Swedish Knitting Genes

I grew up in the world of knitting. The neighbor was having a baby? Baby booties were produced like magic. I needed a red sweater to match a new outfit for school? Ta-da! It arrived in the mail from my grandma. I didn’t know there was any other type of dishrag than the knitted kind. When mohair sweaters became popular, a fluffy pink one arrived under the Christmas tree. All the women of my family knitted, and suddenly, around the age of 8, I was a knitter too. I made slippers for everyone, made clothes for my dolls, and began to collect my own knitting needles and yarn. There were some off years, but by the time I was a mom myself there was hardly a day when I didn’t find some time to knit.

Hey, it’s not like I had a choice in any of this. This is the fault of my mom, her mother and all those ancestors living in the Swedish countryside who passed down these knitting genes. I think that  knitting was probably a survival skill back in Sweden, but once the family was in America and located in the desert Southwest the knitting continued. It’s hot in New Mexico and Southern California, so a lot of that knitting  was done for the house (placemats, bedspreads, pillows, and even a tablecloth) and gifts. In general, if there was spare time and you couldn’t read, some knitting got done: obviously a genetic trait!

Knitting Heritage
My knitting heritage: a placemat made by my mom, a knitting pattern from grandma, and antique wooden needle case and wrapper.

I received a lot of  knitting artifacts from my mother, aunt, and grandmother as the years went by and their knitting stopped. I have antique patterns, old needles and hooks, and even an ancient darning egg. I still have some of the things that they knitted, and a little collection of patterns that my grandmother knit up and sent to my mom over the years. Of all the girls in the family, I am the only one who is a compulsive knitter, and so I got the stash. The knitting gene must be a recessive one I guess.

Pink Baby Botties
Superwash wool booties made from Malabrigo Arroyo on 3.0 mm needles for a 3 month old baby.

One of the patterns that I remember the best from my childhood is for a baby bootie that my grandmother used to make. The big deal about the bootie was that it was kick-proof and it stretched as the baby grew so that it could be worn for a few months. My mom and her sister also made these booties, and the pattern (oral tradition only – I never saw this thing in writing!) was explained over and over to me. I’m not an auditory learner, and I never caught on until the booties for my own boys arrived. Then suddenly I understood the pattern as I tied the little booties onto their tiny feet. Clever, clever, clever. The whole bootie is constructed in one piece and definitely performs as advertised. I loved these booties and used them until the boys were walking. Now I make them for other people.

White Baby Booties
Bootie made from KnitPicks Stroll on 2.25 mm needles for a newborn.

This weekend I made two pairs of the booties for the office manager at my car repair shop, who needs to give them to new mothers as baby gifts. They are just little booties, but they are so much more than that. They are the past, the present and the future all at once. They are my connection to the women of my family who gave me the pattern and the Swedish knitting genes. With each stitch that goes into them the gift lives on.

The baby bootie pattern was written up by Christine Bourquin, a woman about the same age as my grandmother, and was published as a letter to the editor of a magazine in 1989. The pattern and more information can be found online at Fuzzy Galore. There is also a great online tutorial posted by Major Knitter. I wonder if Christine was Swedish?

Just Desserts: Serenity Socks

What can I do? I went to my favorite yarn store over the weekend, and they had this absolutely fabulous sock yarn in colors to dye for made by Zen Yarn Garden . I have a lot of sock yarn already, but sometimes a skein is so unique and perfect that I just can’t pass it by; I just know that I will never see it again. This yarn was called Serenity 20 and it was 20% cashmere, 70% superwash merino wool and 10% nylon. In other words, a yarn that is wonderful to touch, can be machine washed and will wear well. I found a skein that was extremely interesting, put it back on the shelf, and then took it down to look over at least twice more before I decided that it needed to go home with me. It was part of what they call their Art Walk Series, which I think means that the yarn is dyed in colorways that invoke specific works of art. This skein is inspired by Ice Cream Dessert by Andy Warhol.

This is the label that came with the skein of yarn.
This is the label that came with the skein of yarn.

Not a great shot, but you can sort of see the colors in the picture; the yarn is dyed in these same colors, and these colors go with almost everything in my wardrobe. I love mauve and plum colors, am constantly in denim jeans and darker blues, so the colors are perfect matches. The socks made from this yarn will blend in with most of the things that I wear. To be honest, now that I am retired, everything that I wear goes with jeans!

So, here is the yarn.

Ice Cream Yarn Closeup

The socks that I decided to knit are my old favorite, Chouwa from the book Knitted Socks East and West. I love this book, and have made several of the different patterns, but Chouwa is my go-to pattern. The socks always fit and wear well, no matter what yarn I am using. I know it so well that I can knit away while watching TV or reading. The word “chouwa” means harmony, and what could be a better match for a yarn called Serenity?

Here's the finished sock!
Here’s the finished sock!

I knit the socks while watching Firefly. (I’ve been watching all the old Firefly episodes because I just read some books that reminded me of the show). As it turns out, this was the perfect show to be watching while making these socks. I mean, what else can you watch while knitting socks made with Serenity yarn? Can’t help but think that the crew would have enjoyed some ice cream dessert and that while the socks invoke the harmony of the tea ceremonies that Inara conducts, they would have been a favorite worn by Kaylee while working in the engine room.

