Cautious vs impulsive

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tin-roof.jpeg
© 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:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wp-1618658917208.jpg

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:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wp-1618658963795.jpg

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:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is scoutimage5_medium2.jpg
© 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.

Today’s headlines: Covid! Brexit! Embroidery Guild!

This is a short post, but I couldn’t resist. This morning, I opened the Guardian, and what did I see:

The embroidery article, which you can find here, concerns a “a bitter internal row over proposals to try to save the 115-year-old institution from liquidation”. Apparently, despite embroidery seeing a huge boom in sales, brought about in part by the popularity of Bridgerton on Netflix, the Embroidery Guild is financially strapped nonetheless.

Photograph: Liam Daniel/Netflix

I am, however, quite bemused, Bridgerton or no, to see the Embroidery Guild sharing the headlines with Covid, Brexit, and other topics of national and international import at the top of the front page. That said, Wisdom the albatross is there, too.

A quick observation on diversity in knitting

I am very stressed, and this evening I took a short period to zone out, and as I often do, I looked through Ravelry’s index of “Hot Right Now”, defined as “designs with the most visits in the last 24 hours”. I have commented here before about the need for more diversity in knitting, and have occasionally pointed out companies and designers who are using more diverse models. Very slowly, we are seeing an increasing use of models of colour, and also an increase in age and size diversity. Today, however, I was really struck by the lack of black models in the patterns that are hot right now. Not all of these patterns have models, by the way, but I think the facts still speak for themselves.

The first black model was on the 144th most popular pattern (patterns change position constantly). Of the top 500 patterns, there were 9 with black models (3 of them the same model, with the designs all from the current issue of Pom Pom magazine, as pictured below).

© Laura Morsman

Of the top 1000 patterns on Hot Right Now, there were 23 with black models (6 of them from Pom Pom Issue 36, featuring the lovely model above).

Of the top 2000 patterns on Hot Right Now, there were 34 with black models. That’s 1.7%. If we discount that one issue of Pom Pom, it’s 1.4%.

Food for thought, no?

Zombified

I am wiped out. Exhausted. Brain dead. Beat. Wrecked. Burned out. Zombified.

I want to keep this blog a happy place, so instead of writing about how over-worked and over-stressed and deeply bone-tired I am, I will show you a few photos of new stuff.

Here is some pretty new yarn:

I bought this yarn as a pre-order kit for Attitude [Ravelry link], a cowl by Julie Knits in Paris, which can double up as a hood. I’d show you a photo of the cowl, but the file won’t upload, and I am too brain dead to sort it out. But that’s okay, because pretty yarn is all we need to make us happy, right?

I ordered this in November, during the iKnit7 Holiday Extravaganza, and it didn’t arrive until this month. My guess is that the pre-order was much more over-subscribed than anticipated and it took a long time to dye all that wool. But I love Julie Knits in Paris – she does such great, funky designs – and I love Kettle Yarn, so I am not going to complain about the time lag. In fact, by Kelly’s Fantastic Accounting Principles, since I paid for it in 2020 but received it in 2021, it is in fact free.

I also treated myself to a couple of knitting magazines:

These are two excellent editions, and I am really enjoying reading them. For the past few years, I have been doing most of my pattern perusing on-line, and not buying many print publications, but now that I am zooming ALL DAY LONG for work, and sitting in ENDLESS ON-LINE MEETINGS, I don’t want to look at a screen any longer than ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. (Bad Kelly! Blog is Happy Place!)

The little wooden tube in the photo is a beautiful, carved needle case for tapestry needles. It is a little gift I bought to cheer myself up, and I love it. I purchased it from Tribe, here. (Doug and I spent a half hour trying to open it. We both failed. I had to look at the link and read the information. “Oh! It is a screw opening! We need to un-screw it, not pull it!” Head thunk! What did I say? Brain dead. Both of us.)

I also purchased some new project bags:

The small one is from Wild and Woolly, here, and the two larger ones from Knit with Attitude, here. They all come with lots of pockets, and are nice and roomy:

I have no more fun new things to show you. I’m going to go lie down. Stick a fork in me, I’m done!