Christmas Knitting: Mission Impossible

No doubt I’ve tricked you with the title of this post. Tell the truth: you are expecting a tale of monumental slaving away to try to finish a knitted gift in time for Christmas. This tale would end either in triumph or failure, but in either case would mean missed opportunities to spend time doing things other than knitting (yes, these do exist!) and sore shoulders, wrists, and eyes from pushing too much.

It’s not like I haven’t done just this before (many times). A case of triumph can be seen in 2016, in which I knitted cowls for Doug, Emma, and Leah for Christmas. (This was documented in the post called Cowl-a-bunga!, which has some of my favourite photos on this blog). Another race to the finish was last year, in which I was frantically knitting a sweater for Emma, while throwing in a hat at the same time, which while producing beautiful results, also led to me stressing out during a holiday and screwing up my shoulder. When you have a child whose birthday falls the week before Christmas, you can have the same result for a birthday gift, as with this sweater I knitted for Leah in December 2017. Clearly, this race to Christmas knitting has been part of my make-up for a long time; here I highlight a sweater I finished literally on Christmas Day, in 2006, which was not only pre-blog, but pre-Ravelry as well. Sometimes I plan well in advance which allows me to have fun with a Christmas gift, like when I knitted a hat with penguins (by which I mean that I knitted the hat while sitting with penguins, not that the hat was festooned with penguins). And sometimes, I am determined and steadfast about not knitting any Christmas gifts, only to change my mind at the very last minute: I knitted the West Wind mittens for Doug because we went for a walk and he had cold hands. This year was cold, too, and Doug stole my hat! So, did I decide at the very last minute to squirrel away behind a closed door, knitting like mad and being anti-social in the lead-up to Christmas?

No, I didn’t. Instead, I picked out a lovely hat and cowl pattern which I thought Doug would like:

© Maxim Cyr

I bought the yarn to make both hat and cowl:

And I wrapped up the yarn with a card that said this:

Volia! Christmas Knitting, Mission Impossible-style! (And no jumping out of airplanes required.)

The hat and cowl are designed by Maxim Cyr, who was one of the fellow knitters at the two retreats I attended this November and last. I really like his design style. These are the Opus Hat and Opus Cowl. The yarn is Walcot Opus, which I purchased as a kit from A Yarn Story in Bath. They have put together kits in at least 11 different colour combinations of Opus, which you can find here.

I frequently receive knitting-inspired gifts for Christmas. (Fancy that!) I had expressed an interest in Garthenor Preseli yarn and Doug bought me a lovely array of colours:

I also received a fantastic book from the girls, which is a collection of historical photos of people knitting.

We spent this Christmas in England, while the girls remained in Vancouver. We originally decided on this due to the very high cost of flights this year, combined with the fact that both girls were here for a long visit in September. In hindsight we made a good decision. The storm in North America knocked out the Vancouver airport and caused general chaos and misery across a wide stretch of Canada and the US, and here we are experiencing the winter of strikes: nurses, ambulance drivers, baggage handlers, customs agents, railroad workers, postmen, among others. It is a good time not to be attempting international air travel.

It is quiet now. Outside it is rainy and grey. Inside I have lots of yarn in pretty colours. Guess what I plan to do now? Best wishes, everyone, from my home to yours!

Frigid weather, warm hat

I finished my Oslo Hat – Mohair edition (pattern by Petite Knit) in time to keep my head warm during a very cold week.

How cold was it? This cold:

Yes, I know that it is not Ottowa cold, or Edmonton cold, or Wisconsin cold, or even Boston cold, but it is most definitely England cold, and my poor system isn’t used to it.

The resulting hat is pretty, but I must say that I had some issues with this pattern. It is written in a Scandinavian style, which is spare compared to the very precise and articulated patterns we have become accustomed to in the download era. I have commented before about this with respect to Danish patterns. As someone who knows how to knit, I don’t really have a problem with the spare style, but there are a few more serious issues here. First of all, there is a mistake in the pattern. In the directions for the decreases, she leaves out a critical K1, K2tog at the beginning of Round 1. If you’ve knit lots of hats, you can just scratch your head for a minute and say “huh, something’s missing here” and figure it out. But if you are not practiced at this, it will mess up your decreases, and thus the crown shaping. I ended up substituting a “ssk” instead of a “sl1, k1, pass sl st over” in the decreases as well; I think it is neater. The finished crown is nice, but beware the directions!

