Author Archive for Faythe

My Victorian Money Bag Is Finally Done!

My Victorian Money Bag Is Finally Done!

So remember that money bag I started a while ago? I finally finished it! It’s supposed to have a simple ring inserted around it, but I didn’t happen to have any that weren’t gold (my mom prefers silver), save for this skull ring I got for Halloween a few years ago. My mom isn’t into the skulls, so I only put it on the bag so everyone could see what it should look like all finished. When I send it to my mom it’ll have a plain silver ring in the same spot, plus a little silver button ornament for the bottom of the bag.

Finished Money Bag. The Skull is the size of a quarter.

For my next project, my package from the completely awesome Undergardener arrived just in time. She had mentioned that she had some laceweight wool she had spun up, but had no use for and offered to send it to me. I, of course jumped at the offer, and when I opened up my package and saw this, I was super excited!

Handspun laceweight wool. Quarter included for scale.

This yarn is the perfect size AND color for making some lace edging. I plan on buying a plain handkerchief, knitting up just the right length of edging I need, and then hand sew the edging onto the hanky. Then, when I send it to my mom I can include some smelling salts so she can daintily use it to revive herself after she dramatically faints onto her couch from the shock of reading about my latest crazy exploits on my blog!

Starting Over

Starting Over

So…you know that stocking I had started? The one where I had knit only half of an inch in two hours because the yarn and needles were so small? Well, I just couldn’t take the idea of having to knit on it for forever and then having to make a whole other stocking after I finished it, so I unraveled it. As a knitter, the pain of being forced to realize that a project you are working on is not going the way you’d like and having to admit defeat is like having your heart ripped out! So the decision to frog and start over is never taken lightly.

Because it takes so much time to knit items on needles so small, I realized that I really did need to limit myself to items that were also small, like purses and lace edgings and probably another set of mittens in the future.  However, just in case you’re thinking that I totally pussed out I just want you all to know that for my grand finale I will still be knitting up a Victorian Undervest out of pure silk (I should have saved up enough money to buy the yarn for it by the end of the year).

Anyway, so on to my new, smaller project. I chose to knit up a Money
Bag.  The pattern comes from Interweave Knit’s reissuing of the Weldon’s Practical Knitter series.  The money bag pattern is in the volume one, fourth series book. The best part is that they’ve converted these old patterns into pdfs, and you can simply download them onto your computer.

So tiny!

The Money Bag required the same yarn and needle size as the stockings, so I got busy with my size 0000 needles and looked forward to casting on. Little did I know that the way the bag was constructed, from the bottom up would cause me huge amounts of grief!  The pattern told me to cast 8 stitches onto 3 needles (3 stitches on two needles with 2 on the third needle) and then knit a round before starting in on the increases. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to do an increase stitch with tiny needles and tiny yarn, but I couldn’t really make out the bit of yarn between stitches to make the increase. Adding to that was the problem of only having 3 stitches on needles that are 8 inches long and slippery because they’re steel. I had to cast on 6 times before I was able to get past the problems of having needles fall out of the stitches or dropping a stitch while trying to increase next to it. I had nearly given up, ready to take the needles and stab something, anything (it’s a good thing my boyfriend was out in the office) but my 6th cast on attempt thankfully turned out stable enough for me to continue.

Then I noticed something. This bag was looking mighty tiny. I wondered if perhaps my gauge was off, and I had picked the wrong needles. I checked my needle size and it was correct. Then I really looked over the pattern, and when I got to the part about how to make the handle I realized that this bag was supposed to be tiny. It says “cast on 8 stitches and knit a strip of 2 inches in length in garter”.  Two inches!  Then I reread the part about adding a ring to the bag. When I had first glanced over the pattern I had thought to myself, “Where am I going to find a ring big enough for this bag?” Well, it turns out that when they say “slip a gilt ring over the top” they really did mean the size of ring that fits onto your finger!

Now, call me stupid, but then I couldn’t figure out why a bag that one would use to carry money in would be so tiny.  I had to really puzzle over this until it finally dawned on me that this was over 200 years ago, and money went a hell of a lot farther back then. At the most, most people would only need to carry a few cents around, and hardly anyone, unless they were super rich would even be using paper money!  So wow. Now I can’t wait to finish making this, and you can see how small it’s going to be by the picture I’ve taken, using a quarter for scale.

It's actually inside out right now.

Two Hours Into What Seems Like Infinity

Two Hours Into What Seems Like Infinity

It seems that back in Victorian times, silk was the fiber of choice to knit with. Silk undervests, stockings, mittens, lace–you name it, it was knit with silk. I made the mistake of trying to knit with silk when I first learned how to knit (like the very next day after I had just learned to knit, purl and cast on–I really should have known better) nearly 4 years ago and it ended in a disaster of EPIC proportions. I still break out in a sweat whenever I think about The Incident That Shall Not Be Named, Unless You Want To Die. Anyway, so when I found this out, I was a little anxious. I knew my knitting skills had progressed enough to where I wouldn’t have to worry about a second disaster, so I was all prepared to meet the challenge head on. Then my challenge met my wallet, and my wallet bitch-slapped my challenge straight into a future month or year where I’ll actually have lots of money to spend.

