Sunday, 24 February 2008

Musings on Moss Stitch

Where has a fortnight gone? Sometimes I seem to distract myself to the point of not achieving anything at all. And yet when I look back I can see that it is all grist to the mill of learning about knitting - construction, texture, design. This picture is of the first piece of knitting that I've spun and dyed myself; it's really wee and will just be a buckle on a knitted bag but nevertheless it's a symbol of an emerging craft. It's knitted in moss stitch which has been one of my obsessions lately.
When I was on Shetland last year I spent quite a lot of time observing mosses and lichens and the various yellows, browns and greens they produce. And this week I began working on a design for a throw that would incorporate these colours using variations on moss stitch. Yes, I know I've got a zillion other projects on the go... but this feels different, a development towards properly designing my own stuff. As far as I've been able to research it so far there are three kinds of moss stitch. Single moss (row 1 K1, P1; row 2 P1, K1) is the one that is also known as seed stitch. It gives a really firm texture and is a great alternative to ribbing for welts, edges and borders. (Indeed, sadly, I may have to undo quite a lot of work on my throw to add in a moss stitch border instead of the garter stitch one I began with before my ideas started to develop - must learn to swatch, swatch, swatch!). Double moss stitch (rows 1 and 4 K2, P2; rows 2 and 3 P2, K2) produces a slightly more open fabric with a brick-like effect. I'm also using something called Irish moss stitch (rows 1 and 2 K1, P1; rows 3 and 4 P1, K1) which gives a somewhat blurred result and is an excellent infill for a diamond-panelled cable as suggested by Pam Dawson in her book Traditional Island Knitting. The shades of green, brown and gold I'm using come from a pack of Shetland double knitting wool that I picked up from Jamieson's when I was up in Lerwick last summer. (Which, as an aside, reminds of the recent press report about the Shetland Viking fire festival, Up Helly-Aa, which described Shetland as just off the North coast of Scotland. Yes, just a bit, only 250 miles or so! But there was an excellent article about Foula - "just off" the North coast of mainland Shetland - in The Guardian last week so we must be kind to these English folks. Up Helly-Aa, by the way, is held on the last Tuesday in January and is definitely worth a trip. The men of Lerwick dress up as Vikings and run round the town shouting "Ra, ra" and in the evening they set fire to a boat. It's a wonderful spectacle: you can view some pictures on my other half's blog:
Meanwhile, I've finished my Arctic lace North Star scarf and it is pinned out to dry in my dressing-room. I found that I had exactly nine pearl-coloured beads to put in the centre of each of the stars and I added a simple garter stitch lace border at each end. And my cardigan design is also progressing. I've finished the back and should get the two fronts done today. Which leaves the last of my triplets: spinning. Have not found any more time for this recently but have booked another session with Carole in 3 weeks' time.

Sunday, 10 February 2008


A friend mentioned to me the other day that someone she knows is expecting triplets. "That's plenty to be going on with" as my Great-Aunt Mabel might have said. Just after that there was a picture in the paper of a "triplet"of Welshmen who were celebrating something like their 68th birthday. This must be pretty unusual. The only other triplets I know of are Len, Con and Margot, daughters of my favourite heroine Josephine Maynard (nee Bettany) in Elinor M. Brent Dyer's wonderful Chalet School stories. This trio of triplets started me thinking about the number of threes in my knitting at the moment. Just after I finished my last entry my package arrived from Jamiesons of Shetland. I was very impressed because they managed to match the lot number for the pink wool I need to complete my North Star Arctic Lace scarf. So I've been drawn away from my cardigan-designing into almost completing that project this week. It's got lots of threes: 63 stitches, 9 repeats of the star pattern and I'm using three different colours. I've got one more star to do and then I need to decide what to do about finishing it off. At the moment the lovely Mogit brown shade will be hidden at the back of the neck when it is worn and I want to make more of a feature of it as it really works well with the Candyfloss pink. My spinning teacher Carole suggested that I add a picot or lace edge in the Mogit which I think is an excellent idea. If I was starting again I would do the garter stitch border at each end in it but I can't go back now and an edging is the next best thing. This says something about the advantages of planning all the way through before you begin; on the other hand there are always ways out of a difficutly. There is also something to be said for seeing what works as one goes along, which is what I'm finding with the cardigan design.

