Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 13, Summer 2015
It’s summer time! Let’s paaaaaaaaaaaaaartay! A time for skimpy clothes, scrumptious salads, trashy novels and open-air romance. There’s skinny-dipping, mosquito whacking, and jam making to be done, but what of knitting? Should we go cold turkey while it’s warm out? Pah! Of course not! Here are some quasi- scientific points to ponder as you pick your projects from these pages.
DURATION – how long is your summer? This pertains to both how long you will be able to wear summery garments and how much time you have to work on projects. Regardless of how quick your hands can form stitches, you also need to be realistic about how many waking hours you can give over to knitting. This may be dictated by nature or the unfortunate fact that other things in life need attending to. With kids around for longer hours than in term time, are they the sort to bring ice cream and knit the cuffs for you or do they require an eagle eye and ready hands? At work, do your summers mean time off or peak season?
TEMPERATURE – how hot do your summers get and how much does that vary from your winters? Are you off somewhere nice? If your summers are cool and winters crazy cold, you don’t really need an extensive wardrobe of hot weather gear. Strappy vests are aspirational to the point of frivolous and therefore an extra exciting treat to knit. If your summer morphs seamlessly into autumn, which bleeds into winter oozing into spring, you are under much less pressure to choose carefully. What you wear is much of a muchness and you can only dream of the joys of a chunky sweater and the ability to wear three pairs of hand knitted socks at once. If your winters are titty-freezing cold and your summers face-meltingly hot, well then, you have to be on top of your game.
SCALE – where will your WIPs travel with you this summer? Will you be going by bike, car, train, foot, plane or ferry? There always seems to be a lot of worry about flying with knitting needles. I’ve been polling knitters for a couple of years now: needles are confiscated once in a blue moon so, unless you are specifically unlucky, you’re good. If in doubt, check your airline and airport guidelines: if they say it’s ok, print them out and take them with you as proof. Besides, short length wooden or plastic DPNs, circulars or straights are unlikely to trigger alarms until we get a pencil bomber. Alternatively, not bringing needles is an excuse to visit the local yarn shop as soon as you arrive.
PATTERN – garment-wise, t-shirts, sleeveless thingamajigs and lightweight cardigans for cool evenings (or air-conditioning) are the preserve of summer knitting patterns. Shawls are perennially popular because they are multipurpose and free size. Crochet bikinis are winging their way back in to fashion, along with all things 70s from knobbly weavings to facial hair. Hats, cowls, socks, mittens and gloves might not be necessities in the summer, but they do have the benefit of being small and portable.
MATERIAL – more than the pattern, yarn weight and fibre content are the deciding factors in what makes a summer knit. In the winter the bulk of a warm woolly project in your lap is deeply satisfying. In the summer that same project is a burden. Look to finer weights of yarn, working them loosely or in lace. Cotton and linen are perfect. Keep an eye out for interesting combinations of plant and animal fibres. These can balance out detractors offering the best of both worlds. Try something like Lyonesse 4ply or DK from Blacker Yarns (50% wool, 50% linen) in colours created with Sue Blacker by Sonja Bargielowska whose Confetti pattern was in PPQ8. Twig from Shibui is a DK with 46% linen, 42% recycled silk and 12% wool. Karin Oberg makes Kalinka 41 (70% linen, 30% cotton) and Kalinka 21 (55% linen, 45% wool). Hemp for Knitting combines hemp with all number of other plant and animal fibres, even cashmere without the lumpy, bumpy, scratchy associations. ONION knit makes an organic wool (70%) and nettle (30%) blend that is incredibly glossy and soft with great drape, available in 4ply, DK and aran weights. They also have a 50/50 organic wool and cotton blend. Allino from BC garn is neatly 50/50 cotton and linen. Dandelion from Madeline Tosh is merino, with a 10% hint of linen.
COLOUR – get your colour fix now, be it poppy, primary or pastel. Oddly, ‘safe’ colours are for winter when it’s most dreary out and we could do with a shot of brights. So be adventurous now. If you simply can’t hack non-neutrals, stick with white, that way you can over dye it when you grow some balls.
VELOCITY – how fast a knitter are you? Are you a speed demon with a clean slate and no need to sleep? Go ahead – knit the lot, twice over. Are you a knitting tortoise with a busy schedule? Face up to the fact that for your garment to be ready and wearable ALL summer including the very first hot days of spring, you probably should have started in March. Get a jump start on next summer’s wardrobe. Stroking it in the depths of winter will bring solace. Fashion and crafting, like food, have growing ‘slow’ movements.
Consider whether you are knitting in the summer, for the summer or both. Then cast on, find a hammock and relax. Ice cubes and cocktail umbrella optional.