Monday, 4 March 2013

Miniature Knitting: Which Thread to Use

I learnt to knit when I was 7 years old but only discovered miniature knitting some 15 years later. I came across a miniature knitting kit in a gift shop which consisted of what can only be described as hat pins to serve as needles and some thread of indeterminate type. Excited by the idea of knitting a tiny teddy, I set to work. Let's just say that although the teddy did get knitted in the end, the equipment/materials provided made the whole experience something of a struggle and I very nearly gave up in disgust on the whole concept of miniature knitting.

People who don't know me say I must be very patient to make miniatures. People who do know me know that patience is very far from being one of my virtues; stubborn, on the other hand, is a word that describes me very well. And it was my stubborn streak alone which saw that first teddy into existence.

I can still feel the points of those "needles" sticking into my finger ends and drawing blood with every stitch. A certain amount of pressure is required to effect a K2tog and I winced every time the pattern required this. Which it did. A lot. The horrid scratchy thread seemed to be made of several strands of fibre which had absolutely no give in it at all and kept splitting, making it difficult to knit even the simplest row of the pattern. The more I struggled, the stickier my hands got and the more difficult it became to get anywhere at all. But, eventually, Bear was finished. Scarred (literally!) by the whole experience, I was determined that he would be an Only Bear and that he would just have to get used to it.

But then I went to my very first Dolls House Fair and saw knitting needles for sale with points which didn't involve me knitting into the front and back of my index finger as well as every stitch. I resolved that perhaps Bear might like a sibling after all (he had such a sad and lonely expression on his little face...) and decided to have another go using acrylic thread, the "wool" that is widely available for sale at dolls house fairs.

This was better, in that I didn't bleed all over my work this time. But I still found the yarn difficult to work with. Stitches have a tendency to split and the overall effect is quite stiff and  "woolly". Which is fine if that is the effect you want, but I found a lot of the detail of my knitting was lost amongst the general wooliness. At my second dolls house fair I discovered cotton tatting thread and, in conjunction with the decent needles (from Meadowcroft Miniatures), everything fell into place....

I now use a selection of different threads, depending on the project. Some of these are pictured above.

My thread of choice for most of my work is DMC 80 tatting cotton (shown here in rose pink). It comes in fairly good range of colours, although most of the darker colours they used to manufacture have now been discontinued. It can also be obtained in a finer thread, DMC 100, but this is only available in ecru and white. It knits up smoothly and the stitches in a pattern are well-defined in the finished fabric, a bonus in lace patterns. The finished garment/item can be washed in a weak solution of biological washing powder if required and the nap doesn't rub up.

A good alternative to DMC is Anchor Mercer Crochet 80 (Fil a Dentelle). An example is shown in the photo in yellow. It comes in a good range of colours and I often mix DMC 80 with Anchor 80 in fair isle/intarsia patterns to good effect as its qualities are, to me, indistinguishable.

The green thread shown in the picture is sold at dolls house fairs as an equivalent to DMC and Anchor. It is a Turkish cotton and the label says "Oren Bayan Solmaz Dantel Ipligi 70". I have to say that, although I love the fabulous range of colours this thread comes in, I don't find it comparable to these threads at all. For a start, it is, to me, a finer thread, so it throws my guauges out when I am knitting things which need to be a certain size. It also has a tendency to knot while knitting and is far less easy to disentangle than DMC or Anchor; often it snaps while you're trying so you're left with yet another end to darn in when it comes to making up your work. Although it knits up finely and produces a nice soft fabric, I do find that it has a tendency to rub up a little if you're not careful. I tend to launder all my finished work but I try to avoid doing so if I have used this thread so that it doesn't rub up still more. That said, I do still work with this yarn simply because of the wonderful range of colours but find that it doesn't mix particularly well with DMC or Anchor in fair isle/intarsia designs.

