Little red dress

It’s definitely past time for another Wearability Wednesday post, and as today is not only Wednesday but also cold and grey and very autumnal, I’ll take the time to write one.  For those of you new to this blog, Wearability Wednesday (WW) is a semi-regular series in which I look back at some item I have knitted and examine it in terms of its wearability (I use this term mostly in its stylistic sense and not in terms of durability).  I am interested in whether the item actually gets worn, and if so, how it gets styled.   I recently wrote a post about dresses, in which I highlighted lots of great new dress patterns, so I will use this post to examine my Folded Mini Dress:

6076063740_20cccbf81e_zI loved this pattern, designed by Lynne Barr for her book, Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-new, Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns, as soon as I saw it.  I knit it in the late summer of 2011.  I finished it while on holiday in Umbria, Italy, to celebrate my 50th birthday and my 20th wedding anniversary.  My daughter Emma took the photo above and my friend, Mark, the one below.  We were experiencing a heat wave and it was nearly 40C when we took these pictures.  I am surprised I managed to smile.

6076061910_2bbe18cc1d_zWhen I was knitting this, I was having serious problems with the pattern running way too big.  You could have fit two of me in the first try; I had to rip the whole thing out and start again.  I switched to a smaller size, and also switched to smaller needles, and still had to add nearly twice as many decreases.  I documented it all on my Ravelry page which you can find here.  It looks a bit tight in the photos above, but mostly that is because I was sweating madly in the heat and the dress was plastered to my body.

So, here we have a gorgeous dress.  How often have I worn it?  Well….never.  Why?  Isn’t it obvious?  This dress is much too short.  Despite having gone to great lengths to make the dress more fitted, I didn’t shorten it, and in fact am pretty sure that I added some length to the pattern.  Perhaps I am very long in the torso.  Whatever the reason, this dress looks fabulous as long as I don’t move.  Heaven forbid, I should sit down!

At first, I consoled myself with the fact that this dress was not made to be worn by itself as in the above photos.  First of all it is wool; knit with the lovely Rowan Felted Tweed, one of my favorite yarns.  My plan was always to wear it with a T-shirt underneath, and tights and boots.  With tights on, I reasoned, it won’t really matter if it’s a bit short.  Earlier this spring, I grabbed Leah and pressed her into camera duty, and we had a photo style shoot for this dress.  This is how I envisioned wearing it:


I really love it fashioned this way.  I think it looks fabulous.  I am wearing it with the leather jacket AnElissa bought me for my 30th birthday.  It is stylish but well-loved and worn-in.  The necklace was a gift from my Dad over 30 years ago and matches perfectly.  The boots are Valentino, and I splurged on them nearly 20 years ago, and love them to pieces.  But the fact remains that the dress only looks good here because I have tugged the skirt into place and then not moved until the photo was taken.  If I take a step, lift my arms, or sit down, this dress moves out of the “looking great” stage and into the “mom, you’re embarrasing me” stage.


I have spent two years trying to decide whether to rip the dress out, all the way down to the top of the folded cables, add another four to six inches of cables, and then re-knit the bodice.  I actually have plenty of yarn left over in the same dye lot.  I also know it would go much faster the second time.  The pattern has a lot of fiddly bits along the armholes and neckline.  This is because the dress is designed so that it could be worn with either side in front, and also so that it can be worn inside out (the reverse side is equally cool).  This is one of the things that really attracted me to the pattern in the first place.  It is very, very clever. (In fact, the whole book is full of reversible designs, and is really great; I highly recommend it.)  I am pretty sure that I would always wear it this way, however, which means if I were to re-knit it, I could get rid of the fiddly bits, and just pick up around the arms and neckline for ribbing in the standard fashion.

Somehow, though, there is always something new to knit, and the thought of ripping and re-knitting this (yet again) just doesn’t appeal.  So what to do?  Is this beautiful dress destined for the frog pile?  Well, it should be noted that a dress which is too short on a 52 year old, looks pretty damned good on an 18 year old:

IMG_5997See!  She can jump in it!  She can walk in it!

IMG_5978She can even sit in it!

IMG_5968Clearly, the solution to this Wearability conundrum is to give the dress to Leah!  Way to go, Leah!  You lucked out big time!



IMG_6668It’s been awhile since my last Wearability Wednesday post.  In that one, I discussed being so disillusioned with a garment, that I ripped it out and re-used the yarn.  This month, I will switch tables and show you one of my all-time favorite knits, something I wear ALL OF THE TIME and love to pieces.  This is the beautiful pullover, Ormolu, designed by Barbara Gregory for Twist Collective.

The photo above was taken by Emma when I finished knitting the pullover in February 2011.  I really think the fit is lovely.  These days, knitters tend to make fitted sweaters by knitting them in one piece and trying on constantly while knitting to fit; this one is knit the old fashioned way – in four pieces, which are then seamed together.  This means that fitting it properly entails taking very thorough measurements, taking your time to make and wash a proper sized gauge swatch, using a tape measure obsessively throughout, trusting in yourself, trusting the designer, and keeping your fingers crossed.

(I can tell that these photos were taken two years ago, because although I wear Ormolu constantly, I can no longer zip up the skirt in the above photo; alas!)  You can see in the above some of the lovely shaping details along the sides.  Many fitted  sweaters today I think look beautiful from the front and gap in the back; this one truly fits, from every angle.  The moral – Knitters, don’t be afraid to seam!

