Not feeling the Shelter love

My current project is a cardigan for my daughter Emma, knit with Brooklyn Tweed’s worsted weight wool, Shelter.  This is one of those love-it or hate-it yarns; it seems to draw equal numbers of complaints and accolades.  At the moment, I can say, I am really not feeling the Shelter love.

First, however, a photo showing my progress, because Emma asked for one.


I have finished the back, which is knit in a textured pattern, and both sleeves, which are knit in reverse stockinette.  The pattern is Tinder, a design by Jared Flood.  The sleeves have quite a roll to them, which will block out, but which makes it hard to photograph.  (I draped some circular needles over the sleeves to try to cut down on the rolling for the photo.)

I think my problems really began when I started the sleeves.  I do not like the way Shelter feels on my hands while I knit; it feels rough and my fingers start feeling abraded.  It’s hard to describe exactly, but the yarn just doesn’t feel nice.  It feels soapy, and when I have been knitting with it for a while my hands feel dry and scratchy.  I knit the back really fast and was enjoying the fast progress.  The stitch pattern seemed to make the process more lively and I didn’t really notice that much discomfort.  Once I started the stockinette, however, the knitting seemed to drag.  The texture of the finished product isn’t pleasing. (Note to Emma; never fear, this will all be fixed by the blocking.  The finished project will be gorgeous, particularly when worn by you!)


I know for a fact that the yarn will soften considerably when washed and blocked and will become lofty and airy.  I know that it is lighter than almost any other worsted weight wool, so the finished sweater yard-for-yard, will weigh less.  I love the rich shades, the tweediness, the slubs of bright colours, and the rustic quality of the wool.  Most of all, I love the design aesthetic behind Brooklyn Tweed.  That said, I am really not enjoying knitting with this yarn.


I have knit once before with Shelter – but never finished the sweater.  This is a total shame because it is an absolutely gorgeous pattern, Exeter by Michelle Wang.


© Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed


I finished and blocked the back and both sleeves, and they are fantastic, but then I got annoyed with the fronts and put the unfinished project in a plastic box, where it has sat for the last 4 years.  Here is a photo of the blocked sleeves:


and another which shows the beautiful cables:


Why haven’t I finished it? Partly, I suppose, because I have gained weight since I started this project, and partly because the fronts are really fiddly and I can’t find the enthusiasm to finish.  But maybe, subconsciously, the lack of Shelter love has contributed to this project languishing for so long.

Interestingly I have knit two projects from Brooklyn Tweed’s fingering weight wool, Loft, which shares a lot of the properties of Shelter.  These are my Carpino sweater, designed by Carol Feller (blogged here):


and my Escher cardigan, designed by Alexis Winslow, which I have blogged about extensively (here is a link to the Escher posts):


For some reason I find the feel of this yarn less annoying in a fingering weight than in a worsted.

I do think that blocking will work wonders with this wool and that the finished cardigan will be cool.  Perhaps that experience will make me weigh up Shelter and find it worth the effort.  There are a lot of Brooklyn Tweed designs calling my name.  Jared has brought some fabulous designers on board and I love so many of the things they are creating.   I must admit, however, that the next time I knit a BT design, I am likely to substitute the wool.

Bazinga times two!

bazinga – 1. A catchy phrase to accompany your clever pranks. As popularized by Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory).  2. A short post highlighting something that Emma and Kelly think is freaking fabulous.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a Bazinga post.  Today, I saw this absolutely gorgeous cardigan design and knew it was time to resurrect the bazinga!  I sent a link to Emma, who was in agreement, so here you are:

Processed with VSCOcam with 6 preset

© Alexis Winslow

This is the Tiber cardigan, created by designer Alexis Winslow.  I swear its as if Alexis can read my mind.  I have already knit her beautiful Escher, blogged here, and her very chic Zelda cloche, which I blogged about here.  But with this cardigan it’s like she used a mind sweep on me to find exactly what kind of cardigan I would like.  And then she made it even better:


© Alexis Winslow

Just as I was about to hit the “publish” button on this post, Brooklyn Tweed released its first Capsule Collection, featuring eight new designs in Brooklyn Tweed yarns by the amazingly talented Olga Buraya-Kefelian.  I adore each and every one of them, but this one took my breath away:


© Brooklyn Tweed

This is Cusp, a spectacular piece, which is enough to make me change my mind about ponchos.  Like the Tiber cardigan, it should be viewed from all angles:


So, there you have it folks: a double Bazinga!



The Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles – Part 2

It’s finished!

IMG_1178In my last post, I chronicled my first attempts to modify the collar of the Escher Cardigan.  This lovely design, by Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed, has a very interesting and fun structure.  I knit most of this cardigan exactly to pattern.  I made two very simple modifications, and one slightly more complicated one.

The first modification was merely technical: I decided to knit the upper and lower edgings separately and then sew them together.  In the pattern, you knit the lower edging first, and then knit the upper edging, while joining it to the lower edging stitch by stitch at the ends of each row using short row construction.  I found this a bit fussy (though I am sure it gives a neater edge) so I knit the upper edging back and forth.  Here you can see how it looked before I sewed the edges together:

IMG_1155The second modification was a very tiny one: I used I-cord bind-off instead of a rolled garter stitch edge around the entire edging.  To do this, I put the lower edging on a long needle to hold the stitches live while I knit the upper edging.  Then, I sewed the two seams, and knit the I-cord around the entire joined edging.  (This edging had almost 600 stitches, and took me four days to finish!)  Here is how I did the I-cord:

*K3, sl 1 k-wise, k1, psso, sl all 4 sts back on left needle; rep from * until all sts have been worked. Four I-cord sts remain on needle. K4tog, break yarn and draw yarn through final st.

The I-cord looks great and very professional on both sides – this is important because the collar rolls back so both sides are visible.  Here is a good photo that shows the I-cord:

IMG_1202For those of you who carefully read the last post, you can see in the above photo that I carried through on my threat to rip out the upper edging and start again – the shoulder decreases now line up with the triangle.  If you recall, the issues I had with the upper edging were that the shoulder decreases in the pattern were too close together and that I needed more stitches on the needle to accomodate my gauge and to put a bit of extra “give” into the shawl collar.  Due to all of the extra fabric between the shoulder decreases, I couldn’t get the back neck to narrow anything like it does in the pattern.

Alexis WInslow has a great photo of the back collar and shoulders on her blog post about Escher.  It is the third photo from the top.  Let me make this clear:  I think this looks great.  I love the pattern and that’s why I wanted to make this cardigan.  But, it was clear that I couldn’t get the collar and shoulders of my Escher to mimic hers. This is due in part to my row gauge, which is always long, and meant that the edges of the triangle on my back were significantly wider (though they did line up with my shoulders).  It is also due to having wide shoulders and wanting the shoulder decreases to shape the collar AT my shoulders rather than at the shoulder blades.  I tried a number of things to fix this in my first attempt, which you can read about in my last post.  Ultimately, I ripped out that attempt (about 5 inches worth) and started again.

IMG_1174The biggest problem with my first attempt was that I went way overboard with adding more stitches.  I didn’t count, just picked up so it “felt” right.  I ended up with 258 stitches picked up for the upper edging, compared with 186 specidied in the pattern for my size.  This time, I was more modest with 218 (57 on each end and 104 across the back) – an increase of 32 over the pattern.  I moved the shoulder decreases out to line up with the edges of the triangle, thus having the width between the shoulder decreases at least five inches wider than the pattern.

