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What Did We Do Before Stitch Markers?

LBHandknits

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In a coffee shop the other day, with a sweater-in-progress sprawled across my lap, I noticed a woman at the table beside me glancing at my needles wistfully. When I caught her eye and smiled, she told me this devastating story:

She had brought her knitting that day as well, but was not be able to work on it. She had reached a crucial point in the pattern where stitch markers were required, and she’d forgotten to bring any. Surely I didn’t happen to have extras?

Sadly, I did not. But happily, I did have scrap yarn. And minutes later, I had fashioned for her a set of perfectly functional stitch markers, by knotting several short strands of yarn into rings.

Having done this for people several times now, the solution always seems to surprise the recipient. And their surprise, in turn, surprises me - as I wonder, what did knitters here do before commercially produced stitch markers (which surely must be a relatively recent thing?) were available.

I do not pose this question in criticism; I am genuinely curious. Because as far as I know, in much of continental Europe, tying scraps of yarn was the normally done thing for quite some time. Even as recently as 2010, when I last lived in Austria, I recall seeing knitters do this rather than use dedicated, store-bought stitch markers. But then again I suppose 2010 is not all that ‘recent!’ Things change, and cultural memory can be short.

On the other hand, it is true that some knitting cultures seem to be more notions/gadgets oriented than others. Cable needles, colourwork rings, progress keepers, needle gauges, darning mushrooms, yarn winders… Strictly speaking, the job can be done without the use of these task-specific tools, yet in some knitting traditions they are perceived as essential and have existed for decades if not longer, whereas in others they have not been traditionally used at all (I was taught to darn socks over a glass jar, to wind yarn by hand, to knit cables and colourwork freehand, and to measure needle diameter using pinch-calipers).

So, for those of you who learned to knit BRE (before the Ravelry era), I am wondering - what did you do regarding stitch markers and other notions which we consider essential today? Did they exist in your region/ knitting culture, and if not, what did you use instead?

And as far as stitch markers, admittedly I prefer to use pre-fab metal rings to the yarn-knot DIY method. But in a pinch, it is good to have alternatives - which in the past, have also included paper clips, safety pins, washers, even blades of dried grass!

Chunky Yarn: the Knitterly Comfort Food?

LBHandknits

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Unlike more traditional yarn weights that endure stylistically, chunky yarn is one of those things, that tends to go in and out of trend in manic wavelets. A few years ago it seemed like everyone was knitting enormous sweaters and cowls with strands thick and fluffy. These days, the stuff has become rather scarcer - so much so, that it was actually a challenge to offer a decent list of easily available yarn substitutes for the Facing North collection.

Regardless of which way the trend has gone, I have always liked chunky yarn. Perhaps it’s because it allows me to try out ideas without too much commitment of time or labour. Or because it can make a winter wardrobe materialise, as if out of thin air, in a matter of weeks.

When I first got back into knitting sweaters after a lengthy break, it was chunky yarn I instinctively reached for, as if for a knitterly version of comfort food. I then proceeded to knit an army of sweaters out of Drops Eskimo. Most of them have since been gifted, traded, or sold, but the memory of that exhilarating sensation of fluffiness and speed, like a ‘welcome back to knitting’ embrace, remains with me.

In short, chunky yarn: As one knitting friend put it: ‘I always want to buy it, but never know what to knit with it.’ She meant in part that the choice of patterns for chunky yarns leaves something to be desired. But also that things knitted out of it - be they accessories or garments - can be somewhat tricky to wear. In part, Facing North was inspired by this sentiment, in that I wanted to offer a spectrum of everyday chunky-weight garments, from very basic pieces to more intricate and embellished ones, all tied together by a sense of casual wearability. But in making this collection, I also took the opportunity to really think about the experience of working with chunky yarns, and then wearing the finished objects. As with everything else, there are pluses and minuses. And here are my notes on both so far…

What I enjoy about chunky yarn:

. At the risk of re-stating the obvious, it knits up fast. Incredibly fast! As in: a basic raglan sweater in stockinette would take me a couple of evenings from start to finish. And beyond the designer and knitter benefits already mentioned earlier, there is simply a certain magic to being able to create something so quickly.

