Saturdays are for swatching

I’ve gone about three weeks now without knitting anything.  I can’t seem to pick up the one project I have on the needles – a very chic Hanne Falkenberg jacket.  I love the jacket and am enjoying knitting it, but for some reason it’s not working for me now.  I am stressed with a very demanding new role at work and I can’t seem to find a project to hold my attention.

I do, however, have some new yarn to play with.  I have noticed a number of knitters on Ravelry – people whose knitting I follow – using a worsted weight wool from France by  Gilliat, called ‘de rerum natura’.  I have thought about buying it for a while just to see what it is like.  I did some research and saw that it was frequently cited as a good substitute for Brooklyn Tweed Shelter.  That sold me!  BT is expensive here in the UK and I prefer to buy more locally when I can.  (I have many projects made from BT yarns, but I enjoy having some options.)  The similarities are in the way the wool is spun, which makes for an incredibly light yarn, with an amazing yardage.  I found a local distributor (Wild and Wooly in Hackney, London), and ordered five different colours:

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(Note that I am going to call these colours navy, red, cream, beige and light blue.  They are actually called Nuit, Pavot, Poivre Blanc, Poivre et Sel, and Lagon, respectively.)

Today I have a rare day free and I decided to do some swatching.  I imagine that many readers of this blog will immediately know what sweater I am swatching for, but as it is that time of the year when a knitter’s heart turns to presents, it will be called The-sweater-that-can’t-be-named for the time being.  Here is Swatch #1:

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I have only knit half the rows, so this is just part of the pattern (and includes the bottom half of a band of flowers which I have mercilessly cut asunder).  The interesting thing about the pattern is that it can be knit with 3, 4, or 5 colours, and these can be high contrast or rather subtle.  This means there are infinite possibilities.  The swatch above was knit with a US8, which might be a bit too big – the swatch is still damp so I will hold off on determining the exact gauge.  I also, in a very stupid move, knit it back and forth – even for a swatch, this is crazy!

Here is the second swatch:

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This one I knit in the round, so to speak.  In other words, at the end of every row I cut the yarns and then slid the swatch across to the other side of the (circular) needle and knitted again.  Thus, every row is knitted as in circular knitting, but it makes for an awful lot of cut ends – which then can’t be ripped out and used again if you are playing yarn chicken.  I knit this one with a US7 needle.  It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo, but this sample uses both the cream and the beige shades. (I also inadvertently added an extra row of beige into the pattern.) Now, I need to decide.  Here are some of my options:

  1. Go with the colour pattern from Swatch #1.
  2. Go with the colour pattern from Swatch #2.
  3. Try other combinations of 3, 4 or 5 of these colours.
  4. Order some more balls of this yarn in some different colours and keep swatching.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. I think I like the fabric with the smaller needle (although the gauge will ultimately determine my choice of needle size).
  2. So far, I am really liking the yarn.  It feels nice while knitting, it is great for colourwork, and it has a much softer hand than I expected.  I will withhold judgement until I’ve finished a garment and worn it for a while, but I am thinking this will be a winner.
  3. I originally decided on the red, navy and cream combo, as that is a pretty classic pairing.  But I wanted to order a few extra colours so I could try out some options.  I chose the beige (slightly darker than the cream) to try to do some subtle shading, and the shopkeeper (thanks, Anna!) suggested the light blue shade.  The red is supposed to be the “pop” colour – in the centre of the flowers and for a few accents. I may try a swatch using just the navy, red and cream.
  4. I should maybe try to make a trip to Hackney and visit Wild and Wooly!  They have a great webpage, cool yarn and are very helpful.
  5. Swatch #1 has white flowers with a red centre, and Swatch #2 has light blue flowers with a red centre.  I very much liked the idea of the pop of red, but I am sort of  considering making a swatch with no red. So, navy background and pattern in cream, beige and light blue? That would very drastically change the pattern I think – no “pop” – but seems intriguing.
  6. I am also toying with the idea of ordering more yarn – a bright orange, a spring green, and a yellow (which unfortunately is a bit more mustard-y than sunshine-y if I can trust my computer screen).  So, I am thinking maybe navy background, white flowers with yellow centres and green accents?  Or, navy background, white or yellow flowers with orange centres and green accents?   (The background is definitely navy as I have 5 balls on hand!

Help! I can’t decide! What should I do?

I only know one thing for sure: swatching is grand!

The opposite of Start-itis

Kelly: “I have the opposite of start-itis, Doug.”

Doug: “What does that mean?”

Kelly: “You know: start-itis is the very expensive compulsion to keep casting on new knitting projects without finishing any of the ever-growing number of knitting projects that you have already cast on!”

Doug: “Yes, I know what start-itis is.  I want to know: what is the opposite of start-itis?”

Kelly: “That’s what I have!”

Doug: “I got that part; what does it mean?”

