February 17, 2006


Jean Wong, in her class on Japanese Fine Finishing at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat, described herself as "a picky person." I've expressed my admiration for her knitting -- you could wear her sweaters inside-out (if you wanted to) and those sweaters would still be breath-takingly beautiful. I was so impressed with her knowledge that I'm seriously considering driving up to Vancouver, B.C., which is only about three hours away by car, to take another knitting class from her.

Another knitting teacher whose classes I have really enjoyed and learned much from, is Sally Melville.

Sally and me, Feb. 12, 2006. Sally is wearing the Knitting Bag Jacket from the cover of her new book.

When Sally taught at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat circa 1999, I took all four days of classes with her; at that time she was just designing the garments in the first in her series of knitting books (The Knitting Experience: Book 1: The Knit Stitch). At one point she threw on a lopsided cardigan, and stood on a chair in the front of the room so that we could all see her well, and explained that this was a garment she was designing because, with one front of the cardi intentionally several inches longer than the other, a beginning knitter couldn't go wrong with it. It was all very interesting, but I couldn't see myself knitting that cardigan.

With the publication of Sally's latest in her series of books, Color, she has advanced her target audience (the beginning knitter) to the point of color knitting. And the class I took from Sally this past Sunday was called "Color at Your Fingertips."

The morning session was about the most basic way of putting two (or more) colors together -- knitting stripes. If you've read Sally's book on color, you'll know that the book contains garment designs with conventional stripes, but also goes beyond this. One can knit with one single color per row and get a two-toned effect, as in tweed stitch or mosaic knitting. One can knit with one single color per row and create shapes of color, as in modular knitting. As I was dutifully swatching in that morning session on Sunday, using some blue and some purple yarn, and some odd variegated novelty yarns I've collected in my personal stash, I couldn't help but be glad that I hadn't brought the same tobacco-brown and tan yarns that I had used when I'd taken her class on tweed stitch, circa 1999. (I still have those yarns in my closet, along with those brown swatches.)

My Knit-bud Anne and her daughter Deb were also in Sally Melville's class on Sunday. Anne has chosen as her Olympic knitting project the Knitting Bag Jacket. (Anne purchased the yarns from your favorite yarn store and mine, Two Swans Yarns.) Anne was working on the Knitting Bag Jacket during all the spare moments in class, and when we went for lunch, too.

Now, with Sally modeling the jacket before our very eyes, and with Anne busily knitting on it, I was powerless to resist thinking about possibly knitting it myself. But my major reservation about this jacket has always been the colorway -- Grouse and Spagnum. Grouse is a dark brown heathered with a bit of green and gold, and, over the years that I've owned Two Swans, I have grown to like this color tremendously. But Spagnum is a seaweedy, yellow-green -- the kind of color I can appreciate from afar but could never wear. Anne was kind enough to pause in her knitting over lunch and let me drape the work-in-progress over my arm.

I know well the knitting bag that was Sally's inspiration for the Knitting Bag Jacket, since that bag is something that I carry in Two Swans's inventory. And if I needed affirmation that this is, indeed, the bag that inspired the fabric, Sally had brought the bag to class with her. I kept looking at the woven fabric of Sally's bag -- black alternating with tan -- and the black handles, and thinking that Shetland Black and Grouse would probably go together. [Postscript, August 2007 - the company that made those knitting bags has closed, so those bags are no longer available.]

The afternoon session of class was devoted to intarsia -- which is knitting one fabric consisting of separate blocks of color with separate yarns, usually to make a picture. (You already know that I'm not a huge fan of intarsia, and the Dragon Scarf is stalled only a few more inches along than when you last saw it.) But Sally has some pointers about making intarsia easy. Remember, her target audience is people who have beginning-level knitting skills, and her books are teaching tools. She said, "It's not my mandate to create the most beautiful intarsia designs ever. I'm here to teach you, and then you can go on and knit somebody else's gorgeous intarsia designs."

I was like a knitter hypnotized in that moment, seeing Sally Melville's designs as stepping-stones. After mastering the simple geometrics of a Sally Melville design, one could go on to a Sasha Kagan design, or a Kaffe Fassett design. I was thoroughly persuaded.

In my usual knitting-mode, I have been more in the search-for-perfection knitting camp that Jean Wong resides in. And in this purist, most technical mode, one would knit intarsia with each color block always coming from its own separate yarn supply. One would never carry yarns behind a block of intarsia color. One would weave in ends meticulously.

Sally Melville's philosophy is different. Even before this day, I had read her Knitting Bag Jacket pattern and really been surprised and skeptical at the prospect of carrying the main color(s) behind the intarsia rectangle blocks, even though she says to weave in the color.

