Model knitting

This morning, I fired up my laptop and I saw this:

Kelbourne Woolens, Mojave Collection shoot

© Meghan Kelly

Wow! I love this tank.  I love the eye-popping yellow and the beautiful shaping.  But, man, most of all I love this model!  She models all six patterns in this collection of summer tops designed by Meghan Kelly for Kelbourne Woolens.  Here is another:

Kelbourne Woolens, Mojave Collection shoot

© Kelbourne Woolens

And then, I saw this lovely retro pattern by Norah Gaughan:


© Norah Gaughan

And once again, I love the model.  This design is from a collection of 16 patterns for Berrocco, and she models the whole collection.  Here is a great cowl pattern by Martha Wissing:


© Martha Wissing

Let’s here it for diversity in models!  And beautiful designs to boot.


Last month I purchased some lovely blue yarn.  This is Dye for Yarn Fingering Merino & Silk in the colourway Fading Stormy Night.


Until recently, I wound all skeins into balls by hand.  But not too long ago I bought myself a swift and winder.  I debated whether to wind this yarn by hand regardless, as it is very fine and silky.  Speed won out over good sense (I was on my way to South Africa and planned to take it with me).  This is what happened when I tried to knit, pulling the cake from the middle:



What is this, you say?  A tangle?  No problem; tangles just take patience and determination.  This one defied logic, however.  Instead of one strand of yarn emerging and knotting itself up, I had multiple strands of yarn emerging from the cake all clumped together.  Here is a closeup:


I reasoned that the solution was just to keep tugging until the knot popped free of the cake, at which point I could start a de-tangling process.  Bad idea!  This is what happened:


The cake of yarn kept regurgitating smaller cakes of tangled yarn until I had a string of knotted clumps one after the other like a mother duck and her ducklings.  Any reasonable person would have cut the yarn from the project, or ripped it out (I had only knit 3 or 4 rows at that point) but not I!  I patiently sat and unravelled the whole mess from the other end, winding it by hand into a ball.  It took a few hours (and a glass or two of wine).

Mission accomplished, I was then able to get underway with my new project, which by a strange coincidence began to take on the shape of a giant, tentacled mess – a knitted tangle to rival the duckling trail.


To say the least, this is an interesting project.  It now looks like this; a slightly less tangled look (but still immensely interesting):


And here is a closeup:


What am I making?  I leave you to wait with bated breath until the next installment of this blog.

Pattern/yarn mis-match: solution!

How do you solve a mis-match between pattern and yarn?

Here’s how:


As you may recall, I was having some troubles with my latest project.  I had picked a pattern for a pretty little summer t-shirt; the Sunbird Top by Quenna Lee.


© Interweave / George Boe

I had paired it with Carol Feller’s yarn, Nua, a rustic blend of wool, linen, and yak.  I had nearly finished knitting it when I finally succumbed to the niggling doubts that had pursued me from the beginning: I like the pattern, I loved the yarn, but they were not a match made in heaven.  The main issue was simply that the Nua is too substantial a yarn for this project.  Even though I hit the gauge exactly, the yarn was too heavy to drape properly for this t-shirt, and, let’s face it: it knits up much too warm for a summer top.

I pointed out two other problems in my post outlining my difficulties with the project.  First, the bottom edge was curling up, more than I thought would be fixed by a good blocking, and second, I hated the top-down cap sleeves, which were puckered and terribly annoying to knit:


Clearly, this yarn was not going to work with this pattern.  However, I was reluctant to rip the whole thing out so I started thinking about ways to rescue it by re-conceptualising it as a fall sweater.  Here’s what I did.

Buy some more yarn

This one made me laugh.  I pushed the button to buy the yarn just minutes before I saw the comment left on my blog post by Lorenza: “Three words: sunk cost bias…”  Yes, exactly!  So, let’s solve this by throwing even more cash at it!  My idea, however, was to turn this into a fall sweater with long sleeves which means I needed more yarn.  Since I didn’t want to try to track down the right dye lot, I decided to buy a different shade and make a colour block sweater.  I was going to go for a gold colour, but Doug convinced me to buy this olive green, which I adore.  Isn’t it a fantastic mix?


