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Posts Tagged ‘merino’

Some time last year I wrote about my intentions of knitting a sweater, based on a picture from an 1950s Dutch knitting book called Het Breien in Betere Banen, or A Better Course in Knitting:

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

Although this book deals with knitting, it doesn’t contain a single pattern for garments. Nevertheless, it is scattered with inspirational outfits, one of which was this beautiful sweater, knitted in alternating textural stripes of brioche rib and honeycomb brioche.

As you can see, the original sweater is very much of its time, with its high waist and tight fit. Not a shape I would want to wear, but almost everything else about it I love: the texture of brioche stitch, the zips, the small pockets at the waist line, referred to in the book as “ticket pockets” and the collar. The only thing I wasn’t so keen on were the chest pockets, but they could easily be left out.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

Me posing in a decidedly urban setting

For this sweater I spent a lot of time swatching and calculating, to arrive at the right fabric and shape. Apart from the hints and tips from the Dutch book, I also used a lot of ideas from Catherine Lowe’s book on couture knitting techniques The Ravell’d Sleeve. I thought a lot about the right selvedges to use to make seaming up easier, using bound edges to create a finished look, and using many needle sizes to make a good ribbing and transition from ribbing to main fabric.

brioche sweater sleeve

The sleeve cap has been fully shaped for a nicely set-in sleeve. You can also see the waste yarn at the ribbing that helped me make a very nice tubular cast-on

One of the things I’m particularly happy with, are the sleeves. Knitting is a very forgiving fabric as it is so stretchy, and many knitting patterns nowadays do away with a curved sleeve cap as things will kind of find their way after a few wears. It is also a nightmare for pattern writers to write up the instructions for a fully curved sleeve cap, as the decrease rate changes every few rows, so many knitting patterns don’t bother. But as I didn’t have to worry about that, I could do exactly as I pleased and I made fully curved sleeve caps (as an aside, some knitting pattern writers did use nicely shaped sleeve caps, such as James Norbury.)

brioche sweater cuff

Tubular cast-on and 1×1 ribbing and about five different needle sizes to keep the ribbing under control

I’m also really pleased with the ribbing on the sleeve cuffs and the welts. I decided to use Lowe’s preferred method of a tubular cast-on with waste yarn. I find that using the waste yarn method (you can still see it in the picture of the unseamed sleeve, as I only took it out after final assembly) it is much easier to be consistent with the cast-on. I used to favour the Italian cast-on, also sometimes known as the alternate cast-on, but that relies on attempting to be consistent with the tension whilst casting on. A bit of a challenge when casting on roughly 180 stitches! As a tubular cast-on looks very nice, but isn’t necessarily that resilient, Lowe advocates the use of a very small needle size for the casting on, and then gradually increasing the needle size as the ribbing is worked. To make the transition from ribbing to main fabric smoothly, the first inch or so of the main fabric is also knitted in a smaller needle size than the bulk of it.

brioche sweater collar

The collar of the sweater has bound edges for a neat finish

Another area where I used graduating needle sizes was the collar. The outside edge of the collar was knitted on a large needle size, and then I gradually moved to smaller needle sizes to give the collara curved shape. It’s barely noticable I used this trick, and that makes it extra satisfying. No decreases to distort the honeycomb brioche! Speaking of which, I found Nancy Marchant’s book on brioche knitting indispensable in chosing the right increase and decrease techniques. Brioche stitches are not like your regular knitting, as they are built up by slipping stitches whilst making a yarn-over at the same time, alternated with knitting together the slipped stitches with their buddy yarn-overs. This has all sorts of implications, which Nancy is much better at explaining than I am.

brioche sweater set-in sleeve

The set-in sleeve cap, with perfectly matched stripes

I also managed to perfectly match the stripes when I seamed the sleeve into the armscye. I wasn’t sure whether this would work out, as this area of pattern matching was elusive. I haven’t found any resource that explains how you can ensure that the shaping you come up with for sleeve cap and armscye will allow you to match stripes perfectly. All the tutorials I found were for sewing patterns, and they all start with: check that your sewing pattern is suitable for stripes, otherwise you will not be able to match them at the armscye seam. But surely somebody must have designed it to be so to start with?

brioche sweater in merino

The brioche sweater was knitted in merino, a surprising choice for me!

The author of the Dutch book, De Vries-Hamburger, explained how she feels you arrive at the best results if you think about the fabric you want to achieve and then find yarn to match rather than starting with the yarn and then hoping to find a suitable pattern to go with it, and I wanted to put that theory to the test. And I ended up with a surprising choice: merino! Im not usually a fan of merino. It’s often only good at two things: it’s very soft, and it takes colours well. I don’t find it performs very well as a hand-knitting yarn. It’s often superwash treated, which affects the handle, and it often starts pilling very quickly. The Blacker Swan merino 4-ply I chose, however, seems to be different from what I’ve experienced before and it is more lively, and a has nice handle as well as being soft. So far I don’t regret my choice!