I decreased for four inches, and then knit four rows as set, and then started increasing.  I put the increases at the same place as the decreases, except that I reversed the sides, so that the wrong side became the right side (since the collar would “fold over” when worn).  Here you can see the shapings from the right side:

IMG_1250and from the wrong side:

IMG_1242I continued increasing right out to the very edge, and this gave the collar enough “give” so that the shawl collar lies beautifully:

IMG_1219The problem with knitting something in this shape (like any shrug-type garment) is that until you’ve finished and blocked it, the final fit is a bit of a crap shoot.  But when you get it right, it’s pretty cool:

IMG_1231I left out the button hole because I was modifying the collar significantly enough that I wasn’t sure how to get it placed right.  I have a lovely twig-shaped pewter shawl pin (a Christmas gift from Emma) that works perfectly:

IMG_1204I think it looks great both closed and opened.  It is also quite cozy and warm and surprisingly easy to wear.

IMG_1215I had a few comments from people regarding my perseverance with this pattern; I don’t see it that way.  I did do some ripping and put an awful lot of thought into how to modify the collar properly so that it fit me.  And I did have conceptual problems with the upper edging instructions.  However, the pattern is mostly crystal clear, and very clever; I really liked knitting this.  Alexis Winslow’s blog post was extremely helpful (especially her photos of blocking it – not intuitive by any means without being able to see it).  And Brooklyn Tweed has superior customer support.  I also had wonderful help from Ravellers, particulalry Alice (Ellisj on Rav) – thanks Alice!  It worked!

IMG_1201Emma is still around, so I had both Doug and Emma to make sure we got some decent photos:

IMG_1199As usual, when they are in charge, I spend most of the photo shoot laughing:

IMG_1234And that’s all the news that’s fit to print!  Good knitting!

The Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles – Part 1

In my last post about Escher, I called the construction of this cardigan “genius”.  I was working on the bottom edging at the time and the cardigan suddenly came into being, so to speak; it took form and I could see what the designer was after.  Alas, the time came to start the upper edging and I hit a few roadblocks.

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I read, and re-read, the instructions.  I read them many times in fact but still could not get my head around them.  I then spent hours (four of them, in fact) looking critically at every photo of Escher that I could find.  I looked at each of the Escher projects on Ravelry, reading every word and comment by their knitters.  I looked at Alexis Winslow’s blog post on Escher, which included some great photos not found elsewhere.  (Note to readers: she has a lovely blog, which talks a lot about the design process.)  I wrote to Brooklyn Tweed, and their pattern support was excellent and quick.  I asked them for photographs of the neck and upper edging so that I could interpret the pattern, and they took the garment they had on hand and photographed it carefully for me, sending me shots of every angle.

Eventually, I figured out how the upper edging is supposed to be constructed (at least I hope so).  However, there remained some serious issues: most of the projects that have been documented do not fit properly.  These fit issues mostly have to do with the shoulders and upper edging.  I don’t really want to knit all of that ribbing more than once, so I determined to figure out the fit issues before picking up the stitches.

In this endeavor, I was helped greatly by the lovely Alice (Ellisj on Ravelry).  Alice had posted on this blog when I first began Escher and pointed me to her very good notes on the project on Ravelry.   As I struggled to come to grips with the upper edging, I wrote to Alice with a number of questions.  She responded with a very thoughtful and lengthy letter, which was written while she was on an international trip with two toddlers, and these toddlers were taking a nap!  Having traveled around the world a number of times with two toddlers, I can tell you that Alice deserves sainthood for this!  I am constantly touched by the support of the knitting community, who reach out with such kindness to people they’ve never met.


From Alice’s notes and her letters to me, as well as from insightful comments by other knitters on Ravelry, I came to some conclusions.

First, the simple things.  A number of people mentioned that there was an awful lot of fiddliness in the pattern to ensure that the upper and lower edgings were knitted together, rather than seamed.  I am perfectly willing to sew a seam, however, so didn’t see the advantage of the fiddling.  My first modification, I decided, would be to knit the upper edging back and forth without the short rows that join it to the bottom edging. (In the pattern, each edge stitch on the upper edging is knit together with a held stitch from the picked up edge of the lower edging – see, it is even complicated to describe!)   Second, I liked the way in which Alice had finished her project with an I-cord edge rather than the rows of reverse stockinette stitch that the pattern calls for.  I have never been a fan of rolled edging.  So, I put the live stitches from the bottom edging on a spare cable, and plan to put one long I-cord edge around the combined upper and lower edging when I get to that point.