More critical for me is that the pattern has a odd construction. The bottom portion of the hat is doubly folded, meaning that the brim has three warm layers. The first fold is knitted in, that is, the fabric is folded over and knitted together. Then, she has you knit for a few rounds on the wrong side before reversing direction with a short row and continuing to knit on the right side. She gives no reason for doing this, and no photos to show what it is supposed to look like. This, by the way, is what it looks like:

When you wear it, you fold up the brim again, to get the three layers. I still can’t figure out the purpose of the purled ridge. It means that the fold is not neat. There is no clear fold line. Every time I wear it, I have to fiddle with the fold so that it doesn’t look weird. I don’t know why this annoys me so much, but suffice it to say that it annoys me. I notice that there are over 4000 of these hats posted on Ravelry, so I think I may be in the minority here, but next time, I would just skip the pattern directions and wing it.

I knitted this with some old Malabrigo fingering weight yarn from my stash together with some mohair, also from stash. I always keep yarn labels, which drives Doug crazy, and literally yesterday I decided to just toss away the labels on my desk, and of course they were these ones! There is a reason to my label-keeping madness, Doug! I think this shade of Malabrigo was called “paper”, but in any case, it’s white. I have enough left over to make another hat.

I’ve noticed this last week or two that Doug seems to have confiscated my red hat. I have finished this one just in time. I hope that, wherever you are, you are keeping warm and dry, and keeping hold of your hat.

Frosty weather knitting

I was going to show you a finished project today – a fluffy white hat which would be quite warm and pretty shot against the frosty foliage. The hat is still damp, however, even though I blocked it over 48 hours ago. Never fear, it seems as if the frosty weather is here for the long term and I am unlikely to miss a frosty photo op.

Instead I will show you a progress shot of my Hirne pullover. This is a lovely Kate Davies design, knitted in Ooskit, one of her signature yarns (I bought the kit from Kate here.)

I am really happy with the design and the yarn, and am looking forward to wearing this one very soon. I have had to be very patient while knitting the yoke. The pattern stitch is really very easy to knit, but it takes concentration, and I am still finding it hard to concentrate for long periods.

I’ve been searching for a project which will be super easy mindless knitting, and I think I’ve settled on the Felix Cardigan by Amy Christoffers:

© Amy Christoffers

I have some soft pink worsted weight yarn in warm tones, with I bought last year. I started to knit a pullover with it, only to frog it (I blogged about it here and here). I decided the yarn might work for the Felix cardigan if I combined it with a strand of mohair, and took a chance on ordering the right shade online. I bought some lovely silk mohair by Knitting for Olive from A Yarn Story in the colour Plum Rose. They look lovely together:

I have knit a few swatches. With a US10/6mm the gauge is too loose – 11×22 – and with a US9/5.5mm it is just a bit too tight – 15×23 (the pattern calls for 14×20) but I think the latter (shown on the bottom below) will work out well with a bit of judicious math. This is a bit outside my colour comfort zone, but the texture is gorgeous and I think the yarn will suit the pattern. (And a cozy cardigan will not go amiss in my wardrobe!)

I leave you with a lovely photo featured in The Guardian today. It was taken by Kieran Dodds on Fair Isle. It’s part of a continuing feature where photographers choose their best shot; the article is called “Two fluffy lambs playing Twister: Kieran Dodds’ best phone picture”.

Fair Isle Twister, 2015, shot on iPhone 6. Photograph: Kieran Dodds

Keep warm, everyone!

Mittens galore!

It is that time of year again: time for my annual mitten post! This is the post in which I shower you with some great pattern ideas to keep your needles busy and your hands warm. When I started these posts, I tended more towards fingerless mitts than mittens. That trend is reversed here, perhaps due to the fact that like many others we are keeping our house colder this year. All the more reason to cast on a pair of mittens. I hope you find a pattern here which strikes your fancy.