How Many Yards?

How much yarn is in that mitt?

So, I’ve gotten a little crazy with the mitt making. I’ve been making them while I watch television or read; basically they are something that I can produce while watching television or reading as they are kind of automatic knitting. Since I have so much yarn in the stash, they are kind of a stash buster at the same time. The only problem with this is that I don’t like making the thumbs as I need to focus a little on what I’m doing to make them. That’s how I found myself with 10 pairs of mitts without thumbs.

Unfinished Mitts
After knitting in the thumbs I still had to weave in all the ends to finish the mitts.

Good grief! I had to spend the entire weekend working on thumbs to get them finished. I watched all the episodes of Firefly again and settled into the project. While I was working I started to wonder just how much yarn was in each pair of mitts.

I have a little electronic balance that I use when dying yarn (to figure the amount of dye to use for the weight of dry fiber), and realized that I could use it to measure the number of yards of yarn in the mitts. I had already started using the balance to determine if I had enough yarn left in a ball to knit another mitt by weighing one mitt, and then the ball of yarn. If the ball weighs more than the mitt, there is enough! With a little calculator action and some simple algebra I could use the balance to get my yardage.

Mitts on the balance.
I weighed both mitts together on the balance with unwoven ends attached.

Since I had so many pairs of mitts that were made of the same yarn (but different colors…) I was able to weigh all 10 pairs and then figure the average. These mitts (the Darwinian Mitts pattern on this blog)  made in Malabrigo Rios yarn weigh 43 grams each. To make sure I was measuring the amount of yarn needed in the construction of the mitt and not just the yarn in the finished mitt I weighed them before weaving in and trimming off all the loose ends.

Now for the math! Malabrigo Rios comes in 100 gram skeins with about 210 yards according to the wrapper. I’m just going to take their word for this. Since my mitt weighs 43 grams, and if I use “X” to stand for the number of yards of yarn in my mitts, the relationship can be expressed as:

mitt math_1Then if I cross multiply so that I can solve for “X” I get:

mitt math_2This can be cleaned up by cancelling out the grams and dividing the 43 by 100 to convert it to a decimal. That leaves:

mitt math_3Which forced me to use a calculator. When I multiplied the numbers I discovered that in this case:

mitt math_4Which is the number of yards of yarn I need to create these mitts. This is great, as I have some skeins lurking in the stash that are right around 100 yards, and I think that I will put some of them on the needles to see what they look like as mitts.

Now that I have worked this out I think that I see the pattern that I can use to do future calculations. If I know how many yards are in 100 grams of yarn, and I weigh my knitted item to get the number of grams in it, I just need to move the decimal place over two places to the left on the weight of my knitted article, and then multiply that number by the yardage in 100 grams of yarn. Fast, easy, simple.

 

 

 

 

Darwinian Mitts

 

knitted mitts
Soft squishy mitts that have a good fit, sport a stylish cable and can be machine washed. What more can you want?!

Materials

  • Approximately 100 yards of worsted weight yarn. The mitts look great in handpainted yarns that are smooth or a rustic one-ply. My favorite yarns are Malabrigo Rios, Madelinetosh Tosh Merino, or Dream in Color Calm.
  • Size 6 (4.0 mm) double pointed needles.
  • 2 stitch markers
  • 1 cable needle
  • Waste yarn
  • Yarn needle

Size
These mitts fit my small/medium sized hands well.

Gauge
This kind of depends on the yarn you use and how elastic the ribbing is.  Slightly stretched ribbing, 8 stitches = 2”

Abbreviations

  • CO: cast on
  • K: knit
  • C6B: slip three stitches onto a cable needle and hold to the back of the work. K3, K the three stitches from the cable needle.
  • C6F: slip three stitches onto a cable needle and hold to the front of the work. K3, K the three stitches from the cable needle.
  • PM: place marker
  • M1L: put strand between two stitches over left needle from front to back. Knit into back of the loop.
  • M1R: put strand between two stitches over left needle from back to front. Knit into the front of the loop.
  • SM: slip marker
  • BO: bind off

Thumb Gusset

  1. Round 1: PM, K1, M1R, K1, PM.
  2. Rounds 2-3: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  3. Round 4: SM, K1, M1R, K1, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 5 stitches between the markers.)
  4. Rounds 5-6: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  5. Round 7: SM, K1, M1R, K3, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 7 stitches between the markers.)
  6. Rounds 8-9: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  7. Round 10: SM, K1, M1R, K5, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 9 stitches between the markers.)
  8. Rounds 11-12: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  9. Round 13: SM, K1, M1R, K7, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 11 stitches between the markers.)
  10. Rounds 14-15: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  11. Next round: Place the 11 thumb stitches onto a piece of waste yarn using a needle while removing the markers. CO 2 stitches using backward loop method. K these two stitches in the following rounds of knitting.

