Blocking for the win!

A few weeks ago, I reported being stalled on my Sparkling cardigan.  I had knit the back and both fronts, but was worried that the armscythes were all wrong: my impression was that they were too deep and too long and the slopes were off.  This would mean that the shoulders were too narrow, and that the sleeve placement would be wrong on the finished garment.  I felt that the best option would probably be to frog down (ie, to rip out the finished knitting) to an inch or so above the start of the armhole decreases on all three pieces.  Given the mohair yarn and stitch pattern, this was not an option I was interested in pursuing.

Thus stalled, I switched to other projects (finishing a lovely cashmere lace shawl), before making decisions on Sparkling.  It was Doug who convinced me to block the pieces first and see if the armhole shaping would improve.  I needed to not only increase the width of the shoulders, but also increase the width generally, as the cardigan was on the tight side.  So, I did a careful wash and block of the pieces:


This morning, I sewed the pieces together.


I decided to use backstitch instead of the more labour intensive mattress stitch.  On this garment, I wanted a firmer seam rather than the invisible seam mattress stitch would provide.  I also wasn’t interested in attempting mattress stitch over this stitch pattern.  I think it made a very nice seam (and one which took almost no time to whip together).  Win-win!


As you can see, the blocking seems to have helped.  The shoulder hits about a half inch short of where it should ideally be, but I think that this difference is negligible.


The general fit is good and it fits exceptionally well across the back.  (You may also notice my new hair cut in these photos!)


The armhole depth is still large, but I want to be able to wear this over a variety of clothing and I also don’t want a tight fit, so I am pretty confident it will work.


I can still shorten the armhole depth pretty quickly by removing the shoulder seams and ripping out a few rows and then re-seaming.  What do you think?  The big issue for me with cardigans is that I get hot very easily and I think having room under the arm is not a bad thing.

The real test will come once I get the sleeves knitted up, but I am much happier now.  I also avoided ripping out mohair!  Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday Monday here in the UK (and it is Doug’s birthday) and the weather is supposed to be fantastic.  I am hoping to get some work done on the sleeves while relaxing in my garden!

Laceweight cashmere shawl

I recently finished the cashmere shawl which began as travel knitting for my holiday to Canada in May.


The pattern is the Tadami Cashmere Scarf by Ito Yarn & Design.  It is made with 5 balls of Ito Karei, an incredibly soft, 100% cashmere yarn, which has some tweedy nubs in it.  I have used two balls of the Turquoise and three of the Light Gray.  The yarn is woolen spun, and blooms beautifully when washed.


The pattern is incredibly simple; with the exception of the first and last three rows, every row, front and back, is exactly the same.  This is why I picked it as a travel knitting project (along with the fact that the yarn weighs practically nothing and the whole project can easily fit in a small handbag).


The rows of eyelets give it a pretty, lacy structure, and highlight the delicate nature of the yarn.  Except for one incident on the Nanaimo ferry when I had to rip out a good 6 inches or so due to accidently shifting the eyelets by one stitch, this was a very uneventful knit.  I knit half of it while on holiday, in beautful places like this (the porch of my friend Jill’s home on Lilloet Lake):


The rest of it was knitted back home in England.  It is pretty mindless knitting which menas it is ideal for knitting while holding a conversation, sitting in a meeting, or even touring around a National Trust property (here I am knitting it at Clivedon):


Despite the fact that it is very, very long, it never got to that point where it felt endless and I wanted to throw it across the room.  In fact, the whole thing took less than three months start to finish, only about half of which time I was actively knitting it.


I am a bit concerned that the turquoise does not really suit me.  However, once it is washed and blocked, the Ito Karei is so lovely it is hard to resist, so I might change my mind about that.  (I was hunting for the scarf today so that I could get some photos taken of it, and discovered Doug wearing it.  I may have to knit him a scarf with this yarn!)


Mine is the first finished Tadami project on Ravelry (and only the second project altogher) and I suspect it is because of the awful photo of the project on the pattern page.  If that photo was the only thing I had to go on, I would have never begun this shawl.  I think the problem is that it is sold as a scarf pattern when it is really a shawl pattern.  The fabric is so light and airy it deserves to be worn in a way which shows it off. Luckily for me, I bought the printed pattern at Loop in London, which has a far better photo of the finished piece, so I was tempted to try it.20190811_135916.jpg

The weather is awful here in the UK this weekend, with floods and power shortages, gale force winds and fallen trees.  This means that it is an excellent time for knitting!  I hope that you find the silver lining in the clouds this weekend.


For a while I was steaming along on my newest project, Sparkling.  I managed to finish the back and knit both fronts:


And then I got stalled.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First, as I reported before, I am having troubles with my shoulders and back and this has meant less knitting.  I have a great physiotherapist and have started pilates as well and I hope to get that problem sorted soon.

