Category Archives: knitting

Wool Day 2010

So it’s May again, and that means the Old Bus Depot Markets has had their annual Celebration of Wool.

This year I got a lot of bright greens and some autumnal tones.

wool day 01

wool day 02

From left to right:
Knitabulous fifty-fifty (50% wool 50% silk) in “fresh”;
Knitabulous softsock (75% wool, 25% nylon) in “Limes”;
Happy Spider spider socks (100% new wool) in “Forbidden Fruit”;
unnamed handspun (label has a spinning wheel stamp, any one out there know who made it?) 100% wool;
2 skeins of Fibreworks Merino 4ply in colourway 8;
Happy Spider spider socks (100% new wool) in “Flambe”

Very importantly, I set a budget for wool, and stuck to it. Even if I did get some money out on the day so I could eat lunch and buy some lovely things to take home from the food section, including a pomegranate vinegar which is just right.

One of the reasons I wanted so many bright greens is that I have just about completed the finishing touches on the cardigan coat I started knitting right about this time last year. All I need to do now is attach the hood, and make a belt.

(Actually, I finished the body by about September, and then expirmented with hood shapes based on sock shaping methods but culdn’t quite get it right, so I did some small projects over the summer, and finally settled on a hood style this week using ideas from both the Cassidy hoody by Chic Knits, and the Braided hood Tunic in Interweave Knits, spring 2010.)

Here’s a quick peak:
guava 03

I really ought to update about the projects I’ve actually finished, but that requires taking photos. One day it will happen.

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Wool Day mini-splurge

As all Canberra knitters know, last Sunday was the annual wool day at the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston. There are a couple of other yarn and fibre related days, but this one is the first of the year.

I got there fairly late in the day, because it was Sunday and for me that means sleeping in and taking it slowly, but I still managed to get a nice selection of yarn. I also got some Knit Picks wooden dpns and circs, which make me very happy.

So, without further ado. pictures of yarn.

fibreworks reds

The first thing I did was find the Fibreworks stall. I’ve got yarn from them for 3 years running, and it is always beautiful and they don’t sell online, so this is the best time for me to get it. This year I was all about the red hues, with two skeins of merino in autumnal reddish browns, and one skein of silk in brilliant reds.
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Baby Knits

I’ve been knitting baby clothes lately for imminent sproglets. I’ve finished two tops, and there’s another one which is mostly done, but I still need to weave in ends and block everything.

Because it’s summer, I figured that it would best to knit the woollier items for 3-6months, rather than for newborns.

1. Seamless Baby Kimono, by Jacki Kelly, in Cleckheaton Bamboo.
baby kimono

Very cute and easy to knit.

2. Baby Soleil. baby soleil

I based this on Alexandra Virgiel’s Soleil pattern, from Knitty, spring 2005.

Because it is so much smaller, I only did one repeat of the lace chart, and because babies are fat little things, I ignored all the waist shaping.

Knit in Patons “Serenity” cotton and bamboo blend.

3. Raglan Jumper.
baby jumper

Made up as I went along, because raglan is easy that way. I may post my pattern notes once this is finished and blocked.

I frogged the green mitred squares and reused the last of the tidal wave yarn, with the sari silk/merino blend to make up the rest of the length. I love the way these two colourways work together.

baby jumper - colour change

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Bits and Pieces

Ack!
I’ve hit a snag with my Swallowtail Shawl.

I’ve finished all the budding lace, and moved on to the lily of the valley lace, and it calls for K1,YO,K1, YO,K1 all into the same stitch. Which is a little time consuming, but doable. But then on the next row it calls for purling those 5 stitches back into one stitch. Now I could easily purl 5 regular stitches together, but these 5 which I just made out of one are too tight for me to slip onto the right hand needle and purl. It’s very frustrating. It’s possible that if I had pointier, better quality needles, and not the cheap ones from lincraft, then I could manage. I think the next step will be to use a smaller dpn and see if I can at least purl the five stitches with that, and then transfer the new purl onto my circs. Which would do the trick. Except that there are about 20 repeats of this stitch so far, and the pattern calls for many more rows of them.

lace weight angora

This is the angora I’m using to make the shawl. It’s so beautiful, and it’s so fine that I’m using it double stranded. It’s by fibreworks, and I got it at the fibre and textiles day at the Bus Depot Markets in 2007.

