Brioche is one of those stitches in knitting that you either love or hate, there doesn’t seem to be much of an in-between. It’s squishy and one of the few ways to add vertical stripes, but also takes you double the amount of time to knit one row (because for every one row of normal knitting you need two rows of brioche). There’s also more loops to keep track of and a high level of patience required if you drop a stitch. Still, I find myself reaching for brioche projects when I want a project where I need to pay attention, but not too much attention. Where I want the wearer to be able to reverse the garment depending on their mood and when I want to provide the wearer a little bit of extra warmth.
Direct contrast of the extra warmth tends to be the woven scarves that I make. They breathe more against the skin due to my habit of creating airier fabric in favor of less bulk. So while this Harlow Hat by Andrea Mowry is meant to keep the wearer’s ears a little warmer, the matching scarf is meant to be more of an accent piece.
I liked knitting Harlow, the hat knit up relatively fast for brioche being knit on a size US 3 and it was the first time in a long time I’ve done brioche decreases. The only modification made while knitting (besides using only one needle size) was skipping the tubular cast on in favor of the long tail cast on. This doesn’t make a huge difference beyond being a little less stretchy and only incorporating the black color.
Curious about what it’s like to knit brioche? I highly recommend giving the Harlow Hat a try! Really, while the final hat is gorgeous, it was so much fun to make that I was a little bummed when it came to bind off. Andrea Mowry added details to the pattern that outline what to do and she’s created video tutorials to help get you started.
A hat scarf set from one package of Wonderland Yarn’s Combo kits? With a plethora of colors to choose from? I probably do need to decide if everyone is getting a set for the holidays this year, or at least start planning my holiday crafting. Does December sneak up on anyone else?
The more I work with yarn, the more I appreciate techniques that let the yarn do the talking. Sure, cables and lace are beautiful, but you loose that detail when you’re working with many indie dyed yarns. I bring this up because it’s one of the reasons that I have learned to love weaving – the finished product is something that let’s the yarn speak for itself.
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of becoming a brand ambassador Wonderland Yarns, a yarn dyer that’s just a little further than “over the river” from where we live. Honestly, I think the only disappointment I’ve ever had with Wonderland Yarns occurred during my first serious year of knitting when I was in Brattleboro and learned that they weren’t open to the public. Just under two years later, I would be enthusiastically maintaining displays at Webs Yarn Store in Northampton and gushing about the softness and colors over the phone as a customer service rep (to this day, I still miss my job and all the people I worked with!).
The point of this, is really just to say, it is incredibly difficult to commit to a project when you love all the yarn and all the colors. As this is not a paid position (but they did send beautiful yarn!), I will take the time to shamelessly admit that if I could have one of everything I would (seriously, thank you to the coordinator for her patience during our emails). After a lot of hemming and hawing, I committed to Combo 12 and warped my cricket loom.
If you like the way this looks and would like to weave one yourself, I used an 8 dent reed and positioned the colors so that there are 8 strands of each (4 when you’re warping) with Red taking center stage in the middle for a total of 16 strands (8 when you’re warping). From there “simply” measure out how long you would like your scarf and add ~16inches for waste yarn (this is not a scientific number by any means).
For the most part, I wove the scarf with the main color (little bat) and not with the colors from the mini skeins (land of wonders). That being said, the beautiful thing about weaving is that there are no hard and fast rules! One combo pack is enough yarn for two scarves, or in my case a scarf and an eventual brioche hat.
I enjoyed weaving with the Mad Hatter yarn that comes in combo 12’s pack. It bloomed nicely when blocked and has just the tiniest amount of fuzz across it’s soft surface. Mum’s the word on whether or not everyone is getting a Wonderland Yarn scarf for the holidays this year.
Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you don’t feel motivated. Sometimes you’re waiting on supplies. Sometimes you’re just not feeling it. Whatever the reason(s) you have for not crafting are valid reasons and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking a break.
I’m someone who brings her knitting everywhere, last week I left the house multiple times without packing my knitting. I have fabric that I’m excited about, I didn’t turn my sewing machine on once. I warped my loom with some beautiful yarn, wove a handful of rows and then put it down. None of these things mean that I’m giving up making, they just mean that I needed some time away.
When your craft becomes part of your identity, it’s hard to step away. It’s also hard not to feel guilty about stepping away. This past week, I’ve taken more walks and snuggled my dog instead of knitting during a movie. I enjoyed the space created by not having my ironing board out.
When my last sewing class met I made a comment that I thought I was sewing the dress pattern at the wrong time. That my pandemic brain needed something different. Isn’t it funny, that we can be kind and supportive for other people and then struggle to be just as kind to ourselves? This week I was kind to myself by not knitting. By not sewing. By not weaving. I’ve allowed myself to be tired and uninspired instead of forcing myself to knit one more row.
This happens to me from time to time and I usually end up excited about something when my break is over. If you’re in a crafting rut or lull, be kind to yourself. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a maker, it just means that you’ve been making hard!
