Top-down knitting resumed

Back problems have meant I need to avoid computers and knitting machines for a while, so I wanted a hand knit project to work on. Digging around on shelves, ( I can’t get at my stash boxes at the moment) I found a bag of knitting I had forgotten about. Inside was the first few rows of a top-down sweater. I remembered how long it took to work out the pattern, (yes I did it myself) and how carefully I chose the yarn. The notes with the pattern are dated 2013, which says volumes about my engagement with larger hand knit projects!

Luckily the moth had stayed away, thanks to ziploc bags, and I haven’t used the balance of the yarn for something else. This seemed a perfect opportunity to get on with my long-lost dream jumper.

I knitted a top-down jumper last winter with good results. Although it has dropped quite considerably due to the stitch I used, do is more a dress than a number. I like the method because you can check the shoulder fit, which is so important, and adjust it before embarking on the larger areas. Monte Stanley wrote about top-down knitting and as I am interested in integral knitting, I find the technique intriguing

I had obviously found fault with the stored knitting because there is an separate neck and shoulder be sample threaded into waste yarn in the bag. On reflection I seem to remember it was discarded because of the shaping finish rather than size. I will unravel it if I need the yarn later on, but at the moment it is useful for reference.

It’s knitted in DK alpaca/wool/silk blend yarn on a very pretty warm stone colour.

I’m using a 4mm circular needle from the KnitPro convertible system. These are very versatile so am using these for this project where they are separate ‘tubes’ to work on. Being able to change the length of the cable means it’s easy to work narrower sleeves as well as the larger circumference of the body.

The design is a raglan sleeve, generous fit jumper with cable panels running up front and back. Shaping is worked fully fashioned along the raglan ‘seam’ lines using lifted left and right increases. My initial sample was not fully fashioned, and clearly the fully fashioning makes a much nicer finish.

I’ve just finished one sleeve, (stocking stitch) with fully fashioned decreases along the underarm ‘seam’, and the fit seems good so far.

Part way down the first sleeve. As you can see, I love stitch markers!

Working out the pattern was quite complicated even though I used Designaknit for the basic silhouette. It was easy enough to invert the shapes, but then I had to combine them in-the-round. Some maths later I had a picture in my head, and the numbers to match it on paper. I worked out the positioning of the cable panels manually because it was important to have plain stocking stitch for the raglan shaping.

If I get the next sleeve done I might even got to finish the cable front and back before 2025!

Update : OK, it’s now the end of December and I have completed both sleeves and am part way down the body. So far I’ve used one bag of yarn, (500g) and anticipate using another 200g, making the jumper quite heavy!

The body is slightly flared, just enough so that it’s not a straight tube shape. The increases are worked down where the side seam would be, and at the outer edge of the outer cables every 11th row.

The sleeves folded towards the front cables. The cuffs are knitted as rolled edges on 3.5mm needles for 8 rows.

Update January 2022

The jumper is now complete! First blocking fine, now test-wearing before sewing in the ends. Then I shall wash so that it matches the revision swatch and the stitches even out a bit more. Something I noticed whilst knitting was that although this is a lovely yarn it has a tendency to leave fine fibres on the needle so the stitches catch. At first I unpicked and reknitted some stitches, thinking I had miss-knitted the stitches and it took me a while to realise what was happening. Gentle tugging releases the fibres and opened the stitches, but from the tension swatch I can see that washing will even the knit out.

The neckband is a single rib with a rolled edge. The neck band was picked it up into the neckline so is integrally knitted which has a tendency to stretch on top-down sweaters. In the past I have sewn take along the back neck to stabilise the neckline, but Roxanne Richardson on her YouTube channel suggests making a line of crochet slip stitch along the back neck instead. She also suggests using this solution along raglan seams.

Because it’s knitted top down, seamless I’m going to watch the raglan ‘seams’ to make sure they doesn’t drop. If the jumper does start to drop I will also work a crochet slip stitch in the back of the seams to stabilise them.

