It is the doing that matters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the restorative power of knitting (or playing music, walking in the countryside, baking bread, etc). Knitters often class themselves as either process versus product knitters, in which the former is all about the act of knitting itself as a creative/relaxing/meditative pursuit, and the latter is all about making (and completing) knitted garments and accessories to wear and gift and enjoy. We all recognize that it is not a dichotomy, but rather a continuum that we move along, sometimes tilting more to one side, and sometimes to the other. Lately, as I have been recovering from illness, I find that I have moved back towards the process side of the continuum, as I need the knitting to relax and re-center myself. Also, I am finding it hard to spend my spare time concentrating on reading patterns, getting measurements right, doing the math, etc; my focus only goes so far these days, and I need it for my day job!

However it happens and whatever the outcome, I think the important thing is to to acknowledge the importance of doing. That might be why today’s column of First Dog on the Moon in the Guardian really resonated with me. The cartoon is called “Everyone is anxious, exhausted, in a flap. How can we help ourselves to get by?” As always with First Dog on the Moon, it manages to be both charming and snarky, while making an important point. Here is the panel which fellow knitters may relate to:

copyright First Dog on the Moon, in The Guardian, 3rd March, 2023

Yes, it is the doing that matters. Take a deep breath.

Happy Friday, all!

The best intentions

Sometimes even with the best intentions, things don’t work out. Here are three examples.

UNRAVEL. This weekend was the 15th anniversary of Unravel, my favorite yarn festival, at Farnham Maltings. It was being held on Friday, Saturday, and today, Sunday. I had every intention of going. Friday I was in Copenhagen on a work trip. To show the seriousness of my intention to attend Unravel, I walked by a yarn shop no less than 6 times on this Copenhagen visit and didn’t even step through the door! I was determined to save my yarn pennies for the festival.

On Saturday, my friend Arpita was having a party to celebrate her 50th birthday. Saturday morning I woke up late (having returned from Copenhagen very tired the evening before) and realised that there was no way I could drive down to Farnham, buy lots of yarn, and drive back in time for the party. That left today. My intentions were good, but my pillow called out to me. I got sleep, but no yarn festival.

THE DREADED PINK CARDIGAN. I blogged a few times here about the pink cardigan I was knitting. Here is the last photo I posted:

For this cardigan, I am re-purposing some yarn from a previous failed attempt at knitting a sweater, combining it with some mohair to add some warmth and fuzziness. I knitted most of the cardi – all of the body and nearly all of one sleeve. I tried it on and the fit was awful. I showed it to Doug and he frowned and said “Well, I guess that you could block it, hmm?” Then he said “What if you ripped it out to half way down the yoke and then re-knitted?” This would basically entail ripping it all out. I showed it to my friend, Teresa, and she tried hard to be polite while basically saying “No way; this is awful.” Thus, with all the best intentions, I have now knitted two failed projects with this yarn. Maybe the universe is telling me something. (Side note: I bought this yarn at Unravel some years ago.)

ChatGPT TRIES TO CROCHET. Here is a funny article from today’s Guardian about people trying to crochet patterns created by ChatGPT with hysterical results. Hee hee.

These are cases where despite the best intentions, something goes wrong. On the other hand, I had a great dinner (two in fact) in Copenhagen with my friend Erun and her lovely colleague, Jarah. I taught a fun workshop and attended a great birthday party for a dear friend. I saved a ton of money. (Face it, I would have spent money at Unravel!) While I am counting my blessings, we had a great visit from Inge, and enjoyed a sunny day and a fantastic meal in London. Inge took this photo of Doug and me which I love (especially as we are both wearing hand knits).

I hope you had a lovely weekend despite your best intentions.

Perspective: it all depends on where you are standing

Since I last posted, the only knitting I’ve done has been on my Koko shawl. I started knitting this just two weeks into our first lockdown, in March 2020. It is a beautiful project but it feels endless. It is A LOT of knitting. So, every once in a while I pull it out and try to put some dedicated time into it.