Planning
In other news, my friends H & C are giving birth in a couple of months (well, C is doing that part), so I’m going to start a baby blanket and some clothes for newborns. I wanted to try out mitered squares, so I used some of the green yarn I had left over from my tidal wave socks, and some hand spun from Anne Earyes which has been sitting around for ages, and followed the tutorials for the Sock Yarn Blanket by Shelly Kang.

Mitred Squares

They turned out okay, and were fun to knit, but I don’t have enough of those greens to make a full blanket, so I think I’ll switch to some 8ply I have in reds and greys.

I also want to make a square (or squarer) version of the Princess wrap for a lighter baby blanket. I’m thinking about using this alpaca/wool blend, but possibly something smooth, like bamboo, would be better.

Hand spun alpaca/wool.

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Some rambling thoughts on knitting, feminism, & class

This is something a bit different from usual, but it’s stuff I’ve been thinking about more and more as I investigate the world of knitting and food blogging, and try to determine what it means to be a feminist who wants to blog about cooking and knitting.1

The Perceived Problem: Knitting is considered to women’s work, thus the current resurgence of knitting as a popular pastime needs to be subjected to a feminist analysis.

I have no problems with people wanting a feminist analysis of knitting. I want one. But I do think there are other assumptions that need to addressed as well as gender.

1. Viewing knitting as women’s work is a relatively new and definitely a classist assumption.

Working class men would often knit while doing work which required long periods of waiting around like fishing or shepherding, just as working class women often did labour intensive work, which later became regarded as men’s work. In medieval Europe there were knitters guilds, which originally only accepted men as members.2

In Knitting with Balls3, Michael del Vecchio starts off pretty well in his attempt to get men to see knitting as something they can do:

Before I launch into the contributions that men have made to the world of knitting, it should be noted that the roots and development of the craft are vague and diverse… People knit because they were poor (and cold), and the politics of gender had little to do with it.

So far so good. I’m pretty much in total agreement here. People knit because they needed things to wear, because it’s easier to make needles than it is to build a loom, and because it’s something you can do while watching the herds/pot/children etc. Knitting can also be done with minimal light, once one is sufficiently adept, so it could be done while tending a fire in the evening, for example. Tasks, which like knitting, tend to be associated with grandmothers.

2. Assumption: Knitting is merely a pastime, i.e. something done primarily for pleasure, which has the added bonus of producing something useful.

Okay, this is pretty much the case now, but it needs to examined in order to see how this state came about, and to do that we need to look at the industrial revolution, and how that changed the way we approach textiles and clothing.

Just as the loom meant that instead of people doing piecework, whole factories were dedicated to producing large pieces of fabric which could be cut up and sewn in all sorts of ways, the introduction of knitting machines meant that knitted fabrics could be produced en masse. Knitting machines can produce tricky time consuming stitch patterns quickly and evenly, they can also, if programmed to do so, knit pieces in the right shapes for, e.g. a sleeve. Now, with overlocking sewing machines, it is easy to cut and sew knitted fabric together without fear that it will ladder and unravel.

Now, not all of these technical developments happened at once, and they also happened alongside of social and economic changes. In short, it’s the move from a largely rural, agrarian based society to a largely urban, industrial (and post-industrial) society. As I’ve mentioned, in the past knitting was something that could be done while doing other tasks which took time, but which left the hands free. During the industrial revolution, working people (men and women) were more likely to go to a place of employment, do labour intensive work, and use their pay to buy affordable ready made items. The work most people do these days might not require so much physical labour, or as many hours in the workplace, but it still requires us to pay attention and be productive, which doesn’t allow for hands on activities like knitting.

All this meant that knitting, just like weaving, was no longer something that one did out of sheer necessity, but rather something that can be done for it’s own sake. There’s a choice between buying a pair of socks, and knitting them yourself. Although the ability to make that choice depends on income and leisure time.

Of course, if perhaps ones income didn’t stretch to clothing the whole family, then knitting with cheap yarns might provide a fall back option, but it tended to be in rural communities where the main industries were farming and fishing that people continued to knit for necessity.

3. Assumption: Knitting belongs to the domestic sphere, and is women’s work.

Back to Vecchio, who gives some pretty neat examples of times when men knit

During the two World Wars men knit both at war and while recovering in hospital. Male surgeons began knitting in the 20th Century because the handiwork helped keep their fingers from getting stiff. and out west – even today – it’s not uncommon to find men knitting socks while tending their cattle.

Now, Vecchio has an agenda which is to get more men knitting. Which is fine by me, but that’s not my agenda.3 I want to propose a hypothesis about why knitting is regarded as womens work, when there are all these good examples of men knitting through the ages. They are also good examples of knitting taking place outside the domestic sphere.

