You Don’t Need To Pay An Obscenely High Price For Quality Clothing

From In Style October 2017 – Brunello Cucinelli Design

I enjoy the hand of luxurious, expensive, and embellished fabrics. Just as an art lover enjoys the experience of an exhibit, I appreciate the beauty of an exquisitely made textile. Designer names like Etro, Dolce Gabbana, Prada, and Gucci use some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world for their couture and ready-to-wear collections, but these collections are sold at prices out of reach for most people.

Designer prices are often extremely expensive. Case in point this sweater by Brunello Cucinelli. I was lucky enough to be in Vancouver recently, perusing the beautiful Fall 2017 Collections in Holt Renfrew. I came acorss the Brunello Cucinelli boutique selling expensive sweaters like this one featured in In Style’s October 2017 issue. My first thought – “I could make it.” If you are an experienced knitter I’m sure you have said this many times.

Brunello Cucinelli is known as the “King of Cashmere” and the manufacturer of luxury sportswear and “high quality” knits. I agree with his business philosophy, that too much cheap product is sold in the world, so he focuses on expensive designs made by highly skilled workers. His plant is in Solomeo, Italy; his company is socially conscious, and Cucinelli’s collections are produced on site. It would be difficult to sustain this business model in most parts of world, as Italy has a long history of skill in manufacturing luxurious textiles and yarns, and only a small percentage of people can afford such luxury.

However, there is a point where an extremely high price doesn’t dictate the quality and skill. Don’t get me wrong, you often do get what you pay for, but an exorbitant price isn’t indicative of quality. Price does have the power to change your perception of a product, because the notion of “quality” is perceived, and has a different meaning for every consumer. My philosophy is to pay more for “quality”, because I’ll get my money’s worth over time. Because I am knowledgeable about fabrics and construction, I am able to discern if a garment is well made and worth the expense. There are many skilled people who can make quality garments at lower price points. The price factor plays a part in determining quality (generally the more details added in construction and the use of fine fabrics made of natural fibers, the higher the price); but price is not the only indicator of quality. 

I can’t afford such a price tag for a sweater, but even if I could I wouldn’t. If you are lucky enough to spend the money, go for it, but if you’re skilled in making garments, you realize that you can knit or sew pieces of high quality with sustainable materials, skill, and attention to detail without the extreme price. When purchasing woven fabrics or hand knit materials, I look at the fibers and yarns used, skill, and attention to detail. How are the seams sewn? Dangling threads? Nylon thread used for hems? How are the embellishments attached? Natural vs synthetic fibers (I would never pay a high price for a synthetic)? Care required to maintain its beauty? These are some of the questions I think about when determining quality.

Because of our over-consumption of mass produced goods, I think North America has lost an appreciation for the beauty and quality of textiles, and the skill required to turn raw materials into a luxurious product. But paying an excessively high price tag isn’t necessary to have quality clothing. There are many designers, and you, the skilled knitter or sewer that can create garments of quality, by paying attention to the source and type of materials, skill, longevity, and attention to detail. Why not make your own luxury at a cost that won’t break the bank.

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“Stranding” and “Weaving” are Fair Isle Knitting’s Best Friends

Prince of Wales 1903 – Fair Isle Jumper

Modern Fair Isle – Dublin Pullover from Interweave Knits Winter 2017

The August 2017 issue of In Style magazine includes Fair Isle sweaters as one of the Fall 2017 trends. What is Fair Isle? Off the northerly coast of Scotland in a group of islands known as Shetland, Fair Isle is the most southerly member, 3 miles long by 2 miles wide. This tiny island is the origin of Fair Isle Knitting, a circular, stranded form of color knitting. Since the 1920s, when the Prince of Wales sported a Fair Isle jumper, Fair Isle knitting has enjoyed commercial success.

If you’ve never tried this method of knitting with colored yarns, I’m showing you two important techniques, “stranding” and “weaving”, for successful Fair Isle knitting. For more information on the Fair Isle tradition, Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting is a great resource.

Fair Isle knitting involves changing colors every few stitches in one row. Traditionally, Fair Isle was worked on circular needles so all the pattern rounds are knit, making the yarn easier and faster to manipulate (you can use straight needles to knit Fair Isle patterns). When 2 colors are interchanged often in the same row, it is practical to carry each color not in use across the back of the work. One method for doing this is stranding. The colored yarns are picked up alternately over and under one another as you work across the row. Stranding is suitable for color changes over 1 to 5 stitches, and the result is “strands” or “floats” across the back or wrong side of the knitting. For color changes more than 5 stitch repeats, weaving is the preferable method, otherwise the floats are too long.

It is essential to keep an even tension when stranding. If the yarns are stranded too tight, the work will pucker, and alternatively if the yarns are stranded too loose, the fabric will gape. Note: Carrying yarn creates a thick fabric.

To neaten the work, the joining yarns should be woven in as you knit, or there will be many yarn ends to weave in when finished knitting. Both stranding and weaving are often used together in a project. Note: The gauge for Fair Isle knitting will be different than just working a stockinette stitch sample without color changes. Remember to always check your gauge.

Stranding can be accomplished with one or two hands. With two hands you must know how to knit in the Continental style. (See bonus how-to below).

One Handed Method

  • When working a knit row, yarns are carried across the back of the work or the wrong side. Knit a few stitches with the old color (working yarn) and then drop it in the back. Pick up the new color under the dropped yarn and knit next few stitches. Continue alternating colors this way, carrying unused yarn loosely across the back. It takes practice to get the tension even.
  • On a purl row, work in a similar fashion, but pick up the new color over top the dropped yarn, keeping the “floats” in front of the work.

Stranding yarn on knit and purl rows

What stranding should look like on back side

Weaving in Joined Yarn Ends or Large Color Repeats (more than 5 stitches)

  • Hold the working yarn in the right hand and the yarn to be woven in the left hand. *To weave yarn above a knit stitch, bring it over the right needle. Knit next stitch with the working yarn, bringing it under woven yarn. When you knit the next stitch the woven yarn is already under the stitch. Repeat from * across the row. When weaving in yarn ends, work as above across 7-10 stitches. This alleviates weaving in many yarn ends with a tapestry needle when the knitting is completed.
  • To weave yarn above a purl stitch bring the yarn over the right needle and purl the next stitch with the working yarn, bringing it under the woven yarn. Purl the next stitch with the working yarn by bringing it over the woven yarn. Repeat these steps across the row.

Weaving yarn ends on a knit row

Weaving yarn ends on a purl row

Fair Isle knitting is challenging at first, but after practicing and getting the tension even, it’s a rewarding experience. Non-knitters will wonder how you ever worked something so “complicated”.

Bonus How-To:

Stranding yarn – Continental style of knitting