November 06, 2004
Catherine Lowe and Couture Knitting
Last night I was lucky enough to attend a lecture given by Catherine Lowe at my LYS. The lecture, entitled "Couture Knitting", was mind blowing.
For those of you who don't know Catherine's work, Catherine and her Couture Knitting Workshop provide kits, booklets, workshops, and retreats specializing in elements of haute couture applied to knitwear. Catherine's work has been featured in Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, and most recently in Pam Allen's book, Scarf Styles. If you like construction, attention to details, refined garments, and intellectual knitting you'll love the work of Catherine Lowe.
In Friday's lecture, Catherine set out to define "Couture Knitting". In Catherine's own words, "Couture knitting translates the principles of haute couture -- the elegance of design, flawless fit and refinement of detail that are its hallmark -- into an approach to hand-knitting that rethinks the traditional design and technical vocabularies of the hand-knitter". Catherine emphasizes the importance of preparation, construction, and finishing in the creation of a garment that enhances the wearer. With couture knitting, construction and shaping become first rate design elements.
Swatching, Blocking, and Gauge
Paramount to Catherine's process is swatching, blocking, and gauge. Catherine extends the traditional hand-knitting notion of gauge to distinguish between "knitting gauge" and "blocking gauge". In preparation for any knitting project, begin with a large swatch , 10 - 12 inches wide. The knitting gauge is calculated before the swatch is blocked and the blocking gauge after the swatch is blocked. When following a pattern the blocking gauge must match the pattern's gauge.
Why is this important? Manufactures of hand-knitting yarn typically add a lot of air in the spinning process to make their yarn soft and appealing. Once knit, blocked, stretched and worn the air in the yarn is naturally removed and the knit fabric "grows". To counter act this phenomenon, Catherine suggests knitters "knit down and block out". Translation -- knit tighter than suggested by the yarn label (perhaps 2 needles smaller) and stretch out the knit fabric when blocking. This process of knitting down and blocking out helps remove the air from the knit fabric before the garment is worn, limiting the amount of garment growth.
Catherine also encourages the use of blocking templates. Using a water proof paper, such as butcher paper, cut out a template of each of the knit pieces. Block the knit pieces to these templates.
Throw Away Your Tape Measure
Catherine encourages all knitters to throw away their tape measures. From her experience, what measures 6 inches today, measure 6 1/2 inches tomorrow. Translate any pattern you're using into rows and stitches. For example, if the lower body of a sweater is supposed to measure 15 inches and the row gauge is 7 rows per inch, knit 105 (15 x 7) rows.
Catherine sells a variety of kits for hats, sweaters, and vests. With these kits, Catherine introduces a different way to think about fiber, knitting instructions, and garment construction. The fiber Catherine uses is not prepared for hand knitting, but for machine knitting. There is no extra air in the yarn and the yarn has been treated with sizing. The thin plys of the yarn are combined in parallel without a twist. The resulting knit fabric does not contain extra air and "blooms" once the fabric is washed and the sizing removed. Her instructions are a thing of beauty and a workshop in themselves.
What nona Bought
How could I resist? I bought a kit to make her classic pullover sweater in a beautiful olive green merino wool. The kit takes 4 -6 weeks for delivery, so I'm sitting at home salivating for the kit to arrive. I also bought a 4 issue subscription to her knitting journal, "The Ravell'd Sleeve", and have been pouring over the 2 issues I brought home with me.
This is scary! Might I aspire to this one day??
Posted by: Nonafriend the oldest | Jan 2, 2005 9:51:59 AM
Wow, thank for sharin ghte info! I'll be looking out for her from now on!
Posted by: Andrea | Aug 5, 2005 7:27:40 AM
Hi Nona, enjoyed reading your blog and would like to know more about Catherine Lowe, do you know if she has a web site, or where to buy her kits? Thanks so much. Catherine
Posted by: Catherine | Feb 25, 2006 5:06:30 PM
We love your web site - we want to know ehre you live so we can host a Nona appreciation party! Any chance you're in New York City?
PS: we are not stalkers, I swear we are just fans!
Ruth and her friend and knitting mentor Barbara
Posted by: ruth adams | Feb 19, 2007 2:13:47 PM
I just returned from one of Catherine Lowe's annual fall retreats at her studio in the Berkshires. It was PHENOMENAL! I met 7 other women - each of whom were at various stages of working on kits they had purchased from the designer. I had never experienced her work - except what is available on her website
I ended up ordering 4 kits! Her techniques and couture yarns are just indescribable - nothing else like it. When her yarns are knit up - you just want to envelope yourself in it. For anyone who is interested, her kits can be ordered via her website which also has information re. her workshops and retreats. http://www.thecoutureknittingworkshop.com/
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