17 December 2006

Knitting with sewing thread

Pattern: "L" from Erich Engeln leaflet #1
Thread: DMC Tatting (6-cord cotton thread, size 80)
Needles: 1.5 mm

Pattern: #47 from Burda special 198
Thread: Coats and Clark #40 cotton sewing thread
Needles: 1.5 mm

I knit the fuschia doily with the DMC Tatting 80 first and then cast on and knit the white doily immediately after freeing my needles from the fushchia doily. The doilies were each about 50 rounds with fairly basic stitchmaking and were completed very quickly. I just wanted to see what knitting with finer thread would be like. These two doilies are the finest threads I've used so far now, and of course I'm still experimenting.

I know people joke that all knitted doilies must have been made with "wires and sewing thread," but I have also heard people remark, without joking, that crochet cotton in about size 50 is actually equivalent to "sewing thread" weight thread. That is not true. Even the usual threads from sewing kits are a lot finer than the typically used crochet cottons, even "size 50" crochet cotton. This picture shows the Engeln 7F doily in DMC Cordonnet 60 on the right and the Burda 198-47 doily in Coats and Clark #40 sewing thread on the left in the same shot for comparison.

So, those of you who are afraid to start knitting with crochet cotton--take heart! It really isn't like something you would put into a sewing machine.

Yet, I had to ask myself, what is knitting with actual sewing thread like? Well, it's surprisingly doable, especially when you have 1.5 mm circular needles! Not long ago, I used 1.5 mm (US 000) needles for the first time with DMC Cordonnet 60, and I realized that 1.5 mm needles would be small enough for threads at least a little finer than size 60 crochet cotton. As it turns out, I now think I could still use 1.5 mm needles with thread slightly finer than the #40 sewing thread.

Looking at spools of sewing thread, now I can see the confusion regarding "size 50" thread. The sewing thread is in fact labeled by sizes—#40, #50, #60—just like crochet cotton thread. But the size numbers clearly do not mean the same things in sewing thread and in crochet cotton. Having just knit with the #40 Coats and Clark thread, I can say it is definitely finer than the DMC Tatting size 80 thread, and it feels just a little finer than DMC Cordonnet 100.

I really want to compare sewing threads to crochet cotton threads by their respective yards per pound numbers, but I don't have enough information. Balls of crochet cotton are marked with yardage and weight, but spools of sewing thread only list yardages. The sewing thread size numbers might be related to the cotton count system (more info on that here, here, and here) but I'm not 100% sure that sewing thread marked "3-ply, #40" means it is actually "40/3 thread" under the cotton count system. So, maybe I'll just have to get a McMorran yarn balance soon to work out the numbers once and for all.

1.5 mm circular needles: Inox vs. Addi

After knitting Engeln 7F with grey Inox 1.5 mm circulars, I did purchase a pair of Addi Turbo 1.5 mm circulars. I still don't think the Inox ones (which cost only about half of the Addis) are bad, but yes, the join on Addis is much better. I think how much the join matters depends on several things, including your tension, but overall, I'm sure that the smoothness of the join becomes more important as the thread gets finer relative to the needle size. Also, it is always harder to scoot lace knitting across the join (when you have a bunch of yarn overs mixed with knit stitches on the needle) than all knit stitches in plain knitting. So, working lace knitting with the DMC Tatting 80 and #40 sewing thread, I think the smooth join of the Addi needles was essential and worth the extra $$$.

Sewing thread: Coats and Clark vs. other brands

In addition to the Coats and Clark #40 sewing thread, I plan to knit a few other basic sewing threads recommended for sewing and machine quilting, all 100% cotton. (I am not a quilter, but from what I understand, threads labelled as "hand-quilting thread" usually have a coating that makes hand sewing easier, so I deliberately avoided buying hand-quilting thread for knitting.)

The Coats and Clark #40 sewing thread I used to knit Burda 198/42 is very soft and somewhat fuzzy. I probably would not knit with this thread again, at least not any larger, more time-consuming pieces.

However, I've already begun knitting another small doily with Gütermann #50 machine quilting thread, and it feels sharp, crisp, and not at all fuzzy. So far, I'm very impressed! I'd say it's actually a lot like high quality crochet cotton, only finer, and the Gütermann thread is much higher in quality, from a knitting perspective at least, than the Coats and Clark thread.

There are also threads that are much finer than "regular" sewing thread, like cotton threads from sizes 80/2 to 170/2 listed in the catalogs of Lacis and other lacemaking suppliers. Although I would like to find out what is the finest thread that is knittable, I'm putting off buying any of these truly freakish materials for next time, after I explore knitting with some other regular sewing threads I currently have on hand.

In any case, I don't know how many pieces I would knit with these ultra-fine threads. I want to attempt a few just for the challenge and novelty of it, but as I've already seen with the Coats and Clark thread, not all threads make good, durable pieces. For me, that also means not all threads are worth investing the time and effort to knit into lace. I am more interested in finding and knitting the finest thread available that still has some resemblance to high quality crochet cotton in terms of durability and appearance.

