Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dorcas from Illinois: Child's Knitted Sash

Dorcas from Illinois wrote a cute pattern for a child's knitted sash in last week's column:

"Child's Knit Sash
This sash is pretty knit of worsted to match a flannel dress for little girls. Cast on a hundred and twenty-five stitches, knit round and round like the leg of a stocking, without widening or narrowing, for a length of two and a quarter yards. Dampen and press flat. Draw up the ends and finish with a ball or tassel. It takes about five and a half ounces of worsted for one."

I was emailed a comment by an anonymous reader that they were wondering how I surmised that this was a fine yarn in small needles. Well, I'm glad I was asked! Sometimes its best to just trust the writer of the pattern and go for it and see what happens, but other times, its much better to think and then knit.

Let's start with what we know:
-"knit of worsted"
-"125 stitches"
-"knit round and round like the leg of a stocking"
-"length of two and a quarter yards"
-Drawn up ends tied with tassel
-"five and a half ounces of worsted for one"

I admit...I totally read by the comment "of worsted" when I typed this one up. To the modern knitter in the USA, "worsted" signifies a weight class of yarn, signified by its most famous version, Red Heart Super Saver (RHSS). We've all seen it and used it. Its okay - you can admit it!

But prior to the 1950s when RHSS came on the scene, we have to go back to the beginning of what worsted yarn truly is. When spinning wool, there are different ways to spin the yarn. Worsted actually refers to the type of spinning, not the weight. Check this link out. About halfway down, you'll see the "soft woolen yarn" and the "worsted yarn" - see the difference? It really means a smooth, evenly spun yarn.

So we're back at square one. But we have some clues that will help us figure this out:
-"125 stitches"
-"five and a half ounces"
-"knit round and round"
-"two and a quarter yards"

We know this is 125 stitches, knit in the round, and uses 5.5 ounces of yarn.  If you're thinking about the structure of a sash, you'll know they are worn horizontally. 2.25 yards would be extremely tall if we were knitting this from top to bottom, so we know we are knitting side to side. 125 stitches in worsted weight yarn would have been very bulky, so we know it would have had to be smaller weight than that! So I can pull out my handy chart of vintage yarn sizes and see 4 ply - single zephyr yarn - now known as fingering. That seems like it could be right - 125 stitches would be about 1.5 times the size of the average sock, so that would make a wide, but not uncomfortable belt.

We don't have a needle size, so the only thing we can really do is guesstimate, and then figure out if it was 5.5 ounces. Regarding the needles, this would have been done on double pointed needles, as circular knitting needles were not invented until the 20th century. We're still about 40 years too early for them - which also helps us indicate the size, as the thin double points from this time period are all small in size, not bulky. The largest I've ever seen in a museum are for DK weight yarn, no bigger than a size six.

In the end, all you'd then need to do is either work the maths to see if you're right, or work a swatch to see if the knitted fabric looks correct to you. Our knitting ancestors tended to teach each other the intuitive knowledge to be able to feel if the fabric is right, something that many of us lack now, so I recommend swatching.

Good luck with your sash, anonymous reader! I wish you well.


Cindy AKA ChessWidow said...

This is very educational! Thank you for writing this up. :)

Cindy AKA ChessWidow said...

Thank you for writing this up. It's very educational and now I think I can figure some of the old patterns out myself. :)