’s Explosion Jumper.

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Embroidered Cushion Cover, exploring Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

I find this way of working, when it comes to knitting, quite a challenge. With decorational techniques (for want of a better description) I struggle less with this approach. For instance, the embroidery on the cushion cover pictured above was done free-style, without any planning whatsoever. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@tomofholland) will have seen the doodles I occasionally post. Embroidering this cushion was like doodling with needle and thread.

Slowly but surely, I’m opening up to allow my knitting also to be more free-style, and less planned. It’s a shift in thinking that wakes me up, and it allows me to use my knowledge of techniques in a different way. It started with a simple bath mat. Having worked with Sue Craig on the Knitting The Map project (more on that in a later blog post), I had developed an obsession with stripes in garterstitch. Rachael selected eight shades for me from Prick Your Finger’s carpet yarn range, reminiscent of Bauhaus colours.

knitted rug in garterstitch by tomofholland

Knitted bath mat in garterstitch

Although I had made a lot of doodles (none of them larger than approximately 4 x 7cm), I didn’t plan anything before casting on. Yes, I knitted a swatch to select the right needle size for the fabric I wanted, but after that I just started at one corner and came up with the patterns and colours as I went along. I only decided on the construction after knitting the bottom strip. It was a departure of the planned object, the self-imposed constrictions and the letting go of expectations.

inspirational craft books

Inspiration for creative knitting: C Nieuwhoff: Anders Breien en Haken; M McNeill: Pulled Thread; M Walker Phillips: Creative Knitting; M Stove: Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace; A Sutton: British Craft Textiles; S Read (editor): Wild Knitting; E Mairet: Hand-weaving Today

These are just some of my books in my craft library in which the author in some way or other speaks about, or shows, how to let go of the regimented way of working, but instead letting materials or techniques guide the way. The compendium by Ann Sutton is a showcase of British textile artists working with a huge variety of techniques. Wild Knitting shows that knitting doesn’t have to stop with jumpers and socks. Margaret Stove shows how to create your own lace patterns, after explaining how lace stitches work together. Moyra McNeill and Constance Nieuwhoff both use traditional techniques in new, sometimes unexpected, applications. Ethel Mairet talks about letting materials and colours speak for themselves, and she often used simple techniques to show these off.

It all seems to come together in Mary Walker Phillips’s Creative Knitting. A weaver by trade, she became a very accomplished knitter with a sound knowledge of knitting techniques; she also spins and dyes. She explains how she uses vastly different materials, from artificial straw to handspun linen, and how these have an influence on the techniques she uses. Mostly her art pieces are wallhangings, casement curtains or other lacy structures, incorporating pieces of mica, pebbles, or beads. I find these pieces particularly inspiring at the moment.

Lace sample in handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn

Handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn and lace sample

The lace sample above was a quick study in mixing and matching lace stitches, using handspun Rough Fell 2-ply yarn. I like the contrast between the kempy, hairy and wire-like yarn, and the lace stitches, which are more usually executed in, for instance, a fine and soft Shetland yarn. This is just a starting point, and I will be creating more samples of both yarn and stitches this year, and be guided by my newfound approach to creative knitting. And in true Rachael-style, I don’t quite know where this will lead me, but I’m excited to start this journey and will be reporting back on my blog.

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Post-script (added 1 March 2014): perhaps my view on how Rachael appears to create her work was somewhat romanticised and simplified in my head, so please check out the comments on this post below, where Rachael has responded to my writing.

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It must’ve been almost a year ago now, that my mother asked me to knit her a lace scarf. For some reason, this was quite a big thing for me. My mother used to be a really good knitter (she doesn’t knit much anymore), although I don’t remember her ever knitting lace. Nonetheless, I knew she would really appreciate the skill, time and effort involved in knitting a lace scarf, which is something that non-knitters don’t really seem to get somehow. But it also felt as an acknowledgement that I, a man, and her son, can actually also be taken seriously as a knitter.

Originally I was going to knit a scarf from Jane Sowerby’s Victorian Lace Today (it was to be the Melon Pattern for a shawl or scarf, since you ask), but I just didn’t fancy knitting one long strip of the same pattern. So I set myself a small challenge, and I decided to design my own scarf. To make the chosing patterns a bit easier from all the lace knitting books I have, I was only allowed to use stitch patterns from Sarah Don’s The Art of Shetland Lace. I have always liked the look of Print o’ the Wave, so I went for a more elaborate variation of this for the centre of the scarf. I think you can see here how this name must have come about, it really does look like the ripples left on a sandy beach when the tide goes out:

This is one of the few traditional Shetland patterns on a stocking stitch ground (they are more often than not garter stitch based). So I wanted the border pattern also to be based on stocking stitch. As Print o’ the Wave is something left behind by the sea, I liked the idea of contrasting this with something left behind by a land-based thing. So I chose Fir Cone, with its pleasing curving stocking stitch columns wending their way around the fir cones:

Chosing the lace edging proved more difficult: I had already knitted the centre and borders, before I had finally decided on the lace edging. I didn’t really like any the separate edging samples in Don’s book for this scarf, so after much deliberation, I chose the edging from “Baby’s Shawl in Several Patterns”.