The pattern is very well written.  Barbara Gregory has done a lot to promote this slip stitch colourwork technique, in which only one colour is used on a row.  It produces intricate-looking mosaic colour patterns with considerably less work than Fair Isle.  This is the same knitting technique, by the way, used in the Brick sweater which I knit for Doug.  If you want to do colourwork but Fair Isle intimidates you, I would urge you to try this technique first.  My favorite part of the pattern is the neckline, in which a third colour is incorporated, to really great effect.

And, because we knitters always want to see the reverse side, here you go:

I used Rowan RYC Cashsoft DK in purple and navy.  I had a difficult time picking out a colour for the neck detail.  The yarn I ended up using (which unfortunately, I failed to either write down or keep the ball band) looked fairly brown and boring on its own.   I was aiming for gold, but all of the yellows looked too brass, and the browns looked too, well, brown.  So, I tried a lot of options: here are three of them:

I am glad that I went with the golden hue.  When knit with the navy and purple, it really looks like gold, and makes me think of fine metalwork.  This was obviously the inspiration for Barbara, as you can tell from the pattern’s name.  From Wikipedia:

Ormolu /ˈɔrməl/ (from French or moulu, signifying ground or pounded gold) is an 18th-century English term for applying finely ground, high-carat gold in a mercury amalgam to an object of bronze.

IMG_6700It took me 11 months to knit this from cast on to cast off; quite a lot of time.  Despite this, it is not a difficult sweater to knit.  Much of this was due to emotional turbulence.  This is the sweater that I was knitting when my sister called me to tell me that my Dad was dying.   I sat by his bedside, alternately holding his hand and knitting this sweater.  Afterwards, I found it hard to work on, and put it away for a few months before pulling it out again.  This is one of the things that I like most about knitting, that each piece has memories attached to it, of where you were in life while knitting it.  I wear this sweater all of the time, and every time I pull it on, I think of my Dad.  I think that’s pretty cool.

I made a few minor modifications to the pattern, which I detailed on my Ravelry page, but I will copy them here, for those of you who may be interested:

  1. I knit all the right side stitches – no purl bumps.
  2. I added waist shaping. The pattern called for 6 waist decreases, followed by six increases for the bust. I made 8 pairs of decreases, followed by 10 pairs of increases. This means that I had 4 extra stitches on each side when I got to the bust, making it midway between the size 38 1/2 and the size 41 1/2. This gave the sweater zero ease.
  3. I loved the garter stitch ridges that Barbara designed; however, I found that they wouldn’t stop rolling. After knitting about 6 inches of the front, I decided that I wouldn’t be happy with the edges rolling up all of the time, and I ripped out and started again, this time using seed stitch instead of garter. I also used seed stitch for the neckband.
  4. I made it longer. I was aiming for an extra inch and a half, but somehow ended up with an extra 3 inches. I started the decrease pairs on row 24 instead of row 14 of Chart 2.

I fear that I have gotten carried away here.  This post is a Wearability Wednesday post, after all, and here I am blathering on about construction details.  However, this pullover pre-dates my blog so I thought it necessary to give a little background on the project itself before I move on to the important issue of Wearability.

IMG_6687As I stated above, I wear this a lot.  I dress it up; I dress it down.  I wear it to work; I wear it grocery shopping; I wear it to go on long walks.  This is fabulously easy one-stop dressing, and is the thing that I reach for when I want to look good but don’t have time to fuss.  I often wear it with jeans, or with a denim skirt.  I usually pair it with navy trousers and heels, as in the photo at the top of this post.

I have a necklace that looks perfect with it, as if they were designed to wear together.  Interestingly, this necklace is the first piece of jewelry I ever bought for myself.  I was a teenager when I bought it.  It is a reproduction of a piece from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  I used to live a block away from the museum and I had a yearly entry pass; I practically lived there.  I saw this piece in the museum shop and had to have it; at the time it was an expensive purchase.  That was over thirty years ago, and I still love this piece.  (I wish that all of my purchases were so timeless.)


My only issue with the wear of this sweater is that it pills.  It is not an out of control pilling; but definitely there.  The yarn (which has been discontinued) is a blend of Merino, microfibre and cashmere.   I am not sure which yarn I would use if I were to knit it again, but I would definitely check on the pilling issue before I picked one.

IMG_6701IMG_6702If I had to choose the 5 most successful pieces in my knitted wardrobe, Ormolu would definitely be among them.  I think its success is due to the fact that it is comfortable and warm, easy to accessorize, and has a wow! factor while still being very un-fussy.  The photos in this post have been taken over three winters, and during that time I have never lost interest in this piece.

I once had a few sessions with a stylist about exploring my personal style.  I wore the Ormolu pullover to one of these sessions, and she told me that it would look fabulous with a camel skirt. I don’t know why this never occurred to me.   I have been looking for the perfect camel skirt to wear with it ever since.  In fact, I have put off doing a Wearability Wednesday post about Ormolu, in the hopes of finding the skirt first so I can show you what a brilliant combination it is.  I want a wool camel skirt that comes to just above the knee, with box pleats front and back.  Some day, I will find just the right skirt and maybe that will necessitate a further post, but until then, I will keep the navy vibe going.

We are about to depart on a family holiday, so I won’t post on the weekend, but will return soon after a week in the sun!


Goodbye, Levenwick

I have been trying to decide for some time which of my knits to feature in my next Wearability Wednesday post.  In the WW series, I re-visit a garment I’ve knitted and examine it in terms of wearability.  I try to address the questions:  Do I actually wear it?  If so, how do I style it?  What do I wear it with?  Do I dress it up or down?  If it doesn’t get worn, then why not?  What doesn’t work about it?  Is it a fit issue, or just a poor choice in garment style?

