In between the start and the end of January 2018, give or take a few days, I did a lot of things with yarn that I’ve never done before. It was the third annual Interior of My Brain Swatch-a-long, conducted on my Ravelry group of the same name. From the thread header:
Here’s a word of explanation about the annual January Swatch-a-long/Swatch-a-thon, for new members who might be wondering what the heck we’re talking about. The January Swatch-a-long/Swatch-a-thon is an opportunity to start off the new year by learning a skill, or several skills, that you’ve been interested in for a while but haven’t found the time to learn. It’s just a taste of technique with a small swatch, or it could be the start of a project doing something you’ve never done before, or trying out color combinations, or making a gauge swatch. It’s what you want to do. Do as many or as few as you wish. Share your results for cheerleading from the group.
This year I wanted to learn the basics of double-knitting, swatch an elaborate Japanese stitch pattern for a pullover that is way up there in my knitting queue, add to my machine knitting skills and swatch some color experiments for future machine-knit sweaters, learn to crochet some new flower shapes, and finally force myself to sit down and learn the basics of brioche, which has been on my January Swatch-a-long list since I started dedicating January to swatching in 2016.
The beginning of January found me working furiously to complete my And That Was Called Love dress, instead of swatching, and that made me feel bad because the Swatch-a-long was my party and therefore I ought to show up. I was working my way up the yoke and thinking simultaneously about the folded hem neck band for the dress and about the first double-knitting swatch I was being frustrated from starting, when I had the brainwave that I could do both at the same time by doing the neck band in double-knitting instead of a folded hem. I pulled out the books I bought on double-knitting years ago and had barely opened (M’Lou Baber and Alistair Post-Quinn), and followed the simple and clear instructions in the Baber book for setting up the double-knitting. I knitted the green knits and purled the pink purls, and before very long, I had a perfect two-sided neck band.
People whose knitting I respect had previously discouraged me from trying out double-knitting with complaints that double-knitting is slow and fiddly, but it wasn’t slower than knitting on two sides should realistically be, and knitting the knits and purling the purls was more interesting to me than plain stockinette, which I find prohibitively tedious– so tedious that I bought a knitting machine to spare me the trouble of doing it by hand. A little later in the month I played with putting a bit of patterning into a double-knitted swatch and made a swatch with squares and circles, done freeform, that is, not following a chart. I want to make a double-knit poncho in browns and reds in the shape of pebbles. It will be so warm, and right now I’m so cold.
Speaking of the knitting machine, I finally got past the psychological block that was delaying my embarking on my first sweater. Actually I had started the sweater before the January Swatchalong, but I’m counting it as a big swatch, because I successfully negotiated the short-row shaping of the neck and shoulders during January and am using the sweater as the template for a series of pullovers for everyone in my family. It fits everyone, with some tweaking, including my husband.
This success has opened the spigot of ideas for variations, a couple of which I swatched. I was thinking about using my plant-dyed yarn in patchwork stripes connected to each other modularly, theoretically for a pullover for my husband. When I swatched it, I found that it didn’t look as good in real life as it did in my imagination, and the process of connecting the pieces was a fiddly nuisance that wasn’t fun enough to make me want to work on ways to adjust the size of the squares and the arrangement of the colors so that it did look right. But as separate pieces, the stripes of plant-dyed colors are very appealing, and I’m looking forward to using them in random-ish stripes in a sweater for my husband. I also learned how to weave in ends while the work is still on the machine, so hooray for swatching!
The size of my template sweater required almost all of the needles on my machine, which limited the width of the garment. I started thinking of ways to produce a fabric that is wider than the maximum width obtainable on the 200 needles of my standard gauge machine, and I began envisioning designs in which the front and back consist of two pieces each. The two halves of each side offer an opportunity for striping in different color families, and the seam and the ends of the different colors in the stripes can be a design element. The swatch plays with the juxtaposition of red-family stripes with blue-family stripes. Both the distinctly striped knit side and the blurry purl side are attractive to me, but I like the purl side a little better, so I put the decorative contrastive seaming and the fringes on the purl side when I made the swatch. I’ll make the garment reversible to get the best of both.
I’ve been wanting to make a slouchy, intricately textured pullover for some months, after I saw someone wearing a big drop-shouldered Aran sweater in an undyed cream color. I don’t like to knit cabling, and I’d prefer to purchase a cream-colored garment than knit it, so I imagined mine in a subtle blue-gray knitted in a Japanese bobble and twist-stitch pattern by the brilliant Japanese designer Hitomi Shida. I had just received my copy of the newly-published Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible: 260 Exquisite Patterns by Hitomi Shida, and there is no way to extoll this book excessively.
Before this new book, non-Japanese fans of Japanese knitted stitch patterns used to make do with cheat sheets that paired the symbols with one- or two-word literal translations of the stitch names and sometimes provided occasional schematic illustrations of how a complex stitch was made, and we’d get resourceful with Google Translate and trial-and-error. But now, finally, we get a full English explanations of Japanese knitting symbols, and the book’s explanations make sense! The book offers lots of step-by-step illustrations and photographs, not only of the knitted patterns but also of the process of producing the more elaborate and specialized stitches. There are sections on how to use the designs as edgings and how to adapt them for round yokes. It even has a few patterns for incorporating the stitches into a hat, socks, and a scarf. It’s printed on heavy, glossy paper and the book costs $14 on Amazon, whereas the original Japanese books cost close to $100, which I know because I used to ask my husband for them as birthday presents, and then came the fun (and it actually was kind of fun) of deciphering them… but no more! Now we have this amazing book, which is like we knitters are being rewarded by heaven for our virtue.
