No knitting – bad! New yarn – good!

For the last two weeks I have been unable to knit, due to hand and thumb pain on my right hand.  This has coincided with my two weeks of annual leave, making it doubly frustrating.  It also means that I have no knitting progress to show you.  However, I realise that I have not shared my new yarn purchases.  When I attended Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s workshop at Loop some weeks ago (blogged here), I was able to spend some time yarn shopping as well.

First I bought a skein of The Uncommon Thread BFL Light DK in this pretty shade called “Into Dust”.  You can also see the fantastic button I got that perfectly complements this shade.


I intend to knit a baby sweater with this (gasp!).  Yes, I have another friend having a baby this year, a little girl this time, and I will once again knit a small gift.  (I blogged here about a cute sweater I made for a baby boy last year; as I commented there, I usually knit for big people.)  I plan to knit the lovely Mignon sweater, designed by Loop London, pictured here:


I also spent some time thinking about which of Olga’s patterns to knit first, and what yarn to buy for that purpose.  I decided to knit the Boko-Boko cowl. Here is a photo of me wearing the smaller size:


And here is the pattern photo of the larger size:


I bought a fairly delicate lace weight yarn, so I am aiming at a slightly more ethereal, drapey Boko-Boko.  I bought 200 grams (1200 metres) of the fantastic Isager Spinni in Red, and also bought 4 cones (1240 metres) of Habu silk stainless – a blend of silk and stainless steel – in colour 18, an almost identical red.  I bought enough of the wool and the steel yarn so that I could double up either of them if needed.  I will try swatching with one strand of Spinni held with a strand of the Habu – but if it is too thin to give the pattern some architectural oomph, then I will progress to 2 strands of the Spinni with 1 of Habu. I can also double up on the Habu if needed, but I think this is unlikely.


Of course, I may just fall in love with some other idea for this yarn, in which case I will be fickle.  The red is so gorgeous; for me it is the perfect shade!  Olga’s workshop really made me covet a number of her patterns, so you will definitely see some 3D knitted designs as the year progresses.

My hand is feeling a bit better, so hopefully I can start knitting again soon!

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1987!”

I was looking through some old photos today and came across this:


Yes, this is me in Paris, in 1987.  Note that I am wearing a hand-knitted top and skirt. This top was a favorite and I wore it frequently.  Like most of my old knits, I have no idea what happened to it.  (See here for a post about long-lost sweaters; it is so sad to lose track of hand-knitted items).  I used a pattern for the top, which I believe was a Pingouin pattern, although I can’t find it in my knitting book collection.  The yarn was a cotton in bright yellow with slubs of white.  No notes of any kind remain (my post-Ravelry knitting is much better documented).

I knit the skirt without a pattern.  It is just two rectangles, seamed at the side, with elastic at the waist.  It is knit in cotton.  I wore this outfit all over France that summer.

PS – If you’ve never heard of the Wayback Machine (or WABAC Machine), that’s just sad. You can read about it here.  Mr. Peabody says so.


Sommières, and the knitting ain’t easy

Exhibit 1: I am in Sommières, a fantastic spot in the south of France.  Doug and I are attending a workshop on language and mind.  It is the best type of workshop, with a small group of very smart people doing some serious science, and also cooking and eating together, and enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful town, while staying in a lovely villa.

Exhibit 2: I have done something terrible to my thumb.  I do not know what it is or how I did it.  But it means that I can’t knit.  (Or do anything which entails using two hands.) I brought a knitting project with me – my Falkenberg jacket.  I occasionally try to knit a few stitches and give up and stare at it longingly.

Result:  Sommières, and the knitting ain’t easy.

(With apologies to Mr. Gershwin; I could not resist the pun. For those few souls who have not heard the song, the line is “Summertime, and the living is easy.” I read somewhere that Summertime is the most covered song in history.  Which version is your favorite?)


3D Knitting with Olga Buraya-Kefelian

Today, I had the pleasure of attending a class on 3D knitting with Olga Buraya-Kefelian. It was a real treat for me – a day of creative indulgence in London.  It was a small class – the best kind – at Loop, a lovely yarn shop in Islington.  I have long been an admirer of Olga’s designs – they are very architectural and striking, and show a real love of high fashion and of knitting technique.

