Monday, July 27, 2009

Beautiful wool

The English language has the benefit of being the source of many words widely known in other languages, which in English sometimes have both the original and the current meaning. One of those little words is shop, which alludes to a place of storage, trade or manufacturing of goods. In extension, it also means selling point and as a verb, it means either to select and or to buy. An atelier is a place where people work, e.g., a workshop. The Henry Ford factory published a book titled Shop theory which I had in my hands, and no, it's not about going shopping.

Shop is the best word I can think of to describe Bella Lana, a small store not far from my home. Since January I've taken some of the classes they offer, and I'll proceed to share my thoughts and pictures of my projects.

The first class was New Knitters. I already had some notions but it became obvious that I had plenty of basic information to learn. I learned two different ways to cast the stitches in the needle, I refreshed the basic knit and purl stitches, and also how to cast off. The most interesting part was to learn to read the materials tags, and try needles of different materials. I really liked the ones made of bamboo, but I could also try of steel, aluminum, wood and plastic.

In this first class I knitted a scarf in Ella Rae Classic wool, from Romania, in two shades of green, and for the termination I used crochet (I had started the second class). I used bamboo needles number 7, of 4.5 mm of diameter. The buttons were Federico's idea, and the width of the scarf is the length of his neck. When Federico wears the scarf he winds it around his neck and fastens both buttons (I say it looks like a cataplasm but he finds it very comfortable); when I wear it I prefer fastening the buttons to the coat and fastening the coat's to the scarf's eyelets - it stays in place and it doesn't squeeze my neck.

The second class, Crochet, was really hard. The other students flew by and I could hardly cast a stitch after the other. It somehow makes sense because I've never been too attracted to crochety lace, so I understand it wouldn't worry me that I didn't manage. But it was almost a revelation to discover the virtues of the simple crochet fabric, and the versatility of the technique. The instructor used wool, thread, pearls, wire and other elements and it dazed me.

In this class I knitted a little bag in lilac Cascade wool, from Peru, and I used an aluminum hook number 6, G, of 4.25 mm. I afterwards knitted another one in acrylic yarn. First a foundation chain is cast and then half double crochet is knitted in circles, until taste, common sense or the end of the yarn dictate it should finish.

I also learned to join pieces using crochet, which along the termination techniques were the most practical thing about the class.

The most ambitious project I undertook so far was a sweater. I also enrolled in a class, My First Sweater, which was a good idea taking into account all the difficulties I came across and all the help I needed. I used Ella Rae again, and I used needles number 8 for the ribbing and number 7 for the rest of the body. The neck was knitted with a round needle number 7. I joined the front and the back using three needles on the shoulders and crochet (with my faithful green hook) on the sides. I began the sleeves by the ribbing, and I joined them to the body using three needles on the last row and crochet on the rest. The neck was the last thing I did: with the rest of the sweater ready I picked the stitches from the base and I knitted a ribbing identical to the one on the bottom.

It took me a great deal of hard work to finish the sweater and I'm not totally happy. As a matter of fact the original pattern was OK, but I didn't like the shoulders so the instructor searched for another pattern shoulders (which I did like) and altered mine, creating an hybrid.

I still haven't worn it. I was planning on having it ready for my birthday, but that couldn't be.

The reckless adventure called me and I decided to tackle a project on my own, following a pattern's instructions. I went to the Library and I checked out thousands of books (maybe not that many, but quite a few anyway).

Among these I selected a crochet scarf. Not hyper difficult, but with a little flavor of its own. I'm using Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift in Blue Danube and Clyde Blue, and a bamboo crochet hook of 2.75 mm.

While I carry my experiment as independent knitter, I'm also learning a technique I never saw anyone using in Uruguay (maybe I'm with my head in the clouds or maybe nobody uses it): it's double pointed needles. The goal is to be able to knit small things in tube shapes, in which the seam would be very uncomfortable or unsightly (hats, gloves and socks). With the same yarn I'm using for the scarf, I'm knitting a pair of mittens, with bamboo needles number 4, of 3.5 mm. The design is a little heavy (it aims to use a lot of yarn so it's warmer), which I tried a little ago in two needles. It's difficult, but not impossible.

I've just begun the ribbing of the first mitten, so it's not easy to see how it goes. These needles remind me of Mikado pieces, and an extra needle is used to knit the stitches. Once the initial surprise is overcame, it's a lot like knitting in two needles.


Knitting is a curious activity. A lot of people insist it's relaxing, but in me it has the opposite effect, like revving an engine. Almost self hypnotic, after knitting for a while my ideas are in order and I get energized to face the tasks I like the least. I can't imagine this activity as practical or economical (its original purposes, right?), but I'm amazed by its expressivity and also, the tactile feeling of the physical result of the many hours spent in work.

Federico insisted for a long time that he wanted something knitted by me. Now he has it (one scarf among many), he wears it and says it makes him happy. The instructors at Bella Lana (owners too), Cornelia and Karin, say there's nothing like the satisfaction and feeling of achievement of wearing garments made by oneself. I'm not sure about that, but I enjoy knitting and I plan on doing it for a while. It seems like a forgiving, non judgmental lifelong companion, which can be picked up time and time again and holds no hard feelings.

For now, I gather materials, ideas and knowledge.

We'll see what happens then.


This post was originally written in Spanish, in


Kate Daly said...

Julia, this is really great. I like the plaid crocheted scarf; that's amazing!

Julia said...

Hi Kate! I took the pattern from the first Vogue's Knitting on the Go series (I think it was published in 2004), and it's supposed to be 3/4 difficult. The color changes is complicated and I didn't do it right the first time, so I had to start it all over, but now I'm going very fast (for my standards anyway) and it really looks like a scarf.

Which itself is quite an accomplishment, don't you think?