Rubies and Diamonds

Late in 2014, I saw this sweater in the Winter/Fall issue of Knit.wear magazine, and it totally grabbed me. I loved the length, drape and the diamond pattern created on the front and back. I figured it was in simple knits and purls. After taking a closer look, I discovered the sweater was made in a stitch called Half-Fisherman’s Rib. Similar to the Fisherman’s Rib, this stitch makes an extra yarn over on the wrong side of the fabric to which lands behind the knit stitch on the right side. I chose Diamond Pure Wool Worsted, in Burgundy, a gorgeous dark ruby red, which is a superwash yarn, and has lots of loft and bounce, with a good stiffness.  I cast on during my train ride on December 30th, and finished right before the 31st of March (and I knit a baby sweater in the midst of that). It’s four pieces, front, back, and two sleeves, and the Half Fisherman’s Rib is easy to get the hang of. There’s a small goof in the back section, but most people who’ve seen it in person say they can’t even see it. I also had to rip back 20 odd rows after making the decreases go / / instead of / \ to finish the diamond section. Luckily, both front and back are nearly identical to the neck shaping, so the front went much more quickly.

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Real Housewives of Montreal?

The finished sweater is super cozy and smooshy, the pattern stitch makes a spongy fabric with lots of drape. After finishing, seaming, I decided not to block it, that would tame the bottom pieces, but maybe before the fall, since I’m not going to wear it for a few months. I made a friend take some pics, to show off and put on my Ravelry page. We were able to get some nice ones including the Real Housewives ‘Welcome to our home’ shot above.

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Back with diamond detail. Can you spot the mistake?


“Textiles are very fascinating to people.”

I came across this great interview with Kaffe Fassett, textile designer, well known for his colourful and playful designs. Many of Fassett’s designs have been released with Rowan Yarns, which is based in England. His work is full of patterns, multicoloured excitement and joy. I didn’t know much about Fassett before this, I was just familiar with his work and style. He’s originally from California, where his mother and sister were knitters, but he didn’t learn until he moved to England. Originally a painter, Fassett takes inspiration from everything around him- see the quote below. In his use of colour, patterns and repetition, I see inspiration from artists like Sonia Delaunay, Gustav Klimt, and Wassily Kandinsky. Here’s the interview:


“There’s not a place on this earth that could be explored for fantastic inspiration.” -Kaffe Fassett

A Festival of Charity, Good Will and Domestic Harmony

For some reason I feel like people are really down for Christmas this year. Maybe 2014 has been a year of political unrest, significant advancements in technology, and just another year in the modern world, but the ‘Christmas Spirit’ whether it’s ironic or not, seems to be pervasive. There’s also about 15cm of snow on the ground, which makes it downright yuletastic. I thought it would be interesting to investigate the history and traditions of Christmas, in the days before Christmas, you know since 1822 or so it’s been a festival of charity, good will, and domestic harmony. (That one’s for you, Dad!)

For my first entry, I chose to look at the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which we also know as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, written by Clement Clark Moore, which is disputed, so it could have also been written by Henry Livingston Jr. Regardless, the bouncy cadence and jaunty characterization of St Nicholas clearly indicate this poem was composed for children.


‘Twas the Night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings* were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas* soon would be there.

*Before the Victorian era, Christmas had fallen out of fashion, (something that would never happen today) and even old folk traditions were rarely practised. English society and the Bank of England observed fewer and fewer holidays; 1761 the Bank of England closed for 47 holidays, and by 1834 that number had dropped to four. In 1833, the Factory Act ruled that workers in Britain were allowed only two holidays besides Sunday: Christmas and Good Friday.

A number of things brought Christmas back into vogue during the later half of the 17th century, one of which was images of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their brood celebrating Christmas- with a decorated Christmas tree, introduced to the country by the German-born Prince Albert. Moreover, the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843, kindled a greater interest in the Yuletide season. For the wealthy classes, Christmas was a time of feasting, parties, and good cheer. Even the poor, with their two holidays, were allowed Christmas suppers in their workhouses after the passing of an 1847 law. It also became a season of distributing charity to those less fortunate, unfortunately still referred to as ‘the poor’. Gifts and food boxes were distributed to needy folk of a parish or community, which is also the origin of the holiday on 26th of December known as ‘Boxing Day’ .

This was a season of gift giving, it is clear. After a picture of the Royal Family gathered around their Christmas tree was published in 1840, the Christmas tree tradition was revived by the middle classes. The tree was the epicentre of gift giving and receiving, covered in good things to eat, and small gifts. Since the tree was popular among middle classes, the working class families started to adopt the tradition of Christmas stockings, which was more affordable and convenient. And that’s why we have stockings..

