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CETG Online Talk on Monday 9th September 2020

Our Speaker – Alison Ellen

Knitting - Stitches, Materials and Fibres

Thank you, Alison, for your really stimulating talk


Here is a summary of the talk as she shared images of her work over Zoom.

Alison started off by explaining that knitting is a constructive soft textile technique or

single filament soft engineering.   She studied for a degree in Textiles at Farnham

and has been designing and making knitwear for over 30 years.  She usually dyes her

own yarns and makes and sells at various textile festivals and fairs at a variety of

locations around the country.  She has a team of knitters around the country who

make up the garments for her and realised early on that different designs and

shapes suit different people.

You need to balance the knits and purls so the edges don't curl up and this technique was used a lot in Guernsey or Fisherman's sweaters from the mid-late 19th century up until the 20th century.  They were knitted in one piece and the textual stitches give a thicker, flat fabric.

Alison showed interesting examples of ribbing.  Done horizontally as in a welt the knitting pulls up and becomes tall and thin and the purl stitches are more pronounced.  If done vertically it becomes much shorter and fatter and the knit stitches come forward.  Doing ribs in different stitches such as stocking and garter stitch can also make a difference to the proportions of the piece.  Alison has spent thirty years working on this and her garments usually rely entirely on the different ribbing to produce the shape.  They are usually knitted in one piece with the sleeves added on afterwards by picking up the stitches.

Alison has also experimented with other stitches to see what difference they have on the proportions.  Cables pull the knitting in, moss stitch pulls it out and Entrelac makes it very wide.  She has incorporated all of these in her work to actually shape the garments. 

There are two different ways to knit a circle - one is to start off knitting in the round on four needles and then when the piece is big enough transfer to a circular needle.  The second way is to use short rows to knit wedge shapes.  Alison has used these methods to produce a variety of hats.

Alison showed knitted leaves and seed pods all of which were made by shaping with increases and decreases.  If you decrease on the edges you can get the leaf shapes and if you decrease within a row you can get the seed pods and can alsoget  a zig-zag pattern. 

Modular or mitred knitting also produces completely different shapes depending on the stitches used.  Alison has been able to produce fabulous textures in this way. 

Alison has also experimented with knitting different fibres and materials.  The same design knitted in wool looks very different to one in hemp as the wool has much more bounce to it.  She showed samples of knitting with the leaves from Day Lillies which when dry has lovely colours and is very strong and can be used to make small baskets.  Bindweed knits very well as does kelp or seaweed which has to be knitted wet but dries really hard.  Willow bark also works well as does New Zealand flax where you need to split the leaves and is very tough.  She also had examples of washing mitts made out of sisal and an allo fibre from Nepal which is basically a tall stinging nettle but knits up into surprisingly soft yarn.  Susie Dunsmore runs The Dunsmore Nepalese Textile Trust which works with women in East Nepal helping them to supplement their income by producing a range of knitted and woven products made from this plant which grows wild in the area.


We also saw samples of knitting in raffia which holds its shape very well, jute which is very strong, linen, cotton, t-shirt fabric, handspun wool, parcel twine and plastic carrier bags.  All of which behave very differently.   

Alison has written several books over the years which are available direct from the publishers The Crowood Press or other good book suppliers. 

Text © Michaela Matza CETG

Photos © Alison Ellen

Knitted Pods in different fibres

AE stitches.jpeg
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