Hole and Sons and the unicorn sighting of the yarn world

Hole and Sons and the unicorn sighting of the yarn world

A lot of you remember (I know, because I get asked about it) when I posted last spring about how Instagram-famous British farmer @benjaminhole was making a yarn from the fleece of his Poll Dorset sheep, under the brand Hole & Sons Wool. Many of us eager knitters, myself included, waited and waited — and waited — for any subsequent news on the release of the yarn. Last summer there was a photo with a note that it was done and needed labels, then it would be ready. Weeks after that came another saying once the harvest was done. Seven weeks ago @kararosenlund got some. Other than that … silence. I don’t know about you, but I’d given up hope. Then one morning the week before last, I was lying in bed scrolling through Instagram and saw a comment from @thesachemfarm saying “@karentempler did you see this?” I recognized the photo instantly and knew exactly what it meant, so I literally leapt out of bed and ran for my laptop, expecting the supply would only last a minute and guessing I might already be too late. I pulled up Etsy, found it, placed a hasty order, and refreshed to a blank page. It was gone. The yarn, and for a moment even the shop. Then the shop came back, but empty. Did my order go through? And if so, what exactly did I order?

The product page at the time said only that it was 50g balls, no mention of gauge or yardage, so I had no idea what I was buying. Assuming it was tiny fingering-weight balls (given the geographic context, the look of the balls, and the relatively small price tag), I had plopped 10 grey in my cart and wondered what on earth I would do with them. For a few hours, it looked like maybe the order hadn’t gone through and it wouldn’t matter. Then came two notes from Etsy saying they had cancelled it, and more notes from Sue Hole (“Ben’s Auntie,” she said, aka @harpstone) — who I only later realized had made the announcement on Instagram, and who I hadn’t been following — that there was a problem between them and Etsy about taking payments, but that my yarn was on its way. At this point, I almost had to wonder if it was a scam — someone using the Hole family name and photos to make a fake Etsy shop — but the messages from Sue seemed genuine enough, and she wasn’t asking to be paid until the yarn arrived, seemingly understanding how fishy it all looked. So I waited again, to see if it would materialize.

Friday afternoon, my sopping-wet mailman handed me a sopping-wet plastic mailer, which I assumed was something else. When I tore it open, you can imagine how far my jaw dropped. Not only is it here, it isn’t tiny fingering-weight balls at all — it’s a sweater’s worth of dk/worsted-weight splendor. With a perfect hand-drawn label by Ariele Alasko, who totally won the talent lottery. (I mean.) And of course, I instantly began fantasizing about what it would become. Whatever it is, I will not be rushing into it! I feel so lucky (and almost guilty) to be in possession of this yarn — from sheep I follow on Instagram, ha! So it needs to be something special, and probably something very classic and British. Like a vest. Probably a vest.

Obviously the question on everyone’s lips is will there be more? Sue tells me they have another batch of fleece ready to go to the mill and it will be a couple of months before it’s yarn. I don’t know how long after that before it appears in the Etsy shop, but she’s promised to keep me posted. Meanwhile, following @harpstone is probably your best bet.

There is such a thing as knitting too quickly

There is such a thing as knitting too quickly

The speediness of Bellows has been backfiring on me a little bit. I went racing into it without the kind of care and consideration I try to exercise, and as a result, mistakes have been made. Before I cast on the first stitch on that plane two weeks ago, I did study the schematic and strategize about size, with my swatch’s gauge in mind. What I hadn’t done is blocked my swatch. I guess I thought I knew what it would do when soaked because I knitted my Amanda in this yarn. But was Amanda held double? On 11s? With this textured stitch? Nope.

So hasty mistake number one: I cast on a larger size, the third size, because of my apparent smaller gauge. Sped through the first sleeve. Soaked it. Blocked it, and was impressed that, with only a little coaxing, it pinned out to the third-size dimensions just fine. “Oh, so I needn’t have worried about any significant difference in gauge,” I blithely mused … without completing that thought. I sped through the second sleeve, and only then realized — duh! — that if my blocked gauge is pattern gauge after all, my sweater will be the third-size dimensions, not smaller as I had wanted. So what I had on my hands was two sleeves for a sweater with almost 10 inches of ease, when what I wanted was 4-5 inches. What to do? Well, Balance is machine washable, so I crossed my fingers and threw them in the wash to see what might happen.