I’m just hoping the weather stays cool so I can continue to wear my new jumper.

Long staple Scotch Mule fleece

I purchased these two fleece in July and due to family and work things didn’t get around to washing them until August. They are what I believe is called Scotch Mule, a cross between Blue Faced Leicester and Scottish Blackface. These two were classed as ‘more BFL than Blackface’ which is what attracted me.

I set up a suint bath for them which is still going strong, (and I mean STRONG in an olifactory way when it is disturbed. The suint does clean well, but my family are threatening to leave home if I continue for much longer. Only four more bags need to be washed, and are soaking in the ghastly liquid right now.

They have come up nice and white with delightfully soft locks. There is stil some VM to be picked out during combing, but it wasn’t too bad overall. Some dirty tips have had to be removed.

I am very excited about starting to process the fleece using a set of Viking wool combs. I used these for a Lleyn fleece last year and was pleased at how fast I got at the combing (though sadly not as fast as carding).

Should I dye the locks before hand or after spinning? To be honest there is so much I could do some and some. The average staple in one fleece is 7″ and the other is 9-10″, which is going to lovely for worsted spinning.

Distaffs

I recently read an article in SpinOff about distaffs and decided to try using one when spinning in a wheel, not just on a drop spindle. Luckily I had a handy drumstick lying around that I use to roll rolags off the blending board and it is just about the right length and weight. Its varnished surface also helps the wool slide off easily as I take it from the distaff.

At the moment I am spinning Ryeland fleece and have been preparing batts on the drum carder. I used to be able to take a roving off but since the carder was motorised its not so easy as it won’t rotate freely. So now I split the batts into narrower lengths to wind around the distaff. This seems to work OK and after a spray with spinning oil I find the fibre supply much easier to handle in this manner. Using my (new) large double drive wheel I get a good speed up and even doing short draft can spin a surprising amount, (for me anyway) at a sitting.

I will carry on with this and see how it works out. I may even get to attach the distaff to one of the wheel uprights which might be even more efficient.

Distaff held in my waistband, but sometimes under my arm or in my outside fingers.

Plein-aire spinning

A bit like outdoor anything – providing its not raining or freezing – spinning is enhanced by the open-air. I took my little Louet wheel with me whilst on holiday on the Pembroke coast recently. We were being careful and avoiding towns etc in our caravan sitting on a farm, so there was plenty of opportunity to spin in the lovely sunshine. It seems ages ago now, but was so refreshing.

Victoria beside the caravan, enjoying the view.

I took a bag full of mixed colour Jacob’s fleece and sorted it into dark and light before hand carding it. Ifirst of all spun a skein of cream to test the tpi and grist I was aiming at and on a rainy day decided to dye it with the onion skins from our soup.

All very earthy!

I can’t resist a marl yarn, so plied the colours into variations on this.

From left: knot or knop marl, slubby marl, onion dyed 2 ply, chain plied random carded colours

With good weather, fleece washing starts…

Although I promised myself not to get any more fleece until I had emptied my cupboard, I’ve cheated . Well only a bit. Over the winter I have used a lot up, but not all of it!

Having been to Herefordshire and seen the Ryeland sheep sculpture in Leominster I read up about the Ryeland breed and wanted to try a fleece. From what I understand the Ryeland was one of the breeds that can from the Romans crossing their imported Merino sheep with local British breeds. This is probably why they look like Teddy Bears with dense fleece. This breed was instrumental in the success of the British wool trade in the Middle Ages and after, which laid the foundations for wealth in Britain, especially in Herefordshire. Fascinating stuff!

The Old Market hall. Tenbury Wells.
Sculpture of a Ryeland sheep in Leominster.

The long and the short of it is that I now have a Ryeland fleece to play with. I sorted out today and have started to wash it with promising results. Not to much VM, but a bit yellowed – the name for this escapes me right now, is it ‘yoked’? I’m guessing its last years crop.