But, in person, my response was different. She described, point by point, how she had deliberately designed the pattern to be easy to weave in the main color as you carry it behind. She had deliberately designed each of those intarsia rectangles so that the measuring of the yarns (one thing I most detest) was easy -- the bottom two-thirds of each rectangle is two yards of yarn, and the top of each rectangle is one yard of yarn. And, at one point, she took off the Knitting Bag Jacket that she was wearing and passed it around the room so that we could see it closely.

I would not have wanted to wear Sally Melville's Knitting Bag Jacket inside-out, as I could have the sweaters of Jean Wong. Little yarn tail ends were sticking up. Nevertheless, the weaving in of the main color as you carry it across the intarsia blocks was very neatly done. A detail that is hard to appreciate from the photo of the Jacket is how beautiful the front button band is. It contains Fair Isle squares, bordered by the main sweater color (Grouse). And the button loops alternately are on one side of the button band, then the other, making an interesting zig-zag pattern. (The buttons, too, obviously, alternate from one side to the other.)

At the end of the day, after I'd said good-bye to Anne and Deb

I went back into the classroom to pack up my stuff, and had a few minutes to talk to Sally. I said, "I love your jacket, but I'm not a Spagnum person. But I'm thinking that perhaps I can use Shetland Black with the Grouse--"

She said, "Oh, you can knit the stripes in whatever color you like. You could use," and here she grabbed up the Knitting Bag jacket (she was wearing it again) at the waistband and held it in front of her, and pointed at the striped background, "a denim blue and charcoal. It doesn't matter. I know one yarn store owner who made this jacket and used all sorts of different colors for the stripes. All sorts of colors. It doesn't matter what colors the stripes are. Just use the same two colors in the Fair Isle band as you do in the duplicate stitch part, to tie it all together."

After this advice, I couldn't wait to get home and start playing with colors. I didn't have time on Monday to do any swatching, but let me show you what I worked up on Tuesday:
The gray stripe is Oxford, and the blue is Atlantic. They are very close in value, so I feel that these stripes are "why bother?" stripes. (They don't show up well enough against each other to really read as stripes, so, why bother? I'm borrowing this excellent phrase from one of my fellow Feralites, June.) I'll try another swatch on another day, with a darker blue and a lighter gray. Also, this swatch was an opportunity to try Sally's method of weaving in the main color behind the intarsia block. So I feel compelled to make this disclaimer: Not all of my stitches are beautiful, as my intention was to to experiment with colors, and gain some experience with the technique. I went lighter and brighter, using Leprechaun green (Leprechaun being one of my all-time favorite Jamieson's colors), and Lunar as the blue, and Scotch Broom for the yellow. (The other colors -- Dusk, Loganberry, Sunrise, Nutmeg are the same as Sally's design.)

And, as an aside, I left this swatch sitting on the dining room table. Allegra passed by it, and said, without my even calling it to her attention, "What pretty colors!"

Postscript: Anne finished the back and most of one sleeve of her Knitting Bag Jacket, and she's posted a photo on her blog. See it here.

Posted by Karen at February 17, 2006 01:24 PM

Ooh, that is so cool! I like the brighter contrast colors, and the stripes look good. However, I am in love with the camoflage of the Spagnum and Grouse, which is fortunate, as that is what I am knitting! I can't wait to get the duplicate stitching done on mine, it makes such a difference. Maybe this weekend...

Posted by: Anne at February 17, 2006 03:44 PM

Wow, very inspiring!! Your swatch is fab.

Posted by: toni at February 17, 2006 04:19 PM

Beeeyooootiful swatch, Karen! Bring it to Ferals? Please?

Posted by: Ryan at February 18, 2006 04:36 PM

I enjoy your blog even though I rarely post. Your madrona posting have been exceptionally detailed and inspiring. Enough so that I may reconsider going back next year.



Posted by: Lizbeth L.D. at February 18, 2006 08:14 PM

Your swatch is beautiful! I love the leprechaun and lunar together - one of my fave color combinations!

Posted by: Jewel at February 18, 2006 09:37 PM

i love the subtleness of your stripes. they are there without being noticed. great job.

Posted by: marti at February 20, 2006 07:19 AM

I like your stripes as they are, a quiet background for the pop of the colours. It will be interesting to see what your next swatch looks like.

Please tell Anne, I LOVED her Denim sweater and wish I had the panache to wear something similar.

Posted by: Angela at February 21, 2006 01:58 PM

Wow, what a great swatch. Its so cheery. Sounds like the class was really fun, I'm envious. You really learned a lot too.

Posted by: Linda at February 23, 2006 05:53 AM