“ascending the pantheon of knitting greats…”

Doug and I have both been working from home for well over a year now. We took over the girls’ old bedrooms and turned them into working spaces. I work in one room and Doug is next door working in the other. We have fixed up the spaces as best we can, investing in standing desks and good internet connections, microphones, cameras, and headphones. As is probably familiar to millions of people who now work from home, this is a weird experience and it is difficult to set boundaries on your space and time. We are both teaching, so it is often the case that one or the other of us is conducting a class, and when not teaching, is sitting in on an endless stream of meetings.

Our schedules are both full-on and sometimes I do not see him all day long, even though he is sitting a few feet away. But I can frequently hear him. I can hear his classes in the background (I have learned a lot about teaching neuromethods this year), and can confirm that departmental meetings in psychology are almost exactly the same as departmental meetings in the business school. We wear headsets when on-line so I hear only one side of the conversations. The other day, I was sitting in my office and suddenly heard him mention my name. Of course, I started to listen. Here is what I heard:

“You see this great vest I am wearing? My wife knitted this vest! ….Yes, it is cool, isn’t it? …Here, let me turn around so you can see the back… She used a pattern but did a lot of fiddling to make it work right, so you can see it fits perfectly……You know that she also writes a blog about knitting which is very well-respected…You might even say that she is ascending the pantheon of knitting greats…”

Hee hee! This truly made me giggle. I had to write it down so that I wouldn’t forget. I think that there are two conclusions to be drawn from this:

  1. Love is blind.
  2. He likes the vest.

This tin roof is hot

Last week I started knitting Tin Roof (Ravelry link), an interesting tee, which is knitted from side-to-side. The pattern is by yamagara (otherwise known as Bernice Lim). Here is the project photo of Tin Roof:

© yamagara

I loved it when I saw it, and thought it would allow me to use up some linen yarn which had been in my stash for a number of years. I had a bunch of single skeins in a range of blues, greys, and greens, along with a couple skeins of black. I had already swatched with the yarn (Sparrow by Quince & Co) in 2017 when I tried it on another project (since aborted) and luckily I had recorded the gauge and needle size, so I was able to cast on directly and go. And go I have! This Tin Roof is hot!

Here is the left half of the top, both front and back. You start by casting on the sleeve cap, and then use a cable cast on to add stitches for both front and back, which are then knitted back and forth, with some artfully placed increases to give drape to the garment, until you split for the neck. The front (shown at the top in the photo above) gets some decreases to shape the neckline.

Then, this piece gets put aside and the right side is made in an identical manner and the two pieces are joined together at centre front and centre back. Finally, stitches are picked up along the bottom edge and the base of the top is purled, for some reverse stockinette, and then ribbed. I think the design is smashing and so easy to knit. It is a genius pattern for using up small bits of yarn and I think the linen is going to be great. I intend to make both sleeve caps and the base in black and to have each of the six striped panels in a different shade. Cool, huh?

In case you are having difficulty picturing it, here I have folded the front over the back so you can see the left side of the garment:

Note that if you are doing this yourself, you might really want to consider casting on additional stitches during the cable cast-on of front and back; this will make the stripes longer. The original is cropped too much for me, but this is a good solution (and documented by many on Ravelry); I cast on 12 more stitches each side than the pattern called for. The design is very simple but still has some cool features such as this shoulder detail:

This one is flying off the needles! It is a Bank Holiday weekend here and the weather looks awful, which means plenty of knitting time ahead of me! Keep well, everyone!

Ursula Waistcoat

I am thrilled to be able to show you some photos of the waistcoat I knitted for Doug.

I am really pleased with how it turned out.  It fits!  (My measurements told me that it was going to fit; but we all know that, in knitting, measurements sometimes lie.)  Most important, Doug likes it too!

Those of you who follow this space will know that the waistcoat/vest was a very long-term project, something which percolated in the back of my mind for some years before I finally set my yarn to needles.  Most of that time was spent in trying to find a pattern that I liked and wanted to knit.  I had some parameters – Doug wanted it to button down the front, I wanted to try my hand at knitting a stranded garment and steeking, we both wanted it to be colourful and interesting and fun, and furthermore, because this (a steeked, stranded garment) was all new to me, I wanted it to feel achievable – with a small, controlled number of colours and a pattern that was cool but uncomplicated.  Try as I might, I could not find any vest patterns that I liked.