A few days ago I met up with my dear friend and comrade in wool, Felicity “Felix” Ford, and we had a lot of fun taking these pictures, so I’ll part this blog post with some more gratuitous photographs of my sweater. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much I did taking them with her!

brioche sweater side view

The triumph of the set-in sleeve

brioche sweater collar with zip

The collar with its bound edges

brioche sweater ticket pocket

The ticket pocket

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Well over a year ago I was in Prick Your Finger and somebody was in the shop, spinning at a spinning wheel. Seeing that I like all things woolly, I was most intrigued. As spinning wheels are a serious investment, I thought I could explore the art of spinning by starting off on a cheap spindle and some fleece. The fleece was rather special, yet of unknown provenance as far as breeds go. It was called “M25” fleece, which was unwanted fleece they had gathered for within the M25 for their installation at the Stanley Picker Gallery. Unhindered by any knowledge of fibre preparation I made an attempt at spinning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t do a very good job of it and in fact, I didn’t even enjoy the process. But, as you can see in the following picture, things have changed since:

HSOverview

two spindles, Wensleydale combed tops, textured merino yarn, two ply M25 yarn, dyed Portland

Somehow I couldn’t let go of the dream of spinning my own yarn and late last year, in fact, just before the start of Wovember2012, I had a chat with Felix, as she had been spinning for a little while and I decided to plunge in again. This time I bought myself a nice spindle:

HSSpindleIST

22 gram Spindle from Ian Tait, shaft from Ash, whorl from Sycamore with a pippy Yew finish

I got my spindle from IST Crafts and it is a thing of beauty. The shaft is made from Ash, the whorl is made from Sycamore, and is finished with a layer of pippy Yew. It is extremely well-balanced, and the whorl is rim-weighted, so it keeps spinning. I also availed myself of two books:

HSYourHandspinning

Your Handspinning, by Elsie G Davenport

Your Handspinning by Elsie G Davenport was originally published in the 1950s and is considered a classic by many. I was lucky to find it in a secondhand bookshop. It takes you through all the basics of spinning on a spindle and a wheel. But for me, one book on a subject is never enough*, so I also bought the following book:

HSRespectTheSpindle

Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont

It’s Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont, and she covers a lot of ground, going into great detail of the intricacies of spinning with a spindle. Well worth the investment if you when you’re starting out.

At the same time my spindle arrived in the post, Felix had very kindly put together a parcel full of fibre to play with. It was all ready to be spun, so I didn’t have to worry about combing or carding it.

Here’s one of my very-first-for-the-second-time handspun:

HSMerinoUnintentional

handspun Merino

As you can see, it’s is rather textured. Anyone who spins will recognise the unintentional thick and thin nature of this first handspun yarn. But it didn’t take me that long to get more consistent; just spin for 15-30min each day and slowly but surely it starts to get easier and easier. I started of with the park-and-draft technique, explained in detail in Abby Franquemont’s video here. In fact, I find her video very instructional and although she made it well before her book was published, they go together well. I spun all the Merino, then some Masham, Jacob and also some Shetland: Felix’s parcel was stuffed full of goodies!

However, I still had that bag of washed, but otherwise unprepared M25 fleece. So Felix came to visit and she brought along some of her spinning tools. Of course a spindle, but also some hand carders and mini combs. I took to the combs with vigour and I really enjoyed prepping the fibre and I worked my way through the bag in no time. We noticed a few locks were coarses than others, so I processsed that separately. Once spun up and plied, you can see how the coarser fleece has turned into a yarn with a bit more halo:

HSM25Both

M25 fleece, combed and spun by myself. Coarse fibre yarn at the front, finer fibre yarn at the back.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so proud of this achievement and the difference between fibre quality within a fleece shows so well in these two yarns, that I just have to share some close-ups:

HSM25Fine

M25 fleece, finer fibre yarn

HSM25Coarse

M25 fleece, coarse fibre yarn

Aren’t they beautiful? The waste fibre left over from the combing was used to practise carding and making rolags. Definitely more difficult than combing and we didn’t have a lot to play with, but here is the yarn we managed to spin from it, and it clearly has a more woollen spun nature to it:

HSM25WoollenSpun

Woollen spun M25 fleece

For my latest experiments I used some dyed fibres. Portland in fact, and all dyed by Felix herself. Here are the four colours, in the lock:

HSDyedPortlandLocks

 

Portland fleece, dyed by Dr Felicity Ford

The browns are dyed using black walnut (I’m assuming the lighter brown is from a second dye bath), the green was made with now forgotten plants and the “crazy pink” from dylon cold dye. Although I think my main interest will be breed specific wool and their natural colours, I did enjoy spinning this up and playing around a bit. I found Cecilia Hewett’s series of posts on spinning for Wovember very inspirational. I particularly like the yarn she showed in part II, a yarn that appears to be brown from afar, yet up close it reveals a myriad of colours. Amazing!

My attempts are not half as fancy, but it was fun to do nonetheless:

HSSpindlePYF

 

yarn from the dyed Portland

I mixed up the fibres by taking chunks of the combed tops and using them one after another for one single ply yarn, and then I made a much longer repeat on the second single ply. I have tried plying the yarns together from a centre pull ball but I don’t get on with that technique. Instead I followed Abby Franquemont’s advise of creating a plying ball. Simply wind the two single ply yarns together in a ball, making sure the tension is equal on both yarns; you can use a tennis ball or similar as a core for the plying ball, but I just started winding without it. You might already introduce a bit of twist when doing this, but once you’ve wound up your ball you are going to ply it proper on a spindle. As you can see, the Prick Your Finger spindle, which is larger and heavier than my IST spindle, is perfect for this.

I created two small quantities of this coloured Portland yarn, one with a balanced twist, and one very much overtwisted in order to see what would happen. It will also allow me to try something out I have wanted to swatch for a long time: the bias effect that an overtwisted yarn introduces to a fabric knitted in stocking stitch. But that, dear readers, is the subject for another blog post.

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*) whilst I’m writing this post, two more books on spinning and preparing fibre are on the way. Peter Teal’s Hand Wool Combing and Spinning; and Judith MacKenzie’s The Intentional Spinner.

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