Thursday, 31 December 2015

What size a shawl?

On a recent trip to New Zealand, with a travelling wardrobe constrained by the packing limitations of international air travel, my Swag Blanket was used most days. We were not camping, but even so it was usually more comfortable to replace or supplement the supplied bedding with my own, super lightweight, natural fibre blanket.  A couple of times it came out walking in the evening, tossed over my summer clothes, warding off the evening chill.

I was resigned to feeling a little eccentric  until I saw a C19th Paisley Shawl displayed in the excellent Toitu -Otago Settler Museum in Dunedin . The early Scottish settlers had shawls the size of bedspreads. I'm sure such a shawl would do double duty as garment and bedding. I have a couple of phone snaps through glass. I hope they are good enough to give you an idea.

There it is, folded double, with some furniture for scale.

Some detail of the pattern

I like this complex, subtly coloured design. Whether the subdued colour is original or the result of more than a century's worth of fading I am not sure.

I take away from this encouragement to turn my excessive quantity of fine, luxury yarns into very large shawls.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Swag Blanket - Addedum

My knitting friend Tracy adapted the directions for the Swag Blanket to make a wrap.

You can read all about it on her Ravelry Project page if you are a member of that fine community.

She shared a brilliant little tip for all of us Singer/Studio/Knitmaster knitters. Use an odd number of stitches. That way, when you are using Card 7 Tuck, the end stitch of each row will be the same, selected either to knit or to tuck. Hand select the end needle for the two ends-tucking rows, then have a rest for the next two rows. Neatly halves the amount of hand selection in your project.

I was asked to show my Swag blankets to the Surrey Hills Passap group (Surrey Hills in Melbourne that is), so it seemed only proper to try a Passap version. Now the Passap is a very fine machine, but, if I can be anthropomorphic, rather set in its ways. It is not inclined to co operate with techniques and effects that were not contemplated when the manuals were written. It really doesn't approve of the kind of loose tensioned airy fabrics I rather like to knit. I'm sure it would not do a bit of good to point out that the nimble Japanese machines are only too pleased to collaborate in the production of such textures.

I did manage to knit a sample piece in a stitch that would make a splendidly wide blanket if you have just the right yarn to keep the Passap happy with the stitch pattern.

Swag blanket, the Passap version

The essence of the swag blanket is lightness, airiness and comfortable width achieved using tuck stitch.. The sample demonstrates one way to achieve this. The width on the needlebed was only 15 cm. the swatch has simply relaxed out to 36 cm, no stretching or blocking involved. It was begun and ended on waste yarn and both ends cast off by hand, as I had no cast on technique for the Passap, capable of allowing the fabric to stretch to its widest. Even the experts at Surrey Hills couldn't come up with adequately stretchy castings on and off to accommodate this impressive expansion.

Swatch details,
31 needles brought into work on each of the front and back beds. (62 total)
Bring all 62 pushers out. All pushers on one bed in working position, all on the other bed in resting position.
Begin and end with a couple of N N rows
Select AX and both arrows on each lock
Knit 100 rows at Tension 8

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Swag Blanket - In Short

Machine; Standard gauge flat bed, Knitmaster (Singer /Studio/Silver Reed) 700
Stitch pattern; Card 7 Tuck
Tension; 10
Stitches; 200 (For better edges, try 199)
Rows; 1030
Finished dimensions, unblocked;  2.3 m x 1.25 m ( 91inches x 49 inches)
Finished weight; 350 g
Yarn; Fine, fluffy mohair

Finished blanket, pegged out on my clothes line

For a longer version, complete with excessive detail and diversions, see
Swag Blanket 1- Cast On
Swag Blanket 2 - The Middle
Swag Blanket 3 - The End

This is a very adaptable pattern, suitable for lap rugs, scarves, wraps, shrugs, shawls or whatever your imagination dictates.
It is a very open stitch, so take care if catching is likely to be a problem. If the yarn will co operate, fulling can be an improvement. Fine Alpaca fulled would be excellent.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Swag Blanket 3 - The End

After 1030 rows, I judged that the blanket was long enough to tuck under my feet, pull up over my head and still be wide enough to cover me in camping mode.
I cast off using a stitched cast off, because it is the best I know of to give adequate  stretch for such an expansive piece. It is not the fastest, nor the most structurally satisfying, if that makes sense, but I know I can make it stretch far enough to not pull in the end.
The excellent and generous Diana Sullivan has a video demonstration
1 Knit a final row in Stocking Stitch, with the carriage finishing on the side most comfortable for you to start stitching from. I am right handed, and for me, that is the left hand side.
2. Break the yarn, leaving as much as is manageable to stitch with, and thread a suitable blunt needle. I favour the double eye tool. Officially it is part of the ribber set up, but is the single most useful piece of machine knitting equipment. I buy them by the handful.
3. Stitch across the end of the knitting very loosely, starting a new thread whenever one runs out. I needed three.