Left Mitt

  1. Cast on 36 stitches. Divide the stitches evenly between the three needles (12-12-12) Join to knit in the round carefully, making sure to not twist the stitches.
  2. Rounds 1-4: Work in K2, P2 ribbing on all three needles.
  3. Round 5 – 8 : Begin cable pattern on 1st needle: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles. Repeat for three more rounds.
  4. Round 9: Cable pattern on 1st needle: K2, P2, C6B, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on the other 2 needles. (Twist 1)
  5. Following 9 rounds: Needle 1: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles. (The cable twists every 10th row of knitting.)
  6. Next round: K2, P2, C6B, P2 on 1st needle. Continue K2, P2 ribbing on 2nd needle. (K2, P2) twice, insert thumb gusset, P2 on 3rd needle. (Twist 2)
  7. Following 9 rounds: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles working the thumb gusset at the same time on the 3rd needle.
  8. Next round: K2, P2, C6B, P2 on 1st needle. Continue K2, P2 ribbing on other needles while working the thumb gusset on 3rd needle. (Twist 3)
  9. Following 9 rows: K2, P2, K6, P2 on 1st needle. Continue K2, P2 ribbing on other needles while working the thumb gusset on 3rd needle. When the gusset is completed work K2 on the CO stitches to reestablish K2, P2 ribbing on this needle.
  10. Next round: K2, P2, C6B, P2 on 1st needle. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on the other 2 needles. (Twist 4)
  11. Next 4 rounds: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles.
  12. Next 3 rounds: K2, P2 ribbing on all three needles.
  13. Last round: CO loosely in pattern. As you cast off you create the 4th round of ribbing at the top of the mitt.

Right Mitt

Work exactly like the left mitt with these changes: 1. Replace each C6B with a C6F. This reverses the twist of the cable; it should be twisting towards the thumb. 2.  Work the thumb gusset on the 2nd needle in this way: K2, P2, insert thumb gusset, P2, K2, P2. The 3rd needle will be ribbing on this mitt.

 Finish Thumb

  1. Place the 11 stitches on the waste yarn back onto the needles and rejoin the yarn.
  2. Pick up and knit 4 stitches across the body of the mitt: 1 stitch before the 2 CO stitches, 2 in the CO stitches, and 1 after the CO stitches.
  3. Knit 5 rounds even.
  4. BO loosely.

You’re Done!
Each mitt has 4 ends that you will have to weave in. Do it!
What is blocking? Put on your mitts and go show them off!

 

 

 

Evolving a Better MItt

I love mitts. I have fat little hands with stubby fingers, and they get cold easily. Mitts are the perfect things for me to wear while reading in bed, working at the computer, working in a cold garage (where all the teacher stuff is stored), or driving in the car on cold days. I even pull them over my mittens when it is really nasty out and I have to shovel snow. They are fast to make, and because they are small I feel OK using some luxury type yarns on them like cashmere blends. They are a fun way to try out new yarns and colors to see how they will work out. I love hand-painted yarns, but sometimes they don’t look the way I think they will knitted up. Mitts are the perfect way to sample without making a big investment.

I found a mitt pattern that was simple but nice on Ravelry.  It was ribbed in K2, P2 ribbing with a single cable on the back of the hand. I grabbed my needles, cast on and knitted the mitt.

Image
Don”t these look cute? They just didn’t fit right!

Oops! The knitting seemed too loose. The cable twisted over too great a distance and wouldn’t stay on the back of my hand. The thumb gusset was too short, and my thumb didn’t have a comfortable range of motion without pulling on the mitt. The mitts were just too dang long on my arm. But I still liked the idea of the pattern.

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These mitts pulled on my thumb and the cable just wouldn’t stay on the top of my hand. Not what I wanted!

Obviously, there needed to be some changes. If you consider the original pattern to be the code (DNA) for the mitts, I was introducing mutations into the code with each change. I started knitting again with more stitches on smaller needles. I started the gusset lower on the mitt so that it would start exactly at my wrist and would be in the same place as the twist of the cable. I slowed down the rate of increases; instead of adding two stitches every other row I tried adding stitches every third row. The gusset was moved over so it would begin in the middle of a K2 rib, and after a couple of false starts I had something that looked good to me.

Image
I knitted the thumb gusset by making increases inside one of the K2 ribs.

I liked where I was going with the mitt, but I kept on mutating the pattern. I shortened up the ribbing sections at the bottom and top of the mitt so that the mitt would have more room for cable action. I moved the start of the thumb gusset over so that there would be more stitches on the top of the mitt and fewer on the palm; the tension of the stretched palm rib stitches held the cable in place on the other side of the mitt.

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The ribs on the palm are more stretched, creating tension to hold the mitt in place.

I made the cable twist every 10 rows so I could get three twists onto the cable. Now I had about 6 new pairs of mitts, but I had managed to create the pattern for a mitt that I just loved. Natural selection had evolved me a better mitt!

This is the basic design of the mitt that evolved over a number of weeks as I kept trying out new variations of the pattern.

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I love this mitt! Did I mention that I wear them while reading? I can also knit them while reading (but not quickly!) I’m now working on writing up the pattern (or the genetic code for this mitt…), which is harder than it looks. 🙂