Toil and trouble

Do you know those knitting bloggers who make you terribly envious?  The ones who can whip out a complicated project at the drop of a hat, and every picture looks perfect, and every project appears to emerge from the needles without toil or trouble?  If you are looking for a post like that, please dear reader, look away!  Warning! Toil and trouble ahead!

And for which project did this struggle occur?  Something fabulous and intricate?  Something never before attempted?  Truth be told – it’s a hat.  A very lovely hat, indeed.  But it’s a hat that – as of today – has 1994 projects on Ravelry.  (I don’t know how many that means there are in the wild, but if we assume that half of them make it on to Ravelry, and awful lot of people have made this hat.)  It is the Bousta Beanie, designed by Gudrun Johnston, originally for the Shetland Wool Week 2017, but now available as well on Ravelry.  Here is mine:


But, you may say: “Hey, it turned out OK.!” Yes, it did.  The toil and trouble is not reflected in the output (thankfully!).  I picked this project to try to learn the skill of two-handed fair isle knitting.  I have actually done a few colourwork projects before, and have attempted to do two-handed knitting (one yarn held in the left hand and knitted continental style and one yarn held in the right hand and knitted English style) before.  I have always cheated quite a bit however, and have usually resorted to a not-very-efficient style of holding a yarn in the right hand, knitting with it, and dropping it and picking up the other yarn in the right hand and knitting with it.  This is slow and often leads to my tangling the yarns and getting the yarn dominance mixed up.

Before going any further, let me say that I do not approve of knitting police!  The right way to knit is the way which works for you.  Period!  However, I have wished for a very long time to be able to add this skill to my knitting repertoire, and I have decided that this is the year!  (Of course, it is now approaching the end of the year, but I am not being literal here.)  I wanted to start by knitting a fair isle vest for Doug, and even joined a Vest KAL on Ravelry to help motivate me.  I soon realised, however, that I needed to start with a much more basic project; thus, the Bousta Beanie.  The Bousta is often described as a perfect first Fair Isle project.  It has a four stitch repeat.  It is easy to memorise.  It is pleasing to the eye and lovely to wear.  The emerging pattern is far more intricate and flowing than the simple pattern would suggest.

I had a bunch of 4-ply yarn in my stash from The Little Grey Sheep – mini skeins in a number of colours, and I picked three which I thought would be pretty together.  (I used 2 mini-skeins for the purple, and one for each of the contrasting colours.)  I cast on and started to knit.  After I had finished the ribbing and had very laboriously added a few rows of pattern, I decided the hat would be too small.  I ripped it off the needles, and then in a very fortuitous act decided to try it on over my head before frogging.  It fit!  I put it back on the needles and kept knitting.

If I were to list the important elements in knitting this, I would say that there are four:

  1.  The knitting itself – getting my head around the two-handed technique
  2.  The pattern – staying in pattern while you knit
  3.  The crown – managing the decreases while also knitting on DPNs
  4.  Managing the yarns – carrying up the unused colour and avoiding twisting

I managed to screw up every one of these!

1 – The knitting itself.  I find it close to impossible to knit with the yarn in my left hand.  Hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Continental knitters have the hang of this but I really struggle with it.  And I am left-handed!  It is hard to describe why I find it so difficult.  The first issue I have is with tensioning the yarn.  The way I normally knit, where I hold the yarn in my right hand and literally carry it around the needle, doesn’t involve any tensioning at all.  I have never had to wind the yarn around fingers and control the speed at which it slips through.   I looked at dozens of videos of how to do this.  I tried many different ways of tensioning the yarn.  I ended up having the yarn wrapped twice around my left index finger, something which I am unhappy with but really seemed to be the only working solution.

