Goldilocks and the Three* Vests

Today I'm handing over the reins of the blog to Alix Pearson. Alix is one of the moderators in our Ravelry group, and is a fount of knowledge on both stranded knitting and adjusting patterns for fit. I have long admired her beautiful stranded vests, so today she is going to share some helpful tips on making your own. Over to you, Alix!

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Joy from the Everyday – The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork System

There is a great temptation sometimes to doubt one's own ability and for many, me included, this is often around design and use of colour. But fear not! Help is at hand.

You may have been lucky enough to have taken one of Felicity (Felix) Ford's classes, and if you have, you will undoubtedly have been filled with her boundless enthusiasm for the potential of just about anything as a source of inspiration for design. We love spending time with Felix (above) because she sees the world differently from us and can communicate how she sees things so clearly that we cannot help but have our eyes opened to the possibilities.

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January: Shaila Mittens

January is the AYoT month for mastering the colour dominance in your Fair Isle projects. The video tutorial for the month has been released on Mason-Dixon Knitting (and will shortly be added to our Year of Techniques video tutorial page). The tutorial walks you through three different ways of holding your yarn for Fair Isle projects, all of which will ensure that you keep your yarn dominance consistent. This helps your projects to look neater, and makes sure that your yarns don't tangle as you work.

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FO: Crofthoose Hat

I came back from Edinburgh Yarn Festival with a pile of goodies and lots of enthusiasm for new projects. I was so enthusiastic that I immediately went diving into my stash, hunting for yarn to knit up a Crofthoose Hat. This is Ella Gordon's new Shetland Wool Week design, and is available for free if you register on the Shetland Wool Week website.

I was faced with a yarn choice dilemma... Although I had a good range of suitable colours in my stash, I didn't have a full set of 5 suitable shades in the same yarn. Instead I needed to mix and match a bit. My choices included Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumperweight, Excelana Luxury 4ply, Lang Yarns Jawoll and Kate Davies Designs Buachaille. An interesting mix of yarns, each with their own properties and qualities to bring to this lovely hat pattern.

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I eventually ruled out using Buachaille, since I wasn't sure I had enough Yaffle (green), and it's a thicker yarn than the others at a sport weight. I notice that another Raveller has made a lovely version entirely in Buachaille, so perhaps there's another Crofthoose in my future. Instead I went for two natural shades of J&S jumperweight, Saharan Sand and Cornflower Blue in Excelana and perhaps controversially (more on that in a bit) some green Lang Jawoll.

The knitting of this hat was a heap of fun. As ever with small motifs, there's a real drive to finish the next couple of rows, so that the line of houses appears. It's really hard to stop knitting designs like this! So much so, that I finished the hat after only 4 days of work. In my busy life that felt like some kind of small miracle!

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I'm so happy with how it has turned out! The little rows of houses are really appealing! Luckily (or not so luckily) it's still chilly and wet enough here that I can get some wear out of it before spring/summer fully kicks in.

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I love how the colours and patterning work together in the crown. Although if you're really eagle-eyed you will notice that I didn't do the final couple of shade changes as the rounds were so short I could face it. I don't think it damages the integrity of Ella's design too much! (Sorry Ella! I'll be less lazy next time... or maybe not...) The other small modification that I made was to move the start of the round for the second set of houses, so that the jog for the end of the round would happen between, rather than in the middle of a croft. Just a minor tweak.

So how did my unconventional choice of sock yarn for the green work out?

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Not too badly over all I think. It would definitely work better if the green were either J&S or Excelana, but in the absence of something more suitable and given I wanted to cast on immediately, I'm perfectly happy with it.

To explain the difference I've taken a close up shot of the 5 shades. My apologies that the palest J&S is out of focus, but this was my first play with a tripod and macro lens on my iPhone. It didn't turn out too badly really. :)

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From left to right the yarns are:
Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme 2ply Jumperweight in Black - 100% wool, yarn's construction is 2ply and it's woollen spun.
Excelana Luxury 4ply in Cornflower Blue - 100% wool, yarn's construction is 3ply and it's worsted spun.
Lang Jawoll in Grass Green - 75% wool, 25% nylon, yarn's construction is 4ply and it's worsted spun.
Excelana Luxury 4ply in Saharan Sand - 100% wool, yarn's construction is 3ply and it's worsted spun.
Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme 2ply Jumperweight in Gaulmogot - 100% wool, yarn's construction is 2ply and it's woollen spun.

There are 3 main factors at play in the suitability of these yarns for stranded colourwork.

  • Firstly the fibre content - wool is really well suited to colourwork as it has bounce and the stretchiness allows the yarns to work to a nice even tension. This is particularly evident after blocking, where the woollen stitches settle and lie beautifully flat and even. The nylon content of the Lang Jawoll is brilliant for making socks hardwearing, but it does remove some of the natural stretch of the wool. So you can perhaps see that the green stitches in the crofthoose above haven't evened out as much as their more woolly neighbours.
  • Secondly the yarn's construction - with increasing numbers of plies, the profile of the strand of yarn becomes more rounded and can be denser. This means that light reflects differently, and the general appearance of the stitches differs. For a more consistent look to the finished fabric, I should definitely have stuck with a single style of construction!
  • And thirdly, the spinning process used to create the yarn - a worsted spun yarn has all the fibres combed to lie parallel prior to spinning, which makes for a softer feel to the finished wool. It also means that fewer fibre ends poke out from the strand of yarn, and the yarn is denser. Woollen spun yarns are carded so that the fibres lie in a web, all pointing in different directions. This creates a more rustic but very light and airy yarn. The benefit of this to colourwork is that when a woollen spun yarn is blocked it will bloom and the fibres relax out further, almost hazing into each other. You can see fairly clearly in my photo above that the black J&S on the far left is hairier than its worsted spun Excelana neighbour.

I would definitely happily combine Excelana 4ply and J&S jumperweight in a project in future. Despite the difference in construction and spinning process, I found that they worked sympathetically together. In an ideal world I wouldn't mix in a sock yarn. Though who knows, if I'm bitten by that much of a knitting desire again, I may need to!

Many thanks again to Ella for the beautiful design. There are lots of lovely colourways appearing over on Ravelry so do be sure to check them out, and register with Shetland Wool Week to download your own copy of this lovely pattern. You can see all the technical details of my project over on my Ravelry page: JenACKnitwear's Crofthoose Hat.

Have you ever had a yarn combination disaster? Or have you winged it like me and gotten lucky? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.