Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What makes something functional? or The Tale of the Two Hats

Last night at the December meeting of the KWKG, Sally Melville spoke about "Why we knit".  It was a great talk for a number of reasons, but what kept ruminating in my mind is her saying "Honour the craft".  That got tied into some other knitting thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head.

There was a thread on Ravelry that discussed knitting being functional.  There was one poster who felt that most of today's knitting is not functional but merely for personal adornment since it doesn't keep us warm [enough if we were on a fishing boat].  Of course discussion followed.   Since I have read that thread, everytime that I have put on a piece of knitted wool, I say to myself "This ____ is not functional, it is only art" in a very sarcastic tone.

This of course brings us to the question of what is function?  More specifically what makes knitware functional?

Before I answer that let me start with the "Tale of the Two Hats".

Four years ago, I knit myself a colourwork hat, it was my first colourwork project, I used 5 skeins of Misti Alpaca sport.  It is an awarding winning hat, and it keeps my head toasty warm.

However, 2 years ago, I  needed another hat.  This time I made it in a lace pattern with a wool/acrylic blend yarn.  This hat suits the requirements that I set for it.  I actually wear it more than the first hat, as the hat is out in public more, it gets more compliments and I get to talk about the craft of knitting more. 

Why don't I wear the first hat more often? For the simple reason is that it keeps my head toasty warm.  Which is great when it is below zero, and the wind is blowing and I am walking my dog.  However, if the sun is shining, with the temperature around freezing the hat is just too warm.  If I am going to the store even in the middle of February, I am taking the second hat.

Is the functional hat the one that keeps my head warmer or the one that gets the most wear?

I don't think one hat being functional makes the other one less functional.  Both hats are functional, they just serve different functions.  The first hat is designed to block out the wind, and keep all of the warmth from my head next to my head.  If I am stranded on Hwy 402 for an evening I want this hat with me.  If I want to feel some of that nice cool air on my head this hat does not work, it doesn't mean the hat is not functional it is just not suited for the job.

I could knit myself a windproof super warm sweater that will keep me toasty in the below -10C temperatures.  It would be functional. However, how often would I wear this sweater?  Is it functional if it is sitting in a drawer 360 days of the year?  What about a less warm sweater that is worn 100 days of the year.  What about a sweater that I don't wear at all since it doesn't fit right or fits but makes me look 50 lbs heavier?

If I own a sweater/ socks/ shawl and it doesn't get used I would argue that it is not functional.  I don't care how great it may perform under certain conditions, if it doesn't get used it is not functional.

This brings us back to Sally Melville and "honouring the craft", another of her sayings is "knit what you wear and wear what you knit".  Creating sweaters that look great on a wall, but are never worn due to item being ill fitting is not honouring the craft (This is different than creating something for art).  Honouring knitting, is creating items that are used for their intended purpose, that gets people saying  "Wow, I want that/be able to do that."  I love the feeling when people admire my knitting, when it looks great and they want to learn more.  Talking about knitting honours it.  Expanding your techniques and knowledge honours it, using your items honours them and the craft.  Creating functional items is honouring knitting.

It is important to remember that something being functional and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive.  These two items go very well together.

There is nothing wrong with knitting as art. There are lots of great examples (including Knit CamBridge,) and in my mind they can do more for the discussion of knitting amongst non fibre enthusiasts than a sweater stuck in the back of the closet.  The Knit CamBridge project had a function and it served its purpose "I want this work to make you smile, shake your head and laugh. Whatever you do, do it because you love to knit! ".  It created discussion, made people think about knitting, and in my opinion it honoured the craft.

In my mind honouring the craft of knitting is more important than debating about how functional something is or how warm you can make something.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Still alive

Who it was March since my last post.  Whoops, time did fly this summer.

I finished the Honeybee Stole - designed by Anne Hanson

This was a great knit, and it did fly along when I was actually knitting it - it got put aside for other projects quite often.  The yarn has a story behind it which starts with my first (and only) foray into natural dyeing, followed by overdyeing with green acid dye.  I loved the affect that the gold undertones had on the resulting yarn.  As the yarn was mordanted with copper, the feel of the yarn is not as soft as when I first purchased it.  However, I think I will use this stole this coming fall and winter.
  This stole has lace patterning on both sides, which did slow me done some until I got the hang of it.  - Pointy needles are needed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I know the Olympics were on a month ago and that is when everyone was talking about the Ravelympics, well I have been busy and I haven't been posting much. ( That is my story and I am sticking with it.)  One of my ravelympics project was the Damson shawl.
(Seen here checking out our Olympic inukshuk)
This is from Ysolda Tegue's Whimisical Little Knits 2 book that I discussed back in January - (you know 3 blog posts ago).  It was a relatively fast knit - except for the fact that I didn't check gauge and ran out of yarn and knit the second half twice.  I ended up switching needles and making the scallops slightly smaller.

The yarn I dyed myself and had a quite a bit of fun doing so.  I have had so much fun in fact that I have decided to sell my yarns on Etsy.  This is part of what has been keeping me busy.  I am still playing with colourways and dyeing technique and looking for good source of base yarn.  However the Keeper's Dyepots store is up and running. 

Weaving - A scarf

I last left this blog with a mention (okay maybe it was a post) on how I was taking a weaving class.  Well that class ended a month ago, so maybe it is time I showed you some pics.
We had warped the loom with enough yarn for samples and a 60" scarf.  The first classes were trying different samples and techniques and the last 3 classes (which I missed one) was to weave the scarf.

After doing trying several different patterns I decided on weaving a mix twill (done in orange on the left).  I liked how it showed texture in two colours.  We were given the option of changing some of our warp threads, and I decided to change 6 threads along the one side.  I wanted to change it to the wool (Cascade 220)  that I was using but the instructor said since the rest of the warp was in acrylic I should change it to acrylic as well.  I wasn't keen on this but took some mulitcoloured yarn and made the switch.

To tie in those six threads I did a couple of pattern repeats on each end in the multicoloured.  The variagated in the warp is lost, but it was a learning experience.

The scarf is in need of a good blocking, and is ready to wear.  If you want a rectangle for a scarf, weaving is the way to go.  I am thinking of getting a rigid heddle loom which would be good for scarves and table runners but not for wide things like blankets.  We will have to see what the year brings me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A new hobby

As some of you may know I have started taking a weaving class at the KW Weavers and Spinners Guild.  I have wanted to learn to weave for awhile now, and I finally took this opportunity to take the class - Weaving 1.
We are weaving on Leclerc table top looms - well that should be will be weaving.  Last nights class brought us to having threaded the warp.

We will be doing some samples of different twill patterns and then be weaving a scarf with our choice of patterns.  There is some beautiful work being done in the guild.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Whimsical Little Knits

For Christmas I received signed copies of Whimsical Little Knits and WLK Two. My sister went to Scotland and a knit and chat, solely to get me a great Christmas present.  What, .. that was not her only reason?  Please let me live in my land of denial.
Ysolda Teague self published these books and they are of high quality. The lay out is superb.  The index has thumbnails of the projects. Charts are of high quality and when necessary have additional information in other colours that does not make the cluttered or confusing but helpful.   If you prefer to have digital copies - to help blow up or resize images, you have the option on purchasing of receiving pdf's of the files as well as the book. 

The Scroll Lace Scarf had recently been added to my Ravelry queue, and I had suitable yarn.  So there was only one thing to do in the New Year.
Cast on and complete the scarf


Some modeled shots

This was a fast and enjoyable knit.  It will be coming to guild with me tonight (the model will stay at home and go to bed).