They came out beautifully and I laid them out gently closer to my desired dimensions, so I think all is well. But I confess these embarrassments to you guys in the hope that someone (if not me) will learn from my mistakes. Block your swatch!

Hasty mistake number two: I forgot to mirror the cables on the second sleeve, so both sleeves have right-twisting cables. I think this one is partially haste and partially ambivalence. As much as I love and want this sweater, I don’t think this is the most compelling cable motif. But, eh, so they all twist one direction — not the end of the world.

The one other “mistake” I made on purpose. When I knitted the first sleeve, I worked the cable in the cuff ribbing, even though I don’t like that. I almost never like that. I thought about not doing it, and I’m not sure why I went ahead with it, but it bugs me. So I didn’t do it on the second sleeve. I may leave it alone and call it asymmetry, or perhaps I’ll rip out the first cuff and re-knit it downwards without the cable.  I’ve never done that sort of surgery before and have huge admiration for all who do, and here’s a good small-scale opportunity to try it. Right?

I’m taking at least one day off this weekend, hoping for a fair chunk of knitting time, and that’s what I’ll be working on! How about you?

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p.s. that great flat Bookhou pouch is coming back to the shop soon.

Next of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Moody blues

Next of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Moody blues

These two knits make me dizzy. Literally and in a drunk-with-joyful-inspiration sort of way. At the top is MM6 Maison Martin Margiela’s crazy sweatshirt. I do think it’s some kind of tapestried jersey and not sweater knit, but it gives me Linden ideas, and also makes me want to attach marled sleeves to a stranded sweater body. (As long as someone else knits the body for me. Tag Team, anyone?) And then we have Mulberry’s insane colorwork-meets-stockinette coat. The stranded portion includes some kind of extreme mohair that makes the patterning look like a painting that’s been splashed with water and is beginning to bleed. Oh so beautifully.

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PREVIOUSLY in Pre-Fall 2015: Camel sweaters

New Favorites: the other Lene Holme Samsoe sweaters

New Favorites: the other Lena Holme Samsoe sweaters

Now that my Amanda is finally finished, I was about to put the book, Essentially Feminine Knits, back on the shelf. But the problem with patterns in books is it’s easy to forget you have them. So I wanted to put a pin in a couple of them by posting them here—

TOP: Nikita is a much girlier sweater than I am typically drawn to, but I have a soft spot for cable-and-lace combos and I’m intrigued by the counterpane construction of this one.

BOTTOM: Lana is the cover sweater, more of a sweater coat, and though I think I would change all of the edging, I too would like to have that to wear with my sweatpants on a lazy Sunday someday.

There are three or four others under consideration as well, but these are the ones I have stared at the most.

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IN HOT SHOP NEWS: A lot of sold-out favorites have been restocked in the past few days (bonsai scissors, bone crochet hooks, rosewood crochet hooks, bone DPNs …) but I specifically wanted to note, because so many have asked, that I got another small batch of Knit Wit magazine in last night. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

So as I mentioned yesterday, I seamed the seamless yoke of my Amanda cardigan, and I want to talk about both how and why I did it — about the the idea of including what I’m going to refer to as a “basting stitch” in seamless sweaters to combine the best aspects of knitting seamlessly with the best aspects of seamed garments.

SEAMED VS. SEAMLESS

This is the central conflict of knitting, as far as I can tell. Knitters love seamless sweater patterns, for a multitude of arguably legitimate reasons: ease, speed, increased control over the outcome. But what’s best for the knitting process might not be best for the sweater. In most cases, a garment will wear better — hold its shape longer, and look better doing it — if it has seams to lend it structural support. A sweater without seams is sort of like a tent without poles: you can still climb in there and it will protect you from the elements, but it’s a pretty different experience. I have a beloved, much worn, navy top-down sweater in my closet that, even though it was knitted with neck shaping and the neck band was picked up and knitted from the cast-on edge (that picked-up edge being the only undergirding in that sweater), the yoke has mushed around and settled enough over time that I can now barely tell the difference between front and back. In fact, when I wore it on a flight to Seattle in November, I became convinced I had it on backwards.