I finally decided to focus this week on Levenwick, a design by Gudrun Johnston for Brooklyn Tweed; published in BT’s Wool People, vol. 1.   Here is the pattern photo for Levenwick:

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

I instantly loved this pattern (though I hate the headscarf).  I was certainly not the only one.  Levenwick has proved to be very popular.  Interestingly, when I look at my blog statistics, one of the most frequently used search terms is Levenwick; a lot of knitters are clearly interested in the pattern.  (Levenwick is also the name of a small village in Shetland, but I imagine most of those searching for it are looking for the cardigan.  Maybe that’s knitting-centric of me?)

I knit Levenwick in September and October of 2011.  I used Cascade 220 in a very pretty teal.  I have written a number of posts about Levenwick, which can be found here (this will link to all the Levenwick posts, including this one, scroll down to read the older ones).  Here is one of the photos we took when it was first finished:

IMG_0118Emma took this photo, and I really like it.  I love the way it looks against the peeling wall and I especially love the contraposition of the teal and the rust.  You can see that the Cascade looks great, the stitches beautiful and uniform.  But you can also see that the fit is not good.  The whole area around the shoulders and yoke is awful and the fabric bunches.  You can imagine, with Emma in charge of the photo, that this is as good as Levenwick ever looked on me.  This photo is the result of Emma adjusting and pulling and re-adjusting, and me not moving.  As soon as I move, even the slightest bit, the bunching looks worse.

Knowing what I do now about the fit issues I had with Levenwick, I can see some of it in the pattern photo.  Though not as pronounced as mine, you can see the fabric bubbling under the model’s chin.  I still think the pattern is lovely, and many knitters have made great-fitting versions of Levenwick.  However, try as I might, I found my version of this cardigan to be pretty unwearable.

Now, when I wasn’t holding completely still and pulling the sweater into place just so, the poor fit became even more pronounced:

IMG_3535The above photo was taken in the stands at the Olympics (a fabulous day watching the rowing).  You can see how happy I was to be there.    You can also see that this sweater doesn’t fit at all.  It just doesn’t.

Here’s another photo, from the same day, taken from a different angle (and yes, that is me, knitting at the Olympcs – Score!):


Let’s face facts: it doesn’t fit.  I tried to wear it, I really did.  I tried it buttoned all the way up.  I tried just buttoning the top buttons.  I tried just buttoning the bottom buttons.  I tried leaving it open (a real no-no).  I am usually good at knitting a garment that will fit properly.  One of the problems with the fit is that the pattern starts by knitting a long strip of lace for the collar and then picks up stitches and knits down.  The collar, however, is really too wide, so no amount of adjusting the pattern as you knit is going to make it fit.  The only way I could have gotten a better fit was to rip the whole thing out and start over with a much narrower strip of lace.  In addition, the raglan sleeve increases just didn’t work out at all.  This could result from my gauge rather than the pattern; my stitch gauge was spot on but my row gauge was off.  Raglan decreases are one of those areas where the right row gauge is essential.

On Saturday morning, I finished knitting Leah’s February scarf and blocked it.  Afterwards, I decided to grab my Levenwick and take some more photos in preparation for writing this post.   This is what I found:

IMG_6115A moth hole!  Holey moley!  (Pun intended.)  Now, I could probably fix this.  But, I rationalized, why fix the hole when I’m not going to wear the sweater?  And before you could say “Goodbye, Levenwick” I had the scissors out and started cutting.


This sweater took a very long time to frog.  Because of the way it’s constructed, frogging was not straightforward.  I put on my headphones and listened to an audiobook (Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold; very enjoyable start to the Vorkosigan series) and spent hours steadily ripping it out.  (Frogging, by the way, is the highly technical term we knitters use to denote ripping out your knitting. I have been told it’s because you “Rip it! Rip it!” – which sounds like the English word for what frogs say.)

I no sooner finished frogging, then I grabbed some needles and started to knit.  I didn’t even take the time to steam out the kinks in the yarn.  (The knitting thus looks pretty uneven but I am fairly certain it will steam out when I block it.)  And what, you may ask, am I knitting?  Well, you will have to stay tuned to this spot to find out.


Fuzzy and Blue

Two years ago, at Halloween, we spent a week in Edinburgh.  This Scottish city is truly fantastic. While we were there, I was knitting my Leyfi pullover, so in my mind Leyfi is associated both with Edinburgh and with Halloween.  Since today is both Halloween and a Wednesday, I thought that I would write a Wearability Wednesday post showcasing Leyfi.

Leyfi is a big, warm pullover with a lacy leaf panel running down both sleeves and across the yoke.  The photos in this post were all taken this month, after two years of wear.  Leyfi is designed by Rosemary (Romi) Hill, and was published in the Fall 2010 edition of Interweave Knits. I got the magazine in the mail, and then went out right away to buy yarn and cast on for this project.  That doesn’t happen too often; I usually let pattern designs float in my subconscious for awhile before I decide to give them a go.

As an aside, I had been following Romi Hill’s designs since I first heard of her, partly because I like her work, and partly because her business is called Designs by Romi.  This caught my eye because my sister, whose name is Romi (not a nickname, and not at all a common name) has owned a business for the past twenty years called Gardens by Romi.  My sister Romi, by the way, is a kick ass garden designer; you can see some of her work here.

