This post is about new mitts, and the story behind them. Because one should always start with the pretty, here are the mitts:
And here is the story.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a mismatch of pattern and yarn. I had a skein of Madelinetosh DK left over from another project and decided to knit a pair of mitts. The yarn is lovely, very soft and warm, and the colour, Composition Book Grey, is one of my favorites. I picked a lovely mitt pattern called Masonry Mitts by Vera Brosgol. Here is the pattern photo:
And here is my attempt to knit it up with the Madtosh:
I really didn’t feel like this was working; in fact, it was pretty clear to me almost from the beginning that it wasn’t going to work but I stuck with it for a while. Leah, who writes this lovely knitting blog, left a comment on my post, in which she says: “It is amazing how the wrong yarn can make such a huge difference in even such a small project as mitts. Good for you for not trying to force the yarn on the project. ” This comment made me think about what exactly was wrong with this yarn-pattern pairing – it also made me realize that there are other people out there who think about things like this. So, for those of you who care about such things, I will discuss it further here. For the rest of you, feel free to look at the pretty photos and ignore those pesky words.
The Masonry mitts are designed to be knit with Cascade 220, which is a plied yarn with a tight twist; it is a sturdy yarn, what we call a “workhouse yarn”. The Madtosh is a soft, fluffy, un-plied yarn which is very splitty. Cascade 220 could be described as architectural – it will keep its shape. It has substance. The Madtosh is lovely and light and unformed; if left to its own devices it will flop. When I tried to knit the Masonry knits with the Madtosh, there wasn’t enough structure to hold the shape. I could have attempted to mitigate this by knitting with a much smaller needle and forcing a tighter fabric. However, another design mismatch was also at play here.
The Masonry mitts have vertical columns of garter stitch and stockinette stitch. Most knitters get different row gauges with the two stitches. This means that one half of the mitt (the stockinette portion) will end up measurably longer than the other half (the garter portion). Garter rows are tighter and pull the fabric together vertically. If you are using a yarn with a tight ply and a good twist, this will still happen, but it will be less obvious and more amenable to blocking.
I frogged the mis-begotten mitt (this means I ripped it out so the yarn could be recycled into another project) and decided to try again with the pattern Toast and Jam, designed by Emily Foden. Toast and Jam also juxtaposes garter and stockinette (I guess I was finding this an attractive theme), but it does it in a smaller portion and over a field that is increasing rather than a straight vertical section. This keeps the mismatched gauges from getting too out of control. Not entirely, though, as you can see from the unblocked Toast and Jam mitts, where the row gauge of the garter section is clearly tighter:
A good blocking fixed this problem. The main advantage of this pattern over the Masonry pattern, with respect to the Madtosh DK, is that the Toast and Jam Mitts are knit almost entirely in Twisted Rib. The twisted rib pulls in the knitting and keeps tight control on the otherwise unplied Madtosh; in other words, it gives it structure and keeps it tight. It doesn’t hurt that it is knit with a 3.5mm needle (a US 4) instead of the 4mm (US 6) that I was knitting the Masonry mitt with. I knit Leah’s beautiful cardigan with the Madtosh and it has flow and drape – it doesn’t need a tight gauge and a twisted rib. But a Mitt takes a lot of punishment – it doesn’t need flow and drape, it needs structure.
One of the lovely features of the Toast and Jam pattern is that the garter stitch portion can be worn on the outside of the hand, or on the palm. Here it is on the outside:
And here it is on the palm:
The next time that you are considering substituting a different yarn for the one the pattern calls for, think carefully. What are the charicteristics of the fabric you want to create? How is it going to be worn? Does it need to be sturdy or delicate? Are you looking for structure or flow? And what are the characteristics of the yarn? Once you think you have a match – go for it, be creative, that’s what make knitting fun! And when you can see that you’ve got it wrong, don’t be afraid to stop. Rip it out and try again. Then, you’ll have a match made in heaven.