Turns out that over 120 years later, 100% silk laceweight yarn is expensive (When I mean expensive, I mean at least $50 a skein expensive and it would take 2-4 skeins to make anything besides a pair of mittens or a bag) Too expensive for my budget and grand knitting ideas, so while I’ve been able to buy the correct needle sizes, I have been unable to buy the correct yarn fiber. My mom finally told me what colors she preferred, so armed with this information I hit up my local yarn store hoping to find some cobweb lace yarn (cobweb means it’s super skinny) that wasn’t alpaca (too fuzzy) or expensive.

At first I was annoyed that my mom had chosen such blah colors (light grey and cream), but when I located some undyed (which happens to be cream colored, yesssssss!)100% merino lace weight yarn for only 6.95 a skein, I immediately felt much better and scooped up 3 of them pronto. I had also picked up a pair of size 0000 (1.25mm) needles, so I was now ready to begin my next Victorian knitting project–a pair of lady’s stockings. Actually, a pair of “Lady’s Ribbed Stockings no. 2″ to be exact.

Last month I had purchased a great pamphlet titled “Weldon’s Practical Stocking Knitter (Third Series)” that was originally published in 1886. At first I wanted to make the “Gentleman’s Bicycle Stockings” because they had cables in them, but then I got hold of my senses and figured that it would be hard enough knitting with such small needles, why add cabling tiny yarn to the mix? Plus, I’m pretty sure back in Victorian times any ladies who would wear stockings intended for gentlemen would be heartily frowned upon, and I thought it’d be more accurate to keep gender stereotypes intact.

American Idol was coming on, and it was a 2 hour show last night, so I figured it’d be the perfect time to sit down and cast on for the stockings. Imagine my intense dismay when the 2 hours flew by and this is all I had to show for it.

Knitting Victorian stockings isn’t necessarily hard, I discovered especially since they’re pretty much made exactly the way top down socks are made today (just a lot longer and with decreases for calf shaping), but with such small needles and tiny yarn it takes forever. And the worst part is that once I finish the first one, I’ll have to make one more! I just can’t win.

The First Mitten Is Done, & Now I’m All Fired Up

The First Mitten Is Done, & Now I'm All Fired Up

The first thing I have to report is that I finished the first mitten.  I have to say, other than wishing I could have used different yarn (I can’t afford to buy 100% silk laceweight yarn right now, so using what I already have is necessary at this time) because the alpaca fuzz obscures the pattern too much for my taste–I’m pretty happy with how it came out.  It’s so delicate and airy and not at all what would have come to mind when thinking of mittens. I guess these kinds of mittens were worn for fashion reasons, because I’m not sure if these would actually keep my hands warm if it were below freezing.

The palm side of the Lady's Fancy Mittens.

The top side of the Lady's Fancy Mittens.

Now that I’m done with the first mitten, I’m on the prowl for a new project.  I’ve done some preliminary internet searches, and I came across what I consider to be a quite decent sized list of Victorian pattern books that people have taken the time to scan in every single page of each book and they are now available to download as pdfs. Genius!  All the books are ones that are in the public domain, probably because they’re so old. I also managed to find a  handy needle conversion chart, so now I know exactly which needles to use when I read the pattern instructions.

The last thing is that I went ahead and ordered two more sets of needles. I chose to order the two smallest sizes.  The needles arrived in the mail on Friday, and Holy Crap!

The penny is there for scale.

The top needle is the smallest size I’m used to using (size #1), and I like to make socks with them. It’s 2.25mm in diameter. The last two needles are the new ones. The middle one is a size 000-000 and it’s .75mm in diameter. The bottom needle is the one that’s really freaking me out. I am completely and utterly terrified by it. It’s a size 0000-0000 and only .5mm!

Also, I just want to say how glad I am that I decided to become part of this blog.  I’d never really given much thought to Victorian patterns before, but now that I’ve decided to go all in I find my interest in knitting has skyrocketed. Not that I’m not always excited to knit, but it’s like the heady excitement I had when I first learned how to knit and knit successfully is back!  I’m happily spending hours pouring over Victorian patterns and daydreaming about making delicate silk undergarments. I’m so excited about all the knitting projects that will be ahead of me this year and I’m even starting to think about continuing on with Victorian knitting even after 2010 is over.

Deciding to Go Hardcore

Deciding to Go Hardcore

I was hoping to show a lot more progress on the fancy lady’s mittens by now, but the problem is that a) I try to have a life (and other hobbies) outside of knitting and b) I’m still trying to finish up projects I started last year.  It’s not like I haven’t made progress, as you can see by my pictures below. I mean, I’m past the thumb gusset and finally at the point where it’s easy knitting the rest of the way until I start doing decreases to close off the mitten and finishing up the thumb.   Now that I’m past the gusset, I’ve got the pattern memorized and I’m not afraid of losing my concentration anymore.

