Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Camera Doesn't Lie

I was all ready to show you my finished Sugarplum Pullover early last week, after having ripped it out all the way past the armpits. The length issue had been resolved by ripping the entire yoke and several inches of the body, and reknitting a smaller size. The yoke was still too deep; my row gauge was off for the whole sweater and since it was my first colorwork yoke, I didn't feel capable of modifying the chart enough to shorten it. Thus I chose to be satisfied with the roomy, classic sweater I made, instead of the snug, modern sweater I imagined.

I blocked it, wore it all day, and took FO shots in the backyard. But when I looked at those photos, I saw this:

It looked terrible from the back. The neckline was too droopy and wide. A wide boatneck does not work on a roomy sweater. I am a master of convincing myself in the moment that something was good enough, but the photo did not lie. It was not good enough.

I was loath to reknit the yoke again, even though my inner knitter knew (and still knows) that I should place at least one additional decrease round within the yoke. So I ripped the neckline back, hoping that some added decreases might cinch things up enough. I was hopeful that perhaps it would even raise the neckline enough to improve the fit overall. So I decreased in the last row or two of the colorwork, and in the ribbing around the neck, and then in the last row below the cast-off. I also did a simple, standard bind-off, for one last bit of snugging.

I put it on, it fit over my head, and yes, this was a more more cinched neckline. Satisfied, I set up the camera for more FO shots, this time in the snowy backyard. And again, the photo did not lie. I had decreased way too much, and ended up with really unattractive rippling. Blocking was not going to flatten this out. I needed to rip again.

I decreased a bit more judiciously this time around, and chose to bind off in the rib pattern as well. And now, I can say, that I am, finally, satisfied with my sweater.

Pattern: Sugarplum Pullover (Ravelry link) by Veronik Avery from Handknit Holidays
Yarn: MC is KFI Cashmereno DK. Colorwork is mostly KnitPicks Merino Style but I also used stash where I could, including a little Lambs Pride and Naturespun.

Cashmereno is discontinued, and I think it may be one of the yarns that was caught up in the whole "cashmere content controversy" of years past. I had bought a bag on sale a couple years ago, and decided to use it against my better judgment, assuming that it would pill on the needles like its doppelganger, Debbie Bliss Cashmerino. I am glad I ignored my better judgment this time, because this yarn has held up to serious ripping and reknitting like a dream, and I have worn this sweater already a few times and have yet to see a single pill. There is a slight halo, but otherwise, it has so far held up way beyond my (admittedly very low) expectations.

I did have gauge problems with this sweater, and that is what led to my overall sizing issues. I also think the instructions on gauge are confusing in the pattern, and actually, I think there is a mistake. This pattern calls for the knitter to use three needle sizes: small for the rib, medium for the body, and large for the colorwork (assuming that colorwork tends to be tighter for most knitters. However, it recommends you get gauge in plain stockinette on the large needle the one you'd use for the yoke. I contacted the Ms. Avery, who suggested the obvious: get gauge on the medium needle, the one you'd use for the body, and she too suspects an error in the pattern.

Once again, the camera does not lie. The sweater, although a bit big, is deliciously cozy, the colors are divine, and the knitter is finally satisfied with the final product!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Trio of Mitts

I'm no Tiennie. I don't knit rainbows of mitts for all the playground moms, nor do I knit flowers of snowboarding caps for all my son's friends. No, there's only one Tiennie, and all I can hope to do is to be inspired by her generous spirit and knit for those I love.

Coincidentally, the day before Tiennie amazed the blog world with her incredible colorwheel of Evangelines, my sister-in-law requested a pair of black fingerless gloves to keep her hands warm but still enable her to adjust her MP3 player. My sister-in-law knows that I love to knit on request and when she found herself borrowing her 8 year old's fingerless mitts, she knew she needed to commission a pair.

Pattern: Evangeline, from MagKnits January 2008, inspired by the amaazing Tiennie
Yarn: Malabrigo Worsted
I lengthened the ribbing by a few rows on the cuff, but otherwise this is a great, easily modifiable pattern, and they are especially yummy in Malabrigo.