I kept coming back to Ursula [Ravelry link]; a very nice women’s cardigan pattern designed by Kate Davies. It had all of the features I wanted – a small, regular fair isle pattern that was easy to memorise, that was well-suited to colour exploration, and that looked intrinsically cool and pleasing. Most of all, the pattern was written by someone I trust to get the details right and to write them in a way which worked for me.  Having knitted several of Kate’s patterns previously, I knew that she could walk me through a process, even one which pushed against my comfort zone.

Of course, I had to do a bit of pattern tinkering to take a women’s cardigan and produce a man’s waistcoat.  I followed the pattern exactly for the size 48, until I got to the underarms.  Then I had to do lots of calculations.  I added some length to the garment, both above and below the armholes, and I made a V-neck.  I calculated and measured ad nauseum, to try and ensure that the slope of the decreases at the arm would work and that the shoulders would fit properly and lie nicely.  Although I would tweak a few things here and there if I were to do it again, I am happy with the results.

I used Shetland wool, which is amazingly easy to steek.  It is “sticky” and has great stitch definition.  This vest is knitted with Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift in the shades Shlomit (an undyed shade), Conifer, Raspberry, and Loganberry.

As I knitted this, I became more comfortable with stranded knitting.  There are lots of different techniques for stranding; I tried lots of them to see which worked best for me.  The one I ended up sticking to was holding the background yarn in my right hand and throwing it and holding the foreground yarn in my left-hand and picking it.  It eventually settled into a rhythm for me and I think it ended up with very neat stitchwork, with no pulling in and very even stitches.  There are no very long floats and so I let them be and did not bother to catch them. Here, Doug is wearing it inside out so that you can see the reverse side:

Why do I keep switching between the terms waistcoat and vest? I think as an American living in Britain, my mind keeps toggling between the two terms. The difference seems to be regional, as well as one of quality (with a waistcoat being more formal). I have blogged about this project a lot so I will try not to repeat myself too much in this post.  In case you are interested in some of the techniques, thought processes, or decisions involved, I have provided links below to some of the posts I’ve written previously which you might like or find useful.

Vests:

A baker’s dozen of men’s knitted vest patterns; this post from 2017 showcases 13 men’s vest patterns.  I ended up not choosing any of them, but it is a good compilation of interesting patterns.

Ursula waistcoat:

Brownie points; picking the colours, swatching, choosing the type of ribbing.  You can see that I had no idea what I was doing – I ordered more than twice the amount of yarn I would need.

Inauguration side effects; a humorous post about how changes in your stress levels is reflected in your stitchwork.

Knitting on instinct; this post goes into some details on shaping the armholes and neckline.

Steeking without tears; this post goes into a lot of detail on the process of steeking.  It detailed why and how I picked up the stitches for the ribbing before cutting the steeks, and how I plotted, with extreme precision, to ensure that the buttonholes and the ribbing and the pattern would all line up precisely (it is a bit OCD).

Buttons and lambs; about choosing buttons for this project.

“Holy Fair Isle Batsuit, Batman!”; another humorous post, about how the partially steeked vest looks like a toddler’s fair isle batsuit.

Some Kate Davies patterns which I have knitted and blogged about:

Treit

Highland Rogue Cowl

Capping off the year; the “peerie floors” hat

Cautious vs impulsive

A few weeks ago, I saw a photo of the Tin Roof pattern (Ravelry link) by Yamagara Knits:

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© yamagara

The pattern is designed so that you can be creative. It is flexible and is a great way to combine different yarns from your stash and let you find a use for single skeins. The minute I saw the pattern, I had a flash to a bag, located somewhere in my stash, of multiple skeins of Quince & Co Sparrow linen yarn.

I have a complicated story with Sparrow. When the yarn was released, many years ago now, I saw it at Loop in London, loved the beautiful shades and the crispness of the linen, and went a bit crazy buying lots of it. I then twice tried to knit a summer top with it, and both of them ended up being put aside. I just didn’t like the Sparrow. First of all, it torques – the knitting gets stretched out to one side. Tin Roof is knitted from side to side, however. Plus, the not insubstantial bit of stockinette and ribbing added on to the bottom of the panels, seems like it would give a bit of stability to the piece and keep it from torqueing. In other words, I think that the way the top is constructed would mitigate for the tendency of the knitted fabric to torque.

