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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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. 

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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 !

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.

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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.

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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

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.

A Shawlette For Spring : Dianna

IMGP5779 - Version 2I had something “hatching” a just a little while ago. Well, this is it ! It’s a shawlette made from just one skein of Noro’s Silk Garden (S304). Noro apparently sources its fleece from organic farms and tries to use nonpolluting dyes, which I hope is true, because it would spoil my delight at this new neckwarmer thingy if it wasn’t. Anyway, it is an entrelac shawlette, and as it has been said many a time before, Noro seems to have been invented for entrelac, or entrelac seems to have been invented for Noro, whichever way you would prefer to have it. I was in need for some bright, cheerful colours, and I couldn’t have better chosen the yarn. Actually, I had bought it to knit some socks. Then I looked at it and pondered. This yarn was just too lovely to spend its days hidden under shoes and trousers. IMGP5750Then, socks wear out, and have to be darned until they’re past repair and disposed with, and I knew I would hate to see this yarn undergo such a process.

I spent some time looking on Ravelry for a pattern which would be a good match for these bright and happy shades and finally settled on Jane Araujo’s Dianna. Dianna is a clever pattern that devilishly combines entrelac and lace, so it does take some time to wrap one’s head around it. But once this is done, the rest is a breeze, making it a perfect traveling project. A good part of my Dianna was knit on the train. That said, I’m not quite sure I have completely understood how the construction was supposed to work, since some of my squares look more like rectangles. I don’t know what happened there. Oh well, never mind.IMGP5746

One of the main reasons why I chose this pattern was that each entrelac square (or, er, rectangle) features a little lacy leaf. This really appealed to me, as spring is underway and everything is blossoming or burgeoning, and the mountains around our place are covered in an extraordinary green between the last patches of snow. Then it is Lent, and Lent is a good time to think about everything new : new life, new creation, new creatures, new births. I thought this combination of yarn and pattern would be in harmony with such a theme, and it was.

I knit the pattern without modifications for the main body. I briefly considered swapping the lace pattern for another, but decided against it. Of course, Dianna is meant to be a full-sized shawl, and I only had one skein of sock yarn, so I resized it to a smaller version. I had yarn enough to knit 9 whole tiers plus the “fill-in” triangles, and add an edging (I opted for something rather simple : one knit row, one eyelet row, two knit rows and a picot bind-off).

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Before blocking…

As usual, blocking really felt like performing some kind of magic trick, at the end of which an unattractive crumply rag suddenly transformed in a thing of beauty.

Speaking of blocking, I have a mystery to solve. I used to have a blocking kit, you know, one of these useful sets of blocking wires, T-shaped pins and a big, heavy-duty ruler giving measurements both in inches and centimeters. Then we moved and it disappeared into thin air. Well, that’s actually untrue : it has to be somewhere in this house. But where ?

Blocking !

Blocking !

All in all, this was a completely addictive and thoroughly enjoyable knit. I liked the pattern, I like the yarn, and I’m seriously considering knitting a second one for someone’s birthday (these colours, as much as I love them, are not that someone’s cup of tea). But before I do so, I have other things on my needles waiting for attention !

Knitting, Praying : On The Virtues Of Repetition

medium_3306329555When I gave this blog the title of “The Knitting Theologian”, it was because I was anticipating that writing about knitting would lead me to write about faith, theology or spirituality. Since Lent has begun, and is a privileged time to think about one’s daily practices, I wanted to try and write about the way knitting connects with spiritual practices in my everyday life.

When I first took up knitting, it wasn’t long before I realized how soothing it is. Knitting is, after all, a craft in which you endlessly repeat two basic gestures : knit stitches and purl stitches. Every pattern, even the most intricate lace shawl, is but a variation on these two basic stitches. If you knit stockinette stitch in the round, when knitting a plain sock for example, you’ll even repeat the exact same little dance of your needles row after row. At first, I didn’t make much of it ; I was content with enjoying the calming effects of repetition : the breaths drawn deeper and slower, the parasite thoughts gradually silenced, leaving space for concentration and reflexion.