Can you see the little red stitch marker at the bottom of the above photo? That marks where I picked it up again three weeks ago when I finished Doug’s Opus hat. So much time, so little to show for it! I wanted to see how much I had left to knit, so I stretched it out on the floor next to my Soumak wrap for comparison:

Ugh! It looks like there is still an endless amount left to knit!

But wait; perhaps this is a matter of perspective. What would it look like if I was standing on the other end?

Aha! That looks more manageable. I can look at this and not lose the will to knit.

Maybe, however, I should try to see it as it really is, and not with the pessimistic perspective nor the optimistic perspective shown in the photos above. What would it look like if I was standing on top of it? It would look like this:

There is still a lot of knitting to go, but man, it is gorgeous! Just look at the texture and the play of colour:

This is one beautiful project.

This weekend I didn’t knit at all: yesterday we drove into London and saw both the Africa Fashion exhibit and the Donatello exhibit at the V&A Museum. It was glorious. Today, I can’t knit because my hands are too cold. Our heating has been broken since Friday. But huddling under the covers and reading all day has its appeal. A mix of good and bad this weekend; I guess it is all about perspective.

Hirne: a beautiful cardigan

I finished my Hirne cardigan early in the month and have hardly taken it off since. It is beautiful!

This cardigan, designed by Kate Davies, has the most lovely and understated features. Each detail of the design has been thoughtfully worked out and they combine in the most pleasing manner. I find it very peaceful, both to knit and to look at. Kate says that, in Scots, ‘hirne’ means ‘a cosy nook or corner’. It is a very apt name for a very cosy cardigan:

I used Kate’s yarn, Ooskit, a 100% wool, which is DK, undyed and worsted spun. This is the lightest shade, Riach, which is described as a pale, silver grey, but which I find is slightly more oatmeal than grey. This shade is very much outside of my usual palette of bright jewel colours. I worried that it would be a bad choice and wouldn’t work with anything in my wardrobe, but I’ve been surprised by how much I like this neutral shade.

I started knitting Hirne in mid-September, when I was still on sick leave and both my brain and body were operating at half-mast. I needed something calming and simple to knit. Although one might argue that the lace patterning on the yoke adds complexity, I trusted Kate to write a pattern which would fit and which would flow, and where all of the details would already be worked out. (And I hoped that by the time I was up to the yoke, I would be feeling better.)

The pattern is designed to be knitted in the round and steeked. I decided to knit it flat instead. This involved a few very minor changes, but is really an easy conversion. This turns out to be the only modification I made. Everything else was knitted exactly to pattern.

I wrote in a previous post that I struggled a bit with choosing the size, and in particular, I kept second-guessing myself while kitting the sleeves, which I worried were too tight. I ended up, after doing a bit of frogging and re-knitting on the sleeves, following the pattern exactly and I think the fit turned out really well. I made a size 5, 43.5 inches, and the blocked cardigan is bang-on gauge, which gives me zero ease.

One of the most interesting features is the way the buttonbands are done in the front. It uses an i-cord bind-off and incorporated i-cord buttonholes, which are nearly invisible. It is a new technique to me and I really like the look.

You may have noticed that there are no buttons on my Hirne; I haven’t yet found any that I like. But as you can see, the cardigan doesn’t look like it is missing something because the buttonholes are not in your face. In fact, I won’t worry if I don’t end up finding buttons I like, because I am very much enjoying this cardigan the way it is.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Opus Hat

As soon as I saw the pattern for the Opus Hat, I knew that I would knit one for Doug. It is such a fantastic hat:

The pattern is by Maxim Cyr, whom I have gotten to know from two knitting retreats we both attended. (You should have a look at Les Garçons, the company owned by Max and his partner, Vincent; they have delicious designs, kits, and beautifully dyed yarns.) Max had previously put out a shawl pattern with this design, and I almost jumped at it, but I held back because triangular shawls are not my favorite. I’m glad I did because I like the hat and cowl combo better, and I knew they would really suit Doug.