Now to the tricky stuff.   As I see it, the top of the “triangle” should form a stright line across the top of the shoulder blades, and should reach from shoulder to shoulder.  There is a huge variation in the width of the triangle in the knitted projects, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with the width of the wearer’s shoulders.  This could result from choosing the wrong size but more likely results from the row gauge; as the back of the jacket is knit from side-to-side, it is the row gauge, rather than the stitch gauge, that determines where the shoulders sit.  TIP:  if you are knitting this, check to make sure that the top edge of the traingle is the right width for your shoulders before carrying on. (I think mine is a wee bit too wide.)

The main issues that most people have had can be divided into three areas of concern:

  1. the positioning of the shoulders
  2. the shawl collar being too tight
  3. drooping or bunching at the centre back

I will discuss these in turn.  First, the shoulders are formed by decreases in the ribbing that slant the ribs toward the centre back neck, and in doing so, create a three-dimensional “pocket” for the shoulders:


I am knitting the third size, 41.5″.  For this size, the shoulder decreases are off-set 6.75″ from the centre, meaning the shoulder width of the garment is 13.5″.  This is too narrow for my shoulders.  The strongest piece of advice I received from Alice is to off-set the shoulder decreases more so that the width of the shoulders more accurately reflects my shoulder width (sensible, no?)

Second, many people note that the upper edging is stretched very tightly and that this makes the shawl collar pull.  The suggestion is to add more stitches to the upper edging at the start.  I had added 12 extra stitches to the bottom edging, because I was worried about this very fact, so adding more stitches to the upper edging makes sense to me.

Third, when you look at the photos of many projects, you can clearly see that the top line of the cardigan “droops”, sometimes quite far down the back, or alternatively, there is a “bunch” or “roll” of fabric at the neck.  I was determined to solve this problem through creative modifications.

So, how did I deal with these three issues?  First, I placed the stitch markers for the shoulder decreases at 8″ from the centre back, thus giving me an extra 2.5″ across the shoulders.  My next step was to pick up stitches without looking at the numbers in the pattern.  I picked up stitches at what I deemed to be sensible and regular intervals, only checking that the number on both sides was equal and that the number for both sides was divisible by 4, and the number for the centre section was divisble by 4 +2.    So far, so good, yes?  Well, the answer was no, actually.  It turns out that my number of picked-up stitches was dramatically more than the pattern called for (about 70 extra stitches across the entire upper edging).  All of these extra stitches combined with the wider shoulders meant that the rate of shoulder decreasing would not bring the neck in far enough.  This would definitely exacerbate the tendency for “bunching” at the centre back neck.  Also, because of the very large increase in the number of picked up stitches, and thus different gauge, the slope of the decreases is less, and the “pocket” it forms for the shoulder is shallower.

I came up with what I thought was a clever plan for this as well: I would start a set of double decreases around the centre K2 column on the back neck.  This would serve two purposes: it would decrease all of the extra bulk at the back neck, while at the same time allowing the side decreasing to do its job properly and narrow the neck while shaping the shoulders.


I am now nearly 4 inches into this, and am starting to have some major doubts.  FIrst, I am struggling with whether to widen the shoulders even further.  In this photo, you can see the centre stitch is marked with a red marker.  The green marker indicates where the pattern calls for the shoulder decreases to start, the yellow marker indicates where my shoulder decreases start, and the purple marker indicates where I am considering moving them.


Emma feels strongly that, esthetically, the decreases should be at the purple marker, so that they are at the very edges of the triangle.  However, Emma agrees that good fit should always trump everything else.  Doug, Emma and I spent a good 40 minutes on the weekend, arguing over the shoulder placement.  This is a really tricky call, because it is not clear until you have knitted it exactly how the shoulder shaping will fall.  I also think that the decreases at the neck, while intended to eliminate bunching in the neck, might actually lead to bunching of the top of the triangle, as hinted at in the photo below.  These centre neck decreases were intended to be paried with increases at the same spot, in order to ease the “pulling” of the shawl collar.  I have only just realized, however, that it is the reverse side which will show when the collar is turned over, and the reverse side is not nearly so pretty.