I wear this sweater a lot.  It is a very big and very warm sweater, without too much shape.  In my case, it is a bit too big; you can definitely see this in the below photo:

However, I kind of like it this way.  I have seen many Leyfis that are more fitted and they look wonderful.  My Leyfi is the sweater I pull out when I want to go for a walk on a brisk fall day, or curl up with a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter day.  It is like wearing your man’s sweater in terms of its cozy, cushy, relaxing, warmth appeal, but still manages to look pretty and feminine.  My kids used to frequently play the recording of Grover, from The Muppets, singing Fuzzy and Blue.  That’s what my Leyfi is – fuzzy and blue and comforting.

Despite this, it can still look pretty sharp.  Here are some photos of me wearing it a few weeks ago while walking around the grounds of Waddesdon Manor.  This Renaissance-style château was designed by the French architect Destailleur in 1874 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild.  It is now owned by the National Trust, and is a lovely property set in the Buckinghamshire countryside in England.

The manor house is open for tours, as is the wine cellar, and we have done that in the past, but on a beautiful, crisp, fall day like this one, who wants to go inside?  There is a sculpture exhibit currently on display on the grounds at Waddesdon, all of contemporary sculpture, which looks both fabulous and bizarre against the Renaissance background of the buildings and gardens.

You can see that Leyfi looks stylish and cool, even when combined with clunky hiking boots and jeans.  And see what I mean about the extraposition of new sculpture and old architecture?  The piece which we enjoyed the most was a set of mirrored shapes scattered around the leaf-strewn grass (Geometric Mirrors by Jeppe Hein). Your reflection, and the reflection of the trees and gardens, are all thrown back at different angles, and change every time you move.  Very cool.  Here, Doug tried to capture it on camera:

The pattern for Leyfi calls for two strands of yarn held together.  One is an aran weight merino wool, and the other a laceweight silk cashmere blend.  I was unable to find any similar yarn combinations, and I was very eager to cast on, so I settled for a very thick Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Chunky.  I like the colour a lot, and like the tweediness of it, with bits of blues and creams and greys.  However, if I were to make it again I would not use this yarn.   I think that the combination of yarn called for in the pattern probably produces a lighter fabric with more drape.  Plus, the Donegal Chunky gave me some gauge issues.  This should have been a super quick sweater to knit, but I ended up ripping and re-knitting quite a few times.  Here are some of my notes from my Ravelry project page:

“I tried the sweater on a few inches after joining in the round at the underarms, and discovered that, despite having gotten gauge on my swatch, the sweater was definitely running big. I was getting 13 st/ 4″ instead of the 14 called for. I ripped back about 6 inches until just before the first set of increases. Then I recalculated, and put in fewer increases, aiming at a finished size somewhere between the 36 and the 40 (I ended up with 132 stitches around at the bust).

I tried it on again for length when I was nearly finished and decided that I would prefer it with some waist shaping so I ripped back again. I added three sets of decreases, and then three sets of increases for the hips. I knit the sleeves on dpns and I must say I really dislike working lace with chunky yarn on dpns.

After finishing, and casting off, I tried the sweater on again, and decided that I really disliked the rolled edges. Though I didn’t mind this feature in the original pattern, the yarn that Romi Hill used had a lot more drape than the Donegal Chunky, and the rolled edges [with my yarn] looked terribly chunky and clumsy. I could also tell that it was going to get worse each time I put it on. So, I ripped back the bottom and the cuffs, and added 5 rows of seed stitch, and then cast off in seed stitch. This gave some stability to the edges, and I think it really ended up looking nice.”

I only ever wear this with jeans.  I suppose it would look good with a shortish skirt and tights and boots, or maybe a pair of wide-wale cords, but I am pretty sure that I’ve only paired it with jeans.  In this incarnation, it is a casual, outdoorsy sweater.  I think that Leyfi, if knit up in different yarn and slightly more fitted, could be a dressier piece.  Also, because of the width of the sleeves, I find it uncomfortable to fit this under a coat.  Therefore, I usually wear it outdoors on top of a turtleneck, and have Leyfi function as my coat.  In short, this is a very cute pullover, and very easy to make.  Because it is knit with chunky wool, and has a top-down all in one construction with no seams, it is very fast.  I’ve been wearing it for two years, and it still looks like new, with no pilling or wear.

And now for something blue

It’s been a while since I wrote a Wearability Wednesday Post.   This is a series in which I revisit a knit garment and look at its wearability, style and durability.  Let’s face it, sometimes you knit something that seems just wonderful at the time, and then it never gets worn.  Maybe it’s the wrong colour, or the wrong length, or just doesn’t fit in with your style.  Sometimes, on the other hand, you knit something that hits all of the right buttons and you wear it to death.

This sweater is Ingenue, from a pattern by Wendy Bernard.  I knit it for my daughter Leah in January 2010.   It took three weeks from start to finish.  The above photos show Leah wearing it when I first knit it.   I used Malabrigo Merino Worsted in the colour Buscando Azul.  This was the first time I had ever knit with Malabrigo, which has a huge following.  (Did you know that yarns have Fan Girls?)

Mostly I knit it exactly as written in the pattern, making just a few modifications.   Below, are the comments on my Ravelry entry for this project, describing the mods (if you aren’t interested in the knitting knitty gritty, you may skip this part):

“As usual, my row gauge was off, so I had to adjust the math. I made the sweater two inches longer, added extra waist increases, and switched to a size 10 (US) for the bottom. For the sleeves, I added 6 stitches evenly around the sleeve just before starting the ridge pattern. This kept the cuff from pulling in. I did 5 pattern repeats on the bottom and cuffs but left off the purl row at the end, instead binding off in knit. I didn’t like the way they curled out, so I hemmed them, folding them back at the purl row of the 4th pattern ridge; this gave a much neater finish. If I were to knit this again, I would do fewer sleeve increases during the raglan shaping because the sleeves have a little too much bulk.”