. I can knit with chunky yarn without looking at my work, much more so than with finer yarns. The larger stitches and needles are far easier for my fingers to parse. When working with chunky yarns, I can read books or articles and completely get absorbed in the text, all the while knitting without making mistakes. In that same vein, I can watch subtitled films while knitting, which does not really work for me with finer yarns.

. Practical considerations aside, there is something I just love about the feel of it. From the silky-smooth roving of Apple Oak Fibre Works, to the crisper Shetland of Jamieson & Smith, the sensation of the puffy strands gliding through my fingers, and the look of the knitted-up stitches, appeal to something in my brain.

. When wearing the finished garment, the cozy factor is high. My favourite chunky pieces are oversized and I like to wear them indoors, with the heating off, and with a hot cup of coffee in my hands. Something about the combination of these factors… just magical, and cannot be achieved with a finer yarn garment.

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What I find problematic about chunky yarns:

. They are inherently less economical than finer yarns - in the sense that you need more yarn to knit the same type of item. Whereas a fingering-weight sweater in my size would usually require three 100g skeins, a chunky-weight sweater would call for double that, which often translates to double the price.

. For the very same reason, garments knitted in chunky yarn will be heavier and will take up more space. Six 100g skeins means a 600g sweater - making it a less portable, packable, and weather-versatile article of clothing than its finer-weight brethern. It also makes the garment trickier to wear under a fitted overcoat.

. Finally, and this is rather more difficult to articulate, but I find chunky weight sweaters sub-optimal for active outdoor wear …and this is not because they are too warm, but rather the opposite! The larger stitches seem to be less prone to fusing together, and thus tend to let the wind through too easily when worn as an outer garment. To avoid this I suppose I could try knitting a chunky sweater below gauge; however I do not fancy making an even heavier garment!

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Looking over my notes, I suppose that for me the benefits and drawbacks are fairly well-balanced. I love chunky yarn, while recognising its limitations. And I appreciate the irony of mostly wearing my chunky - i.e. heaviest-weight - sweaters indoors!

As far as the availability of patterns… I actually think there are many wonderful ones out there. As with all garments, selecting the right amount of ease is important - but perhaps even more so with chunky yarns, as is being able to adjust the pattern to suit one’s proportions and personal style. But in any case, I hope Facing North offers another useful option this winter. The response to the book so far has been excellent, and I look forward to seeing how others interpret my ideas - as well as (I admit, rather selfishy!) which yarns they choose, in case there are any wonderful ones I do not yet know about! In particular, I am interested in ‘rustic’ (as in small production, minimally processed, breed-specific, etc.) options, and would welcome any suggestions.

As always, thank you for reading. And if you care to share your thoughts on knitting with chunky yarns, or wearing chunky-weight pieces, that would be most welcome.

Rustic Pinstripe Mittens, 2 Versions

LBHandknits

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Well, it looks like I have not updated this blog in some time - mainly because I’ve been swamped with work projects, and I haven’t yet figured out how to knit and write at the same time. Well, you never know - some day I just might! But for now? Let me tell you about these mittens.

It began with an assignment to design a pair of colourwork mittens. It had been years since I’d knitted mittens, and to be honest I did not remember the process as one I had ever enjoyed. But, thinking of it as an opportunity to dust off a dis-used skill, I took on the project. The yarn arrived. I looked at the colours. And the next thing I knew: boom! The mitten techniques came back to me straight away. But moreover I loved making them. So much so, that when I finished the sample pair, life felt conspicuously mittenless. What to do?