This is a win-win because it also gave me a chance to try out the Opus yarn from Walcot, which I have wanted to try since seeing Carmen Schmidt from A Yarn Story wear a shawl knitted from this yarn at a wool show some years back. It is a sport weight yarn which the label describes as “70% Argentinian Merino, 30% Baby Alpaca, 100% Awesome”. That makes me giggle every time I see it, but now I know it is true. This yarn IS awesome.

The hat is fantastically cosy. The stitch pattern is made by stranded knitting, so the fabric is doubly thick with lots of little air pockets on the inside to keep the warmth next to your head. The brim is also doubled, which you can see here:

Carmen put together lots of kits for this pattern in many different combinations of Opus colours; I loved the original combo so much, it was an easy choice. The kit is enough to make both hat and cowl. Do I plan to knit the cowl? This yarn is too lush and the pattern is too more-ish to even think of resisting.

The pattern photos show the hat with a giant pompom. I like it, but I don’t think Doug is the pompom type. In any case, just look at this beautiful crown:

Doug started wearing this the minute I finished it, even before I had woven in the ends or blocked it. I had to steal it away to give it a bath and finish it properly. I am very happy because I came up with a great way to block it. Below is the hat lightly stretched over a rubber pilates ball. The ball is inflated to 23″, which makes it perfect for blocking a hat for Doug, and it is rubber, so no problem with it getting damp.

This hat is a winner. I love it. Doug loves it. Even bears love it.

Happy Sunday! I’m off to cast on a cowl!

Couch potato

The weather continues to be grey and rainy, and I continue to be in “couch potato”-mode. Currently, I am knitting away on three different projects, sometimes switching back and forth between them multiple times a day. I am also (when not engaged with the day job) reading a lot, sleeping a lot, and wasting much time watching the craziness in the US Capitol (and annoying Doug with my real-time commentary on the latter). My Hirne cardigan would surely be done by now if I weren’t faffing around, but I have decided that knitting in any capacity sits outside the parameters of “faffing around”. Hirne will be lovely; I have managed to put in the button bands with the i-cord buttonholes (a new technique for me):

I am also moving along on the Felix cardigan; here is a shot from this morning:

I am completely captivated by the Opus Hat for Doug. The yarn (Opus by Walcot) is so soft and silky and lush, and the pattern is gorgeous. Below is a photo from yesterday. You can see that there is a folded up brim to the inside, in green.

While knitting these three, I am of course spending time contemplating what to knit next. A strong contender? This whimsical pattern, Snip by Bristol Ivy, which dropped into my feed yesterday. I love this so much!

© Bristol Ivy

Here’s to starting out the New Year as a couch potato! Others may judge you, but not I!

End of year round-up 2022

It’s the last day of the year. I traditionally post a review of the year’s knitting on this day. I have finished 7 projects this year. The beautiful Caravay sweater for Emma (blogged here):

Two hats:

A very long shawl (the Gresham Wrap, blogged here):

And three tops for me: a t-shirt I designed myself, a tank top modified from the Myrtle pattern by Kate Davies, and a linen t-shirt designed by eri shimuzu (finished projects blogged here, here, and here, respectively).

I am very, very nearly finished with another project, which I should be able to show you in a week or two. I have been thinking “How little I have knitted this year; this review will be quick.” However, I have just checked out last year’s post and realise that, in knitting terms, I am actually on the way up from the knitting nadir of 2021.

This year was marked by Covid. Doug and I became ill in June and it really knocked us flat for 4 months, followed by another three months and counting of continuing long Covid. We are still struggling with some long-lasting impacts, although we are much improved. But I would rather end the year thinking of pleasant things. We had two fantastic and rather long visits with the girls. We spent a month with them in Vancouver at the beginning of the year, and they spent a month with us here in September. We enjoyed lovely family time together (and lots of snow). Doug had his 70th birthday in August, and we found him the absolutely most perfect birthday present ever. I started travelling again for work, and went back to teaching in person instead of on-line! We had a wandering trip through Wales, spent time with old friends, enjoyed the ballet and museums, and I went on another knitting retreat in the Lake District.

