Fridays with Franklin - The Adventure of the Stealth Blanket: Part One
For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.
I often wonder that more knitters do not keep Life Lists in the way that ardent bird watchers do.
A birder’s Life List is (as the name implies) a tally of all birds s/he has definitively spotted. But many Life Lists are also aspirational; they include all the species that might be spotted in a neighborhood, in a country, on a continent, or (for the extremely ambitious) around the world.
Completing that kind of Life List could require a trip fraught with expense and discomfort solely to check one little box. Behold, at last I have seen the Speckle-Breasted Willie Warmer. Check.
Me, I have a running tally–in the form of my Ravelry projects page. Yes, I have knit a square shawl, a triangular shawl, a circular shawl, cuff-down socks, toe-up socks…Check, check, check, check.
You probably have one, too. Ravelry project pages are common as corner houses. But what about a list of the things I haven’t knit? What’s missing? I started taking stock.
Would you believe it turns out I’ve never knit a blanket?
Again and Again and Again
I have knit bits of blanket. In other words, I have finished a piece here and there that, had I knit many more of that piece, and sewn them all together, I would have made a blanket.
My problem is that I am not by nature a knitter who thrives on repetition. I can finish a second sock, because my feet are small, my socks go quickly, and the idea of stopping after only one makes me feel abashed and ridiculous. But when I meet someone who tells me she’s making her eleventh shawl from the same pattern, all I can do is stand and blink. Eleven of the same thing? Eleven? How do you do that?
Mother Was a Quilter
My late mother, bless her memory, thrived on repetition. She often fixed early in the year on a single project–an electrified ceramic Christmas tree, a macramé hanging shelf, a suite of framed floral cross stitch miniatures–and would turn into a one-woman gift factory, turning out two dozen identical specimens for delivery to friends and relations well in time for December 25. She was always organized and she never sweated.
I did not inherit any of this from her.
Near the end of her life she discovered quilting and went into orbit. Precision! Repetition! Protocol! It was an art form she’d been born to explore. Sadly, after two years and a dozen perfect quilts, she was gone from us forever. Four uncompleted projects were still sitting, waiting, in her sewing room on the day she died. Along with her pin cushion, just as she'd left it.
I got to thinking that I might like to make a patchwork-inspired blanket as an homage to Mom. I would knit it, but I’d take my design and construction cues from quilting.
One of the most common design units in quilting, often the first a new quilter is taught, is a square patch made of two identical triangles, like this:
I’ve sewn a lot of these. I’d never knit one, but I knew it wouldn’t be difficult. Just do up a square on the bias, changing yarns halfway across. It’s such a simple idea I know I can’t be the first person to try it. I’m probably not even the twentieth. But I didn’t rush off to Ravelry to check. When I do something like this, I’d rather find my own way if I possibly can. Do I reinvent the wheel sometimes? Sure I do. I also learn a heck of a lot more about how stuff works.
I sat down with one of my favorite tweedy yarns – Hikoo® Kenzie, and a size US 6 (4mm) addi® Click needle that I guessed would give me (your gauge may vary) the kind of garter stitch I like: firm. You want the fabric in a blanket to drape, but not droop. Loose garter stitch tends to stretch in a frowsy fashion I find extremely unattractive.
As to the yarn choice, the Kenzie has what I consider to be an ideal fiber mix for a luxurious blanket. The merino and alpaca are both soft and warm. The nylon is durable and resists stretching out of shape. The angora gives a hint of halo without obscuring the stitches. And the silk noils, which take dye so differently than the other fibers, give the yarn a shimmer that adds depth without glitz.
After a few attempts, I’d refined my two-triangle square to give it equal amounts of both colors (oddly enough, by using slightly more of the second color), and four nice sharp corners.
Since I was working in garter stitch, for increasing I used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s make one: create a backward loop with the working yarn over the right needle. When you encounter this loop on the following row, knit it through the back.
It’s quick, it’s simple, and in garter stitch fabric it pretty much disappears.
Here’s my recipe for one 5.5 inch square.
Gauge: 4 sts / 8 rows = 1 inch
Yarn: Kenzie by Hikoo (50% New Zealand Merino, 25% Nylon, 10% Angora, 10% Alpaca, 5% Silk Noils; 160 yds per 50g skein). Color 1: 1002 (Grey Salt), Color 2: 1013 (Tekapo).
With C1, cast on 3 sts.
Row 1 (RS) Knit.
Row 2 (WS) Slip first stitch as if to purl with yarn in front, make 1, knit 1, make 1, knit 1. (2 stitches increased.)
Row 3 (RS), Slip first stitch as above. Knit across, knitting the increases from the previous row through the back.
Row 4 (WS). Slip first stitch as above, make 1, knit to last stitch, make 1, knit 1. (2 stitches increased.)
Repeat rows 3 and 4 until you complete the WS row that gives you 35 stitches.
Break C1, leaving 5-inch tail.
NOTE: Do not slip the first stitches of these rows.
Row 1 (RS). Join C2. Knit across, knitting the increases from the previous row through the back.
Row 2 (WS). Knit across.
NOTE: Your shaping rows will now be right side rows.
Row 1 (RS). Slip first stitch as above, slip-slip-knit, knit to last 3 sts, k2tog, k1. (2 stitches decreased.)
Row 2 (WS). Slip first stitch as above, knit across.
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until you complete the WS row after decreasing to 5 sts.
End of Square
Row 1 (RS). Slip first stitch as above, slip 2 stitches together as if to knit, knit the next stitch, pass the slipped stitches over the knit stitch. Knit the final stitch. (2 stitches decreased; 3 stitches remain.)
Row 2 (WS). Bind off as follows: slip first stitch as above, knit the following stitch, pass slipped stitch over–2 stitches. Knit the next stitch, pass the previous stitch over–1 stitch. Break C2 and pull end through.
Block and weave in ends.
Play With Your Blocks
This patch is wildly versatile. It can be arranged in so many different ways that entire books have been devoted to it. I knit sixteen–which was, in itself, a milestone for me–and spent a pleasant afternoon arranging them in different ways.
These aren’t nearly all the possible combinations–just some I that I tried. I love a project that allows you experiment with changes in direction as you move along. The first thing you try out is so seldom the thing that works best.
Mind you, this is still not a blanket. It’s just a pile of squares. They need to be sewn together, and there needs to be more of them. Many more. Many, many more.
We’ll talk about that in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Kenzie by Hikoo (50% New Zealand Merino, 25% Nylon, 10% Angora, 10% Alpaca, 5% Silk Noils; 160 yds per 50g skein). Colors 1002 (Grey Salt) and 1013 (Tekapo).
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His new book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book has just been brought out by Soho Publishing.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.