Below is a photo of Olga, holding the Boko-Boko cowl.  It is knit with a strand of wool held together with a strand of silk-wrapped steel.  It gets its 3D structure from the way it is knitted, with the fabric manipulated by knits and purls and lace techniques, but the steel gives it just a touch of “oomph” which lends some integrity to the stitch pattern.


It is hard to describe the fabric, which is both incredibly stretchy, bouncy and resilient, and also formed into these fantastic dimensional shapes.  Olga said it reminded her of mountains and craters.  Of course, one must try it on:


The Moko Moko cowl uses a different “juxtaposition of positive and negative spaces” – to use Olga’s words.  She had two examples with her, knit in different weights.  My favorite was this bright red example in fingering weight wool.  You can see both sides of the fabric here, and both are fascinating.


One cannot have a knitting class without doing some knitting, so I spent some time working on a swatch using the stitch pattern from the Moko Moko cowl.  Here it is while I am on the first row of curls:


And here it is while I was on the second set of curls, headed back in the opposite direction:


Olga has other patterns in which she has managed to knit fabric which naturally pleats. She says it is based on her love of Issey Miyake’s work (which is both glorious and out of the price range of us mere mortals).  Below is a cowl (Miura cowl) worked just in knits and purls which makes a very elegant pleated fabric.  The architecture of the fabric is such that I was able to arrange it as a sculpture on the table for this photo for artistic effect, but rest assured it looks just as fabulous around one’s neck.


Here is a swatch of another 3D stitch pattern from the many that Olga showed us:


There were some new stitch patterns, as well, that Olga has been experimenting with and which I promised not to show you as the patterns are not yet released.  One of them was so amazing it nearly caused palpitations among the group, who will clearly wait with bated breath to see what Olga does with it.

When I went into the class, I knew that I was going to make a Boko Boko cowl, but now I want to make all of the cowls. I want to make everything! I can’t tell you how much fun the Moko Moko sample was to knit, and how intuitive and easy it is once you’ve started. (You will not be surprised to learn that I bought yarn after the class.  I will wait for another post to show you my treasures.)

I enjoyed the class so much.  There were eight students.  Here is a photo of us (this was the only place we could fit and the lighting was not the best for a photo):


Left to right: Erin, Maggie, Xen, May, Kelly, Briony, Fiona, and Linda.

Thank you, ladies! I had such a good time knitting with you! (I always meet the best people at Loop.) Two of the women in the class were wearing hand-knitted garments designed by Olga.  I was lucky to cajole them into a photo for you.


On the left is Fiona, wearing a fantastic flowy Sakasama, knit in silk.  This garment can be worn in two ways (its hard to describe but the other way is upside down so that the collar becomes the hem).  You can’t really tell from the photo just how fantastic the drape of this garment is, or the shine of the silk, but the fact that Fiona has knit four of them (yes, four!) should give you some idea.  On the right is May, wearing her Apex in a brilliant red.  I believe May said that this was only the second sweater she had ever knit! This is pretty astonishing.  I forgot to ask May the details of the yarn she used, but she has just started blogging and you can find her Apex post here.

I wrote on the blog once of a bad experience with a knitting class, in which a designer who I had admired greatly really disappointed me.  This was certainly not the case with Olga.  She is charming and sweet, passionate about her craft, unassuming, a good teacher, and inspiring.  She patiently answered many questions, and talked to us about her creative process and about her many designing influences and experiences. She said to us: “I want to challenge you and make you so brave!” I left the class feeling challenged and inspired. (And a little bit brave as well.)


I am the Switzerland of sweater construction

I was reading a thread on Ravelry recently in which people were commenting on patterns. I can’t remember the exact context, but one comment stuck in my head. Someone said “I won’t even look at a pattern if it’s seamed.” Why it stuck in my head now, when I have heard similar sentiments before, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that I have also heard people say “I won’t knit a garment unless it’s seamed.”

You see, there are two primary ways to knit a sweater. You can knit it in pieces (usually 4 for a pullover and five for a cardigan) and then seam them together. Or you can knit in one piece (either bottom-up or top-down, but that is a different type of argument). In the latter case, you must come to some solution for the sleeves, either picking up stitches and knitting down, or knitting the sleeves up to the armholes and then joining to the body; in any case, the primary goal of this construction is to seam as little as possible. There are many arguments in favour of either approach.  (Which are not the topic of this post.) I have always thought that there were sweaters for which it makes a kind of intrinsic sense to knit in the round; and others for which seaming is the sensible option.

