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Technical Writings 1

  • Balancing the needles when knitting fine lace
  • Comments on the EFA sweater
  • Cuff to cuff summary
  • Doilies from the Center
  • Fitting Drop-Shoulder Sleeves
  • Review of Poems of Color
  • Smooth V-Neck
  • Tackling the Tahkli

    Technical Stuff 2
    Miscellaneous Writings

  • Balancing the needles when knitting fine lace

    Lace tech: A matter of balance Because of cotton thread's fineness and fragility, it is important to keep the needles well-balanced in the hands in order to avoid holes between needles. The old solution of pulling the first stitch tight on each needle won't work as it can break a fine thread. I realised that the easiest way to achieve this balance (it also discourages the needles from sliding out, btw) is to start knitting with the right-hand needle nearly vertical, the left-hand needle horizontal. As you approach the centre, the orientation gradually changes so that both are at a 45 degre angle, then the right needle starts to assume a horizontal position while the left-hand needle becomes more vertical. The goal is to keep the opposite needle, the fourth needle at the "bottom" as nearly parallel to the ground as possible.

    I'm sure that all this lace tech is going into people's mental "Nice idea but why bother?" files but I can tell you that after knitting a few doilies in the fine cotton, the old, thicker crochet cotton looks like rope. The fine lace has a delicacy and transparency that is stunning and now it's hard for me to consider going back to thicker threads for lace. I would probably look for finer stuff, like silk thread, except that I can't get dps in 000 or finer in shorter lengths than 8 inches. With a needle that long, you can understand why balance is so important to avoid distorting fine thread. (If I find a way to buy or make shorter lace needles, watch out! Sutures, anyone?)


    Comments on the EFA sweater

    The schematics of the DKNY EFA show that the sweater is indeed oversized, as does the verbal description. The build of the model has nothing to do with the appearance of the sweater as shoulders are shoulders, whether on an anorexic model or a more normal figure. Shoulder width is determined by bone structure, not flesh mass. The design must be that oversized to accomodate all those trees and things and I do not see how you can successfully "narrow" it (even by knitting on a smaller needle). You need a wide shoulder/yoke structure to support all that detail on the lower body.

    If you were a real masochist, I suppose you could try frogging down to the armhole decreases and make them cut in deeper (thus narrowing the shoulders) and altering the sleeve cap correspondingly. But my sense is that this will not be successful. The sweater is just not designed to have set-in sleeves hanging at their natural point. If you try to alter it in this fashion, I think that you will end up with a lot of baggy droopy trees hanging off the sides of the sweater. The drop-shoulder look was big a few years ago when it looked sort of cute and waif-like, like wearing your SO's shirt.

    I found the plain sleeves rather boring, so I picked up stitches at the shoulder and knitted down and I knitted in some of the tree charts, upside-down.


    Cuff-to-Cuff Summary

    Sept. 12, 1996

    Tech: cuff to cuff

    I have finally sorted out my files and am summarizing the answers which I received via private e-mail only, since you folks have already seen the knitlist postings on the subject. While I was collecting info, a Threads article came my way (thank-you, Lois Baker!) and so I'll try to incorporate it into the comments. Ref: Molly Geissman, "Knitting Sideways," Threads 55 (Nov. 1994) 32-36.

    Virtually everyone said that these sweaters tend to stretch vertically. More on that later.

    The T-shape isn't completely satisfactory as the human body isn't flat with right-angle bends. Dianne, a weaver, pointed out that this design shortcoming is especially noticeable in woven fabrics (knit is more forgiving) and that she adds a gusset to the underarm and a triangle on either side of the neck. Leah Reed does short rows at the sleeve-cap. Shoshana Matthews says that the sleeve increases need to be planned carefully, without excessive fullness, to avoid too much extra fabric under the arms; the drape of the fabric towards the cuff seems to contribute to the problem of underarm bulk.

    Molly Geissman didn't incorporate any unusual shaping into the sweater but did include a rather unusual treatment of the sleeve increases: instead of increasing gradually, she cast on/bound off in large blocks, so that the effect is rather like underarm prairie points. Armpit sharks' teeth? Since the garment is photographed flat, I can't comment on the success of this approach.

