Sunday, 9 May 2010

Serendipitous learning

Good news this week; I've learned garter stitch and stocking stitch. Woo-hoo!

Bad news; I've still not finished that swatch.

These two pieces of news are actually closely related as it was whilst I was attempting to finish the swatch that I stumbled upon garter stitch. I had managed to knit sixteen rows and I was about halfway through the seventeenth when my conversation with J. (of Vet blogging fame) took a particularly intriguing (and amusing) turn. Suitably distracted I didn't notice that I had switched mid-row from knit to purl stitches and on I obliviously knitted.

A few minutes later I realised my error with something of a frustrated sigh (that was the fourth error I had made in less than four hundred simple stitches and, being something of a perfectionist, I had torn the swatch back each time previously) but J. pointed out that it was all good practice, particularly for garter stitches.

I raised a doubting eyebrow and pointed out that I was attempting to use knit and purl. J. then pointed out that although they are all referred to as stitches; garter and stocking stitch were compound stitches, whilst knit and purl were fundamentals (I'm paraphrasing slightly).

Apparently I had been unknowingly practicing stocking stitch. By alternating the stich type at the start of each row I was ensuring that all the 'V's were on one side of the swatch and all the 'bumps' were on the other. This uniformity is apparently ideal for stockings.

Garters, on the other hand, are a little bit more interesting. By always using the same stitch, alternating rows of 'V's and 'bumps' are created on each side, producing quite a pleasant pattern.

I mused that the stitch might have been named after the article of clothing. However, the OECD proved unhelpful in tracking down either terms' provenance. If anyone knows, I would be grateful to find out.

Unfortunately, the looming of closing time put an end to the evening's knitting so I've still got some distance to go. Perhaps not doing a couple of hours of unpaid overtime every day would help me get more knitting done? On the plus side it's a Grand Prix weekend and I seem to get a lot of knitting done whilst watching cars fruitlessly chase each around an enclosed track, so hopefully I'll finally finish the swatch and will be able to get onto the actual pattern.

I'm currently planning to use circular needles but I much prefer the feel of my DPNs (a much valued gift from S. to help me finish my first project). K. likes to use long wooden needles when working on her larger projects and I'm very tempted to follow her example. The upside would be that I think it would feel nicer to knit with wooden needles, the downside would be the increased weight of the wool on the needles.

I think I will experiment with both.

P.S. M. correctly pointed out that 'twisted cables' is something of a tautology as cables are, by their nature, twisted. It's still my favourite technique I've learned to date though. I've already got my eye on Project No.4 which will give me plenty of opportunity to employ them.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Tension problems

Hi there!

My name is Mister Tiffin and I am a male knitter.

More accurately, I am an aspiring male knitter.

I started knitting at the end of February and I am very fortunate to have excellent (and very patient) teacher (S.). So far I’ve learnt two stitches, two cast-ons and…(tries to remember the right name)…twisted cables.

I could give you some more background and context but, as I'm a fan of in media res, that will have to wait until a little later...

Having completed Project No.1 (a knit hat) and Project No.2 (a knit and purl hat) it was suggested that I try my hand at something a little more complex. One of my friends suggested socks, but I fear any attempt at those was destined to meet defeet (yeah, I went there). S. stepped in and suggested that my next project should be something that expanded upon both my skills and scale.

So began Project No. 3; my first jumper. K. pointed me in the direction of a very nice pattern (edan jumper from Rowan’s ‘Pure Wool Collection’) and I was ready to go.

I picked up new needles (US 3) and wool and sat down to start knitting. After casting on roughly a hundred stitches, M. helpfully pointed out that I might want to do a swatch first. I raised an interrogative eyebrow and she replied by pointing to the prominent section at the start of the pattern which told me to knit a sample 10cm square.

Lesson #975 'Read the pattern'.

So, I started on doing a swatch of 22 stitches by 30 rows. So far so good...except that I was still using the needles indicated for the main pattern. The needles for the square should be US 6.

Lesson #975a 'Actually read the pattern!'

Properly briefed (boxered?) I restarted the square. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a rather traumatic challenge. Whilst I can knit with very even tension, it is also quite tight. Apparently this is quite a common problem amongst beginners. This hasn't proven an issue on the smaller projects but I was informed by learned minds that it will have a serious bearing on larger projects.

However, it seems that I only have two tensions in my repertoire. Dramatic, hang on...sorry. Two tensions; tight and looser than a 1930s Horne comedy.
Tiffin sensibly suggested that I simply adjust my needles to a compensatory size. However, whilst that is a very logical suggestion I would rather learn to develop my understanding of the mechanics that control tension.

Hence, project 3.a 'learning to vary my tension'. I sense this will be a little frustrating, but I've got time and very supportive (and amused) knitting colleagues so fingers-crossed.