I also didn’t like the texture of the Sparrow in the two projects I had tried to knit before. I had used a US4 needle to knit them, and found the finished fabric had lost the crispness which was part of what appealed to me about the yarn. So, I determined to knit up a swatch with a US3 needle. And guess what: the gauge is only slightly different from the US4, but the resultant fabric is significantly nicer. Here is the swatch on the US3:

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It is hard to see from the photo, but it has a really great feel to it. It is like a completely different yarn knitted at this gauge. And here you can see the fantastic colours of Sparrow from my stash and can imagine how pretty they would look in this top:

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This, then, is the “Cautious” bit of the title of this post. This is my normal way of figuring out a project. It involves a lot of time – I think about the project, I think about the yarn, I look at all of the project photos and notes from knitters, I think about it some more. I ask for opinions – Doug and I will have lengthy discussions about it, I will call the kids up and annoy them: “What do you think of this one?” “How will it look with this yarn?” Eventually, I will buy the pattern and examine it minutely before deciding whether to cast on. I will swatch. In this case, I have been thinking for at least two weeks, have the yarn in stash, and have even swatched. I am still working up to buying the pattern. I am moving very slowly and deliberately towards casting this on.

Occasionally, however, I find myself making a total impulse buy. These are sometimes fantastic buys, and are frequently disasters. I made an impulse buy this last week. I received a newsletter from Loop, and in it they mentioned that they were putting together kits for the Scout Shawl (Ravelry link) from Florence Spurling, which could be pre-ordered. They posted a photo of the shawl:

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© Florence Spurling

This was before the shawl pattern was listed on Ravelry, so I had virtually no information about it, other than the photo. I bought it instantly. Only later did I realise that it wasn’t steeked. This shawl is knitted back and forth, with both stranding and intarsia! I must be insane! Yes, it is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, but, I repeat, it is knitted back and forth, with both stranding and intarsia! On the other hand, I keep saying that I need a challenge to kick-start me back into a creative space. Maybe this is it. I don’t feel as if my knitting skills are up to this, but how else does one up-skill except by doing?

There you have it: two approaches to choosing a project. Cautious and impulsive: which do you use?

Another shade of grey

My two weeks of annual leave is about to end, and it has been mostly remarkable for its total lack of remarkableness. I wanted to go for a long walk each day, but it is cold and gross outside. I started about 47 books and managed to read an average of 2.9 pages of each one. I stared at my three knitting projects currently in progress, and failed to be excited by any of them. I looked at my 3495 favorited projects/patterns on Ravelry and couldn’t find a single one to knit. Finally, I took down the mountain of boxes stacked up in the corner containing my knitting stash and ripped through them, trying to find something that says “Knit me!”.

Me in my knitting cave, surrounded by stash boxes:

I grabbed a skein of gorgeous, fingering weight, hand-dyed yarn in a merino silk blend in luscious, subtle tonal shades of grey with very slight undertones of lavender and pink. I realised that this skein had been a Christmas gift to me some years ago from my daughter, Emma, who had purchased it on a trip to Portland. I never have to remember dates, because I write a blog so I can literally look this stuff up – and it turns out that Emma bought me this beautiful skein of yarn way back in 2014! I wrote about it in the post titled “How to spoil a knitter for Christmas”, which you can find here. Okay, so one problem solved: have yarn. Now, what to knit with it?

I spent another (very long) time searching patterns that could be knit with a single skein of yarn (this was more difficult than it sounds because I ruled out socks, mitts, and hats). I eventually picked out seven patterns and sent links to Emma. Before she could write back, I had already settled on one pattern in particular, and then Emma responded with the same choice. That makes life easier. The pattern is called Fractal Danger (Ravelry link), by Martina Behm. The reason it won, besides the fact that it’s a lovely pattern: it is basically composed of garter stitch, my stitch of choice when I need comfort knitting.

I started it yesterday, and it does make for lovely comfort knitting, with an intuitive, rhythmic pattern:

Here is a close-up in which you can see the tonal shades of grey:

Don’t say: “What a horrible mom I am! My daughter buys me some beautiful yarn and I stick it in a box for 6 years!”

Do say: “I have the best family on earth. They really get me. How nice that they buy me beautiful yarn to stash away for a day when I need comforting.”

The best intentions

I took two weeks of annual leave from work, which is already more than half gone. We are still pretty much locked down here, so I had no plans of travel nor grand adventure, no museum-hopping, restaurant-eating, people-meeting, window-shopping activities to fill up my days. But I did have the best intentions, namely:

I would not look at my email.

I would go for long walks every day.

I would do lots of knitting. My plan was to finish Doug’s vest during the first week, including all of the steeking, ribbing, and sewing of buttons – and to block, photograph and blog about it as well. During the second week, I intended to power my way through the Dyemonds pullover, and to do lots of swatching for some new projects.

I would organise all of my knitting stuff, sorting through mountains of boxes and piles of assorted tools and haberdashery and get it all cleaned up. My plan was to actually be able to find the thing I needed when I needed it.

I would sit in the garden and read. I would read something meaty and intelligent.