    My summary: All of these modifications are designed to take into account the divergence of the human body from the flat T-shape. If you don't mind flat, loose, not very fitted and somewhat bulky garments like a bog coat, then you could simply knit an unmodified cuff-to-cuff, increasing the sleeve gradually (sharks' teeth optional) and casting on a whole bunch of stitches for the body and continuing flat. If you want a more refined shape, there is room for shaping with short rows to accomodate the movement of the shoulder. In my original post, I had suggested increasing along the "shoulder seam" line, the center stitch, to build in a shoulder slope, the same kind of shaping that Dianne recommends.

    Successes: Pat Kreiling loves her silk/wool blend in this design.

    Failures: Shoshana Matthews doesn't recommend cotton because it grows too much. Barbara Drewette found that silk was hopeless--it stretched to the point of no return after the first wash. Her silk/wool garment shrunk.

    These results are generally confirmed by Geissman. She recommends wool but not 100% silk or cotton, because wool has more resilience. If using silk or cotton, try using a blend. She also suggests knitting two yarns together, for example, one of silk or c otton and one of wool.

    Shoshana mentioned that lighter yarns and tighter gauges are more successful for this approach. Molly Geissman says that the sts/in gauge is most important because it controls the length of the finished garment. She doesn't recommend open lacy patterns because they stretch too much. She knits a swatch, dresses it, and hangs it sideways to see how it reacts to the different orientation. To compensate for stretch, Geissman suggests planning your sweater an inch or two shorter than normal (Pat said the same thing). Further, stranded colourwork will also help the sweater to hold its shape. To compensate for the reduced stretch widthwise (since rows don't stretch much), Geissman adds 1-3 inches more ease than normal, depending on the fiber.

    Couple miscellaneous comments:
    Joan Hamer knitted a body-to-cuff sweater from Spin-Off magazine and found it a great success: "You invisibly cast on at the side, work to the neck area and divide. Work back straight to armhole, work front with neck shaping, then join all sts and do the sleeve, decreasing to the cuff. Then you pick up the sleeve sts from the other end and work another sleeve. Neck ribbing and bottom ribbing and you're done." Unless you want a very short sweater, you'll need long circulars to do the body (around 36"). Kate Barber has an article inset in Geissman's piece about knitting a Fair Isle vest sidewise. It looks intriguing, although all those edges which have to be finished sound a bit tortuous, as you have to finish the armholes, front edges and neck and hem. And seam the sides. Come to think of it, I think this means that you are simply knitting yardage and you cut it afterwards into a vest shape. I guess that if you really love this kind of handwork or you own a serger, you won't be put off by it.


    Doilies from the Center

    Sept. 16, 1996

    I've just finished a couple doilies in #100 cotton. I started with some quilting thread which I've carried around since I was 15, ran out, then pulled out a ball of fine cotton and discovered it was the right size. Quilting thread makes good lace (I use 000 dps) as the sizing keeps it slightly stiff and very smooth. So there's a yarn substitution for you. (See, Lois? Not an FO post!)

    Next bugaboo: cast-on. I already sent this privately to Leigh Witchel but I think his doilies have gone on the back burner. When using anything smaller than a 0, you don't have much choice in materials; it's steel or nothing. Steel is slippery and only seems to come in 8" dps. I use Emily Ocker's cast-on (back of Knitter's Almanac by EZ). Remember to make the loops *large enough* as you cast on, as these loops will not stretch later. If your loops are too tight, you'll have a lovely time trying to force the tip of a very sharp needle into a stitch which is too small.

    I normally start with only 2 dps, knitting with a 3rd, until I have 16 stitches, when working with #10-#30. Then I switch to all four needles, knitting with a fifth. With #100, it gets a bit trickier. I found that it helped to move fairly quickly to 3 needles, knitting with a fourth. Staying on 2 needles is really aggravating as you feel you have to strain the stitches at the ends of the needles. Three gives you enough room to manoeuver. I stayed on 3 for longer than I would in a heavier thread, until I had about 8 stitches on 2 needles, 16 on a third, before I switched to all four.

    Sliding needles was a big problem. After losing a needle twice because it slithered out (and took a good part of the lace with it), I finally started knitting over a table, ensuring that 2 needle tips were in contact with the table top at all times. Yes, it makes a clatter but if a needles takes it into its head to wander, it doesn't have far to go. If the noise of steel on table bothers you, you could use a tablecloth, I suppose.

