Synthetic fibres (a pledge and a WIP)

Today I was reading a post by Fadanista, who was making a more environmentally-friendly alternative to a fleece jacket from a vintage pattern.

In it she mentions the issue of man-made (i.e. synthetic materials like fleece, nylon, acrylic, etc.) and the negative impact these can have on the environment (as well as on the people wearing them). Apart from the production of such materials, which come from oil basically, one of the key issues is the tiny particles and lints that such garments release in the waterways while being washed and treated. In her post, she mentions some interesting articles and sources (like this one from the Guardian – please visit her blog for more links).

These particles ending up in our waters and oceans, are ultimately contaminating water, as well as are being swallowed by fish and so ending up in the food chain (= on our tables).

I now feel really bad because I know that I have some synthetic yarn and fabric in my stash (not much, but still). There is no good way of dealing with it:

  • if I pass it on, it will still end up in the water
  • if I consign it to the bin, it will end up in landfills where it won’t break down (unlike natural fibres)
  • if I burn it, it will still release polluting fumes (like all oil products)

As she suggested, the only good option may be to “leave it alone” at the bottom of the stash.

Still, I think it’s a good time to have a conversation in the crafting communities about man-made fibres and their ill effects on health and environment. I think of the inexpensive craft packs that are being used in large quantities – the end product may look pretty, but it has a hidden nasty side effect: it pollutes our environment.

So, today I pledge to try and avoid using synthetic fibres as much as possible. I hope others will join in!

~ ~ ~

On the bright side, I had just decided to bring some order to my UFOs queue. There aren’t too many items in there (about five, I think)… still it’s worth dealing with them – do something with them or reuse the yarn.

The first I picked up, is this summer top: Sea top (Ravelry project). It’s made of aran silk and based on Simple Irresistible, a free pattern that I slightly tweaked.

I looked at it again: after measuring the part I had so far (about 1/3) it looks that I casted on too many stitches and is now too large for my size M (even allowing some positive ease for a more flowing line). Despite that, I decided to carry on, because:

  • so I can actually have a better idea of how to alter it the next time around
  • it’s a quick knit, so it’s ok to do extra rows, even if I frog it in the end
  • I’m curious to see how it is in its current version

I’m still expecting to most probably ending up at the frog pond!

A few shots of the top short before it was put on hold… I’ve now added more rows to it and started a new skein. The yarn is an aran silk in Seaweed (one-off stock), it’s soft, drapey and shiny.

There are many other things I wanted to share, but I will leave them for the next posts… one will be about some vintage lace gloves and how they went to some period dances in grand halls.

Until then, take good care x






Colourwork: circular and flat knitting, my experience with it

A few days ago Martha of After Hours and I were commenting on our experiences with colourwork and she suggested to write about it – which I think it’s a good way to structure (and record) my thoughts about the subject. Thus, today’s post is about the different ways to knit stranded colourwork, that is like you would typically see in Fair Isle garments. I’ll be discussing the subject based on my self-taught experience, so excuse any inaccuracies you may come across.

Stranded colourwork for an argyle pattern An example of colourwork, here done with DPNs

There are three main types of needles that can be used: DPNs (double-pointed needles), SPNs (single-pointed needles) and circular needles (either fix or interchangeable). The following is my account of the experience with each type.

Generally, there are two main approaches to knitting stranded items:

  • colourwork knitted in the round (with DPNs or circular needles);
  • colourwork knitted in the flat (with SPNs).

Also, commonly in each row two colours are used; you could have more, although that would make things a bit more complicate. In any case, don’t feel discouraged, as my very first go at trying colourwork was with three colours – beginner’s mind or Shoshin. Going on a brief tangent, this is an interesting page on one of the secrets of learning anything: Empty Your Cup.

Needle types: circular (left), DPNs (centre), SPNs (right) Needle types: circular (left), DPNs (centre), SPNs (right)

Flat knitting with SPNs: from what I’ve been reading in books, I understand that this may have been more commonly used in the past than it is nowadays. Advantages: it saves you from having to reinforce/steek and gives you freedom in the size of the item, unlike with circular needles where you need to find a suitable circumference. Disadvantages: it may be considered, possibly with some reason, more fiddly and confusing: this because it’s not easy to change colours while purling and it also requires to swap sides when reading the chart (right and wrong side). Workarounds: to ease following the work I made an electronic pattern and, for each row, marked where it should begin to avoid mixing things up (and consequent frogging!); the same can be done on a paper chart. It gets slightly less fiddly if you can at least arrange to have the row with the simplest pattern running on the wrong side.

Knitting in the round with DPNs: it gives you freedom in the size of the garment, but it requires extra attention to avoid different marks and tension in the points of transition from one to the next needle (there are some workarounds but haven’t tried yet, apart from keeping a relatively tight tension when changing between needles); avoiding tension problems should be feasible with certain size yarns (sock weight and upwards) but not sure it would be easy with finer yarns (i.e. 2-ply like I’m using at the moment).

Knitting in the round with circular needles: they are perfect in that it’s all right side knitting, no headaches in reading the pattern and hardly any issues in tension/transitions; the only down sides are that you have to find a matching cable circumference, the steeking when making flat garments, and you have to fiddle with the top end, where there is a little bump due to the spiral knitting (workarounds exist for the latter one); I read that some people had issues with the join between needle and cable, that it didn’t allow for a smooth transition (the yarn got “stuck” at the join point) – though this may depend on the wool type and needle brand used, as they vary in their characteristics.

I don’t think I have an overall preference among those presented. Generally, I prefer to assess each time on a case by case basis, for example depending on the item size, yarn type and size, etc. For finer yarns, like I’ve been trying recently, I’d avoid the DPNs because they may result in variable tension and holes in the join points. If it’s a very small piece that I’m working on, circular needles may not be available in a suitable circumference size, so I’d switch to DPNs. In general, I am striving to try and use all of them in different projects, so that I can practise/experiment and also have alternative options.

There are many books, online tutorials, videos and blog posts. A good online introduction and tutorial is that by Theresa Vinson Stenersen: Color Stranding. If you’re unsure, I suggest starting with some reading or watching and at some point, just dive in.. results may not be optimal at first, but that’s only normal. The more we try and the easier each time it will be! As with each technique, a keen interest in the resulting items will help you get through the inevitable highs and lows of the learning process. I found it definitely worthwhile learning it.

Give-away: a chance to win                    Give-away coming up very soon!

A sneaky hint at the upcoming posts: first there will be some give-away, and then more on books for a crafts reference library… stay tuned!

Weldon's Encyclopedia of Needlework, 1940s                     New books in the crafts reference library