Top of Glove

Palm Side of Glove

However, I have also been doing more research on knitting in the Victorian era, and what I have discovered scares me.  Earlier I found out that women tended to knit stuff like lace, doilies,  stockings or gloves–things that require tiny needles and thin yarn. I didn’t realize how thin and tiny until I decided to look into the whole “knitting silk” issue.  Turns out they weren’t kidding about knitting all that stuff with yarn made from 100% silk! I don’t know if any of you have ever knit with silk before, but depending on how it’s processed it can be super slippery.  Now imagine trying to knit slippery yarn using metal needles! The needles they used were so small they couldn’t make them out of wood, so metal is the only option available.  Then I found out how a lot of women found it fashionable to knit little beaded evening purses with yarn so thin it was the size of sewing thread! I just about fell off my chair, and if I were the type to wear pearls I would have clutched them!

At this point, it has become obvious that I have to make a decision. Do I really want to knit such complicated things? If so, that means I’d have to buy the right yarn and needles and devote a lot of time to finding projects that won’t take forever to make and that also won’t be so hard to understand that they’d make me want to kill someone. I don’t usually plan out what I want to knit in advance, but since I enjoy a knitting challenge I thought it’d be in the best interests of this blog to step up and make an effort. And so, I have decided to go all in.  That’s right, 2010 is going to be the year of Victorian knitting!  For my grand finale I think I will even attempt to try my hand at making one of those insanely complicated beaded evening purses, although I’m not going to go completely crazy and make one with a mosaic design that has 400 beads knitted into a square inch. No thanks, I’d like to keep what remains of my already thin grasp on my sanity! As a comparison note, if I were to add beads to the mittens I’m making now, they’d only have 100 beads per square inch.  However, the upside of committing to this whole adventure is that my mother will probably be very happy because she’ll be the recipient of everything I make, and it’ll make any knitting I do after 2010 seem like a total breeze!

Knitting From History, Part One.

Knitting From History, Part One.

When I first agreed to write something for TQS, I wasn’t sure what angle I was going to approach the Victorian theme from. I knew it would probably have something to do with knitting, but that was about it. I briefly thought about copying knit items I’d seen in TV shows and movies about the era (like Mary Poppin’s scarf), but decided that wasn’t good enough. If I was going to do this, I should be completely true to the era.

And so it was that I found myself searching for authentic knitting patterns from the 1800s.  I soon realized that it was going to be harder to follow through on than I thought.  I tend to knit things like sweaters, gloves, socks and hats–which aside from the gloves–are NOT things that Victorians knit at all!  Victorians didn’t really knit clothing, they knit very delicate lacy things, things like doilies and stockings and edgings for their dresses. Things that require needles so small that if I failed at knitting with them I could always try my hand at acupuncture instead! Needles so small that I didn’t think anyone even made needles that small anymore. Actually, I was relieved to find out that there are companies that still make tiny needles, and I plan on purchasing the last 5 sizes I need for future projects, the smallest one being 0000-0000 (.5mm).

Even after finding this out, like a fool I still thought it’d be a good challenge. I found a pattern that looked relatively easy–patterns from the Victorian era assumed that you weren’t an idiot and knew what you were doing. They didn’t bother explaining every last little detail like patterns do nowadays. Nope, they figured that if you were going to knit something you were already an expert. Which, to be fair is rather refreshing but at the same time a little frustrating, especially when they didn’t use the same terms that we do now. It took me 20 minutes to figure out that when it says “throw thread over” in my pattern, that they actually meant I was supposed to do what we call now a “yarn over”.

Anyway, so my first project is a pattern called  Lady’s Fancy Mittens (http://www.victorian-embroidery-and-crafts.com/fancy_mittens.html). It was published in Art Needlework in 1895 by Brainerd & Armstrong.  There were several modifications I had to make, the first being that I did not own the tiny size 0000 needles required for the pattern. The smallest size needles I had were the next size up, size 000 needles. Thankfully I had some lace weight yarn already, but it wasn’t knitting silk like the pattern called for. Frankly, I don’t know if “knitting silk” is really made out of just silk or not and that’s something I plan to look into because I am skeptical. I could also be wrong, but I’m used to that.  I also had to size down the pattern because my first attempts came out a little too large—although I should have known since I was using needles .25mm larger and I tend to knit rather loosely in the first place.

I’m slowly making progress on these mittens. I’m not used to knitting with such small needles, and it’s taking forever. The stitches are so tiny that it makes me want to scream and I can’t even imagine having to knit something like this by lamplight.  I have a feeling that once I finish the first mitten there won’t even be a second one. I was planning on giving them to my mom when I was done with the pair since she’s also really into the Victorian stuff (she’s so serious about it that she even has two Victorian outfits), but I might wind up having to befriend a one handed woman instead!

Stay tuned for Part Two, when I finally finish at least one mitten.