Practice makes better: Lord of the Rings knitting re-visited

Both girls came home for the holiday, and Leah brought home a hand-knitted piece for me to wash.  (Yes, Leah does her own laundry – she lives 4700 miles away!  But this is a special piece and she wanted to consult with the expert.  The expert took it to the dry cleaners.) Long-term readers may remember that I knitted her a Tolkien-themed pillow for her 19th birthday.  She brought home the case (minus the pillow), after five years of wear and tear, and it still looks pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself:


Knitted into the pillow using stranded knitting is the inscription from the One Ring, written in the Black Speech of Mordor using Tengwar, the transcription system developed by Tolkien for the languages of Middle Earth. (Yes, this is a super-geeky thing to do.)  I blogged about this project extensively at the time and you can see all of the posts, in reverse order, with this tag link.  These posts include information on the conception, knitting, steeking, fretting (first steek!), learning, sewing, and fun that went into the project.  They also include great photos, like this one which shows me holding the pillow while wearing a pair of mitts I knit with the same yarn in the reverse colours (purple on yellow instead of yellow on purple):


Don’t you just love the transposition of the Batman-esque mitts and the Tolkien medieval-esque pillow? I have to say that I love this project.  It was such a great experience to knit and I think it looks pretty freaking fantastic as well.  Even if you’ve never heard of the One Ring to Rule Them All, it’s pretty cool.

Here is another photo from one of the earlier posts, which shows the project immediately pre-steek:


This last photo leads me into the reflection behind this post.  Despite the glorious final project, I was pretty crap at stranded knitting then.  (It was only my second stranded project, with the Peerie Flooers hat being the first.)  The difference between the stranded portions of the knitting and the stockinette portion in between the two lines of script is dramatic.  The background (purple) bits are smooth for the stockinette and very uneven and puckered for the stranded portions.

Of course the above picture is before blocking, which fixed a lot of the issues you can see, but blocking cannot fix everything. (Gasp!  Yes, blocking is essentially a miracle technique for fixing almost everything.  Note the use of “almost”.)  In this close-up photo, taken just a few weeks ago, you can see that, even after blocking, the different tensions are obvious:


Despite the fact that I didn’t continue to work on the technique again until just recently, I have gotten significantly better at stranded knitting, particularly with respect to tensioning. My two recent attempts at stranded knitting, the Bousta Beanie hat and especially the Cascade hat, demonstrate that, despite some remaining problems, I have managed to fix the tensioning issues with two-handed stranding.  I am still slow.

I’m working on a bit of stranded knitting this weekend, having finally reached the yoke of the Tensho pullover.  I hope your knitting weekend is a good one!

Double feature

Perhaps some observant readers noticed that my last two projects used the same yarn?   I knitted both the Tolkien-inpired pillow for Leah and the super Batman-inspired mitts for Lizz with Quince & Co Chickadee yarn in the colours called Carrie’s Yellow and Frank’s Plum.  And, yes, I did manage to take a few quick shots of them together before giving the mitts to Lizz.

2-IMG_8305When I was planning the pillow, I hadn’t decided whether I would be knitting the back or whether I would use fabric instead.  So I ordered lots of yarn.  Then, when I realized that I had only two weeks to knit the mitts for Lizz’s Viva, and announced to Doug that I had to go buy yarn right away, he reminded me I had plenty of leftover purple and yellow.  “Will that work?,” he asked.  “Yes, quite nicely.”

1-IMG_8303I like the contrast in these two projects – the pillow is knitted with yellow on purple, and the mitts with purple on yellow.  The Chickadee is a wonderful yarn for colourwork.  The definition is really crisp and the yarn is sturdy and smooth and feels good on the hands.  You can find my previous posts on these projects here and here (the second link gathers all of the pillow posts in reverse order).

I also love the contrast between the medieval style script that Tolkien invented, all graceful and flowing, and the in-your-face graphic pop of the mitts, which anyone my age cannot help but associate with the 1960s Batman TV show.  From the elegant to the comic book.  Ain’t knitting grand?