Argyle style mittens by Lisa K. Ross

© Lisa K. Ross

I thought I would start with a bang of colour! If you think argyle is old school and a bit staid, think again. Knit yourself a matching hat while you are at it and you will be set for anything winter throws at you.

Ruffletopia by Lisa Granick

© Lisa Granick

I don’t often feature patterns with crochet, but these ruffled, colourful cuffs are hard to resist, maybe even enough for me to pick up a crochet hook. The ruffles are crocheted onto the knitted surface, and add a touch of fun to an otherwise understated glove.

Rabbity mittens & muffatees by bunnymuff – Mona Zillah

© bunnymuff – Mona Zillah

These are just too darn cute! I am sure you know someone who would be enchanted by these lovely rabbity mittens.

Jetson by Jo Shaw

© Jo Shaw

I like the bold graphic of this design, and I’m particularly drawn to the purl welts around the cuffs and fingers. Can you see how the cuffs reference the old cartoon The Jetsons? (I am assuming this cartoon is in re-runs because you need to be at least as old as me to remember it otherwise.)

Underwood mittens by Virginia Sattler-Reimer

© Virginia Sattler-Reimer

Over the years, I have featured quite a few of Virginia’s mittens. She never fails to make beautiful patterns and her use of colour is inspiring. Pair these with the fantastic matching tam and you will look super stylish for winters to come.

Timber by tincanknits

© tincanknits

I am not sure why tincanknits chose to photograph their new collection in black and white. Yes, it looks cool and sophisticated, but this year I am yearning for colour. Use your imagination to supply the colour, however, and you will see this is a fantastic mitt pattern, which will be quick to knit and warm to wear.

Snowdrift Mittens by Wool & Pine

© Wool & Pine

I just love this photo! There is something about the lovely rust-red mittens against the pine tree which shouts “holiday” and makes me think winter-y thoughts. (Good ones, like these mittens wrapped around a mug of mulled wine at a sparkling, snowy Christmas market.)

Jorvik mittens by Outi Kater

© Outi Kater

I love the juxtaposition of the blue and gold, and the combination of the geometric pattern and the stripes. It looks bold, cheerful, and stylish.

If you want to check out my previous mitten posts, here are the links!

Merry Mittenmas! (2014)

A dozen great patterns for fingerless mitts (2015)

Mittens! (2015)

To gusset or not to gusset (2016)

It’s mitten time again! (2017)

A show of hands (2018)

Warm hands, warm heart (2019)

Mittens Redux (2020)

My mitten post for 2021 (2021)

Twisted stitches, lazy afternoon

Since returning from my knitting retreat I have been putting all of my knitting energy into the Hirne pullover. It is a relaxing knit, despite some sizing anxieties. If you recall, I dithered at the beginning about which size to make, initially opting for a Size 7 (47″) for a fair bit of ease, and then ripping out the ribbing and re-starting for a Size 5 (43.5″) after determining my gauge was a bit off. I calculated that the Size 5 at my gauge would give me a size 6 (45.75″) for about 2-3 inches of ease. I decided to knit back and forth instead of in the round, mostly to avoid a steek.

The initial knitting was just lots of stockinette back and forth, and very soothing. I have been thinking a lot about colour recently, especially bright autumn hues, and so it felt a bit odd to be knitting in this soft beige-grey shade. Then Doug and I stumbled on some giant mushrooms growing wild, and I realised that this is part of an autumn palette as well.

I hit some trouble when I started the sleeves. I worried that the sleeves would be too narrow, and thought about re-engineering the pattern so that I knit the sleeves wider. But I had picked this pattern in part to avoid having to do any recalculating (because my post-covid brain is still mush) so I decided to just knit it exactly to pattern and hope for the best.

When I got to the knitting retreat, I had finished one sleeve, and spent the first morning knitting half of the second sleeve. However, I could not help feeling that they were going to be way too tight. Here, you can see the finished sleeve and a half against the background of Sofi, my Hanne Falkenberg cardigan, which I had taken up with me (you can find my post on the finished garment here.) Sofi has a nice standard fit through the sleeve.