Kelly: “It means that I can’t cast on anything.  I try and try and nothing happens. I’ve been trying to cast on something for weeks.  I can’t do it.  It’s the opposite of start-itis. What would you call that?  It can’t be called ‘end-itis’, which would be something else entirely.”

Doug: “Okay, Kelly, break this down for me. Why can’t you cast anything on?”

Kelly: “I don’t know.”

Doug: “Do you have yarn?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Doug: “Lots of yarn?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Doug: “Do you have patterns?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Doug: “Lots of patterns?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Doug: “Do you have an enormous variety of knitting needles and other knitting paraphernalia, overflowing throughout the house, inhabiting every room and potentially procreating?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Doug: “So you have, realistically, thousands of potential projects, perhaps tens of thousands, with the necessary yarn, patterns, needles, and other accessories that you need in order to cast on?”

Kelly: “Well, I guess so, if you want to put it that way.”

Doug: “But you can’t cast on anything?”

Kelly: “No.”

Doug: “I know what the opposite of start-itis is.”

Kelly: “Really? Fantastic! What is it?”

Doug: “Procrastination!”

Kaffe Fassett at Mottisfont

Last weekend we drove down to Mottisfont, a National Trust property in Hampshire.  We had two goals: first, to walk through the beautiful walled gardens and grounds of this lovely country estate on a crisp autumn day, and second, to see an exhibit of Kaffe Fasset’s work.  It was a win-win!

The exhibit was arranged around colours, with each of five rooms organised around a colour theme.  It showcased some of Kaffe’s work in knitting, tapestry and quilting, from a career spanning 50 years.  Here I am standing in a corner of the Yellow room.  The chair, covered in needlepoint in a shell motif, is really spectacular.

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Here is a closeup of the waistcoat on the wall behind me.

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I especially liked the pink room, which featured, among other things, two fantastic quilts in shades of pinks and oranges.

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Doug snapped the below shot of me getting up close to examine the top stitching on one of the quilts.  As you can see, I match the quilt!  (I am wearing my Laelia cardigan – blogged here – knit in a fantastic hand-dyed orange silk yarn by The Uncommon Thread, and carrying a Ted Baker handbag in a lovely shade of fucshia.)

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There is some beautiful knitting on display.  Here are a few examples:

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And some lovely juxtapositions of classic Kaffe patterns:

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Mottisfont was originally founded as an Augustinian priory in 1201.  It has been transformed many times over the centuries, and is now primarily associated with Maud Russell who, along with her husband, purchased the property in 1934.  Maud’s diaries, written during the World War II period, were published last year.  The National Trust has done a very nice job of bringing Maud to life – through her witty and observant diary entries and through her fashion and decorating flair.

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Here is a touch I liked: a basket of knitting in one of the drawing rooms, with an invitation to sit and knit.  These lovely girls were clearly having fun (and kindly consented to have their photo taken):

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The gardens are beautiful, with big spacious lawns and lots of hidden corners.

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I especially liked the walled gardens.  They have the formal structures you would expect in an English walled garden:

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while still being delightfully wild and slightly unkempt:

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Kaffe’s exhibit will be at Mottisfont until January 14, 2018.  If you go, you can enjoy a fat frog in the green room:

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Or you can drool at the magnificent fruit and vegetable themed tapestries, such as this needlepoint chair:

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Or maybe just enjoy the juxtapositions of knitted items from some of Kaffe’s classic knitting designs. I especially like Doug’s photo below showing a detail from a brightly coloured child’s sweater on top of a large knitted shawl.

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I hope that you are enjoying some colour this weekend!

Failure, resilience, and knitting

I have been thinking a lot this week about the nature of resiliency.  Why?  As Programme Director for a global MBA, it pops up a lot on the job.  It turns out that resilience is important:  it is a key quality of effective leaders and managers, it is vital for companies trying to survive in fast-changing business and technological environments, and it is an important factor in whether students will flourish and grow (not to mention graduate) during their MBA studies.  Given how crucial resilience is, we might think about how one develops it.  How does one learn to be resilient?  Well, it often derives from failure.

I once read an essay written by a professor at an Ivy League university who had served for decades on admission panels. He commented that these elite schools have a tendency to accept students who have never failed at anything.  These students arrive at university and suddenly find themselves in a high-stress environment filled with high achievers who have always been at the top of their class. The point of the essay was that these students often turn out to have very poor resiliency; one little setback and they crack.  A history of continual success can lead to perfectionism and unrealistic expectations.  On the other hand, exposure to failure often leads to resiliency and the development of skills which allow you to pick yourself up and flourish. This professor speculated that accepting students who had overcome barriers or difficulties would be a better barometer of success.

One of the things which I try to impart to students is that failure can be good; that success is built upon learning from mistakes.  This is true of business and true of design – a good design usually develops by prototyping, an iterative process which often consists of getting things wrong in order to get them right.  Many successful companies develop this way too, starting small and building on mistakes, a type of constructive prototyping analogous to the design process.  I try to give students skills to help them become more adaptive and more resilient; I encourage them, in the safe space of the classroom, to push past their comfort zones and embrace risk.