As we were working our way through the Amanda knitalong, a lot of discussion arose about the relative merits of seamed vs seamless knitting and, combined with turning that navy sweater around that day before realizing it was on right the first time, I got to thinking about this conflict pretty nonstop.

I love a top-down sweater. I’ve had this debate with numerous people, and I maintain that top-down knitting is the gateway drug to sweater knitting — certainly it was for me. Top-down or bottom-up, I’m not opposed to the act of seaming; I genuinely enjoy it, and it doesn’t even take that long. When I was a brand-new knitter, though, the idea of knitting four or five large pieces (a big time investment) and seaming them together (further investment) and only then knowing how I had done — whether it fit and whether I liked it — was unimaginable. It was just never going to happen. Through top-down, I learned how shaping works, how row gauge especially factors into it … in short, how to exert control over my own sweater. Once the notion of knitting a sweater was no longer daunting, and with that gained understanding of how they basically work, I felt more comfortable tackling bottom-up and pieced sweaters, and more confident that I could get the right fit. (Although even now, I have no idea how an armscye is calculated or how to tamper with it, so set-in sleeves are still not malleable for me. Yet. And since I’m apparently incapable of simply following a pattern, malleability is important to me.) I see real value in seamless knitting, in other words, even as I see the value of seams. So what’s a knitter to do?

THE IDEA OF A BASTED SWEATER

As I was nearing the yoke of my Amanda cardigan — having chosen to knit the pattern in pieces as written, prepared to seam the sides and sleeves — I became increasingly preoccupied with the seamless yoke on the horizon. Why would I put all that effort (and seaming!) into a glorious handknit sweater and have it lack that critical underpinning of seamed shoulder construction? And I kept thinking about that trusty blue sweater and pondering the notion of reinforcing it. First I thought about adding something simple and austere like a row of single crochet along the inside of the raglan to shore it up. But it got me wondering why you couldn’t knit a seamless garment in such a way that you built in stitches that were meant to be seamed out later, the way you design steek stitches into a garment you’re going to cut open. Or like in sewing where you baste pieces together temporarily knowing you’re going to go back and add the finished seam later. And, falling more and more in love with the idea, I pondered what the right combination of stitches would be for that built-in seam allowance. But then once I started knitting the Amanda yoke, I realized the answer was right in front of me.

Amanda’s raglan “seam” is a single stitch of reverse stockinette — 1 purl stitch, in other words. It seems to me too weak a stitch to hang a whole sweater on, but it’s the ideal basting stitch. The number one benefit of seamless knitting, in my opinion, is being able to gauge and adjust fit as you go. So if you’re going to work seamlessly and then remove stitches at the end, you want to remove as few as possible, since that’s going to be an adjustment to the fit. Four stitches — one per raglan — is the smallest possible number for a yoke. One stitch per side seam is a total of only two stitches removed for the whole body. A single stitch per sleeve. All you have to do to seam this basting stitch closed is pick up the running thread on either side of that stitch and work it just like standard mattress stitch. And in doing so, you’ve just given yourself the perfect seam in which to bury the ends once you’re done. As far as I can tell, it’s flawless.

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

HOW TO SEAM A SEAMLESS SWEATER

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

Step 1) Take a piece of yarn about one-and-a-half times the length of your seam and thread it through a tapestry needle. Start at the first stitch at the bottom of your basted seam. (I’m using my Amanda raglan seam to illustrate, so that’s the first stitch up from the underarm seam.) Pick up the running thread to the right of the basting stitch — see upper left photo above — and pull your yarn through, leaving a tail to weave in later.

Step 2) Pick up the running thread to the left of the same stitch — see upper right photo above — and pull your yarn through, but don’t pull it tight yet. Leave it just wide enough to reach across the basting stitch.

