On The Unfortunate Demise Of A Series

I don’t presume that there are such things as Regular Readers on this blog. My stats keep me from that delusion. However, just in case some people one day wonder about the abrupt end of the “Adapting a pattern for a thinner yarn” series, here is a word of explanation.

First, let me proudly say that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my reasoning. I had done my

The swatch did look promising...

The swatch did look promising…

math better than I expected. The yoke worked, the body seemed to be the right side, but the more I knitted on it, the less I liked it. I blame it on the stripes, because as pretty as the two yarns looked side by side on the swatch, on a full-sized sweater it was quite different. The variegated yarn pooled, and I don’t really like pooling unless it’s on purpose. Then I tried it on, and those particular stripes were not at all becoming (and even less slimming) on a real bust. Not at all.

So I frogged the whole thing.

What did I do with the yarn ?

First, I used the variegated sock yarn to play around a bit with planned pooling, trying to get an argyle pattern.

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Pretty argyle…

 And it worked too, and I got all excited about it and began to have big dreams about an argyle stole when I realized there was no way the ball I had would be enough for a place mat, let alone a stole. This was an interesting experiment though, and I fully intend to make it a full-scale project (a stole, or maybe a baby blanket) one day. But when I do, I’ll buy yarn specifically for it, and try to make sure that I have enough.

The argyle experiment met the same fate as its unfortunate predecessor and headed for the frog pond.

The blue angora, wound up into a ball again, was waiting for the right idea to emerge in my brain.

Stripes !!

Stripes !!

A few days later, I accidentally ran into three balls of Rico Superba Poems, in the colourway Granit, sold for a really ridiculous price. I bought them, intending to turn them into socks, went home, and put the balls next to the blue angora. I looked at them, pretty things sitting side by side, and had a revelation. These two yarns were meant for each other. I went on Ravelry and chose a pattern I had been wanting to knit for some time : Mon petit gilet rayé (Ravelry link). This is knitting up like a dream. I’m making it at a slightly wider gauge than I would usually do for this yarn weight, and though I’m a bit concerned about the durability of such a fabric, it does feel wonderful — feather-light, airy, and soft. And there is something about knitting stripes with a gradient yarn and a solid one which is absolutelyIMGP6445 mesmerizing. This cardigan almost seems to knit itself on its own. The body is already finished.

On a side note, I’ve noticed that everything I’ve knit for myself in the past few years was slightly too big (body image, anyone ?). So I decided to try and knit something which would actually be the right size. The pattern says it’s for a size M, which I am. I wanted to be on the safe side, so I casted on the right number of stitches on 4mm needles instead of 3,5mm ones. I’ve tried the thing on, and it does fit, sort of. Except it’s so tight I look as if I had stolen the clothes of a 5-year-old. (Hm. Maybe that’s why the pattern notes state that it is a “very fitted cardi”. It turns out that, as much as I love this pattern and how the cardigan is turning out, “very fitted” is not my idea of “pretty”. I’d be happier with simply “fitted”.) I don’t want to rip it and try once again from the beginning, so I’m just going to play with the width of the buttonband to make it an acceptable fit.

IMGP6392And what happened to the variegated sock yarn ? Well, it is finally becoming — guess what — a pair of socks. Using sock yarn to actually knit socks — shocking, I know.

The pattern is Aquaphobia, a slipped stitch pattern which avoids pooling, and it is turning into a very nice sock indeed. I’m already anxious to have that pair finished and on my feet !

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More Socks

Happy 1st of August to everyone ! Today is the Swiss national day, commemorating the Rütlischwur that marks the birth of the Swiss nation.

To join in the fun, I have new socks.

IMGP6364These colours are admittedly nothing like the Swiss national flag. They are Flutter-by Socks (Ravelry link) and the yarn is Rico Superba Poems, in the colourway Candy. The pair took about two thirds of one ball. The pattern is fun and easy, but was maybe not the best match with this yarn — the butterflies are a bit lost in that riot of wild colours.