One gift to rule them all

Regular readers of this blog will recall the saga of Leah’s birthday present.  Well, it’s  finished!


I made her a knitted pillow with the words from Tolkien’s ring (yes, the One RIng to Rule Them All) knitted in gold.  I finished the knitting in time for her birthday in December, but fretted about how to sew it to the fabric and how to do the finishing.  I am a pretty good knitter, but have little sewing experience.  I really didn’t want to wreck it.


You can read all of the posts I wrote about this project here.  This was a big step for me in many ways.  I am pretty much a beginner at two-handed stranded knitting, so it was a leap of faith.  Also, it was my very first time steeking.  Bringing a pair of scissors to bear upon one’s knitting, especially a piece so special and time-consuming, is not for the faint of heart.  Having put so much effort into the project, I decided not to rush the sewing part, even if that meant Leah having to patiently wait a few more months.  I asked for suggestions on the blog and many of you were kind enough to reply.  The consensus was to find a professional to sew it for me.


The only tailor I knew in the area was Sally Stevens, who runs a tailoring business out of her home in Berkshire.  Sally had done some work for me a number of years ago.  I called her and explained what I needed.  “Let me send you a link to my blog posts about this, so that you can have an idea of what I am looking for,”  I said.  The next day, I set off with the knitted piece and the fabric to take it to Sally.  I was a bit worried about whether I was doing the right thing.  What if she couldn’t envision what I wanted?


When I got there she said “I was up past midnight last night reading your blog posts.  I think we need to sew the pillowcase out of a plain cotton fabric and then sew the knitted panel to it.  That will reinforce it so that you won’t need to use any facing.  Then, we can sew the fabric to that.”  The pillow would thus have an inner lining to give some structure to the piece.  She also suggested a long zipper along the back, instead of the alternatives of a side zipper or an envelope closing.  “Here,” Sally said “I’ve made you a sketch”:


When I got home, Doug said “Do you think she gets it?” “Oh, yes,” I said.  “She’s going to to do this just right.”


I don’t know how to say this without gushing.  I think this is absolutely the greatest thing I’ve ever knitted.  I love it!  It’s perfect!  I want to keep it!  (Just kidding, Leah.  Maybe.)  I think it’s the greatest birthday present ever.


Every part of making this was fun, from conception through throwing it up into the air for the above photo.  Even the steek!  (At least, in retrospect.)  You can probably not help but notice that this pillow is huge.  It is defintiely not a standard size pillow.  I spent a long time searching for a pillow the right size to fit this case, and finally found one here.  This is a duck feather and down bolster pillow measuring 51x100cm (20″ x 39″).


I love the fabric I chose for the back as much as I love the knitted panel.  They compliment each other so well.  (In one of the previous posts, see above link, I wrote about finding the fabric; it was a remnant so I have no details.)  See how it shines in the sun?  And the yellow yarn (Quince & Co Chickadee in Carrie’s yellow), while pale with slightly brownish  undertones on its own, gleams against the purple like burnished gold.  Leah is a Tolkien fan but also a medieval history fanatic and I love the way this project has a very medieval look to it.

02-IMG_8596Happy Belated Birthday, Leah!  I’m holding the pillow hostage until you come home to visit.


Musing on fusing

I’ve been asking for advice the past few weeks about how to finish the project I’ve been knitting for my daughter Leah.  To review for any new visitors, I have knit a rectangular panel, which measures about 13×41 inches, which has the inscription from the One Ring of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings knitted into it.  I used Quince & Co Chickadee wool, knit it in the round with stranded knitting and steeked it.  Here is a photo of the steeked and blocked piece:

12-20131228_134013My plan is to make this into the front of a pillow.  Its current shape is too long and narrow, so I would build it up on the top and the bottom and aim for a finished size of about 25×40 inches once sewn together.  I bought some beautiful silk fabric to make the back with (and also a border across top and bottom).  Since finishing the knitted portion I have been having second thoughts about whether using a silk fabric backing is a good idea, or whether I should knit the back.  I sought advice from various friends in Vancouver (where I spent my Christmas holiday) and I also asked for advice in my last post.