Where does this lead me?  At the moment to a stand-off.  I am thinking about it way more than I should be given all of the other demands on my time.  I am now debating ripping out the upper edging, and starting it over.  This time I would pick up fewer stitches (although still more than the pattern calls for) and move the shoulders out to the very edges of the triangle.  I will probably also forego the centre decreases, or maybe just make fewer of them, decreasing 8 stitches instead of 24.  On the other hand, I have great faith in the miracle of blocking – and looking at these photos I think maybe I am being too picky.

I am determined to get this to work, partly out of sheer stubborness, and partly because I think the design is beautiful and would complement my wardrobe.  Stay tuned for further episodes of the Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles.


Escher in progress

Now that I am no longer distracted by the lovely golden Gossamer pullover, I have gone back to knitting Escher.


I had stopped midway across the back centerpiece of this cardigan jacket, which is essentially a long rectangle with curved edges, and a triangle in the center shaped from short rows.  (Yes, it’s kind of hard to describe.)  This is close to where I stopped before:


And this is what it looks like today:


I have to say – I have no idea what this will end up looking like on and whether or not it will fit, but I am completely blown away by its construction!  It is a piece of knitting genius!  (Hopefully, I will still think this when I have finished it and tried it on.)  This is one of those designs where you can read the pattern many times, yet it doesn’t make a lick of sense until you are doing it, and then it suddenly emerges from confusion.


The cardigan was designed by the ultra-talented Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed and published in Wool People 8.  I try to envision how she designed it; I imagine her cutting up pattern paper and folding and twisting it like origami.  For those who’ve forgotten, or are new to these pages, this is what the finished piece is supposed to look like:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I would not recommend this for a beginning knitter due to the complicated (but did I say genius?) construction.   It will also put off anyone who doesn’t want to knit miles and miles of ribbing in fingering weight wool.  Believe me – this cardi is 70% ribbing.


Regardless of how it eventually turns out, it is a learning experience, and miles of ribbing notwithstanding, a joy to knit.

Spring Projects

Yesterday was a gorgeous day; the kind of day that said “Spring is here!”  The sun was shining.  There were lambs in the fields.  The outdoor cafes were filled with happy people.  And I got spring yarn in the mail!


This is the yarn that I special ordered weeks ago, in the cold bite of winter, anticipating spring kntting.  It is Merino Silk Fingering by The Uncommon Thread, a blend of 50% wool and 50% silk in the shade called Citrus.  It is mouth-wateringly yummy, sunshine-y and zesty.  It makes me happy.


A few posts ago I was lamenting the fact that I had nothing on my needles; I was on the prowl for some new projects.  Now I have three projects for spring.  Yesterday, Doug photographed all my new yarn just for you.  See how gorgeous and rich the orange is in the sunshine?  The secret is that the wool and the silk take up the dye differently, giving amazing depth to the colour.  And look at the beautiful Rowan Kidsilk Eclipse – I love how sometimes you can see the metallic sparkle and sometimes you can’t.  See the hint of sparkle in the above photo?


And here they are mixing with the heathery grey of the Brooklyn Tweed Loft.  Three pretty yarns, three spring sweaters (all for me)!  So what am I making?  The Loft will be Escher – a lovely lightweight geometric cardigan designed by Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed.  I am knitting it in the same lovely shades of grey  (such a shame this beautiful phrase has been co-opted) as the pattern photo:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I love the above photo; it makes this cardi look so light, soft, cozy and stylish.

I ordered the orange yarn specifically to make Aisance, a beautiful spring cardigan designed by Kirsten Johnstone:

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

I love the idea of knitting this in a bright pop of juicy orange.  The silk blend will give it drape and swing and fluidity.  It’s the perfect cardigan to wear with a pretty summer dress.