So far, I’ve looked at why people knit out of necessary, and why that necessity no longer exists for most of us.4 In doing so, I’ve focused on working class men and women, who tend to have had similar working conditions, even if some of that employment had gendered roles. But I’ve neglected to look at the middle and upper classes, which is where knitting as a gendered activity really seems to come into play, because it’s these classes who can traditionally afford to have family members who don’t need to work to earn their keep, and it’s here that the split between men/public/work and women/private/home really comes into play.

I hope that this is familiar enough territory that I don’t have to break it done into detail. Let me just say that if social status is conferred by ones ability to support ones family, then those who are supported cannot be seen to be doing anything which counts as work. Now, in the mid 1800s, say, if you had the means to support your family such that no women or children had to work, then it was quite likely that you also had the means to hire servants to take care of the more menial and physical domestic tasks like cleaning.

Thus, those things that women do in the home must then be regarded as useful, but ultimately trivial tasks to pass the time. Add to this restrictions on the behaviours appropriate to women of this class, AKA “ladies”, and the tasks which are deemed suitable will become even more refined and decorative. Such as embroidery, tatting, and, of course, knitting.5

In these ways, women could add to the household without been seen to have to work for their keep. For if you can quite easily buy lace or stockings, then to make them yourself becomes perceived as act of patience and love, rather than of need.

Hypothesis: Yes, knitting can be analysed such that it falls historically into the category of women’s work, but only if you neglect to consider the different reasons why people knit, and how that relates to their economic & social class.

Now, thanks in part to that industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism, there’s been a tendency to blur some of the boundaries between classes, such that it seems that almost everyone is middle class these days. This isn’t exactly accurate, but there does tend to be the assumption that when we talk of “ordinary people” we are talking about the middles classes.

For instance, when we talk about women entering the workplace in the 20th Century, we are largely talking about middle class women, working class women were by and large already there.

So what does all this have to do with the current popularity of knitting and whether or not it’s a feminist activity?

Crudely, a combination of economic and social forces, including second wave feminism, meant that many middle class women joined the workforce in the 70s, while at the same time rejecting the association of women with the domestic sphere. Of course, there are some domestic tasks which still need doing, such as providing food and avoiding wallowing in filth cleaning, and if you can’t afford to have someone do it for you, then you do it yourself. But other tasks previously considered part of the whole domestic package, such as providing warm things to wear can be take care of by spending money. All of this meant that a large section of a generation or two of western middle class women stopped knitting, sewing, crocheting, and etc.

So why do people knit now?

For lots of reasons. Probably the most common being that it’s pleasurable to take some yarn and turn it into fabric, lace, or even an entire garment. There’s something satisfying about producing a beautiful object with your own hands (and heart and mind).

Asking why people knit is a bit like asking why people play music, paint, sculpt, or write. The answer will be different for everyone, but there will generally be some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, at least some of the time.

Knitting and Fashion
Knitting is fashionable, and knitting is an industry. No doubt about it.

However, the main industry around hand knitting is that of producing yarns and designing patterns, not of producing finished objects. Which means that while there is big business involved, there’s also a lot of cottage industry and local level stuff going on. Buying yarn and patterns can be a way for knitters to support local and new spinners and designers. Knitters can make ethical decisions about what yarn and materials they use: organic, local, fair trade, vegan, etc.

There are advantages to making ones own clothes. Knitters can make garments for themselves which are in fashion now, or which are in a style they love, which hasn’t been in fashion for years. And knitters can make garments which actually fit them, in colours they choose, rather than making do with with clothing which are designed for certain body types and not others. There’s also a matter of price, while I may not be able to afford $100-$300 on designer cardigans, I can spend 10-40% of that price on yarn and make something very similar.

Tentative Conclusion Claiming that knitting is women’s work not only ignores the men who have knit throughout history, but also the changes in the history and fashions of knitting. These changes have various causal factors, and gender roles are one factor among many.

In sum: It’s always more complicated.

Appendix: because it doesn’t really fit anywhere else

My stepmother, who did not teach me to knit, but who encouraged me when I started at the age of 28, teaches at a fairly exclusive boys school. She teaches the teenage boys in her classes to knit squares which get turned into blankets for the poor. It’s part of the whole attitude of privilege and responsibility that those boys get indoctrinated in, but still, it’s getting a bunch of privileged white boys to knit for others, and I think that’s kinda cool.