There are lots of threes around in this project as well. I'm working on the two fronts and the back in tandem (is there a word for in threedem?) and I'm also doing blocks of colour in groups of three using a slip stitch design from Alison Ellen's The Handknitter's Design Book. I've set the design up to the point where I need to shape for the armholes and I'm now planning what to do after that. I'm really enjoying working on this project and trying out different ideas that at the moment are working well. Rowan Wool Cotton is a delight when it's knitted although like all cotton yarns it can be quite hard on the hands while you're actually knitting with it. My skin gets very dry and my hands ache. My third project this week, has helped counter these difficulties: learning to spin.
Up to my arms in fleece with Carole and another spinner, Jill, was a great way to spend a Friday. No problem with dry hands when they are covered in lanolin! The Oxford Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers has loaned me a lovely Ashford Joy spinning wheel and sold me a beautiful Jacob's shearling fleece. Carole had Jill and I feeling the fleece for its different textures and characteristics, then I learnt how to tease out the wool ready for carding rolags. Then there was fifteen minutes or so of just treadling before actually starting to spin. The end result looks very slubby and lumpy to me but Carole tells me that it will be just fine once I've knitted a square with it. I need to keep practising teasing, carding and spinning to get more familiar with the process - some pictures next time. And of course there are my other two projects to continue with. Then there's the rest of the wool that arrived from Shetland: wonderful shades of Moorit Brown and Natural Black and the exquisite Cobweb Ultra 1-ply lace in Natural White. Not to mention the rest of my enormous stash... But that leads me into projects four, five and six, and onwards to infinity. At the moment three at once seems plenty to be going on with.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Knitting By Design

One of those weeks that's flown by with lots of busyness at work alongside of which I've had blocked ears and a cold which has made communcation difficult. As a result I didn't make it to my knitting group on Tuesday. Despite this there's been the secret hug of delight every time I remember that I'm working on my first major project to design my own piece of knitting.
Having taken my lace scarf as far as it can go until the new wool arrives from Lerwick in Shetland, I decided to try out an idea I've had for some time to make a cardigan using various balls of Rowan Wool Cotton that I've acquired in my stash. It's a double knitting yarn and my baseline reference is a standard DK cardigan pattern with the right tension in an old BBC book called Knitting Fashion which I'm varying as I go along. This was also how I approached Other Half's fingerless "photography" gloves, which were a great success by the way. (And I'm to say that his travel and photography habit is not a fixation but an obsession. So that's done.)
I've got miscellaneous colours which should be enough for a complete garment but obviously I've got to make them all work together. I've started off with a pretty picot cast on and garter stitch edge in an earthy brown shade, then carried on with pale pink and a lovely warm cherry red in a modified stocking stich that has a rib row instead of every other knit row. I like the chunky textured effect this gives but am not sure that I want to use it throughout the whole piece. Placing the colours and making sure they balance across the cardigan is going to be the main challenge I think, so having done the first section of the back I'm now doing the two fronts. I'm sure there's a more scientific way of working this out but at the moment I'm enjoying the sense of freedom that trial and error involves. However, I do have in vivid memory one of my early attempts to mix colours for a cushion I was making for my Mum that ended up looking like the RAF Roundel! Unfortunately I didn't keep the sample as I was so embarrassed by it. This is rather a shame, I now realise, because often in creative work we learn as much from our mistakes and failures as from our successes.
I had a similar moment this week when I introduced some navy blue into the cardigan after the cherry red and realised that with white to come there was every risk that this would end up looking like a Yale man's cardigan from the 1950s, not the effect I was after at all. So out it came and now I'm browsing in my stitch dictionaries for some inspiration about where to go to next. Will keep you posted.