Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why are so many vintage patterns only in one size?

I would very much like to introduce you today to Jen Arnall-Culliford. 

Formerly employed by Future Publishing, Jen is now working as a freelance tech editor and has very kindly taken on the task of tech editing A Stitch in Time Vol 2 for me. It is a mountainous task but Jen is the sort of girl who loves a challenge! We work very closely together on every pattern, in our efforts to give the knitter the best pattern possible, without radically altering the design. Jen has agreed to write some blog posts explaining some of the more challenging situations we are encountering and how even so, we are managing to maintain the integrity of the original designs. So over to Jen...

So, why are so many vintage patterns only in one size - or, the challenges of vintage patterns…  This is the first in a short series about technical editing of complex knitting patterns.

My background is in chemistry, and one of the things I love about working as a knitting technical editor, is the amount of problem solving, pattern spotting and maths involved. People often think I have a peculiar career path, but to me it makes complete sense! Straight chemistry didn’t provide enough variety for me, but many of the skills I learnt are directly useful in knitting. Writing lab reports so that another chemist can repeat your work uses exactly the same skills as writing a pattern so that another knitter can create the same garment. And likewise, the problem solving that you use when trying to make a natural product in the lab are the same as the problem solving that you apply to charting or grading a knitting pattern. They are, really!

Many of the patterns that will be featured in A Stitch in Time Vol. 2, were originally published in just one size. Susan is working hard on rewriting these patterns to give a range of sizes better suited to modern knitters (this process is known as grading). In most cases, this involves adding extra stitches to widen a piece, and extra rows to add length. For colourwork patterns, this is usually a straightforward process – adding extra motifs to the bands, and then rows between to lengthen. Cable patterns aren’t too complicated either, although sometimes the repeats are wide, and compromises need to be made to allow width increases of less than one pattern repeat. You will no doubt have seen patterns where extra small cables, moss stitch or ribbing are added at the sides of larger garments.  It is generally lace patterns that pose a particular problem, and sometimes in these cases, grading a pattern in the traditional way just isn’t possible. The designs use the shape of the stitch patterns in such a way that it is vital to respect the way in which the stitch pattern evolves if you wish to grade larger (or smaller) sizes without losing the most important design features. A stitch pattern that has sloping sides may be used to create any of the shaping that the garment requires, for example at the waist, bust, armhole or neck opening. If you change the point in the pattern where this shaping occurs, then a vital part of the original design is lost.

Many of the lace patterns chosen for A Stitch in Time Vol. 2 use complex motifs where the stitch count changes as the rows are worked (creating a shaped pattern). This makes it almost impossible to change any of the garment dimensions in less than a whole pattern repeat. And pattern repeats can be quite large! Imagine, for example, an original garment to fit a 32in bust. The front measures 16in across, 12in to the armholes and then has an armhole depth of 8in. The stitch pattern has a diamond shape, and measures 4in wide by 4in tall, and stitch counts change on almost every row, making it necessary to keep shaping for armholes in the same relative position on every size. If you want to make the armhole depth more than it already is, you would need to go up to 12in, which is much too deep for any size. Likewise, to decrease the depth, you would need to go down to 4in, which is too small.

In some patterns, it is possible to work half pattern repeats, which give a smaller increment in which to work, but that’s not the end of the problem, as working a half repeat may well necessitate writing a whole different set of instructions for the shaping. Given that some of the patterns already take a large number of pages in just one size, adding extra pages isn’t a printable option. And remember that more written instructions increases the probability of errors. So the more instructions there are, the more checks and tests need to be performed to remove them. In science this is often possible as the risks and rewards involved are high, so budget is available for lengthy and rigorous testing. In knitting, these same risks and rewards are lower, and as such it isn’t normally possible to have more than 3 levels of editing of a pattern, without increasing the cost to the consumer dramatically. Most patterns and pattern books don’t sell in anywhere near enough numbers to cover the cost of professional test knitting of every size of a garment, followed by multiple levels of technical editing.