The second problem is the actual mechanics of inserting the right needle into the knit stitch and then looping it around this yarn which is mysteriously held wrapped around the left index finger.  I was so incredibly slow, knitting stitch by stitch in total concentration.  I kept telling myself that Continental is the fast knitting style, but my brain and fingers were not cooperating and laughed at my attempts at self-motivation.  The third problem I had was in advancing the stitches towards the tip of the left needle. This seems easy and intuitive when I am knitting normally but not so here.  When you are holding the yarn in the left, desperately trying to keep the tension even, how do you advance the stitches with that hand at the same time?  Truly, knitting this way is hard.  Maybe my brain is too old to learn new tricks.  I am determined to persevere, however!

2 – Staying in pattern.  This should be easy; the Bousta Beanie has an incredibly simple, intuitive pattern that should be a snap to follow.  In fact, hundreds of knitters make exactly that comment on their project pages.  Nevertheless, after some very slow knitting, this is what happened:


On the top, you see one side of the hat, looking rather nice.  On the bottom, you see the other side of the hat, where I have totally messed up the pattern in the second orange section.  I debated trying some sort of tricky fix with a crochet hook to fix these stitches, but decided that I was having enough trouble with knitting fair isle to try anything fancy.  So, I ripped it out (down to where the pattern started going wonky). Note to self: ripping out fair isle takes longer than normal ripping.

I then started knitting again, reminding myself that the hat was meant to be practice for two-handed knitting and the act of frogging and re-knitting meant more practice.  How convenient to have to knit it twice!  After a while, I caught up and then did the same mistake again, this time on the third orange pattern sequence:


At least I caught the mistake much sooner.  It may be hard to see but in the orange bit on the top I have made exactly the same pattern error that I made the first time.  Once again, I ripped (just a row or two this time).  This leads me to ponder: if I can’t manage to keep an easy pattern like this straight, how will I manage an intricate pattern?

3 – The crown.  The pattern calls for 3.5 repeats before starting the crown decreases.  I realised that this would make the hat longer than I preferred.  I tend more towards the beanie hat style than the slouchy ones.  So, I determined to take out one half of a pattern repeat and start the crown decreases early.  The problem with this is that the pattern is moving in the opposite direction at that point so the crown shapings have to be reversed.  Many knitters seem to have taken this approach.  Jen, of JenACKnitwear, comments on her Bousta Beanie project page: “I took out half a pattern repeat and then worked the crown shaping chart backwards.”  Well, that sounds easy; it’s only 10 rows of shaping on a short repeat pattern.  I spent part of two evenings trying to figure it out.

Before you really shake your heads at this, I will point out that I have been especailly stressed at work lately.  This stress seems to have bled out into my knitting.  I have also this week given up caffeine, and that is having an effect on my brain, not to mention my mood, my sleep patterns, and my hand-eye coordination.  Those are my excuses and I will stick with them.  Being an idiot didn’t factor into this; not at all!

Finally, in an act of desperation, I went onto Ravelry, in a forum on Jen’s group, and asked for some help.  Jen replied in minutes (yes, in minutes; how great is that!) with an intriguing suggestion:  “…you need to mirror image the chart.  Could you hold it up to a mirror and take a photo of it?”  Genius!  After a slight problem (who knew that my phone would automatically adjust the image so that it would not be mirrored?), I was able to get a photo of the mirrored crown shaping pattern and start knitting.  I still had trouble with the leaning decreases – I couldn’t figure out how to make left-leaning decreases while knitting fair isle, so settled on k2tog which put the colours in the right places but ended up leaning the wrong way.  I don’t think anyone will notice.

The last problem with the crown was trying to knit with my very bad two-handed techniques while using DPNs; this took a bit of juggling to get used to.


4 – Managing the yarns.  Here you see the inside of the hat:


The top photo shows how nicely the inside looks – it is all very neat and orderly.  The bottom photo shows the terrible job I made of carrying the extra thread up the inside.  For a while there, near the beginning, I managed to get it right and the yarn is carried up almost invisibly, but then I somehow screwed it all up.  I know you can’t see it and it doesn’t affect the finished project, but it offends my sense of beauty.  I want the inside to look great, too.  Even more, I want to know how to twist the yarn while carrying it up so that it feels organic; it never felt right.