Both my friend Teresa (who was serendipitously also visiting Vancouver for the holidays) and my blogging friend Ann (who responded to the blog post) suggested using fusible interfacing to stiffen the fabric.  I believe this intervention was intended irregardless of whether I ended up using a knitted or silk cloth back.  Both of them felt that the knitted piece would be too flimsy to hold up in the pillow and should be reinforced.

Well, this has set me to musing about fusing, so to speak.  Here is my concern:  I knit this by stranding.  This means that there is always one strand of yarn being carried across the back of the work.  Because I intended this to be a pillow, and thus the back would not be seen, I was also not meticulous about the length of the floats, which I varied quite a bit, and are sometimes quite long.   I can’t take a photo of the back now, because I am ensconsed in business school for the weekend (I am writing this after a full day of micro-economic theory).  Here is a photo of me cutting the steek, however, in which a portion of the back is visible:

07-20131226162014I am wondering whether the fusing will fuse, not to the knitting itself but rather only to the floats that are stranded across the back.  Furthermore, as you can see in the top photo, there are two lines of text, and in between is about twelve rows or so of plain purple knitting in which I didn’t strand the yellow (there are also similar portions on the top and bottom of the panel).  These areas looked quite different from the stranded ones pre-blocking with a slightly different gauge, causing some puckering, and also a smoother texture, as you can see in the below photo which was taken pre-steeking.


In addition to wondering how the fusing will interact with the stranded fabric, I am worried that it will interact differently with the unstranded portions thus once again highlighting the distinctions between the stranded and unstranded portions that I managed to hide with a good blocking.

If anyone has experience using fusible facing on a stranded knitting project, I would love to hear from you.  Also, to Lora, thank you for your lovely comments on my last post.  I really do love the silk fabric I bought for the pillow back, and my main concern about using it is my lack of confidence and experience in sewing.  I will definitely take your advice and consult a professional seamstress before I make any decisions.

Well, I will stop musing about fusing now, and go back to musing about the Income Elasticity of Demand.  Sigh….

Rite of passage – the steek

In the end, after all my worries, steeking turned out to be rather anticlimactic. For those who haven’t been following, I have been knitting a birthday project for my daughter, Leah, which is a panel with the transcription from the One Ring (from The Lord of the Rings) knitted into it:5-20131219_102204I am knitting it in the round using two-handed stranded knitting with transcription charts provided for free on Ravelry by Diana Stafford.  In the above photo, taken a few weeks ago, the fabric on the left is intended to be used as a backing for the pillow (more on that below).

I used the method provided by Kate Davies in her wonderful steeking tutorial, which involves using a crochet reinforcement.  First, I crocheted up one side of the cut line (using a brown yarn for the reinforcing):

01-20131226134628Then, I turned the piece around and crocheted back up the other side of the cut line.


Here is the piece with the reinforcing done, just before cutting:

03-20131226155810I must confess here to a few minutes of panic at this point.  I wavered between the part of me who had faith in Kate’s directions and in the thousands of knitters calmly steeking garments for centuries, and the part of me convinced that the reinforcements wouldn’t hold and that the whole thing would unravel.  Emma, while in the midst of a terrible flu, provided both photographic services and calm advice (“Just cut the damn thing already, so that I can go to bed!”)

The two rows of crochet lean away from each other and when pulled slightly apart, reveal a line of ladders which are the bits actually cut.  OK, here goes nothing:

05-2013122616134506-2013122616141707-20131226162014It was fairly dark and rainy in Vancouver that day so the photos are not so great, but perhaps you can tell how intensely I was concentrating on the task:

08-20131226162058And, voila, steek done!  And not a hint of unravelling:

09-20131226162148I then popped this baby into a sink and gave it a good soak, pressed it between layers of towels and stomped on it, stretched it out, pinned it and let it dry, and still not a hint of unravelling.  Ain’t steeking grand!