You can see a staple in the photo, and i’ll post once I start spinning. I plan to spin Long Draw, ply and then to dye it.

Washed Ryeland staple. Its about 3.5 inches when straight, but is quite crimpy. Yummy.

Picking fleece for a marathon carding session

I have a large sack of Texel fleece that had been making me feel guilty for a while. It’s not the most soft of fleece so I decided to blend it with some Alpaca that has also been lurking in the cupboard. Unfortunately the Alpaca (from an animal called Kiki), has quite a bit of VM in it, but it is deliciously soft.

Picking and hand picking got a lot of the VM out, but sadly not everything. I carded both the Texel and Alpaca separately and then split the batts and layered them up in alternate layers; one wool, one Alpaca etc, and put them back in smaller batches through the drum carder.

As my carder is quite coarse I do a second run through for most fibres. So I did it for these batts. I think I probably should have done a third run, but I was afraid of over-carding the fibres and decided they had blended well enough. The result is a little uneven!

I’ve spun two small samples, one thick singles sort of semi-woollen and the other long draw woollen spun.

I’m now perfecting, (ha ha) my long draw technique with several hundred grams of comb waste that I have carded up. Hopefully by the time I get through that I will be proficient enough to tackle long draw spinning that large amount of Texel/Alpaca fibre!

I’ve hand knitted small samples of the both yarns The thicker spun on 6mm needles and the long-draw spun on 5mm needles

Left: Long draw spun yarn hand knitted on 5mm . Right: Thicker semi-woolen spun hand knittedon 6mm needles.

Spinning fine yarns for machine knitting

If you have seen some of my earlier posts about machine knitting and spinning you might realise that I am keen to put the two together. I was given a fleece that is long-staple, not-very crimped and quite lustrous, but I don’t know what breed it is from. Its also quite coarse with well defined locks. The first batch I stove-top rainbow dyed, and spun from flicked locks. It worked OK, and I got a reasonably fine yarn. I also have a lovely soft, long staple Alpaca fleece, so I worked with the two as separate singles to ply together. This yarn worked at tension 8 on a standard gauge knitting machine.

However, I was determined to get it thinner. I started with the Alpaca, and after hand carding the fibres, spun it worsted using a double drive wheel with the lace flyer and was so pleased with the results. I got a 28wpi singles from the Alpaca which was quite dense, not light an airy, but I wanted it to match the coarser fibre’s density. To prepare the long-staple wool I decided to comb the locks on wool combs. At first I was slow, because although I have done this before I’ve not practised a lot. It was exciting to find I got faster quite quickly and began to get some lovely long slivers coming off the comb. After spinning in the same set up as the Alpaca, I have also managed to get the rather coarser wool to produce a 28wpi singles, so I am pretty pleased as this will give around 14wpi 2ply.

I have plied all of the yarn, and am waiting for the second skein to dry. Meanwhile I have knitted a tension swatch on the Knitmaste SK840 and can get it to knit at either tension 5 or 6. Tension 5 is a nice looking stitch, but the handle is stiff, so I opted for tension 6 instead. I probably should have tried between the two, but when each metre of yarn takes so long to prepare and spin I was reluctant to use too much on sampling at this stage. I will add photos of the fabric once I have given it a wash and steam.

Woolly Umbrella, new website

I belong to a local community textile group, and we have just launched our new website. Please take a look and see what we have been doing. Of course that has not been a lot since April 2020 as much of what we do involves going to outside events to share skills and demonstrate.

Lets hope the coming year will allow us to start doing this again. Meanwhile we have been meeting (in 6’s only) during the summer to spin outdoors, but the latest lockdown, along with the colder, shorter days has put a stop to that. Online meetings are OK, and I have organised a few, but its not the same!

We hope to be able to take ourselves along to demonstrate natural dyeing, eco dyeing, spinning, and fibre preparation at Bentley Wood Fair near Ringmer in September. Allan will hopefully demonstrate his fascinating nettle fibre preparation methods, and we will all be suitably masked and socially distanced of course.