I then tried on the first sleeve and was told “It is too tight.” I was pretty despondent, and decided that instead of ripping out the sleeves, I would continue on the second sleeve but increase the rate of, and the number of, increases. I finished the second sleeve and then decided I didn’t like either one; the first seemed too tight all the way up, and the second was too tight at the wrist and forearm and then increased too quickly so that it looked wonky. I switched at that point to knitting other things, and left the sleeve decision until I got home.

Doug convinced me that the first sleeve was better and that it would block out. This meant that I had to rip back much of the second sleeve and re-knit it to match the first.

I think I must have been cognitively lower than I thought at the retreat because I spent so much time there knitting the sleeve on DPNs and fretting because there were too many stitches on the needles and they kept falling off, and it never once occurred to me to just put the stitches on a 16″ needle. Argh!

Once I decided to stop fretting about the sleeves, the knitting has been plain sailing. We were supposed to visit some friends this afternoon and it got cancelled. Doug is having bad headaches again, so I have been sitting on the couch with a pile of warm woolly knitting on my lap, watching cookery shows, drinking cocoa, and knitting happily away. I’ve started the twisted stitch pattern on the yoke, and it is really fun. It is “just one more row” kind of knitting.

As long as I don’t think about whether the sleeves will be too tight everything will be fine. That’s my story and I am sticking with it.

Retreat repeat

I spent part of this last week at a knitting retreat. I was on this retreat last year (blogged here) and loved it so much that I signed up for another one as soon as the dates were released. The retreat is held at Melmerby Hall, a beautiful old home near Penrith in the Lake District. I spent four days with a lovely group of knitters. The weather was mostly grey and rainy, but that meant more time gathered around one of the three fireplaces, knitting and chatting.

We knitted. We talked about knitting. We shared patterns, dissected trends, talked about yarn, showed off finished projects, and shared stories. Despite there being tons of space to spread out in, we enjoyed hanging out together.

We ate breakfasts and lunches at a big kitchen table under a skylight. We ate dinner around a lovely big table in a formal dining room. We had mid-morning cake breaks and mid-afternoon cake breaks, and before dinner drinks, and after dinner drinks, and cheese and charcuterie boards. (Are you sensing a theme here?) In 5 days, I gained 1.5 kilos. (Two of us were coeliacs and two were dairy intolerant, and we were all beautifully catered for; I really appreciated this.)

We had a mascot, Peaches:

Peaches looks grumpy in this photo. It is not because her humans were ignoring her. It is because she rolled in fox poo and was forced to take a shower. Oh, the ignominy!

I took a lovely 90-minute yoga class. I went for a walk on the one sunny day, in which I seem to have only taken photos of walls:

I took three projects up with me. I worked on the sleeves of my Hirne cardigan, pictured below. (There is a story attached to this, which has to do with Covid brain fog and lots of stupid mistakes, but I will save that for a separate post.)

I also took up my Koko shawl, which I hadn’t worked on in a while. I had hoped to kickstart this project, and I managed to add about 6 inches.

On the last evening, having grown tired of the other projects (and of myself for making stupid mistakes), I cast on for a simple hat:

This will be an Oslo hat which is basically knitted in a giant stockinette tube and has a triple-folded brim. It is hard to mess up, even when drinking your third glass of wine and eating too much cheese.

I have been seriously affected by having long covid this year, and it makes everything more difficult. I fretted beforehand about whether going on this retreat would be too much too soon. I can clearly see the differences in me, especially compared to last year. I had to take things much more slowly. I was the first to retire every evening, and needed a nap most days. I took the two knitting classes that were offered, but my brain isn’t up to learning new things now. Brioche stitch will have to wait until I am fitter! I had one of my post-covid “pull-the-plug” episodes at lunch on the last day, in which I basically fell over, thankfully not into my food. Also, it took me two days to recover from the retreat once I got home, which is rather counter to the purpose of a retreat, no? On the other hand, it was really good for my mental health to be in a different place, to re-engage with knitter friends, and to meet new people. So, a bit of good and bad on this trip, but the company of fellow knitters was lovely. I look forward to the next one.

It’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it

I’m happy to have a finished project to show you.

Not only is this shawl bright and beautiful, it is really, really long. Long enough to trip over if one is not careful. Long enough to flip about in a wide ark.

Long enough to wrap multiple times around your neck with room to spare.