Whew! Give me a moment… yeah, my swatch. I decided on pattern 146, which has bobbles on twist-stitch stems that gather up into a wrapped stitch grouping, topped by leaves and surrounded by eyelets and a meandering back-and-forth rib. I knitted it flat, and got a little disoriented on the wrong side rows until I came to understand the structure of the pattern. I did two repeats horizontally and vertically, and the second vertical repeat was a lot easier than the first, which is the entire point of doing stitch swatches. When I’m ready to get serious about starting the pullover, probably in the coming week, I’ll use the swatch to calculate my numbers, knowing that each motif of 18 stitches and 32 rows is 3 1/2″ wide and 4″ long on Wollmeise DK knitted on U.S. size 4 needles.
Back in September, someone on my Ravelry group posted a photo of an extravagantly decorated crocheted shawl, festooned with an English garden of flowers and a border of enormous roses the size of a child’s head. It was so heavy with decoration it looked like strength training was required just to lift it. The comments marveled at its use of color and display of crochet skill, but wondered who would wear such an over-the-top wonder of kitsch, other than a sofa or a grand piano. To which I replied… uh… I would. The designer was a Dutchwoman named Adinda Zoutman, and a couple of her designs were available as kits on her website. I wanted to buy the pattern and supply my own yarn, to save postage from the Netherlands and because the yarn in the kits is mostly acrylic and I prefer wool, but at that time the pattern was available only with the kit. (The pattern is now available separately, but it’s priced so high that it’s not so hard to rationalize paying a bit more and getting the entire kit.) I went back and forth with my knitter friends about whether I should buy it, and, yes, of course I bought it, because I am a bit over-the-top and I also saw educational benefits to explore during the January Swatch-a-long, and I’m glad I did buy it.
Using the colors in the kit according to the instructions gave me insights into Adinda’s thinking about color, which enhances my own thinking about color. The instructions were written in imperfect English that challenged my limited experience with crochet and then expanded it as I figured out what Adinda was talking about. I was right about the educational potential of making so many and so many kinds of flowers: at a certain point I realized I am no longer a beginner at crochet. I can understand written instructions and charts. My operations with the crochet hook have become fluid and automatic. Most importantly, I understand the structure of the shapes the instructions are guiding me toward. I’m not an expert in crochet, but I’m no longer a beginner. Before Adinda’s shawl, I had made a couple of garments using the little I knew about crochet in interesting ways that substituted resourcefulness for skills. Now I have the skills, and it’s like building vocabulary when learning to speak. I love this pattern so much that as soon as I’m done sewing on the million flowers, leaves, and dots and weaving in the 10 million ends, I’m going to start another one in Wollmeise lace, in their “softies” colors and my plant-dyed yarn, which will be about 3 times more work than using Adinda’s yarn, but that’s how much I love this pattern.
Now we were in the final days of January, and I still hadn’t done anything with brioche, other than to look at a bit of a Craftsy class I’d purchased sometime last year. It looked like something I could learn easily and have fun doing, and I put it on my to-do list for the Weekly Goals thread, which is my public pledge that I’m going to get something done (not that anyone cares other than me, but it’s my device for keeping myself on track and using my time constructively). I had chosen my yarn and needles for my first brioche swatch when I ran into a pattern on Ravelry by a Swedish designer named Katarina Brieditis for scary/creepy/adorable 3D faces, and I was overpowered by the need to try out the pattern that minute. I had to do it, because the zillions of crocheted flowers I’d made was just too much of the pretty and I desperately needed a chaser of grotesque to cleanse the palette of their excessive sweetness. I began thinking of their design potential for wall art that says something about social interactions. Now I have embarked on a project to make face after face according to the pattern, until I understand it well enough to alter it and make different features as I wish. I’m using leftovers of Wollmeise DK in colors that never appear on a natural human visage, and eventually I’ll connect these practice pieces in a blanket, perhaps for my granddaughter, if they don’t scare the stuffing out of her.
Brioche can wait for another Swatch-a-long. Again.
Class of January 2017 Swatchathon: Where are they now?
Now it’s time to catch up with last year’s Swatchathon graduates and find out what happened to them in the past year.
Clockwise from top right: Svetlana Gordon’s Snood Barcelona pattern. I thought about knitting a kimono-style jacket out of strips of this interesting and effective short-row pattern, but I didn’t come up with a clear idea for it and it got pushed off the queue by projects I was more passionate about. It’s in the “someday” file.
Natalia Moreva’s Flower Meadow pattern. This is a very pretty stacked-stitch pattern that I found fun and satisfying to make, but it also has landed in the “someday” file. For now I’ve move on from stacked stitches, but I could be back.
Pussyhat: This one taught me a lot that I use every time I use my knitting machine. Even more basic than teaching me how to swap out damaged needles and use the ribbing attachment and the latch tool, the five pussyhats I made taught me how to control the tension and keep my work on the needles. I used the ribber for the neck of my reversible ponchos.
Sanita Brensone’s Granny Diamond pattern: I didn’t incorporate this crochet pattern into a project, but figuring out the pattern added to my experience with crochet.
Frankie Brown’s Big Dots, Little Dots pattern: This swatch is the big celebrity success of the 2017 class. It was the basis for a crocheted top using my plant-dyed yarn, and I’m so pleased with it that I’ve submitted it to a juried textile art exhibition. I’ll report back if it gets accepted.