EDITOR’S NOTE: I missed Rhinebeck this year so am happy Jess’s column this month takes us along vicariously. I also love how much her experience echoes mine! Cheers to both of us eventually getting great sweaters from the trip—
This post marks 6 months (?!) of Swatch of the Month. First off, thanks to Karen for welcoming me here on Fringe Association, and a big thanks to this supportive community of knitters for reading along.
Back when I pitched this idea to Karen, I felt like my knitting practice was on the cusp of transforming from a hobby to something much more – a greater expression of my own creativity and a deepened commitment to a slow wardrobe. By setting aside time on a monthly basis to explore new yarns, stitch patterns and knitting history through the mere act of knitting a swatch, I feel like I’ve been able to stay true to that path. It’s a simple but powerful check-in each month, an opportunity to step outside the relentless “queue check” and dig in on things that have been inspiring me lately. I hope this practice has and continues to encourage you to do some of the same.
For this month’s swatch, I wanted to take a step back and get back to basics. When I take a look at my wardrobe, there are a lot of neutrals – blacks, grays, creams, some indigo and rust. But in my handmade wardrobe? I’ve never knit one thing that is white or black, and subsequently have no completely neutral, throw-over-anything, cropped and boxy cardigan or other layering piece. It’s kind of crazy to think about, and it’s one of my 2017 goals to knit up two or three sweaters that fill that gap.
With that vision in mind, my best friend Claire and I drove upstate to our first-ever New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck last month. The Friday drive from Baltimore was easy and once we passed New York City, the trees began to really turn and the temperature dropped into respectable sweater weather territory. Rhinebeck is as cute as they come – Market Street is lined with trees, restaurants, a wine shop and bakery, and even an art supply store. Heaven on earth, basically. After picking up some hot apple cider, we checked into our Airbnb just out of the center of town, and settled in with more tea and cookies before heading back out for dinner. We tucked in early, knowing the next day would be a busy one.
Even though many people had told me that Rhinebeck would be packed, I still wasn’t prepared for it to be this insane. If you’re hoping to arrive early to beat the crowds, you’re in good company – it seems that’s what everyone else is thinking. Tents were filled shoulder-to-shoulder with eager knitters giving hugs, petting skeins and elbowing their way into booths. Lines are long, whether it be to pay for a knitting book or a bag of apple cider donuts, but the sun was out and everyone was in such a good mood that it doesn’t seem to matter all that much.
After picking up Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook, giving high-fives to the ladies at the Pom Pom Quarterly magazine stand, and happily running into Brandi (i.e., she ambushed me with a giant hug by the pierogi stand) I continued my hunt for the perfect cream or black yarn to add to my stash. In a festival this massive, I figured that yarn would be easy to find, but by late afternoon I was becoming increasingly discouraged and thought I may very well walk away from the whole thing empty-handed.
It’s not that there weren’t white, black, gray and brown yarns – there were plenty – but once you’re surrounded by seemingly infinite choice, you become a lot more discerning about the exact qualities you want in a yarn. For me, I wanted a 100% wool or wool blend, and preferably not Merino. (There was a lot of Merino and 100% alpaca yarn at the festival, go figure.) A 2-ply or 3-ply were preferable, but for these basic sweaters I had in mind, I envisioned a yarn that felt round, crisp and springy. I wanted the yarn to feel sufficiently sheepy and minimally processed, but many yarns on offer felt loosely spun and almost too sheepy, if that can even be a thing. Bonus points if the yarn was in some way local to New York state and the Hudson Valley.
Enter, Cornwall Yarn Shop’s booth and their selection of Hudson Valley Fibers yarn. In perfect dark charcoal, cream, gray and sandy brown colors, their Hudson yarn had the palette I was after and a dreamy fiber blend – 50% alpaca and 50% Corriedale. Corriedale is the oldest of all crossbred breeds, a cross between Merino and Lincoln sheep bred in Australia and New Zealand in the late 19th century and brought to the U.S. in 1914. The feel is incredibly soft but still a little toothy. The yarn is a 3-ply with a crisp, round shape and great spring, and I could tell that it would have excellent stitch definition. And finally, it’s sourced and milled in New York. Bingo. I picked up six skeins in their “Black Rock” colorway, which is more of a dark, cool gray with a subtle, light gray halo, and started swatching as soon as I got home.
Remember how I said I wanted to get back to basics? Well, I haven’t been able to get this out of my head. It’s a seed stitch kimono-style cardigan knit up by Simone of Temple of Knit, a knitwear designer and blogger based in Sweden. I love everything about Simone’s blog, knitting patterns and aesthetic. [Editor’s note: Me too.] She has such a defined and considered approach to minimalism with a specific focus on Scandinavian design, which, if you’ve read my post on Icelandic yoked sweaters, know I have a particular soft spot for.
Inspired by Simone’s project, I decided to knit up a swatch exploring a few different basic knit-and-purl stitch patterns that could create a similar nubbly textured fabric. The swatch is broken into three sections of seed stitch, moss stitch, and sand stitch, all achieved through different combinations of knit and purl. For those who are still new to knitting, and even those who are seasoned in the craft, it’s exciting to be reminded how much can be achieved with variations on the simplest of stitches.
Yarn: Hudson yarn by Hudson Valley Fibers in Black Rock colorway (available here)
Needles: US 6 / 4mm metal needles
Gauge: 19 stitches / 36 rows = 4 inches in seed stitch, moss stitch and sand stitch (below)
M E T H O D
CO 40 stitches or any even number of stitches using a long-tail cast on.
Row 1: *Knit 1, purl 1; repeat from * to finish
Row 2: *Purl 1, knit 1; repeat from * to finish
Repeat two rows to desired length.
Rows 1 and 2: *Knit 1, purl 1; repeat from * to finish
Rows 3 and 4: *Purl 1, knit 1; repeat from * to finish
Repeat four rows to desired length.
Rows 1 and 3: Knit
Row 2: *Knit 1, purl 1; repeat from * to finish
Row 4: *Purl 1, knit 1; repeat from * to finish
Repeat four rows to desired length.
*If you’re curious, I photographed the skeins piled on top of Minna’s Agnes Rug in Peach, a hand-woven, natural-dyed, 100% wool rug designed by my friend Sara Berks. Sara and I completed the same weaving residency in Oaxaca, and she went on to build her own inspiring home textile business just over a year ago working with weavers in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and beyond. Her studio is in Red Hook, NY so Claire and I paid her a visit (and I snagged this rug!) on the last day of our Rhinebeck trip.
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