    Another problem. I wanted to do a gorgeous Herbert Niebling doily but fine lace needles only come in 8" dp lengths. Solution, for which I credit EZ for the inspiration: when the doily gets large enough to threaten to expand off the needles, wrap a rubber band of some sort around the center. I find a covered hair elastic works best, as it is less likely to get tangled in the thread (thread tends to pull out more easily than crochet cotton) and it has a cleaner, smoother surface. Regular rubber bands are often dirty and you don't want a ring of yuck around that pristine white doily. As the doily got larger and larger, I simply re-positioned the elastic and had no difficulty in keeping a fairly large doily on the dps.


    Fitting Drop-Shoulder Sleeves

    Since we're on the subject of this exaggerated drop shoulder, I thought I would pass on a small but useful fitting tech pointer. The most common problem in this design is that sleeves tend to be too long. Look at the EFA in the photos. That's a LOT of ease hanging around the model's wrists. If you don't want to be rolling up your sleeves all the time, do the following (borrowed from dressmaking).

    Measure from the vertebra at the back of your neck to your wrist. Add 1-2 inches ease. That is your spine to wrist measurement. That should be the measurement of half the back width PLUS the sleeve length. Example: half of the back-width of this sweater is 14.5". The sleeve length, for "small" (!) from armpit to wrist, is 13.75". That is a total of 28.25". My spine to wrist measurement is 25". I know that the usual drop-shoulder sleeve is too long for me. I intend to shorten the sleeve by about 1.5", which should be more appropriate and comfortable. When I was doing sweaters to order, I learned how important it was to take this measurement and it saved me a lot of ripping out to shorten sleeves.


    Review of Poems of Color

    Tue, 13 Feb 1996 :

    Like many of you, I ordered this book months ago because it was supposed to be the definitive work on Bohus Stickning. My only reservation was that it seemed a bit pricey for a 141 pp. book in the small square paperback format. Well, it IS the definitive work on Bohus. Of course, there isn't a lot of competition as so little has been written on this style of knitting, but it will be some time before other works surpass Keele's concise and thoroughly researched little volume.

    Now the second point, the price. When I saw the book, I understood immediately. The photographs are superb. And colour costs. There are numerous b/w photographs from archives, excellent documentation of the lives of these women and of the period, but the colour photographs are exquisite. They are absolutely sharp and beautifully composed, the same high-quality work which we have come to expect from Joe Coca, Interweave's photographer.

    Bohus Stickning, briefly summarized, is a distinctive style of knitting which emerged from a cottage industry started by Emma Jacobsson in Bohuslan, Sweden, in the 1930s, as a means of assisting the wives of unemployed stonecutters during the Depression. The company employed 5 designers and many knitters until it was closed in 1969, because of financial difficulties and the lack of a successor for Emma Jacobsson, who wished to retire. The pullovers, cardigans and hats are characterized by vibrant, lavish use of colour, extremely fine (9 sts to the inch!) gauge, and the use of purl stitches to add textural interest to multi-coloured stockinette patterns. The garments were knitted in fine wool and angora.

    The first section of Keele's book is an essay on Emma Jacobsson, her designers, her knitters, the workings of the company (including the annual vacation which, unfortunately, most knitters could not take advantage of because of family responsibilities) and the company's eventual closure. This section packs a lot of information into a mere 52 pages. A brief middle section deals with technique; nothing in this bit will surprise the experienced knitters of the Knitlist but it is interesting to know what techniques were actually used by the Bohus knitters themselves.

    Finally, the moment you have been waiting for: The PATTERNS! Sixteen patterns have been charted and verbal instructions are provided for pullovers, cardigans, hats, mittens, etc. using these patterns. The gauge is slightly larger (about 7 sts/in) than the original and the garments have been adapted to modern tastes. All of the patterns are photographed in colour, some as finished garments. The graphs are colour printed and in a fairly large size, which should make it easy on the eyes.

    The first thing I did when I checked the patterns was to see how they charted the clever slip-stitches which Bohus is so famous for. It was quite a shock to read that they DIDN'T use slip stitches, after I had read in EZ that they had, in order to avoid carrying more than 2 colours per row. (EZ had picked up the misinformation from an earlier source). Instead, they carried up to FIVE colours per row, depending on the design. With a jaundiced eye, I turned back to Margaret Bruzelius' article, "Exploring a Knitted Pattern," Threads 6 (1986) 35-39, rpt. Knitting Around the World from Threads, Taunton Press, 1993, and read, "I continued to think about the pattern, convinced that there must be certain rules governing Bohus patterns, or even their excellent knitters would have gone mad.