A couple weeks ago, my sister announced that she was pregnant with her first child. As I eagerly await the gender reveal*, and hope that they don’t change their mind on learning the sex of the baby, I realized there was no reason I couldn’t cast something on my needles to add to their Christmas gift. They’re excited, I’m excited, I have some yarn that looks like a rain forest, new born sweaters don’t take very long…. so it looks like I’m taking back what I said about not knitting for anyone. (Remember that post I wrote about it’s ok to change your mind?)
Naturally, as soon as I said that the flood gates opened and I started to think about whether or not there was anyone else I should be knitting for for the Holiday season. I’ve had my loomed warped for a month or so with a table runner I’ve been working on for my mom, it now has an end of December deadline on it. I found this interesting/simple sewing pattern for handmade hand warmers and have a handful of friends that spend their time ice fishing or generally suffer from cold hands. In other words, I made it less than a week before caving and creating a spreadsheet of projects to complete before the end of the holiday season.
I can’t help it! The desire to keep people warm is in my DNA, as is the desire to create. So on that note, I have some last minute gifts to crank out. Here’s to my sanity!
*I’ve read a few articles discussing how gender reveal parties are inconsiderate to future transgender children. I will love this baby no matter what, but will also enthusiastically knit little tutus if it’s a baby girl (unless she’s anything like me, then she’ll stop wearing them in favor of outfits more equip for climbing trees). I can’t help it, they’re so stinking cute. To be fair, I would also knit them for a little boy, without judgement, if he wanted them.
The “On habitats” series is designed to help me (us) take a moment and reflect on where the fiber in our yarn comes from. Part One of this series looked at Natural Plant Fibers, Part two: Synthetic Plant Fibers took a look at tencel, bamboo and corn. We’ll finish off synthetic plant fibers this week with soy, rayon, and modal.
Soy: According to Interweave, the first time soy was used as a textile was in the 1930s, when Henry Ford produced car-seat upholstery by blending soybean and sheep’s wool. Soybeans have a high protein content and are currently being produced in large quantities by the United States and China.
There are five main steps to creating soybean fiber, the first being the extraction of oil. Soybeans are cleaned, cracked, decorticated and dehulled before being conditioned and steeped in hexane. The hexane solution collects the oil, which can be extracted and reused. The soybean is then passed through a steam pipe to be rinsed of the solvent.
Next, the soybean is soaked in a 1% sodium sulfite solution for around an hour then filtered. This results in a creamy-white powder that is then dissolved into an alkaline solution. This solution is then allowed to age until it develops the proper consistency for spinning. The fiber is then formed by wet spinning or forcing the spinning solution through a spinneret.
Finally, the fibers are treated to baths that help it develop stretching and hardening properties. From here, the fiber can be blended and dyed.
This process doesn’t appear too bad, until you begin to look into the beans themselves. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the soybean industry is causing widespread deforestation and displacement. Many are calling for transparent land use and an increase in proper safeguards, but until those come to pass this may not be the best yarn for an environmentally focused individual.
Rayon: Rayon has an interesting history as an alternative to silk starting in the 1860s when the French silk industry was threatened by a disease affecting the silkworm. In 1885, Count Hilaire de Chardonnet patented the first successful process of creating a silk-like fiber from cellulose and is considered the father of rayon (despite more cost-effective ways of being created nowadays).
The major sources of the cellulose used for creating rayon include pine, spruce, hemlock, and cotton linters (residue fibers which clung to cotton seeds after the ginning process). Regardless of whether wood pulp or cotton linters are used, the materials must be processed to extract/purify the cellulose. This results in sheets that are steeped in sodium hydroxide, dried, shredded into crumbs and aged in metal containers for 2-3 days.
Next, the crumbs are combined and churned with liquid carbon disulfide and then bathed in sodium hydroxide again. The honey-like solution (look and feel) then has any dyes or delusterants added before being filtered and stored to age (4-5 days).
After aging, the solution is forced through a spinneret and into an acid bath. Once bathed in acid, the fiber can be spun into yarn.
Unfortunately, the chemical by-products of rayon have received a lot of attention as they generate a lot of water and air emissions (the worst being zinc and hydrogen sulfide). Producers are currently trying different techniques to reduce pollution, and as the demand for rayon grows so does the demand for new technologies that make rayon better and cheaper.
Modal: Modal comes from pure beech tree chips and is more or less a variety of rayon. The main difference between modal and rayon is that rayon can be made of variety or materials, while modal is only made from beech trees.
In other words, modal is made using the same process as rayon and has the same concerns. That being said, like rayon steps are being taken to make the process better and cleaner.
Main Takeaways: I think the main thing I’ve taken away from my readings on synthetic fibers is that there is no way to make them perfect. Even if the process to make the fiber is sustainable, the farming technique often isn’t (although the same can be said about cotton, which is not synthetic). All in all, I’m not sure there are many changes that I will make to my knitting — as I work mostly with animal fibers — but the curiosity around using bamboo yarn is no longer there. As this project continues, it will be interesting to learn about how chemicals are sneaking their way into my knitting. I may end up breaking my spinning wheel back out and going straight to the sheep! Or at least upping my yarn snobbery to organic yarns, depending on what I learn about man-made synthetics and animal fibers.