More Thoughts on Denim and Squareness
July 10, 2008
Are you still with us, with all of this intensely indigo gabbing? Spurred on by comments and emails, I have a few more things to add.
On Denim Blankets: Will a Square Stay Square?
Readers want to know whether a square knitted in denim would stay square after shrinking. The answer is: it depends on the construction of the square.
Bottom Line: log cabin squares? They stay square. They don’t ripple or do anything unsightly after you wash them. Mitered Squares? They stay square enough. I know both of these things from personal experience.
Other types of squares? Not so clear that they will stay square after washing, especially if they are knit all in one direction from cast-on to bind-off. Depending on their size and the degree of shrink achieved, they may become squashed squares, also known as rectangles. If they are knit on the bias, they may become squat diamonds. For squares other than log-cabin or miters, I must counsel the washing of a sample, the saying of a prayer and the development of a Plan B.
Previously Unblogged Bloggage
I went digging in my photos and found that I had already given excessive scientific inquiry to this subject, and totally forgotten about it. These photos prove: (a) that a log cabin square will shrink evenly in both length and width and (b) that I have a lot of time on my hands on a Sunday afternoon.
I rest my case. Log Cabin squares shrink square.
(I have 8 of these squares finished. I have never made them into anything. I cannot recall, exactly, where I was going with this last winter. The red center of the squares is Rowan Handknit Cotton; it shrank just fine. We achieved Shrink Compatibility.)
What about denim miters? Do they have square fidelity after washing? The answer is yes, and we have proof.
We have the Taro Blanket. It’s denim miters. They appear to be square. Square enough.
We also have Belinda. Belinda knit a queen-size mitered square blanket (seen here as the background for knitting-in-progress), using the pattern in our book, in denim remnants that she had from a previous life supervising handknitters who were making hundreds of Gorgeous Denim Jumpers That I Would Kill For If I Ever Saw One On eBay. I slept under it for several nights without detecting asymmetry of any kind. I think this is rock-solid proof that it is safe to knit mitered squares in denim, and also that we should all do just that.
Oh Sure, It’s Schnell, But Is It Trendy?
Mary de B reported that she had seen a bunch of Schachenmyr/Nomotta “Blue Jeans” yarn in a sale bin. She wanted to know if it is true denim yarn and therefore, naturally, she should stop whatever she is doing and go buy it all. This led, eventually, to a recollection of this post. It seems I have already knitted with this yarn and that it is in fact true denim–it shrinks and fades. HOWEVER, check the weight and recommended gauge of the yarn before committing to it. It comes in a heavyweight version, which is very chunky indeed. It also comes in a DK weight which is a little lighter than Rowan or Elann–you get 20 more yards in the 50 gram skein, and the recommended stitch gauge is 6 stitches per inch. Personally, I would knit it to 5 stitches per inch and consider it a fine substitute.
I want to thank Mary de B for reminding me of how much I love all things schnell und trendy and certainly anything with the slightest jeanseffekt.
A Clever Thing To Do
Also in the archives was this piece of evidence. On the left, a store-bought (feh!) sweater that fits Hubby well, and on the right, the back of the Cornish Knit Frock I was knitting for him at the time. I think I took this photo to demonstrate how I had adjusted Jane Gottelier’s pattern, which was written for denim but not for the Ultra Tall population, of which Hubby is a member. My solution–which worked out fine–was to knit 20 percent more length into the body of Hubby’s frock before shrinkage. (I still love saying “Hubby’s frock”.)
In Which We Debunk Misinformation: Strong Language Warning
Rowan recommends that before a denim sweater is sewn up, the pieces should be washed and dried, and that you should also pre-shrink the yarn that you are going to use to sew up the sweater. I believe that these recommendations are unnecessary.
I usually do wash and dry my pieces before sewing up, but only because I want to. I’m eager to see the transformation of the fabric that comes with washing, the fading helps me see my sewing better, and the edges seem to be a little smoother. But it’s not necessary. Do it only if you feel like it.
That bit about pre-washing the sewing-up yarn really gets my goat. No wonder knitters hesitate about trying the yarn, if it requires such fussing! Washing yarn is a pain in the neck. The cut ends are going to fray, and even if you skein it up neatly, it could become a tangled mess in the wash. The only thing that you achieve is a bit of shrinkage that is absolutely not going to affect the strength or appearance of the seams in your garment. (The shrinkage is only material when the yarn is knitted up into FABRIC; not when it is being used as a single strand of string.) I say this with all the passion of my being: PISH TOSH. Don’t do it.
There is more good news, though: the shrinkage of the fabric ensures that the ends, which do fray slightly on the wrong side of the garment (where you have woven them in), are shrunk tightly in place and are not going to undo themselves.
The Denim Bookshelf
It’s easy to avoid adapting a pattern to denim yarn, because there are many splendid patterns that were written specifically FOR denim yarn. (Note subtle self-promotion in photo above. There ARE denim patterns in both our books; it’s not like I snuck them onto The Neurosurgeon’s Bookshelf.)
But these are the Big Three.
Rowan Denim (which may be out of print; I didn’t even see it at the Rowan website, and I had a mild moment of panic when I couldn’t find my copy) has divine gansey-based garments, for adults and children. HOWEVER, the book dates from the early 90s, when it seems that folks liked to climb three at a time into a single sweater. Once, I started a child’s sweater from this book for Joseph, who was 6 at the time, and as I was working the bottom of the back, I realized that if I translated the number of stitches on my needles into inches, the sweater would be a very roomy fit for ME. These sweaters need some adjusting to the current preference for single-occupancy clothing.
Denim People. This more recent book has great modern sweaters, jackets and tops, and some especially nice things for men. Martin Storey at his best. No traditional Arans, though.
My personal fave: Indigo Knits by Jane Gottelier. A great mix of traditional ganseys–rendered exquisitely and sized nicely–and more high-fashion clothing and accessories suitable for your appearance on The Sartorialist. I’m going to be knitting from this one forever.
Here’s a smattering of other books including denim offerings. Patterns for Rowan Denim are also sprinkled throughout the Rowan Magazines. Little Badger has the sweet, sweet Museum Sweater, a denim Henley for babies. ADORE. But that brilliant Erika Knight, she takes the cake:
With her denim bean bag chair. I will not make it, though, until I have achieved my Lifetime Goal of making this:
The Aran Armchair Cover. She’s mad–MAD–to specify wool for this one. It would felt and mat! I’m doing mine in inky doubled-up denim, and it will get all kinds of cool wear marks, and sun marks, and it will be my favorite thing ever. I need to find the victim chair and git busy. I am not getting any younger.
I think that’s all. For today. We can talk about something else if you want to.