This is what I’ve done:

I have not looked at my email.

I went for one walk.

I lounged on the couch with my feet up and watched the new robot vacuum cleaner that Doug bought as it vacuumed its way around the room. (This is highly recommended.)

I have slept 12 hours a day.

I have knit exactly 5 rows on Doug’s vest, albeit fairly long rows.

I don’t remember when I last felt so burned out. I have six days left. I think perhaps I should lower my expectations.

“Holy Fair Isle Batsuit, Batman!”

I’ve been knitting the button bands on Doug’s vest. I put the project down and noticed that it looked like this:

Because I haven’t yet cut the steeks which will create the armholes, and because the 450ish stitches of the button bands and neck are all squeezed onto a circular knitting needle, it rather resembles a toddler-sized fair isle batman cowl and cape, complete with ears.

Granted, there are no razor-sharp blades on the edges of the cape, which as we all know are useful when dealing with corrupt officials. And while Shetland wool has considerable shape memory, this cape is unlikely to have enough rigidity to allow one to glide over the buildings of Gotham. Furthermore, there is no antenna in the left ear capable of scanning police radio frequencies. Sadly, the cowl is not shielded to protect against mind control.

However, it is hand-knitted using the Fair Isle technique, and is thus both more stylish, and considerably more woke, than all that boring black vinyl. Perhaps just a bit of Kevlar….

Buttons and lambs

I have started knitting the ribbing around the front edges and neckline of Doug’s vest, after my successful steek, and am busily contemplating buttons. The green buttons, while the right colour, are only 15mm across, and this felt a bit small for this type of project. Unfortunately, they aren’t available in a larger size. So, I ordered two different buttons at 18mm. What do you think?

Here are the green ones:

Here are a slightly larger set of grey ones:

And here are some deep pink ones, with a light rim:

Seeing the photos, I still think the green ones are best. Though the pink ones are pretty cool. Decisions, decisions….

I have been sick all week, but have still been working hard, so that I could get everything done before I take some annual leave time. My leave starts today, and I have clearly over-exerted myself; now all I want to do is sleep. We’ll see if any knitting gets done over the next few days. In the meantime, some slow progress on my Dyemonds pullover. I am happy to see that it fits:

This morning we went for a walk and discovered that the lambing season is in full swing.

The little one on the right, all curled up with its exhausted mom, has the cutest markings. He looks like a little llama.

Momma sheep has the right idea. I’m going to follow in her footsteps and take a nap.

Steeking without tears

Today I cut the front steek on Doug’s vest, and it was a glorious thing! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I fretted about the steeks over the last few weeks. (Fair isle knitting patterns are easiest to knit in the round, so that the sweater is in the shape of a tube. The steek is a column of extra stitches which are designed to be cut open once the knitting is done, producing the arm openings or the open front of a cardigan. If you are not accustomed to this, the idea of taking a pair of scissors to your knitting is quite scary.) I finally realised that much of my fretting was actually about the ribbing, rather than the steek itself. That is, I wanted the button band stitches to be picked up perfectly and evenly along the edges of the steek, and I wanted the alignment – both the alignment of one side of the vest to the other, but also the alignment of the columns of rib to the bands of the fair isle pattern of the garment – to be equally perfect. Call me a perfectionist.

I know me, and that means I know that I will pick up the stitches again and again and again, and fiddle, until each one is placed exactly right. I worried about doing this on a cut edge. I posted a question on Ravelry – can I pick up the stitches before cutting the steek? Well, it turns out that the answer – like with most answers in knitting – is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. I determined to pick up the stitches along the steek edge first, and then to cut. This was not only to allay my anxiety that something would go wrong, but also because I didn’t want to be worrying the edge if I ended up ripping stitches out multiple times.

If you are not a knitter and are somehow inexplicably reading this post anyway, or if you tend to get easily bored, please skip this paragraph! For the knitting nerds out there, this is for you! I spent many hours plotting and thinking and measuring and trying to determine the best rate of picking up stitches to allow the rib to lay flat along the button bands, but also to make sure that each button lined up exactly with the middle of each band of colour. The ribbing is 3×2, so the first determination was whether I wanted the buttonholes to be in the troughs (the 2 purl stitches) or along the tops of the knit ribs. This also meant that I needed to know the size of the buttons, and thus the size of the buttonholes. I determined to put the buttonholes in the purl columns. Each band of colour in the pattern was 10 rows high, with two stockinette rows in between, for a total of 12 rows per band. I picked up stitches at 3 per every 4 rows at the bottom ribbing, and then at 5 for every 6 rows for the body of the garment. This meant that I picked up 10 stitches for every band. I made sure that the two stitches at the exact middle of each colour band were purls – these would be where the buttonholes would be placed. That left 8 picked up stitches between each of the buttonholes – 3 knit, 2 purl, 3 knit. It worked out so perfectly!