And, behold, the blocked piece:

12-20131228_134013Isn’t it just fabulous?  I really love this.

It is worth every bit of trouble it took to knit.  (Mostly, just that it demands you pay attention to what you are doing.  It is not a TV knit.)  Here is a small portion of one page of the chart:

04-20131226160717There are 6 full-size pages.  You can see that I annotated all of the background areas by counting out the number of stitches in advance.  It still took lots of concentration to knit.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that problems set in.  My initial plan was to use the fabric to both make the pillow slightly wider (by sewing long strips above and below the knitted piece) and then to back it.  The blocked knitted piece measures about 13″x41″ (which makes it pretty long for a pillow; definitely not a standard size).  I had planned on aiming for a completed pillow size of about 25″x40″.  I am not a seamstress and have little sewing experience.  I was on holiday in Vancouver, and my sewing machine back home in England, so I had hoped to borrow both a sewing machine and some sewing expertise.  I talked to a number of people who had more knowledge of sewing than I do, and each of them thought that sewing the knitted fabric to the silk fabric would not be an easy task, and that the different tensions between them would lead to problems with pulling and stretching.  Each of them had the same advice:  knit the pillow back.  As Teresa put it: “You know how to knit.  You feel comfortable knitting.  Sewing this makes you uncomfortable. Stick with what you are good at.”

I have lots of extra yarn, plenty to knit the pillow back (of course, the extra yarn was at home in England).  In the end, I decided to stew on the matter for a bit.  This means that Leah did not get her birthday present.   I brought it back home with me, and am now busily debating how I should finish it.  Should I risk sewing these two fabrics together?  Should I consult a seamstress and pay to have a professional do it?  Should I admit that the different tensions will likely lead to the knitted side stretching over time even if I can solve the sewing problem?  Or should I just knit the back?  And if I do that, how should I do it?  Should I still knit panels to make it wider? (13″x40″ is too long and narrow.)  Should I knit a border panel?  And how to fasten it?  Zipper, buttons, envelope closing?  Too many questions, lots of indecision on my part.  (I would welcome advice.)

In the meantime, back here in the UK, it is stormy and rainy and flooding all over the place.  I have b-school this weekend, so very little knitting is likely to occur over the next week (or blogging for that matter).  I hope that all of my UK readers stay dry, and all in North America keep warm this week.

PS – I asked Doug for advice on what to name this post.  This is what he came up with:

  • Steek with me, baby!
  • Steeky fingers
  • It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp steek
  • Jose Jalapeno with a steek  (with apologies to Jeff Dunham)
  • Steek figures
  • Steek to your guns
  • Steek it to the man!
  • How to steek to a New Year’s Resolution
  • Just cut the damn thing already, so that I can go to bed!

Why do I bother to ask?

One does knit simply walk into Mordor

My Tolkien-obsessed daughter came up with the bad pun in the title.  An indication of my pun-addled brain is that I I found it irresistable. (If you don’t get the joke…never mind.)  I have continued to knit on the Ring-transcribed panel for Leah.  Here is a new progress shot:

5-20131219_102204I am knitting this in the round using two-handed stranded knitting.  This is the inscription from the One Ring, written in the Black Speech of Mordor using Tengwar, the transcription system developed by Tolkien for the languages of Middle Earth.  The inscription was charted for knitters by Diana Stafford, who offers it for free on Ravelry as a scarf pattern which she calls the One Ring Scarf.  (Thank you, Diana!)  In the scarf it is knit in a long continuous string, but I am knitting it into a panel with two lines of script.  When I am done with the knitting, I will cut it at the steek, and then block it into a long rectangular panel.  This will become the front of a rather large pillow for Leah’s room.

