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Learn to knit! La bonne tricoteuseDiY knitterTechniques with T
FeltingToesOut of ChaosSweater curse?Fiber festivalsStart early

Irreverant Discourse and Q&A with Bonne Marie Burns of

Ooh la la, this is my favorite time of year. Let's shout it out together:
"It's Sweater Weather!!!"

Whether wearing them or making them, La Bonne Tricoteuse is in her ultimate element in the late autumnal northern hemisphere. The only problem is that she can't knit as fast as the ideas are coming to her.

If your mail is any indication, this seems to be the case with a lot of Knitty readers! Thanks for all the great e-mails and questions you've sent my way. I've answered a lot of you individually but here are a few for the round table:

From reader Afton Koontz: How come when you felt an item, the rows [how long it is] shrink more than the stitches [how wide it is] and sometimes it's even shrinking all around?

La Bonne Tricoteuse: If this were CSI, I'd have my man Bill Peterson [whom I actually went out with once when I was too young to know better] put a piece of yarn under his microscope and let you take a look. You would see that wool is made up of vertically overlapping scales. These scales make the wool [or the hair of any mammal, like alpaca or goat] have a natural springing characteristic. The diameter of the fiber stays stable.

To make yarn, you take long fibers and combine them in a twisting process called spinning to merge and lengthen the fibers into one continuous piece. So when you shrink a fiber, you are naturally making smaller the structure that CAN change. The scales stack up tighter on each other but the diameter changes much less. Heat and agitation with abrasion cause felting. Different yarns felt differently depending on the fibers used and the way they are spun. I felt things by washing them in hot water with two pairs of blue jeans and a little Dawn Dish soap. Scrubbing Hot Bubbles = Felting.

editor's note: For more on felting, take a look at Kathy Wortel's article in this issue of Knitty.

From reader Martha Uniack:
I love Mon Tricot. I have been trying to find out if they still publish. Do you know?

La Bonne Tricoteuse: Unfortunately Mon Tricot is no longer. But it will live forever on eBay! Try this URL. I love the Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionaries [around $8.00].

From reader Maggi Tinsley: I have a sweater I knitted in the mid-'80s and I'm thinking I'd rather it was another garment. The yarn is delicious and was expensive, so I don't want to lose it, but the cable doesn't even show because it's tweedy [silk/wool blend in turquoise/purple], and the cardigan is too big, and one sleeve was just made wrong so even though I've re-seamed it trying to fix, all that's left is more bulk. Can I take the whole thing apart almost 20 years later? My one expert-knitter friend opines no: "I think the yarn is so set in its present form that it would look awful reknitted." Say it isn't so.

La Bonne Tricotuese: You have struck platinum with La Bonne. I am the Diva of Deconstruction! The Reigning Queen of Reconstitution. The Frog Princess of all time!

The process, done carefully and patiently on wool or wool-blend yarns, will eventually yield a brand new garment.
1. Take out all seams carefully. Use a darning needle to help undo knots.
2. Unravel the knitted piece slowly. At the same time, wind the yarn around a cardboard box about 12-18 inches high, 12 inches wide, and about 2 inches thick. You are making skeins, so when you have a decent handful of yarn on the box, tie it in four places with scrap yarn loops. I trim all the loops except the one nearest the free end of the yarn so I can find it easily later.
3. When all your yarn is skeined, fill a big sink with lukewarm water and add a couple of handfuls of shampoo [after all, wool is hair!]. I like to use Mane'n'Tail Shampoo & Conditioner for washing all my sweaters.
4. Soak your skeins for ten minutes. By this time you will witness the MIRACLE of the relaxation of the loops and start screaming. [Uh, maybe not if you're not me.]
5. Swish them around a little and let soak another 10 minutes.
6. To rinse, drain the sink, refill it and add a couple of handfuls of hair conditioner. Let soak for 10 minutes.
7. Gently lift and squeeze out excess water and put the skeins in a bucket or bowl so water doesn't get all over.
8. Lay out the skeins flat on a towel and roll up. Leave for one hour.
9. Lay out the skeins on a new dry towel and let air dry overnight or until completely dry. Some people hang their skeins but I find this puts too much stress on the yarn and destroys its elasticity.
10. Wind 'em up, baby, and make yourself a brand new sweater.

From reader Katie: I was wondering which type of increase would be best to use here, where it says "Increase 1 st each end of every 6th row 5 times: 90 [96, 103, 110, 115] sts." Also, where it says "Armholes and Neckline Bind off . . . Dec 1 st at each side every other row etc." does this mean using four needles? Two for each shoulder part?

La Bonne Tricoteuse: Oh goody! We get to go visit the fun folks over at DnT. They generously provide the internet knitter with some animated demos which will take the mystery out of increasing and decreasing.

La Bonne prefers the Make-One increase, which uses the "bar" of yarn between stitches on the previous row. You can see it in action here. This increase is both easy to do and almost invisible after working.

When you are binding off at each edge, you use two needles as usual. Just increase or decrease at the beginning and end of the specified row, and then continue in pattern.

If there is some center shaping to be made, you still use two needles but do one side at a time. The side you're not working on is kept on a stitch holder until you're ready to work with it. Then you just slip the stitches off the holder and back on your needle and continue shaping.

© 2002 Bonne Marie Burns