# Adapting a Pattern For a Thinner Yarn : 2. Converting The Numbers (Which May Include Lace)

This post is part of a series which will be written as I’m knitting a project in a much thinner yarn than is used by the original pattern. It’s primarily intended as a guide to myself for further reference and, if needed, so that I can pin down what went wrong.

In the last post of this series, I established my working gauge for this project. I’ll now try and convert the numbers given by the pattern in order to adapt them to my gauge.

Truth be told, I sometimes wonder why I chose a craft involving so much calculations when I used to hate algebra in high school. Anyway, there’s no escaping it : let’s do some math !

I have a gauge of 3 stitches and 4 rows per centimeter, which means it should be 30 stitches and 40 rows per 10 centimeters (or 4 inches). The pattern calls for (gasp) 17 stitches and 22 rows per 10 centimeters/4 inches. That’s almost (but not quite, that would be too easy) half my numbers. It means that to get the correct numbers of stitches for my yarn, I have to multiply the given stitch numbers by, roughly, 1,75 (figure obtained by dividing gauge stitch/10cm number, here 30, by pattern stitch/10cm number, here 17) and the given row numbers by, roughly, 1,8 (again, figure obtained by dividing gauge row/10cm number, here 40, by pattern row/10cm number, here 22).

I’m planning on knitting the pattern’s size L, so, for example, that’s how it goes :

The instructions say to begin with yoke by casting on 58 stitches. I’ll cast on 58 x 1,75 = 101 stitches (the result actually is 101,5 stitches but I’ll choose to go with the smaller figure every time because the design already has a lot of positive ease). Given the nature of the yoke (raised by short-rows in the back and featuring seven repeats of a lace pattern), the next thing I’ll need to to before going further is to figure out how to treat the lace, or more exactly, how many stitches will be needed at the beginning of the lace pattern to achieve a similar shape and size. I’ll also need to figure out how I’m going to work the yoke increases.

That means not only more calculations, but also, unavoidably, some charting and some more swatching to see how it works (due to scarcity of yarn, I totally plan on not blocking that swatch and on unraveling it as soon as it has fulfilled its purpose).

So, as one can see here, the lace pattern for size L begins with 9 stitches. For me, that would be 9 x 1,75 = 15,75. I’ll go with 15 stitches as this needs to be an uneven number. There are two stitches on each side of the “stem” of the leaf. 2 x 1,75 = 3,5. I’ll make that 4,  so as to have an even number of stitches which will make it easier to add increases after a bit. 4 + 4 = 8 ; 7 stitches remain for the leaf. That’s how I’ll start. (Phew !)

There are 7 lace repeats. 7 x 15 = 105. This means I’ll had to increase 4 stitches at the bottom of the collar to fit the 7 repeats in.

Now, the original lace pattern begins with increasing 9 times, every second row, by adding yarn overs on each side of the central stitch (the “stem”). To achieve the same width, I’ll need to increase 9 x 1,75 = 15,75 times. Let’s say 15 (because, again, that design has lots of positive ease). These increases will be made over 17 x 1,8 = 30,6 rows. I’ll make that 29 (so that I can increase every second row) and keep in mind that I might want to add one or two more row(s) at the bottom of the yoke.

Then, the tip of the leaf is shaped by decreasing 10 times over 19 rows. For me, that will be 16 decreases, every second row, over 31 rows. At the same time as the tip decreases, the yoke width actually increases. The pattern does that by adding 2 times one increase, then 5 times 2 increases, unevenly spaced (of course). I will instead increase 1 stitch 4 times every 4th row, then 2 stitches 9 times (5 times every 4th row, 4 times every 6th row).

Now I need to swatch and check it works — that is, wether the leaves keep the right shape and size, and wether the yoke will be wide and long enough (I’m expecting some differences lengthwise because I simply replicated the number of rows between increases of the original pattern instead of calculating new ones ; as I’m rather short, I’m hoping the yoke will fit this way. If not, I’ll have to space the increases differently).

Here’s the swatch, roughly pinned for photo purposes. It helped me determine two things : 1. the measurements seem to match those indicated by the pattern ; 2. I won’t be knitting the yoke with the variegated, but with the solid yarn, and simply stripe the main body and sleeves.

I haven’t worked out yet how to knit the short rows used to raise the back of the neck. That’s because it’s one of the things I do better with yarn and needles in hand.