The cream ball of yarn is another thread made by Anchor; Pearl Cotton or Coton Pearle. It is a much thicker yarn than those previously described and is sold in larger 10g balls (the finer threads come in 5g balls). It comes in a very good range of colours and knits up beautifully with a lovely lustre to the finished fabric (hence the pearl). It is widely available in needlework shops and not just at specialist fairs. Because of its relative thickness I would only really use this for blankets using size 18 needles - but it does then have the advantage of growing quickly.

Another Anchor thread is the skein of embroidery floss shown here in a salmon colour. It is 100% cotton and some patterns call for you to use two strands of it. I avoid this if possible. Not because the results aren't acceptable but I find it irksome having to first of all separate out and wind the strands onto a bobbin and secondly having to effectively knit two together with every stitch....Did I mention that I am impatient as well as stubborn?!

The large, partial, bobbin of thread shown in navy blue is actually machine sewing thread. I'm not sure whether it's pure cotton or a cotton/synthetic mix. It comes in huge bobbins in a massive range of colours and knits up quite nicely. It's equivalent to knitting with the Anchor 80 or DMC 80. I use it occasionally when I cannot source the correct colour in my preferred thread. It is expensive to buy full spools (generally I only use small amounts of yarn in a miniature project), but if you have a supply of it available to you (mine comes from a friend's mother in law when she has bobbin-ends left over from a project) it can be an economical option.

Some patterns call for the use of one ply cotton such as the small bundle shown in red. I buy mine from Jan's Minis at dolls house fairs; she can supply a wide range of lovely colours. It knits up nicely and produces a nice soft fabric, but I do find it somewhat thicker than the DMC 80/Anchor 80 yarns so it affects size-ings (unless a pattern specifically requires its use) and won't combine with the 80-guauge threads successfully. I keep mentioning this because, unless a yarn will combine sucessfully with another brand, you are left with no option in multi-coloured designs but to buy all the colours you need in that particular yarn. This can get rather expensive. And when you own as much thread as I do, storing your stash can also be a problem (basically if it won't fit in my wardrobe then I can't have it!).

Finally, the spool of purple thread is pure silk thread made by Gutermann. It is widely available in needlework shops in a wonderful range of colours. Although not as cheap as some of the alternatives given above, a single spool will last a long time. It is a finer thread which knits up beautifully into a lovely fabric which drapes and hangs well. It has a fine sheen to it and is particularly suited to lace knitting and 1/24 scale knitting. I use it a lot in miniature crochet.

At the end of the day, every knitter will have his/her own preference. For those new to or struggling with miniature knitting, I would say keep trying different thread and needle combinations until you find one that suits you. I have friends who can only knit on long needles which they can tuck under their arms; I on the other hand can only work with short needles. I know people who knit on cocktail sticks and some who can work perfectly well on those vicious hatpins. Some knit perfectly happily on size 24 needles whereas I find anything smaller than a 21 is way too flexible and slippery (especially when working with silk, which is slippery enough all by itself!). I prefer to knit using pure cotton and pure silk but others swear by acrylic yarn/pure wool. The key is to be comfortable and to enjoy what you are doing. I take the view that if you are happier using a slightly larger/smaller needle or a slightly thicker/finer thread, then just do it. Unless you are making clothes to fit a particular doll, the difference in the size of the finished product is often not worth worrying about.

I mentioned that some of the colour ranges are somewhat limited; orange was, for a time, the colour I could not find for love nor money when I was relatively new to miniature knitting. So I decided to dye my own. How hard could it be? I set to work with white cotton tatting thread, a large stew pan that had belonged to my grandma, a fabric dye and my mother's wooden jam-making spoon. Some time later I was the proud owner of several balls of lurid orange tatting cotton. And the only bright orange stew pan and jam-making spoon in the county.

Until next time, Happy Knitting!
Kathryn x

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for your tricks.
    I like use theads of They are soft.
    I bought also from
    DMC 80 is suberb.