I also wonder, looking at the finished photos, whether I should have reversed the dominance and made the purple the dominant colour.  One of the things I like about the pattern is the way the main colour forms ripples up and down the hat.  I could see these while I was knitting, but in the washed and blocked hat they don’t stand out.  I’m not sure how that happened but I suspect that dominance might be the answer.

Given all of the troubles I had knitting this, I think it is a pretty cool hat and I am pleased with the final product.  The pattern is really lovely and the yarn is soft, light, but very warm.


This hat is the first installment in Project Fair Isle!  I plan to work my way up to some fancy stitchwork.   Stay tuned for more adventures in fair isle knitting.

But first, back to some of my WIPs…..

100 on Ravelry

I realised this week that I have 100 finished projects recorded on Ravelry.  If you look at my Ravelry project page, it says I have 119 projects – however, this number includes WIPs, frogged projects, and so-called “hibernating” projects.  Thus, I didn’t notice right away that my Sayer tank was the 100th FO (finished object).  I have, of course, knitted many more than that in the 50 years that I have been knitting; however, since my Ravelry account was started in December 2007 (I was Raveler #51878), I have recorded 100 finished projects.


Since this was a lovely autumn day, I gathered up all of the hand-knitted projects I had in the house (those I had knitted myself) and piled them up outside for some photos.  Here I am covered from head to toe in hand-knitted items:


Given my general tendency towards nerdiness, this realisation – of reaching 100 FOs – immediately caused me to collect data on my projects.  (This task also prevented me from engaging in other tasks, like house cleaning.)  Of the 100 projects, 49 are sweaters!  The distribution by project type is as follows:

  • 49 Sweaters
  • 15 Cowls
  • 14 Mitts
  •  7 Shawls
  •  4 Hats
  •  4 Skirts
  •  2 Scarfs
  •  2 Shrugs
  •  1 Pillow
  •  1 Poncho
  •  1 Dress

Obviously, I am a sweater kind of girl; these are by far my favorite projects.  Of the sweaters, 31 are pullovers and 18 are cardigans.  Most of them are for me: 30 are for me, 6 for Emma, 8 for Leah, 2 for Doug, and 3 for babies.  (Yes, I am a selfish knitter!) That said, most of the mitts, cowls, skirts, and other things were gifted.


Of the 100 projects, 16 are either my designs or things I just fooled around with and came up with on my own (but aren’t really “designs”).  Of the other 84 projects, there are only a few repeat designers, which follow:

  • 5 projects designed by Kim Hargreaves
  • 3 projects designed by Carol Feller
  • 2 projects designed by each of:
    • Wendy Bernard
    • Lily M. Chin
    • Kate Davies
    • Hanne Falkenberg
    • Ashley Adams Moncrief
    • Alexis Winslow

The remaining 64 projects were designed by 64 different designers.  I think that makes me pretty inclusive!


My favorite garments: my Ormolu (blogged here), Doug’s Brick (blogged here and here), Emma’s Audrey (blogged here) and Leah’s Peloponnese (blogged here).  The most fun thing to knit: The Tolkien-inspired giant pillow I knit for Leah (blogged here).  The knitted garment that has been worn the most: Emma’s Carnaby skirt (blogged here).  And my favorite accessory: my own Cool Boots Shawl (blogged here).

In the 100, there are only 3 items which I have knit twice.  These are my Wedgewood Mitts (blogged here and here, and knitted with elephants too), Kim Hargreaves’ Audrey (blogged here and here) and Lily M. Chin’s Cabled-Rib Shawl (blogged here and here).

I like this photo where you can just see my boots peeking out from under the great pile of knits:


That’s enough nerdiness for today!  Seeing how few hats I’ve knit, I’m off to cast one on!