Given these challenges, it isn’t surprising that many older patterns were printed in only one size, and explains why some of the patterns in both volumes of A Stitch in Time are graded using needle size changes and yarn weight changes instead of pattern instruction grading. When a designer has gone to such lengths to use a stitch pattern so creatively, it’s wonderful to be able to offer that design in a wider range of sizes, whilst preserving the very design features that make the pattern so special. With careful choice of different weights of yarn, you can grade a pattern in the best possible way – the finished garment will look the same as the sample, just larger. How often have you seen disappointing patterns where the proportions have been destroyed with acres of extra filler stitch pattern in large sizes? Using needle size and yarn carefully avoids this problem, and gives larger sizes the same cleverly designed proportions as the original.

Next time I’ll take you through how we chart a pattern with changing stitch counts, and hopefully get rid of some of the confusion surrounding “no stitch” symbols.

For more technical blether, I can be found on Twitter @JenACKnitwear and on Ravelry also at JenACKnitwear.

I do hope you've enjoyed today's guest post. Jen will be back again in a few weeks with more insights into what goes into the making of A Stitch in Time.

but for now,
Ruby xx

Images courtesy of Jen Arnall-Culliford

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Revised Publication Date Information

I recently emailed all the pre-order customers of A Stitch in Time Volume 2 to explain my decision to amend the publication date on the book. I am hoping that everyone has received and has had time to read the email and would like to share it with you now:

"As you know, A Stitch in Time Volume 2 was due for publication on 31st March. However I have had to revise the publication date due to a number of factors that I have been trying to deal with, but ultimately by rushing the book to meet the original publication date, I believe errors etc will creep in and I really don't want that to happen.

An unusually high number of the original vintage patterns being used in the book have been found to be incorrect on knitting up and I have had to spend more time than expected correcting the patterns before they could be knit again. More than expected have proven so inaccurate that I have had to remove them from the book and replace them with alternative patterns. This means even more knitting and checking.

With to the high level of inaccuracies in the original patterns I have taken the decision to introduce a further level of independent technical editing which is expensive and time consuming but I am sure you will agree, well worth it, if it removes errors in the new patterns.

With so many patterns in the book, it is proving a momentous task to get all the patterns written. There is also an additional section on fit and finishing to help choose and complete the right patterns, which I'm writing at the moment. I think it will be a great addition to the book and a valuable tool when knitting from any vintage pattern, and I don't want to miss it out just to save time.

These books really are a labour of love. With just Gavin, myself and my mother in law permanently involved on the project at all levels until it goes to be printed, this is what self publishing is all about, but it does mean that you have to do everything yourself. I wouldn't have it any other way but it does create additional pressure and time constraints.

In addition to this there have been delays in the arrival of Excelana, which was being used for a number of patterns in the book. As it is my own yarn, I really want it to be featured in the book, but I only received the final batch last week, which has dramatically delayed things. Also, the lovely firm, JC Rennie went into liquidation very recently, which means several garments that were knitted in their yarns are having to be reknit in a yarn that will still be available when the book is published.

I am so grateful to every one who has pre-ordered the book, as without you it probably would not have been possible and I appreciate your commitment to the project, and am determined to communicate fully and explain what is happening. Realistically, with the number  of setbacks and delays we have experienced and also additional work needed, I think it would be safest to move the publication date to the end of June and then if it is ready early, it will be an unexpected bonus. I hope this isn't too disappointing,  but I am convinced that the finished book is well worth the wait. (We are currently looking at over 75 patterns and around 400 pages of wonderful vintage gorgeousness presented in a beautiful hard back book). I will continue to release images and details of projects in the book without giving the whole game away and will communicate as regularly as possible to advise of any developments. I am also looking at the early release to yourselves of a single pattern from the book as a thank you.

Pre-orders will continue to remain available at the discounted price, along with all the extra goodies, for the forseeable future. If you are unhappy to wait please do contact the shop and your order can be cancelled and a refund arranged but I do hope that you will bear with me these extra couple of months to make sure you all get the book you want.

with kindest regards
Susan Crawford"

I hope it fully explains the huge task involved in putting this book together. I have received some lovely responses from customers offering moral support in this huge task, and these responses have really helped. Thank you everyone.

for now
Ruby xx

Friday, March 11, 2011

Behind the scenes of a Stitch in Time Photoshoot

Whilst work on A Stitch in Time Volume 2 continues day and night I thought I would share some images with you from the most recent photoshoot.  We had a great day and were very fortunate to have the whole day filmed for a future short film which will be released a little later in the year. But in the meantime here's a little glance behind the scenes of just one of the many photoshoots that go into the making of A Stitch in Time.