Doug said it would look like the colour transitions you get on the ocean when the depth changes, and he was right.  It reminds us of the greens and blues we saw last summer on our holiday around Vancouver Island.

Rip out the bottom 6 inches of the sweater, and re-knit with the green.

Not only did I want the sweater to have a contrasting deep border of green, but I decided right away that I didn’t want the curved edging of the Sunbird Top.  It didn’t work well in this yarn, but also it wasn’t fitting into my mental concept of what I was hoping to accomplish.  So, after ripping out a chunk of the bottom, I knit it down straight, keeping the lace on the sides, and then finishing with 6 rows of garter stitch (3 garter ridges) at the hem, to repeat the garter ridges above the chest on the original pattern.  Not only would this tie in the new design with the old, but it would (I hoped) get rid of the curling problem on the edge.  I think it turned out great.

Match the neckline finishing to the edging.

The 6 rows of garter I added to the hemline gave it a very nice finished look.  I decided to add the same around the neckline.  Not only did  it tie all of the elements together, but it raised the neckline a crucial half inch, which matters now that the sweater is a warmer-weight fall sweater instead of a breezy summer top.



Make long sleeves.

I absolutely hated knitting the original sleeves top down.  I don’t mind seaming either so the obvious thing was to knit these bottom up, flat, and then seam and set in to the shoulders.  I worried a little, since I was knitting bottom up, about getting the line matched up where the blue switches over to the green, but think I planned it out perfectly:


For those who like to know these details, the sweater measures 11.5″ from the underarm to the bottom of the blue; the green is then another 5″.  For the sleeves, I knit 6.5″ of green, and then switched to the blue for another 11.5″ before starting the underarm decreases. I do think that it stretched a bit when I washed it (gaining just under an inch in length), but it seems to have stretched evenly, as the colour transition still lines up perfectly.

I had to re-knit the sleeve cap three times before it fit properly.  The first time, I even set it in, but the armscythe felt tight and bunchy, so I ripped the seam out, and started the cap over.  I do think that the seam looks pretty good and that the cap fits much better than the original cap I was knitting top down.  If you recall, when I knit the body of the garment, I started with a larger size across the top (a 46″) and then switched to a 43 at the underarms.  This was definitely the wrong choice, and if I was being totally picky, I should have ripped the whole thing out and started again to make the shoulders narrower.  Although I think this sleeve fits pretty well, I do feel it would be a better fit at the shoulders if it were an inch narrower at each side.


While I still have a few niggles with this, all-in-all I think it is a pretty good save!  The Nua washes up great, it has a lovely silky feel to it and feels fantastic next to the skin.  It is warmer than it looks (due to the yak, I suspect), while the linen makes for a rustic look and adds depth to the colour variation (the linen doesn’t pick up the dye in the same way as the wool).  I have switched this on Ravelry from a Sunbird project to a “incorporates Sunbird” project, and have re-named it Ocean Waters.


Now, as often happens, I’ve knit a fall sweater just as summer kicks in!

Library in a telephone booth

In this day and age when everyone has a phone in their pocket and the telephone booth has virtually disappeared, I was pleasantly surprised to see this:


We stumbled upon this lovely old British telephone booth on a tiny village common.  It has been turned into a free book exchange for the community.  The idea is to leave books you no longer want and take ones you do.  What a cool idea: no rent to pay, no staffing needs, no closing times.  If you find yourself without a book to read in the middle of the night (heaven forbid!) all you need is a flashlight and a pair of boots and you can fix what ails you.

I love this idea!  Now to have one for stash yarn……

Storing your knitted swatches

I always have trouble with swatches.  Not in the act of making them – swatching can actually be kind of fun – but in the storing process.  Specifically, how to store them with the appropriate information attached so that you can access it again.   Normally, I will knit one or two or three swatches with a particular yarn, using different sized needles.  I will then wash and block and carefully measure the swatches.  They will then get thrown in a plastic bag and put in a basket for a while.  Some time later, I will find the swatch but not know what size needle I used, and just to be sure, I would knit the swatch all over again.

