Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fun with the Drum Carder

I inherited a drum carder from a dear knitting and spinning friend last spring.

I've only just started playing with it.4

Remember that BFL/mohair blend I purchased that I was not happy with, because it wasn't blended enough? Well, I decided to see if I could correct that.

I went from:

[70/30 BFL/mohair blend, showing unblended mohair lock]

to this:

[blended batts of BFL/mohair]

I'm much happier with the amount of blending now. Also, the original roving was space-dyed (ie. stripey),  with two main colours: pink and gold - which I converted to a gradient thusly:

1. rip the roving into chunks so that each chunk was as much a single colour as possible, and then
2. run the strips through the drum carder to fluff them out; then,
3. follow the instructions in this video (it's in German, but I think you can get the gist pretty easily - turn off the voice and watch what she does, it's not hard to get) to create a gradient.

To spin from the batt, I did this. It's lovely fluffy stuff and drafts pretty easily, although I'm finding a few neps. The single is hairy rather than smooth (that's what you get with a longwool, in my experience) and as I'm spinning I'm hearing the wool tell me it wants to be a shawl rather than socks. We will see what comes of this!

I'm going to have to explore the drum carder more. I love how it can make gradients, and how I can make custom blends!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sweater Analysis

My friend Mary is in her 80's and an accomplished knitter. I spotted her wearing this beautiful Aran cardi a while back, and I requested the pattern...but it turns out the sweater is as old as I am and the pattern is long gone.

So, instead, she lent me the sweater for some analysis. I invite you to share on my "sweater deconstruction" journey...

Here's the sweater. Lovely, no?

[vintage aran cardigan]

Just looking at it, you can see that:
1. it's been knit flat in pieces, and sewn together. 
2. the sleeves are "set-in", not drop-shoulder or raglan
3. the font band is vertical (not picked up later and knit on), and has been knit separately and sewn on. Ditto the collar.

I think this method of construction was par for the course in the 1960's - nowadays lots of people tend to knit sweaters in the round, and do drop-sleeves, and knit on the front band and collar. 

Let's have a look at the stitch patterns to see if I can figure this puppy out. I'll start with the easiest one; the one that the sleeves are knitted out of and that runs up the sides of the sweater fronts and back:

["background" pattern]

This is pretty clearly:
R1: knit on RS
R2: purl on WS
R3, 4: K1 P1 ribbing

Then repeat, but offset the ribbing.

Right? OK. Look really really closely at the ribbing. 

[zoomyzoom on the ribbing part of the background]

The two blue arrows point to a column of sts from the ribbing rows, and the orange arrows point to the stockinette rows. You can see that the ribbing rows are twisted stitches while the stockinette is not. The left leg of each twisted stitch overlaps the right leg, whereas in the not-twisted stitches, the two legs originate from the same point. So, the actual background pattern is:

2 rows stockinette (K one row, P back)
2 rows twisted ribbing (KTBL, PTBL)
and then repeated, offset.

And don't feel bad if you got this wrong. I did, and tried plain ole' ribbing. Here's what I got, and you can see it doesn't look as nice!

[my swatch]

I was trying to get that crisp, ripply look and figured at first it was my needle size, so I kept downsizing. But you can see it didn't help! My wool is different too, of course - it's woolier than Mary's, so that doesn't help with the stitch definition - but I'm glad I decided on a closer inspection. I will have to redo the swatch now!

Next up: the bobble cabley thing:

[bobble-cable, in context]

This one's a bit harder, but it's clearly 2 rope cables twisting in opposite directions, separated by a bobble. Duh.

Now, in detail - I had to look on the inside, and stretch the knitting out to count stitches - the cables are over 5 stitches, and every twist is made of up 3 stitches in the front crossing over 2 in the back, and this is done every 4 rows. They're asymmetric, which is kinda unusual. 

Now, also notice that the right-side cable looks narrower than the left-side cable; this is particularly noticeable in the photo above. Why??

Again, let's zoom:

[zoom of bobble cables]

The stitches are again twisted! Telltale ridges are appearing along the RH cable (see yellow line to guide the eye). And, because the "through the back loop" technique twist stitches in the clockwise direction, I can imagine that a clockwise cable will look tighter than a counterclockwise one. Which is what you see in the pic above, right?