So, the next step will be to actually cast on that tunic !

# Adapting a Pattern For a Thinner Yarn : 1. The Gauge

This post is part of a series which will be written as I’m knitting a project in a much thinner yarn than is used by the original pattern. It’s primarily intended as a guide to myself for further reference and, if needed, so that I can pin down what went wrong.

Preamble : The Curse

I’m the repeated victim of a Curse. I call it the “Pattern Curse”. Invariably, the story begins the same way : I see a pattern on Ravelry, and it’s love at first sight. It’s such a pretty thing that I need to knit it. I think about it. I sometimes dream about it. I order yarn for it. After a few days’ wait, I find the yarn in my mailbox. I anxiously open the package, and there it is, in all its glory, its softness and its lovely shades. And it usually is at this point that the curse strikes, taking the form of a perverse revelation : the pattern I had fallen in love with, I so desperately wanted to knit, the pattern for which I had ordered the yarn — this very pattern is clearly not good enough for such loveliness.

Some three weeks ago, I fell in love with a wonderful pattern — Veera Välimäki’s Laneway.  As my birthday was getting close, my husband ordered the yarn for me as a present. I chose two different yarns I wanted to try : one was Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock in “Rockwell”, the other Isager Alpaca in pale blue, two fingering weight yarns.

Softness and beauty — Lorna’s Laces on the left, Isager on the right

I was completely delighted by how they felt and looked when they arrived. And, of course, the Curse hit. All of a sudden, Laneway didn’t feel right. Would it really do justice to these glorious colours ? Was I sure I would wear it — after all, this wasn’t the type of clothes I usually wear, was it ? Before I knew it, I was searching Ravelry’s database, looking for that perfect pattern which would make my new yarn shine and sing. I was sure of two things : 1. I wanted it to be long, like a tunic or a mini-dress, and look nice over trousers ; 2. I wanted it to have some stripes.

This is what I settled for : a Drops design poetically called 151-6. (To be fair, its actual name seems to be Orchid Bloom, which is a bit of a mystery since I spot some fairly big leaves, but nothing looking like any kind of flower.)

Notice how I swapped a perfect pattern for a — sorry, Drops — rather dull one. That’s typical of me. But then, I wonder if that’s not what I like in this pattern : it seems to have lots of unexploited potential, like a blank canvas waiting to be transcended by colour and texture. Laneway, on the other hand, is a design with lots of personality, maybe too much and too different from mine.

As you can see, this Orchid Bloom sure is long, but it has no stripes — and, more importantly, it is written for a much thicker yarn than fingering weight.

I did not allow such trifles to deter me from my aim, though. I made a sketch of what I had in mind, colour-wise :

As I said, it is only a sketch (and a not very good one), but it shows I’m planning to knit the yoke and the bottom lace edging with the darker, variegated yarn, the rest in blue, and to add some Stripes above the lace edging and the sleeve cuffs. I’ll also probably make the body a bit shorter, but, if I have enough yarn, make the sleeves long instead of three-quarters length. So far, so good.

Serious Matters Begin Here

Now when I begin a new project, I usually (let’s say two times out of three) knit a swatch to check my gauge. This, of course, is to ensure I get the right number of stitches and rows per inch (or per centimeter) so that the garment won’t be unwearable because it’s too tight or too large (if I don’t get the stitch number right), or because the raglan yoke, for example, is too short or too long (if I don’t get the row number right). Here, since I plan on using a yarn of a different weight, the good news is that I don’t need to match the pattern’s gauge. I do need to do two other things though :

• first, ensuring I’m using the right needle size for those yarns, that is, that I’m happy with how the fabric looks once it’s washed and blocked ;
• second, establishing the new stitch and row numbers, so that I can do my math and convert the numbers given by the patterns into the right numbers for my yarn.

That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it ? Don’t worry, that won’t last. I spoilt everything by running the risk of knitting really tiny swatches, and thus of getting not quite accurate results, just because I don’t think I have too much yarn for this project. And besides, being thrifty with one’s yarn is a good thing, right ? So here are my swatches, or rather my two swatches in one, each presenting the grand number of (ahem) 15 stitches over 15 rows and knitted with 3mm needles.

Colours here are fairly accurate.