Leah has worn this sweater countless times.  This is a sweater that sees serious wear.  We took some more photos of it last month in Vancouver.  (It is a very sad fact about this last summer in Vancouver that this wool sweater got lots of wear in August.)

The pattern for Ingenue can be found in Wendy Bernard’s book, Custom Knits.  I knit another of the patterns from that book, my Flash of Purple, incidentally also for Leah.  I documented the latter on the blog here, but here’s a photo:

Wendy is a great designer, who understands that every body is different; she incorporates tailoring tips into her patterns to help you get just the right fit.  I would highly recommend this book to any sweater knitter.  Wendy has a new book out, Custom Knits 2, which I haven’t had a chance to look at yet, but I would bet it’s also great.

To go back to the Ingenue, what is it about this sweater that makes it a keeper?  From Leah’s perspective, it is incredibly soft, cozy, easy to wear, goes with lots of things, can be dressed up or down, gets noticed, and is an absolutely gorgeous colour.  From a knitting perspective, it is easy as pie to knit, but still manages to not be too boring.  There are nearly one thousand Ingenues up on Ravelry.  This makes it a very popular knit.  It manages to look good on most people.  I have seen some seriously big, curvy women rocking their Ingenues; you don’t have to be young and gorgeous like Leah to carry this off.  It has some panache.

The absolutely best thing about this sweater (which is also the worst thing) is the Malabrigo.  The colour is Fantastic.  The photos can’t do it justice.  It is an amazing, rich, beautiful, textured, deep blue that is absolutely mesmerizing.  It does not look like any sweater that you could buy in a store.  When we were in Vancouver, Leah got stopped in a parking lot of a Chinese restaurant on Commercial Drive by a father accompanied by his kids.  He wanted to know where she got it (and was really blown away by the fact that someone actually knit it for her).

It is also unbelievably soft.  Malabrigo has to be felt to be believed; it really is that soft.  And this, I’m afraid, is also it’s downfall.  Malabrigo is so soft, that it pills almost instantly.  The first time you pull it on, it will start to pill.  The photo below shows how beautiful and lovely the sweater is, but if you look closely, you can see that it is definitely pilling (this despite having just been washed and de-pilled).  After a couple of washes, the whole fabric takes on a fuzzy patina.

In the future I would think carefully about what kinds of projects I used Malabrigo in.  I wouldn’t choose to use it in a pattern that requires crisp stitch definition.  Malabrigo isn’t crisp.  But it is soft as butter, and luxurious to wear.  The next time I knit up an Ingenue, I would probably use Malabrigo, and I would definitely knit it for me.

Stoking flames

In this series, Wearability Wednesdays, I revisit a garment that I knit in the past and look at whether, and how, it is worn today.  Today, I am going to go farther back into the past than before.  In the summer of 1998,  I was visiting the States with the girls, and spending some time with my family.  Doug stayed in Potsdam and worked, and then joined us later.  As usual, I devoured the latest Vogue Knitting magazine (Spring/Summer 1998).  Though there were quite a few sweaters that appealed to me, I found myself drawn to a half page article in their book’s section about the release of Minnowknits, Too: 26 Uncommon Knits for Kids Big andSmall, by Jil Eaton.

The article was illustrated with a photo of an adorable little red jacket in a boucle yarn, with an assymetrical front and red buttons.  The pattern was included in the Vogue magazine.  I was sold.  I ordered the yarn and set about making it for Leah, who was three years old.  In fact, I ordered enough yarn to make two of these jackets, one for Leah in red, and one for Emma in white with multicoloured flecks.  At that time, I was not knitting much because of a repetitive stress injury (likely to be the topic of a future post).   I managed the red jacket, but Emma’s never even got cast on.  The yarn is still sitting in a box on my shelf.

I have looked and looked but can’t find any photos of Leah wearing it.  But wear it she did, for quite a few years.  And it was adorable.  I can’t find my notes, but I believe I knit it in the size 24 months, as Leah was small for her age, and the next size up was 4 years.   Eventually, it got folded up and put away.  Two years ago, my older daughter Emma, then 17, found it when we were cleaning out the closets and said “Mom, I bet this would still fit me!”  She was right:

The above photo really shows the colour and texture of the yarn well.  It looks like flames, doesn’t it?  (Thus, the name of the post.)  Here are some photos of Emma wearing it this April on the Apache Trail in Arizona.  It looks great on her, and it is very hard to believe that it is actually a three year old’s jacket.  (Though one would certainly not describe it as “roomy”.)

I particularly like it teamed with the cowboy hat.  Emma is wearing Doug’s Stetson here (a gift from my stepfather, Stuart).  Every hat ever made looks good on Emma, but this Stetson fits surprisingly well with this outfit.

In the photo above, you can see that the assymetrical front opening of the jacket buttons up to the round neckline.  It has an oriental flair to it.  When Leah wore this as a toddler, it was usually buttoned right up.  It has a totally different neckline when Emma wears it now, with the top buttons undone.  It gives the jacket a much different look.

So this wraps up this month’s Wearability Wednesday post.  The little red jacket, designed by Jil Eaton; the only sweater I know that looks equally adorable on a toddler and a teenager.

The perils of red

In my previous posts in the Wearability Wednesday series, I have talked about knitted garments that get worn frequently and are well-loved.  But if we go back to the first post in this series, this is how I described the venture:

With this post, I introduce an occasional series called Wearability Wednesdays, in which I look in detail at some item I have knit in the past, and explore how wearable it has turned out to be.  Do I wear it frequently?  If so, why?  How do I style it?  Do I dress it up or down?  Does it wash well?  How has it held up to time, changing styles, etc?   If it doesn’t get worn much, why not?  Is it a fit issue, or just the wrong style for the right person?

