In 2004 Spin Off Magazine put out a call for pictures of ponchos that readers had made. I actually made this poncho, my first start to finish project, in 2004, and was pretty excited to consider myself part of the fiber arts world. I emailed a picture of my son wearing the poncho and wrote up a little bit about my process and his excitement. I was surprised to learn that my picture was being included in the Winter 2005 issue of Spin Off and I would be rewarded by a selection of Interweave books. The picture at the right is not me, but it is the first version of the poncho I made, before I added the front and back extensions.
The poncho at its beginning.
I had learned to spin the year before and my teacher, the salty Kathleen Bowman, had at last deemed me fit to strut my stuff in public. Off I went to the Fiber Frolic held in Windsor, Maine. My son, age 13, came along. He had been begging, for a couple of years, for me to make him a poncho and I had been dragging my feet. But with my new spinning skills, and well honed knitting ability, I figured now was the time. As I took a dying class, his job was to find some fiber that I could spin into yarn for his poncho.
He found the roving, beautiful hanks of rusty mohair and wool blended together, at the booth run by Stanmere Farm. I could afford two hanks, but it would not be enough to make a whole poncho. What to do? I found some grey carded Romney and bought a pound. All the Romney cost what one of the hanks of dyed mohair/wool cost. I needed to figure out how to make they work together.
How I Made It
I wanted to maximize my use of colored and blended yarn. When I had used about a quarter of my marled yarn I started to alternate with my pure rust yarn. I knit one row of rust, three of marl, then two each of rust and marl, then three of rust and one of marl. Then came the band of rust yarn. When I saw I was starting to run out of rust, I reversed the process of alternating yarns. I ended up using the rest of the marl before the poncho was quite big enough, so, again, I alternated yarns in the 1:3, 2:2, 3:1 pattern until I was working with the Romney grey.
The Poncho age 17.
I divided the rusty Stanmere roving into thirds. Two thirds I spun at a light worsted weight and plied on itself using a wound off center pull ball. The other third I spun and then plied with the Romney creating a slightly marled yarn. I spun the rest of the Romney and plied that on itself. So I had 3 lots of yarn to make the poncho. My son wanted a squared off poncho that could have been worn on an adventure with Hobbits and Dwarves, one Clint Eastwood might have been comfortable in.
The “pattern” or “recipe” in one paragraph: My plan was to knit as much as possible in the yarn containing the mohair. I took my US #7 needles and, using the first of my Romney-mohair yarn, cast on 80 stitches and knit a 1×1 ribbing for 4 rows. Then I marked the knit stitches every 20 stitches and started to increase one stitch on either side of the marked stitch, every other round. The increases were typical of a raglan sweater, but the spacing between pairs of increases was even. The poncho, of course, grew each round. I continued the increases until the length of each side was the same length as from the neck edge to just below the elbow. Then I worked the front and back separately, ending with a two row rib and binding off.
The color spacing was entirely guess work and experience with how much yarn would be used each row as the poncho got bigger. It was a fade before fades became popular. I based it on how one would incorporate a yarn of a different dye lot.
Much later, when I took over the poncho for myself, I added about 6″ to the front and 12″ to the back, ending with 6 rows of seed stitch before binding off again. This leaves the front brushing my lap, but provides some coverage for my back when I’m sitting. If I were making it today, I would add the extensions, front and back, as I was making it. The slightly cludgey transition doesn’t effect my love of the poncho. I take it to the Common Ground Fair every year. It is a wonderful intermediary garment during sweater weather here in Maine.