This is the Gresham Wrap, designed by Michael Vloedman. It’s knitted in Blue Sky Fibers Woolstock Worsted. I was given this as a kit for my birthday last year by Doug and the girls.

The pattern gives the finished dimensions as 78×14 inches (198×36 cm). Mine measures 101×15 inches (256×38 cm). That 101″ measurement is along the long side of the parallelogram. If measured from tip to tip, it is 116″ (295 cm) long. I think that the before blocking length was around 88″ (224 cm) so it grew quite a bit.

The white parts of this shawl are knitted in half linen stitch and are very thick and cosy. Each colour stripe is knitted in a distinct knit-purl patterns stitch. I changed the texture stitch for the dark blue stripe (in the original pattern it is the only bit knitted in stockinette, so it came out looking and feeling flat). I wish I had changed the texture patterns for the two orange stripes; I’m sure with a little searching through a stitch dictionary or two I would have found something I liked better.

If you plan to knit this, you might think about changing up a needle size for the white parts: the linen stitch pulls the knitting in quite a bit, so that the width of the coloured stripes is quite a bit wider than the white middle section. I blocked it width-wise rather aggressively through the middle to try to counteract that, but changing needles would have worked better, I think.

In retrospect, I should have used one less skein of the white so that this was not quite so long. On the other hand, the fact that it is so long, makes it very dramatic and sort of fun to wear. I only have to take care not to end up like Isadora Duncan.

The yarn is really lovely and soft. I was worried about colour bleeding, especially from the red, but didn’t have any troubles. I did pour a cup of white vinegar in the soak when I washed it just in case.

I had hoped to take some more photos of it while wearing a different outfit – maybe against black or white. But it is raining and the time changed today, which makes the window for photographs even shorter. You will have to use your imagination.

I can’t help but notice that it is Halloween this weekend, so I will leave you with this shot:

By the way, you can thank Doug for the title of this post!

Thinking in colour

I am thinking in color these days. It’s hard not to when the trees are putting on a show.

Until this week, we have had really clear, crisp days, leading us to engage in “foliambulation”. (Not a word, you say? Check out this blog post from James Harbeck, whose blog Sesquiotica, is a cool site for word lovers.)

A few weeks ago we went to a jousting event at a mini-Ren faire near us. The jousting was all in good fun, but mostly I loved how colourful it was.

The following week, Leah took this beautiful shot along the river:

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

I’m also thinking about colours because I have signed up for Kate Davies new club, Allover Colour, which is going to focus on colour with knitting patterns and essays. The club hasn’t even started yet and I am enjoying the conversations around colour. As an example, in her most recent post, she asked readers for memories about colour names; the comments are so much fun to read. (Sign-ups for the club end tomorrow.)

Lastly, I’m thinking about colour because I am looking forward to wearing my beautiful Gresham Shawl, which has a lovely rainbow of colours set against a creamy white background. I finished knitting this one at the end of August, and have tried every day since then to work up the energy to block it. I finally managed to do it yesterday, and here is the obligatory blocking photo as evidence (the reverse side is showing):

This shawl is enormous! I can’t wait to try it on and wear a rainbow when the days get shorter and darker.

If that’s the case, why, you might ask, did it take me almost 7 weeks to block it? This is a very long story that I try hard not to bore you with, dear readers, but suffice it to say that when Doug and I got Covid in June, we drew the short straws. We both have long Covid and have really been struggling. I am back at work, but have significant fatigue and breathing issues still. They are resolving, but slowly. The worst part are episodes which Doug calls “pulling the plug”, in which I am fully functional and all of a sudden it is as if someone has pulled my plug, and I am nearly incapable of moving. As an example, Leah took this photo of me during a beautiful walk along the river:

About ten minutes later, this happened:

We were less than a mile from the car, but I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. Despite hanging on to Doug or Leah, or both, I tripped and twisted my ankle three times on the way to the car, as lifting my foot off the ground was too hard. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. Unfortunately, its unpredictable. (On the topic of colour, the sweater I am wearing is Dyemonds, and I blogged about it here.)

