Praise and curses


First off, I'd like to direct lavish thanks toward Ysolda for hosting a lovely interview with yours truly about the Family Trunk Project! And for all of you who are clicking over here in response to Ysolda's piece, welcome. I really enjoyed doing it, and I'll be back to answer more questions in a day or so.

As I mentioned over there, I've started working on the next Family Trunk garment, which will be a jacket inspired by my paternal grandfather, Warren Johnson. I'm taking my cue from this photograph of Warnie as a little boy - or, more accurately perhaps, as a little working-man:


What a serious little kid! Can you believe it? Most pictures of my grandfather are very serious, unless his face is cracked in a wide, contagious grin. I always loved it when he laughed, although his frequent grumblings were also a source of rueful amusement among the family. He was a generous, cantankerous jerry-rigger all his life, which makes the beginning stages of planning for this jacket especially funny. Let's just say, it has done a fair amount of cranky grumbling itself, and I had to rig up an improvised combination of knitting techniques in order to come up with this:


This is the general idea: a lightly felted, tri-color plaid, made up into a mid-length drop-shoulder jacket. Red, camel and charcoal should make a classic, masculine combination. I have an ongoing relationship with plaid, which is only partially explained by how amusing I find the actual word, and was excited to get back to plaiddish pursuits. "That's interesting," I remember thinking, "I haven't seen many imitation-plaid garments in the knitting world. I wonder why that might be." Lucky me! I didn't have to wait too long before I found out.

Originally I had planned to do this project with slipped-stitch pattern that would mean only knitting with one strand of yarn at a time. If I'd been angling for a bi-color plaid, I might have even stuck with this plan, despite being less-than-thrilled with how the swatches were turning out. But trying to put together a tri-color plaid with slipped stitches just wasn't happening, and everything I did in an attempt to mitigate the difficulties just made the pattern look more like a Mondrian dress from the 60's. A cool look, I grant you, but not what I was going for here. The problem is that true plaids are woven fabrics, with warp and weft colors apparent, and it's a challenge to get those vertical lines happening in a knitted fabric. The more forward-thinking among you have probably already arrived at the solution, and I got there eventually as well:


Oh, horrors! If you guys needed any more proof that I'm not in this for the money, here it is. I am starting a double-thick, felted wool jacket in April, and it involves about a million bobbins. Will ANYone have ANY interest in buying this pattern and following me down the plaid-colored road? Well, never mind. My grandfather would have mumbled grumpily at naysayers, and I'll do the same.

The thing about it is, that while there are vertical stripes of color which necessitate the bobbins, there are also horizontal stripes of color which necessitate a continuous strand of yarn to alternate with the strands of each bobbin in turn. My solution? Strandtarsia: a cobbled-together fairisle/intarsia blend whereby I knit or purl two-handed in the fair-isle style (except back-and-forth rather than in the round), throwing each old bobbin strand over the new bobbin strand when I get to a transition between two vertical lines. Cantankerous and jerry-rigged enough for you?

Really, it's not so bad now that I've grown accustomed to it (and I'm sure I'll find out via a comment that this is actually a time-honored technique of which I wasn't aware). It's pretty darn cool to see the plaid pattern emerging and the vertical columns sitting so neatly next to one another. But this project had another ace up its sleeve which is still causing me to break out some of my grandfather's juicier swear words.


You may have noticed in comparing the photos of the swatch and the bobbins, that the camel color in the swatch looks closer to a muddy pink. That's right: this yarn was not colorfast AT ALL. So, in an effort to maintain my classic working-man color scheme, I am making every ball of red and charcoal into a hank, washing and rinsing it repeatedly, and hanging the hanks over every doorknob in our home, with hand towels underneath to catch the drips. David has been an awesome sport about this, especially as I keep forgetting the hand towels and leaving him to discover the puddles of yarn water with his stocking feet.

So, I've been alternating my delight and consternation. And really, I think it's quite remarkable that this jacket has managed to remind me so forcibly of my grandfather, before I'd even started knitting it.


  • Wow, that's dedication. I would not have the patience, but I have no doubt it'll be stunning when it's done.

  • I love the description of your grandfather as cantankerous and jerry-rigged - he sounds great and interetsing. And the pattern seems to fit so well! (What a great picture of him as a 'little working man').

    I thought your plaid reminded me of something - Teva Durham did a tartan jacket (gauge much less fine) in IK Fall 04, and then a kilt in the same way in Loop-d-loop.

    Only mentioning it as i wonder whether you've seen this,a nd if it might add further ideas to your scheme.,,DIY_14141_5311852,00.html

  • Just stumbled on your website via ysolda - I love your project! What a great way to capture your family history! If I may make a suggestion, adding white vinegar to your washwater should help with the colorfast problem. Vinegar locks the color - this might be helpful in particular with the red yarn. Good luck with all this!

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