my life as a crocheter & knitter & working mom

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dr. Colorknit, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Intarsia

Sally Mellville rocks.

My maternal grandmother was a master of intarsia (and crocheted lace, and braided rugs, and sewing, and...). She used to make these Mary Maxim sweaters with the most detailed pictures on the front and back. The trout one has so many colors and spots, it's insane. She would even customize the picture and colors for you. Actually, if you could get my dad to draw something on graph paper or if it could be traced onto graph paper, she'd knit it up for you. (One time, she made an ALF sweater after dad drew the graph for her. I wonder if he still has that sweater.)

Although she taught me to knit when I was a kid, she passed in 2001 before I really got the bug and could have benefitted from her expertise. I have all of the books, patterns and needles we've found in the house (no one else in the family knits), and I've always wanted to picture knit like she did (just not in the squeaky acrylic she used).

In 2003, I got up the nerve and decided to teach myself intarsia. I worked up a crate blanket for my dog. It's in three panels. The outside panels are striped-garter stitch and the middle has Molly and a dog bone knit in intarsia. It sucks. Stitches are wonky, it puckers, it's just a horrible looking thing. Let's not talk about the fact that some of the ends are too short and it threatens to unravel. I was terribly disappointed and began to fear intarsia as much as I so desperately wanted to do picture knitting (for kids and dogs, you know). I despaired of ever making a Mary Maxim bowling sweater.

So, when it came time to sign up for Stitches East in '05, Intarsia was on the top of my list. Sally Melville had a class, Learn to Love Intarsia. It was one of my first choices. The tips and techniques she taught were invaluable. The swatches I worked up in class were in cotton and they looked great. Very little wonkiness, no puckering. I didn't agree with her suggestions on designing an intarsia piece, but the mechanisms of the process were made crystal clear. I did like her suggestion of putting a sweater cut-out over a picture or piece of art you liked, we just disagree on how big the motifs should be. I guess I'm more Kaffe/Brandon on that.

Why am I bringing this up now? Billy's Birthday sweater. I started the color work the other night. The first row of color work has 7 blocks, 3 ecru and 4 blue (I'm taking Sally's advise and duplicate stitching any element that's only a few stitches wide, otherwise, the seams in the balls would add so much more work to this part of the project). My center-pull butterflies (Sally recommends against bobbins as they add weight) were getting all tangled up last night as I got further into the motifs.

Then I remembered, Sally suggested putting your butterflies into a shoe box. See, you poke holes into the side of a cardboard shoe box (making slits from the top down to the holes so it's easy to insert and remove the yarn). All of your working colors go inside the box in the order you work them in the rows. This prevents tangling and keeps everything neat. So long as you turn your work in opposited directions (for example, to the left when moving to RS, to the right when moving to WS), you get no tangles. Each WS row, I make sure all of my strands aren't wrapped around each other and it's a breeze! Bonus points for being able to keep the dog out of my yarn while I'm working!

If I had a working camera, I'd take some pics and show you. Hmm, I do have a 35 mm roll that's just about done. Maybe I'll take some of the knitting pics I want to share and scan them when they've been developed. How Old School.

The only problem with the intarsia box? It's not so portable. But, working from a chart's not so easy on the bus or train anyway. Commute knitting is a Red Scarf until I decide on a new sock.

Another tip that's saving my skin on this piece: when you've got a vertical line between colors, drop the old color and pick up the new color before inserting the needle into the next stitch. Helps prevent extreme wonkiness. See, normally, I'd want to use the stitch to hold the needles (especially since I throw, what can I say, Nanny was a thrower, too), but that causes the stitches to be all stretched out and wonky. If you change the yarns first, you can keep even tension and help prevent wonkiness. I've got a bit of what looks like rowing out, but it's not too bad. (I'm probably pulling differently when knitting vs. purling.)

She also made it clear how to pick up the new color from underneath the old color, something I just could not get when trying to teach myself from books. I also liked her tips for stranding on smaller blocks and working the ends in as you go. Unfortunately, with the color contrast of the two yarns I'm using, I can't do either of those with this project.

I'm definitely looking forward to more color work. Maybe I'll step up to some fair isle some day.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I'm thinking I should tattoo that entire post on some body part (a forearm, perhaps, for easy reading) to make referring to it easy during the Geometric Star.

Can't wait to see photos of the sweater.