Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lace Knitting in Pure Silk - Evening Star Shawl

There's more to lace knitting than just yarn over knit two together, right? Well while that is true it does give a breathing space to all that pattern work. The Evening Star Shawl by Jocre arts is made with one skein of Ivy Brambles Pure Silk (shown in Night Sky) and features silver lined size 8 seed beads. The shawl is quite stunning and at first glance looks like a lot of work, but is it?

Working on size 4 needles the shawl starts with a small lace pattern, with just a few stitches cast on, the increases are worked down the spine extending the small lace pattern with a feather and fan (simply yo, k2tog) creating the triangle. The shawl is finished by picking up the stitches across the top edge and adding the borders.

Would I consider it an easy shawl? It certainly isn't difficult. The beading is added as you go using a small crochet hook and a very simple technique described in the pattern. The lace work is manageable with no oh so complex or difficult stitches. Using stitch markers we can isolate each section, and the feather and fan gives us time to breath and moves the project along quickly. If you don't knit tight and can read a chart this project is definitely not difficult. If not then perhaps it time to learn!

What about working with silk? Silk, at least high quality silk like Ivy Brambles Pure Silk, is very nice to work with. It can stand being ripped out many times without breaking or fuzzing. Stitch definition is excellent showing off your handiwork like no other, and the silky shine is second to none. Add to that Ivy Brambles fabulous semi-solid translucent colors and you have a sure winner!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Blocking round shawls

If blocking a rectangular shawl is as simple as stretching it out to the right rectangular dimensions then blocking a round shawl should be stretching it out to the right circumference right?
Of course it is never as simple as that. There are several very imporant things to get right or your blocked shawl will not look right.
First, which is probably obvious, is to lay out the shawl on a blocking board. I prefer to do this with the board flat on a table. Then stretch by hand, loosly, to remove any wrinkles. Next and most important but often forgotten, pin the center of the shawl. All critical measurements will be done from the center.
If the shawl has points, as shown above in the example, a mystery shawl knit in Ivy Brambles Romantica we use these to aid in finding the edge. If it doesn't you will need to use curved blocking wires and identify points on the edge for taking measurements. If the shawl has points don't waste your time with curved blocking wires, they really don't help.
Block out evenly to size. Top to bottom and side to side (4 points) checking distances from the center and evenly spacing the points by measuring between them. Repeat this for all intermediate points making sure they are evenly spaced around the shawl and equidistant from the center.
If your shawl has distinct straight lines use straight blocking wires and pull the lines straight by threading the wire through the shawl about every 2 inches or as necessary. You may not need to straighten every line in this way but do at least four evenly spaced around the shawl. If your shawl does not have any straight lines, such as the mystery shawl pictured above, it may be sufficient to just smooth the pinned shawl by hand until it looks right. If it doesn't want to stay in place use a few more pins spaced evenly around the shawl, taking measurements from the center and between the pins.
Your shawl should now look perfect!
With Romantica we block the shawl by wetting it thoroughly with a hand spray bottle and leaving it to dry for 24 hours or more. If you did it right your shawl should stay blocked after being removed from the blocking board. A correctly blocked shawl should lay flat, be the correct size, and uniform in all dimensions.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lace Knitting - Choosing the right yarn