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As I contemplated this question, my eye fell upon some yarn I had recently received from Melissa of Knitting the Stash. To explain, Melissa and I have a sort of pen-pal thing happening, only with yarn instead of letters. Every now and again she sends me yarns from the US that I am unlikely to find here, and likewise I send her European yarns which she doesn’t have access to. Making educated guesses regarding what colours and fibre content the recipient will enjoy, we seem to succeed in delighting each other. And so it was with this latest gorgeous parcel - which contained, among other things, some breed-specific undyed yarns from sources local to Melissa: a skein of brownish-taupe Shetland from Woolley Haven Farm, and a skein of cream California Red from Woolhalla Tunis. Seeing these skeins resting there together, I knew at once they were destined to become my everyday mittens.

My idea was, to make a fairly snug and dense pair of mittens with vertical stripes, in a vaguely Nordic style. The aspects I wasn’t sure about, were which style of thumb I wanted, and which of the two yarns I wanted to be dominant. So, naturally, I decided to make one of each, then figure out which I liked best.

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So… In case it isn’t obvious, the mitten on the right was knitted with the cream yarn held dominant, and with a ‘peasant-style’ thumb (a.k.a. afterthought thumb, or Latvian thumb). The mitten on the left was knitted with the brown yarn held dominant, and with a gusseted thumb.

As far as aesthetics, I think the peasant-thumbed, cream-dominant mitten on the right is undoubtedly sexier (did I just call mittens sexy?). The lack of a gusset allows for a clean, streamlined look, and the cream colour’s prominence accentuates the vertical lines.

But as far as fit, the mitten on the left is by far the winner. The thumb gusset means more fabric, and, consequently, more wiggle room in the palm area. While the gusset increases disturb the otherwise perfectly parallel vertical lines, the extra stitches mean that the fabric itself does not distort with movement.

Having spent more time than I care to admit both staring at, and wearing, these mittens, I was still no closer to knowing which I preferred. And then I realised something wonderful: I have enough yarn to make one pair in each style! Looks like I have my evening’s entertainment sorted. And in any case, I think that having both pairs will be useful for demonstrating the fit of the two thumb styles, and illustrating the effects of colour dominance.

What do you think - Do you have a preferred way of knitting improv-mittens? and do you pay attention to colour dominance?

Call for Pre-Knitters

LBHandknits

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I have a number of new patterns coming out this Autumn and Winter, for which I will soon be seeking pre-knitters. I am putting together a mailing list specific to announcements of pre-knitting opportunities. If you think you might like to be included, please read below - 

What is Pre-Knitting?

Pre-knitting is intended as a casual and relaxed programme that benefits both knitter and designer with minimal obligation or stress on the part of either. Pre-knitters receive a complimentary copy of the pattern before it is available to the public. Pre-knitters are asked to begin working on their projects, and post project pages on ravelry, by a certain date. Finishing to a deadline is not a requirement. There is also no 'testing' of the pattern as such, as pre-knitters receive a copy of the pattern which is tech-edited and deemed ready for publication. They simply receive it ahead of everyone else. 

How does Pre-Knitting compare to Test-Knitting?

Pre-knitting is similar to test knitting in that you have access to the pattern before it is published. Pre-knitting is different from test knitting in that you are not required to test anything as such, or to finish by a deadline. If you like a pattern and want to get started on it asap, pre-knitting gives you an opportunity to get ahold of an early copy with fairly minimal obligation in return.

What happens if I sign up for a Pre-Knit, but change my mind or am unable to start by the stated date?

Nothing happens. Please don't stress! Obviously if you do this repeatedly, I will be less likely to select you for future Pre-Knits. But I won't be annoyed or think poorly of you. Things happen, I understand. It's only knitting!  

Is there a Ravelry forum to discuss Pre-Knits?

At the moment, no - as that is not something I am equipped to handle, either time-wise or internet availability-wise (I live in a remote rural area and spend much of my days outdoors). If you have questions about any part of the pattern, please feel free to email me.

Okay, sign me up!