With this post, I will discuss an item that doesn’t get worn, and it turns out to be neither a fit issue nor a style issue.  Last year at this time, I was just finishing knitting my Blakeslee Tee, designed by Emily Johnson.  Emily runs a terrific website called the Family Trunk Project.  It is based on a cracking idea, and a wonderfully inspirational designing odyssey, which is best explained by Emily in her own words from her site:

The Family Trunk Project is a work in progress. I’m designing one garment inspired by each member of my family tree, reaching back to my great-grandparents’ generation and beyond. These clothes may or may not be based on garments my ancestors actually wore, but each one draws on its namesake in some way, whether it be through ethnic origin, trade, personality or a combination of all three.

I can’t say enough about how cool I find this concept and how terrific the site is; please go check it out.  Also, I love her designs and quite a few of them are on my radar.  The Blakeslee Tee is the first of Emily’s designs that I have knit.  It is also the first sweater that I ever knit in sock yarn.  These photos are the ones that Emma took last year on the 1st of May, the day I finished knitting (as well as some progress shots while I was knitting).

The pattern is very well-written and fun to knit.  It is knit top-down, in the round, in a two-colour slip-stitch pattern.  Interestingly, I knit the Blakeslee Tee shortly after finishing my Ormolu sweater, which is also a slip-stitch mosaic pattern, as is the Brick pullover which I just finished knitting for Doug.  I seem to have been on something of a slip stitch bandwagon this year.

As you can see, my Blakeslee Tee turned out perfectly.  It fits great and is undeniably cute.  It is an all around great summer Tee and a fun project.  How many times have I worn it?  Exactly once – on May 1st, 2011 when these photos were taken.  Why, dear reader, you may ask, would I relegate such a great knit to the scrap pile?  Here is a closeup shot of the underarm of the Tee, after having worn it for the 30 minute photo shoot.

The Malabrigo sock yarn in Boticelli Red has run, turning the underarms pink.  This is from wearing it for 30 minutes on a mild spring day.  I wasn’t dancing in the sun and sweating profusely (though it shouldn’t have mattered if I were).  The colour ran just from the contact of the sleeve and body.  And before anyone jumps to point out the obvious, let me say that I did make a swatch – in fact, I made two, one knit flat and a much larger one knit in the round – and yes, I did wash and block the swatches.

Needless to say, I was quite upset.  I had heard many good things about Malabrigo sock.  I have never used it before (or since for that matter), though I have used Malabrigo worsted and think it quite lush and luxurious. Looking back on it, perhaps I should have rinsed the whole skein in vinegar and made sure it wouldn’t run; then again, I did wash my swatches to no ill-effect.  Or perhaps, the problem was trying to do any kind of colour work involving red.  I used not only the recommended yarn but also the same colours as Emily used (Boticelli Red and Natural).  If I were to knit this again, perhaps it would be better to choose navy instead of the red.   It is also possible that this is not a general property of their red yarns but an unfortunate mistake with this dye lot (especially given that Emily knit her sample in this same colourway).

I still haven’t decided what to do with my poor Blakeslee Tee; I have tried, to no avail, to get the red out.  Maybe some kind reader has a remedy I haven’t thought of?  I have also considered dying, but can’t think of any way to dye it which would work well; it is the contrast between the natural and red which was so appealing in the first place.

This experience has made me much more cautious about colourwork, and hopefully it will work – as a cautionary tale should – and keep me vigilant about pre-preparing yarns in vibrant colours.  It won’t keep me from trying out another Emily Johnson design however; I rather have my eye on Monami.  And that concludes this Wearability Wednesday post, about an unfortunately unwearable sweater.

It’s Super Carnaby!

This is the third entry in my occasional series, Wearability Wednesday, in which I look back at a knitted item and see whether and how it gets worn.  This time last year I knit a very cute skirt for Emma, using the Carnaby pattern, designed by Nikol Lohr, and published here by Knitty.  Carnaby is such a great pattern – easy, stylish, fresh and wearable.  Over 500 knitters on Ravelry have knit Carnaby, and unlike many other skirt patterns I have seen, it looks really good on most people.  People have knit it in brights and in neutrals, in tweeds, and in variegated yarns; they have knit it in many lengths from super short to knee length.

The pattern is easily adaptable; it is knit side-to-side, so you establish the length right away and then knit until the waist fits properly.  I made this one without any modifications, but I used a slightly tighter gauge so that the finished skirt would be 15″ long instead of 17″.  This slightly shorter length looks great.  Emma really rocks this skirt (as someone commented on my ravelry project page).  She wears it often and dresses it both up and down.  I particularly like the way she wears it at the office; teamed with a sweater and a classy tailored jacket, it looks young and fashionable, but still appropriate for work.

I took this shot at the university a few months ago, while Emma was hard at work preparing for an event.  Emma complains that the lighting was bad and the photos were not to her usual standard, but I wanted to show you the skirt on an actual working day.  It is functional and pretty, and can be individualized quite a bit.

This was the first project I knit using Cascade 220 wool.  This is an incredibly popular wool.  I would call it a “workhouse wool”; it is not a luxury product, but a good, basic wool yarn that comes in many colours and is super reliable.  It is washable, wears well, doesn’t pill, has a tight spin and consistent colour, shows off textured patterns like cables, and is priced very affordably.  For a skirt, which gets perhaps more wear and tear than a pullover, it is an exceptional choice.  I am, perhaps, a bit of a yarn snob, but found this wool to be exceptionally good quality.  I used it to make my Leavenwick cardigan and will certainly knit with it again in future.

