Wednesday 25 January 2017

Knitting tips: Knitting with Linen

In an endeavour to have more knitwear to wear during the summer I knit two linen pieces this season. I went stash diving and found the sweater lot of Quince & Co. Sparrow that I had bought at least a year ago and I made Pam Allen's Perkin's Cove jumper. Then just last week I finished knitting a lovely cocoon of a shrug by Bristol Ivy called Bridie in Quince & Co's aran weight linen, Kestrel. Both of these garments are lovely to wear and they will definitely feature prominently in my summer wardrobe in the years to come.

I hear many people wonder what it is like to knit with linen yarn and I am by no means an expert, but here are some of my observations.

Linen is a plant fibre so it is smooth like cotton and it will not felt. However, because of the smoothness of the fibre it does also share the cotton's characteristic of having no bounce in the yarn. Unlike wool and many other animal fibres that have crimpy strands that will give the yarn bounce and memory, the plant fibres' smoothness will pretty much feel flat and "dead" in the hand. For some knitters, working with such fibres tend to cause their hands to hurt. After working two garments in linen I am ready to give my hands a rest from plant fibres and get back into some incredible woolly wools. 

In preparation for knitting with the linen yarn I was advised to hand wind the skeins. The lack of crimp in the yarn is just more suited to hand wound balls but that is not to say if you are short on time that you cannot knit from a cake that had been wound on a ball winder.

To try to avoid the stiffness in my hands I read Elizabeth Doherty's guest blog post on the Quince & Co. site. She suggests to ease up the tension and to go down a needle size or two so that you don't have to pull as tightly to achieve gauge. I did this with the Bridie project and tried hard consistently maintained a relaxed tension but I find the muscle memory in my hands often just take over when I get into a knitting rhythm and when I finished the pieces I had a little freak out moment when my knitting was much smaller than the suggested size pictured in Bristol's schematic. 

But here is how linen can shine. It is an incredibly strong fibre and can withstand some vigorous blocking. So I blocked the heck out of the Bridie and left it to dry over a weekend; I was not going to take it off the mats until it was bone dry. Because there is no crimp in the fibre once it is dry that shape is pretty much set until the next time it gets wet unlike wool which can I have noticed will gradually bounce back to it's preblocked state in some for or another. After blocking the Bridie cocoon, the size was much closer to the intended size and now it fits perfectly. I believe by blocking it the pattern has opened up a bit and it has resulted in a lovely drape to the garment.

When I was knitting the Perkin's Cove pattern with the Quince & Co. Sparrow yarn I found that my finished object was a bit wide and the stitches were looking a bit uneven and sloppy. So when I blocked that jumper I pulled it down to elongate the stitches and bring in the width. Stretching out the stitches lengthwise also helped to tidy up the elongated stitch pattern by evening it all out. Again I let it dry until it was bone dry and the linen has pretty much stayed in place.

Much of what I have read about linen knits emphasises how machine washing and tumble drying the yarn will soften it and give it more drape. I am yet to test this because I do not own a tumble dryer. I did however throw the Bridie shrug into the washing machine and that withstood the process. Linen, like cotton will not felt and is strong enough to take some rough treatment.

Both pieces have been such lovely layering garments for me to wear over the past month. I am so pleased with them both and next summer I will definitely have another linen knit on my needles. Maybe I'll play around with some Isager Bomulin next time.

Further Reading:
As mentioned above, Elizabeth Doherty's tips on the Quince & Co. blog are very help so do take a look. Another worthy read for knitting with linen is Hannah Fettig's post about finishing linen knits. Check it out here.

Links to my Ravelry project pages for my Bridie and Perkin's Cove.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Knitting tips: When you get stumped with a pattern instruction

Somehow I've ended up with the wrong stitch count at the shoulders on the front and I'm stuck.
We've all been there before and no matter how experienced a knitter we are we all experience the same rise of panic and frustration when we find a point in our project where we cannot proceed any further. 

You may have just realised that the pattern instructions and your actual knitting doesn't match up. You believe that you have followed EVERYTHING to the tee and you just don't know why this has happened. Or you had been happily chugging along with your knitting until you've reached a point in the pattern that is confusing or unfamiliar to you.

If you're like me, this usually happens late in the evening and I end up obsessing over it trying to work it out to fix the problem before I am able to go to bed. Which in reality probably doesn't help the situation at all and really a sleep and a fresh set of eyes is the possibly the most prudent approach.

