Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Design: Monet Mitts

Strong color variegation and color pooling make for two of the trickiest challenges in knitting, in my book. I love the sight of bright blues and muted browns in the same skein, or bright pinks and subtle greens together. Yet when they are knit up, often I am disappointed in the awkward color pooling or a muddy mix of the shades in the colorway. True, it’s a personal-preference thing—lots of knitters love that look—but I know many knitters who sadly turn down a creatively dyed skein because, like me, they’re worried about how the end product could ever be something they’d enjoy.

After shopping at a professional dyer’s studio on vacation this summer, I walked away in possession of two skeins of yarn with sharp contrast: deep blues to lime green, and bright pinks to yellows. For me it was an unusual choice, but an idea occurred to me. What if you use a particular stitch to deliberately pool the colors and highlight certain shades?

The colors of the blue-to-green skein put me in mind of Monet’s Nymphéas series of paintings - you know, the ones with the water lilies. The inexact nature of impressionist depiction is helpful, because it concentrates more on how light hits objects at a particular moment in time rather than sharp, clear lines delineating each object.

From this concept, I created the Monet Mitts.

They are standard fingerless gloves with 2x1 ribbing at the cuff and top edge and a gusset for the thumb. Wherever I encountered three or four inches of lime green in the yarn, I made a daisy stitch to bring out the color. After, I used bits from the pink-to-yellow skein to embroider small blooms on the lily pads.

Here is an image from Monet’s Nymphéas (1904), for comparison:

This concept could be made to work with a variety of colorways to create the impression of clouds against the sky, wildflowers sprinkled across a meadow, or any other irregular color patterns occurring in nature.

What follows is more of a tutorial than a pattern, because it relies so heavily on a specific type of yarn that may not be widely available.

I used Sweetgeorgia Yarns Superwash Sport in the Lake Park colorway for these gloves; again, it’s not a mass-produced yarn, so keep your eyes out for another yarn that would work. You’ll know you’ve got a good yarn if the contrast color (the one you want for your “lily pads”) appears in sections of about three or four inches for lighter weight yarns, and up to six inches for worsted yarns. The contrast color should occur roughly once every twelve to thirty-six inches. I don’t possess enough skill as a dyer to create my own yarn for this sort of project, but for those dyers who do, this is the basic look you want in your yarn.

Here's a picture of how long a stretch of contrasting color you'll be looking at for this stitch pattern:

I’ll write up the directions for these exact gloves at the bottom, but keep in mind that the technique can be applied to most any knitted project you please: gloves, hats, cowls, even sweaters if you’re so inclined. Refer to designers such as Ann Budd or Elizabeth Zimmerman who have provided reliable basic templates for knitted garments.

For gloves, cast on the required number of stitches, and knit the first round in regular ribbing. After that first round, you can begin with the daisy stitch each time you come across a section of contrast color.

Daisy stitch: k3tog but keep stitches on left needle, yo, and k3tog into same three stitches.

On the following round, when you get to the daisy stitch, just knit across the tops of all three stitches. If you’re in the ribbing section, still knit across the top of the daisy stitch; wait until the following round to return to the ribbing.
Don’t work any daisy stitches on your bind-off round.

Now, not to be confusing, but to make those little blooms, take a yarn in a sharply contrasting color and do what cross-stitchers refer to as a "lazy daisy stitch." Yup, daisies all around. All you do is make a loop, and before pulling the yarn all the way through, you catch it with the needle.

You know what? Here's a tutorial. :) Main thing is, do two of them overlapping.

Here’s a close-up of the (lazy) daisy stitch(es):

Here are some “special situations” you might encounter:

The yarn has me lined up to knit a daisy stitch directly on top of another daisy stitch. You can either knit across and let the contract color blend in with the daisy stitch below, or you can go ahead and k3tog into the lower daisy stitch. The result of the second option will look messy, but it might also be something that works if you’re looking for an impressionist-like effect.