Notes:
1. Originally posted to my livejournal, with some slight editing for different context. This ramble started off as a comment in Catherynne M. Valente’s livejournal.
2. See this page for a quick time line of knitting through history. It also looks at how hand knitting goes in and out of fashion in the 20th C.
3. I know!
4. I think he overstates his case at times and seems to argue that knitting should be back in the rightful hands of men. I’m sure that wasn’t his intention, but maybe he was all enthused after attending a men’s group with tribal drumming and sweat lodge etc..
4. “Us” being post-industrial western types who can get cheap clothes made in sweatshops (and some of us can even afford to pay more and avoid the products of sweatshops).
5. And this knitting would more likely be a lace shawl or a pair of gloves than an hefty Aran jumper, because of the delicate, ladylike, and decorative stuff. Also because Arans were knit on the Aran isles, west of Ireland, and became popular in the rest of the British Isles in WWII when people could buy them with their clothing rations.

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Hot-Water-Bottle Cover

Here’s another project made with yarn I picked up at the Celebration of Wool day back in May. Like the Tidal Wave socks, I only just finished it recently. The yarn came from Rainbow Wools, and is variegated in rainbow hues, but with earthy undertones which soften the colours. The greens and the reds come through strongly, while the blues, violets, and yellows are only just noticeable in some places It reminds me of autumn leaves.

The problem with this yarn was I liked it so much that I couldn’t decide what to make. At first I thought of a scarf or wrap with a leaf motif to make the most of the autumnal hues. But after playing around with a couple of stitch patterns I decided that something solid would be best, and it wasn’t long before I settled on the BAWK Hot Water Bottle Cozy pattern from Yarn-A-Go-Go. (The fact that it was July and I was about to move into a house without central heating may have been a factor.)

hbwc
This photo has pretty accurate colours.

As you can see, The colours are not quite striped, not quite pooling, but mostly diagonal. I’m quite happy with the way it worked out, but I think something with less stitches per round would have made some lovely stripes.

Instead of a cable 6 back, I used a staghorn cable:

hbwc

This is the stitch pattern from 365 Knitting Stitches A Year:
Worked over 16 stitches
Row 1 (right side) K4, cable 4 back, cable 4 front, K4
Rows 2 (and all even rows) Purl
Row 3 K2, cable 4 back, K4, Cable 4 front, K2
Row 4 Purl
Row 5 Cable 4 back, K8, cable 4 front
Row 6 Purl
Repeat these six rows.
When working in the round, knit the even rows instead of purling.

I love how this cable came out, and it was very satisfying to knit, being not too boring but not too complicated that I had to constantly check the pattern.

I’d consider making more hot water bottle cozies as gifts, because they are easy, and if you’re not working on 3 things at once, quick to knit, and the finished product is both pleasing and practical.

Pattern: BAWK Hot Water Bottle Cozy
Yarn Rainbow Wools 8ply wool
Needles 4mm dpns, 4mm circs, 4mm cable needle
Modifications: substituted Staghorn Cable in place of cable 6 back.
Time: 7 weeks from casting on to binding off. Probably could be knit in a day or two if worked at constantly and not just picked up from time to time.
Ravelry Project Page

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When in doubt, knit socks

tidal wave 01

These are Deby Lake’s Tidal Wave socks which were available here but don’t seem to be there any more. So here’s a link to their Ravelry page.

These were lovely to knit, the stitch pattern was very easy to follow. Unfortunately, I used a slightly too heavy yarn which I bought at the Old Bus Depot Markets during the celebration of wool day in May. So I probably won’t wear them outside much, but they do make comfortable and sturdy socks to wear around the house on cold days.

Yarn: Fibreworks 70% merino 30% silk 4ply
Needles: 2.25mm dpns
Modifications: I continued the stitch pattern on the top of the foot all the way down to the toe shaping, rather than finishing at the ankle. I reversed the stitch pattern for the second stock so that they would be symmetrical.
Ravelry Project Page

Silky Doll once said that as soon as you finish the first sock, you should cast on the second. This is very good advice, and I’ve decided to extend it, so that as soon as I finish one pair of socks, I cast on another. That way I always have some knitting that’s small enough to take with me during my commute.

This time I’m using a self-striping yarn from Lincraft, and keeping it simple so that the stripes are the main feature. I’ve just started the heel flap on the first sock. The yarn is shades of grey, and I took this photo against a charcoal background. So this is not actually a black and white photo.
grey sock 01

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