I really do not knit for others to get showered with praise and thanks, but was gratifying to have my sister-in-law tell me how much she loves her mitts, and how she's told all her friends that I just whipped them up by request. And when my daughter brings home schoolwork like this, how can I refuse her when she asks for a new pair? She wanted fingerless gloves too, so she can keep her hands warm and deal with her seatbelt in the back of the car. She had grown out of her Playground Mittens, and really, she prefers gloves. She wanted green, because that's her favorite color. Since I have colorwork on the brain, I threw the hearts (borrowed from here and here) onto a basic Ann Budd pattern and used some Naturespun Sport from the stash.

And since I had a ton of Malabrigo left over, I made some for me too. Like I said, I'm no Tiennie.

Pattern: Natalya by Jody Pirello
Yarn: Malabrigo Worsted
Mods: I shortened them considerably as I had to conserve yarn, but otherwise, a simple but elegant pattern from my friend, the certified knittng genius we all know as Savannah Chik.

Rosebud's and my mitts saw a lot of action this weekend as we participated in the Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count. We printed the checklist for our area, we took our identification guides and pencils, and settled in, ready to count.

We counted exactly zero birds in our cold backyard. But at least our hands were warm!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Wear Report - Valentine's Edition

For the last four years, I have knitted something for Mr S for Valentines Day. The first thing I ever made him were Fibertrends Felted Clogs, and after four years of daily wear, it was time for a replacement.

Let's give some serious credit to that double-thick felted sole; these slippers have held up amazingly well, given their level of hard use. Mr S wore them every day, often up and down our very steep driveway to get the newspaper or to put out the trash. But for the last 6 months or so, the soles of the clogs began to sprout holes, and I began finding little strands of red yarn all over the house as they began to shed their frayed edges.

I made the first pair of clogs in Lambs Pride Worsted. They obviously held up so well, it made sense to use that felting workhorse again. My husband has very big feet (insert snicker here), so I made the largest size, but it took many, many cycles in the washer for these to felt to the proper size. It wasn't much of a surprise when he opened them up even though I made sure I didn't knit them when he was around; he'd been expecting a new pair, but he was, predictably, happy and grateful for the new pair.

Pattern: FiberTrends Felted Clogs
Yarn and Needles: Lambs Pride Worsted, 4 skeins, chocolate souffle, US13
Ravelry Details here

We've all heard the old adage that marriage is hard work, to stay connected as life gets complicated, to keep the spark as life gets predictable and boring. We've been together over a dozen years, and we're in the stage of our life where Friday nights no longer mean wine tastings or art openings. It means ice cream socials at the elementary school or sharing yet another pizza on paper plates. Our first Valentines Day was celebrated with a romantic weekend away at a B & B; now we celebrate with a giant chocolate chip cookie from Acme after dinner and a gift of handknits. I mean, replacement felted slippers don't exactly say "Come on over, sexy lover." They're practical, warm, and sort of boring.

But Mr S and I had an especially happy Valentine's Day, after having endured a potentially scary health issue for me. I am one of the lucky women whose questionable mammogram ultimately showed no signs of malignancy, but it has been a worried few weeks for the two of us. We maintained perspective, and were very optimistic, but it was impossible for me not to see his concern when he looked at me. I teased him that he loved me extra, and that he'd better still love me extra when I was just his Making-Spaghetti-For-Dinner-Again-Wife, not his Oh-My-God-What-If-She-Has-Cancer-Wife.

We've emerged from the last month with an immense feeling of relief and gratitude, as well as a new empathy for people who have to walk the difficult path that we were so fortunate to avoid. We appreciate in a whole new way our boring, happy life, and we still love each other extra.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Dance of Knitting

On and off for the past year, I have been spending my Tuesday nights at Scottish Country Dancing Classes. The extraordinary instructors, Stella and Sandy, drill into the dancers proper footwork, dance etiquette, and the beauty of the intricate twists and turns of the dance.

Just as I once learned to read knitting instructions such as "sl 2-k1-p2sso," I am now learning to find meaning in dance directions such as "½ diag reel of 4 with 1CRs - pass LSh." And as I learn to interprete the allemandes, reels, and poussettes that make up the dances, I find myself after class feeling a similar rhythm and movement in my stitches. The act of moving a couple down the set in a dance, the act of moving stitches from one needle to the other. Creating beautiful dance with the turns, setting, and chains, creating fiber art with yarn overs, cables, and decreases.

KPPPM Chevron Scarf

A Hat for R using leftover O-Wool

I remember in the movie "Cry of the Snow Lion" hearing of the traditional Tibetan culture as one that prioritizes art, beauty, and the spiritual so that every act of work and sustainance is elevated to an art. Everyday items (socks, sweaters, hats) and daily chores (cooking, cleaning, farming) are executed with integrity and spirituality.

