Wednesday, 24 June 2009

From Hank To Ball And Beyond

On Monday I ordered some wool from my favourite online wool store. I knew that I was going to have to wait a couple of weeks for some of it because it is not yet in the country, but the rest of the order arrived yesterday. In the package was a hank of wool that is to be used to knit a shawl/blanket and a knitting pattern for a tunic-length waistcoat that incorporates a stitch that I have never done before. I don't have the wool yet for the waistcoat because I needed to see the pattern so that I could see the finished measurements and determine how much yarn was needed for my size.

These days, most of the knitting yarn that you buy is pre-wound into balls, but when you buy yarn produced by independent dyers who use hand-dying techniques it is usual for the yarn to come in the form of a hank. This was also the way that yarn was often bought when I was a child and I well remember the hours that I spent sat on a stool in front of my mother or grandmother with the hanks of yarn stretched between my hands as they wound the yarn into balls so that it was ready to knit with. As I grew older and my hands became larger sometimes the roles were reversed and it was I who wound the balls while my mother or grandmother held the hanks.

In those long ago days the yarn was bought in hanks that usually weighed one ounce each. If the yarn was double knitting weight, then it didn't take very long to wind each hank into a ball; 4-ply, being somewhat thinner, took longer. I'm not at all sure what the length of yarn in each of these hanks was because in those days manufacturers didn't give this sort of information. The hank that I received yesterday was laceweight (this is significantly thinner than 4-ply), weighed 8 ounces and comprised 2400 yards of yarn. You can see what it looked like here although I should say that while this is the colourway that I have chosen my hank has more orange and blue in it than the one shown; but that is the glory of hand-dyed yarns, no two are the same (I didn't buy here either, my favourite online store is the Woolly Workshop).

Yesterday evening I decided to have a change from knitting and crocheting. I decided that I was going to wind this hank into a ball. I have had a number of hanks of this yarn in various colourways over the last couple of years and I have tried various methods of carrying out this task. It is not easy having to do it one your own, and on almost every occasion I have ended up in a mess and had to break the yarn and have ended up with either two or three balls. I've tried doing it with the hank placed over the back of a chair but I find this is very wearing and because it requires me to stand for the whole time that I am winding the ball, it does cause me some discomfort in my back and is likely to end up with a recurrence of the sciatica from which I regularly suffer. I have found that the best way for me is to sit on my bed propped up with pillows and with my knees up in the air. This means that I can place the hank of yarn over my knees and move them apart until they are at a suitable distance for maintaining the hank in place while I wind the yarn from it onto the ball that I am creating.

Yesterday evening things went very well and the ball grew quickly but as it got larger it became more difficult to hold. While I have fairly large hands there is a limit to how far my fingers will stretch over an object and after about two hours of winding things slowed dramatically. However, I persevered and I was approaching the end of my task when a catastrophe occurred. As the hank now only comprised about 30 yards of yarn, it had no appreciable weight to it and when I somewhat carelessly forgot to move my arms around my legs as I was winding, the hank came off my knees and in a matter of seconds I was left with a knotted mass.

I could so easily have reached for a pair of scissors and cut the yarn, after all there was only a small proportion of the 2400 yards in this mess, but my stubborn streak was determined to unknot it and ensure that there was the full amount on the ball. It took me more than an hour but I succeeded and ended up with a ball 16 inches in circumference.

An Absolute Giant

Having managed to create the ball of yarn to work with, I couldn't resist sorting out the needles that I would need to knit the shawl. It starts with double-pointed needles and moves on to various lengths of circular needle as the shawl gets larger. The pattern that I am using is the one for the Shawl KAL that I did a few months back. However, this time I am adapting the pattern so as to create a square shawl rather than the more normal triangle. The pattern is also a lot less lacy in appearance than is normal for a shawl but I think that this will allow the wonderful colours that make up this yarn to be shown to their best advantage.

After a couple of false starts caused by the complexity of creating the initial circle of stitches that allow for the end to be pulled after a few rows have been knitted, thus creating a tight group of stitches at the centre with no visible hole, I managed to get things going. The shawl is growing at quite a rate at the moment because the pattern is relatively simple at present and easy to follow without much difficulty. As it is being knit 'in the round' it means that every row is a knit row which also helps to speed up growth. The pattern is only worked on alternate rows and on these rows an additional 8 stitches are added each time, 2 at each corner. It shouldn't be long before the number of stitches becomes too many to handle easily on double-pointed needles and I make the first transition to a circular needle. This will actually make it slightly easier to handle as I will no longer have to keep changing which needle I have in each hand, but at this point it becomes really important to make sure that I have stitch markers in place to indicate where the corners are, and more importantly which stitch is the start of the row.

This is going to be a project that only gets worked on occasionally at the moment. So it may take a while for it to grow appreciably larger. But I thought you might like to see what it looks like at the moment, so the photographs below show the shawl in all its present glory at approximately 4 inches square and against a background of the ball of wool so that you can see each in relation to the other.

A Multicoloured Beginning

An Indicator of Scale

While I have been drafting this post I have received email notification that some more of the yarn that I ordered on Monday (the sock yarn for the tunic) has been dispatched to me and the postman will probably be delivering that tomorrow. I do like having plenty of yarn in my stash and hopefully over the next couple of months I should be able to build up a supply that will last me through the winter and into next spring.

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