*St Nicholas was a kind but secret gift giver from the 4th century, a saint who left coins in people’s shoes on the eve of feast day, December 6th. In the poem here, he’s called St.Nicholas, but most kids today, call him Santa Claus, or Santa. How did St.Nick transform into Santa Claus, you ask? The Dutch word for St.Nicholas is Sinterklaas, which was transfigured into St.Aclaus, Santeclaw, St.Claas, Sancte Klaas, etc. which turned him into the Santa Clause we know and love today. I’m not really sure I’d be into the gifts that Santaclaw would bring. Let us continue.


Getting rid of that New Coat Feel

This winter, don’t forget to take the label off the sleeve of your new wool coat, before its maiden voyage. Moreover, when you get it home, take a pair or scissors and cut the thread holding the back pleat together, as well as the threads holding the pockets closed. Stores do this because the coat hangs better, and keeps its New Coat Feel, but since you’re more active than a department store mannequin, bending, walking, sitting and, you know, moving, taking off this stuff will ensure a more positive coat experience!


Guest Post: Hair from Tail to Toe

Ask Fibres is delighted to present the first guest post on the site, written by Mary Jane McIntyre.

At a book launch for “Inside the Museums”  (1) that was held at Mackenzie House on Bond Street in downtown Toronto recently, I saw horsehair upholstered furniture.  Horsehair is a fibre one doesn’t see too often these days.  Mackenzie House was completed in 1858 and although the furniture cannot be traced to the Mackenzie family, it is representative of the time.

Horsehair is the long coarse hair from the mane and tail of the horse (pictured).  It can be cropped from live or dead horses.  The texture of horsehair can be influenced by the breed and management of the horse including diet and climate. (2)  The best horsehair comes from live horses.

Horsehair has had many uses: hat making, upholstery as fabric and stuffing, ropes for fishing lines, fishing mittens, rugs and sieves to name a few.  The horsehair is the weft or cross thread when woven into fabric but can be woven using it for warp and weft for sieves for milk and flour. (3)  Horsehair fabric was originally woven on handlooms where a child stood by the weaver and served him each hair.  In 1870, this child labour ended when the Education Act was passed ensuring all children in England went to school. (4)

Horsehair is a protein and can be dyed using dyes suitable for protein fibres.  Today, the most common uses are for brushes and upholstery stuffing. (5)  Horsehair upholstery long wearing and versatile.  at John Boyd Textiles, weavers of horsehair since 1837 in Castle Cary, Somerset, England, many designs and colours from the late 1800’s are still available and woven on the same looms!  Custom colours are a minimum order of 20 metres.  The width of the fabric is determined by the length of the hair, usually 26 inches (66 cms) or 22 inches (56 cms).

White horsehair from the tail is used for the ribbon of violin bows.  Stallion hair from Siberia is considered the best.  Usually, 150 to 200 hairs are incorporated into the ribbon of a violin bow.  Other instruments in the violin family have a wider ribbon so use more hairs.  Hairs may break during playing so the bow must be rehaired from time to time.  The hairs must be straight and strong.  Bows cost anywhere from $40. to several thousand dollars if made by a renowned bow maker.  The musician rosins the bow to have it move smoothly across the strings.

Where would you come across horsehair in daily life?  Most probably using brushes for painting, either decorative or artistic, and cleaning.  Horsehair brushes are used for sweeping and dust removal, take a look at the horsehair fireplace brush.  Pony hair brushes are used in forensics for fingerprint dusting.

Note from Ali: I used to work in a store that sold Aboriginal and Inuit art, jewellery and gifts from Canada, and once, the manager ordered some supplies to make jewellery, including a skein of horsehair. The horsehair arrived from Ontario held together nicely by the chunk of skin from the horse’s rump. Lovely. One of the most interesting uses for horsehair (to me) is its use in dancehall sprung floors. The horsehair provides padding and shock absorption to the floor, providing a more comfortable dancing experience. Two examples in Canada, are Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom (now hardwood) build in 1929, and Saskatchewan’s Danceland ballroom, a 5000 square foot ballroom, in Manitou Beach.

Danceland’s ballroom is made of 21 coils of horsehair, each about 60 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. The horsehair is twisted tightly, wrapped in burlap and wired. The horsehair is placed underneath the dancefloor, and can give up to an inch and a half during use. Incredible! Have you ever danced on a horsehair sprung floor?