Doug has had a difficult time of it, too. This includes a very frightening incidence of global transient amnesia, multiple ambulance rides, a spontaneous dissection of the carotid artery (due to covid), seven (and counting) brain scans of every variety, a headache that lasted 16 weeks, and pretty much scaring his wife and kids to death. He is recovering now too. Aren’t we a pair? (As a cognitive neuroscientist who used to direct a neuroimaging centre, I think he secretly enjoyed talking shop about brains with all of the specialists he had to see!) Luckily, we are now boosted yet again (that makes four each) and have our flu shots, and we are optimistic about winter coming.

I think this is one more reason I’m thinking about colour: because being sick can feel very grey and monotone, and recovering adds the colour back in. I’m happy to report that the colour is shining in.

I’m still knitting, never fear. I have a new project on the needles, and a knitting retreat to look forward to in a few weeks. Hopefully, my blogging energy will return soon.

Wearability Wednesday: Vodka Lemonade

Welcome to another episode of Wearability Wednesday, in which I take a look at a previously knitted garment and reflect on its wearability. Does it get worn or is it stuck in a drawer? If the former, how does it get styled? Has it held up? Was the yarn the right choice? Would I knit it again? Today, I look at Vodka Lemonade, a cardigan pattern by Thea Coleman.

I finished this in August 2020, and wrote about the completed garment in this post. I knit it for Leah, but as she was in Vancouver, I grabbed some quick photos of myself wearing it for that blog post, and then put it in the mail. This is the first time I have managed to get photos of it on Leah, for which I am very happy.

I picked this pattern specifically to wear with dresses. Leah has lots of cute dresses and tends to wear them. I wanted something that was stylish but simple. It had to be relatively cropped because that looks best with a dress. I wanted it to be hard-wearing and easy to style.

I picked yellow because it makes you feel happy. (And it just happened to match a lot of her dresses.)

One of the great features of this dress is that it is knitted in one piece with all of the finishing done as you go along, so once you’ve finished knitting, it’s ready to wear! No button bands to pick up, or buttons to sew in, no collar to attach, just sew in a few threads and voila! I also like the fact that the lapels can fold over nicely, or not, because the pattern on them is reversible.

I also really like the 50s vibe I get from this pattern. It is fun to style, and looks really good on a shapely body.

You can see here that after two years and some washing, the cardigan still looks great. I used John Arbon Knit by Numbers DK in the shade 19-385. It’s a 100% merino wool.

It was my first time using this yarn, and it was really nice to handle. Seeing it now, I am even more impressed. It looks like new, with no pilling! I would highly recommend both yarn and pattern!

I took these photos just last week, some in Henley-on-Thames, and a few at The Ashmolean in Oxford. It was gorgeous and sunny then, and now it is grey and rainy. But a yellow cardigan always brings out the sun!

In the Fall, one must cast on something new. It’s a law.

We have clearly changed seasons. Today, the hills and valleys are just touched with colour, and there is a bit of cool in the air.

Over the last few months, I finished up projects which were already on my needles when I came down with Covid: Myrtle, Flores, and the beautiful Gresham Wrap (not yet blocked). But I have had trouble casting on new things. Mostly because, with my brain fog in full blast, knitting patterns looked like gobbledygook. But now, I am getting better, and it is Fall. Casting on a new project is obligatory.

I decided on Hirne, a lovely cardigan by Kate Davies:

© Kate Davies Designs

I bought the kit some time ago. It fulfills the “it’s fall, knit something cosy” criterion, while at the same time starting out with lots of soothing stockinette. I still struggled a bit with deciding which size to cast on, compounded by being slightly off gauge, but I only ripped out the ribbing once, so I’ll take that as a win.

Almost immediately after I cast on, Kate released two new gorgeous patterns, both knitted in this exact yarn: Serkinet and Smookie (you can see them both on this page from Kate’s site). I thought for a moment about switching and using the yarn to knit one of these instead, but I realized that my brain just isn’t up to it yet.

Today was a fantastic fall day and Doug, Leah and I went for a walk. (Emma is now back in Canada. Boo Hoo!) I managed to do better and not need my inhaler at all. The views in every direction were gorgeous.

Doug took the below photo of my Bored sweater (blogged here):

All of the other scenic photos in this post were taken by Leah. Thanks, Leah!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Note: If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, Spring is also a lovely time to cast on something new. Just saying.