After careful measuring, both yarns gave the same results of 3 stitches and 4 rows per centimeter (that would be 7.5 stitches and 10 rows per inch). There is a noticeable difference in texture, though ; the alpaca is more stretchy than the sock yarn. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

So, I now have my gauge. Next step will be adapting the numbers given by the Drops pattern so that they work with it.

# Time freely spent

Perfection — minus 21 stitches.

A few weeks ago, Mr Knitting Theologian requested a vest to wear over his shirts at work. He was rather specific about what he wanted : something relatively close-fitting, grey, in a non-scratchy wool. I spent some time on Ravelry and found a pattern we both liked (Aspen). On a work trip to a Real City (we live on the country), I took some time to stop at a yarn store where I found some gorgeous, squishy and very soft grey merino yarn — and Mr Knitting Theologian liked it very much. Then, on a quiet evening, I settled on the sofa, did some maths to knit the vest in the round as he didn’t want a front opening, and cast on. It was wonderful. The wool knit to a magnificent fabric. There was enough plain stockinette to be a quiet and meditative knit, and two nice cables on the front to keep it interesting. Very quickly, it became quite addictive. I spent every free minute I could find knitting on it. The more it grew, the more I loved it. A soft, cushiony wool ; a deep, not quite solid grey ; a dense, very even texture ; everything about it was pure pleasure.

On Sunday, I had knit enough of it to bind off stitches for the armholes and knit the front and the back separately. And that is when I realized there should have been 21 more stitches between the two cables on the front.

At first, I was, of course, angry and frustrated. I think I even said something along the lines of “This knitting thing will make me crazy”. After a few moments, though, I remembered it was Palm Sunday, the day hundreds of people gave up their coat — their only coat — to pave the road into Jerusalem for Christ, out of sheer joy and love. Ripping thirty-two centimeters’ worth of perfect knitting wasn’t half as impressive a thing to do. What I remembered too, instants later, was that this was not just knitting. This was — this is — Pleasure. Doing it all over again would be more bliss than frustration, time spent not only creating a beautiful thing but also feeling that soft yarn between my fingers, pressing my cheek against that beautiful, smooth fabric, making stitch after stitch not only with a wonderful yarn, but with joy and with love, with joy at making something beautiful for someone I love. Because sometimes, knitting is that good.

# The Purple Sweater, Done at Last : Francis Revisited

A few posts back, I wrote about that purple sweater I was finishing for a friend. Well, it is done. It is blocked and dried, all ends woven in. And I’m so unhappy with it.

As you can see, it is very big on me – but my friend is larger than I am, so hopefully this won’t be too much of a problem. Also, the collar looks a bit weird. That’s because I read the instructions too fast, didn’t realize it before I was done and so fed up with working with that yarn that I didn’t want to rip back and redo it. Case in point : just before the moss stitch border at the end of the collar, the pattern read : K1, M1, K to end of round. And what did I of course do ? *K1, M1* to end of round.

Actually, even if a bit weird, I don’t think the collar looks that bad. My issue is rather with the yarn. Now it has been washed and dried, I do like it a little bit better; the stockinette parts are really soft to the touch. But, as I said when I was knitting it, is extremely unforgiving. Joining between balls showing ? Check (I can make out at least three places on the front in the above picture). Woven-in ends showing ? Check (see left sleeve). I’m not sure how to fix that, so any idea or solution would be welcome.

# It’s a Toy ! ( Or Rather Two) : Flat Foot Floogie and Monkey

One of our friends is expecting her second child for around Easter, and that gave me the chance of trying my hand at something new : making toys.

It was a completely uncharted territory for me, but I think I managed rather well, if I may say so myself.

I first made the gift for the soon-to-be-born baby. I was advised by some wise folks on Ravelry to go for a lovey-type toy, so it would be easy to grab for the tiny fingers of a new-born infant. I chose to make him or her (the parents opted not to know the gender of the baby beforehand) Barbara Prime’s Flat Foot Floogie, in the rabbit version, because it was so cute and a good compromise between an animal-shaped toy and a lovey. Flat Foot Floogies have a flat, garter stitch body with stuffed paws, tummy and head. And did I mention they’re so cute ? I’m now looking for a baby who might appreciate the lamb version.

