Report from Fair Isle
October 25, 2005
I have so much to tell ye. I have new skills to report.
There comes a time in circular knitting where you’ve done enough tube. It’s time to stop the tube. In the case of this Fair Isle project (which I hasten to remind you is in fact my first attempt at this sort of thing), I may have overtubed. This thing is so long that it may actually be a dress. Remember how I was making big fun of sweater dresses and the ’80s and all that? Well, I think I may have just committed a sweater dress.
Skill Number One: Kitchener Stitch
When you’ve cranked enough tube, or too much tube, it’s time to make shoulders. The designer of my sweater, the feisty Alice Starmore, says, “Graft the shoulders together.” I say YEEOWKS where’s my Principles of Knitting book?
Having never made a sock, where there always seems to be a lot of excitement in the area of kitchenering, I was woefully ill prepared. I understood the concept of grafting–you sew the tops of the shoulders’ loops together to make a row that looks like you knitted it. But learning the little kitchener trick was All New To Me.
Front: Knit, drop the stitch. Purl. Back: Purl, drop the stitch. Knit. It really does work, by jinky. You’re taking the yarn on a little trip through all the loops in the correct order, but you’re using a sewing needle instead of knitting.
Which leaves you with an awesome scratchy wool pillowcase.
Skill Number Two: Cutting a Steek
I think you know how long I have wondered about cutting steeks. The idea that you could make an armhole by whacking a hole in your perfectly good piece of knitting seemed barbaric, or at the least sort of unsophisticated. Shyeah, while we’re at it why don’t we just staple the sleeves onto the thing?
But it’s actually very elegant, this steek stuff. If you’re a resident of Fair Isle, and you’re making sweaters as fast as you can, you want to make the finishing as simple as possible. You like the tube part; you don’t like the set-in-sleeve gently-noodged-into-place part. You, as a Fair Islander, understand your wool’s ability to cling to itself like Velcro, and you know that your stitches hold together if they’ve been knitted in a checkerboard pattern. So you figure out a way to make three-tube sweaters: body, sleeve, sleeve.
You dislike finishing so much that you would rather chop up your knitting than sew seams of any kind. Here’s the armhole, ready to be snipped.
Glad Nobody Saw the Scene Here on Sunday Morning
After a late night of kitchener fever, I had my overtubed pillowcase all done. I had been planning to seek out a group of sympathetic knitters to hold my hand as I shakily took scissors to steek. But the fact is, I was so curious, soooooo curious, so superultracurious that I couldn’t stand that Pandora’s Box pillowcase just sitting there unchopped.
Very early on Sunday morning, I checked Fair Isle Weather Web Cam. (Forecast: 24 hours: SCATTERED SHOWERS. Days 2-5: RAIN OR SHOWERS, WINDY. Days 6-10: UNSETTLED.) Just like Nashville! It helped that the weather had taken a turn for the grim: rainy, low forties, no hint of the sun. It was clammy. I still had my PJs on, as well as a sweater, a shawl, and my superugly bedroom slippers. People dress like this on Fair Isle, right? I hunkered down in a corner, chugged a cup of coffee, and did this:
A maw! A gaping maw! Run for your lives!
The stitches did great.
What surprised me was that I’m not supposed to finish off the steek–to trim the edge down to two stitches and whipstitch all along the seam to secure the stitches–until AFTER I knit the sleeve. The untrimmed edge just SITS THERE until later.
Just sits there. Hanging out. Doing nothing.
Sleeve tubes crank much faster than big tubes. Merciful, that.
If I can’t move to Fair Isle, I’ll just make my own little island of scratchy wool knitting right here. Please come by, and don’t forget your PJ/sweater/shawl/uglyslipper combo.