The second problem is with the project itself.  I talk a lot in here about how important it is to knit to your measurements and not blindly follow the pattern.  Also, about the importance of knitting a swatch and then (perhaps even more importantly) paying attention to what the swatch is telling you.  I should perhaps practice as I preach: I kept merrily knitting away on this, even though I had a few niggling doubts.

My swatch clearly gave me a gauge of 23 x 48 in the bubble stitch.  The pattern calls for a gauge of 23 x 52-60 (yes, that’s what it says!).  There must be a great deal of variation in how much the bubble stitch compresses the row gauge between knitters.  Anyway, I didn’t think about the row gauge as I made the decreases for the arms and for the V-neck, and that affects the slope.  It also means that the armscythes are quite deep as I was counting rows rather than inches; they are a good 9.5″ deep unblocked.


If the only problem was that the armscythes were too deep, I could just pull out a few rows at the top of each piece (because this is knit bottom-up).  However, I am also worried that there are too many stitches decreased at the arms and at too long a slope.  Just look at the above photo: it doesn’t look right to me.  The shoulder is too narrow and the armhole keeps getting wider and wider.  The annoying thing is that this was bothering me the whole time I was knitting, and yet I never stopped to think things through.  Also, I never went back and checked the pattern or the photos.  I realise now that in my head the sleeve was shaped a bit differently than in the pattern photo (for one thing I thought it had wide ¾ sleeves) and so I was ignoring the voice in my head because I also had a false picture of the sweater to go with it.

So, the question now is: what to do?  Do I painfully rip back to the beginning of the armholes and re-knit the top portions, or do I blaze on ahead and put my faith in blocking?  Or do I just rip back a few rows to adjust the length of the armscythe and not worry about the width of the shoulder?  Also, do I knit the sleeves as written, or do I go with the picture in my head?  I started one sleeve but it feels pretty narrow, so maybe a re-think is in order in any case.  Until I decide I am stalled.

I must say that the situation isn’t as bad as it sounds.  It could still be that it is just my head messing with me.  What I need to do is take out my tape measure and carefully make measurements and spend some time thinking about the shape and construction of the sleeves and armscythes.  I plan to pull out Shirley Paden’s book Knitwear Design Workshop, and look at her algorithms for sleeve and armhole shapings and then make some comparisons.  This takes concentration, however, and I have been more in the knitting-blindly-along and not in the think-about-what-you-are-doing mode of knitting lately.

Regardless of what I decide, I must say that this fabric is gorgeous!  I just love it!  It is so light and fluffy, and it has great texture.  I love both the inside and the outside of the fabric (you can see both in this close-up of the v-neck shaping):


I am having trouble with WordPress today, and with my laptop as well.  I have now written this post at least 5 times, and used three different browsers and two laptops.  I am ready to throw my hands up in the air about now and declare defeat.  Clearly my knitting is not the only thing that has stalled.

I hope that your knitting (and everything else) is not stalled and that you are enjoying a peaceful Sunday!

Rolling bales of pollen

Today, I looked at my pattern feed on Ravelry.   (This is the bit called “Your Pattern Highlights” on the main pattern tab.)  This is what I saw:

These are (clockwise from top left):  Metsäpolku Socks by Sari Nordlund, Sanremo by Carol Feller, Lughnasadh by Anne Podlesak, Dalmayr Hat by Sarah Solomon, Silvia by Sari Nordlund, and Cape Perpetua by Kay Hopkins.  (They are all pretty cute patterns, no?)

Do you notice a trend here?  What would you even call this colour?  The Nua shade (used for the Sanremo sweater) is called “Rolling Bales” and the Shibui shade (used in Cape Perpetua) is called “Pollen”.  The Woolfolk Tov shade (used in the Dalmayr hat) is called “color 04”; I love that one!  I asked Doug what he would call this colour and he said “Baby poo?”.  (It is a good thing that Doug is gainfully employed and not trying to find work in fashion or sales.)  I do know that it is not “Living Coral [16-1546]“.  Should we let Pantone in on the secret?


Northern Spain: the gluten-free eating edition

About ten years ago we spent a few glorious weeks in the Basque Country.  We were staying with friends, who were Basque, and who knew all the best places to go and the best things to eat.  We had a ball.  One of the things I remember well from that trip, however, is sitting and watching everyone else eat.  I am coeliac, and cannot eat gluten.  I also don’t eat meat.  (Fish yes, meat no.)  Of course, there were lovely things to eat on that trip.  I remember beautiful fresh fish, and salads, and lovely wine, and at one fantastic little farmstead B&B up in the hills we sat outside at breakfast and ate the best scrambled eggs we’ve ever had.  (Doug has tried to re-create them many times. I think they must be eaten on a farm to be appreciated.)

