Down to the wire.
I like yarn. I'm a knitter. We like yarn. But yarn does not a knitter
make. Sometimes I get that old familiar itch that no cream will heal and
nothing will cure it like knitting with unconventional materials. Anything
that can be looped around a needle can be used for knitting, but right
now I am specifically thinking about wire. I am not the first wire knitter
- and barring some really bad punctuation - I won't be the last. There
are books out there that discuss wire knitting, most appropriately Knitting
with Wire by Nancy Wiseman. Later, I'll discuss my thoughts on this
book, but the purpose of this article is only in small part to be a book
review. Mostly I am here to share my experiences with turning metal into
fabric, not to regurgitate information you can find at your local library.
Knitting with wire is about the same as knitting with yarn, just harder, and a bit sharp around the edges; and just like knitting with yarn, the right materials means a better finished product.
It's gotta be a woody.
Metal needles will scratch and the wire scraping against them will make you yearn for the calming shrieks of fallen angels. Plastic needles are worthless, as they will only break. I've used both wooden and bamboo needles, and they have survived to knit another day. I've used the same needles again for yarn, but having a dedicated pair for wire knitting is a better idea.
Gauge is important.
Gauge. Gauge. Gauge. I'm as sick of hearing it as you are, but this isn't stitches and rows per inch here. This is wire gauge. On any spool of yarn, you'll find a number corresponding to the thickness of the wire. If the chosen wire is measured by the American Wire Gauge standard, the higher numbers correspond to the thinner wires. If your wire is measured in millimeters, then obviously the smaller numbers correspond to smaller wires. All the wire I've found has used the American Wire Gauge standard, so this is all I'll referring to throughout this article. Heart Shaped Box was knit using 24 gauge wire, but 26 gauge or higher is easier to manipulate, and therefore better for knitting. For comparison, my tongue stud is 10 gauge, which makes it about as thick as a US 2 needle.
Wire gauge is a standard measure of thickness, which means the 24 gauge wire at the hardware store is the same as what you would find at the craft store, so feel free to save a few bucks and get handy. However, if you want to break away from copper wire, you'll need to hit a good craft store to find the sterling silver or gold varieties.
In the beginning.
When you wrap wire around a knitting needle, it keeps that shape, so it's safe to use a cast on that wouldn't hold up well in traditional knitting. The long tail/slingshot cast on is too much manipulation of the wire, so I use a backward loop cast on. Just give the first stitch an extra twist before casting on other stitches. It doesn't have to be incredibly tight or loose; it's wire, not cashmere.
To purl or not to purl.
I've swatched wire in both stockinette and garter stitch, and they are almost identical, so skip the hassle and do whichever you find easiest. Personally, I use garter stitch because it's easier to knit every row than to distinguish between the knits and purls to know if I'm on the right or wrong side. Garter stitches aren't as tall as stitches in stockinette, but wire blocks with a solid finality, and you can manipulate the finished piece to whatever shape you want.
Keep it simple, stupid.
As with casting on, you don't want to try to manipulate wire for an intricate increase. No one will see it, and you'll probably just hurt yourself. Just knit into the front and back, or if you're really not giving a shit, just yarn over. Chances are you'll never notice the eyelets unless you are using gimongous needles, like US 35. Use k2tog (or p2tog) for decreases. If you're worried about doing paired increases or decreases, again, don't waste your time. It doesn't show, and any wonkiness can be blocked out.
When you're done.
Choose your bind off: For a firm, non-elastic, very neat bind off pull out your crochet hook and use a slip stitch. For a stretchy, not as neat bind off, bind off as you would normally. If you decide later you need more stability or want to neaten the edge, add a slip stitch edging after blocking to the desired shape. You may have to put two or more slip stitches into a bound-off stitch if you have stretched the BO edge a lot to obtain the shape you want.
Rip out your heart.
Wire doesn't rip like yarn. It stays in place when you manipulate it and throws a bitchfit if you try to go back on your word. Going back a row or two isn't bad, but the wire will be bent out of shape. You can straighten the undone wire before reknitting it by sliding it between two wooden needles held tightly together. It's like curling a ribbon for a present, but instead of being a useless activity for something that's just going to be destroyed in the opening, it makes your wire semi-usable. It won't be perfectly straight, but it will help. The reknit wire blends well in projects using wire with a matte finish, but the mistakes are more obvious in a lustrous wire. This is something to consider when starting a project.
It hurts so good.
Wire has no give. If knitting with cotton hurts, then you will not make wire your bitch without extreme amounts of pain. Going up a needle size or two doesn't ease the pain with wire knitting; it's the rigidity of the material that counts. Each stitch takes more effort than knitting with yarn, which will slow you down. Taking breaks will reduce the likelihood of injury, but that slows you down even more. You may want to look into a book on mudras (hand yoga).
So why knit with wire?
I've realized I like knitting with wire for the following reasons:
1. Wire is the ultimate medium for making 3-D items for a knitter. The possibilities for phallicky statuary abound.
2. Ooooh, shiny...!
3. People will literally have to stop to process what's going on. Forcing people to think is never a bad thing.
4. Automatic promotion to bad-ass knitter status.
Should you buy the book?
Nancie Wiseman's book Knitting With Wire wasn't all that useful to me, but there are some things about it that bear repeating here. First of all, she invented her own wire cast-on method. She also goes into detail about Norse wire knitting and its history. I personally didn't care for the look of the Nordic items, so therefore haven't attempted any of this kind of knitting. The majority of the patterns seem to be knitting regular items in wire (such as baby booties) for the oh, isn't that precious?! factor, which made me want to gag. So, unless you find the Norse wire kitting right up your alley, or can't stand the backward loop cast-on, I'd suggest heading out to a local craft store, picking up some wire and wooden needles, and just getting to it.