In the above photo, you can see how I picked up stitches along one side of the steek. Those are on the top half of the photo. This photo is taken along the v-neck, so there are decreases, making the bands of pattern appear at a slight diagonal. I used the little closing markers to mark every group of 2 purl stitches, so I knew exactly how the rib would lay against the fabric. Between every group of two purls, are the three stitches destined to be the knit columns. I picked up stitches along the entire left side of the garment, to where the back neck stitches were held live on a second needle. Then, I used a third needle to pick up stiches all the way down across the other side of the steek. You can see this on the bottom half of the photo. I am picking up stitches from left to right because I am left-handed. I have continued to mark each of the groups of two purls, and this way I can check (obsessively!) to make sure that the purls are directly across from the purls, the knits are directly across from the knits, and furthermore that the middle two stitches of each colour band are always ending up as two purls. Thus, everything is in alignment.

Now, I have picked up along both steek edges. I ran out of stitch markers at some point, so ended up not marking every single grouping of purl stitches, but I can guarantee every picked up stitch along one side of the garment will align with the other side, so that once I have knitted the 3×2 ribbing, there will be no buckling, or stretching, or buttonholes that are in the wrong place. Here is a close up of the top end of the garment:

The back neck stitches are held live on one needle (with a green cable) and there are two long needles (with red cables) holding the picked up stitches along each side of the steek. You can see the shoulders, which I also dealt with in a slightly unconventional manner, having used a three needle bind off on the reverse side, instead of grafting them together. The whole thing looks strange and out-of-shape, because the decreases for the v-neck are worked along the edges of the steek and pull the two sides of the vest together. The v-neck shaping will not emerge until after the steek has been cut.

Now, I am all ready to cut, and you can see that instead of being apprehensive, I am excited and relaxed! This will be fun!

Snip! I can’t describe how satisfying the sound of the scissors was; snip snip! I had knitted the steeks with alternating rows of colour, so there is no guesswork involved in where to cut, and the fabric parts so easily. Now, I am approaching the neckline:

It all goes so fast! Here just seconds later, I am about to make the last cut, just as relaxed and happy (and perhaps a bit maniacal) as the first:

Yay! A steek! I did it! What was the fuss about, again?

You can see the v-neckline has suddenly emerged, now that the steek is now longer holding the edges of the two sides together. The cut edges are incredibly neat and tidy – this is the result of using the right wool. This is Shetland wool, and it is sufficiently “sticky” so that it won’t unravel. Nevertheless, I am so happy that I’ve already picked up the stitches for the button bands, and will be able to start knitting them right away. Look here as I fold back the two sides. Isn’t it lovely? Be still my heart!

Finally, a close-up of one of the steeked edges. You can see that it naturally folds itself to the inside of the fabric:

Next up will be knitting the ribbing for the button bands. This will be followed by two more steeks – one for each armscythe – and the ribbing around each arm. I haven’t decided yet whether to pick up those stitches first or not. I am not so worried about aligning the stitches between front and back of the armscythe, as you won’t see this when the garment is worn, so I suppose that I could cut first and then pick up. I am also less worried about this beautiful Shetland wool unravelling now that I’ve cut this steek. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I will repeat what I’ve done here, given how successful I found it to be this time.

After weeks of fretting in the back of my mind, cutting the steek was a breeze. It took me over 3 hours to pick up all of the stitches and carefully align the whole thing. It took about 30 seconds to cut the steek. No tears in sight.

The Banksy of Reading Gaol

When we first moved to Reading, I was always a bit amazed to drive past Reading Gaol. It’s right there, in the middle of town, still a functioning prison at the time. We had to drive by it every day, to get to the girl’s school, or to the campus where Doug and I work. It is easy to not notice it at all as one drives past, busy negotiating the roundabout and lots of traffic, and trying not to get stuck behind a bus as it slows for the bus stop. Yet this is the infamous prison where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned, and which inspired his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

If you drive by it today, you would notice it. It is now the site of the newest Banksy artwork, and even in these days of Covid, it is drawing crowds of admirers. We went to see it today. After a year stuck at home, it took a Banksy to get us out and about.

It was fun watching the crowd interact with the piece. Doug tried to catch both escaping prisoner and typewriter:

I settled for smiling:

While it was fun to watch the crowd engaging with the artwork, I was also quite struck by how lovely it is. It is quirky, and funny, and moving.