I have increasingly noticed, however, that knitters often take sides, as if this is a battle line. Some designers will only create patterns for seamed sweaters and some are known for always designing in the round; most designers, I imagine, have to negotiate this potential landmine as best they can. If knitters take sides, then designers can lose half of their potential customers right from the get-go. I am not going to take sides. In fact, the point of this blog post is that I don’t take sides. You see, after pondering this for a while (and having nothing to do as I am stuck in my hotel room in Johannesburg, am too tired to leave my room, and have just finished reading my book) I decided to look at my projects page on Ravelry and add them up. (Yes, boredom will get you to do all sorts of useless things.)

What I found was this: 42 sweaters, of which 21 are knit in the round, and 21 are knit in pieces and seamed. This, I think, is the very definition of knitting neutrality. I am the Switzerland of sweater construction!

And this makes me think: are most knitters like me? Do you knit the patterns that appeal to you regardless of whether they are seamed or not? Or do you filter patterns out before you will even consider them? (Or alternatively, re-engineer any patterns that violate your preferred technique?)

Inquiring minds want to know. (Bored minds do, too.)

What’s in my knitter’s toolkit? Denial, apparently.

In my last post, I showed you some progress photos of my Callum – a linen tee with drop shoulders.  It was clear from the photos that it is too big.  Really too big.  Not only is it too big, but the arm scythes are cut too low, meaning it can only be worn over a tank. I repeat one of the photos here which shows the bad fit around the back of the arms:


After publishing the post, I had the very good idea to transfer all of the live stitches to a spare piece of yarn and wash the unfinished project.  Then I put it in the dryer (something that still makes my heart stutter, even though I know I can do it with linen). I carefully steamed down the edges of the sleeves.  Many of you left encouraging comments on the post, suggesting that a good wash and a steam would make a big difference; you are right, they did make a difference, but mostly in the look of the linen and the neatness of the edges.  It had no discernible effect on the fit.

Others mentioned that you don’t want a fitted linen garment for the hot days of summer. And, guess what?  We were having a heat wave in England last week.  I sat, sweating in the heat, and I thought “Ease is good.”  I put the stitches back on the needle, picked the project back up and knit an entire other skein of the yarn – over 4 inches of body, adding two more sets of decreases.


Why did I keep knitting when I knew something was wrong?  I don’t know – maybe I am delusional?  Or maybe one of the things in my knitter’s toolkit is denial?  Because the truth is that no matter what I do to the body of the tee, it is unlikely to change the fit across the back and the sleeves, and that is where the problem is.  How easy to think that if I could just finish it, the drape would magically fix itself.  Denial apparently also helps disguise the fact that I am knitting the 44 3/4″ size, in order to give me 3″ of ease, but it is actually measuring 50″ around (two sizes up from what I was aiming for), for almost 9″ of ease.  I did swatch; I swear it!  I don’t know why my swatch lied.

Not only that, but I am in denial about two of the issues that I worried about long before casting on – knitting this tee in the round, and the tendency of the yarn to bias (which manage to compound each other.) Knowing that these were both issues, I blindly cast on anyway, because…well, denial.  And the yarn was pretty.  And it looks nice in the pattern picture.

Maybe I should have waited to get some of this advice from readers:

  1. “It is way, way too big–and knowing linen it will not shrink that much. Either re-do the entire back or, as you said, throw it in the WIP basket for another time and go on to the jacket.”  (from my Mom)
  2. “Me, I’d make sure I have copious notes and photos, frog the whole damned thing and put it in a bag at the back of the closet for another year.” (from Susan)
  3. “The arm scythes are low and it looks like a baggy knit. I think it should go into the time-out basket, for an eventual frogging. I’d re-knit one size down.” (from Ann)
  4. “The lace pattern of the linen top is really beautiful. I agree with you about the back sleeves, though. I knit a cardigan once with sleeves that ended up looking a bit like wings and I found I never wore it.” (from Leah)

This last point, from Leah, really struck home:  am I ever going to wear it if I am unhappy with the fit?  And furthermore, her comment really targeted the defining issue – there is something about the sleeve, especially from the back, that is a problem to me.  I can fix this, but only if I frog and start over.  (The pattern and yarn are both very pretty; so starting over and making it right would be a good thing in the long run.)  That would mean figuring out what went wrong with my gauge (as other readers very kindly pointed out).