I also remember stopping in a tiny town that was famous for its Iberico ham. (Iberico ham is a local specialty: the pigs are free-range and roam in forested areas, eating acorns.  The meat is cured for 36 months.  I am told that it is to ham what a Lamborghini is to my Vauxhaul.)  We stopped in a little bar which served only four things: wine, bread, Iberico ham, and Gernika peppers, which are small green peppers that are fried and served sprinkled with coarse salt.  Everyone else enjoyed the bread and Iberico ham, ordering extra platters, while I sat and ate fried peppers and drank wine.  That night I was spectacularly ill.  (The peppers, by the way, are amazing, but should be accompanied by other food, especially when drinking wine.)

I had a similar “watching others eat” experience when we would go out in Bilbao and eat pintxos (small finger foods served in bars).  Pintxos and wine is a meal in and of itself, but even with a Basque native ordering for me and interacting with the chef, there were only a few things I could eat.  Most pintxos are served on bread or are otherwise gluten-contaminated.  I ate many portions of tortilla (a type of omelette cooked with eggs and potato) and consoled myself with good local wine.

So, when Doug and I went back to the Basque country earlier this month, I was a little bit concerned about food.  What I learned is that ten years makes a huge difference!


Kelly in Donostia/San Sebastian.

We travelled around a bit on this trip, spending a few days in San Sebastian, and then travelling south to Rioja for a few days (where we stayed in the Marqués de Riscal, the magnificent Frank Gehry-designed hotel in Elciego) then over to Burgos, and then north to Santillana del Mar in Cantabria before heading back to Bilbao for the flight home.  We ate in a few very high end restaurants, including the three Michelin star Akelarre in San Sebastian. (This is a fantastic restaurant with a glorious view.  The hotel is amazing; if I were to win the lottery, I would stay there for three days  – Akellare has three different tasting menus – and eat there every night.)  They did not even blink over making the necessary substitutions so that my meal – all 11 courses – would be both gluten- and meat-free.

Of course, one would expect this in such a high end restaurant, but I found that most restaurants could accomodate me.  One of the best meals we had was in a small neighbourhood bar in San Sebastian, called Kapela.  We happened across this bar by happenstance one evening while exploring the area around our hotel.  It is in a quiet, residential area across from a park, and the place was buzzing and filled with locals.  One look and I immediately wanted to eat there.  I told the lovely proprietess (that’s her on the webpage) that I could not eat gluten or meat, and we placed an order.  She brought Doug a basket full of bread, brought us a bottle of local wine, and a plate full of anchovies (and another of Iberico ham, for Doug, of course).  Just as I reached out to grab an anchovie and pop it in my mouth, she placed a steaming hot baguette in front of me.  “Gluten-free”, she said.  Oh my, heaven!  I tore off hot pieces of bread, drizzled it with olive oil, plopped an anchovie on top (gorgeous, fresh anchovies – the best in the world), and ate like a king.  She then brought me an Ensalda de Bacalao – this is traditionally Basque, a salad made from slices of warm potato, topped with roasted peppers, and then with freshly cooked Bacalao (cod).  It may sound simple but this one was fantastic!  The best I’ve ever had.  In fact, I don’t think I ever had cod as fresh and perfectly cooked. (Later in the trip, Doug and I considered driving two hours back to San Sebastian just to eat here again. It was that good.)

We had another great meal in San Sebastian at Xarma, a funky kind of place with a bar upstairs and restaurant downstairs serving excellent modern interpretations of traditional foods. On their website they say “Fusion and evolution in our cooking. We put a piece of ourselves in every dish.  History, tradition and the avent-garde.”   We ordered a bunch of dishes for the table, and they carefully prepared a gluten-free version of each, which they presented beautifully.  The chef himself came to the table to deliver freshly-baked gluten-free bread and to make sure that I was being well served.  They do recommend that you call in advance and let them know you have dietary restrictions, which I would suggest generally for restaurants.

One of the things that really struck me in Donostia/San Sebastian (the Basque name for the city is Donostia, but it is more well-known outside of the Basque country as San Sebastian) was when Doug and I went into a grocery store to buy some fruit for our drive.  We stopped at a large, local grocery store in a residential neighbourhood, and while there, I went to check out the gluten-free section.  (As one does.)  Wow!  Their gluten-free section was three times the size of the one at my local Waitrose here in the UK.  They had so much on offer.  Much of it was by Schar, the German company that specialises in GF foods.  If you don’t know it, you can trust it.  Schar is a good brand and they have lots of variety.


A view of the Marques de Riscal hotel in Elciego.

