Adventure in an Old Book, Part Two
This was my idea: to make Elvina Corbould’s “Wheat-ear Pattern,” published in 1878 in The Lady’s Knitting-Book, Second Series, into a knitted collar. Many of you had the same idea. When Part One of this excursion hit the streets, in came a trickle of messages all saying, “Land sakes, what a lovely collar that would make!”
I felt encouraged, as we could not possibly all be wrong.
I imagined something like this,
and selected two colors of Hikoo Simplicity inspired by watery locales.
Singularly appropriate for a wavy, ripply fabric. The bulk of the knitting would be vivid blue, shot with occasional rounds of dark grey to show off the undulations.
As I (literally) took off on a teaching trip, I cast on with the first ball of Fijian Waters. A few inches and 37,000 feet later,
I was bored to tears.
It wasn’t bad. Just dull. Predictable. Similar to a dozen lacy collars I’d seen before. A few rounds in a different color wasn’t going to change that.
This is adventure? Stripes? Meh. Back to the drawing board.
What about working the collar in bold blocks of color, rather like squares on a chess board–but bigger?
That could work.
Bold, solid blocks of different colors in a single piece of knitting are most often created with a technique known as intarsia.
If you just shivered, I understand. Intarsia awakens strong feelings in the bosom of the knitter. In the latter part of the twentieth century it was employed, notoriously, to create some of the most misbegotten sweaters the world has ever known.
But we must remember that this is not intarsia’s fault. Like any other technique, it can be used for good or ill. The choice is yours.
I haven’t the time or space for a comprehensive discussion, but here is a nutshell account.
In an intarsia fabric, every discrete area of color requires its own supply of yarn. This drawing shows us a hypothetical piece in green and orange.
We are looking at the right side. We begin by knitting across from right to left with the orange yarn. When we reach the point at which a change to green is called for, we twist the old (orange) and new (green) yarns together once to interlock the sections.
This interlocking is repeated every time one color gives way to the next, on both sides of the work. Skip the interlocking and you will end up with a fluttering miasma of unattached scraps of fabric, which makes for a very odd, drafty sweater.
Only one color is ever active at any given time. Unused colors just hang out, waiting for their turn. This is why elaborate intarsia works-in-progress often grow to resemble mating season in a dark stash closet.
There is more to intarsia than this but, frankly, not a whole lot more.
Intarsia creates a single-layered fabric with no floats (strands of unused color), ideal for lace. It was clearly the way to go for the collar, but there was an issue. I wanted to work in the round. Intarsia has traditionally been worked flat–even when used to make argyle socks, often considered the apotheosis of the method.
Here is why.
This drawing is an aerial view of an attempt at circular intarsia, just starting out.
We begin at START HERE and merrily knit our way around, interlocking at the color changes as we go. All is well.
But then we come to Round Two,
and immediately hit a brick wall. We are back at START HERE and need the green yarn. Instead of being where it ought, however, the green is now sitting at the far end of the orange section, utterly ignoring our fevered entreaties to Come Here at Once. If you have cats or teenagers, you know this feeling.
I could have surmounted the problem by working the collar as a flat strip and sewing it closed with a seam. This is, in fact, how argyle socks are traditionally finished. I immediately rejected this idea on the grounds that I did not feel like doing that.
There is a convoluted, long-standing method for working circular intarsia that I also rejected; because I tried it once and hated it so, so much that after six rounds I grew convinced of the pointlessness of human existence and ate an entire chocolate cheesecake in the bathtub while listening to a worn out mix tape of The Smiths given to me by the college boyfriend who broke my heart.
Paging Dr. Anne
This might have meant a radical reconfiguration of the design were it not for a fairly recent innovation in intarsia, conceived by intarsia master Anne Berk.
Anne feels about intarsia the way I feel about shadow knitting–that it’s a good egg, really, and just needs some love and understanding. She tackled the thorny issue of working this stuff in the round without recourse to cheesecake, and compiled the results in this book, Annetarsia Knits: A New Link to Intarsia.
Her solution is so simple, yet so marvelously effective, that when I read it I grew absolutely furious that I hadn’t thought it up myself. That’s probably for the best, as nobody would want to buy a book called Franklintarsia.
In particular Anne’s way of dealing with the beginning of the rounds, which present special problems, is so perfect it makes me giddy. I couldn’t remember exactly what she does and didn’t have my book handy when the collar began, so I bunted.
My result is below. Anne’s is above. Hers wins, obviously. What with it being perfect and all.
And so the collar was worked in fits and starts on four airplanes and a ship, yet popped off the needle almost before I knew what was happening. So pleasant.
I was half tempted to leave it unblocked, to preserve the rippling…
…but gave it a good soak to settle it down, and laid it out to dry. I pulled the points out to make sure they were all even…
…but didn’t need to pin them.
I am quite pleased.
The Recipe: Frumentum
This collar began with the Wheat-ear pattern, so I’m calling it “Frumentum,” the Latin for “grain.” If you’d like to make one, here’s what to do.
Two balls each of two colors Hikoo Simplicity. I used Seattle Sky (C1) and Fijian Waters (C2).
A circular needle size US 4/3.5mm, or the size you need to achieve a gauge you like. Maximum cable length will be 24 inches, but shorter will likely be more comfortable. I used my beloved Addi Short Lace Clicks with a 16-inch cable.
A copy of Annetarsia Knits, or instruction in the method through one of Anne’s classes. I can’t present it to you here, alas, but both Anne and her book are readily available everywhere these days.
1 stitch marker
Wind all four skeins of Simplicity into balls; you’ll have them all in play at one time once the intarsia begins.
With C1, cast on 136 sts using the method of your choice. Join to work in the round, taking care not to twist. Place marker to indicate beginning of round.
*Knit 1 round, purl 1 round
Repeat from * 1x.
Work the first intarsia passage as follows:
With C1, work 2 repeats of Round 1 of the revised Wheat-ear chart (see below) across the first 34 sts. Join the first ball of C2 and work 2 repeats of Round 1 on the next 34 sts. Follow this with a 2 more repeats in C1, joining the second ball of that color; and then begin 2 more repeats of C2, ditto. You should now be at the beginning of the round, with all four balls of yarn attached to the work.
Work the entire Wheat-ear Pattern chart through Round 16, interlocking sections and rounds using Anne Berk’s circular intarsia method. When the chart is complete, break the working yarns, leaving 8-inch tails.
Work a second full repeat of the chart, alternating the colors of the sections (grey atop blue, and vice versa). When complete, break working yarns.
Work a third repeat of the chart through Round 8 only, once again alternating the colors of the sections.
Work the upper selvedge entirely in C1 as follows, breaking the other working yarns as you reach them:
*Knit 1 round, purl 1 round
Repeat from * 1x.
Bind off in purl.
Break working yarn and weave in ends. Soak and gently block on flat surface, shaping top and bottom points into even scallops. Allow to dry completely before wearing.
For the Next Adventure…
No, wait. Wait. I don’t think I’m quite finished with this yet. See you in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
About Franklin Habit
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His next book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book will be published by Soho Publishing in June 2016.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.