AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary

I really enjoy reading and collecting knitting books, but I have a special place in my heart – and on my craft room shelves – for stitch dictionaries.  Several months ago, when I first saw the announcement about Interweave’s new book Alterknit Stitch Dictionary by Andrea Rangel, I immediately got excited and knew it would soon become part of my library. Like most people in this industry I have a craft room in my home, complete with shelves upon shelves of books. Vintage and new stitch dictionaries share the shelf, and for the most part, they offer traditional or traditional-inspired motifs. When this book arrived, I realized it was unlike the majority of books in my collection.

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Flipping through the book for the first time, I was impressed with the wide array of Andrea’s color-work charts.  Being a pretty conservative guy, I definitely enjoyed seeing her version of standard, classic geometric motifs.  What really surprised me, was how much I enjoyed and was inspired by her less conventional designs! She has masterfully addressed more contemporary shapes and filled the pages of this book with unexpected patterns.


Motifs such as the Escher-inspired bats (page 70) could easily become a pattern on socks or gloves!

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When I turned to the Broken Shield chart (page 89), I imagined a fun blanket with blocks of this pattern in in different colors. I like how the lines play with each other in this design… it’s such a neat optical illusion.

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…and then things got really fun! I have never seen a pattern book with a “Poopin’ Pig” chart in it (Page 115)! Andrea, you’ve really made some designs that made me smile!Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.52.50 AM.png

She has truly included options for all knitters!

The book then goes a step further and offers several full patterns that incorporate some of her motifs – included are mittens, a hat, a cowl, and a couple sweaters.

I think what I like most about stitch dictionaries is that they inspire me to think.  To think about what I would make for myself with a certain motif or who would be the perfect recipient for the wacky Poopin’ Pig design!  This book really is full of inspiration, and judging from how inspired I am after spending an afternoon reviewing its offering, I’m certain it will guide me from project to project for years to come!

Happy Making!

-Chuck


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About 

Chuck Wilmesher is the Director of New Product Development for Skacel Collection based just outside of Seattle, WA, and spends his days working to create new products for us to enjoy. He is also an avid knitter and fiber fanatic. 

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Cage Match, Concluded

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For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

For the first part of this adventure, click here.

I almost feel as though this week I should begin with an apology for the lack of drama in what follows.

I try to give you a good read, truly I do, with laughs and thrills and the occasional car chase; but you can’t, as my grandmother famously said while on a date with Mick Jagger, always get what you want.

To get the Makers’ Mercantile cage purse across the finish line, I had two things left to do:

  1. Attach the woven lining to the knitted liner.
  2. Attach the liner to the leather cage.

There are knitters who steer clear of making purses and bags on principle, just to avoid woven linings. This is a great pity. A knit or crochet bag with a woven lining will be stronger and more durable, less inclined to droop and pull out of shape, and less liable to catch and snag everything you put into it.

And sewing is not (or at least, need not be) the trauma some think it is. A simple bag lining is about as simple as sewing gets. More about that in a minute.

Make It Snappy

Now, the “official” pattern that comes with cage purse kits is available as a free download from Makers’ Mercantile. I used it as my guide for designing a lining of my own, and as usual I decided to make some adjustments. I don’t think I’ve ever followed anyone’s pattern exactly as written.

I decided to install the snaps, which are included with the cage,

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before sewing in the lining, whereas the pattern suggests you do the reverse. On your purse, you choose.

If you’ve never put in a snap before, rest assured these are a breeze. Since my bag was quite freeform at the top, I put it into the cage to see exactly where the male* halves of my snaps (pictured above) needed to be in order to line up with the female* halves of the snaps on the cage (which come already installed). I marked these spots on the liner with locking ring stitch markers.

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Then you make a little sandwich with each snap, one by one, like this…

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…with the post on the back of the snap stuck right through the knitted fabric.

Then you place the cylinder tool…

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over the nubbin on the front of the snap, and tap the cylinder with a hammer. I do mean tap. Brute force is not required. It took me two modest taps to get each snap set firmly. Boom.

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I’ve never felt more butch.

The knitted portion of my liner being thus completed, it was time to add the woven lining.

Line It Up

The official pattern for the cage purse gives full instructions for this part of the project, so I’ll confine myself to a few notes about linings generally.

First. Use the best woven (as opposed to commercial knit/jersey) fabric you can afford. It need not be expensive; but if you have the choice, buy from a reputable retailer who carries reputable lines.