What next?  Doug is away and I won’t see him for a few weeks.  Once we are both in the same place again, he can help me take some new modeled photos of it, with the extra length perhaps giving an indication of how the tee will drape.  I suspect that the only practical solution will be to frog.  I also suspect that if I do that, it will be next summer before I try to re-use the yarn.  Why not just frog now instead of waiting for the inevitable?  Because I still have a good dose of DENIAL, and I am going to keep it!

In the meantime, there is always the Falkenburg:


Thank you so much to all of the readers who left comments for me.  You mean a lot to me and I am grateful that you take the time to leave advice, suggestions and good wishes.

Travel knitting recap

I was away from home for a full month, including a working trip to South Africa and a holiday to British Columbia, Canada.  You may recall that I took two knitting projects with me: Cullum, a linen tee shirt with a bit of lace designed by Isabell Kraemer, and Sofi, a light jacket in wool and linen designed by Hanne Falkenberg.  Photos of both designs are shown below:

First off, I must admit to not having accomplished much knitting on either trip.  While in South Africa I was kept quite busy on the job, and in Vancouver and surrounds, I was enjoying hanging out with my daughters and other relatives, and wasn’t feeling the knitting mojo so much.  This latter may be partly because I was concentrating more on the linen tee, which admittedly is not a particularly scintillating knit.  (It is in linen and much of it is in stockinette in-the-round.)  Once I got the jacket on my needles, I found it more enjoyable.  My rationale was that the linen tee was a summer top, so I should put some effort into finishing it while it was still summer.

The tee is knit from the top down; the front and back are joined in the round at the armholes.  Thus, I didn’t get to try it on until after it was joined and I had knit a few inches in the round.  Now that I am home, I have tried it on and…..IT IS TOO BIG!  And, not very nice looking at the back.  Here is the evidence.  This is the front view, clearly a bit big but still reasonable.  (Please note the effects of serious jet lag in these photos; what a difference a little sleep makes!  Look at the sweater and ignore the wearer!)


Here is a side view.  You can see that the arm scythe is very low, but this is the type of tee which I will probably wear over a tank, so still salvageable.


Below is a view of the back.


I am really not happy with the way the sleeves look at the back.  There just seems to be lots of extra fabric everywhere.  UGH! Let’s look at this dispassionately, however.  It is knit in 100% linen.  I know that it will shrink a bit when I have washed it.  I also did a gauge swatch and made sure to wash and dry it before measuring.  So it is quite possible that, once properly washed and dried and blocked, this will look as I imagined it.  I also know that I purposely didn’t want it to be fitted – it is a summery linen tee, made to be worn in hot weather, so it should be loose and airy. Right now, however, I am feeling that it is miles too loose and airy.

What do you think?  Is it as big as I am thinking?  Is it likely to shrink?  Why do the backs of the sleeves look so bad?  Why is the back neck so loose? Is this likely to block out? More importantly: should I rip back and do some re-fashioning?  Should I forge ahead but put in some decreases? (I actually put in one set of decreases on the plane, just an inch above where I’ve knit to in the photo, and was thinking of one more set for just 8 stitches decreased.  Is this too little too late?)  Should I just leave it be?  Or should I, perhaps,  throw it in the (now empty) WIP basket and instead knit the Falkenberg jacket?

To help you address the last question, here is a progress shot of the jacket:


Pretty, huh?  The body is knit in one piece with no shaping, thus it is a boxy little jacket. When I made my swatch, I had this idea that the body would just be a larger version of the swatch – basically the pattern knit as a big rectangle – but I forgot how brilliant Hanne is at design.  Her pieces are so clever and so well-tailored.  To illustrate, here is the side seam:


And here is the centre back of the jacket:


I love these details.

It is Friday evening here in England and they are predicting a gorgeous weekend with sunny skies and hot temperatures.  My friend Erun is visiting and we have good food, good wine, plenty of sun screen and knitting projects on the go.  Which one do you think I will be knitting this weekend?