I have to say a few words about safety here. At first I was concerned with the stuffing possibly getting out of the stuffed parts through the stitches (I was imagining the baby sucking at it and getting fibers in his/her mouth). I was advised to line the stuffed parts with something like old stockings in order to prevent that from happening, which I did (with clean old stockings, obviously. I’m the kind of girl who washes and keeps her old stockings, thinking that they might come in handy some day — and I just proved myself right). I think it will do a good job of keeping the filling inside the toy. But I now have misgivings of another kind. The old stockings are nylon, and the filling is polyester, which means that my cute lovey is a potential fire hazard (that goes also for the Monkey, knitted with acrylic yarn while the Floogie is made with merino wool). I’m sure our friends are responsible parents who don’t set toys on fire before giving them to their children, but still, accidents happen. I can’t help remembering a birthday party where I had been invited as a little girl, when the birthday girl’s favorite pink nylon sweater caught fire because of the firework candles which had been set on the cake (everyone reacted pretty quickly and she was scared but unharmed). Then again, maybe it wasn’t a very good idea to use them in the first place. So, I decided on writing a little warning note along with the care instructions, and trying to find safer materials for next time.

When I finished the Flat Foot Floogie, I thought : “That’s too cute. Big brother J will be jealous if he doesn’t get his own cute and cool toy”. And this is how I went to look in my stash and casted on Sarah Keen’s Monkey, which I chose because monkeys are cool and because this particular monkey had such an endearing little face. I didn’t have enough yarn of a single colour to make the darker body parts, so it’s striped. Never mind. I’m sure green and brown striped monkeys blend in better with their environment, and thus have a longer life expectancy.

This little fellow took me much longer to make than the Floogie. It’s made of rather a lot of different parts (I counted 15, and that’s without the additional banana which I chose to skip).The knitting part was easy, but I couldn’t help feeling somewhat intimidated when the time came to sew it together.

Monkey parts before sewing ; forgive my ill-mannered, photobombing cat

So many bits and pieces ! So many ends waiting to be woven in ! Just assembling it (closing the side seams, stuffing, sewing the right body parts in the right places) took me longer than actually knitting it. But I did it in the end, and I even think my sewing doesn’t look too bad, which is quite an achievement for me. I still managed to get the ears wrong (I forgot to fold them in half and sew the side seam), which I justified by declaring they look more like actual monkey ears that way.

Now the next step for these two lucky critters is to head to warm and sunny Southern France, where their new home is waiting for them.

I was a bit surprised to realize that, while I’m perfectly happy to send the Floogie away (it’s so clearly a baby toy), I wouldn’t mind keeping the Monkey. In fact, I’m half considering to tell my friend to send it back, should little J not like it — and I do hope Monkey will be loved and cuddled and carried everywhere till it falls apart. (That’s an image of speech. I took such pains to sew it together solidly that I’m firmly expecting it to be as good as new when J will give it to his grandchildren.) And I’m not the only one who finds it so endearing. Yesterday evening, when Monkey was still half-finished, legless and tailless, my husband fondled it and asked a bit shyly : “Would you knit me a toy if I asked you to ?” Why, of course I would — and maybe one for myself too !

# Labour of Love : A Meditation on Psalm 139

Elijah and Elisha (Source)

Images and metaphors related to textiles abound throughout the Bible. Sometimes, like in the story of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19), a garment — a cloak — symbolizes on its own the whole prophetical function : the prophet Elijah quite literally throws his cloak at the one who is going to become his successor, as a visible sign of his role and authority as the one who speaks in the name of God. Sometimes, like in the Gospel according to Mark, garments stand for one’s identity : called by Jesus, the blind Bartimaeus relinquishes his cloak as he jumps in answer to that call, and we guess that with his cloak, he also relinquishes his old self, the one who sat for endless days in darkness, to become the one who walks with the Light (Mk 10).

And sometimes, like here, it is the process of making a garment which helps us understand what is going on.

But first, let us read that psalm from the beginning : “You know when I sit down and when I rise up ; you discern my thoughts from afar”. “Where shall I go from your Spirit ? Or where shall I flee from your presence ?” What is the psalmist trying to express ? Is that praise for the Lord’s wondrous deeds, or is he crying out in despair at that terrifying thing : intimacy, an intimacy much too close for comfort with his God ?  Such an intimate relationship was, after all, none of his own making. He had no choice, no say in it.