So, I have embarked on a swatch to combat this problem. It involves knitting TBL on one side of the bobble, and reseating the sts prior to knitting them, on the other side. It matters not which side you do what on; the point is that the stitch-level twist and the cable-level twist on each side are symmetric (either opposing each other, or going the same way, on each side). Of course, you could also omit the whole twist thing and just knit and purl, but then your cables will not be as tightly defined.

To reseat a stitch, you slip it knitwise to the RH needle, then transfer it back to the left while keeping the twist in place. Remove your RH needle from the stitch completely, or you will have a strong desire to knit it through the back loop, which will undo what you've just done! Now the stitch is reseated and ready for regular through-the-front knitting or purling.

Now, as to that bobble, this took me several tries, as well as some dives into stitch dictionaries to find out how to do bobbles. In the end I settled on a 5-stitch bobble. You can see my swatch below. Both cables are the same width and the bobbles look the right size. And below that, you can see where I tried plain old untwisted sts on the cables. I don't like the result as much!

[my bobbley-cable swatch, with TBL and reseated sts]

[another swatch, this time with no twisted sts]

Isn't this fun? Oh, and here's the chart:

[chart for bobble cable]

OK, almost done. Let's look at the diamond things.

[diamond pattern]

Yikes. This looks complicated. These are 4-stitch wide travelling bands defining a diamond, which is filled with moss stitch. The 4-wide bands are themselves cabled. To get this, you need to cable on both the front and the back of the work. If I use the bobble-cable on either side as a guide, I'm guessing the diamond takes 24 rows or so to complete. It stretches over 21 sts (includes 2 reverse stockinette "gutters" on either side).

Here's my chart:

[diamond pattern chart]

You'll see that I've done the travelling on the wrong side of the work (even rows) and the cabling on the right side (odd rows). I've worked up a swatch, too...

[diamond cable swatch]

I'm not entirely happy with this yet though. I think especially the diamond cable swatch is too small; too tight. I will try all these again with larger needles, now that I have figured out that the background stitch reqiures twisted sts!

I must say I am pleased that I am able to recognize a high-quality knitted garment. And close examination of it shows lots of expert-level pattern details! Mary is indeed a fine knitter.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Twined Knitting, volume 3

OK, I finished those z-ply twined mittens. Half-mittens, actually.

Here they are:

[twined half-mitts]

I am very happy with them. The fabric is amazing: very dense, yet still soft and pliable. I love the surface decoration you get with this technique - it involves nothing more complicated than carrying the floats on the front of the work, rather than on the back (the floats are never more than 1 stitch long). 

While the outside of the knitting doesn't look that different from regular stockinette, the inside is quite different:

[inside view of twined knitting]

All those twists create little ridges on the back of the work and make it thick and lofty. I'm sure this would make amazing slippers! 

I find that my gauge is quite different with this technique: it's much tighter. So although the mitts were supposed to be husband-sized, they ended up being 2 sizes to small and therefore are now mine! So I've done another pair, using standard s-ply yarn (Palette from KnitPicks, which is fairly loosely plied fingering and a little finer than the Hygge Tveband), and I explored colourwork rather than texture. I upsized them and cast on 80 sts to make them bigger.  Here's the result:

[two-colour twined mitts]

These were fun to make as well - I really like the combined effects of colourwork and texture. Using colours that are close together (grey and white) makes the mitts a little less eye-popping. 

Since I used s-ply yarn, I twisted the two strands counterclockwise to unply the yarn as I knit. I see that I can't tell from the finished fabric that the initial yarn was s-ply rather than z-ply, and I didn't find the twisting action more difficult in one direction vs. the other...so why did the old-timers decide that z-ply yarn was preferable to s-ply for this technique???

I think it may have something to do with the yarn management. I found that while the yarn tangles with z-ply yarn, I could at least knit a few rounds of mitten before having to let the ball spin to get rid of the twist. Not so with s-ply yarn! After half a round, I had to spin the ball. Somehow the twist stays way up high, near my knitting hands, and gets nasty and tight really quickly. 

My younger son is about to head off for a 4-month internship in Saskatoon, and has requested a pair of full mittens in order to be able to cope with the -25C weather. So I'm off to produce another set! This time, I will try two-at-a-time, to see if I can get that working.