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Hand-Knitting Tweed with Linen Stitch

LBHandknits

I do not remember how I first learned of linen stitch (sometimes also called woven stitch, or slipped moss). It was some years back and, as with most stitches involving slipped repeats, I did not have much use for it and so promptly forgot it.

Then, a couple of month ago, out of nowhere I got this notion that I wanted to try knitting a structured, tweed-like jacket. This would be a drastic departure from my normal seamless in-the-round knitting, and would likely end in disaster - as I hate knitting flat and am not great at sewing. But even as I told myself this, the desire to knit a tweed jacket would not leave me. The question was, what stitch to use to make the garment sufficiently tweedy looking. I browsed handknit jacket patterns for inspiration (of which there are surprisingly few) and it seems they mostly use some variant of moss stitch. However, this was not quite what I had in mind. I was after a dense, flat stitch that resembled woven fabric.

It was then I remembered linen stitch. And, as these things often go, once it had re-entered my sphere of awareness I began seeing it everywhere - culminating with this post on my favourite knitting blog. Well, that settled it.

In another departure from my normal mode of operating, I actually knitted a swatch. From the start, the yarn I had in mind for this project was Ístex Léttlopi. It is a yarn Elizabeth Zimmermann once described as 'that uniquely hairy, Icelandic wool.' And she wasn't wrong. Compared to the Irish wools I normally like to work with, Lopi is stiffer, rougher, almost jute-like in feel. For the type of jacket I had in mind, the fabric materialising from the swatch looked and felt right. 

The principle behind linen stitch is pretty simple. For flat knitting, repeat as follows:

row 1:  {knit one, slip one purlwise} > repeat
row 2: {purl one, slip one knit wise} > repeat

For knitting in the round, obviously just continue as in 'row 1' ad infinitum. 

What you get, on the righthand side, is a flat, dense fabric consisting of alternating knit and slipped stitches. This stitch is not reversible, and on the underside it looks bumpy - like a cross between moss and garter. 

Depending on what kind of yarn you use and how tidy a knitter you are, the righthand side will resemble something on the spectrum between tweed, linen, and burlap sacking. Mine is somewhere toward the latter I'm afraid! But I was so pleased to replicate the woven effect at all, I did not let that little detail get me down. 

Now here are my two main impressions from working with woven/linen stitch so far:

1. Tension is crucial. This is an obvious one for anyone accustomed to working with slipped stitches, but it is worth mentioning regardless. Pulling the slipped stitches too tight (which you can see in the finished result I have done in places) will result in a puckered look to the fabric. 

2. It is slow-going at the start. When I posted some pictures of my work-in-progress on instagram, a few people familiar with linen stitch commented that they could not imagine knitting a substantial garment using this stitch - it must take forever? But actually, here is the thing. It does go slow at the start. In fact, working on the peplum hem of this jacket I did begin to question my sanity. But then at some point, something clicked and the stitch finally entered that part of my brain that allows me to knit on autopilot. After that the jacket (or rather the pieces that would hopefully become the jacket - with flat knitting I am always skeptical until the end!) knit up very, very quickly. So don't discount linen stitch as an option for large garments. 

Now, as far as the actual jacket... In yet another departure from the way I normally knit - that is to say, improvised and always based on my own designs - I actually used a pattern. Somebody else's pattern! I decided to go that route because I really am a complete stranger to flat knitting and to seaming, and this being a learning experience I thought it best to start with an existing template.

Initially my idea was to find a very basic, foolproof jacket pattern. Instead I found Beatrix by Kim Hargreaves. My friend Lisa has a book in her yarn shop library called Thrown Together. I was flipping through this book innocently when I came across this pattern and knew, with a sinking feeling, that this would be the one. Simple and basic this pattern is not (think peplum hem, short row shaping...). But it is beautiful. And so throwing caution to the wind I went with it. 

Of course when I say that my jacket is based on Kim Hargreaves's Beatrix, I mean that loosely. Aside from using linen stitch instead of the moss stitch specified, I made several modifications to the original pattern:

. changed the stitch count to suit my gauge
. altered the fit to be longer in the sleeves, narrower in the shoulders
. added 2 additional buttonholes along the front
. added button plackets to the sleeve cuffs
. changed the collar design to a more structured stand-up millitary style collar 

The result is basically what you see here. The fabric does look rather burlap sack-like, the sewing leaves much to be desired, I am still tweaking the fit, and I haven't blocked the jacket yet (should have blocked the pieces individually before sewing it up, but nevermind that now!). Still, for a first experimental attempt at hand-knitting tweed I am pleased. To my eye, my collar modification enhances the Edwardian look of this jacket, while the Bohemian glass flower buttons inject the mil-spec green wool with a bit of femininity. But most importantly, I like the tweed-like look and feel of the knit. The collar even actually stands up, so stiff and structured it is. 

I do think that linen/woven stitch, plus a coarse hardy wool such as Icelandic Lopi (or one of the rougher Kerry arans or Donegal tweeds), knit on size 2-3mm needles, make for a good recipe for hand-knitting a tweed-like fabric, should you desire to do such a thing.

tweed12.jpg

In the course of this project and related research, I have also learned a great deal about jacket construction (which is fortunate, as my previous knowledge of jacket construction was zero!).

I do not hate flat knitting as much as I thought I did. And I am even warming to sewing. 

Overall, I feel like I 'get' it now, and can proceed to playing around with my own jacket designs ...which is to say that I haven't gotten linen stitch or the idea of hand-knitting tweed out of my system yet. In my next attempt, the goal is to aim for an even more jackety, less cardigany look. And for a more tailored fit, making generous use of dart shaping. Wish me luck! 

tweed9.jpg

According to its definition, tweed is 'a rough, woollen fabric, of a soft, open, flexible texture, closely woven.' I suppose that nothing in that definition says it cannot be hand-knitted. And the idea of experimenting with that fascinates me.