I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been very busy fixing disasters. This offers me less time for knitting or for thinking about it. Lately, when I actually have time to knit I’m working intensely on a pair of socks because I’m a month behind on my goal to knit 12 pairs of socks this year.
I do have some random thoughts clacking through my brain that I do in fact have time to share now.
One of them is very fresh in my mind, connected to my last post about using filet crochet charts. By chance, in the new “First Fall” issue of Knitty, Franklin Habit has dedicated his column to vintage embroidery charts and how to knit them. I’m sure it’s a total coincidence because I truly doubt he has ever looked at my blog (not many people seem to read it). His ideas are interesting. For me, in my post on filet crochet charts, it seemed impractical to carry yarn across the wrong side of a knitted fabric using these charts because they weren’t planned for this type of craft. As many as seven or more stitches can be in a contrasting color. As Fair Isle enthusiasts know, long floats in the back of the fabric are not desired. His suggestion: if you have lots of stitches in one color you can twist the working yarn with the carried yarn somewhere in the middle. After the author explains this technique — and how it’s not exactly easy to do — he presents an interesting pattern for mittens that incorporate a chart he liked. The mittens are very cool. I’m not sure, though, that this kind of color work is for me. It seems more difficult and counterintuitive than double knitting a pattern like this. Perhaps I’ll make his mittens some day, but I think I’d redesign them to be reversible. Anyway, my point is that yes it is possible to knit filet and embroidery charts with just one right side carrying unused strands across the back of the work. The proof is in the new issue of Knitty.
Another random thought I’ve had lately is about gauge and blocking. I think we all agree that gauge is very important, especially if the item to be knitted needs to be a particular size to fit the person who will wear it. Lately, along with essays, treatises, and warnings about gauge I’ve come across a lot of warnings about blocking a gauge swatch before beginning a project. The underlying thought process behind this: many fibers change after they’ve been washed.
Block every single darn gauge swatch? Before starting every new project? It sounds like a total pain, especially if, after making the swatch, blocking it, and waiting a day for the swatch to dry, it’s not the right gauge and the process needs to be repeated! However, it is in fact the most accurate way to make sure the gauge is correct after the item has been laundered. The only issue that can tempt us away from messing around with blocking the gauge swatch is that sometimes, depending on the yarn, the knitting gauge does not change after blocking. There are even times when blocking does not allow for a lot of reshaping. I have also observed instances in which a fabric can be blocked to a particular set of dimensions and the gauge itself does not change more than a 1/2 stitch per inch. I would say that knitters with lots of experience with a variety of yarns can probably predict which ones will react to water enough to alter the gauge. In my own experience I typically block a swatch if I’m using a yarn I have never used before or if I suspect that it will expand (like lamb’s wool or alpaca, etc.). I have found that if I knit, say, merino wool at a gauge that is smaller than what is recommended on the label I see no change in my gauge after laundering the item. This, though, is my own knitting, which is not anyone else’s knitting. Every knitter is unique. I think that the best road to follow is the one that gets you a garment that has the correct dimensions so that it fits the wearer. This road belongs to the individual knitter, not to all knitters. It would be absolutely irresponsible, however, for a knitting designer to publish a pattern with a gauge not obtained from the blocked sample garment. Please, creative people new to knitwear design, please publish the gauge for your pattern after, and only after, you block your sample.
Which brings me to my last random thought, also related to blocking. There’s a myth floating around that there exist yarns that do not produce a fabric that can be blocked. It drives me crazy to read an amateurish pattern on Ravelry that states in the gauge section “after blocking, if your yarn is blockable.” I think this kind of thinking is the result of confusion between blocking and resizing a garment. Technically, everything can be blocked. This does not mean that every garment can be poked, prodded, and forced to take on a particular shape or size. It merely means that every knitted fabric can acquire that final “polished” look we like to achieve with blocking. Wrinkles are smoothed out, stitches look neat, seams are straightened in preparation for better sewing, edges are uncurled, etc. Oh, yeah, by the way, yes, acrylic can certainly be blocked. The proper method for acrylic blocking is by using steam. At the “Bead Knitter Gallery” there is a wonderful blog post about how to block acrylic fabrics with steam. I’m not much of a fan of acrylic. Truth and facts, however, are my best friends.