The beautiful fabric you see on the left in the photo above will be the backing for the pillow.  I bought the fabric from John Lewis in Reading, UK.  It was actually a remnant stored in the back storeroom.  I went to John Lewis with the knitting in hand and gathered together all of the sales staff to help me find the perfect piece of fabric.  It was late in the day and there were not many other customers, and the staff responded with great enthusiasm and helped me find the perfect piece.  I love how it looks like burnished gold, and also has a vaguely medieval feel to it.  (Plus, the fact that it has squares all through it makes it easy to cut for a sewing novice like myself!)

I am knitting this with Quince & Co Chickadee yarn, obtained from Loop in London, in the colours Frank’s Plum and Carrie’s Yellow.  Looked at separately neither the purple nor the yellow looked right to me, but together they are perfect.  The yellow pops beautifully against the purple and looks just like gold.

We have now been a week in Vancouver.  We haven’t been up to much yet.  We have all been tired and Doug is having knee problems.  We did, however, make our all-important trek out to Deep Cove, which we always do when in this part of the world, to stand on the very spot where we were married more than 22 years ago. Leah took a photo:

1-20131218145727We look both older and colder than on that fateful wedding day, but no less happy.  I could not imagine a trip to Vancouver without this small, but romantic, detour.  The girls think it is cute.  I give you a closeup of the photo so that you can see that Doug is wearing my green Malabrigo cowl and it looks fantastic on him!  I think that he has just gained a new cowl, while I have lost one:

2-20131218145740I also managed (on my first day here) to find a great gluten-free bakery in Vancouver, called Lemonade.  Those of you who also have coeliac’s disease will recognize this compulsion, when arriving in a new town, to scope out all of the gluten-free options  available to you.  I have now been there a few times and I have been stuffing myself with wonderful gluten-free treats, including the most amazing Lemon meringue tarts ever:

2-20131213105204Yum yum!  I must admit to complete gluttony: I have eaten three of these this week!  Doug took the above photo from the balcony of the lovely apartment we are staying in in False Creek.  Thanks so much to Ed and Marci for very generously lending us a place to stay.   It has made our trip so special.

Since I need to finish Leah’s One Ring project before heading back to England, I will now stop writing and start knitting!  (And, just maybe, eat another Lemon meringue tart…..)

Secret identity revealed

In my last post I mentioned that I was knitting a top secret project for a birthday present.  Well, today is the birthday, but the present is nowhere near done.  Alas, such is the life of a busy woman!  SInce there is no longer any reason to protect it’s secret identity, I give you a progress shot:

20131214091908I imagine that many of you will recognize this immediately.  For the rest of us, suffice it to say that this is the inscription written on the Ring – yes, THAT ring – from The Lord of the RIngs.  Or, at least it will be when I finish knitting the first line of text.  I was about to launch into a linguistic description of the langauge and script, and realized that anything I wrote would be instantly corrected by thousands of Tolkien fans (my daughter, Leah, Tolkien fan and birthday girl, chief among them).  I will get Leah to brief me, and then I will report back to you, armed with the facts.

The writing is a pain in the you-know-where to knit, but beautiful to behold.  Here is a close-up:

20131214092011Once it’s been properly washed, blocked and steamed, it will be stunning!  (Or so I hope!)

The three weeks before we hopped on a plane to Vancouver were among the most stressful I can remember in a long time.  Not the kind of stressful that comes from bad things happening, but rather the kind of stressful that comes from too many things happening, deadlines to meet, too little sleep, and nerves.  Enough so, that when I finally got onto the plane, I burst into tears.  (We flew here on Wednesday, a day that was so foggy at Heathrow that planes were being cancelled left, right and centre.  I was so relieved to actually take off and leave some of the craziness behind.  My apologies to my fellow passengers who no doubt thought I was a crazy woman.)

Now, however, I have three weeks in Vancouver where I can spend time with the girls, knit, hang out with Doug’s family, knit, write a blog post or three, knit, maybe even get some knitting done.  And, oh, did I mention the paper in Managing Process Systems I have to write next week?

And, of course, let’s not forget the Imminent Steek:

20131214092040If you want to know what this project will turn into when it grows up, check back soon for a progress update!