2020: Out With the Old — In With the New, by Deb Witwicki
Before the 19th Century, the most common knitted cast on in Europe was the thumb method according to A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt. Crochet chain and cable cast on were also used. Rutt notes that Victorian knitting books rarely included instructions for casting on. Presumably, knitters drew from one or two techniques passed down to them, which were often not ideal for the appearance and flexibility of the project, but provided a sturdy base upon which to build.
Early knitters by no means had the resources we have today but they were certainly resourceful. It is believed that the first items to be knit were stockings, which were created in Egypt seamlessly in the round. Ancient samples of knitting feature intricate colourwork and symbolic motifs. For example, a cushion from the tomb of the Infante Fernando de la Cerda from the late 13th Century, features a pattern of eagles and fleur-de-lys, and was knitted in stockinet at a gauge of 80 stitches to 10 centimetres!
Google to today: Interweave Knitting launched 2020 with an online course offering to teach 45 ways to cast on and cast off a project. Contemporary knitting patterns (much more highly detailed than their precursors) often specify a particular cast on and, if the crafter is unfamiliar, Internet sources are readily available to help them get those stitches on their needle in the prescribed way.
For the first column of the new decade, I asked Fibre Nook staff and instructors, “What do you value and retain from the traditional heritage of your craft and what excites you about the new things you have learned?”
Instructor Sandra Buzza, Fibre Nook sweater guru, says, “I’m afraid that I’m a person who embraces all the new ways of doing things. I think that (the popular knitting and crochet site) Ravelry and YouTube have revolutionized the knitting world and made it open to everyone.”
"The new needle technology has made knitting much easier and more ergonomic and there are all kinds of great software apps such as ‘Knit Companion’ that will help you keep track of all your pattern details. I also love all the new construction styles for garments, as they are mainly top down and seamless."
“I think the only things I truly value from the past are the knitting stitches themselves. I love all the old school Estonian and Orenburg lace styles and I’m a huge fan of the techniques from the Shetland Islands in Scotland: the Shetlanders are experts in stranded colourwork and Hap shawls in particular. I love to read books on knitting traditions, take the stitches from a past era and insert them into current projects in new and exciting ways.”
Sandra is a mainstay of The Fibre Nook knitting community who can usually be found Tuesday and Thursday afternoons knitting with the shop regulars. She teaches many classes in sweater construction, shawl work and socks as well as leading knit-alongs and blocking workshops.
Many Fibre Nook crafters have witnessed Learning Opportunities Coordinator Susan Chin unravel a single column of stitches down multiple rows to correct their mistakes and then use her crochet hook to flawlessly reassemble the work, with increases, decreases and shapings, back to where they left off. So it is little wonder that technique is at the top of her list for innovations she likes. “With all the ways to ‘make one’, a favourite of mine,” she says, “is ‘knit left loop’ (KLL) and ‘knit right loop’ (KRL). Unlike the more common ‘make one left’ (M1L) and ‘make one right’ (M1R), these increases use the purl bump from the back of the fabric a row below (rather than the bar between stitches). The bump is pulled up on the needle where a stitch is knit into it, for an increase of one. KLL/KRL creates a tight fabric with no gap forming where the increase is made and it follows the directionality of the fabric's knit columns.
“Another favourite of mine is brioche,” she notes. “It is an old stitch technique that's evolved and continues to change in new and exciting ways. Much of it started as one-colour hand knit tuck stitches that quickly became a standard set of stitches for domestic knitting machines. It was easier to machine knit most tuck stitches than to hand knit them. The current popular hand knit brioche stitch in two colours is fussy and not worth doing on a machine, which led this tuck stitch in particular to evolve back into hand knitting. Nancy Marchant and many other designers continue to push the envelope and create new variants of hand knit brioche. Nancy’s newest book release, Knitting Brioche Lace, was published in 2019.”
Susan schedules classes and instructors at The Fibre Nook and assists with creation of course content. She also puts the Learning Opportunities (Ops) brochures together, and photographs nearly all the pictures used for the shop's Learning Op listing on our website. She teaches classes in advanced knitting and crochet, including brioche, at The Fibre Nook, volunteer test knits for Stephen West (for whom she also sample knits) and a couple of other designers.
Susan says, “I think the ability to connect, share and conduct business online has been revolutionary for knitting and crochet overall. It has moved the industry far and fast. It's an exciting time to be in the knitting/crochet world.”