Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sweater Must Go On

I am two peerie repeats away from finishing the body and yoke of the sweater.

Arrrrgh. This has taken me a lot longer than I expected. First off, the pattern does not line up with the photograph in the book, so I've had to take a wild guess at the sequence of the peerie bands. Second, there are decreases at both the armhole edge and the neckline, so the beginning of the pattern shifts pretty drastically. I've had to go through and make sure that each peerie band is directly above its sister bands in the body of the sweater; although I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't be very noticeable if the pattern were shifted a few stitches, it would bother me a lot.

There is also the matter of decreasing from 322 stitches down to less than 200. Luckily, at this point the sweater is in six sections on the needles: two identical sections of around 35 (and constantly decreasing) stitches for the right and left fronts, two armhole steeks (10-stitch columns that will be cut later and the arms sewn on), one front steek (same type of column, but this one for the v-neck cardigan-style button band which will be picked up later), and one long back section. This makes it easy to count the decreases on the right and left fronts, which eases the task of counting a hundred-odd stitches, which makes my life a lot less limb-gnawingly frustrating.

I've been reading The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, which has been very interesting and very humbling. Some of the more interesting points are:

1. Until relatively recently, Fair Isle knitting was a product-based industry rather than a craft. Women in Shetland would knit Fair Isle sweaters (called jumpers) to supplement their income, turning them out at an incredible speed and giving them to local vendors, who would then give the women store credit rather than paying in cash (a practice called trucking).

2. There is a difference between Shetland and Fair Isle knitting. There are many debates over the interchangeable use of the two terms and what they mean. Shetland knitting tends to be simpler, usually with a short repeated pattern; in the book, an example of Shetland knitting is a pair of gloves with a vine and leaf pattern in black and white, with very simple instructions for the leaf and no shading. Fair Isle incorporates more colors, uses shading to create depth, and has longer patterns often based on the XO motif. Technically, what many knitters have taken to calling Fair Isle is actually stranded knitting, which is a generic term for working with more than one color.

3. Although chemical dyes are used today and thus, more colors are possible, Fair Isle knitting have always been rich in color. Before dyes came to Shetland, wool was dyed with plant products or simply grown that color on the sheep. Now, sheep are usually white so that the wool takes dye easily, but in the past, the color of the wool ranged from blue to black to pink, depending on the breed.

I say that it's been humbling because reading about incredible knitters who can finish a 44-in. sweater in a week makes me feel somewhat inept. I've learned so much about the technique just by knitting the sweater, making mistakes and changing my technique as I go (although I still knit with both colors in my right hand - I just like to knit English rather than fiddling with Continental in one hand and English in the other), that I think I'll be much more confident in tackling sweater projects in the future. Especially since most of the sweaters I'll knit in my lifetime will not have 12 different colors.


Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see it!

I looked up the difference between Fair Isle and stranded knitting because I couldn't think of any huge difference. Thanks for including knitting history tidbits.

Anonymous said...