I have tried to be clever and write it down in a way that I can access the information many months, or years, later.  Storing notes on Ravelry would be useful, but it still doesn’t let you feel the swatch and decide which fabric gauge is most suitable for the project you are thinking about.  Of course, normally I just scribble it on a piece of paper and the information is lost to posterity and when I find a swatch I want to replicate into a garment I don’t know the needle used, and often don’t know what yarn it was knit in either.

I tried attaching the labels to the swatch, by pinning them for example, but this never worked.  Put enough swatches into a bag and they end up all jumbled up and the labels get detached.  I read somewhere about using yarn overs in the swatch to indicate the needle size – 3 yarn overs, which create 3 holes across one row of the swatch, would indicate a size 3 needle.  Well, this caused problems for me because I live in a cross-over world where I equally use US needle sizes and European sizes (in mm), and also because what do you do with half sizes?

Recently, I decided to try something new.  I knit the swatch, wash and block it, and then store it in a plastic file folder that hooks into a ring binder, along with all of the relevant information – yarn, needle size, stitch used, etc.  Here is an example:


This is a swatch knit with Carol Feller’s yarn, Nua.  In the pocket is the actual swatch along with a piece of paper with the relevant information written on it.  In this case, it tells me that the swatch is knit in stockinette with a US 6 needle, that Nua comes in 50g/140m skeins and is composed of 60% wool, 20% linen, and 20% yak, that the colour used for the swatch is called Unexpected Macaw, and that the blocked gauge is 22×34.

Here are two swatches that I made for my Form pullover:


This pullover was knit with two strands of yarn held together.  I knit two swatches with two different needles.  I have created a separate page for each needle size, so that the two swatches are easily identified without having to take out a measuring tape to see which is which.  The information on the page identifies both of the yarns used.

Here is another example, in which I have included both the stockinette gauge and the ribbing gauge for the 4ply Hampshire yarn from The Little Grey Sheep:


I use a very heavy-duty clear pocket folder made by Leitz.  I have a couple of boxes of them left over from my years in Germany.  This method won’t work with the typical floppy lightweight folders; you must have access to the heavyweight type.  I imagine you can find them in a good stationary or office supply shop.

What I like about this method is that the swatches can then be stored in a binder on a bookshelf, all the information is contained in a readily accessible way, and the swatches themselves can be large enough to be be useful.  I have only been using this method for the past few months.  We will see whether it turns out to be practical over the long run and also whether I will actually stick with it (I am notoriously unorganised).

Do you struggle with keeping track of your swatches?  Have you developed any good tricks?

“Off to the Knitting Project Naughty Corner with you!”

In my last post, I talked about the problems I was having with my current project which boiled down to a mis-match between pattern and yarn.  I am pursuing a devious plan with respect to that project, but will instead here reveal another project misadventure.  A few weeks ago, Doug was away on a business trip to China.  I thought it was a perfect opportunity to try to get started on a secret project for him.  I had seen some lovely mini-skeins of 4-ply Hampshire yarn from The Little Grey Sheep, at Loop in London (or, rather, on their website).  I bought one in virtually every colour they had in stock for some experimenting:


I had decided to make a striped button-down vest.  I did the requisite swatching for tension, worked out the math, spent a very long time doing 1×1 ribbing for the waistband, and then began striping.  What I failed to do was to actually swatch some striping sequences to see if these colours worked together, and if so, how they would work best.  I blame this on the fact that I wanted to get a start on actually knitting the garment while Doug was away.


Here is where I got to when I had the unfortunate image of a 1970s kitchen pop into my mind.  Those of you who are old enough may remember these avocado, burnt orange and mustard colour schemes that dominated every kitchen of the era?  It gave me a shudder and I just couldn’t knit anymore without seeing those kitchens.  Among the mini-skeins there were also a number of pinks and purples, but these didn’t seem to work with the other colours either:


What to do?  I mentioned it on Ravelry and most people said (rather sensibly) “Why don’t you ask Doug?”  So I did.  Doug actually has no problem with the colour schemes, or including the pinks and purples.   His criticism: “Stripes are boring: couldn’t I do something to liven them up?”  You know all those women knitters who complain that their husbands only want boring garments?  Clearly, I do not have that problem.

