Five countries, three continents, one cardigan!

I have been holding off showing photos of the cardigan I knit for Leah until it actually arrived in Canada.  It is taking forever to get there, however, so here we go.  Unfortunately, Leah is not around to model it (thus the need to ship it to Canada), so I have had to model it myself.


I started knitting this cardigan in England when the girls came home for a short break.  I knit most of the back piece in Sicily where we had a great holiday (see the photo below of me knitting it on the lawn of the beautiful villa we holidayed in).  I knit one front in my hotel in Malaysia, where I had traveled to do some teaching for the business school.  I knit part of the other front in Singapore, where I met up with my friend Erun for some fun.  I knit the sleeves back home in England.  I took it with me to Johannesburg, where I was again doing some teaching for the business school.  I did some of the finishing there, knitting the neck and one of the button bands.  And then I finished it back home again in England, where I agonized over button bands and general finishing issues.  FIVE COUNTRIES, THREE CONTINENTS, ONE CARDIGAN!


I used a pattern from Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter, with the not very romantic name of Squared Cardigan.  I had purchased 4 skeins of Madelinetosh Pashmina in the colour Plunge, but only needed three to make the cardigan!  (I used every bit of those three skeins.)  I made a few modifications.  First, following Amy’s advice in the book on options for bust shaping, I ended up knitting the two front pieces in a size larger than the back. This gives extra room for the bust and belly without making the cardigan too big across the back and shoulders.  I think this was a good choice.  I won’t really be able to tell until Leah gets to try it on.  I am modelling it here, and Leah and I are close in size, but she is broader in the bust and shorter in the waist than I am.


I also changed the neckline.  Amy’s pattern has a rolled neck, but I put in three rows of seed stitch instead.  Other than these small mods, I knit the pattern as written (how unlike me!).


My biggest problems were with the finishing.  I really struggled with the button bands (as documented here).   I decided to sew ribbon to the backs of the button bands and then to use plastic snap fasteners; the buttons are for decorative purposes only.  I’m not entirely happy with this solution.  Doug thinks it would be better with a zipper, and my mom suggested keeping the decorative buttons, but adding hook-and-eye fasteners (instead of the snaps).  Both of these solutions would be good, probably better than what I ended up doing; but honestly, I was so tired of being undecided and wishy-washy and just wanted to get the thing finished and put it in the post.


One of the things that makes this cardigan distinctive is the textured pattern on the cuffs and waistband and the way that it curves.  I found this to be very fiddly.  I think that it looks pretty but I don’t feel it was worth the time and effort.  If I made this again, I would just put in ribbing, or better yet, seed stitch.


The yarn is beautiful, but I did feel that there was a big colour difference between some of the skeins; in particular, the back is a noticeably different shade than the fronts and sleeves.  I could have fixed this by alternating skeins, but I really didn’t want to do that, especially since I was lugging this thing around the world with me and knitting it on planes and in airports.  I also worry that the yarn has too much drape for this cardigan.  If I were to knit it again, I would use a yarn with more wool content and less silk.  I would also make the neckline higher by an inch or two.


So, the conclusion is mixed.  I think it is very pretty; the yarn is lustrous, and the buttons and ribbon are a perfect match.  But, I have some niggling issues with the finishing.  I think, for me, I will chalk it up as a learning experience.  Hopefully, for Leah, it will be a lovely summer dressing option and will get lots of wear.


On picking up stitches left-handed and the button band blues

I have just returned from a quick trip to South Africa, where I was teaching in Johannesburg.  As always, I put considerable thought into which knitting project(s) to take with me; unfortunately on this trip I was too busy to get much done.  (I also didn’t knit on the plane, despite having my knitting with me!)  I always put a lot of effort into my teaching and it left me tired out at the end of the day.

I did, however, work on the button bands of the lovely spring cardigan I am making for Leah (see here for more details).  And thus begins a tale of button band blues.  Warning: Those of you who have no interest in the technicalities of knitting and only read this for the pretty photos, you may wish to stop reading right now before your eyes glaze over.  For the rest of you, you may recall that the cardigan (designed by Amy Herzog) has a very pretty textured panel on the waistband and cuffs.  You can see the edging in the below photo:


This pattern is made with an 8-row repeat.  There are twisted stitches on rows 1 and 5.  The instructions for the button band say to pick up and knit stitches along the front edge and then to knit in pattern beginning with Row 2.  I thought about this awhile: why would she begin with Row 2?  I decided that this was because Row 1 involved twisting every other pair of stitches.  Perhaps, I speculated, twisting stitches on the first row would draw in the fabric along the edge of the button band and result in an uneven and non-stretchy edge. That makes sense, no?  So, I duly picked up the requisite amount of stitches and started knitting the button band.  After a few rows, I actually paid attention to what I was doing and realized that I was knitting it backwards: the pattern right-side rows were being knit on the wrong side of the garment.