Intimacy, most of us know it, can sometimes be difficult to manage, wether between close friends, in a family or in a couple. There are things we would prefer to keep secret. There are things we would prefer not to know. But however difficult it may be, we can bear it because, in our relationships, intimacy usually is chosen and reciprocal. We allow ourselves to get known by the others as the others allow themselves to get known by us. This is not what the psalmist is talking about. Wether he likes it or not, God knows everything about him, even those things he would prefer to hide in the darkness of the night, those things he dares not avow even to himself — in fact, He knows him far better than the psalmist knows himself. And yet, to his human partner, He remains at the same time a mystery, the greatest mystery of his whole existence. Indeed, being intimately known by a complete stranger who watches you at all times, relentlessly, and has the power to pronounce a definitive sentence over your entire life — and God, in His utter otherness, is a Stranger to us — is a terrifying experience. It is no wonder, really, to see how desperate the psalmist is to stress how much he hates the wicked and their evil ways. These bellicose verses are no more than a “O Lord, have mercy on me !”

Mary weaving with Jesus at her feet ; French miniature drawn by Jacques de Besançon, illustrating a “Life of Christ” (1490s ; photo credit)

And yet, the psalm expresses more than a heart-wrenching cry of despair. Hope and comfort are not absent from it, because of that simple fact : God, the psalmist says, “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” ; He has “intricately woven me in the depths of the earth.” Every knitter, crocheter or weaver knows it : creating an intricate and elaborate fabric is a minute, time-consuming labour. Slipping the shuttle again and again through the threads on the loom ; catching yarn with knitting needles or a crochet hook to create loop after loop, tens of thousands of them : there is no better image to express a long, painstaking, patient work. There is maybe no better image for selfless love, for time freely given, than those textile crafts where progress is so slow, sometimes barely perceptible (some particularly intricate woven fabrics are so time-consuming that it takes one year to weave one single meter of it), and which result in a thing of wonder and beauty.

It is no coincidence if, for centuries, the good wife and mother was the one who clothed her family herself from the work of her hands, because it seemed that only the deepest love and the greatest dedication could keep her back bent on the loom and her hands busy with the needles, in a ceaseless and constant effort, each garment only completed to leave place for the next.

“You knitted me together in my mother’s womb”, says the psalmist. And suddenly, God is not that stern, terrifying judge any longer ; He becomes the loving mother herself, working with an infinite patience on this labour of love which makes us more than just living and breathing human beings : the flesh of His flesh, His beloved ones. In this act of creation, we are given more than a body and a beating heart : we are made both the work and the recipients of God’s overflowing love which creates us just as He created Wisdom (Proverbs 8:23). And because of this love, because He knitted us together and intricately wove us before we could even remember it, intimacy with God becomes not only a bearable, but even a desirable thing. It becomes the promise of a life-giving and lasting love, far greater than our sin, our fallings and our shortcomings. It reminds us that we have no sterner judge than our own heart, but that in God, we will find that most extraordinary thing : forgiveness. It reminds us that, in the words of John (1 John 3:20), whenever our heart condemns us, God — the God whose infinite love and infinite patience knitted us together before we came to the world — is greater than our heart.

# Blocking And Gauge Issues

The sweater I wrote about in my last post is almost finished. It is now drying slowly, waiting only for the ends to be weaved in and cut. But I’m now doubting wether my friend will actually be able to wear it.

A few days ago, I was reading this post over on Yarn Harlot. At the end, she answers a few questions about blocking, addressing in particular some complaints that blocking sweaters causes them to grow in size and turns them into tunics or dresses. This, does she explain, is caused mainly because the garment was knitted with a gauge problem : the fabric, not tight enough, reveals its actual texture after it has been sitting some time in water, allowing the fibers to “bloom” to their natural shape. “That’s not going to happen to me”, I thought smugly. “I’m a tight knitter.”

Right.

Today I washed that purple sweater, let it soak for some twenty minutes in tepid water, and then went on to spread it on a towel and put it into shape. It was huge. And not only that, but washing and blocking made plainly visible something I hadn’t even noticed before : the sweater, made over two different periods of time, is also knitted with two different tensions.