We had excellent food at the Marques de Riscal – we ate in both of their restaurants (one of which has a Michelin star) and in their bar.  The fancy restaurant served a 21 course taster menu, and they seamlessly made mine gluten- and meat-free.  I ended up eating an awful lot of fish courses – because of the no meat thing, and well, 21 courses – but they were all delicious.  (By the way, we found their second restaurant to be more relaxed – especially on the patio – and the food was excellent.  The kitchen is the same though the menu is more traditional and less experimental.)  For lunch in the bar I had a lovely salad with warm goat cheese.  The entire experience at the Marques de Riscal was great – they have a beautiful spa, and the rooms are lovely.  We especially enjoyed a really well-designed tour of the vineyard and wine production facilities.  They have been producing wine since 1862.


Wine ageing in oak barrels in the cellar at Marques de Riscal.

The historical cellar, also called “The Cathedral”, was very impressive.



The historical cellar, called the botelleria historica, aka “The Cathedral”, at Marques de Riscal. It holds bottles from every vintage since the first harvest in 1862.


We had an excellent old vintage at dinner, but not this old.

Probably the most difficult experience in menus I had was in Burgos.  For lunch, I had a tortilla (my old stand-by) as there was not much choice available.  In the evening, we wanted to eat in our hotel, and were too tired that night to sit for a meal in the restaurant.  In the bar, the menu was mostly pintxos – heavy on the bread and meat.  I had a long chat with the bartender, going through each item on the menu only to be told “No, this one is served on bread; no, this one has meat.”.  I found two things I could eat: cheese, and roasted peppers.  Both of which I like but it didn’t sound like a meal.  And then, almost on an afterthought, he said “Of course, we have gluten-free bread.”  Problem solved!  I ordered the cheese, which came baked –  a beautiful, creamy, warm, locally-produced cheese – and the peppers.  They brought me out a piping hot bag, with two small loaves of bread in it.   I was served this identical bag of bread in two different restaurants in two different provinces while there, so this is clearly a thing.  The restaurant keeps them in the freezer and pops them in the oven when needed, and serve them hot, still in the bag.  One loaf was seeded, and the other had walnuts and apricots.  They were good – especially when slathered with cheese and peppers!

The end of our trip, however, held a real find: the small medieval town of Santillana del Mar has a gluten-free restaurant!  It is called Pasaje de los Nobles.  It is a wonderful restaurant, which is always full (call in advance if you can).  Note that this is not a restaurant which is great for a gluten-free restaurant, but rather a fantastic restaurant which also happens to be gluten-free.  We ate there two days in a row, it was that good, and the experience of being able to eat everything on the menu was not to be missed.  It has very traditional dishes as well as more modern dishes, and it is all beautifully cooked.  The best thing we had there was the black rice with mussels and aioli, but the mango and langoustine ceviche and the tuna tartar were also excellent.  I had a piece of Bacalao in green sauce which was delicate and lovely.  The cheesecake was so good, it brought back memories of cheesecake from 30 years ago in my gluten eating days.  (Actually, this one was probably better.)  The pumpkin flan and lemon mousse were also great.  I was so happy to have dessert choices!

One of the difficult things when travelling gluten-free is breakfast.  We didn’t eat any breakfast while we were there, so I am afraid I have no insights to offer.  We had lunch every day at 2pm and dinner at 10pm, and that suited us quite well.  When you spend a few hours enjoying a late dinner, you aren’t hungry when you wake up!  On our trip, we stayed in hotels with a range of price tags, from standard to luxury, and ate in a range of restaurants, from local bars to trendy eateries to Michelin-starred restaurants.  I was able to find delicious, fresh, gluten-free meals everywhere I went.  What a difference ten years has made!

For those of you asking where the knitting content is, here is a photo of me knitting in San Sebastian.  Doug thought this permanent sculpture installation was called “Knitting the Wind”, so he insisted on getting a photo of me knitting in front of it.  It turns out he translated it wrong; it is called “The comb of the wind”.  (Basque: Haizearen Orrazia XV, Spanish: Peine del Viento XV.  Sculptures by Eduardo Chillida, installed as an architectural work by the Basque architect Luis Peña Ganchegui.)  The five minutes I knitted while taking this shot is the sum total of all of the knitting I did on this holiday!


Purl Jam: Finland’s Heavy Metal Knitting Championship

I saw this today and had to share it with you.  Finland has hosted the first Heavy Metal Knitting Championship.  According to an AP News feed, participants shared a common goal: “to showcase their knitting skills while dancing to heavy metal music in the most outlandish way possible.”  There were participants from nine countries, including the US, Japan, and Russia.  The winning team, from Japan, featured sumo wrestlers and crazy heavy metal knitting.  Watch it and smile:

I am still on holiday, where I am not doing much knitting, but am enjoying beautiful weather, friends, food, and scenery.  Perhaps next year I should holiday in Finland and get Doug and the girls to accompany me in some heavy metal knitting?