What about the Rowan Eclipse?   I’ve been busy this week, knitting away:


I am pretty captivated with the yarn which literally knits up light as air.  It is a chameleon, changing in every light.


But what will it be?  Shhh….it’s a secret!


Knitting, Interrupted

I have just finished up a few intense weeks of work and study in which there was no time for knitting.  I mean that in the broadest sense of the word.  It was for all intents and purposes a period of Knitting, Interrupted.  No knitting, no reading about knitting, no writing about knitting, no daydreaming about knitting.  Even in those moments when I was idle, I was too tired to move, much less knit.  My thanks to all those who left lovely comments on my last post and on Ravelry about my Lightweight Pullover; I was happy to read them.

Despite these past few weeks, I do have some knitting progress to share with you from before my knitting blackout.


As you may recall, I had picked out my next project, the very cute and architectural cardigan called Escher, by Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

As with all projects, the first step was the swatch.  For this sweater, I needed to match a stockinette stitch gauge and a 2×2 ribbing gauge.  I started fooling around with some swatches very late (around midnight) on a Sunday evening.  I remember this because it was Superbowl Sunday, and here in the UK the coverage started around that time.  I also remember it because I had a question about the gauge and I wrote an email to pattern support at Brooklyn Tweed.  When I woke up the next morning, I discovered that my email had been answered within two hours of sending it, ON A SUNDAY, and DURING THE SUPERBOWL.  There is no denying that is exceptionally good service.

My question was: “How can you get the same gauge in rib with a smaller needle, than you get in stockinette with a larger needle?  This seems to me to be physically impossible:  ribbing always draws in the stitch count, even when blocked; knitting it with a smaller needle should make it even tighter.”

The answer was: “The ribbing is blocked more aggressively to achieve the same gauge as the stockinette stitch. The ribbing will be more flattened out than it normally is.”  Message to self:  Be more aggressive.

One of the more interesting features of this cardigan is the triangle at the back which is formed with short rows.  Here is a progress shot as I was starting the triangle:


The short rows are interesting and the way they shape the fabric quite mesmerizing.  It is also pretty fast knitting.  A warning, however:  it is very easy to do the first side of the triangle, but you have to pay attention on the second.  I kept miscounting and had to rip back twice.  Finally, I marked each wrap-and-turn with a removable stitch marker so that I could see where I was.

In the Notebook section of the Brooklyn Tweed website, Jared Flood has a series of interviews with BT designers.  The interview with Alexis Winslow is really interesting and it has a lovely discussion of the design process behind Escher.  Alexis says:

“Escher was definitely a challenge for me. My original design concept didn’t have that beautiful V-shape–it was straight up and down like a stripe. I knitted the sample, and realized that I could achieve a much better fit if the armholes angled downward a bit. I went back to my sketchpad to work out solutions. There were a lot of different ways I could do this, but I decided the central triangle would be the most elegant way to solve this problem.”

from: Designer Conversations: Alexis Winslow; Brooklyn Tweed notebook (link above)

Please check out the interview.  I love that it shows some of Alexis’ sketches of the original design idea for Escher – before she added the triangle to the back.  Alexis has recently written her own post about this design, which you can find here, which has even more info on the design and its development.  She also has photos of it buttoned, which are missing from the Brooklyn Tweed shots.  Anyone interested in the design process or in this lovely garment should read these posts.

Here is the most current progress shot, taken this morning:


I really love the way that the short rows change the direction of the knitting.  It makes the piece very striking and fluid.  I am nearly done with this portion of the cardigan and have come to the realization that two-thirds of this piece is ribbed.  If you don’t like ribbing, this may not be the project for you.  I am going to look at it philosophically: all of that aggressive blocking will help get rid of my frustrations.  First I’ll knit myself into a Zen-state, and then I’ll pin the crap out of it.  More proof of the health benefits of knitting!


Loft in the post

There are few things as cheering as yarn in the post.  Today, I received a package of Brooklyn Tweed Loft yarn in three rustic shades of grey.