I worked out an interesting way to liven it up, which would involve my needing more of some of the colours, and then went on-line and discovered that those colours were all sold out.  Grrr…..

So, what to do?  “Off to the Knitting Project Naughty Corner with you!”  We will see if you look better after a prolonged period of time-out.  (Most likely I will rip and re-purpose this very lovely yarn.)

While I am on the topic of bad news, I am half-way through a two-week business trip to Johannesburg.  I got sick the moment I arrived.  It is cold here and overcast.  I have a heavy teaching load and am feverish.  I am in a hotel room by myself.  I am too tired at night to knit.  Boo hoo.

Not wanting to drown in self-pity, however, I will end this post by showing you some pretty new yarn.


This is a fingering weight 75% wool and 25% silk blend hand-dyed by Dye for Yarn, in the gorgeous colour Fading Stormy Night.  Beautiful, no?


It is for a special new project which I intended to knit here in Jo’burg.  So far, not happening, but tomorrow is Saturday and maybe the knitting gods will smile on me.

Hitting some snags

It is a beautiful weekend and I plan to enjoy it and not think too much about all of the stalled knitting projects needing a fix.  But, I will do a quick post to show why I’m stalled.  I have hit a few problems with my Sunbird Top.  I decided to knit this with Carol Feller’s new yarn, Nua, which is a blend of wool, yak and linen.  Although I hit the gauge pretty much smack on, I am not convinced that it is the right yarn for this pattern.  I thought that the linen content would make it a breezy, spring-like fabric, but in fact it knits up warmer than I had anticipated.  It is a lovely yarn, but maybe not the best for this project.  (Although, I will withhold judgement until it’s done.)


There are some additional problems, however.  First, as you can see above, there is some significant curling on the bottom edge.  This is really not making me happy or confident.  Although blocking should help to fix it, some other aspects of the construction may exacerbate the problem.  The pattern has a bit of lace on the side:


The funny little shape at the end of the lace will not stay that way; the edges are sewn back against the lace to form a neat curved edging that is supposed to look like this:


© Interweave / George Boe

I think it will take some significant blocking effort to get mine to look like this, and I worry that sewing up the edges to produce this curve will make the curling even worse by pulling the cast-off edge tighter.  And, as I think you can see in the photos, the yarn that I am using isn’t drapey enough for this pattern, at least not while knit at this gauge.

The second issue has to do with size. I started knitting it in a size 46 to give plenty of ease, and then after putting the front and back together to knit the body in the round (this is knit top-down) I decided it had too much ease, and cut back the number of stitches cast on under the arms.  Thus, it is really knit in two sizes – one above the chest and a different one below, and I am not convinced this was the right move.  The back and shoulders seem to fit reasonably well:


However, I don’t feel as if I have the ease and drape it needs over the body of the garment.  (By the way, for those who notice such things: this is me.  I have had a rather major hair cut!)

Third, I am having “tear-out-my-hair” issues with the sleeves.  The pattern calls for stitches to be picked up all the way around the sleeve cap, and then to use short rows to knit down.  This is done using DPNs.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much I am hating this and how awkward it feels to me.  Not only that, but now that I am most of the way done with one sleeve cap, I can see that I have too many stitches and the cap is puckered!


It took me three evenings of lackluster knitting to knit this portion of this sleeve!  I hate doing it and it looks crappy.  So, my next move will be to rip this out, and then to knit the sleeves flat and sew them in.  I know that I could do both sleeves, and the setting in, in no time that way, so why should I struggle with knitting it this way?

As you can see, I am unhappy with this.  I am hoping that if I knit the sleeves flat, and then give this a good soak and a block, all of these issues will disappear, but in the meantime, I have lost all of my mojo for this project.  And there is a little voice in the back of my head saying “Go ahead and rip the whole thing and re-purpose the yarn into a pattern which will suit it better!”  What do you think?  Rip or persevere?

In the interest of full disclosure, here is a shot of my new hair:


I was prepared to write about another project – one which I switched to in order to cheer me up, only to have it kill my mojo even further – but I think instead I will go enjoy the sunshine!  I hope that your adventures this weekend are lovely ones!