    I discovered they never used more than two colors in a row; to create the impression of more colors, they used slip stitches." It might be unkind to ask, but how did she discover something that wasn't there?

    To continue in a personal vein, I had once studied the Bohus sweaters on the cover of the Threads volume (that photo had come from EZ and her photographer evidently knew what he or she was doing) and had come to the conclusion that the knitters DID carry more than 2 colours. If you who want to see it for yourselves, get out the Knitting Around the World book and look at the left hand sweater. Incidently, the pattern is "The Red Edge," designed by Anna-Lisa Mannheimer Lunn. Take a good look at the interlocking black and red triangles with white accents. See the stitches? Same number of vertical stitches in each colour! Therefore, they couldn't have slipped stitches to obtain the multi-colour effect. They simply carried all those colours and took valium (or whatever the 1930s equivalent was) to keep from going mad.

    My final comment is that this book brought home to me that Bohus was a business and that businesses are set up to make money. Now we all know that a "cottage industry" doesn't mean that knitters sit around in cheerful thatched cottages, with the kettle whistling, pies cooling on the window sill, humming jolly little folk songs to themselves. But what emerges from the interviews with a group of 5 knitters (p. 52) is that while the work was enjoyable and Bohus was a benevolent employer, it was a difficult way to make a living. The women, who were young mothers then, reminisce about getting up early or staying up late after the children went to bed in order to knit. I can't imagine it was a pleasure to knit such intricate patterns in the last numbing hours before sleep, by the available light source. And frogging in angora at 9 sts/in doesn't bear thinking about.

    Also, being a designer was no picnic. One of their early designers left because she didn't like the isolation of sitting in an office knitting swatches day after day. To illustrate the point, there is a photograph of Annika sitting alone in a tiny cubicle, knitting, before a table full of yarns and drawing tools. It's not the setting that comes to mind when we think about the origins of these exquisite patterns.

    Someone recently mentioned on the list that she would have loved to have been a knitter during that era and worked for Bohus. For her benefit, I quote the first line of original instructions for a woman's pullover (p. 66): "CO 140 (140) 150 (160) sts on size 000 needles and work 1 x 1 ribbing for 10 cm." And, dear KB, in 1968 you would have been paid about 56 kroner ($11) for that garment! Quite a sobering thought when we read that one of their fastest knitters took 14 days to finish a garment and she estimated that she spent 8-10 hours a day knitting.

    In summary, this book is lovingly written and documented, beautifully designed (despite my own innate prejudice against square books), and packed full of information without being dull or abstruse.

    Now for the fly in the ointment: sloppy editing. I can live with the occasional less-than-elegant turn of phrase but in such a short text (52 pp. of substantive writing), I don't expect to find 4 "it's" in place of "its" (one in the Preface and a second in the Introduction), so many "sic"s (8 in one short letter! Let me pass on to you a useful sentence, free of charge: "The original spelling has been retained". Also, the use of [sic] is a bit gratuitous after the word "colour". I think that many people are aware that non-American English-speakers like myself spell "neighbour" and "colour", etc., with the "u".), "respectfully" in place of "respectively," etc. Because I found no typos but plenty of errors in grammar, usage and style, I began to suspect that the editors simply put Keele's text through a computer spell-checker and never read it through carefully. For the price of this book, I think it's not too much to ask for a clean text.

    Ordinarily, lots of errors would make me hesitate to use the patterns but happily the knitting section has been edited by Dorothy Ratigan of Knitter's Magazine, whose competence I have no reason to doubt. If the text doesn't bother you, then enjoy it. I think that most of you will find inspiration in the photographs (check out the berets!) and pattern swatches.


    Smooth V-Neck

    Sept. 20, 1996


    The way to get a smooth edge at the V-neck, or anywhere that you have inc/dec, is to use selvedge stitches, one or two stitches at the edges which aren't patterned and increased or decreased in any way. I sometimes just slip the first stitch of every row and knit the last. On the wrong side, slip the first row, purl the last. This is the standard chain selvedge which works for most people.

