. Celebrating Historical Fiber Arts in Maine

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Celebrating Historical Fiber Arts in Maine

Category: Casting On

As I mentioned last week, I had a little adventure/vacation as a participant in an archaeological dig in Damariscotta. There were indeed no golden idols nor Nazis, but there were many pieces of ceramics, and a fair number of diabolical biting flies. One of the coolest finds was a button with a copper shank, complete with a scrap of thread still in place. But while I was geeking out over 18th century items, archaeologists in England discovered a ball of thread from 3,000 years ago! They’ve also just posted a photo of a bobbin still wound with thread from the same site at Must Farm.

Photo credit: Must Farm Archaeology

3,000 year old thread! Photo credit: Must Farm Archaeology

Clearly, it’s a great time for historical fiber arts around the world, and Maine is a good place to be. This weekend is the Annual Open House at Bartlettyarns in Harmony. Friday and Saturday, August 5 & 6, visitors can tour the mill and check out the spinning mule, one of the last of its kind. We carry yarn and roving from Bartlettyarns, and love them for their classic strength, and beautiful colors, and the fact that they’re made right here in Maine. I will have to wait till next year to attend the open house, but you should go this year and tell me all about it! (Take photos!)

The Waldoborough Historical Society is also getting in on the fiber action this month, hosting a Rug Hooking Demonstration. Waldoboro (the modern spelling of my hometown’s name) used to be known for beautiful hooked rugs, and Kathie Hills will be doing a demo on August 28th at 1 pm. The Historical Society Museum is definitely worth a visit — it’s located right by Moody’s Diner (itself a piece of Waldoboro history), and includes the old stone animal pound where they used to corral loose farm animals until their owners could come claim them. The museum is free to the public, and the collection also contains locally made quilts and cross stitched items.

I love that fiber arts have such wonderful historic roots, going back thousands of years. It always boggles my mind when I’m doing a complicated cable or stitch pattern and I pause to realize that someone, decades or centuries ago, was knitting away and thought, “I wonder what happens if I do this?” — and behold, a gorgeous cable! As a history nerd, it warms my heart to know that thousands of pairs of hands throughout time have done exactly what mine are doing when I cast on for a cozy hat. The tradition and history behind knitting definitely factors into my enjoyment of the craft, and when Maine winters are long and cold (unlike last winter), I imagine the ghosts of Maine women of yore, knitting right alongside me by the woodstove. May society never “advance” so far as to lose our fiber arts traditions!

The sad and awful truth about casting on loosely.

Category: Casting On

You know those patterns that ask you to cast on loosely, then proceed to tell you to try casting on over two needles to make it looser?  Well, I’m here to tell you that is a terrible lie.  And here’s why.  The reason you want to cast on loosely is not so you can get your working needle through the stitches when you knit your first row.  It’s so the edge will not be smaller than the knit stitches that come above it.  A tight cast on will pinch the first few rows of knitting, giving a rounded-corners look.  You want your cast on edge to be almost as stretchy as your knit fabric and you want it to be the same width as your work, with nice, even square corners.  But here’s the kicker…the looseness of your cast on is not a function of the size of the stitches you are putting on your needle.  It is a function of the space between those stitches.  Let me say it again.  It’s not the size of the stitches, it’s the space in between them that determines the looseness of the cast on.

Here…I’ll prove it to you.

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Here I’ve cast on over two needles, Nice and loose, right?  So loose that there’s even space between the needles.  Big, loopy loose stitches.

 

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When I take out one of the needles, there’s enough loose space in the stitches you could drive a truck through.  This should be plenty loose.

 

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But when I knit a few rows, you can see I am in trouble.  The edge is round-cornered and bumpy.  Yuk.

 

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A closer look will show you that all I’ve done is distort the first row of stitches and make a mess on the edge.  Sigh.  Not what I was after at all.

Now take a look at this…

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By holding my right fore finger between the stitches as I’m casting on, I can extend the amount of yarn between the stitches.  This stretches the overall width of the cast on.

 

 

 

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I can actually slide each stitch as far away as I like to achieve the right looseness in my cast on.

 

 

 

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After knitting a few rows, you can see that my edge is the same width as my work and my corners are not distorted.

 

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A closer look shows that the spaces between my actual stitches is the same as the spaces between my cast on stitches.

Keep a close watch the next time you cast on.  You see exactly what I mean.  And don’t let anyone fool you ever again.  Casting on over two needles just makes a mess.  Use your finger!