It is divine. (Photo by sara remington.)
Ever since the summer of 2016, when I knit Julia Farwell-Clay’s Metronome Shawl, and then knit it again, I’ve had a dream: this design could be a blanket. Julia’s “unvention” of a switcheroo technique for changing colors in the middle of the row, without intarsia’s holes, or intarsia’s many ends to weave in later, is destined for color and pattern play over a larger canvas.
I love knitted blankets. I want all good ideas to be available in Blanket Format. I was thrilled that Julia was receptive to the idea.
Then, when we were picking yarns for the Field Guide, and somebody (you? Melanie?) said, “If the theme is ease, the perfect yarn is Rowan Denim,” I nearly lost my mind.
I’ve loved Rowan Denim since I first laid eyes on it, and I don’t really remember when that was. I don’t know why I am so drawn to a yarn that shrinks and fades, but why are millions of people, over generations and in every corner of the planet, in love with denim jeans and denim jackets? Why aren’t jeans and jackets just as good in regular twill fabric that doesn’t shrink or fade?
Well, they’re just not as good, and that’s a fact. There is something so lovely about the personality that comes from each person’s washing and wearing of denim garments, and from their mending and failing to mend. They show the marks of life. To knit with a yarn that lets this happen, with its effects further varied and enhanced by choice of stitch pattern, is a dream come true for me. I have enjoyed knitting with it for years, and I love my collection of Rowan Denim knits, which includes sweaters and blankets that are in constant use.
(Ooh look! I’ve got some squares that were left over from making the sample Picket Fence Afghan! Whatever shall I do with them?)
Every time I talk about denim, the questions come flooding forth from the knitters. Like prey animals, acutely sensitized to detect danger in sudden movement at the edges of their field of vision, knitters hear the word “shrink” and go absolutely blue (ha!) with fear.
So here is a syllabus on knitting with Rowan Denim that I hope will either quell these fears or make you decide that you will knit your Picket Fence Afghan with another yarn. (We have several lovely alternatives in the MDK Shop, just saying).
(I have seven squares, to be exact. )
Questions and Answers about Rowan Denim
Will your hands turn blue knitting with Rowan Denim?
Yes. It washes right off with soap and water.
Will your needles turn blue knitting with Rowan Denim?
If they are wood, yes. It will not wash off. If this bothers you, use metal needles.
(A nice long wrap, maybe with log cabin borders?)
Will your clothes or your furniture get blue from knitting with Rowan Denim?
In my decades of knitting with Rowan Denim, this has never happened to me. Never! I suppose it is a possibility, if you apply moisture and/or friction, to rub some of the dye off on any nearby textile. But simply sitting there knitting with (dry) Rowan Denim while wearing (dry) white pants on a (dry) white sofa is not something I am afraid of. I knitted on a giant Rowan Denim jacket, in the darkest shade, all the way to China and back in the hot, dank summer of 2002, sometimes with a drooling baby girl on my lap, without messing up my clothes (or hers).
If you knit with Rowan Denim in combination with other colors, will the blue bleed onto the other colors when you wash the item?
Yes. In the first wash, when the biggest fade happens, pale colors might take on a blue tinge. You can avoid this by using “color catchers” (white cloths that are treated to pick up dye from the water) in the washer, or a liquid called Synthrapol.
Or you can just wash it again. This happened to me once, in a European machine that got the water extremely hot. The blanket I was washing was the photography sample for a project in our first book, the Courthouse Steps blanket, which had a lot of white strips in it. The white strips turned pale blue. I turned pale blue. Then I washed it a few more times, and the pale blue went back to white, and seemed even brighter white for having been temporarily blued.
In the case of the Picket Fence Afghan sample, the colored bits did not turn blue when I washed them. Then again, they were not the sort of colors that you could easily notice if they got took on a slightly blue cast.
(Or how about a nine-patch baby blanket? It would measure about 33″ x 33.” I would get to make two more blocks!)
In the Picket Fence Afghan, Rowan Denim is used alongside bits of Rowan Handknit Cotton. What happens when you wash the afghan, and the Denim shrinks and the Handknit Cotton doesn’t shrink? Do you have to lay down and die at this point, or just be furious at Kay Gardiner forever?
Here is where I am going to blow your mind: all cotton shrinks when you wash it in hot water and dry it in the dryer, as recommended for Rowan Denim.
Repeat: all cotton shrinks.
The reason we don’t think of Handknit Cotton as a yarn that shrinks is that the care instructions are: wash in warm water (40 degrees C/104 degrees F); do not machine dry. These care instructions are intended to avoid shrinking!
So if you disregard those instructions, and machine wash (at 60-70 degrees C/140-160 degrees F) and machine dry your afghan, the Handknit Cotton shrinks right along with the Denim.
The proof of this is in the sample: even shrinkage throughout.
I have combined Rowan Denim with other cotton yarns, chiefly Tahki Cotton Classic, a shiny mercerized cotton. Guess what—it shrank! Knowing this about cotton yarns eliminates this worry; you can freely mix Rowan Denim with other cotton yarns.
For completeness, here’s a photo of Rowan’s explanation of how to work with Rowan Denim.
I do not agree with everything they say, particularly that bit about washing the yarn you are going to sew up with. It’s admittedly “not essential,” and in my opinion just adds to the nervousness about working with this yarn. Everything is going to be fine!
I’m here (and in the Lounge) for all Rowan Denim questions. I love evangelizing for, and educating about, this amazing yarn.
Come at me!