If you buy in person, give the fabric a good fondle and a few firm tugs. If it looks flimsy and feels sleazy, if the printing is muddy, if it seems inclined stretch out of shape easily, if you can read a comic book through it, it probably won’t stand up well to the demands placed on a handbag. It may, in fact, fall apart as you sew with it. Fabrics whose standard retail prices are super cheap are usually super cheap for good reason.

I went with a print from Cotton + Steel called “Cat Lady,” …

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…because in my social circle, it’s inevitable that whoever gets this purse is going to stuff it with balls of yarn. She will probably also have at least one cat.

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Note: The lighting in this shot tipped the blue quite a bit. It’s really far closer to the navy in the previous photograph.

Second. Don’t skimp on the preparatory steps.

Sewing has a different flow than either knitting or crochet. Both knitting and crochet consist, in the main, of knitting and crocheting. Other stuff–seaming, blocking, weaving in–comes in at the end. We front-load the fun. Sewing insists that you begin with planning, measuring, cutting, pinning. It takes time to get to the sewing part of sewing.

This feels ass-backwards somewhat odd to those of us who knit and crochet.

Listen. If you hate the preliminary steps, that’s okay. Acknowledge that. Embrace that. Then take a breath and do them anyway. It may help to have a good friend supervise you.

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“After you weave in all those ends and take your measurements, you may have a cookie.”

Since my liner pattern was something I cooked up myself, I measured the end product to be certain it would accommodate the lining described in the official pattern. Turns out my liner was a smidge taller and a smidge narrower. I adjusted my cut pieces accordingly.

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Measure twice, cut once. Maybe measure three times.

Third. Don’t let unfamiliar techniques frighten you.

When I teach Introduction to Hand Sewing, we end our class project with slip stitch–the same stitch that joins the woven lining to the knitting liner. Students often approach slip stitch with trepidation because it looks like a magic trick. You sew and sew, and when you’re finished you can’t see the sewing. You just have two fabrics that are now joined, invisibly.

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Cool, right?

And you can do it. Yes, you can. Most of what used to be called plain sewing–the toolkit of handmade stitches necessary to turn out everyday items–was taught as a matter of course to little girls for centuries.

Are you going to let some little Dickensian imp in a dirty pinafore sew circles around you?

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Heck no.

Here is all there is behind the “magic” of slip stitch.

After the lining pieces have been sewn together, turn and press the lining fabric to the wrong side as directed in the pattern.

 

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Kindly note my new, adorable fire engine red Bohin embroidery scissors in background.


Place the liner inside the lining…

 

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…and secure it with a generous number of straight pins so that you can focus on your stitching.

Step One.

Thread your sewing needle with a coordinating thread, and tie a stout knot at the end.

Bring the needle up through the fabric at point A, which you will notice is right on the fold of the lining. (Alternatively, especially if the ghost of my late grandmother is watching you, instead of using a knot you may secure the beginning with a series of tiny stitches at point A. This is called a “tack.”)

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Step Two.

Take a small stitch in the liner (knitted) fabric at Point B (directly above Point A, near the top edge of the woven lining). Note: My stitches into the liner all went around–rather than through–strands of yarn, as this felt more secure than splitting strands with the sewing needle.

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Step Three.

Take a horizontal stitch into the fold+ of the woven lining by putting the needle in at Point C and out at Point D.

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Step Four.

Take a horizontal stitch into the knitted liner from Point E to Point F, near to and parallel to the top edge of the woven lining.

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Repeat Steps Three and Four all the way around the liner. Every few stitches, gently pull the thread to even out the tension of the sewing stitches. You want the lining to lie smooth against the liner– don’t pull so hard that puckers begin to form. When the seam is complete, fasten off with a discreet, small tack in the woven lining.

That’s it.

+Some say just behind the fold. Your choice. In sewing, as in knitting and crochet, there are many paths to the same destination.

In the Bag

What else can I say? I’m really pleased with it. I wanted the sinuous lines of the short rows to wiggle and play against the straight edges of the cage, and they do.

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It could be about an inch bigger all around at the base, to really fill up the cage; but that’s about all I’d change.

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What’s more: as the liner is held to the cage with snaps, it can be removed and replaced with any number of other linings whenever inspiration strikes or your mood changes.

