29 August 2006

Fair Isle


I'm having so much fun with Fair Isle.

How much fun are you having when your "knitting bag" looks like this?:

The Palette Sampler comes with 30 colors, 28 of which get used in the pattern (it leaves out white and cream - I'm planning a mock-delft tea cosy out of some of the many exciting leftovers I'll have...)

I'm still having fun, even though there was a little bit more frogging the other day.


It was a mistake in the pattern, and luckily I only had to frog 12 rows. I almost didn't frog it at all - I had that whole conversation in my head, the one I've had several times before, where I tell myself how much work those 12 rows were, and how long it took, and how much nicer it would be to be 12 rows further along, instead of at exactly the place I'm at now, after another evening's work. And how no one will notice the mistake. It'll look fine.

And then I stopped. And I thought about how much that mistake will bother me every time I wear the sweater. About how it'll be even worse when I do the sleeves, and have to decide either to match the mistake there, too, or do it right and make the mistake on the body even more noticeable. And I thought about how much I enjoyed doing those 12 rows, how gorgeous the colors looked running through my fingers, how my 2-handed Fair Isle technique is getting noticeably easier and more fun with every row, and how by the time I finish this pattern I'll miss doing it and wish I had 12 more rows to do. And I told myself how much better it will look when it's got exactly the right colors in the right places. And how, if I don't fix it, I will have to keep thinking about the mistake forever, as long as the sweater exists, whereas if I do fix it I'll have forgotten all about the frogging and the extra time in only a few days, and that by the time the sweater is finished I won't remember it at all, because I'll be so busy admiring how beautiful the sweater is. With no niggling regrets to detract from my admiration.

So, I frogged back 12 rows, and re-knit it the right way. It looks much better. I'm back to where I was when I discovered the mistake, and well beyond. I'm so glad I did it. Now that it's fixed, I can't imagine how I could have allowed it to stay the way it was. I've now gotten that much more practice knitting two-handed, and I'm that much better at it. I got to see the pretty blues go by again. I'm totally proud of myself.

The mistake? It's not on the errata page for KnitPicks, though I'm going to write them to tell them about it. The plain-color stripes that go between each FI color motif are mislabeled in one place on the chart. The order of the stripes on the chart is: black, black, ash, bark, bark, bark, wood, wood, etc. In the order as it should be, as it looks better with the Fair Isle motifs, and as it is pictured in the sweaters on both models, the order of stripes is: black, black, ash, ash, bark, bark, wood, wood, etc.

Which of course makes perfect sense.

I did notice, as I was knitting by, that it seemed odd to have only one stripe of ash. And I noticed when I did the first stripe in bark that it didn't look all that good next to the color motif right below it, and that ash would have looked a lot better. But I was enjoying watching how the colors changed subtly based on what colors were added next to them, so I thought that the pattern would explain itself as I went along, and kept going. When I'd just completed the second stripe in bark, I looked ahead on the chart and saw that there was still another stripe of bark coming up, and that seemed singularly odd. That's when I checked the order of all the stripes, and realized it didn't make sense. Then I compared the chart to the pictures that come with the pattern, and realized that if you squint, you can definitely see two stripes of ash there. And that that way definitely looks better. So there you go. If I'd been paying attention early on, I could have caught this, dammit, but I least I did catch it….

Actually, since then I discovered another possible mistake, which I decided to leave as-is, even though it was only a couple of rows down. In the last color pattern in the first column (for those who have the pattern and are planning to make it), the middle colors should, I think, be bark and petal, not wood and petal. It looks this way on the model pictured, and it makes more sense - each color is used three times (counting the pairs of plain stripes as "once"), not ever more. Except for bark. Somebody over at KnitPicks seems to have had issues with bark. Anyway, in this case the difference is very minor and I decided I really didn't care. In fact, I decided to leave it not only because I didn't think it adversely affected that color motif, but also because I like the look of 'bark' better than 'wood,' so I'd rather have more leftovers of the former! An inveterate stasher's way to make a decision.


