Well, all my ideas about what I was going to knit came to naught, because I’ve been asked to review a book, Margaret Radcliffe’s Circular Knitting Workshop.
As soon as I got into it I went and emptied the stash basket to find something to experiment on. This is – and I am saying this without any bias; I know I freelance with publishers but there is absolutely no link between me and Storey Press – a fantastic book.
One thing – it is emphatically not a book of patterns using circular knitting. It is exactly what it says on the cover: a workshop. And what a workshop.
(Plus – shhh – a lot of the information is useful for flat knitting, too.)
Now, I hardly ever knit in the round. Yes, I use ‘circular’ needles a lot, but I hardly ever join the fabric up. I’m a flat knitter. Er, only metaphorically, ahem. But Margaret Ratcliff has got me going, and now I can’t stop. That’s one of the consequences, of course – as she says early on, addressing the question of why you should consider knitting in the round, ‘some knitters love the meditative flow of knitting in the round – it goes on and on without interruptions for turning and switching hands.’ Or interruptions which effectively tell you that you need to put the knitting down occasionally.
And that’s difficult. There are so many ideas and techniques and tips that you want to try out, solutions to problems that have had you stumped for ages. Well, that had me stumped anyway (doing anything that looks good on DPNs).
Take casting on, for example. There are details of thirteen different ways for achieving different effects while specifically knitting in the round (the basic five are covered briefly, and in more detail in an appendix), including one I’d not come across before, the Channel Islands cast-on. It also addresses the question of deciding which side is the right side, and it was at this point that I emptied the stash onto the floor of the spare room.
I always cast on in the same way, as taught by my mother, and as she was taught by her mother, and so on, back into Celtic myth, legend and – no doubt – the Great Hunger. I like to think of it as the ‘Stroppy Irish’ cast-on in honour of its origins. It’s a thumb cast-on with a long tail, but like no cast-on I’ve ever seen illustrated in a book, and I’ve never seen anyone else cast on in quite the same way (you can do it almost one-handed; ideal for when you’re at the peats or beating up the landlord). It gives you a lovely bound-off edge with just the right flexibility, but it looks best on the ‘wrong’ side, so I always start a piece of knitting with a wrong-side row and turn what should be the wrong side into the right side. It suddenly struck me that I wouldn’t have to do that if I were knitting in the round.
And I didn’t.
(Mind you, I did have to cast on twice after the tip came off one of the interchangeable cords because I’d not fastened it on securely.)
Anyway, enough of me. This book is a real workshop, rather like spending a weekend retreat mastering a skill completely. The first part is technical, and the second is devoted to projects, often small – they can be sized up – which allow you to test the skills learned in the first half. Take, for instance, this shawl (the Double Double Trellis Shawl):
It uses a closed centre cast-on, and interesting variations in stitch pattern which will cause variations in tension. And because of those changes, the placement of the increases is dictated by the shawl measurement rather than the row count. I am intrigued, and I want to get stuck in and see if it works. I also want to try it because Radcliffe suggests an alternative to this pesky DPNs when starting the centre and I’d like to see if that works as well: using two circular needles. (I know I could do the Magic Loop, but I’d like to have a go something else, as long as it’s not DPNs.) It looks fiddly, but I have to give it a go. Eventually.
Throughout the book, problems are addressed and tackled. Here, for instance, the question of whether the shawl could be worked outside in is raised – and demolished, but that’s OK because the next project is one worked form the perimeter to the middle. And the question of weaving in the ends in colour knitting is raised: be careful, because the tendency is to weave them in as you knit, and that means they all end up in the same direction, and in the same area, making it bulkier – and weaker at the start as they all pull away from the end of a round. But my hands aren’t really ready for that yet.
Back to something less ambitious, perhaps. I find the illustrations very clear and useful, though it’s just as well I like turquoise…
And the small things are tackled too. Making thumbs, for instance, or the three different ways of avoiding that sneaky little jog you get when you join your circle right at the start (wish I’d read that bit earlier, but I can deal with my bijou jogette later).
And then there’s the part I’m not altogether sure I will explore in depth – converting flat patterns to circular. Margaret Radcliffe isn’t completely dogmatic; there are some circumstances in which flat knitting is appropriate and both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. But it is useful to be able to do something like colour work in the round even if the pattern you want to use has been written for flat knitting, and I’m sure I will end up consulting this section. At some point.
At some point. For now I just have to stop knitting before I wreck my hands again.
That’s the trouble with circular knitting; it’s not so much meditative as addictive. Oh, and it’s a bag, or it will be (in about five minutes, on previous evidence). My larger version of the booga bag in Noro Kureyon, to be felted.
In retrospect, the Circular Knitting Workshop is perfect for me. It intrigues me intellectually and also in terms of my skills; it inspires me to try new things and it panders to my addiction. Boy, does it pander to my addiction. Move away from the needles. Move away from the needles. Move away from the needles…