Why am I blabbing on about resiliency and failure in my knitting blog?  Well, we knitters can tell you people one or two things about failure! Knitters positively crow about their failures!  Ripping and frogging (that is, pulling out your work by unravelling it) is almost a badge of honour.  We learn by doing, and often that means learning by doing it wrong. It helps, of course, that knitting is so intrinsically unravel-able (I made up that word!): if you don’t mind the loss of time and effort, almost everything in knitting is fixable by ripping it out and starting again.

Not only are we knitters experts at failure as a part of the learning process, but we do it with a sense of humour! If you don’t believe me, you can look at some of my posts detailing failed efforts, like How to be stupid at knitting, How not to block a sweater, and Stupidity strikes again!

Business consultants, self-help gurus, professional coaches – even futurologists – make a fortune by teaching people to be resilient.  We knitters have no need to pay for such advice.  We learn it the natural way!

Knitters of the world, stand up straight and proud, and repeat after me:

“I AM A KNITTER!

I LAUGH IN THE FACE OF FAILURE!

RESILIENCE IS MY MIDDLE NAME!”

In the thick of it

As a knitter it is very important to take care of your equipment.  And what piece of equipment could be more important than your hands? As someone who has a history of hand and wrist problems, including repetitive stress injuries, I am always trying to be cognizant of maintaining good practices for hand health. I think that it is better for your hands to be alternating between different kinds of knitting, and in particular between different weights of yarn and needles. In that vein, I decided to cast on something using a thick yarn.

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I tend to prefer knitting with lighter weights, but I had bought this yarn last fall with the intention of making a quick Christmas gift, and then never got around to it. It is incredibly soft and is in a very vibrant and saturated purple.  I love how the chunky yarn in a heavily cabled fabric makes such great texture – it results in beautiful hills and valleys bursting with light and shadow.

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The yarn is Whitfell Chunky by Eden Cottage Yarns, a 100% baby alpaca in the colourway Damson.  The pattern is the Umbra cowl designed by Louise Zass-Bangham. I tried this cowl on at a wool fair last year, made with this yarn, and it was wonderfully cozy; I bought some on the spot.

Do you know the other advantage of knitting with chunky yarn? It takes no time to finish something!

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This cowl took a few short evenings of knitting. The pattern is intuitive and doesn’t require much attention.  It is good TV knitting, or carrying-on-a-conversation knitting. The only difficult part was grafting it together.  Here I will let you in on a secret: I suck at Kitchener stitch!  Really, this is on my list of knitting techniques that need major work.  I inevitably end up with more stitches on one needle that the other. (Many more than the one stitch you would expect.)  If I stop concentrating for even a second, something goes wrong.  Here you can see how lousy I am at Kitchener; look at this terrible join:

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Oh my! Quelle horreur! Am I going to let my knitting perfectionism take control and force me to rip it out and re-graft, and then re-rip it out and re-re-graft, and then re-re-re-rip it out, etc. etc? No, I’m not.  It’s staying this way! A New Kelly is evolving!

Having had a week in the thick of it (knitting-wise and otherwise in fact), I will return to my colourwork fingering-weight jacket with happier hands.  I hope you are safe and dry this weekend.

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Kathy Bear says: “Knit another one for the baby!”

I have just finished knitting a lovely little baby cardigan, a gift for a colleague who is pregnant with her first child.  The baby is due next month, which means that I am shockingly finished in plenty of time.  I intended to take some un-modelled photos of the cardi to show you before gifting it; however, despite it being terribly cute, the sweater sans baby was missing some vital “je ne sais quoi”.  What to do?  Kathy Bear to the rescue!

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The sweater is knit with The Uncommon Thread BFL Light DK in the shade “Into Dust”. The pattern is Mignon, by Loop London.  It only comes in one size (3-6 months) and I knit it exactly as written, except that I went up a needle size, using a US6.

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The details of this sweater are adorable.  It is knit in one piece with very little finishing needed.  I love this shade, which is a sweet lavender with enough depth of colour to keep it from being too sweet.  It is both very girly and sophisticated.

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I also adore the button, which seems made for this yarn.  The button, pattern, and yarn were purchased from Loop in London.  I used the same buttons, but in blue, for a cardigan I knit for Leah last summer.

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Kathy Bear was hand-made for my daughter Leah when she was born.  She was made by Jill Davis, a lovely friend and gifted seamstress.  Jill and Doug went to high school together and she has two lovely daughters of her own.  She clearly knows how to make a bear with personality.

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Kathy has two dresses which she has worn for over twenty years.  She thinks a fancy cardigan is long over-due.  She is also clearly unimpressed with this baby nonsense.  “Knit another one for the baby!”, she says.

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