“Are you spinning?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”
“Because there’s this frequent sound of dropping something.”
“IT’S NOT FREQUENT.”*

He was sitting downstairs on the sofa and I was sitting in my chair in front of the monitor listening to back issues of Quirky Nomads and, yes, spinning. By which you may take it that I met that work deadline. I even considered skipping a blood doning session in order to meet that deadline, instead I made up the time by stoking up with dark chocolate and working flat out Friday, and therefore had a splitting headache when, on Friday afternoon, I sent the last file through for approval… that didn’t arrive. And didn’t arrive. I did not have a good night Saturday night, thank you. Saturday morning I received an email message saying the client had moved the deadline back to the middle of next week. Life, eh?

Incidentally, he said he wound the yarn-ball like that because he thought it more likely to result in a completely circular ball, which must be the point of winding a ‘ball’. I said I’d been told mine looked tidy by comparison. He gave me That Look, and I said “You think ‘tidy’ means ‘anally retentive’ in this context, right?” He just smiled.

Now it’s Monday, I’ve received and dealt with the amendments and posted the CDs, the hardcopy and the invoice (huzzah for the invoice!) to the client. I can stop and think a bit. Or read. There is fiction waiting downstairs by my chair, but sitting on the desk bed beside me are two knitting books. I am struggling to learn how to make knitwear that fits, as in is shaped to my body, and also suits my body shape. The struggle is due to ignorance (I’ve never really been deeply interested in clothing, so have to learn how and what someone my shape should wear), and mindset. Researchers have apparently found that people have to eat recognisable (taste-able?) quantities of a disliked food at least 40 times to overcome the distaste. That suggests I’ll have to wear figure-hugging clothing at least 40 times to begin to become comfortable in it. Gah. Anyway. Neither of these books is intended for a new knitter: the authors assume you know how to knit. The first is probably the more generally useful of the two, but the second is a good introduction to a way of thinking about designing sweaters that are more than things to keep you warm.

Sweater Design in Plain English is just that, a guide to designing sweaters that fit. Properly. Maggie Righetti starts by comparing the design of clothes to be sewn from fabric with the design of knitted clothing, discussing how and why the techniques used for woven fabric may not (probably will not) work for knits. I didn’t need this, but others may find it useful. What I wanted most was an explanation of how different clothing shapes and styles suit different figures. And I got one, hurrah! There are a lot of very useful sketches, showing how pattern and line can distract the eye from what one might regard as figure ‘flaws’. She makes the point that the ‘standard’ sweater, basically a square front, a square back and sleeves that continue the straight line across the shoulder, is easy to design but actually suits very few people. There’s a section discussing how to choose a flattering colour, which is probably a good idea. Me, I just stick with sludge. Fitted and colourful? On me? Pull the other one, it has bells on. Armed with the necessary information to (in theory) choose a flattering pattern or even design one, she leads her readers to attack gauge with very detailed instructions on how to use that crucial information to calculate size and yarn requirements. Math-haters will be terrified by those pages, there are actual formulae. But it’s essential. That’s a little over half the volume. The rest is filled with patterns for ’14 classic sweaters’ where (as usual) ‘classic’ means ‘at best slightly frumpy’. But the patterns have unusually lengthy, patient instructions which, if followed, will produce garments that really will fit the knittee. I haven’t knitted any of them, and I can’t imagine doing so as written, but I am certain that the first half of the book will enable me to use any one of them as the basis for something I do like. And which not only fits, but suits me.

The second book is Designing Knitwear by Deborah Newton. This, too, does exactly what it says on the tin. There is no detailed discussion of what suits who and why; she states firmly “Over the years I’ve designed knits to fit the typical fashion model, whose measurements are far from average … The worst fitting problem she presents, since I never actually meet her, is that I never know her real arm length!”. But we real humans are not completely ignored: she stresses the importance of working from accurate measurements of well-loved garments as well as the body in question, asking about the fit and style the knittee prefers. There’s also a brief section on ‘quick fixes’, possible ways to avoid ripping and re-knitting entire sections of a garment that doesn’t quite fit, and a good summary of the basic shapes for sleeves, necklines, etc. But this is primarily a book about how to choose yarns, how to create particular fabrics using those yarns, and how to work out what those fabrics are best used for. Lots of photos of swatches and garments, of textures and colours, and discussions of what inspired them. I prefer Newton’s patterns to those of Righetti, and might even knit that kimono one day. ‘Dressmaker Details and Finishing Techniques’ is more ‘details’ (pleats and pockets and collars and ruffles) than actual finishing techniques, alas. I realised today that garments knitted flat are far more easily blocked than those knitted in the round. Duh. But you know what that means? I’ve finished a sweater. It’s drying flattish even as we speak. When it’s no more than damp I will try to work out how to block it. And then I will take pictures! Even if I look ridiculous 🙂 It’s February, everyone needs a laugh in February.

Jo? are you there? Barring accidents I’ll post instructions for making a sourdough starter tomorrow. To do it properly you’ll need reasonably accurate kitchen scales (I do metric, but you don’t have to), 1-2lb of organic wheat bread (‘strong’ as they call in the UK) flour, 1lb organic rye flour, fresh or bottled spring water (NOT tapwater or any other treated water!), a plastic or wooden spoon and (ideally) a transparent-ish plastic container with a lid (a largish sandwich box or similar). Glass is not a good idea in the long term: it breaks. Later this week or early next, what to do with your new friends!

*Non-spinners need to know that the simple manual tool used to spin fibre into yarn is generally known as a drop spindle. It’s not meant to drop, like, free-fall onto the floor, though. Spinners should stop sniggering, it’s not polite.

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About sarahw

A zoologist who draws, a spinner who weaves, a person who thinks.
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4 Responses to “Are you spinning?”

  1. Joanne says:

    Oh, a sweater! I can’t wait to see it. You know, in theory I want to try sourdough. Really, I do, and I even have all the ingredients in my house! In practice, these days I can barely remember to take the laundry out of the washer and put it in the dryer…Luckily, the bread recipe I’ve been doing is foolproof and I’ve got some idiot knitting going on. I’m even considering recycling some old “pitches” and resubmitting them to magazines now that I think they are more “in style” so that I can continue to stare out the window the rest of the time and still meet the deadline. Pathetic, I know. That’s about what I’m up to here…

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  2. Debby says:

    I read your post with interest, as this is something I want to attempt too. I’m long waisted and some sweaters/jumpers are too short on me. Having the knowledge to fit something to our bodies will be very empowering. 🙂

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  3. sarah says:

    Debby, it seems to me increasingly important that if I’m going to spend time and money making something for me, then it should be as ‘right’ for me as possible. I’ve looked at so many pictures of models wearing garments (knitted or not) and thought “I couldn’t wear that”. It’s time to start saying “but if I change this, and this, it will look good on me”.

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  4. Thanks for the reviews. The Maggie Righetti book has long been on my wishlist and I am always on the lookout for knitwear fit techniques. Strangely enough, I don’t know anyone with a standard, perfectly proportioned body :o).I’ve just ordered Stephanie Japel’s new book on fitted knits. Most of the reviews seem promising, but we shall see once the bird is in the hand.Drop spindle. Funny.

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