There is a trend in knitting photoshoots these days –  dark sweaters on very dark backgrounds.  This popped up on my sweater pattern feed today:


© Amy Gunderson

It is called Alexandrite, designed by Amy Gunderson, and appears in a collection called Jewels from Making Stories.  The collection contains a number of designs using mostly dark colours photographed against the dark.  Here is another one, Topaz by Katrine Birkenwasser:


© Katrine Birkenwasser

I think these are lovely sweaters – in fact, I suspect they are gorgeous sweaters, but alas I can’t really tell.  The second one: is it a dress, a tunic, or a sweater?  Can you tell?  I recently spent time hiking in a massive cave in Crete, so I can guess at the effect they are trying to create here. (Jewels, cave, get it?) And they capture it really well.  I am not trying to pick on this collection, either – this is a trend which has become pretty ubiquitous.  Witness Brooklyn Tweed’s latest collection, BT Winter 18.  Maybe I am just getting old and grumpy and need new glasses, so forgive me a little grumbling.

This has been a very dark week and I am feeling dark – angry, sad, depressed.  This is a week when I could use some light.

This and that

This post is a bit of this and that.

The Paid in Full Tank, or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the fit”

Some of you will remember this post in which I worried that I had cast on the wrong size for my Paid in Full tank.  The tank, a lovely work-appropriate wool and silk blend with a pretty lace panel up the front and back, is a nice classic piece and one which will fill a gap in my wardrobe.  I was choosing between two sizes – a 38.5″ or a 44″.  I am somewhere in the middle, and chose to go with the larger size.  After I had knit about 8 inches, I tried it on and it really felt big to me.  It didn’t look too bad, but it definitely felt really big.  In that post I asked the question: add a few more waist decreases and keep going, or rip it out and start again with the smaller size?  What I actually did was something else altogether:


I reasoned that I should just start again, WITHOUT RIPPING, in the smaller size, and then I would have two pieces which I could try on and compare.  In the photo, you can see both pieces, knit in the round, bottom-up.  The piece on the top is the new one, so you can see that I have knit farther along than I had on the first one.  In my previous post, I indicated that my choice had been between 3.5″ of negative ease or 2″ of positive ease.  As I was agonising over what to do, I re-measured myself and realised that my choice was actually between 3″ of negative ease or 2.5″ of positive ease.  I think had I been aware of this from the start, it might have pushed me more towards knitting the 38.5 and relying on blocking and the stretchiness of the lace panel to make it fit.

I did do something sneaky, however, which is that I added 8 stitches to the 38.5″. That is,  I put an extra two stitches into each side of front and back – added between the side marker and the decrease marker).  This should hopefully lead to a pretty nice fit.

Now, here is the stupid part: I recently tried on the new piece and found myself thinking “Maybe it is just a bit too tight.”  UGH!  So I asked Doug, “What do you think?  What should I do?”  And Doug responded “Why not finish them both and have two tanks in different sizes?”  DOUBLE UGH! (Note to self: this is like asking “Does my butt look big in this?  Don’t ask your husband these types of questions!)  I am pretty sure that I tried it on at a bad time and that my body image was set on negative that day (sort of like every day in which you go bra shopping)  and that everything is fine and I should just calm down and trust myself.  I have decided to take a page from Peter Sellers and learn to stop worrying and love the fit.

In any case while I was debating whether to continue with the smaller size or go back to the larger size, I realised that I needed to cast on something new.   (It is the knitting equivalent of retail therapy.)  And this leads us to:

Highland Rogue, or “How to Insert some Lovely Orange into a Grey and Hectic Week”

On February 21st, I received a newsletter from Kate Davies showing her new cowl pattern Highland Rogue:

highland rogue

© Kate Davies Designs

Within minutes of opening that newsletter, I ordered the six skeins of Buachaille in Highland Coo needed to make the cowl.  I very rarely impulse buy any more (just please don’t ask Doug to corroborate this statement).  This was a rare case of see it/buy it.  Nevertheless, it has been sitting in a bag for 7 months waiting for me to get around to it.  On Monday, I cast it on.