Emma has been wearing this skirt for a year and shows no sign of stopping.  I am thinking of making one for myself, a bit longer of course, perhaps in black.  As an example of the versatility of this pattern, and the creativity of my daughter, last week Emma came bounding down the stairs dressed like this:

Of course, I had to grab my camera and take a few shots.

So, in a nod to Superman, is it a skirt?

Is it a cape?

No, it’s Super Carnaby!

Everyone loves Audrey

This is the second in an occasional series called Wearability Wednesday in which I look in more depth at an item I’ve knitted previously, and discuss its actual wearability.  In these posts I want to focus on what gets worn and what doesn’t, and why; also on how it gets worn and how it holds up to wear and washing.  Today, I will be looking at Audrey, a sweater designed by Kim Hargreaves, in homage to Audrey Hepburn and her style in movies such as Roman Holiday.

The Audrey pattern was published in Rowan 35 in 2004.  Kim is a prolific designer who worked at Rowan for over 20 years before branching out to establish her own knit design company with her mother, Kathleen.  Kim is really known for her cardigans and her classic tailoring; you can find her designs at her lovely website.  Kim is well loved by knitters; the Kim Hargreaves group on Ravelry has over 4500 members.

I knit Audrey in late 2009 and it has had a lot of wear.  In this post, I want to look at two aspects of Audrey that really stand out for me.  First, it it looks great on many different body types.  Second, it is a sweater that can be worn in many different ways; it looks great with jeans, at work, and dressed up for evening wear.  Here, the sweater is modelled by me and by both my daughters, each of us adopting a different style.

First, let’s discuss body type.  When I knit Audrey I was about 6 kilos (12.5 pounds) heavier than I am now.  The photo that starts off this post was taken soon after I finished knitting it. Many of the sweaters which I knit back then are far too baggy on me now and I no longer wear them.  Audrey, however, because of the allover ribbing and the stretchy qualities of the yarn, fit me well then and fits we well now.  It is one of the few things in my wardrobe that this is true of.   My daughter Emma is a few inches taller than I am, and very slender and willowy.  She weighs a good 15 kilos less than I do.  Leah is a few inches shorter than I am, and has a real hourglass figure.  In UK sizes, Emma is a 6, Leah an 8, I am a 10 or 12, and two years ago when I knit Audrey, I was a 14, which I believe correspond to US sizes 2-10.  This is quite a range of sizes and heights and shapes, and yet each of us wears this sweater.  As you can see from the photos,  Audrey looks great on each of us.

Besides the great fit of Audrey, the other thing I want to emphasize is its versatility.  To show this, we each adopted a different style when modelling these photos.  Leah wore it with a pair of jeans.  I think it looks great this way.  It is fun and comfortable and easy to wear, but looks modern, and stylish.  It emphasizes Leah’s curviness and looks sexy without being revealing.  She looks really put-together wearing this; it doesn’t need anything else to make it work.

I often wear Audrey to work.  Here it is paired with a nice pair of classic tweed pants (or trousers as we say here in the UK).  I can wear this to meet with clients, attend meetings or give a talk, and look really professional.  At the same time, it has the extra flair that a hand-knit item gives your wardrobe.  It is not something that everyone else in the room is wearing, and lets you express a bit of creativity.  I really like it paired with the jacket that you can see in the other photos.  I bought it from a small shop in Camden, London, that makes its own felted jackets by hand. I like the contrast in styles between the definitely 1950s era Audrey styling and the definitely not 50s line of the jacket.

Emma is modelling Audrey all dressed up for evening wear, with a pair of killer heels and beautiful tights, and a suede miniskirt.  Again, it looks terrific.  It is chic and sexy and sophisticated.  There are not many pieces in my wardrobe that go from casual to office to evening with such aplomb.  One of the features of Audrey that makes it so versatile is the neckline.  It can be worn pulled down over the shoulders, to add a bit of va-va-voom (which looks especially amazing if you have a long neck and beautiful shoulders like Emma) or you can hitch it up a bit to cover the shoulders but still show a lovely line across the neck.

As an aside, my daughters have both inherited my creative streak (from their dad as well, who started out as a jewellry designer before becoming an academic and still has a strong creative side).  Emma, as you know, does all of the fashion styling and photography for this blog, as well as being the tech genius behind it. (Emma is also a jazz saxophonist, but that is another story.)   Leah, who is 17, designs jewelry and is crazy about beading.  Leah made all of the earrings which we are modelling in this photoshoot.  She makes amazing beaded necklaces as well, which weren’t needed for the Audrey shoot, but which I will show in some future post.  Here are closeups of the earrings worn in this post:

So, what is it about Audrey that makes it so versatile, and gives it such great fit?  I think there are a number of factors.  First, the pullover is knit in rib.  Rib is clingy and hugs the body, and allows for alot of give.  I don’t think just anything in rib would stretch to accomodate 4 different sizes so well, but the ribbing is certainly one of the features that allow each of us to wear it.  Second, in addition to the rib, it has great shaping details at the waist and bust.  The shaping of Audrey is really one of its best features; it has a very nice look to it, it is elegant and emphasizes the body’s curves really nicely.  Many allover ribbed sweaters will sag under the bustline but the shaping here prevents that, and gives it a classy feel.  It is a very tailored look, which is one of the things I most admire about Kim’s designs.  I will also point out, as a knitter, that the shaping kept the sweater from being a slog to knit; endless rib would have been boring, but the shaping requires some thought and a bit of skill which made it a far more enjoyable knit.

