Monday, August 11, 2014

I Need A Sweater

"A New Design in Cable Stitch,"
from 1940
     We went down to San Jose for the "Spirit of '45" event at History San Jose last weekend. It was loads of fun--lots of World War II reenactors, veterans, and just regular people dressed up in WWII-era finery. A bunch of friends are getting interested in WWII-era reenacting, especially the British homefront, as members of the Women's Land Army. Personally, I'm too much of an American to be a convincing Brit (I have no talent for accents); on the other hand, having a few things in my wardrobe to allow me to dress up for these events could be fun.
     This idea has led me to the need for a new sweater. Actually, it's the Victoria and Albert Museum's fault--they have made available on their website a number of historic knitting patterns, and there's a darling little cabled cardigan pattern than ran in Women's Weekly in July, 1940. This could be a stunner--knit out of the right yarn, I not only could wear it for WWII "homefront" reenacting but, paired with flannel or tweed slacks, I'd have a nice outfit for vintage "tweed" rides in the winter and spring months. The only downside to this pattern--it's completely unredacted. This means some serious measuring, swatching, and calculating to turn the pattern from a nice little Size 9 sweater into something that will fit my more generous proportions.
     The pattern gives me a few clues to work from:

  • Needle Size: "Size 8 and Size 12 steel pins"
  • Gauge: "8 stitches to the inch with Size 8 pins"
There's a big difference between old UK, US, and modern needle sizes, primarily because the UK system was based on wire gauges, while Heaven only knows what the US system was based on. This has always been a problem, and is one of the reasons that I bought an antique Walker "Bell" gauge (a tool used to check the size of British knitting needles and crochet hooks) many years ago--it's a lot easier to work from a Weldon's pattern if the actual size of the needle or hook is known. Fortunately, has solved a lot of these problems with what I think is one of the better needle conversion charts. This chart eliminates most of the need for a Bell gauge--one simply looks up the needle size, and the corresponding needle size is referenced. In my case, an old UK #8 needle is the equivalent to a modern US #6 or 4mm needle, while the UK #12 needle is the equivalent to a modern US#2 or 2.75mm. Judging from the needle sizes, this sweater is knit with a really firm ribbing at the waist and cuffs, with main parts of the sweater a bit loosely knit.
     But wait--there's more information! The gauge is 8 stitches to the inch with 4mm needles. Normally, 4mm needles are recommended for DK/light worsted knitting yarns, with 21-24 stitches in a 4-inch piece of stockinette; however, I don't think it would be possible to knit 1x1 ribbing out of DK on 2.75mm needles. I know 2.75mm needles really well, as they are the needles I normally use for knitting socks. Dropping down to a sport-weight yarn would increase the number of stitches per inch on the 4mm needles; additionally, I know from experience that it's possible to knit fine ribbing with sport-weight yarn. So, I need a sport-weight yarn that is readily available, reasonably priced, not too scratchy, and in a color I like.
     Ravelry to the rescue! Ravelry has a large database of yarns, so it's pretty easy to put in some parameters and start searching for likely candidates. Most of my usual "go to" yarns are not eligible: Malabrigo Arroyo and Blue Moon STR Medium don't come in solid colors; Nature Spun Sport is scratchy; Cascade 220 Sport is too heavy; Gems Sport is too expensive. A couple possibilities: DROPS Baby Merino, and Cascade Heritage 150. Both are Merino (not scratchy), readily available, not outrageously expensive, and come in a wide variety of possible colors. I'll think about these as I do some preliminary swatching.

CURRENTLY OTN: The second of a pair of blue and green striped stockings, knit out of Louet Gems sock yarn that was hand-dyed with indigo and mullein. After this, I'm done with socks and stockings for a while, as I've also knit 2 additional pairs of socks since the beginning of June.