I have mostly been knitting it in the evening when the light is dim, and in that light I wonder why I ordered this orange – it seems to have a lot of brown in it.  Yesterday, I photographed it in mid-day, and it practically glows.  In the sunlight, it is a fantastic orange: rich and earthy.


I also adore the pattern and how it creates such lovely, squishy texture.  (The natural coloured yarn at the edge is temporary; it is a provisional cast on.)  I am considering not joining this in the round and instead making a scarf.  What do you think?

A friend comes to visit, or “How to get Six Pieces of Hand-knitted Goodness into One Photo”

Last weekend, our friend Julie came to visit from Geneva.  It turned out to be much colder here than anticipated and Julie asked if she could borrow some knitwear.  (“I am not sure, Julie; we have so few pieces of knitwear in this house….”)  As we left the house, I realised that between Julie and myself, we were wearing 6 items which I had hand-knit, so I asked Doug to snap a photo.  (This is not the best photo of either of us, but is by far the best of the few snaps Doug took, mostly because Julie and I couldn’t stop making stupid faces at each other.)


This photo reinforces why I love hand-knitting and why slow fashion matters. These items will stick around and be worn for years. I am wearing my Form pullover, my Cool Boots Shawl, and my Skelter hat.  By the way, given the discussion above regarding fit, you may enjoy my first, completely ridiculous, attempt at the Skelter hat, which you can see here.  Julie is wearing my Ocean Waters pullover, Doug’s Business Class Cowl, and my Peerie Flooers Hat.  (That last linked post was written in 2011 which shows how long I have been writing this blog.)  Here is a shot of Julie where you can see the pullover better:


What is better than wearing multiple hand-knits?  A gorgeous sunshine-filled autumn day to wear them in!  And that is what I have today.  So, I will say good-bye and grab my hiking boots!

The wind is in from Africa

It is cold and very windy here in the UK.  Yesterday I attended a graduation ceremony which took place in a large marquee and the wind was so strong I imagined the marquee blowing away like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz.

Today, I turned the heat on and wore a scarf and hat and coat, and talked with a raspy throat, and knew in my bones that autumn is here.

So, to cheer myself up, here is a clip from Crete, of another very windy day.  This was taken at sunset in Matala, which was immortalised by Joni Mitchell in her song “Carey”.  (If you have your sound on, the wind is very loud.)

My friend Jonathan took this clip; you can see me on the beach knitting, and then he pans around to the famous cliffs filled with many levels of caves, and then out across the water to where the sun is setting over some rocks (the Paximadia – two small islands off the coast). The caves were a famous hippie hangout in the 60s and Joni spent some time there.  You can find the words to Joni’s song here; if you scroll down to the notes, there are transcriptions of various introductions she has given to this song at concerts.  These are pretty interesting.

Today, we drove through the wind and rain and fog on the M4; I’d rather be knitting in Matala.


“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It is Saturday, it is quiet, the weather is fairly grey, I have no obligations and nothing demanding my attention (other than cleaning and laundry, which don’t count).  Today is a perfect day to sit and knit.

Furthermore, I am surrounded by knitting paraphernalia.  There is no shortage in my house of yarn, needles, pattern books, and haberdashery of all kinds.  Yet, despite being filled with a desire to knit, I cannot find any knitting project to work on now.  I have spent hours pouring through options to no avail. I don’t feel like working on any project that I have on the needles already and can’t make up my mind about casting on something new.