Excellent. Please fill out the form below. When a pattern becomes available for pre-knitting, you will be notified with all relevant details, as well as instructions for how to join in. 

Name
Name
Pre-Knit

Rusticana! In Apple Oak Fibre Works Lincot

LBHandknits

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One of my favourite summer yarns to work with is the gorgeous and rather unique Lincot, from Apple Oak Fibre Works. As the name suggests, Lincot is a blend of linen and cotton - which makes it a durable and delightfully cooling yarn for summer. But aside from this, it has several special features. 

Lincot is 'rustically spun' - meaning that the yarn is thick-and-thin, presenting like an old fashioned handspun. It takes colour beautifully, with lots of subtle, rich variations in tone. And when knitted up, it gives the resulting fabric a captivatingly textured look and feel.  

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The uneven texture of Lincot also has interesting implications for gauge. In meterage, this yarn is a spot-on DK weight, measuring 220m per 100g. However, when it comes to gauge it 'behaves' like a much thicker yarn, and seems to work best in garments when knitted at an aran-weight gauge (of around 17 stitches per 10cm). This makes Lincot an extremely economical yarn! Meaning, you need far less of it than you would an ordinary DK weight yarn. For example: Normally, I need 500g of DK weight yarn to knit a sweater in my size. When using Lincot, I need only 400g. 

In my book, all this makes Lincot ideal for basic summer garments. The yarn itself is already interesting, so it works best with simple stockinette designs. It knits up quickly, as you are technically working it above gauge. It feels wonderfully breezy and cooling against the skin. And it is very strong, resulting in durable garments in which you can be free and active.

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With all that in mind, I was inspired to design a few simple garments in Lincot for summer. And that was how Rusticana came about. A simple, relaxed sheath dress with a flattering V neckline, I envisioned Rusticana as the sort of garment you might want to live in all season long. And for me, it certainly quickly became a summer uniform. It's a versatile, must-have garment, if I don't say so myself!

But here is the thing, and I am going to be very honest here, which I hope will not be to my detriment: Creating a design and a producing a wearable piece of knitting, are separate processes from publishing a pattern. And while I've been doing the first two for a while, I am still very new to the latter and have a lot to learn about things like timing, effective promotion, and other logistical issues. All that is to say, that I was hoping to publish Rusticana much earlier in the summer, but ran into glitches. Basically: Due to the unusual nature of the yarn, combined with the fact that the design is a dress (and therefore is perceived as a big project) I had a difficult time organising 'pre-knitters' for this pattern. Folks weren't sure about how to handle yarn substitutions, and between trying to address this and dealing with the health setbacks I've had over the past 2 months... well, it is now August!  So at this stage I had a choice of putting the pattern on hold until next year, or releasing it. And I've decided to release it. Because really, it's a fun pattern, and would be quick to knit with plenty of time to still wear it in summer weather. To be clear, the pattern is tech edited, and tested in several sizes. There just aren't any examples of 'pre-knitter' projects up on the page. 

If you are interested in trying Rusticana, I am making it available for free, for TODAY only (2nd August 2018)! You can download it here and use the code [Edited: thank you everyone; the promotion has now ended] .

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Now as far as yarn, and yarn substitutions: Well firstly, the ideal yarn for this pattern is of course Apple Oak Fibre Works Lincot, and I hope you consider supporting this wonderful, talented dyer.

But of course yarn substitutions are also possible, and in fact are pretty straightforward. You can knit Rusticana with either DK or Aran weight yarn. If choosing DK, just be aware the fabric will be quite drapey, as you will be knitting above gauge. If choosing Aran, you will get a typical aran-weight fabric at the stated gauge, but note that you will need more yarn than stated in pattern (I would say 1 extra skein should suffice for most sizes). And of course, if substituting yarn, you do not need to choose plant fibres. You can knit Rusticana as a cold-weather dress in either DK or aran-weight wool.

If you have any questions about yarn substitutions, gauge, and sizing, please feel free to get in touch and I am happy to help.