Then it dawned on me that I could pray my knitting in a very simple way : by pairing its gestures with the simple words of repetitive prayer.

Though it isn’t a very popular practice among Protestant traditions (but things are changing), repetitive prayer is something I often do. Now I don’t think God is deaf or not paying attention. On the contrary, I do it because I’m the one who is unable to listen and concentrate. Like many people, I generally have much on my mind at the same time : what to put on the list for grocery shopping, what to cook for supper, what to read next, how to express this or that idea in an intelligible written form… I even often have imaginary conversations with authors of books or essays I’ve just read (but then I may be a little weird). All these thoughts produce a permanent inner “noise” and keep interfering with whatever I do, making it really difficult to concentrate on what I’m doing and to be truly present to the task I’m working on or to the person I’m being with. It gets even worse when I’m trying to pray. I sit in silence, close my eyes, and there it goes : as there is nothing to distract me, my own noisy, boisterous thoughts instantly take up all the space. I can see them speed in front of me in every possible directions, like the most anarchical fireworks there ever was. Prayer ? Forget it. There’s no place. I might manage to fit one or two words between thought-rockets wheezing by and going off in spectacular explosions, but that’s all.

Repetitive prayer is the only thing that helps. By simply saying, or rather thinking, the same few words, often from a biblical verse (or it can be a simple song ; I recently discovered that Taizé songs are perfect for this) over and over again, saying them slowly and concentrating on them, trying to fully grasp their meaning, the inner noise gradually subsides. Maybe one could argue that repetitive prayer isn’t prayer in the usual sense of speaking to God, but rather more a way of saying : “Here I am, Lord.” But after all, isn’t it precisely what prayer is about, saying to God : “Lord, I stand before you and I depend on you” ? And as I slowly repeat these simple words, something changes : my breaths are drawn deeper and slower, my body becomes very still, the parasite thoughts disappear one by one, and at last I’m wholly there, present, concentrated, listening, waiting for that subtle Voice to make itself heard in the silence. Yes, that’s right — repetitive prayer and knitting have similar effects in silencing that inner noise.

So I now often do both at the same time. Of course, I have to chose a relatively simple knit — you know, not one of those which have you constantly muttering under your breath : “purl two, yarn over, knit three together through back loop, yarn over…” I tend to favor things with lots of stockinette stitch for “meditative knitting”. I let my hands set the rhythm, I breathe calmly, and choose a simple phrase which I match with the ostinato of the stitches. Silence comes — and then, I pray.

Of course, I’m not the first one to make this link between prayer and knitting. For example, and this is really just one example among many, in this little book (the link will give you access to a free pdf version of the first chapter), Peggy Rosenthal explains the same thing in a much better way than I can. In particular, she narrates how she was reminded by a friend who is a Trappist monk that the Desert Fathers, faced with similar issues in prayer, resolved them by similar means : they weaved baskets to help them focus and being fully aware of the present moment. As it was primarily the process that mattered to them, and they probably ended up with way more baskets than they could ever use, they often burned them after they were completed. This is not something I’d do to my knitting, but I do like to think that a finished garment, even before having been given or worn, has already accomplished its purpose : being a vehicle of peace, both for me and those for whom I pray.

photo credit

Two Updates

If you are that rare and (literally) unique person, the only reader who happened on that blog (except my husband, of course), then you may notice that the blog title and header have changed. The first ones (“Brindelaine’s Place”, along with the birdhouse picture) were chosen in haste, to fill in the blank ; I think the current ones are going to stay there for a while. I like them.

The second update is about my designing adventures and that famous green short-sleeved top. Reader, I frogged it.