I think that I am overwhelmed by choice.  Yesterday, I had business in London and managed to stop by Loop.  I actually spent an hour trying to find something to buy!!!!  There I was in a fantastic yarn shop with two luscious floors of beautiful yarns and ideas galore, and nothing jumped out at me and said “Knit me now!”  I finally picked out a lovely kit for a cowl (the Tuli Cowl by Fiona Alice in Peony and Cafe Latte, pictured below).  However, I decided that I should wash the pink yarn before knitting so the colour doesn’t bleed, which means that this one is out of the running for something to knit today.

Peony + Caffe Latte at Loop London 2-1519058713

And to be very truthful, even if I hadn’t washed the pink yarn, I’m not sure I would be casting this on today.  I am STALLED.  I don’t know whether to blame ennui, the start of my busy time at work, a persistant headache, the changing weather, or the paradox of choice.  I’m going to go with the last one, however, because it sounds cooler.

What are you working on this weekend?  Let me know so that I can live vicariously…

Sayer it with flowers: the Sayer tank in Crete

I finished the Sayer tank just in time for my holiday in Crete, and it is a perfect piece for this glorious place.

jonathan crete-0577

Sayer is designed by Julie Hoover.  She is a designer I have admired for some time and I am happy to have finally knit one of her pieces.  She has a very simple, spare style, with easy shapes and loose, but well-tailored, fits.

jonathan crete-0608

I knit this using Ito Kinu, which I purchased at Loop in London.  Here is its description from Loop’s website: “KINU is a 100% silk noil yarn, also called organic silk, as it is produced from the leftovers of spun filament silk. Differently colored fibers are blended for this silk noil yarn, to produce a melange effect.”  I used the shade Hydrangea, and it was knit with the yarn held double. It makes an excellent fabric, which is cool in the hot sun.


I followed the pattern exactly.  It is all stockinette knitting and would be an easy piece for a beginner to knit.  I knit most of it while I was in Malaysia; it is a good project for travel knitting.   I thought about changing the edging because it didn’t feel or look right while I was knitting it, but once done I thought it was brilliant.


The two photos above were taken at our B&B in Milatos (see below for details); the first is from our balcony looking out to the sea.

Here you can see the edging at the V-neck:


This tank is designed to be reversible; you can wear it with the V-neck in front and the crew neck in the back (as in most of these photos) or you can wear it the other way, with the crew neck in the front and the V-neck in the back (as seen in the three photos below).

jonathan crete-0628

These photos were taken in the evening at the harbour in Rethymno.  There is not much light but I think they show off the tank really well nonetheless.  The sun is so strong here that only photos taken in the early morning and early evening  work well.

jonathan crete-0631

You can probably tell from these photos that I was having a really great time in Rethymno.  We are on holiday with our dear friends, Theo and Jonathan, and these evening photos were taken by Jonathan.  We were clearly having fun.

jonathan crete-0634

Behind me is the harbour.  Just in front of me there is a lighthouse.  The harbour was filled with tourists taking photos of people with the lighthouse behind them; it is obviously a popular photo spot.  We bucked the trend and shot in the other direction!  All of the tourists were probably wondering why we were ignoring the obvious photo opp right in front of us.  (We aim to be different.)

Crete is full of flowers right now, many of which match my tank.  Doug took this photo in front of a doorway in Rethymno (and also provided the terrible pun in the title of this post):


If you are interested in a very wearable, A-line tank, I would highly recommend this one.  It is well-designed, the pattern is well-written, and it is trouble-free knitting.  You can wear it for breakfast, for sight seeing or for an evening out on the town.  (Here I am sitting having breakfast at our lovely B&B hotel, the Milatos Village Cretan Agrotourism Hotel.  It is a wonderful place and the hosts, Kat and Alice, made us feel right at home!  The breakfast spread, by the way, is gorgeous and plentiful – I had not yet gotten started on it when Doug took this shot.)


The photo at the top of the post was taken by Jonathan at the Arkady Monastery, which is so beautiful that no words can properly describe it.  If you have a chance, go see it.

Make this tank!  It will make you smile.  It may even make you laugh with joy!

johnathan laugh-1