See this picture here ? That’s the right sleeve. The colours are awful, and I apologize for that, but what that picture shows is that the sleeves are knit at a much tighter tension than the body. If you look closely, you can clearly see a difference in the fabric density before and after the sleeves stitches are picked up from the raglan part. The lower part of the sleeve seems to be a slightly lighter colour, because the stitches sit tightly against one another, while the upper part appears darker, because there are gaps in the fabric through which the other side of the sweater shows. This is purely a tension issue. Both parts were knit on needles of the exact same size. And guess what ? The tightly knit parts held their shape and size all right.

So, blocking here did reveal a serious gauge issue. Is that sweater too big because I blocked it ? Not at all. It is too big because of an underlying problem that was here from the start. Actually, this incident made me really happy that I’m in the habit of blocking pretty much everything. If I hadn’t done it, what would have happened ? My friend would have happily worn it a few times, then washed it, and it would have come out too big. She would probably have thought it was her own fault and she had just ruined, by washing it the wrong way, that nice thing I had taken time to make for her.

Could I have avoided it ? Yes, totally. When I began that sweater, I knit a swatch. I measured the swatch. It seemed about right, and I was concerned about not having enough yarn, so I frogged it and cast on. That disaster would never have happened if I had simply taken time to wash and block the swatch. Then my tension issues would have been made plainly apparent and I could either have knit tighter or gone down one needle size. But because I was lazy, overconfident and in a haste to cast on, I didn’t and now have an oversized sweater on my arms.

Let’s hope I’ve learned my lesson.

# Progress — Slow, Painful, Frustrating Progress

Before we moved to Switzerland, a dear friend asked me to make her a sweater. I was only too happy to oblige. She bought the yarn and chose the pattern herself. I knit a good part of it, then (to my shame) forgot about it as it was buried in a box when we prepared for the move.

I suddenly remembered it and dug it out one week and half ago, when this dear friend told me that she had just been diagnosed with a serious illness and the prospects are none too good. Its body was complete, one half of the first sleeve was done, and I set to the task of finishing it.

Except I had forgotten what an unpleasant knit it is. There’s nothing wrong with the pattern, which is actually very nice (it’s Beth Silverstein’s Francis Revisited). But there are no words to say how much I loathe the yarn. It’s a pretty purple shade, 100% merino wool and should be pleasant to work with. It definitely isn’t. For some reason, knitting this yarn on 6mm needles is almost physically painful, a slow, laborious process. I hate the feel of it. Then it’s the most unforgiving yarn I’ve ever worked with. Every single imperfection, no matter how small, shows. For example, my cat got one of her claws caught in a stitch. She freed herself at once. On most of yarns, there wouldn’t have been a single trace of it (and I know that from experience !). Here ? It made a big mess. Near the neckline of a top-down sweater. And I really, really don’t want to frog and start all over again. Joining balls is a huge problem. I’ve tried about every method I could find on the Internet, and everything – absolutely everything, even my to-go, usually nice and clean solution of knitting both ends together over a few stitches – shows and creates very noticeable irregularities in the plain stockinette texture.

To make things worse (as if they needed to), I don’t have DPNs in this needle size, so I’m knitting the sleeves on two circulars, and the dangling ends bother me to no end.

It’s full of imperfections, but there is no way I go back and try to fix them. The only reason I’m going on is because it’s for my friend. I clench my teeth and visualize her face ; that’s the only way I can persevere with this project. Were it intended for me, I’d have yielded to my impulse and thrown it out of the window a long time ago (or maybe, more sensibly, frogged it and donated the yarn to someone who would have liked it better than I do).

My husband complained a few days ago that I had yet to cast on the yarn I bought to make him a vest. I can’t. If I want to finish this, then I have to knit nothing else until it is, at long last, done and I’m free. I’m yearning to get back to my green thing, or to bury myself in the soft, cuddly, warm grey yarn waiting to be turned into my husband’s vest. But if I do so, then my friend’s sweater will probably fall for ever into voluntary oblivion.

So I knit on. One more sleeve and the collar to go.

Edit : This sweater really decided to make my crazy. I’m picking up the stitches for the second sleeve, and the total of stitches is different from the first one. Nothing’s right about this project.

# A Piece Of Local History : The Dubied Factory

The Dubied logo, created for the 100th anniversary of the firm, combined knit stitches with the colours of the Swiss flag

Right opposite the house where we live, in the heart of our Swiss valley, there is an old factory. Seeing it never fails to make me feel a bit sad, not only because its closing, some thirty years ago, was a huge shock for the village, but also because la Dubied, as it was known, had a close relationship not only to the world of textiles, but also to the world of knitting.