And now a New Year is upon us, with new opportunities and adventures awaiting. Best wishes to all for a healthy and happy 2023, filled with good friends, good food, music, knitting, and sunshine!

Christmas Knitting: Mission Impossible

No doubt I’ve tricked you with the title of this post. Tell the truth: you are expecting a tale of monumental slaving away to try to finish a knitted gift in time for Christmas. This tale would end either in triumph or failure, but in either case would mean missed opportunities to spend time doing things other than knitting (yes, these do exist!) and sore shoulders, wrists, and eyes from pushing too much.

It’s not like I haven’t done just this before (many times). A case of triumph can be seen in 2016, in which I knitted cowls for Doug, Emma, and Leah for Christmas. (This was documented in the post called Cowl-a-bunga!, which has some of my favourite photos on this blog). Another race to the finish was last year, in which I was frantically knitting a sweater for Emma, while throwing in a hat at the same time, which while producing beautiful results, also led to me stressing out during a holiday and screwing up my shoulder. When you have a child whose birthday falls the week before Christmas, you can have the same result for a birthday gift, as with this sweater I knitted for Leah in December 2017. Clearly, this race to Christmas knitting has been part of my make-up for a long time; here I highlight a sweater I finished literally on Christmas Day, in 2006, which was not only pre-blog, but pre-Ravelry as well. Sometimes I plan well in advance which allows me to have fun with a Christmas gift, like when I knitted a hat with penguins (by which I mean that I knitted the hat while sitting with penguins, not that the hat was festooned with penguins). And sometimes, I am determined and steadfast about not knitting any Christmas gifts, only to change my mind at the very last minute: I knitted the West Wind mittens for Doug because we went for a walk and he had cold hands. This year was cold, too, and Doug stole my hat! So, did I decide at the very last minute to squirrel away behind a closed door, knitting like mad and being anti-social in the lead-up to Christmas?

No, I didn’t. Instead, I picked out a lovely hat and cowl pattern which I thought Doug would like:

© Maxim Cyr

I bought the yarn to make both hat and cowl:

And I wrapped up the yarn with a card that said this:

Volia! Christmas Knitting, Mission Impossible-style! (And no jumping out of airplanes required.)

The hat and cowl are designed by Maxim Cyr, who was one of the fellow knitters at the two retreats I attended this November and last. I really like his design style. These are the Opus Hat and Opus Cowl. The yarn is Walcot Opus, which I purchased as a kit from A Yarn Story in Bath. They have put together kits in at least 11 different colour combinations of Opus, which you can find here.

I frequently receive knitting-inspired gifts for Christmas. (Fancy that!) I had expressed an interest in Garthenor Preseli yarn and Doug bought me a lovely array of colours:

I also received a fantastic book from the girls, which is a collection of historical photos of people knitting.

We spent this Christmas in England, while the girls remained in Vancouver. We originally decided on this due to the very high cost of flights this year, combined with the fact that both girls were here for a long visit in September. In hindsight we made a good decision. The storm in North America knocked out the Vancouver airport and caused general chaos and misery across a wide stretch of Canada and the US, and here we are experiencing the winter of strikes: nurses, ambulance drivers, baggage handlers, customs agents, railroad workers, postmen, among others. It is a good time not to be attempting international air travel.

It is quiet now. Outside it is rainy and grey. Inside I have lots of yarn in pretty colours. Guess what I plan to do now? Best wishes, everyone, from my home to yours!

Frigid weather, warm hat

I finished my Oslo Hat – Mohair edition (pattern by Petite Knit) in time to keep my head warm during a very cold week.

How cold was it? This cold:

Yes, I know that it is not Ottowa cold, or Edmonton cold, or Wisconsin cold, or even Boston cold, but it is most definitely England cold, and my poor system isn’t used to it.