    BUT: in large gauge knitting, I no longer use the chain selvedge because if you look carefully, you see that in every other row, the second stitch is slightly larger than the ones inbetween. This is no big deal in something fine like Shetland but it is quite noticeable in Cleckheaton Antarctica, a merino in a lopi weight. Further, for picking up stitches for an edge-ribbing or whatever, I find that it's slightly more difficult to force the needle between some of the stitches as they tend to clump together in pairs when the chain selvedge is used. I like to do ratios like 5 stitches to 7 rows or 3 stitches to 4 rows, depending on the gauge, rather than just picking up between the gaps left by the chain, which leaves holes, is not in the proper gauge, and can look rather "amateurish" because the selvedge stitches are sometimes exposed on the right side.

    So I guess my conclusion is, most people still seem to use chain selvedge. I don't, for the reasons I've just mentioned. But as long as you use SOME kind of selvedge stitches, you should have a neat edge from which to pick up the neckline stitches. Just remember that you need to pick up more stitches than you would from a vertical edge, like a front button band, because diagonal edges are slightly longer. You don't want that dreaded "Portrait of the Prince of Wales' Fair Isle Jumper with the Too Tight Neck Edging" look.


    Tackling the tahkli

    June 2, 1998
    Spin list

    Subject: SPIN: tahkli help on the way!
    Oh-oh, tahkli trouble. Have no fear-- Fine Threads Fetishist is here.....


    Trying to learn to spin merino on a tahkli sounds like the fastest route to the Home for Deranged Spinners, IMHO. Sorta like trying to spin tatting thread on a Navajo spindle.

    A tahkli is very lightweight and best suited for very -short- fibers. Merino is way too long for a tahkli, especially if you're a beginner. (An experienced spinner might manage to spin merino but as I said, it's a bit like trying to spin thread on a Navajo spindle. There are better ways to do the job!). You should try a short fibered preparation, like cotton or tussah silk (make sure it's cut into short fiber lengths; if you end up with continuous silk, as in a cap or hanky, you'll run into the same problem!). The reason your spindle keeps stopping and reversing is that the long fibers want to make it untwist. When you're spinning cotton, you don't have the same problem.

    You have some cotton to practice with? So try that. Carded cotton is easier for some people because it tends to "stick together" more but if your cotton is combed, it'll be a bit more slippery but still spinnable. 2nd thing to remember is that a tahkli is only efficient for producing fine threads. If it is much thicker than sewing thread, your takli will not spin properly. So 12" of cotton should last you quite a while.

    Now technique. Tie one end of a cotton leader about 15" long onto the shaft of your tahkli. I recommend pearl cotton. Tie a knot on the other end. This knot is to help the cotton fibers grip the leader better, as pearl cotton is quite slippery. Pull out a bit of your cotton fiber, just a pinch, and grab it together with the knot of your leader. Spin the takli with a quick flick of the fingers and thumb, letting it continue to spin in the crook of your thumb. Spin a few times until the cotton doesn't want to fall off the leader. When you've got a good join, wind the leader onto the shaft until your join is about 4" above the hook. Remember to spiral gently up the shaft and, just below the hook, spiral it around horizontally, so that it doesn't pop off the hook. When you're spinning the tahkli, you'll probably find it easiest to angle it at about 45 degrees toward the hand that's holding the fiber.

    Now to start drafting. Pull the fiber -away- from the tahkli gently so that you start to see some unspun cotton. Spin the tahkli. Pull the fiber away (this is drafting) again, spin the tahkli again. At the start, you'll want to do a draft-spin-draft-spin rhythm. Later you'll be able to integrate them so that you're drafting at the same time but when you're beginning, it's easiest to stop between drafting and spinning. Now when you've drafted about an armslength, give the tahkli about 6 good long spins. Yes, six. you'd be amazed at how much twist cotton can take and if you don't give it enough twist, your yarn will drift apart the minute you try to ply it and you'll be left holding a handful of dryer lint. That's why it's a good idea to spin a few yards, then wind off (I put my tahkli in a glass cereal bowl and wind of GENTLY and SLOWLY with a ball winder) and ply, to make sure you're not undertwisting. That way you only lose a few yards instead of a whole spindleful (those spindles can hold several hundred yards, believe it or not!).

    You can ply from a center pull ball when you're fairly comfortable with fine threads and their twist but you might find it easier to ply from two balls at first.

    It can seem awfully tedious spinning all that thread but once you develop a rhythm, it's a very portable relaxing spinning method. I used to use my tahkli on buses or in the park. On my website I have a photo of a lace baby bonnet which I knitted entirely out of yarn spun on a tahkli.


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