Repeat steps 1 and 2 — lower two photos above — picking up the right and then left thread on either side of each stitch, until you’ve worked about an inch of stitches. Gently pull on both ends of the working yarn to pull the seam closed. The adjacent stitches should nestle up against each other naturally — don’t pull them too tight or they’ll bunch. This is all exactly like standard mattress stitch.

Keep working your way up the seam, pulling the stitches together every inch or so, until you reach the top of the seam. When you’re done, run both ends through to the wrong side of the work and weave them into the seam you just created. (I did it just like I do on the wrong side of ribbing.)

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

This took me all of eight or ten minutes per raglan, and increased the appearance and the lifespan of my sweater exponentially.

As I said, I’m certain I’m not the first person to ever add a seam to a seamless garment — likely far from it. But for me personally, this is an epiphany. I recognize the benefits of knitting in pieces — namely the portability. But since I do 95% of my knitting on my couch (and because I like to change things to suit myself, and because I dislike starting back at the bottom again for each piece) seamless knitting has undeniable appeal. But I believe wholeheartedly in seams. Now that I realize all I need to do when knitting seamlessly is insert a single column of purl stitches wherever a seam should be, and seam it up at the end, I feel like my whole knitting world may have changed.

Can it really be that easy to have it both ways? I’ll be testing the theory ASAP.

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PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: FO No. 4: Karen Templer

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

This is pretty silly, but since I’ve been doing all of the other #fringeandfriendsknitalong panelist FO posts as interviews — and to help me organize my copious thoughts on this — I’ve interviewed myself for today’s post! Please forgive me—

Your sweater looks a lot like the pattern photo but you actually made several modifications. Can you summarize them?

– Minor details: tubular cast-on, and I worked the diamond cables so they twist toward each other instead of all one direction
– Knitted it at a tighter gauge, so I knitted a larger size to get the finished dimensions I wanted
– Added a pair of reverse-stockinette stitches flanking each diamond panel (in other words, one stitch to the outside of each of those slipped-stitch borders) to give me a little more wiggle room in my final measurements
– Also added extra stitches in the lower back, to give me the extra width I need across the hips
– Because my row gauge was also smaller, I re-charted the yoke to give me more rows (to meet the schematic’s yoke depth) and re-charted the neck shaping while I was at it
– And I did not cast on the button bands along with the waist ribbing — I left that out and did picked-up button bands instead

Weren’t you hell-bent on doing vertical button bands with a ribbon backing and all that?

I was. Then I knitted this sweater — and nothing but this sweater — for four straight months, and to be honest, I wanted to be done. And specifically I wanted to wear it to TNNA, the trade show, and the only way that was going to happen in the time allotted was to pick up the bands rather than seaming them on. I can always pull them out and change them, but I’m actually really happy with how they turned out.

With all the stitch patterning, I thought it would be nice for the bands to have a distinctive edge, so instead of binding off in pattern, I bound off all stitches knitwise from the wrong side, so what you see is just the edge of that row of bound-off stitches. I love it.

What happened to that whole shawl-collar idea?

I’m super jealous of all the shawl-collar versions that came out of this knitalong — Meg really should lock hers up when I visit. But it became clear that this sweater was going to be somewhere between fitted and too small, and I think a shawl-collar sweater wants to be a little slouchy. Plus I thought back to the impetus for all of this and what I wanted was an ivory crewneck cardigan to replace a retired one, so that’s what I did.

You were knitting for Team Seam, yeah? Are you happy you chose that path?

Yes, I knitted the five separate pieces (two fronts, two sleeves, one back) and then, as written in the pattern, joined them at the underarm and worked the yoke seamlessly. Like Kate, I’m a little puzzled at this approach, since the raglan seams are maybe the most important ones, structurally. And if you’re seaming, why not seam the whole thing? But I was planning to rewrite the neck shaping and, if I didn’t get it right on the first try, it was going to be a million times easier to rip back and adjust if it was one seamless piece. So I went ahead and did that. But then I did something I’ve never done before (although surely someone, somewhere has) — I went back in and seamed the seamless raglan.