The resulting hat is pretty, but I must say that I had some issues with this pattern. It is written in a Scandinavian style, which is spare compared to the very precise and articulated patterns we have become accustomed to in the download era. I have commented before about this with respect to Danish patterns. As someone who knows how to knit, I don’t really have a problem with the spare style, but there are a few more serious issues here. First of all, there is a mistake in the pattern. In the directions for the decreases, she leaves out a critical K1, K2tog at the beginning of Round 1. If you’ve knit lots of hats, you can just scratch your head for a minute and say “huh, something’s missing here” and figure it out. But if you are not practiced at this, it will mess up your decreases, and thus the crown shaping. I ended up substituting a “ssk” instead of a “sl1, k1, pass sl st over” in the decreases as well; I think it is neater. The finished crown is nice, but beware the directions!

More critical for me is that the pattern has a odd construction. The bottom portion of the hat is doubly folded, meaning that the brim has three warm layers. The first fold is knitted in, that is, the fabric is folded over and knitted together. Then, she has you knit for a few rounds on the wrong side before reversing direction with a short row and continuing to knit on the right side. She gives no reason for doing this, and no photos to show what it is supposed to look like. This, by the way, is what it looks like:

When you wear it, you fold up the brim again, to get the three layers. I still can’t figure out the purpose of the purled ridge. It means that the fold is not neat. There is no clear fold line. Every time I wear it, I have to fiddle with the fold so that it doesn’t look weird. I don’t know why this annoys me so much, but suffice it to say that it annoys me. I notice that there are over 4000 of these hats posted on Ravelry, so I think I may be in the minority here, but next time, I would just skip the pattern directions and wing it.

I knitted this with some old Malabrigo fingering weight yarn from my stash together with some mohair, also from stash. I always keep yarn labels, which drives Doug crazy, and literally yesterday I decided to just toss away the labels on my desk, and of course they were these ones! There is a reason to my label-keeping madness, Doug! I think this shade of Malabrigo was called “paper”, but in any case, it’s white. I have enough left over to make another hat.

I’ve noticed this last week or two that Doug seems to have confiscated my red hat. I have finished this one just in time. I hope that, wherever you are, you are keeping warm and dry, and keeping hold of your hat.

Frosty weather knitting

I was going to show you a finished project today – a fluffy white hat which would be quite warm and pretty shot against the frosty foliage. The hat is still damp, however, even though I blocked it over 48 hours ago. Never fear, it seems as if the frosty weather is here for the long term and I am unlikely to miss a frosty photo op.

Instead I will show you a progress shot of my Hirne pullover. This is a lovely Kate Davies design, knitted in Ooskit, one of her signature yarns (I bought the kit from Kate here.)

I am really happy with the design and the yarn, and am looking forward to wearing this one very soon. I have had to be very patient while knitting the yoke. The pattern stitch is really very easy to knit, but it takes concentration, and I am still finding it hard to concentrate for long periods.

I’ve been searching for a project which will be super easy mindless knitting, and I think I’ve settled on the Felix Cardigan by Amy Christoffers:

© Amy Christoffers

I have some soft pink worsted weight yarn in warm tones, with I bought last year. I started to knit a pullover with it, only to frog it (I blogged about it here and here). I decided the yarn might work for the Felix cardigan if I combined it with a strand of mohair, and took a chance on ordering the right shade online. I bought some lovely silk mohair by Knitting for Olive from A Yarn Story in the colour Plum Rose. They look lovely together:

I have knit a few swatches. With a US10/6mm the gauge is too loose – 11×22 – and with a US9/5.5mm it is just a bit too tight – 15×23 (the pattern calls for 14×20) but I think the latter (shown on the bottom below) will work out well with a bit of judicious math. This is a bit outside my colour comfort zone, but the texture is gorgeous and I think the yarn will suit the pattern. (And a cozy cardigan will not go amiss in my wardrobe!)

I leave you with a lovely photo featured in The Guardian today. It was taken by Kieran Dodds on Fair Isle. It’s part of a continuing feature where photographers choose their best shot; the article is called “Two fluffy lambs playing Twister: Kieran Dodds’ best phone picture”.

Fair Isle Twister, 2015, shot on iPhone 6. Photograph: Kieran Dodds

Keep warm, everyone!