December 06, 2004

Shut Up I'm Counting

pins help countNona, why do you have a bunch of pins hanging off your knitting?  Well my friend, without those pins I would have replied to your inquiring question with, "Shut up I'm counting".  Because of the pins, I can be much more polite and calmly reply that safety pins are a wonderful way to mark reference points, to count rows, and to track increases or decreases. 

Catherine Lowe makes heavy use of the safety pin in her patterns.   For example, Catherine staunchly believes that all lengths should be measured in rows instead of inches.  What measures 12 inches today may measure 12.5 inches tomorrow, while a row is a row any day of the week.  I'm currently working on the back of my pullover and am happily plodding along in good-ole stockinet stitch for 105 rows.  Even though nona loves numbers, she gets annoyed if she has to count too much.  You see, it's hard to count and talk at the same time and nona loves to talk.  To help minimize the counting -- and thus maximize the talking -- Catherine has you place a safety pin every 10 rows.  It's much easier to count safety pins by tens then rows by ones.

Maggie Righetti in Knitting In Plain English is also a big fan of the saftey pin.  Here is her suggestion for using saftey pins to track increases or decreases:

There had to be a better way found to keep track of increases and decreases.  . . .  And I found the easy way.  . . .  purchase packets of very tiny safety pins, coilless ones when possible.  These little safety pins are made into a chain at the beginning of a sequence of increases or decreases and fastened into the work.  If the directions say, "Increase 1 stitch on each side every 6th row 10 times," we make a chain of eighteen safety pins.  ...

...  remove one safety pin from the chain each time [you] make an increase or decrease and insert it into the increased or decreased stitch.  [You] can then very easily see where [you] made the last increase or decrease, when [you] made it, and how many more [you] have to make.  A methodically lazy way of saving time, effor, and energy!

Let me tell you, this tip has been of endless use to me.  I love this book of Maggie's -- it is full of good humor and wonderful tips and techniques.  Knitting In Plain English was written in the mid 1980s and was probably the Stitch 'N Bitch of its time. 

December 06, 2004 in Catherine Lowe Kit, Tips and Techniques | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 01, 2004

Catherine Lowe Kit Has Arrived

alt_hereThe wait is over!  My Catherine Lowe Kit has arrived.  (See November 6th for more information about Catherine and the Kit.)  Everything about the kit, from the packaging to the  instructions, exudes precision.  In fact nona speculates that Catherine scores in the top .001% for precision. The jury is still out about whether this is a good thing?  The pattern is about 36 pages long and reads like a master's thesis.  This type of document deserves the finest treatment.  Yes, it deserves to be spiral bound -- with tabs no less -- from Kinkos.

The first step in the knitting process is to make a large gauge swatch, 8 inches square.  This swatch must match both a knitting gauge of 6.12 - 6.25 stitches per inch and a blocked gauge of 6 stitches per inch.  Okay, how in the heck do you measure .12 of a stitch?  Don't worry, my blocked gauge ended up at 6 stitches -- which nona can measure.  The yarn is first rate, 100% merino and plied in parallel instead of twisted.  The resulting knit fabric has a beautiful hand and is amazingly soft.  There's only one word to describe it, butter.

To be honest, I'm a little put off by the extreme exactness of the instructions.  They are a bit fatiguing.  However, I do feel that I'm going to learn a lot of tips and techniques to improve the fit and construction of my knit garments.  I'll just have to follow the directions California style, with a grain of salt.

Mega Gauge Swatch with Kinko's Bound Directions

December 01, 2004 in Catherine Lowe Kit | Permalink | Comments (1)

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.   

Catherinelowe_journalFor 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's Kits

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. 

November 06, 2004 in Catherine Lowe Kit, Tips and Techniques | Permalink | Comments (0)