It didn’t even take long to knit–comparable to a hat. I’m already thinking of other liners–crocheted, embroidered, woven. And other yarns, too. These were all left over from previous Fridays with Franklin projects, but they could have been:

assorted lengths of handspun

souvenir yarns collected on a memorable trip…

the leftover yarn from a favorite sweater for a matching sweater/purse combo

bits of yarn (and blobs of knitting) contributed by a members of a group to make a special farewell or birthday gift

And the yarns you put into a cage liner are right there, with you, visible and useful. A souvenir afghan is lovely, but it usually has to stay at home. Not to mention that the usual everybody-knit-a-square afghan requires a lot of work and a mountain of yarn. A souvenir/commemorative cage purse is well within the grasp of knitters or knitting groups who are short on cash, pressed for time, or just plain lazy.

Coming Up

The next Fridays with Franklin will be the first in which I get to use a vise and power tools. That’s all I’m telling you right now. Nope, sorry. My lips are buttoned.

*I’m not trying to be cute. That’s what they’re called.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Makers’ Mercantile Leather Cage Purse available separately or as a kit
Bohin Embroidery Scissors (shown in Red, available in six colors)
Makers’ Mercantile Tape Measure (shown in Orange, available in seven colors)
HiKoo Simpliworsted (55% Merino Wool, 25% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 140 yards per 100 gram hank)
HiKoo Rylie (50% Baby Alpaca, 25% Mulberry Silk, 25% Linen. 274 yards per 50 gram hank)
HiKoo Kenzie (50% New Zealand Merino Wool, 25% Nylon, 10% Angora, 10% Alpaca, 5% Silk Noils. 160 yards per 50 gram ball)
HiKoo Kenzington (60% New Zealand Merino, 25% Nylon, 10% Alpaca, 5% Silk Noils. 208 yards per 100 gram hank)
Schoppel-Wolle Leinen Los (70% Wool, 30% Linen. 328 yards per 100 gram ball)

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His new book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cage Match, Part One

fwf-logo-v11It scarcely seems possible, but by the close of this series we will have reached the fiftieth installment of Fridays with Franklin. Fifty! Can you imagine?

I was flipping through my binder of shade cards from Makers’ Mercantile looking for the next yarn to play with when my elbow knocked over a little basket of yarn that was sitting on the work table. Odd balls of yarn spilled all over the floor. Or they would have, if they’d hit the floor. Instead they spilled all over the four open boxes on the floor that were already full of other odd balls of yarn. You couldn’t actually see the floor.

It appears that nearly fifty columns full of knitting, crochet, and weaving have landed me with quite the buffet of leftovers.

That’s not something to cry about, I know; but please keep in mind that I live in a large city and do my work in a very small room. How small? Not much larger than the footprint of a king-sized bed. It is crammed, absolutely crammed, with things I need. Here, I’ve drawn you a little plan:

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Of course, what you don’t see in the plan are the things I have hanging from the walls and ceiling, including my Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom, my card weaving loom from John Mullarkey, my swift, my project bags full of things in progress, and other hanging bags full of weaving, spinning, and embroidery tools. Every inch is spoken for.

I try to keep leftover yarns organized and sorted into the bins under the bed in the next room. That’s the place where, by mutual agreement, my stash lives. If it won’t fit under the bed it has to leave the apartment. Fortunately, it’s a big bed. Good intentions don’t sort skeins, though; so I have a perpetual backlog on the workroom floor. The prettiest little tripping hazard you ever saw.

Seeing as we’re celebrating a milestone of sorts with this adventure, I think it’d be fun (and prudent) to hold back from ordering new stuff and make use of what’s already to hand.

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Talk about memory lane.

There’s HiKoo Simpliworsted here from The Adventure on the Floor (the crocheted mat) and The Adventure of the Warm Puppy and The Adventure of the Transparent Excuse to Show You More Pictures of My Adorable Dog (sweaters for Rosamund).

There’s HiKoo Rylie from The Adventure of the Scarf That Ate the World (and the Into the Hoods interlude that followed).

There’s HiKoo Kenzie and also HiKoo Kenzington from The Adventure of the Stealth Blanket (the Ohio Star quilt-inspired afghan and pillow).

There’s Schoppel-Wolle Leinen Los from The Adventure of the Little Poser.

And that’s just the top layer.

These are wildly different yarns, in wildly different fiber blends, constructed in all manner of methods from chainette (Kenzington) to felted singles (Leinen Los).

