Friday, March 18, 2011

2.3 Knitted Skirt

Like our Victorian knitter's mitten pattern, Knitted Skirt is not sufficiently coherent to derive step-by-step instructions for a complete project. The entry, however, has a number of interesting elements which make it worth sharing "as is."

Unlike most knitting patterns of the era, Knitted Skirt begins with notes on materials, calling for 2oz. Germantown wool in red for the lower border and 5-6oz. in grey or white for the body of the skirt. The writer recommends the fiber be prepared prior to knitting by pouring boiling water over it, wringing and hanging to dry. Presumably this is to felt the yarn somewhat and lessen the chance of the skirt stretching out with wear. Although no gauge is given, the needles should be "a little smaller than a pen holder." (Don't you just love it!)

The skirt is worked in two pieces, front and back, and then seamed at the sides. Both pieces begin at the lower edge with a simple lace border. The front is shaped near the top with a series of decreases; the back is knit as a plain rectangle.

154 stitches are cast on for the skirt front, 150 for the border pattern (15 repeats of the 10-stitch lace) and 2 stitches worked in what might be called reverse garter stitch (purl on both the right and wrong sides) along each selvedge to be taken up in the side seams. For my swatch I cast on 44 stitches. As the border developed, I had this nagging feeling I'd seen the pattern before, but where...?

Then it struck me-- the design bore a remarkable resemblance to 8. Wristlets. In fact, an examination of the stitch pattern reveals that it is actually a mirror image of the same motif. (The charts below show only the 10-stitch lace repeat without edge stitches.)

Although the two patterns use different decreases (P3tog for the skirt border, Sl1 K2tog psso for the wristlets), it is the placement of the decrease at the beginning or end of the sequence that determines the slant of the fabric. As illustrated below, even when the other decrease is substituted, the bias remains the same.

In charts for color or texture designs, stitches are arranged above the analogous stitches of the row below. Not so in the conventions of knitted lace charting and this can make it difficult to visualize the relationship between stitches in different rows. But when working the samples, the significance of the decrease placement becomes clear. When each right side row ends with the decrease (Knitted Skirt border), the o K1 o section is worked into the stitch formed by the the first yarn over of the previous right side row. However, when the decrease is first (Wristlets), o K1 o is shifted to the second yarn over. In other words, the former continually adds new stitches on the right and the latter adds them on the left, resulting in their respective slants.

Once the border is "as deep as you like," the main color yarn is picked up to work the body of the skirt. And this is where everything becomes muddled. I continued my swatch, but I have little-- really, no-- confidence that it resembles what was intended.

Here is the skirt body pattern verbatim [Note: "seam" was a common Victorian term for "purl"]:

Knit 8 plain, seam 8 so on making a plaid of 6 rows of
blocks, 8 rows make a square. Then seam 3 and knit 3.

My first problem with these instructions is the stitch count. Initially I interpreted this section to mean one would work a series of blocks, 8 stitches by 8 rows each, alternating knit and purl squares. After the first tier of squares, i.e., at row 9, one would switch to P3, K3. This is how I worked my swatch. But the 150 pattern stitches do not divide evenly into 16-stitch segments. If the pattern is reinterpreted to mean *K8, P8* to the last 6 sts, P3, K3, the stitch count comes out even. (K8, P8)6X, (P3, K3)9X also works. However, neither alone would produce a plaid, only thick and thin stripes. If there are to be squares 8 rows high, there must be some other pattern starting at row 9 in order to delineate the top of the squares, but what? If row 9 begins P8, K8, the outcome would be a checkerboard-- again, not a plaid. A horizontal stripe of stockingnet, garter stitch or reverse stockingnet in between each tier of squares might suggest a plaid, but the pattern says nothing about this. And what about that word "plaid" anyway? Is the skirt body a monochromatic texture or worked with both colors of yarn? After the last right side row of the border, did she purl back with the main color to avoid that white dotted line below the purled squares? So many questions, so few answers.

"After the plaids," the top of the front is shaped by working a series of decreases on right side rows "making gores." There is no mention of which decrease(s) to use, how many to work or how to space them across the front. For my swatch I chose 3 evenly spaced, balanced (vertical) double decreases (Sl2, K1, psso), resulting in a precipitous narrowing-- again, probably not what was intended.

The back of the skirt is to be knit the same as the front, omitting the shaping at the top.

Next time: Star Stitch for a Shawl, plus a surprise bonus pattern!


Knittingand said...

I think you have the large blocks correct, but you need 6 rows of the large blocks, alternating the blocks of knit and purl every 8 rows as you suspect. I think that they're just using plaid and check interchangeably.

A gore would be like a dart as far as I know.

=Tamar said...

How's this:
8 rows make a block. Each block is also 8 sts wide. 8 squares make a block. 8 bands of squares, in sections 8 squares wide, make an 8-by-8 block. There is room for two 64-stitch blocks, separated in the middle by a p3k3 vertical stripe, and bordered on each end by another p3k3 vertical stripe (which could also be alternated to make the dividers checkered). Then there are the familiar p2 on each end. (64+64+18=146, +4=150)
The blocks of 8x8 squares could also be divided horizontally by a p3k3 welt across all.
By chance, there's a similar effect on the King Charles silk tunic.

=Tamar said...

Drat, I meant to say the blocks of 8x8 squares could be separated horizontally, so that there would be square 8x8 checkered blocks separated both horizontally and vertically with narrower p3k3 bands.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

I'm getting the hang of all this stuff and today found your blog. Just wanted to say what a wonderful thing you are doing making all these notes come alive again. The women who wrote them would have been pleased, I think, to see how they are being used. I'm going to study your blog some more and hope it's ok to link to you from mine.

=Tamar said...

As Knittingand said, the big blocks are eight squares wide and six squares high. which makes them 48 rows high, which can be neatly divided by 6 (3k3p) so the smaller vertical strips fit between them evenly.