11 December 2006

"Erbstüllgrund" doily by Herbert Niebling

That ball of Flora thread I photographed in my last post? It's now a doily.

Pattern: Burda Special 903/42, "Erbstüllgrund" by Herbert Niebling
Thread: Flora cotton thread, size 50 (available from Lacis or Handy Hands)
Needles: 2 mm

This doily was 94 rounds total, and I used very close to one ball of Flora 50 (300 yards per ball). I blocked it using four short blocking wires threaded through almost every crochet loop along the four sides and just a few pins at the corner loops. The final measurement is 14 inches square.

This pattern also appears in an older Burda lace knitting special called "Kunststricken Folge 1" but as a 76-round pattern without the final border.

I was specifically looking for a doily that was small and square, and this is one of the few I found that included a real Niebling-type floral motif. Most of the other small square doily patterns I have seen are more geometrical, like "English Crystal" from Marianne Kinzel's first book. In any case, I discovered that patterns for round/octagonal/hexagonal doilies greatly outnumber square ones, at least in the smaller sizes.

As always, I loved knitting the unusual Niebling-type floral motifs. I especially like the use of two different lace background patterns to frame the center flowers. I worked the hexagonal mesh in this doily using knit 1, purl 1 into the double yarn over (instead of k1-k1tbl into the double yo, which I have done in the past to make the mesh tighter), and I like its airy openness in contrast to the small holes of the other lace pattern.

When I decided to knit a dark purple doily, I finally had a great excuse to check out some other brands of thread, since DMC Cebelia's color palette is pretty limited. Flora comes in many colors and is available in sizes 10, 20, and 50.

In certain ways, Flora in size 50 is a nice compromise between DMC Cordonnet and DMC Cebelia. DMC Cordonnet only comes in white and ecru in sizes 10-80 and 100 and DMC Cebelia comes in a variety of colors but only in sizes 10-30.

Flora 50, on the other hand, is a thread finer than size 30 that comes in a nice variety of colors, and even the hardness of Flora falls somewhere between razor-sharp Cordonnet and slightly softer Cebelia.

A definite disadvantage of Flora is that knots in the balls of thread are apparently more common. I encountered two knots in the ball I used to knit Erbstüllgrund. Another ball I purchased also has at least one knot, because I can actually see a few thread ends poking out from somewhere in the middle of the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more knots I can't see yet. By comparison, I have yet to encounter knots in any ball of Cordonnet or Cebelia I have ever used. I'm not saying that none exist in any Cordonnet or Cebelia ball, but in my experience, they seem to be less common.

Relative abundance of knots is not a total deal-breaker for me, but it did stop me from stocking up on more Flora 50 for now. Plus, I'm still working on knitting finer and finer threads and finding my limitations. I won't know exactly what my favorite thread sizes and brands are until I knit many more pieces in different threads.

I haven't decided on what to cast on next, although I am fairly sure that the next thread will be either DMC Tatting (size 80) or DMC Cordonnet 100. I like having a small doily in progress all the time, but it seems like once I cast one on, I can't put it down until it's finished! I still have the large linen piece in progress, and I'm also working on the Melon Pattern Stole bit by bit during the commute.

01 December 2006

Melon Pattern Stole, in progress

Thread in balls just isn't nearly as photogenic as yarn.

(Flora 50 crochet cotton earmarked for my next small doily.)

Fortunately on the blog eye-candy front, I couldn't resist casting on a mohair shawl from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby (XRX Books).

I chose the Melon Pattern Stole (which happens to be the piece featured on the book's cover) because I wanted to have a take-along lace project with a stitch pattern simple enough to memorize. Melon is started on an invisble cast on (note my red-orange waste yarn); the small lace pattern is knit back and forth until the desired length of the stole, then a lace edging is applied all the way around the rectangle. There are no bound off stitches anywhere. Several other patterns in VLT are of this variety: all-over lace patterned rectangle + small lace edging around. I'm sure there are many knitters who could probably design stoles of a similar type easily with the aid of a stitch pattern book, and VLT actually has a short guide to designing your own. However, the advantage of following a pattern straight out of VLT is that each pattern is already carefully planned to ensure that the lace edgings fit around the shawls exactly and includes step-by-step instructions to get the edgings to work out with little to no calculations required.

The "melon stitch" itself is partly created by a yarn over at each side of the three stitches that are wrapped/pinched. The wrapping part is made from slipping stitches over other stitches from left to right and off of the left needle (in contrast, the more usual "pass slipped stitch over" move in decreases occurs right to left off the right needle). (The above close-up picture shows the piece as it is currently on my needles and totally not blocked or pinned out.)

In laceweight kid mohair, you can't really tell that a total of three stitches are slipped over each time—the wrapping stitches compress like a tiny knot. I'm a little curious about what melon stitch would look like in a thicker yarn.