The Location (Image Courtesy of Ingrid Murnane 2011)
Hair and Make Up (Image Courtesy of Ingrid Murnane 2011)

Setting up a scene (Image Courtesy of Ingrid Murnane 2011)  
Taking a photo (Image Courtesy of Ingrid Murnane 2011)

Cover Girl Theo resting between shoots (Image Courtesy of Ingrid Murnane 2011)
Props (Image Courtesy of Charlie Moon 2011)
Pretty Shoes (Image Courtesy of Charlie Moon 2011)
Lighting in the strangest places (Image Courtesy of Charlie Moon 2011)

The Finishing Touches (Image Courtesy of Charlie Moon 2011)
What you don't see! (Image Courtesy of Charlie Moon 2011)

Another sneeky peek (Image Courtesy of Charlie Moon 2011)

My Latest Camera (Image Courtesy of Ingrid Murnane 2011)
for now
Ruby xxx

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Excelana unveiling!

I have just got back from having a thoroughly lovely time at Unravel in Farnham, Surrey. I have done the show for the last three years but what made this one rather different is that it was the official unveiling of 'EXCELANA' our beautiful new vintage inspired yarn.

 Excelana is 70% Exmoor Blueface/30% Blue Faced Leicester and the sheep who kindly provided the fleece all live on Exmoor less than 50 miles from the mill where the fleece is spun and processed.

Here is a picture of our lovely ladies on the hills of Exmoor

courtesy of British Wool Marketing Board

The British Wool Marketing Board and the Campaign for Wool are both supporting the brand and I hope that we will be able to see the yarn in shops around the country and all around the world. In the meantime, the yarn can be bought through my website or directly from the Excelana website that we've set up.

So what got me started on this mission? John Arbon, who owns and runs Fibre Harvest in North Devon, has long wanted to use the Exmoor Blueface sheep for a knitting wool. But the fleece of this particular sheep does not usually get used in this way and John has had to jump through many hoops to get to the point where we would be ready to do so. John and I met through A Stitch in Time, when he bought a copy for his wife to be Juliet. We have all been firm friends ever since. John and Juliet are both in love with the 1940s and 1950s and loved the idea of a vintage inspired yarn. So we set to work!

My requirements for a truly vintage wool were -

For it be extremely stretchy with good recovery
To be lustrous with a soft handle
To drape well but to have body
To have good stitch definition
For the stitches to bind well to each other
A yarn that takes colour well
To have the right feel
A colour palette with individually beautiful colours that combine to work perfectly together.

I studied a lot of sources for my colour palette but one of main references was this amazing shade card from the 1930s which showed a wide and stunning range of wools available.

Image copyright Arbour House Publishing 2009

Eventually I made my decisions - 7 colours plus a natural undyed and waited for the work to be done and to be able to see and touch the finished yarn.

And here they are, eight beatiful colours

Image copyright Arbour House Publishing 2011

From left to right we have: Persian Grey, Nile Green, Cornflower Blue, Powdered Egg, French Rose,
Ruby Red, Alabaster and Saharan Sand. To purchase you can follow the link below or click on the button in the side bar.

And here are a few of the colours when knitted together

image copyright Arbour House Publishing 2011

The stitches really cling together well which is just what you need to knit fairisle.

Initially we only have 4 ply available but it will be followed by DK, Aran and yes, 3 ply and hopefully more colours in forthcoming seasons. Obviously the yarn has to sell for this to happen so do keep your fingers crossed for us, do buy the yarn if you are so disposed and ask your local wool shop if they would think of stocking it.

Wholesale enquiries are all done via the contact information on the Excelana website and there is pattern support in A Stitch in Time volume 2 as well as a forthcoming Excelana booklet.

And that, for today is that. My lovely technical editor, Jen, is with me for a few days as we go through more patterns than you can possibly imagine and in a few days time we'll have another reveal from A Stitch in Time Volume 2.

for now
Ruby xxx