I am hours away from finishing my Lightweight Pullover.  Once it’s done, I will have only one – yes, just ONE – project in progress.  That one is the beautiful Exeter jacket which seems to be hibernating at the moment.  I love it, but I don’t feel like knitting it this winter, so I have put it away till next year.  As every knitter knows, it is an imperative to have a new project lined up before you finish with the old.  I simply cannot face the prospect of having no project on the needles. Therefore, I have been wracking my brain for weeks trying to come up with a new project or two.  I finally chose something.  Hence, the Loft:


This beautiful pile of soft, wooly yarn is destined to become this:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

This pattern is called Escher, and is designed by Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed; it appeared in their Wool People volume 8.  I love its unusual, funky construction.  Here is a shot of the back:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

It was a rather compulsive purchase.  I have been considering many other patterns over the past few months.  I have looked at this one a number of times without it ever standing up and shouting “Knit me!”  But a few days ago, I came upon it again and it hit all of the right buttons.  I was looking for a lightweight cardigan that would fit well with my wardrobe.  I didn’t want something too warm as it is unlikely I will finish it before spring.  I wanted something interesting and fun to knit but not overly complicated.  I love the way this is styled in the photographs.  It looks new, stylish, slightly architectural, modern, but still cozy.  I love the soothing greys and the soft wool.


I am so excited to have a new project ready to start!  Let’s just hope I have the fortitude to finish the turtleneck before I cast this on.

I will let you in on a secret: because one project is not enough, I have picked out another one too, which is as different from this one as day from night.  The yarn is being hand-dyed to order and won’t get to me for a while so you will have to be patient.

Hats for Chemo

Recently I’ve spent some time researching hats.  I am not much of a hat knitting type.  I did knit the beautiful Peerie Flooers hat, designed by the talented Kate Davies, which I documented on the blog here.  But other than that, I don’t think I’ve knit many hats.  I vaguely recall a few beanies knit flat in chunky yarn and then sewed together; these I made for various children, and were not pieces of knitted beauty.  But because I am drawn to knitting sweaters, I don’t think too much about knitting hats (or socks or scarves or mittens for that matter).

A few months ago, my friend Maria was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was, in her own words, about to get the “full meal deal” – surgery, chemo and radio.  Maria lives on another continent.  If she lived close by, I would babysit for her daughter and bake treats.  As I live so far away, the only thing that I could think to do was to try to knit her some chemo hats.  I started looking at hat patterns and reading endless forums on the topic.  I found many of the hats that are designed specifically for people to wear during chemo are hats I really don’t like.  Obviously, there are special criteria for chemo hats – they should not be remotely itchy, they should provide good head coverage, etc.  But,  I think that when you are feeling crappy and have lost your hair, that is not the time for a non-stylish hat.  That is the time for a beautiful hat that lifts the spirits and feels good.

Once you start to search, you realize that knitters all over the world are knitting thousands of hats, many of them quite beautiful, to give to mothers, sisters, girl friends, even total strangers, undergoing chemo.  (Lots of chemo hats are knit for children and men as well.  Cancer is an equal opportunity disease.)  One of the more interesting observations I read online, in a Ravelry forum on chemo hats, was from a woman who had undergone chemo twice.  She said that it was important to realize that the recipient was going to wear clothes while wearing their hat.  It seems like a silly thing to say at first, but what she meant is that the hat should fit in with the recipient’s wardrobe.  If you are making this hat for a person who only wears black, do not make a pink hat with flowers, she said; try to make something that suits their style.

While knitting for Maria, I spent time thinking about her. I have a story to tell about her that readers of this blog may appreciate.  Many years ago, when my children were little, Maria spent a summer in Berlin,  doing a residency with a firm there.  She had arranged housing for the summer, but this option fell through shortly after she arrived.  We invited her to come and live with us for the summer.  It was a completely lovely summer and we had many great times together.  Maria always looked good.  I mean always.  Her clothes were so perfectly coordinated.  She had outfits for every occasion.  She always looked stylish.  Everything always matched.  She had arrived at our house with an ordinary suitcase.  How could she always look so good, for a whole summer, living out of a single suitcase?  When I asked her, Maria replied, “Oh, that’s because I make a list in advance of what I will pack.”  “Well,” I replied, “I make lists, too, but I can never seem to pull off a travel wardrobe like you have.”  And then she showed me her list.