Third, the sleeve length allows the three of us, with our different arm lengths, to carry this sweater off.  Audrey is designed for 3/4 sleeves.  As you can see, on Leah it has a bracelet length that looks good on her, while on Emma it’s clearly 3/4 length.  If it was designed as a full length sleeve, I think it would not be quite as flexible as it is.  Fourth, the neckline really makes this sweater.  Not only is it pretty and flirty and lacy, thus giving a femininity to an otherwise very tailored piece; but also, it can be worn up or pulled down off the shoulders giving it very different style profiles.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned here is the yarn.  I knit Audrey in the recommended yarn, Calmer by Rowan.  Calmer is a blend, 75% cotton and 25% acrylic microfiber.  I am not usually a fan of manmade fibres, in fact I am normally quite a natural fibre snob.  However, Calmer manages to make a very nice blend that holds up well to wear.  As you can imagine, this Audrey gets worn a lot, and gets washed a lot.  Cotton sweaters have a terrible tendency to stretch and sag but the microfiber content of Audrey really helps it keep its shape.  The fact that it is cotton means that I can basically wear it all year round; it is a great sweater for a summer evening, I can wear it to dance in, unlike wool, and it will keep you warm on a cooler night  The one thing that I don’t like about Calmer is its colour range.  I knit mine in black, but if not black, I would prefer to have Audrey in bright splashy colours – emerald, ruby, peacock.  Calmer comes almost exclusively in pastels, and very unappealing ones at that.  Rowan, if you are listening, jazz up the Calmer range please!

What would I do differently if I were to knit Audrey again?  That is easy: I would add 2 inches onto the length.  At my age, I don’t want my tummy sticking out.  If I had knit a few extra inches to the length, I wouldn’t have any need to suck in my gut with this one, or to be tugging it down.

So here’s to Audrey; a really classy, chic, comfortable and pretty sweater!  It’s a Wearability Wednesday hit.

That Old Blue Standard

With this post, I introduce an occasional series called Wearability Wednesdays, in which I look in detail at some item I have knit in the past, and explore how wearable it has turned out to be.  Do I wear it frequently?  If so, why?  How do I style it?  Do I dress it up or down?  Does it wash well?  How has it held up to time, changing styles, etc?   If it doesn’t get worn much, why not?  Is it a fit issue, or just the wrong style for the right person?

This week, I will look at the Tangled Yoke Cardigan, designed by Eunny Jang for the Fall 2007 issue of Interweave Knits.  I knit it in March 2008, using the recommended yarn, Felted Tweed by Rowan.  I finished knitting it just in time for a trip  to Arizona to visit my mom and stepdad.  Below are two photos of me wearing it at the Grand Canyon, just after I finished it.  (Unfortunately, I have good photos of the cardigan and good photos of the Grand Canyon, but not a good photo of me in the cardigan with a great vista in the background.)

Those photos were taken almost four years ago.  In the intervening years, this has been my go-to cardigan.  It is warm and cozy, but not bulky, it is stylish in an understated way, it looks great with jeans or with a dress, the colour is really basic and matches many things in my wardrobe, it isn’t fussy, and the fit is good.  I have probably worn it a hundred times.

Here are some photos of it taken six weeks ago.  We were visiting Clivedon, a majestic manor in Buckinghamshire, England, once the home of Waldorf and Nancy Astor and now a National Trust property known for its beautiful gardens.  Clivedon is a short drive from my home and a lovely place to wander on a pretty fall day.  Here is a photo of me leaning against a wall to the back of the house.

Now, to put the place in perspective, the following is a photo which pulls back so you can appreciate the sweep of garden behind me.  This is a shot of the famous parterre, a geometric garden of carved hedges and flower beds.

And here, you can see the view in front of me, of Clivedon Manor itself.  It’s also a nice shot of the Tangled Yoke cardigan.  This photo actually points out one of the few things I would have changed about the cardigan; I feel like the neck line should have been either an inch wider or an inch narrower.  When I wear it with a T-shirt, as I often do, I don’t like the look of the small circle of T-shirt that peeks through at the neck. I think it would be more elegant if the cardigan neckline covered the T-shirt neckline.

While this is a niggling complaint, I do have a more substantive complaint, which is that the front of the cardigan has stretched out.  This happened very soon after knitting, and hasn’t been corrected by reblocking.  I wish that I had reinforced the front edges of the cardigan with ribbon before I ever wore it; I think this might have prevented this stretching, or at least kept it in line.  In the below photo, you can clearly see how the fronts of the sweater are very stretched out compared to the back.  Because of this, I rarely wear the cardigan unbuttoned.

Here you can see some of the nice features of the pattern.  The ribbing isn’t the standard K2P2 rib, and looks softer, the decreases at the sides of the long rib section look pretty and architectural, and the fake seam that is created on the sides by having a purl stitch running up, gives the cardigan a bit of structure.

This photo really shows off the sweater at its best: comfortable but classy and pretty.

And below, another close up shot of the fake seam (this time on the sleeve and underarm) which shows how well the Felted Tweed has held up.  This is after a dozen washes and lots of wear, but you can see that the yarn still looks great; no pilling, and the stitch definition is still good.

This is a great shot, both of the cardigan and of me.  It demonstrates once again that Emma is a wizard with the camera; she always makes me look good.

A few more photos, while I am at it:

To conclude my first Wearability Wednesday post, the Tangled Yoke Cardigan, designed by Eunny Jang, is a definite winner.  It is a wardrobe staple that fits beautifully and wears well.