Pushing the pile around didn’t give me fun ideas for using them all together. An obvious choice would have been some sort of scrap blanket, but one of the yarns (Leinen Los) isn’t really well suited to that. A scrappy shawl might be fun–but a shawl made with a significant quantity of hefty Kenzington might suffocate you.   

Then I got a note from one of my friends at Makers’ Mercantile in which she mentioned one of their most popular kits–the Cage Purse. You may well have seen a friend with one of these, or you may well have one yourself.

The cage bit…

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…comes ready to use. The fun is knitting (or crocheting) a liner for it. The open cage supports your work, which means you don’t have to resort to felting in order to get a bag that won’t droop and sag when you fill it. And because it’s a cage–well made from good leather and handsome, sturdy rivets…

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…whatever sort of liner you create is beautifully shown off.

Makers’ Mercantile sells the cages as part of several kits (like this Brown Kit, or the Red Kit shown below) – each with yarn, pattern, and fabric for a lining…

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…or you can buy just the cage (in a choice of colors such as Basil) and use your imagination. That’s what I decided to do.

The Amazon Arrows cowl in our last adventure

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…had so much going on (miters! shadow knitting! duplicate stitch! I-cord!) that I felt this piece ought to be as simple as possible. When you have four very different, eye-catching yarns in eight or ten colorways all smooshed together, I think it’s unwise to make the structure of the fabric complicated as well.

So, what’s the least complicated knit fabric? Probably garter stitch: when working flat, knit all stitches and all rows. I cast on for a small swatch…

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…and within a few inches I got that tingle in my chest that either means I’m onto something I like, or that I shouldn’t eat half a pan of brownies right before bed. I hadn’t been eating brownies.

This is nothing but garter stripes with changes from yarn to yarn at will. Most of the colors are fairly closely related (clearly I have a thing for purples and blues), but as we noted the yarns themselves are strange bedfellows. And I like that. The fabric was looking good, and the swatch was (brace yourself) fun to knit. Truly fun.

When you find yourself smiling at a swatch, that’s a good sign.

I sketched out what I needed to make. Pretty simple, really.

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All that remained before calculating my cast-on numbers was a plan for how to make that happen. There were two obvious options.

Option 1…

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…was flat construction. Knit panels and sew them together. That would make sense, as garter stitch is a natural result of flat knitting. I don’t mind sewing–it’s quite fun, really, once you know a little bit about what you are doing–and the side seams would give the bag some structure.

On the other hand, a seam sewn in a fabric with this many yarns would never be invisible. Not a deal-breaker, but a point to consider. It also might be tricky to sew a good seam when joining panels where two very different yarns are meant to align at the selvedges. In fact, just getting all four sides to be exactly the same length might be a challenge.

Option 2…

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…was primarily circular construction. Knit the bottom as a flat panel, then pick up and knit around the edges and work the body of the bag in the round. Without doing anything special at the corners, this bag would have softly contoured sides. It might be possible to give those corners a touch more definition using Elizabeth Zimmermann’s “phoney [sic] seams” technique–slipping the corner stitches every other round.  There would be no sewing. But every other round, in order to make garter stitch, would have to be purled.

Either way, we’re talking about a ton of ends to weave in. Happily, I like weaving in ends.

So, what to do?

See you in two weeks!

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Makers’ Mercantile Leather Cage Purse available separately or as a kit
addi® Olive Wood Circular Needle available in fixed and interchangeable varieties
Schacht Cricket 15-inch Rigid Heddle Loom
HiKoo Simpliworsted (55% Merino Wool, 25% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 140 yards per 100 gram hank)
HiKoo Rylie (50% Baby Alpaca, 25% Mulberry Silk, 25% Linen. 274 yards per 50 gram hank)
HiKoo Kenzie (50% New Zealand Merino Wool, 25% Nylon, 10% Angora, 10% Alpaca, 5% Silk Noils. 160 yards per 50 gram ball)
HiKoo Kenzington (60% New Zealand Merino, 25% Nylon, 10% Alpaca, 5% Silk Noils. 208 yards per 100 gram hank)
Schoppel-Wolle Leinen Los (70% Wool, 30% Linen. 328 yards per 100 gram ball)

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His new book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.

Fridays with Franklin – Adventure in the Shadows, Part Two

For the first part of this adventure, click here.

You know what I did first, don’t you? You know you do, you just don’t want to hear me say it.