As for the two-handed business: it was a little awkward at first, as I couldn't figure out how to wrap the yarn around my right hand to keep the tension even. Doing it the way I do with my left hand wasn't working, so I ended up just dropping and picking up the yarn anew with every right-handed stitch, but that was driving me crazy. So I asked my friend Aline, who, despite being French, knits "Anglo-American"-style (as does her French grandmother, who has lived and knit all her life in France), and she taught me -- the American who knits "continental-style" -- how she holds her yarn. She says it's not the way her grandmother taught her, but it works for her, and for me. I'm now wrapping the yarn first around the last three fingers of my right hand (from below), and then around the first two or three or all of them (again from below), and holding the few inches closest to the needle tips lightly under the pad of my right middle finger or around the tip.

This works beautifully, and the more I do it the faster I go. Cool!

(NB: Do not wear engagement ring on right hand while knitting two-handed FI, unless you want to spent hours picking the wool out of its setting.)

When I first learned to knit properly, I was taught in Norway to knit multiple colors with all the strands over my left hand (if there are only two, I crook the knuckle of my first finger between them slightly, to keep them from tangling and make them easy to pick). Like this:

This works pretty well, and as long as I keep the ball for the yarn closest to my hand on the left side of my body, the ball for the yarn closest to the finger tip on my right side, and a third ball (if there is one; not in this pattern, thank god) leading from the middle of my finger to a basket on the floor in front of me, then it all works without tangling, and is quite fast. But it's not ideal, because your hand is holding the tension evenly for all 2 or 3 yarns, but you're only picking one at a time, so that the tension over your first finger is always getting screwed up, and you have to constantly re-adjust. This isn't difficult, since with my left hand and using "sticky" yarn like wool all I do to keep the tension is run it lightly over the top of my first finger, under the second, and over the third. I can slide my hand in and out to re-adjust as necessary, but it's still awkward. That's why I wanted to explore the two-handed method.

However, I'm still doing it my old, one-handed Norwegian way for the rows that are only alternating the two colors 1x1. Since the spaces you need to carry the color not in use are so short, I find that I can do this all with my left hand with no tension trouble or puckering, and it's about as fast as knitting plain stockinette in one color.

But the two-handed way is much easier for everything else, and faster than the alternatives, as long as I'm only dealing with two colors. And even Norwegians recommended doing a third color, if it's necessary at all, in duplicate stitch later on, if you can possibly get away with it. Amen to that.

I also knit Fair Isle with the knitting hanging off the needles inside-out, so that the natural curve of the back of the knitting is slightly bigger than the inside, encouraging the yarn carried along the wrong side to be long enough not to pucker.

Contrary to the opinion expressed in a certain book full of all kinds of misconceptions (and some good info, too), this does NOT mean you have to constantly turn your work around or peer over it to see how the pattern is going! You just hold it so that the needle tips are further from your body, and the part of the circle not in use is right next to you. This puts the part of the work you're concentrating on face-forward at all times. And you can always flip it right-side-out at any time to look at the whole thing, and then turn it back again.

Now all I need to do is master steeks. Eep. Whimper. Help. It's not happening yet, though, and I'm encouraged by what looks totally perfect and stress-free in the steeks done with the same pattern here.


Peggy said...

Thanks for the photos of your hands holding the yarn. There were very helpful. I don't think I could have followed with just the description. I will definitely try with the right side inside. That makes sense.

sogalitno said...

wow someone who knits like i do ;0

i taught myself circular knitting and just naturally put the "right" side on the inside - it made sense to me - and then at Meg Swansen's knitting camp i discovered that EVERYONE ELSE except ME and JOYCE WILLIAMS did it the other way - hey, we belong to an elite club!

you will be fine with Steeking - its really not BAD especially with all that gorgeous WOOL - just take it slow and easy!

love your blog - found it from the Icarus knitalong blog!

ever come up the hudson river?

Kate A. said...

Hi Sogalitno!

Wow, very good company indeed. Though I should confess that I was probably just told to do this by the Norwegians who taught me to knit - I don't remember.

Thanks for the encouragment about steeking! I've seen it done, and I understand logically how it shouldn't be hard to scary, but somehow of course it gives me the willies anyway! I think not just because of the terror of seeing the knitting unravel, but also because I don't trust myself with anything involving sewing. I've just never been any good at it. So that's why I'm going to try crocheted steeks. Not that I'm good at crocheting, either, but single crochet I can do, and at least it involves yarn instead of thread, and does not involve my sewing machine!

I haven't been up the Hudson in ages, sadly, because I lack transportation (or even a driver's license). Which means, tragically, no Rhinebeck for me!

The Purloined Letter said...

Unbelievably gorgeous. Thanks for the great pics of how you do it!