Do not faint though : it is already reborn under a new and (hopefully) better form. On Saturday, I was browsing one of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s books. I can’t remember which one, but some lines jumped to my face. It approximately said that every knitter has a knitted monstrosity on their shelves, something that said knitter had managed to work on hour after hour while convincing themselves that this unpromising thing would somehow blossom into a work of art. I felt a pang. I dutifully ignored it and knit a few more rows. But I was more and more disturbed by a growing unease. And then it hit me : I was knitting a monstrosity. All those cables ! Cables everywhere, on the front, on the back, on the sleeves, under the arms ! And not even thin, discreet cables, but rather big ones ! I imagined that lovely, soft yarn turned into a green monster and sitting forgotten, lonely and unloved on a shelf. And I ripped everything.

It now features plain stockinette stitch on the back and sleeves, and a nice horseshoe pattern on the front. I am pleased with this new look and glad I started over. If it turns out as well as it promises to, this won’t be a forgotten and lonely top.

Old Friends Already : Ilmarinen and Bavarian Sweater

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Ilmarinen

Old friends, that’s what these two garments already feel like, although I finished them relatively recently. Surprisingly, they also are little-knit patterns on Ravelry – the one, Tuulia Salmela’s Ilmarinen cardigan, registers only 11 projects when it’s beautiful colourwork (and a well-written, clear and free pattern) ; the other, Sarah Monroe’s Bavarian Sweater, has none yet (despite also being a well-written and clear, though not free, pattern). I’ll probably add the first one when I finish writing this post.

In the few past months, both cardigan and sweater have made their way into my standard wardrobe ; I find myself wearing them again and again because they’re pretty, fit well and are comfortable.

IMGP5729Ilmarinen, I must say, was heavily modified as I went along. For three reasons : the first is that despite knitting a gauge, complete with steels, and blocking it, the cardigan turned out to be way to big (I really don’t know why). I had to take in quite a bit by making big seams under the arms, which kind of ruined the whole purpose of knitting in the round, but I wasn’t brave enough to rip it all and start all over.

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Short sleeves !

The second reason is that I had succeeded in convincing myself that dropped shoulders would flatter my own already drooping shoulders, but when I tried it on, still sleeveless, in front of a mirror, I knew that it wouldn’t do. So I decided my Ilmarinen would be short-sleeved. All it took was to gather the stitches around the armhole and add a few rows of corrugated ribbing.

Collar

The third reason is another case of self-delusion : I had planned on closing the front with a zipper, forgetting that I actually don’t like zippers. Of course, I only remembered that after I had secured the cut steeks of the front in two layers of stockinette stitch and finished them off with I-cord, too late to add buttonholes. I thought it would look nice if, rather than sewing in a zipper I wouldn’t like, I simply joined both fronts at the top by knitting them into a collar. (I ended up wearing it with an added safety pin to prevent the edgings from curling).

And there it is : highly enjoyable colourwork I loved knitting and love wearing.

Bavarian Sweater

Bavarian Sweater

Now, the Bavarian Sweater was much more straightforward. I think I didn’t make any modification, which is quite rare for me.

On the whole, I’m quite happy with it ; look at all these lovely, intricate cables ! I forgot to take a picture of the back, but it also features them. That means you get to knit them twice in a row (as it’s knit in the round). What else could you wish for ?

Cables !

Cables !

The only thing I’m not completely satisfied with is that the finished sweater puckers under the arms. I should probably have done some shaping in order to get an even better fit. Oh, well. These cables are worth it.

 

I should also mention the yarn I used for this, The Natural Dye Studio‘s 4 ply in the colourway “Nude” (this, obviously, means it’s undyed). It’s wool from Bluefaced Leicester sheep, it’s very soft, warm, light, and knits up to a wonderful fabric.

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This is where I wish there actually were readers on this blog, because I think these two patterns would deserve a big shout-out. They’re just too lovely and too enjoyable to remain hidden in the depths of Ravelry’s database.