The yarn I'm using is Elann Super Kydd, one of Elann.com's exclusives. Like several other laceweight 70-80% kid mohair and 20-30% nylon blends on the market, it's clearly intended to be a poor knitter's Rowan Kidsilk Haze or K1C2 Douceur et Soie (which are both 70% kid mohair, 30% silk). I have to say, having used the more expensive yarns, Super Kydd compares very favorably. It lacks the slight sheen of real silk at the core, but the kid mohair is just as soft and lofty (and just as hard to deal with when frogging, of course). And it costs only about a third of what Kidsilk Haze does these days, making it perfect for stocking up to knit the many pieces in VLT designed with laceweight kid mohair in mind. I hope it comes out in more colors eventually.

I'm using 4.5 mm (US 7) needles, which happens to be the needle size recommended in VLT for all patterns using laceweight kid mohair. Well, especially after knitting doilies on 2 mm and 1.5 mm needles, of course I think my stitches here are really, really loose and huge. I'm sticking with this needle size for this project, but we'll see how much I like the super-open look when all is finished and blocked. The stitch gauge also means that the stole is growing pretty quickly, though, so hopefully it won't be long until I'm done.

A little bit more about the book

This book is lavishly photographed and just a beautiful publication overall. There are several larger triangular or round shawls and many rectangular scarves/stoles with various types of construction. The rectangular pieces use stitch patterns that are easy to memorize or require only small charts to take along. By comparison, the shawls in A Gathering of Lace are generally much more complex with lace patterning that requires multiple huge charts. If you only like to knit the really mind-blowing stuff like Shetland shawls, Victorian Lace Today might disappoint you. But, if you are a relative novice at lace knitting, or if you just like having simpler projects in progress in addition to the complicated stuff, Victorian Lace Today is a very nice book to have.

21 November 2006

Duchrow 73/6

Don't ask me why, but "knitted lace" is a term usually reserved for patterns with lace patterning in every row or round, while "lace knitting" can refer to lace patterns with plain rows/rounds in between the pattern rows/rounds.

You can sometimes tell the two apart by looking at the yarn overs in a piece. In a typical "lace knitting" pattern, the yarn overs are followed by a plain round of knit stitches, so there are holes defined by two threads twisted together (one thread is the yarn over, the other thread is the knit stitch above it).

"Lace knitting":

However, in a "knitted lace" pattern, the yarn overs aren't always followed by knit stitches, so the holes are defined by single threads.

"Knitted lace":

This particular knitted lace pattern is a traditional Shetland lace pattern called "Bird's Eye" or "Spider Lace." It's in more than one stitch pattern book, I'm sure; if you've got Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller, see page 132. Sharon Miller notes that it doesn't really look like it's a knitted pattern. I've always been fascinated by it for that reason, but I hadn't had an excuse to knit it up until a tiny picture in one of the Christine Duchrow books caught my eye. Two days later, I completed this doily:

Pattern: Pattern 6 from Christine Duchrow leaflet #73 (reprinted in The Knitted Lace Patterns of Christine Duchrow, Volume III by Lacis)
Thread: Cordonnet 40 crochet cotton
Needles: 2 mm

Part of the fun for me in knitting this doily was bringing to life a piece from a weird old photo that may have been overlooked for decades. It's also the first piece I've made following an original Christine Duchrow leaflet.

The other part of the fun of course was the pleasure of seeing the bird's eye pattern unfold. It's a small stitch repeat and not difficult to work in the round despite yarn overs in every round. This stitch pattern in a piece worked back and forth is probably a bit trickier to make. (I've since noticed that the other Christine Duchrow pattern I've knitted, Egeblad, also features a stitch pattern in its outer rounds that is considered a traditional Shetland lace pattern: print o' the wave.)

This doily isn't the most ingeniously designed I've seen. The center eight-pointed star pattern simply ends with several plain rounds, then the bird's eye pattern starts after that without a connection to the center pattern. In fact, bird's eye is not even repeated by a multiple of eight times around the doily—it's repeated 28 times around. At first, just going by the number of stitches to work in the chart, I thought there might be an error in the pattern, but it was simply a matter of realizing that the bird's eye repeats weren't going to line up neatly over the repeats of the center star.

As it turned out, this particular pattern did not have any true errors as far as I could tell but there were definitely some quirks and potential pitfalls which I've been trying to document in some notes. Stay tuned for "German Knitting Patterns, part 3: Christine Duchrow," which I hope will be coming soon to the blog!

Yeah, I intend to reblock this doily at some point. It has an excessive number of crochet loops (meaning: many, many pins crowded together!) so I just focused on pulling and opening up the lace during the first blocking without worrying about making perfectly neat crochet loops. Next time, I'll just moisten it slightly, and I'll be able to pin it out again more evenly since I won't have to pull hard on the piece then.