4. Remove the blanket for the machine, and mend any flaws that need mending. My blanket has a few end of row loops of yarn, and one spot where a prong of a weight and the carriage arm collided and broke a thread. There are a few other places where things are not exactly as they were meant to be, dropped stitches picked up the wrong way round without tucks for instance, but they are not going to cause any trouble, so they just stay.

I mention the flaws and mending so that you know not to be despondent if your piece is not perfect. So few machine knitted pieces are. Speaking with someone from one of the many knitwear factories around here, whose work is now outsourced off shore, I heard that of the people previously employed there, the one kept on was the mender. The one indispensable employee is the one who can correct the flaws the machine creates every now and then. 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Swag Blanket 2 - The Middle

Just keep knitting.

But you will find that rolling up the weighted cast on rag attached to the knitting becomes too awkward after a while. At that point you can remove the ravel cord and separate the cast on rag from the end of the blanket, and stitch it onto a suitable place to keep the work weighted. Use that blocking wire for the stitching and move the weight up as necessary.

Now it is my intention to refrain from using any machine accessory, other than those that come standard with the machine. But of course some of you own Brother machines, or others that come with cast on combs, which maybe gives me the OK to use a cast on comb for weight

Off hand, I can't think of anyone who uses a cast on comb to cast on, but they are wonderfully useful for weighting work in progress.  Of course many of we Singer owners have inherited cast on combs from the estates of deceased Empisal machines (That is the machines sold in Australia as Empisal, not to be confused with British Empisal Knitmaster machines, which we know as Singers)
With luck, when you get hold of an old Empisal cast on comb, you may get a couple of extra weights as well, so you can hang two on the comb, and use two to continue to keep the edges in order.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Swag blanket 1 - Cast On

This post begins the directions for a lightweight expansive blanket, which I use for travelling. It is equally suitable for camping in a not too cold climate, or for BYO bedding when freeloading accommodation from friends and relatives.
The yarn is a fine mohair blend, precise specifications lost in the mists of time.
I will be using a standard gauge punchcard machine with the standard Card 7 in the Silver Reed / Singer / Studio / Knitmaster  family.  No accessories other than those that are standard equipment with the machine are used, unless you count an improvised cast on rag, and a fine welding rod.

The sharp eyed among you will notice that this card is the same as the 1 x 1 card, standard for most machines,  elongated.

I use a cast on rag to provide a smooth cast on with evenly distributed weight from the first row

I have used a tube knitted on a toy circular knitting machine for my rag. I've picked up a loop on every second needle, because that is enough, and because it works better with this relatively bulky knit cast on rag. 
1. Pick up loops from the cast on rag.
2. Slide a metal rod into the tube for weight.
3. Knit one row of Ravel cord. It needn't be official ravel cord, but must be smooth enough to remove easily to separate the rag from the knitting.
4. Pull all needles out and cast on the blanket yarn using the knitted back double ewrap cast on. There is a handy clip demonstrating the technique here

You will note from the photo that I have made the cast on loops very large. This allows the cast on row to stretch to be much wider that the width of the machine. The beauty of this cast on is that it makes for a variable width, depending how much the loops are drawn back into the wound on edge.

This sketch attempts to show how the loops , drawn back into the wound on section, widens the end of the fabric.
5. Carefully pull out all the needles again(to help the first row knit properly), and knit one row of Stocking stitch at Tension 10
6. Select Tuck and continue to knit at Tension 10, selecting end needles to ensure stable edges (a manual process on my Singer machine, automatic on Brother machines)

When you need to move the weight up, the tube and bar can be rolled up and secured with a blocking wire / welding rod.

Claw weight at the sides will help keep the edge stitches disciplined.

To be continued