Let's face it, there are hundreds of lace yarns out there to choose from, all the way from cheap wools that break as soon as look at them to ultra silky blends of silk and mohair, alpaca and pure mulberry silk.
So how do you select the yarn that is right for your next project?
To start with there is gauge. Much as gauge is less critical for most lace projects than it is if you are knitting a sweater you still want the finished item to look like that the designer had in mind when the pattern was created. As soon as we hit lace weights the range of thicknesses varies considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer and from fiber to fiber. Today many patterns for lace are written up using "fingering weight" or sock yarns. These work for lace but beware that sock yarns are not really designed for lace work and will be harder first to block to size, and then will be more difficult to stay blocked. This is because sock yarns generally have a tighter twist than lace yarns, making them better for socks and more elastic (so your socks don't fall down). An average lace yarn is exactly half as thick (twice as many yards per skein) as a sock yarn. If your pattern just calls for lace weight it is safe to assume this is approximately 1000 yards/meters per 100 gram skein. If it varies much from this it might still work. Also take into account that silk and plant fibers tend to be somewhat heavier than animal fibers so expect less yards per skein for the same weight (thickness) of fiber.
Quality counts. Lace knitting is a significant amount of work and the last thing you need is to spend a few weeks working with a yarn that you don't enjoy working with. Is it worth saving $10 on your project when the result is a less than satisfying experience and an even less gratifying finished project?
Choose the right fiber. Know your fibers. For a start there is no point knitting a beautiful shawl in cheap acrylic yarn and then finding out it cannot be blocked. I have seen it done. Don't do it! Okay let's assume you aren't quite that naive and you want to know whether to use a nice wool, cotton, silk or bamboo or a blend of one of those. For this purpose let's assume that pretty much all animal fibers have similar qualities.
DRAPE: The first thing to think about is drape. This is how a garment hangs when you wear it. If you are making socks you don't want much drape, this would make them fall down. More drape means less "bulk", the more drape a fabric has the more it will conform to your shape and hang down. The less drape the more it will fluff out and ride up. Silk has probably the most drape, followed by bamboo, cotton and then animal fibers. A loose spun yarn will also have more drape than a tightly spun yarn, a finer yarn will have more drape than a thicker yarn. Generally a shawl, summer scarf or summer top will want to be knit with a yarn with plenty of drape, a winter scarf, winter top or jacket will want less drape.
Related to drape is a property most often refered to as "hand". This is how a yarn (before but more usualy after being knit) feels when you feel it. Most people prefer a soft hand on lace garments. Two factors influence the hand of a fiber, the softness and the silkyness. Wools that felt or are made from thick fibers generally have a coarser hand, finer yarns generally have a softer hand. The "hands down" winner, excuse the pun, is a high quality mulberry silk, such as Ivy Brambles Pure Silk. This yarn is spot on lace weight at 1000 meters per 100 grams, and one skein is usually enough for most medium size shawls.
For wool it is hard to beat cashmere for hand and softness, but at a price. Cashmere, like many wools is also not especially strong, can sometimes felt or tangle on the skein and might break at lace weights. This is an important factor in choosing a wool to work with. The strongest and easiest to use wool for lace work is probably merino which has a long staple length making it very strong. The only downside is that merino wool felts easily meaning you had better be careful when you block it and not wear it out in damp weather. The solution? Ivy Brambles has a 100% Superwash Merino lace weight called Romantica. This is made from exception fine quality merino wool treatd to prevent felting. It has a super soft hand, blocks incredibly easily, and does not pill, break or tangle when you work with it. It is so soft it rivals cashmere at a fraction of the cost!
The last thing to think about when choosing a yarn for a lace project is how fuzzy it will be. Mohair blends are probably the most fuzzy, cashmere is soft but also can be fuzzy, some other wools, especially poorly spun wools, can also be on the fuzzy side. If your pattern is intricate and you spent a lot of time knitting it, you might not want to choose a fuzzy yarn that will tend to hide all that work.
Best advice - before you substitute a yarn see a sample of that yarn knit up in a similar garment, make sure it blocks, and make sure you will enjoy working with it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Felting knit and crochet garments

Felting can be a lot of fun, part of the fun is that until you have actually felted the item you can never be certain just how it is going to turn out. For a start the fiber texture will change, then of course the shape will (or won't) form and this can be a little different that expected. Whether you knit or crochet the basic technique is the same. First you make the item, usually using a larger needle/hook than the yarn would normally call for, then you throw it in a washing machine on hot. Sounds simple enough!

The key to success is often in choosing the right yarn. Pictured above is Ivy Brambles Sausalito Felted hat. Ivy Brambles doesn't have a suitable feltable yarn so they chose Acacia Yarns Supersoft Merino. This is a self striping yarn, single ply, and very soft. Idea for felting projects. The yarn is normally knit on a 7-8 needle but this pattern calls for a significantly larger size 10 1/2 (6.5 mm) needle. Before felting the hat was very tall and the brim quite floppy. We are pretty sure that if we were to take a survey at this point very few would have said that the hat would turn out the way it did, which was pretty much exactly as designed.

Sausalito is a knit hat and was made using easily feltable yarn. So what would be the difference if it were crocheted or if we used a blended yarn, like an acrylic or silk blend? Crochet items will indeed felt, although not as much or as easy as knit items. Part of the reason for this is the knots in crochet which reduce the friction during washing. Similarly a tight knit garment will tend to felt less.

When crocheting an item for felting anticipate less shrinkage than when knitting, allow longer washing times, and don't be surprised if you can still make out the stitches, you usually can't with a knit item. Most important of all use a yarn that will felt really well, the best yarns are soft single ply yarns, like Supersoft Merino from Acacia Yarns!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sock Knitting - What's your poison? New 9 inch circular needles.