I swatched.

Confession time: I love swatching.

If that makes you bristle, let me reassure you that I understand. I wasn’t always like this. I used to hate swatching. Swatching was vile. Swatching was the pile of green beans my mother used to force-feed me before I was allowed to have a cookie.  I hated green beans.*

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Why did I change? Experience. People say swatches lie, and swatches do. But the most deceitful swatch still tells you more that no swatch at all.

Swatching isn’t just about checking your gauge to make sure you end up with something of the correct size. It’s also about testing the fabric. Does it look good? Does it have the right amount of drape? Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you “get” gauge but the yarn you’ve chosen to get it gives you a fabric stiff as cardboard and you’re looking to make a shawl.

With shadow knitting, my favorite way to swatch is just to pick one color or the other and start knitting a piece of garter stitch. Here’s the kind of garter stitch I look for:

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See how nice and snug those ridges are? That’s good. Here’s what I avoid:

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If you get snug garter stitch, the gauge of your shadow fabric will generally give you a bold, legible hidden pattern.

This was also a good test flight for the Schoppel Gradient. As I mentioned in the last installment, I was concerned that the slightly irregular nature of the yarn might render it unsuitable for shadow knitting. But when I saw these nice, plump garter ridges

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I knew I was good to go.

That’s what a swatch is supposed to do for you, you know–let you set forth without anxiety. Or at least with less anxiety.

What pattern to knit, though? I wanted, on this test flight, to try out the shifting colors and see how they’d play against one another. That meant keeping it simple. A square would have grown monotonous very quickly, so I charted up a circle.

                        Click here to download chart

As I’d hoped, what grew was a series of bold explosions on a moody background. The nature of shadow knitting is to stretch out motifs, so they were more oblong than circular. I liked that.

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I also liked the way the simultaneous changes in the background and foreground led to the unexpected.

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All the while, one thought kept nagging me. These looked like something I’d seen. What was it? Paints in a paintbox? Not quite. Candies on a tray? Definitely not.

I was talking with a knitter friend when it hit me.

“They look like the sun rising through clouds. In the morning, when they’re storm clouds full of city pollution, and I’m at the airport, and it’s really early, and my eyes are kind of bleary, and I have hours of horrible flying before I’ll get any kind of rest.”

“That’s cheery,” he said.

“Angry sunrises,” I said. “Eleven angry sunrises.”

“Some people are inspired by pretty flowers,” he said.

“That’s what I’m going to call this,” I said. “Eleven Angry Sunrises.”

“You can’t call a knitting pattern ‘Eleven Angry Sunrises.’”

“Why not?”

“Because it sounds angry. Knitting is supposed to make you think happy thoughts.”

“Well, I’m not calling it Eleven Happy Sunrises.”

“Why not?”

“Because it sounds like the name of a cult.”

“And what is knitting?”

I have to admit he had a point.

Your Own Adventure: Recipe for Eleven Happy (or Angry) Sunrises

Procure two skeins of Schoppel Gradient in different colorways. The more difference between your colorways, the bolder your surprises will be.

You will also need two stitch markers, and the shadow circle chart above. And of course, scissors and a tapestry needle. (Do I really have to tell you that? Patterns always tell you that, but do they really have to?)

As described above, knit a good-sized garter stitch swatch (about four inches by four inches will do it) to make sure you have a firm but not tight fabric. If the fabric could stand up in the corner by itself, it’s too firm. If it looks like fishnet, it’s too loose.

Don’t bind off the swatch; rip it out so you can use the yarn.

With your first color, cast on 27 stitches.

You’re going to put garter stitch borders around the sunrises just for pretty. So knit two rows with Color One, then join Color Two and knit two rows with that. From this point on, you will always alternate two rows of Color One, then two rows of Color Two.

Enough border. Time for pattern.

With Color One, knit three stitches. That’s your right-hand garter stitch border. Place a stitch marker. Knit the first row of the chart. You’ll have three stitches left; place a marker, then knit them. Those are your left-hand border.

Now, follow the chart when you’re inside the markers. Outside the markers, knit all stitches. Don’t cut the yarns at the end of each stripe, just carry them up the right-hand selvedge as you work.

When you have had quite enough, knit two more garter stripes–one in each color–and bind off using the color of the final stripe.

Block, if you like. Weave in ends. Admire.