In 1867, a young man called Henri-Edouard Dubied came back to his native Switzerland from the Paris Universal Exposition and created a knitting machine factory, having bought the production rights of a small knitting machine invented by the American clergyman (of course, there has to be a clergyman in the story) Isaac W. Lamb. These first machines were probably rather similar to the one featured in the advertisement below. Working circularly, they were meant to produce tights and stockings.

They were powered by a hand crank and produced long tubes of knitted fabric. This meant their users still had quite a bit of work to get a sock out of them, as socks basically are two tubes of fabric joined together at an angle by the heel. Knitting short rows for the heels and decreasing the toes involved a lot of fiddling with the machine’s needles, and the grafting of the toes and, of course, the weaving in of yarn ends still had to be done by hand. (This Youtube video demonstrates how a similar, century-old sock knitting machine works).

Some of the machines produced in the Dubied factory were sold to textile factories specializing in hosiery, but they were also meant to be bought by women looking for a way to add their contribution to the finances of their family by selling tights or stockings. They made it possible to knit one pair of socks in two hours.

This 1933 French advertisement says : “I earn a good living by knitting on a DUBIED machine. Learn at home for free.” By this time, the knitting machines, as you can see at the bottom of the ad, were long, horizontal and made it possible to knit sweaters.

Paul-Edouard Dubied, Henri-Edouard’s son, became an engineer and perfected the machines by adding a motor. One generation later, they evolved into the Wevenit knitting machines, used to produce double jersey fabrics — quite a long way from their hand-powered ancestors. These machines were extremely popular and sold well, particularly between 1967 and 1972, a period where the consumers’s appetite for double jersey fabrics was ever growing.

A Wevenit circular knitting machine – if you so wish, you can buy it here !

Dubied’s Wevenit knitting machines were used above all by factories producing tracksuits like these ones. 1972 was a fatal year for Dubied. The growing concurrence, in particular of knitting machines produced in China, caused a sudden collapse of the market. Dubied never quite recovered from it, though it managed to survive for another 15 years. When it closed in 1987, it was still providing work for 750 people, and its end was a catastrophe for our village and its 3.000 inhabitants.

The site was huge, but the parts closer to our home still retain something of their former glory. The building featured below was dubbed “the neckties’s tower”, because the commercial offices used to be housed in it. Nowadays, they have been transformed, I think, in flats, as the curtains you can glimpse at some windows seem to evidence. I particularly like this building because of the big fresco, whose painter I couldn’t identify, adorning its front.

On this picture, you can guess it on the left side. I’d say it dates from the fifties, but that would need a confirmation. It depicts a young woman, wearing a traditional Neuchatel attire, keeping watch on a small flock of sheep all while knitting stockings on DPNs. The scene is set in a scenery typical of the surrounding Jura mountains, with its soft green hills and peaks and its fir trees. I all at once like the painting and its vaguely cubist style, its colours, the way it strongly links the production of knitting machines with long-lived local traditions ; and yet I can’t help smiling whenever I see it, because the artist who made it clearly had no idea of how knitting actually works.

By the way, the clocks have (gasp !) stopped working. Is this really Switzerland ?

Look how the stocking, proudly shown by the young shepherdess to the occasional passer-by, connects to the knitting needles !  Does it connect at all, anyway ? It seems to be simply folded over the DPNs and hanging from both sides.

Then there is another mystery : how on earth does she get a green sock from a yellow ball of yarn ? Or is that a yellow stripe you can see on the right of the stocking ? Then would it mean she’s knitting it sideways ? On DPNs ?

Still, I like her and like paying her visits whenever I can — after all, she’s just across the street. She’s one of these characters who make me feel a mysterious, knitterly connection. Maybe I should go and knit a sock in front of that picture.

Pretty shepherdess, knitting mystery

As for the Dubied factory, its buildings are fortunately not abandoned to a slow decay. They have been restored and now house small businesses and start-ups.

This is a good thing, because the main hall, under its huge glass ceiling, encased between glass walls and doors, is an architectural beauty which is now offered a second life.

I’m not sure if visiting it is possible, but that’s certainly something I should like to do.

And the day I do, I’ll bring a knit along… to close the circle.