Only a short while ago socks were all knit on double point needles. More recently new techniques have been introduced, like small circular, then magic loop, and more recently the small 9 inch circulars. Until recently we hadn't tried the new circulars, favoring magic loop or double points, so we thought we should give them a try. Pictured above is a new yarn, Funky Monkey Sock Yarn, a very soft hand dyed sock yarn. We chose the Monkey Princess colorway which knits up quite beautifully, as can be seen from the above picture. To knit the socks we chose Clover's brand new 9 inch bamboo circulars in size 2. The quality of the bamboo used is very high, and the result is a very smooth needle which is very easy to knit with. It took a while to get used to the small needles. The short length doesn't give a lot to get hold of but not having to keep pulling the cable through, or switch needles makes progress a lot faster than competing techniques, provided you can handle the small needles. Our verdict - definitely worth a try. We have both the needles and a full range of Funky Monkey Sock yarn available on our online store.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hat's In the Round

Knitting hats can be difficult without the right technique. Traditionally they were knit flat and sewn together, which if you weren't careful would result in a seam which was either visible or uncomfortable. The latest techniques call for knitting hats in the round, either using double point needles, which can be a handful, or my preferred method, magic loop. It still surprises me how many people have not tried this simple technique. Magic loop uses a fairly long circular needle, say 40 inches or so, and placing the stitches on the two needes, and on the cable. The cable acts like one to three double point needles except that the stitches can't fall off:-)
When working a hat or large item pretty much all the stitches can be placed on the needles, as you work towards the crown you need to have fewer and fewer stitches on the needles, and more on the cables.
The technique is great for hats, like the new Ivy Brambles Watchman cap above, and for other items like neck cowls, such as the Diamonds Galore Cowl below.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hydrangea Shawl is Here

The beautiful Hydrangea shawl pattern has arrived. It takes one skein of Ivy Brambles Romantica in, of course, Hydrangea. Although it would look beautiful in any of the variagated colors of Romantica.
The picture below shows the edge detail, although it looks even better in person. We are very excited with this new shawl as it is both easy to knit (for a lace project anyway) and quite stunning.
If you haven't tried Romantica on a lace project before I'll tell you something about it. It comes in over 40 colors and growing, in both variagated and semi-solid hand dyed colors. It is a true lace weight at 1000 yards to each 4 oz hank and is made with very fine quality, super soft, superwash Merino wool. This isn't sock yarn turned into lace weight, the twist and quality of fiber was specifically selected for lace work and it works fabulously. Click here for our full range of colors.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blocking Shawls - Ivy Brambles New Hydrangea Shawl - We saw it first!

We blocked the new Hydrangea Romantica Shawl today. The pattern will be launched in a week or so by Ivy Brambles. The shawl was designed by Jocre Arts and is quite beautiful, and not too difficult (at least by their standards). Jocre arts deigns a lot of the fantastic shawls carried by Ivy Brambles in both their Silk and Romantica Yarn lines. This one is a triumph and uses just one skein!

When you block a shawl it is important to make sure everything lays out straight. We placed a set of wires down the spine and then centered everything, taking careful measurements. This shawl features curved edges so we were careful to match up the two sides with flexible wires pinned every few inches. The shawl measures about 40 by 60 inches blocked and is knit in Superwash Merino (Romantica). One advantage of using superwash lace is that after blocking it will stay blocked for a very long time, even if the humidity gets high or you get caught out in a light shower. after pinning the shawl out we damp it down with a spray bottle and let it dry. So simple!

I have been asked before "Can you block Superwash Yarn?" The simple answer is yes. However you might have tried making a shawl or similar garment with sock yarn and not been so lucky. So how is Ivy Brambles Romantica Superwash Lace different? Well the answer is that this isn't a sock yarn being reused for lace, this is yarn designed to Ivy's specifications specifically for lace work. The twist is different to sock yarn and the fiber is a finer grade of merino (and lace weight not fingering). The result is a yarn that is amazingly soft and yet lacks the degree of springyness required for sock yarns that use a much tighter twist. Does it feel like sock yarn? Absolutely not. This yarn feels softer than the super expensive European twist yarns while being easy to use for lace projects. How does Jocre Arts feel about it? They love it! Each skein is 1000 yards, plenty for a triangular shawl, larger shawls use two skeins.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Knitting with Friends

Welcome to Knitting with Friends where we invite fiber fanatics to share their opinions on fiber related and not so fiber related matters. We have a number of fiber related products on sale in our on-line store which will be available soon, these include "Knitting with Friends" T shirts at special prices, and a selection of knitting, crochet and felting notions, plus yarns from Ivy Brambles Hand Dyes and other local artists.

Well enough invitation. I both knit and crochet, although not as often as probably many of you. The question for today is "Why do you knit/crochet and what inspires you?" If you have an answer we would love to hear from you, just reply to this post by clicking on the "Comments" button below.