*I still hate green beans.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Schoppel Gradient: 100% Virgin Wool, 260m/100g per ball; colors: 1873 (red-orange) and 1508 (black-white).

Fridays with Franklin – Adventure in the Shadows, Part One

With this issue, Franklin’s adventures begin in earnest. For an introduction to this ongoing project, click here. 

Blame it on a childhood spent as the oddball and the outsider–I often find myself irresistibly drawn to knitting techniques that can’t get a seat with the cool kids.

Shadow knitting (sometimes called illusion knitting) is one such. I remember with perfect clarity the first time I saw it. I was a fledgling, making my maiden visit to a fiber festival. As I toddled through the vendor market with a clutch of far more experienced knitters, I came to a dead stop in front of a striped sweater with a geometric pattern that appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared. Then appeared. Then disappeared. Then–

You get the idea.

“How does it do that?” I asked.

The leader of our group winced. Her chief lieutenant came to my defense–sort of. “He’s new,” she said. “He doesn’t know any better.”

It was explained to me, as I was gently but firmly pointed towards the more respectable Fair Isle sweaters in the next booth, that shadow knitting was not quite comme il faut. “It’s cute for kid stuff,” the lieutenant said. “You can hide secret messages in it…if you like that sort of thing.”

I like that sort of thing.

Shadow knitting has become a fascination for me in the past year, and not coincidentally the topic of one of my most frequently requested classes.

Here’s a nutshell tour of how it works.

The fabric of shadow knitting is based on two-row stripes, in two colors. You knit two rows of color A, then two rows of color B.

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These two stripes don’t only differ in color; they differ in texture as well. One is always stockinette; other is always garter stitch.

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The second row of each stripe is where the magic happens. Any place you want the pattern to appear, you throw in purl stitches (in a garter stripe) or knit stitches (in a stockinette stripe). The pattern stitches of the second stripe always echo, or shadow (aha! see?) the pattern stitches of the stripe before it.

When you look at this stuff from the top, you see the stripes.

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When you look at it from an oblique angle, the hidden pattern pops up.

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That’s it. That’s all there is to it–or so I was told.

The fabric is straightforward, but so what? There’s not a whole lot to the structure of stranded color work, either; yet nobody suggests the residents of Fair Isle have been wasting their time exploring it. Why should shadow knitting be considered a one-trick pony?

I can’t help but be intrigued by a technique that’s neither color knitting nor texture knitting: it’s both. It has to be both. Remove either the texture or the color and it falls apart.

Students in my classes have been treated (?) to the fruits of my ongoing fascination, including experiments with motifs large and small, deliberate obscurity, changes in grain, and alternative charting methods.  But you are getting the first look at the latest adventure.

Though shadow knitting requires that the stockinette and garter stripes be different colors, the color of either may be changed at will–provided you take care to change in the first row of the stripe. I’ve used that to fun effect in some of my projects.

That set me to pondering what might happen if I relaxed my iron grip on the finished product and let the yarns decide what colors would end up in each stripe.

I’d tried unsuccessfully to combine two heavily variegated yarns in a shadow swatch, hoping the flashing and pooling would for once work to my benefit. No dice. All I got was an incomprehensible mush of colors. It turns out that for this to work, you need a yarn whose color changes are long and gradual.

Enter Schoppel Gradient.

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Gradient had pretty much everything I was looking for in this experiment. It’s pure wool, it’s worsted weight, and the clear colors shift from one to the next at a nearly imperceptible rate.

The only thing I wasn’t quite sure about was the shape of the strand. In my classes, I’m accustomed to telling to students to look out for yarns that are smooth, regular, and round.  By round, I mean that if you cut the yarn into cross sections like a salami, this is roughly what you’d see.

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Round yarns are usually made of multiple strands (called singles) twisted together. When you twist the singles together they become “plies”; and three or more plies tend to yield the round profile that makes shadow patterns stand out.

Gradient isn’t built like that. It’s a “singles” yarn–in effect, one thick strand.  It has a very slight irregularity in profile, too.

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That can make even plain stockinette look enchanting–but I feared might goof up the shadow patterning.

However, in knitting as in all of life, you never know if it’s going to work unless you try it.  I shudder to think how many beautiful things are not brought into the world because the maker talks him- or herself out of the making.

Part Two will appear in two weeks.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Schoppel Gradient: 100% Virgin Wool, 260m/100g per ball; colors: 1873 (red-orange) and 1508 (black-white).