To avoid disturbing the colour transition on the instep, I simply knit the heel from the other end of the ball, and broke it (the other end, not the heel) when it was time to pick up gusset stitches.
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Anyway, I’m quite smitten with them. As the temperature was rather chilly, I wore them yesterday evening, hot off the needles, to the traditional 1st of August (or rather July 31st) fireworks, whose bright colours they matched perfectly. On that occasion, I became one of those eccentric ladies who wear woolen sock with sandals because they can’t stop admiring their own feet. (I had forgotten to take into account the fact that at 10:30 pm, it would be dark outside anyway. But that didn’t stop me from trying to show them off to the friends we met on the way).

These socks drew some comments when I knit on them in the train to and from the IMGP6367university. The general feeling seemed to be that these vibrant shades made people feeling better in spite of the terrible weather we had these past few days weeks. I agree. Fireworks socks. I really feel as if I could rocket to the roof when I wear them ! Simply looking at them makes me giggle. I must really be getting weird. Nobody had warned me that socks had such an effect on your brain !

Socks

My back is getting much better, so I should soon be able to put together a blog post about the knitting side of my holidays.

Meanwhile, the weather here at home seems to have forgotten it is supposed to be summer. It is raining cats and dogs, there is wind and chilly temperatures, and so I have new socks. (Actually I had finished them just before we left for the airport one month ago, to spend a two weeks and half summer vacation at my parents-in-laws’, and I wove in the ends today.)

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The pattern is Pine Tree Toe Up Socks (Ravelry link), but I’m calling them my mexican socks, because the colours remind me of mexican food — corn ears, chili, red beans. I’ve forgotten what the yarn is. They’re bright and cheery, they’re only my second pair of toe-ups, with a short-row heel that could have been managed better (the first was made for The Husband, who doesn’t feel the irrepressible call to become a sock model), they don’t match and I don’t care, and they bring to me a little bit of the summer I’m yearning for.

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And they’re especially welcome since I forgot my favorite pair of hand knit socks at my parents-in-laws’, who live some 9’000 kilometers away (so it’s not really as if I could just drop by and pick them up next week). It was just a plain pair of socks, but in a lovely Kaffe Fasset colourway. I had bought the yarn in Jersey, during my first “on our own” holiday trip with The Husband, because it had lovely blue, green and purple hues which reminded me of the island — sea, grass and heather. They fitted me perfectly, were hard-wearing and associated with wonderful memories of a great time in a stunningly beautiful place. I miss them and I hope Mother (that’s what I call my mother-in-law) will safely put them away until next year.

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In case you wonder why on earth anyone would bring woolen socks on a summer vacation, I have only one word in answer : planes. Planes are cold places. Feet get cold on planes, therefore it is most unwise to board one without a pair of good woolen socks. I nearly panicked on the journey home when I sat in the plane, opened my bag to fish out my socks and realized they were not here. Thankfully The Husband, who, by some mystery of nature, does not get cold feet as easily as I do, even on planes, handed me his own pair, and I was safe.

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I’m really glad to have this fun new pair as a compensation. The pattern was great, straightforward and easy to follow. I made only a few changes : I didn’t want to have open eyelets on each side of the “spine” featured in the chevron pattern on the leg (because these were meant to be “warm” socks, and holes in your socks kind of defeat that purpose), and I purled every yarn over through the back loop on the following wrong side row so as to twist the stitch and thus close the hole. This meant that the pattern would be loosing some of its stretch in terms of width, and that I would have to add an increase row after turning the heel, so that the sock would be neither too loose on the foot nor too tight on the leg. It took me two unsuccessful tries to settle on the right numbers, but I got there eventually.

Socks are good. I have another pair on my needles, in the most psychedelic rainbow colourway. Very satisfying to knit and the ultimate antidote to bad weather.

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.