The Opinionated Knitter
Most people have an obsession; mine is knitting.
Your hobby may be pie-baking, playing the piano, or potbelly-stove collecting, and you can sympathize with my enthusiasm, having an obsession of your own. Will you forgive my single-mindedness, and my tendency to see knitting in everything?
Carvings and sculpture remind me only of Aran and other textured designs; when I see a beautiful print my first thought is how it would adapt to color pattern knitting; confronted by a new fashion, I immediately start drawing in the air with my forefinger to see if it would suit itself to knitting, and if so, how -- which way the grain should run, if the shape could be knitted in, and what stitch would be most effective.
So please bear with me, and put up with my opinionated, nay, sometimes cantankerous attitude. I feel strongly about knitting.
What follows is an attempt to explain some of the ideas that come while designing knitted garments, and during the pleasant hours spent working on the plain straight pieces.
I am taking it for granted that you are already familiar with the rudiments of the craft.
Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit either.
When I say properly practiced, I mean executed in a relaxed manner, without anxiety, strain, or tension, but with confidence, inventiveness, pleasure, and ultimate pride.
If you hate to knit, why, bless you, don't; follow your secret heart and take up something else. But if you start out knitting with enjoyment, you will probably continue in this pleasant path.
Consider the agreeable material and tools. (I admit to a rooted preference for wool.)
Soft wool from the simple silly sheep can be as fine as a cobweb, tough and strong as string, or light and soft as down. There are scientific reasons why wool is the best material for knitting, and into these I will not go. I only know that it is warm, beautiful, and durable. Woolen socks never become cold and clammy, however wet. A woolen sweater is so water-resistant that when dropped overboard it floats long enough to give you ample time to rescue it. The surface on caps and mittens made of wool repels all but the most persistent of downpours. I have in mind a particularly beautiful cap made of the finest wool and angora at seven stitches to the inch in the lovely designs of Bohus in Sweden. It has been worn for two seasons by a dedicated ski-teacher in all manner of blizzards and dirty weather, and she swears that it is the warmest and driest hat she has -- snow perches on it but does not penetrate.
For people allergic to wool, one's heart can only bleed. Synthetics are a marvelous substitute, but a substitute is all they are. The allergic must be grateful that they didn't live in the Dark Ages of fifty years ago when one kept warm in winter with wool, or froze to death in linen and cotton. Of course, some avoided pleurisy by swathing themselves in sables.
It is true that a synthetic sweater can be washed and dried in machines, but to me this rather reduces it to the level of a sweatshirt. Washing a real sweater is akin to bathing a baby, and brings the same satisfaction of producing a clean, pretty, sweet-smelling creature -- very rewarding.
There is a persuasive old wives' tale about one reason why wool shrinks. It goes, "Never wind your wool into a tight hard ball, as this will make it stretched and taut. You knit it up into a sweater. Then it gets dirty and you wash it. The wool, encouraged by the dampness, goes back to its original unstretched state, with the result that the whole sweater shrinks." Think it over.
"Ply" is a frequently misunderstood concept. It has nothing to do with the thickness of yarn, except in a relative way, and everything to do with its construction.
A ply is a strand of wool. Two, three, four, or more strands are twisted together to make 2-ply, 3-ply, 4-ply, or many-plied wool. Since the strands or plies can be of any thickness, it is clear that the thickness of wool does not depend on the number of plies but on the thickness of the individual ply. I have used 9-ply wool which was no thicker than 4-ply knitting worsted, and I'm sure all are familiar with 2-ply wool so heavy and bulky that it knits up at 2 1/2 stitches to 1 inch.
So when buying wool be guided by the recommended GAUGE rather than by the number of plies, and compare this recommended GAUGE with the GAUGE specified in your knitting instructions.
When wondering how much wool to buy, ask the saleslady. She knows by experience. If she doesn't know and isn't interested, go to another store. In fact, start off by going to the best specialty yarn shop or good department store that you can find. It is not wise to shop around for cheap wool unless you are very experienced, or are willing to risk spending hours of work on an object that will shrink, fade, or run. A well-made sweater, knitted with good will and good wool, is beyond price; why try to save a dollar on the material?
Consult the nice expert in the wool shop, and if she doesn't suggest taking an extra skein as insurance against running short, take one anyway. Find out the time limit on returns and exchanges, and mark this on your sales slip. And keep the sales slip with the wool, OK? The saleslady will then love you. Even if you never get around to returning the extra skein, think what a disaster it would be to run short, and to fail to match the dye lot. Anyway, extra skeins are always useful for socks, caps, mittens, color patterns, or stripes.
If you prefer to economize and love to knit, make your sweaters with very fine wool and many stitches. A thin sweater weighs much less than a great heavy one, and, broadly speaking, wool sells by weight. Fine knitting gives you many more hours of your favorite hobby before you have to sally forth and make another capital investment.
Discrepancies will occur between dye lots; even with white, even with black. Never start a project without sufficient wool to finish it.