I know that my life will never be completely integrated with art and beauty. However, my nights at dance class can remind me to bring more grace to my movements. And my handwork can remind me that a scarf can be art.

Scarf with Clarence Border in Handmaiden 100% Silk

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Emotional Rescue

How far would you go to rescue a project?

Would you cut off the bottom of a too-long sweater? I'll bet many of you might. I certainly have cut off too-long sleeves and knit ribbings down to the desired length. But what if your ribbing looked this good? It's a perfect tubular cast-on, after many attempts. Would you cut your sweater and then graft the ribbing back on to the current length?

Cross-stitch rib with a smooth tubular cast-on. So pretty.

But what if the sweater isn't just too long? What if the sweater is also too big around the yoke? And the armscyes are too deep? Would you rip out the sweater from the top, thus shortening the sweater and fixing the raglan decreases so that the yoke fits better?

I bet many of you would, and I would too. I rip and modify to fit and flatter all the time. But what if the yoke looked like this?

My first colorwork yoke. It's beautiful. It was painstaking. It looks even better blocked.

I think if I rip out the sweater to about two or three inches below where I join the sleeves to the body, eliminate a few increases and follow the instructions for the small, the yoke will fit much better. Plus, eliminating the increases will shorten the length overall, thus I might not have to cut off the bottom.

I think it might be salvageable. But for now, I just can't bring myself to tear all this out.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

You Make My Day

The gang over here at XRK would like to extend our collective thanks to those fabulous Knitbloggers who recently told us that we make their day -- thank you Chrispy, Tiennie, and Marnie!

Here's a list of bloggers who make our day -- some are knitters, some are gardeners, some are just pure inspiration ...

The Frog and the Daisy
Garden Rant
Go Knit in Your Hat
Jen Lemen
Kindness Girl
Spiderwoman Knits
Tiennie Knits
Two Sharp Sticks
The Ravell'd Sleave

The writing, the projects, the wit, the book reviews, the photos, the intelligence -- click on the links and check out the fierce talents of these folks.

Thank you!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Big Wool Too Small

Back in November I wanted to knit up a shawl for my sister-in-law for Christmas. I felt as though she deserved a yummy hand knit. She wanted a big, comfy wrap -- rectangular and knit on the diagonal. She came to the yarn store with me and picked out some big wool. I was set. I knit it up. It went fast. So fast that I didn't have the time to really analyze what was happening. I never had time to gather myself and get some perspective. I'd say it took one, maybe two football games, so a Sunday afternoon, and there it was. A big brown ugly blanket.

There was no way this was going to be her gift. Mind you, the yarn cost about $100, so I wanted it to look a bit nicer! I got her a different Xmas present and ripped out the wrap.

A few weeks ago, after being seduced by the idea of a "speedalicious sweater" from Curly Purly, I knit up Brigitta. Without remembering the earlier lesson about speed and perspective, the lack thereof.

I thought, hmm, I'm getting 9.5spi instead of 9spi. I'll be okay b/c I'll knit the large size and I'm a M/L -- it'll be fine. Then right before I sat down to knit it, the BackBou convinced me to knit the M size ("you always wear big, loose things -- make it more fitted this time"). So, completely forgetting my previous swatching and decision about gauge, I knit the M size. What on earth is wrong with me? I ask you!

It went fast. Very, very fast. I am not a fast knitter (as you can plainly see from my dearth of FOs -- I knit all the time and have very little to show for it!). I grew intoxicated by my Big Wool speed. It was like I was on speed. I had no discernment, no discretion, no idea how friggin small this was going to actually turn out because I felt like a champion speed knitter.

I really don't like it. Some friends have tried it on and it looks smashing on them. Those people size S or S/M would look great in it. That is not me. I am going to put this up for the Richmond Waldorf School Auction in March (right about the time everyone is feeling like Spring and no one wants a big wooly sweater). It has now become one of those knits that I just want out of my life. I could barely bring myself to take a picture of it.

Pattern: Brigitta
Yarn: Rowan Big Wool
Needles: US 15s
Modifications: I made the sleeves shorter, not flared and just knitted a garter border.

Now, to wipe that off your brain, here is sock one of my Socks for Veronique. Ahhhh ... back to US 1s!