Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Forest Mushroom Mittens

All of my favorite knitting books follow the people’s history of the craft. Michael Pearson’s Traditional Knitting is, as far as I’m concerned, the best social history of knitting ever written. Nearly all the others on my list of top knitting books are primarily concerned with mittens: Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis, Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush, Selbuvotter by Terri Shea, Mostly Mittens by Charlene Schurch, Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski, Magnificent Mittens & Socks by Anna Zilboorg, Favorite Mittens by Robin Hansen. And what about the Ukrainian folk story, The Mitten?

I love mittens with a story, don’t you? Mittens are the most fascinating article of knitted apparel because no matter where they come from, they always seem to reflect the cultural and religious values of those who wore them. As contemporary knitters, we have lost track of the tradition of our craft. We knit for enjoyment, for fashion, to make gifts for friends and family; we drift from stockinette to cables to fair isle and back again, dabbling in all sorts of styles and techniques along the way with little regard to those who came before us. People like Lizbeth Upitis and Nancy Bush bring us back to the roots of our craft with their research in the folk art of the humble mitten.

Last winter, while rereading Lizbeth Upitis’ book, I followed a footnote to the text Latviesu cimdu raksti. Ornaments in Latvian gloves and mittens, by Irma Lesina, a text Upitis noted had many wonderful plates of mitten designs. Published by a small Nebraskan press in 1969, the book was long out-of-print. In fact, there were so few copies left in circulation that it took my university’s inter-library loan service a month to track down a Canadian copy for me; needless to say, it was most certainly worth the wait!

I pored over hundreds of traditional designs from Kurzeme, Latgale, Vidzeme, and Zemgale, recharting many stitch patterns that interested me. I created a large Excel file of stitch patterns, mixing and matching different ones as I went along. I remained faithful to regional distinctions, trying only to pair up patterns originating in the same region.

Copyright Jane Heller

Copyright Jane Heller

My Forest Mushroom design in Twist Collective Winter 2010 (Ravelry link) is one of the fruits of this lovely labor, combining several different motifs from the Kurzeme region of Latvia to be knitted with more contemporary colors at modern gauges.

Copyright Jane Heller

Copyright Jane Heller

The cuff is elaborately detailed and includes three distinctive brown and white braids before breaking into the mushroom-like pattern of the upper mitten. Unlike a traditional Latvian mitten, the top rounds off instead of coming to a hard point.

The peasant thumb is placed with waste yarn and knitted in the mushroom pattern to blend in with the mitten body.

Some designs you love more than others and these are one of my favorites; they combine everything I love about knitting: gorgeous colors, Latvian braids, long mitten cuffs, and old, complex, crafting traditions. Every knitter needs to make a pair of Latvian mittens in his or her knitting life, perhaps these will be yours!

The pattern is available at Twist Collective for $6.00.

Knitting from your stash: making the most of your yarn!

While most people spend the first few weeks of January thinking about diet- and exercise-related resolutions for the new year, we knitters have all resolved to buy less yarn and to knit only from our stashes. Am I right? You did, didn’t you? Of course, like all resolutions, these intentions will be abandoned by March 1; however, while we dig around in and rediscover our lovely stashes, I thought I would put together a quick tutorial on how to use up every last bit of sock yarn, for the stashbusting inclined.

I love to knit from my stash, and not because it’s a great haul. I do not own many highly coveted yarns; rather, my stash is full of prickly, workhorse, go-to yarns like Berroco Ultra Alpaca, Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport, and Harrisville Designs New England Shetland. In the last five years, I have all but eliminated sock yarn from my stash. Why? Because I got over knitting socks a few years ago. Plus, since I never fell for shawls, I didn’t really need stashed fingering-weight yarn. I may knit a pair of socks here and there, but when the urge strikes, I buy yarn. There’s no sense in me keeping it around when stash space is at a premium. In fact, just this fall, I knitted my way down to the very last bits and bobs of the bunch. Allow me to show you how you can do the same, if your stashbusting hearts so desire.

Getting Started

This tutorial will have you knitting a basic, single-pattern, top-down sock with a traditional heel flap, square heel, and wedge (triangle) toe knitted in a contrasting color. Tinker with the math, knit them differently, and make them your own if my way of knitting socks drives you to drink. My calculations slightly overestimate the yarn requirement for the heel turn and the toe – let’s say that’s to leave some extra for darning later, shall we?

This endeavor will require a kitchen scale, a calculator, a pencil & paper, and some math. The math will not be hard, and I promise to hold your hand all the way through, but you will need to crunch some numbers.