The section of contrast color is too long for the three stitches of the daisy stitch. Try wrapping the yarn around the right needle an extra time on your YO. That will create four loops from the daisy stitch; when you come around again on the next round, treat that middle loop as you would a drop-stitch, and only knit into one loop. Let the other go loose, which will in turn loosen up the entire daisy stitch.

Here's what the four-loop stitch daisy stitch will look like, while the loops are still live:

If you have even more of the contrast color to work with, then you can k3tog, yo, k3tog, yo, k3tog, which will create five loops from a single daisy stitch. This increases two stitches, so on the next round, knit the rightmost loop of the daisy stitch together with its neighbor to the right, and do a ssk with the leftmost loop of the daisy stitch and its neighbor to the left. That will decrease two stitches, giving you the correct number overall.

Daisy stitch makes my knuckles hurt. Mine, too. Sorry to hear it. Put the project down for a day and go work on some therapeutic lace instead.

For those looking for a basic glove pattern, here is what I did, in plain English.

I cast on 36 stitches and knit one round in 2x1 ribbing. I knit 2.25 inches of ribbing, then increased one (to get to an odd number) on the first round of stockinette.

After that first stockinette round, knit halfway around (in my case, 18 stitches). Place a marker, incr 1, k1, incr 1, place a marker, and knit to the end. Knit two rounds.

Now increase one stitch at each marker every three rounds until you have a total of 49 stitches. This creates your thumb gusset. Knit more stockinette until the gloves are long enough for your hands—usually another three rounds—and put the thumb stitches on some scrap yarn. Knit the hand in stockinette until it’s 6.75 inches, increasing every three rows until you have 39 stitches. Knit six rounds of 2x1 ribbing, and bind off with a Russian cast-off, or another loose or stretchy bind-off technique.

Go back to the thumb and pick up the 13 stitches, plus a few on the inside of the thumb to close up the gap between thumb and hand. Knit four rounds of stockinette, decreasing once each round until you have 15 stitches. Knit two rounds of 2x1 ribbing, and bind off as above.


Mary said...

These are truly beautiful, Elizabeth... thank you so much for sharing your tutorial! :)

Clumsy Knitter said...

Those are AWESOME! I'm super impressed with the way you made that yarn work. The finished result looks fantastic!!!

Gena said...

Genius! The finished mitts are so beautiful, and I must make myself a pair asap.

MizLu said...

Fantastic! Such a creative idea and a beautiful finished product. The mitts really do resemble the Monet paintings.

Adriana said...

That is so cool!! I need to look through my stash of yarn and maybe dye some if I don't have anything appropriate.

thatcaptjim said...

Absolutely BEAUTIFUL, Elizabeth! I'm impressed with your quick thinking to make use of the colors in the yarn! Why can't I be that clever?

Adrienne Martini said...

These are gorgeous. Well done.

Elizabeth B. said...

Those mitts are lovely.

I just picked up my copy of Interweave Weekend and read your essay, "The Responsible Knitter", and then promptly called my mother and read it to her over the telephone, and she was lauging so hard she couldn't talk. She thought I'd written it and was talking about myself! It's nice to know I'm not the only one who struggles with housework vs. knitting vs. stash vs. budget. I think I have a tin of marbles around here somewhere.... :)

knitsandroses said...

Love, love, love them. You are fabulous

knitsandroses said...

Hi, I love the fingerless mittens.
Since I do not have any way to get the yarn I so appreciate it if you can provide the guage and the size needles that you use. Thanks you so much

E. Cobbe said...


I used size 4 dpns and sportweight yarn. However, bear in mind that this stitch motif would work well with many wieghts of yarn. If you can figure out how many stitches around you need for your hat/gloves/whatever, then you can put the overall idea to use.

Kara said...

Oh my goodness! Amazing! They really do capture the beauty of the water lilies. So so lovely.

Michele Hayes said...

Elizabeth, a friend found your pattern (or tutorial) because our shop is doing a "Mid-winter with the Masters theme. She made modifications so we can use Pagewood Farms sock yarn, and we are planning a knit along at our shop (The Clay Purl in Nashville, Indiana) in a couple of weeks. We will link to your blog, and give you the credit--thanks for sharing this.