Maria pulled out a sketch pad.  In it she had made a list of every single item of clothing, including shoes, jewelry, belts, etc that she packed for the trip.  Following the list were pages and pages of sketches, each sketch showing a complete outfit, with all accessories included, made up of different combinations of items from the list.  One sketch would show Maria in a flowered dress, with a little cardigan and pretty shoes and handbag.  The next would have a pair of trousers, a blouse, and matching shoes, belt and earrings.  I have never seen anything like it.  The list was composed of 2-3 dresses, a skirt or two, 3-4 pairs of trousers, t-shirts, blouses, 3 pairs of shoes, etc; each item was designed to match as many other items as possible.  She must have had a different outfit sketched for each day of the summer.  I have never forgotten it, and never lived up to it.  Every time I pack a bag I aim to be half as successful as Maria, and never manage it.

After a few days of searching hundreds of hat patterns, I hit on the first hat I would make.  It is the Zelda Cloche, designed by Alexis Winslow.  It was published in the Winter 2011 issue of Knitscene.  I picked this because I thought it had great style and panache.  Also, it was fairly close fitting and it came down over the ears.  I think a slouchy or floppy hat would not really suit the chemo triple purpose of keeping the head warm, covering up the loss of hair, and being non-irritating.  Here is a photo of me, modelling it:

I chose to make it out of Quince & Co Lark.  This is a 100% wool yarn, and many would argue against using wool for a chemo hat, but it is a very high quality, extremely soft wool that I thought would hold its stitch definition, respond well to being washed and hung out to dry frequently, and would look nice.  I bought it in Black and Taupe because I think that these colours will suit Maria’s wardrobe.  The hat is very easy to make, with an intuitive pattern.  I took the finished hat to John Lewis and spent an inordinately long time picking out the button.

I wanted to make two hats, and really struggled with the second.  I wanted to make the second with a different yarn.  I couldn’t find any cotton yarns that I was happy with.  I finally settled on the Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino DK.  This is a blend, 55% wool, 33% microfibre and 12% cashmere.  It is machine washable (though not machine dry-able).  I had it in my stash in bright red, but didn’t think this would be a good colour for Maria, especially while undergoing chemo, so I went out and bought some in a dusty blue, almost a grey blue.

Even after picking out the yarn, I had a tough time narrowing down a pattern.  I finally decided on the Odessa hat, designed by Grumperina.  It is a very pretty hat, simple but stylish.  I liked that it was quite different than the Zelda cloche.  I wanted to knit very different hats, so that Maria would have options, or in case one didn’t appeal or feel right.  Leah and I debated for a while about whether to include the beads or not.  I was pretty sure that beads were not a great detail for a hat intended for use during chemo.  Leah maintained that the hat was much lovelier with beads.  I ended up trying it out, knitting a few inches with the beads.  Yes, they looked really pretty, and they stayed on the outside of the hat, so that the inside remained smooth and soft (the Baby Cashmerino is really wonderfully soft).  Leah is modelling the hat in these photos.

The Odessa hat is supposed to take one ball of Baby Cashmerino.  I knitted the hat an inch longer than the pattern called for because I wanted to make sure it provided good cover.  As a result of this, I used up a few yards of yarn from a second ball.  Probably, if you don’t knit in some extra length you won’t need the extra ball, but I would suggest buying one anyway – whether you need it or not, you will knit easier for having it in reserve, and afterwards you can make matching gloves.

If you know of someone undergoing chemo, a knitted gift is very comforting, for the knitter as well as the recipient.  Though hats have an obvious function in this case, a soft shawl or blanket, or cozy socks can be just as nice.