Sorry, you did what now?

The raglan “seam” for this sweater is just one stitch in reverse stockinette, which seems really vulnerable to me. It looks nice as you’re knitting it, but I could just imagine it stretching out and looking, um, less good over time. I think it’s more a concern with my fabric than for those who used light, fluffy wools at pattern gauge. Rather than go any further into how or why I did that, I’ll save it for a separate post, because it’s a concept I’m really excited about and will be doing some pontificating about.

But meanwhile, yes, I’m very happy the sweater is fully seamed because I want it to last and keep its shape as long as it possibly can, especially given the time I’ve invested. Like, I hope my great-nieces wear it someday.

You mentioned your fabric — you opted to knit this is in a wool-cotton blend, O-Wool Balance. Are you happy with that choice?

Totally! I wanted this to be a 3-season sweater, and I’m so glad I did that because I would hate to be limited to wearing this only in the depths of winter. It’s too good to be packed away! Cotton is weightier and less elastic than wool, and because I also knitted it at finer gauge, my sweater looks really different from the wooly ones. I might need a wooly one someday. But I love the Balance and how it turned out — the fabric is cozy and lovely without being dense or hot. Exactly what I wanted.

So is there anything you’d change?

If I had it to do over again, I would have been less impatient by the time I got to the neck. I specifically charted the neck shaping (see below) in such a way that the slant of the decreases could be maintained beyond the fronts and into the sleeve tops. So if I felt like the neck needed to be higher and smaller, I could just keep knitting and decreasing. I don’t like it when the back neck of a sweater is too wide — I think that’s when it slides around while you’re wearing it. I’m happy with my neck shaping — the actual curve of it — I just wish I had kept going for a few more rows to keep raising and narrowing it at the back. But it’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of how happy I am with this sweater.

I learned to knit so I could make this sweater — this is what I wanted to be able to do. The fact that it was knitted in the virtual company of so many good friends and readers is icing on the cake. As I was binding off the neck in a hotel room in Phoenix, I became aware of the fact that the sweater started with Anna and me accosting a stranger at Midway last summer on our way to Squam, and ended with me knitting the neck while at TNNA again with Anna, with lots else in between. So I really don’t have words for what all is knitted into this sweater. The difference between it and some anonymous factory-made sweater is genuinely indescribable.

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

There are more photos on my Ravelry project page. And Anna and Rebekka are still knitting, so stay tuned! (I can’t believe I’m not last!)

Bleached horn buttons and Knitters Graph Paper Journal from Fringe Supply Co., of course. Photos by my darling husband.

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PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: A different way to shape a sweater

Study: the Wool Issue

Study: the Wool Issue

Every once in awhile I get wind of something that feels genuinely special — in a quiet, small-scale, uncommon way — and it gives me pleasure to be able to lay it in front of you all. Today that something special is the Wool Issue of a tiny little journal called Study, published by a pair of talented friends who are divided between Ohio and California. Study is a “single-subject nature journal,” a labor of love, and when I heard they were working on an issue devoted to the subject of wool, I jumped all over it. The way that I heard about it is that three of the people featured in the issue do their work within a few steps of Fringe HQ: my sweet friends Rebekka Seale of Camellia Fiber Company and Lisa Garcia of Soñadora Handmade, as well as Han Starnes of Josi Faye, who I’ve blogged about, long ago, but have never met. (I only recently discovered we’re neighbors and have been too shy to go knock on the door, but one of these days …) So I met Lily one day while she was here shooting photos for the issue, and she’s completely charming and the past issues are lovely and so I loaded up on the Wool Issue, and the good news is, it’s as good as I had hoped! And not something that will be repeated. You can read more about what’s inside over at Fringe Supply Co.

And if you haven’t picked up issue two of TAC yet, I’d suggest grabbing that while you’re there. The cover is nobody’s favorite color, I realize, but it really is a magnificent issue.

Here in Middle Tennessee, we’re promised a glimpse of the sun this weekend, along with temperatures that start with a 5 instead of a minus sign, so I’m hoping to get photos of a certain cardigan taken. What will you be up to?

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