First, you need to know how many yards it generally takes to make you a pair of socks on your favorite tiny needles with your favorite sock yarn. I believe the average woman needs about 400 yards on US 1-2 needles, but it ranges between 325 and 550 yards, so plan accordingly.

Next, you’ll need to know how many stitches you will have in one round. This is a roundabout way of getting your gauge. I neither know my sock gauge nor the size of my ankle, but I know I make 60-stitch socks on US 1.5 with most fingering weight yarns. You may make 54-stitch ones or 72-stitch ones, but know your number ahead of time. You should have a strong sense of this from your previous sock-knitting experiences. If not, go practice by knitting yourself a couple of pairs of socks because this is not a beginner pattern – ripping socks is such a drag because you’ve sunk so many stitches into them.

Data Collection

I use Excel for every last bit of knitting planning; feel free use my stash busting sock pattern template to follow along. I put my formulas into the spreadsheet, so if you’re careful and only replace my data with yours, you might not have to do any work!

Collect your scraps. They should be of similar weight and fiber content. How do you know how many yards you have of each? First, determine how many yards and grams were in a full skein. If you no longer have a label, look up the information on Ravelry.

Weigh your samples. How many grams do you have of each?

\left(\tfrac{A\: yds\: per\: skein}{B\: g\; per\; skein}\right)\times C\: g\; remaining=D\; yds\; remaining

Do you have enough yards for a sock? Do you need to throw in more scraps? Build a pile of leftovers until you reach the yardage required to make your socks. Keep track of the total number of yards you have, as this information will help determine the striping pattern.

Contrast Cuffs, Heels, & Toes

I often have far more of one color than any of the others, so using it for the trimmings is efficient. This basic pattern assumes you will knit the cuffs, heels, and toes of your socks in a contrasting color. We will be slightly underestimating the yardage needed for the heel, but don’t worry, we’ll overestimate at the toe by a little bit more. Finally, I’m assuming that your gauge is somewhere between 7 and 9 stitches per inch, so let’s end this toe with 16 stitches, shall we? That should give us about an inch of width at the tip.

How many rounds of cuff will you knit?

How many rows will you knit for the heel flap?

How many rounds will you knit for the toe? Use the following formula to calculate toe rounds:

\frac{\left(E\; stitches\; per\; round-16\right)}{2}=toe\; rounds

Now, you will need to determine how much of your contrast yarn will go into the cuff, heel, and toe.

Total\;=\; cuff\; rounds+\frac{heel\; rows}{2}+toe\; rounds

Tired of Math? Start Knitting!

I’m not kidding, we need to find out how many yards are required to knit a round so we can finish up these calculations. Take care to note your starting weight of contrast yarn, then pick up your needles. Cast on for your desired number of stitches and knit your desired number of rounds for the sock cuff. Weigh the yarn again to see how many grams you used in the cuff.

\left(\frac{Starting\; weight-finishing\; weight}{cuff\; rounds}\right)=H\;\tfrac{g}{round}

Now, you have all the information you need to identify precisely how many yards of contrast color needed for the cuff, heel, and toe:

\left(H\;\frac{g}{round}\times cuff\; rounds\right)\times\frac{A\; yards}{B\; grams}per\; skein\; of\; contrast\; yarn

Double the contrast yardage to account for having to knit two socks, and subtract this from your total yardage to identify how much you have left. This is an important step in determining how to stripe the remains:

starting\; yards-\left(contrast\; yards\times2\right)=remaining\; yards

The Striping Pattern

Collect all of the scraps you intend to use in the body and leg of the foot. Prepare a table like this by dividing the yardage of each scrap sample by the total yards remaining in your scrap pool, multiply by 100%:
\frac{sample\; yards}{(remaining\; yards}\times100\%

This will tell you the proportion of each yarn needed to knit the body. For my sample socks, I need about 5% Gems, 65% Koigu, 20% Socks that Rock, and 10% Neighborhood Fiber Co. I rounded! How dare I? I made you do all that math, only to fudge my own numbers! Recall that my scraps add up to more yards than I need to make myself a pair of socks; this is the advantage of starting with slightly more than I need: I’ll be OK rounding up or down a little. Where does that leave us? In 25 rounds, I would have 1 round Gems, 16 rounds Koigu, 5 rounds Socks that Rock, and 3 rounds Neighborhood Fiber Co. How you order them is entirely up to you!

Notes

Try not to let your striping repeat get too large. I used 25 rounds, which is about as long as I feel comfortable going. In other words, don’t knit the first 5% of the body in blue, then the next 65% in green, etc. This risks running out of particular colors of yarn at the gusset. While you may knit 5% of the body rounds in blue, keep in mind that not all rounds will be the same size; those of the gusset will be larger.

Happy destashing!