But on a rainy winter's night who can resist three or four skeins of wool, pleading to be made into a sweater? "I'll go to the wool shop first thing, and match the wool." Oh dear. Famous last words.
Well, there are several remedies.
If you can find an almost perfect match, the two shades may be successfully blended by working them in alternate rows for an inch or two.
Seams will also help to hide the slight color difference of a close match. You may make one or both sleeves of the new color, which will fool the eye.
If the match is Not Good At All, you can be glad you are making a Zimmermann sweater (I hope you are). Several of these start at the bottom on sleeves and body; the three pieces are united at the underarm, and the shoulders or yoke are worked last. This offers endless opportunities for using up odd wools. Few people embark on a new sweater overnight without material to get them at least to the underarm. So when the wool runs out decide that you had decided on a sweater with a contrasting yoke anyway. Eureka. If you are determined to have a one-color garment, intersperse a few purl rounds where the dye lot change occurs. This is enough to fool most eyes, even if it never fools yours -- you know too much. You can put in a small pretty color pattern at the point of change, which may please you so much that you may decide to continue with different color patterns up to the neck. This is one way of achieving a "famous masterpiece of taste and imagination." Save a few yards of the original color for one of the last patterns, and the whole thing will look as if it had been planned.
Needles are made of so many materials that you can go dizzy taking your pick. Years ago you had your choice of wood, bone, steel, or luxurious tortoiseshell and ivory. The contemporary ones are usually of metal or plastic, and are firm or flexible respectively.
The U.S., for some reason, employs different size numbers from those in Europe, which are measured in millimeters. A needle gauge is a very useful thing to own, although it and the needles may vary infinitesimally, which sometimes leads to confusion. Occasionally one comes upon a mature needle gauge in which the holes have actually become enlarged through constant use, or by the forcing through of too large needles.
This all points to the admonition not to take needle sizes too seriously, especially if you tend to knit loosely.
Tight knitters lead a hard and anxious life. They grab needles and wool so tightly that great strain is put upon their hand muscles, nay, arm, shoulder, and even neck muscles in extreme cases. They must let go of everything from time to time, just to rest, and then resume knitting, with what looks like a careworn expression, although they neither admit, nor, in most cases, believe this. The tight little stitches they make must be forced along their (right) needle, and more tight little stitches force up along their (left) needle, to be squeezed in their turn. The resulting fabric, in knitting worsted, with #8 needles, can have a GAUGE of five stitches to one inch, because of the great tightness. The identical GAUGE may be easily and calmly achieved by a loose knitter on, say, #5 needles.
If you are a beginning knitter, don't try to knit tightly in order to make your work look neat.
If you are a habitually tight knitter, try to kick the habit.
Loose knitting tends to make your stitches look somewhat uneven, but what of it? Are you trying to reproduce a boughten machine-made sweater? Besides, it is surprising what blocking and a few washings will do to uneven knitting.
I used to think that people in the Olden Days were marvelously even knitters, because all really ancient sweaters are so smooth and regular. Now I realize that they probably knitted just as I do, rather erratically, and that it is Time, the Great Leveller, which has wrought the change -- Time, and many washings.
Don't fuss too much about one size in needles; it is GAUGE that is important, and this does not invariably depend on needle size. If you want to make a sock and can find only three #2 needles, add unto them a #1 or a #3; it will make very little difference if you are a loose knitter. I have, on a bet, made a sock on four different-sized needles without ill effect. One tends to give one's fingers too little credit for their innate good sense. They feel when a too-thick needle has arrived on the scene, and will tighten up a tad. Confronted by a really skinny needle, they will help the little thing along by loosening up, and no harm done. One is in this knitting pastime for pleasure, not for toil, anxiety, and doubt, so don't WORRY. If you are a tight knitter by chance instead of by choice, practice knitting loosely, and it may change your life.
Different needle materials are:
Very useful in the larger sizes -- say #10 to #15. Well-worn wooden needles can become well loved. Their benevolent clack is soothing, and brings back the feeling of childhood. New needles, not mellowed, may be broken in with sandpaper or steel wool, and light applications of paste wax or linseed oil, but the best finish is
Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit All Sizes
Knitting Without Tears
Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Garments to Fit All Sizes
Do you love to knit—and hate to purl? Have you ever started a sweater without enough yarn from the same dye lot to finish it? When you cast on, do you end up with a tail of yarn that’s maddeningly too long or too short? Elizabeth Zimmermann comes to the rescue with clever solutions to frustrating problems and step-by-step instructions for brilliant, timeless designs.
In Knitting Without Tears, you’ll find elegant designs for:
- Color-pattern Norwegian ski sweaters
- Seamless patterned-yoke sweaters
- Hooded garter-stitch jackets for babies
- Watch caps, socks, slippers, mittens, and more!
This classic and influential book is poised to inspire a whole new generation of knitters who have yet to discover the joys and comforts of knitting. As the lady herself once put it, “properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit either.”