30 Jul 2010

SUMMER OF LACE: Bronte Victorian Jacket by Marnie MacLean

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Successful Lace Knitting

DD: Marnie, thank you for submitting your work to be included in Successful Lace Knitting. Your designs are so different than anything I would ever do, with your focus on fashion and dressmaking details and mine on traditional knitting techniques, that it ads so much more dimension to the book. What inspired your design of this particular jacket?

MM: This decadent piece makes me think of cool winter evenings, curled up with a novel and a big cup of tea, sitting by a fire. But it’d be just as at home, worn over a long skirt, for a night out. I wanted to create something that was beautiful but entirely wearable, and that would flatter a multitude of figures.

The piece is knit quite long and uses darts and short rows for shaping, instead of relying on side shaping. Darts allow the shaping to be spread out more evenly around the garment, which is ideal for very shapely figures, as side shaping can cause unattractive puckers. Additionally, the darts add a vertical line that helps to slim the figure.

I have designed this piece to be almost totally seamless. If you’ve ever struggled to properly sew a sleeve into an armscye, you’ll really appreciate this technique. It’s based on Barbara Walker’s, Knitting from the Top, and it’s my absolute favorite technique for set in sleeves. The garment itself is knit from the bottom up, but don’t let that stop you from trying it on as you go.

The only seaming you will need to do, will be two short corners for the lace border. The border is worked in two parts to avoid having to deal with a very long needle. I find needles longer than 44 inches to be unwieldy. If you would prefer to work this garment totally seamlessly, instructions are included to work the lace border in the round.

DD: What stitch pattern did you use and why did you choose it?

SwatchMM: Dorothy Reade’s Candle Flame stitch is just lovely and produces a delightful scalloped edge. I wanted a motif that was large enough to be a centerpiece for the garment but with a small enough repeat to allow for use on many sizes.

DD: Did you make any changes to the chart, or use different decreases than Dorothy Reade used? If so, please explain the changes you made and your reasons behind them.

MM: The only changes I made are those I mentioned in the previous section.

DD: What yarn did you choose for your project? What made this yarn particularly well suited for this project specifically, and for lace knitting in general?

MM: The yarn used is Lorna’s Laces Lion and Lamb. This is a worsted weight singles made up of 50% silk and 50% wool. The silk ads a lovely drape and sheen to the yarn, while the wool gives the piece a bit more body and memory. The result is a next-to-the-skin soft fabric that subtly catches the light without being ostentatious. Once blocked, it shows off the lace and shaping beautifully. If you choose to substitute yarns, consider avoiding anything that can’t be blocked, such as acrylic. I’d also avoid 100% silk, cotton, or bamboo, all of which will tend to cause the lace to droop around the collar and will likely tend to grow and be unattractively heavy. Standard wools will work beautifully while llama type yarns might be a bit heavy.

Bronte Victorian Jacket

Bronte Victorian Jacket

DD: Do you have any special lace knitting tips related to your project?

MM: Several companies offer magnetic boards used to keep track of charts for needle crafts. I love these, especially when dealing with more complex charts. One may scan or photocopy the charts from the book, place them on the board and use the accompanying magnets to highlight only the row being worked.
Additionally, when working any sort of garment, I like to make a crib sheet for shaping. On a piece of graph paper, I determine which rows will require increasing or decreases and where. I set up a grid with columns headings for each shaping point (edge, front dart, back dart, inside neck, armsceye) and with row numbers. Then, any row that needs shaping, indicate the row number as a line item and mark the number of increases or decreases at each point, in the corresponding column. As I keep track of my rows with a row counter, I can quickly glance at my cheat sheet to see if I need to do any shaping. This is particularly useful when it comes time to shape both the neck and the sides or armscye.

DD: What kind of knitting needles do you prefer for lace knitting and what makes these needles work well for lace?

MM: As a general rule, I prefer very sharp points and very slick needles, unless the yarn is also very slick (for instance rayon). If I can only have one or the other, I’ll choose slick needles over sharp needles, since my gauge tends to be pretty average and I don’t need to struggle much to work decreases. For people who tend to knit tightly, I’d recommend sharp tapered points, such as Knit Picks Metal or Addi Lace. Or, for folks who like needles with a little grip, Knit Picks Harmony or Bryspun needles.

DD: Would you like to add any personal comments about designing this project? Perhaps you’d like to comment on any connection between Dorothy Reade’s foundation and your own creative spirit.

MM: When I taught myself to knit, after learning the basics, I jumped right to the lace section. I was smitten. Since then, no matter what I do, I always come back to knitting lace. Finding out that there was this, heretofore unknown (to me,) resource of additional lace stitches was a real treasure. I also find that some of my more creative work comes from working within certain rules and creating designs around a motif instead of picking a motif for a design, was a really fun exercise.

DD: Thank you again, Marnie. This is such a gorgeous design that is was chosen for the cover of the book and I’m sure Dorothy Reade would be thrilled with the way you used her motif in sucn an original fashion.

Marnie MacLean has been knitting since she was about 6 years old but didn’t start designing until around 2003. Having knit very few designs by anyone else, in her life, she’s produced some pretty spectacular knitting tragedies, but she likes to think those have all lead up to a greater appreciation of the way yarn and technique can come together.

Marnie blathers on incessantly about her knitting, crocheting, spinning and dogs, over at her website. You will also find a multitude of free and a few for sale patterns while you are there.

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