One of the elements that I really like of this particular lace edging, is the faggotting along the straight edge. As you can see, the lace holes are elongated and alternate slanting to the left and the right. But unlike the Print o’ the Wave and the Fir Cone patterns, which are very organic in their design and therefore easy to memorise (after knitting one repeat of either, I didn’t have to refer back to my charts, which really speeds up the knitting), this lace edging turned out to be more elusive.

If you study the top chart (you can click on the picture for a close-up view), you can see that the yarnovers and the decreases keep changing their relative positions in the centre and right side of the chart. The zigzag points were easy to comprehend – they are a standard design element. But even after highlighting the yarnovers on the bottom chart, I just could not get this pattern in my head and I had to refer to the chart for every row every single time. On paper, placement of the decrease on the left or the right side of a yarnover made sense, but once on the needles, they suddenly seemed randomly placed. But looking at the end result, I’m very pleased to have persevered. I’m very proud of this scarf, and I hope I have done my mother proud, too.

Raveled here.

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In an earlier post I mentioned Susan Crawford had asked me to help her out with knitting for her new book, A Stitch In Time 2. I guess it would’ve been a leap of faith for her, as she had only seen some of my project pictures on Ravelry after Louise from Prick Your Finger had said that I might be up for it.

When Susan emailed me the original pattern I was thrilled:

I recognised the pattern as “Frost Flowers” from Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It features on its cover! Despite appearances, it is a very easy lace pattern. It consists of only two rows (granted, there is shaping on both rows, no rest rows here!). These get repeated three times, and then the pattern shifts by a half-drop for another three repeats of the two rows.

I ended up in an email conversation with Susan (I hope to meet her in person this Saturday at last) and she explained to me how she approaches rewriting vintage patterns:

“With the vintage patterns I tend not to add specific techniques that weren’t in the original pattern to the instructions that I provide. However, I would encourage any knitter to improve where they think it can be improved upon, but for historical integrity I remain as true to the original pattern as I can whilst trying to make the pattern easier for the knitter to use.”

This is no mean feat, as nowadays, we expect most patterns to be written in multiple sizes. This can be difficult, especially if you have a large pattern repeat like this one. You cannot just add a few stitches here and there, as this would mess up your pattern repeats. In some cases, changing size can be done by choosing different weight yarns and/or playing with needle size (the Kasha cardigan linked above is a good example of this). Luckily Susan is an excellent designer, and she is an expert in grading designs. This meant however, I didn’t get to sew up, as Susan needed the unblocked separate pieces to work out sizes. If I have to believe the many blog posts on Ravelry, I’m in the minority of actually enjoying the sewing up process; posting the pieces back as they were was somewhat unsatisfactory, so I’m doubly pleased to see the end result:

I want all my knitwear to be photographed professionally from now on!

The Lady’s Evening Jumper’s original instructions left a lot to be desired. One shoulder would’ve been lopsided and more than one pattern repeat would’ve been messed up. Luckily I have an eye for detail (although my partner would probably call me overly fussy) and I think I managed to catch them all out.

Apart from the gorgeous lace pattern, this jumper has a unique solution for shaping darts. The darts are all horizontal: you cast off in the middle of a row and on the return row you cast on a larger amount of stitches than you cast off (adding up to an additional pattern repeat). As part of the finishing, you gather the cast-on row and sew it on the cast-off row. As you can see in the pictures above, this makes for an neatly integrated and almost invisible increase, as the darts are judiciously placed (two under the bust, one on the back and one in each sleeve).

The jumper is knitted in Fyberspates Scrumptious laceweight, and this makes the jumper very glamorous. However, I did knit a little practice swatch in white Jamieson’s shetland cobweb, and that also came out looking very beautiful, and I found that the decrease lines appeared accentuated a bit more due to the light colour, so I would love to see somebody knitting this up in a lighter colour, just to see the difference.

I also asked Susan how this jumper would originally been worn, and she replied: “…in the 40s women usually wore a slip or vest under their outer clothes so would have probably sewn one to coordinate with the sweater. As it is an evening sweater I would imagine a silk slip would have been made. [It] May even have been worn over a dress on occasion.”

It is definitely a jumper for Occasions!

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I have been very very very busy knitting a Shetland Lace Shawl for a cousin. She will be doing her Holy Communion soon and her mum asked me to knit her a lace shawl to wear. I had to put everything else I was working on on hold to ensure it would be finished in time. I chose to use a modern construction: start with the center, pick up all around and knit the border outwards on a circular needle. The lace edging was knitted on. This was probably the fastest method, but the next Shetland Lace Shawl will be constructed in the traditional manner, so loads of grafting to look forward too. Anyway, here’s the result!

As you can see, it’s still being blocked. It measures 50x50in.

A close-up of the border. The diamond pattern is the traditional “rosebud” stitch.

And the lace edging. I designed the lace edging myself: it has some fagotting, then a small bead strip, triangles with lace holes and the diamonds are based on the rosebud pattern from the border, but this time the shaping happens on each row – no “rest” rows here!

Phew!

Now I can relax and finish my socks.

Raveled here.

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