Having experienced this panic and frustration many many times I have sat down and thought of a few suggestions for how to move forward.

1. I find all my patterns off Ravelry these days so that is often my first point of reference. I will look at the pattern page to see if the designer has posted any errata links or comments about tricky bits in the pattern. After that I look through the projects that other Ravelry users have made from the same pattern. This wonderful community is full of many generous and wise makers who diligently write up thoughts, modifications and problems they encountered. If there is an error in the pattern's instructions it would undoubtedly be picked up on by more than one knitter. The helpful ones will also provide details on how they moved forward from the problem or what they did to modify the pattern to their liking. I am eternally grateful for those benevolent knitters who freely share their wisdom and I do try to do likewise with my Ravelry project notes.

2. My current project, Annie Rowden's Polka Dot Tunic hasn't got many projects on Ravelry and so unfortunately there are no helpful notes from other makers. I am at a point where my knitting is not matching up to what the pattern instructions say. I am stumped but I am not at a loss. Many independent designers are willing to provide pattern support for their designs. They are dedicated to their fan base and will usually provide some kind of contact means for questions and feedback. In this case I have written an email to Annie and I hope to hear back in the near future. I'll let you know what happens...*

3. Sometimes you just need someone in real life to help you nut through a problem and a trip to the LYS is just what you need. At Sunspun we regularly have people popping in need of help with a project and we are all ways happy to take a look and spend a bit of one on one time nutting it out. We always try our best to send people off ready to keep knitting and on their way towards a beautiful finished project.

I hope you'll be able to knit problem free, so happy knitting.

UPDATE: My email to Annie has been replied and she has clarified everything. Turns out the pattern has errors and she will be updating the parts that I pointed out to her. I'm a bit chuffed to have made a contribution to this pattern and aided a designer. This is just another thing I love about the modern knitting community.

Monday 2 January 2017

2017: Blog Reboot

Happy New Year! 2017! 
It's a new year, so why not reboot the blog. Rather than dwell on what went wrong last year I'm just going to look ahead and set my goals for the year ahead.

Slowing down and simplifying life is one thing that is pressing on my thoughts right now. I want to be able to enjoy the moments and the process rather than try to rush through to the finished object or the destination. I'm aiming to take the pressure of myself stop trying to achieve unrealistic goals or to make everything that catches my eye. So the goals will be less extensive and detailed this year and kinder to myself.

I've come to accept that "Stash Less" is just not for me. I know I really should but I can't especially since I started working at my LYS, Sunspun and I'm surrounded by such attractive yarns on a regular basis. I am a stash enhancer but maybe I should turn that into a strength and write more often about the spectacular skeins of yarn that cross my path and find their way into my stash. So you can look forward to some more yarny thoughts this year on the blog.

I want to spend more time on my sewing machine. The growing fabric stash will be a new area of attention for me. I have been collecting and dreaming of building my handmade wardrobe and I really need to just apply myself to making it a reality. I also want to make more items for my children so that they can wear at least one piece of handmade everyday.

Some knits that I definitely want to make this year:

Little Wave cardigan by Gudrun Johnston. I want to knit this for my husband for our 10 year anniversary this year. 

Isadora Lopapeysa by Kate Gagnon Osborn. This will be for my boy because I want to knit a stranded colourwork sweater and a kids sized one is the best place to start.

Pictured above is what I'm working through right now. It's Annie Rowden's Polka Dot Tunic for my girl but I'm considering changing the bottom of it because I predict that a white "skirt" bottom will definitely return from kinder very dirty. I'm knitting this with my last 200g skein of Tarndie 8ply and some lovely squishy Wool Days Scout and I think of it as my "All Australia" project because both these exquisitely woolly wools are traceable to two single farms in Australia. Both yarns have fabulous stories behind them; take a look through their websites if you want to know more or wait till I post up a yarn review.

For myself, there are too many jumpers, cardigans, shawls, cowls and etc. in my making dreams. I will probably just let the fibre speak to me and choose projects based on which yarns I want to play with next. Like that Blacker yarns Cornish Tin II that is pictured at the top of this post. I keep wanting to squish (and sniff) it and I'm thinking it will be a lovely yarn to use for a Rocquaine from Pom Pom 18.

Please share your making goals in the comments. Happy making in 2017.