I realized that this was due to the way that I pick up stitches.  The pattern asks that you hold the garment with the right side facing you, and then, starting at the right edge, pick up and knit across to the left edge.   (This is a fairly standard instruction.)  This means that the very next row will be on the wrong side of the fabric.  With this 8-row repeat, Rows 1, 3, 5, and 7 are on the right side (RS) and Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8 on the wrong side (WS).  Since the first row to be knitted after the pick-up row is on the wrong side, Herzog starts the pattern with Row 2.  This makes perfect sense if that is how you pick up stitches. However, this is not how I pick up stitches.

I am not sure how I learned to pick up stitches along an edge.  Perhaps my grandmother or mother taught me, perhaps I taught myself using trial and error and intuition.  However, although I mostly knit in a right-handed fashion, despite being left-handed,  I absolutely cannot pick up stitches with my right hand.  Furthermore, I have never executed a “pick up and knit”, but rather just “pick up” stitches.  I do this by holding the right side of the fabric facing me, and start from the left-hand edge.  I wrap the yarn around my right index finger, and then simply insert the tip of the needle into the fabric, pick up the yarn, and bring it through.  I have made a little video to show you what I do:

I have always picked up stitches this way.  I don’t know whether others do it like this or not.  It works for me.  Once I realized that this is not the standard method, I tried really hard to pick up and knit with my right hand moving across the edge from right to left.  I failed miserably, and really my method works well for me; why should I quit?  There is a problem with this, however – the very next row after picking up the stitches is on the right side of the fabric, not the wrong side.

So, I ripped out the button band, and decided to start with Row 1 since I was starting on the right side of the fabric.  But now, I thought, there was a potential problem – Row 1 has twisted stitches.  You see, I had convinced myself that Herzog started with Row 2 in order to avoid having twisted stitches all the way across the first row of the button band.  Even though I now realized that she started on Row 2 because in fact she needed to start with a WS row, I didn’t re-think this misconception.  As a result, I started the button band again with a Row 1, but without twisting the stitches (thus with a K2P2).  This really didn’t look right to me.  But I convinced myself that starting with twisted stitches would be wrong so I kept going, while slowing down more and more as I stopped to frown at the button band frequently.  This is what it looked like:


I tried very hard to convince myself that no one would notice this on a button band.  However, my perfectionist came to the fore and I couldn’t bear it, so I ripped it out (again!) and started over with a proper Row 1, including the twists.  The result is very subtle, but, to me at least, made a big difference in the feel of the piece.  Here is a close-up without the twists:


and here is the corrected band with the twists:


Much happier now, I continued to knit the button band.  I did this while watching an amazing tennis match being played at Wimbledon (on the telly, of course).  This was the finals of the Men’s Wheelchair Doubles, in which Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett eventually managed to win the title against Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer.  It was a beautiful tennis match, in which all four players displayed incredible athleticism.  It was both lovely to watch and a nail-biter as both pairs were in contention throughout.  At the end of the match, I looked down and discovered that on Row 5 (quite a few rows down at this point) I had twisted all of the stitches the wrong way.  So, once again, I had to rip.

The button-hole band started out much better.  I had to do some math-fu to get the button holes evenly spaced, and had to pay quite a bit of attention on the buttonholes themselves (Herzog uses Barbara Walker’s one-row button hole method, which has always been my favorite, even if it is quite fiddly).  I finished the band, and cast it off, and only then realized that half way through the band, I had twisted all of the stitches on the fist half of a twist row and not twisted them on the second half!  Rip!  Groan!  Clearly a glass of wine is in order!  And a good book!  Or maybe a lobotomy!

I am now happy to say that the button bands are done.  I managed to knit the back, both fronts and both sleeves of this cardigan without ever tripping up on the edging.  Why now when the end is in sight?  This is definitely a case of button band blues.


Summer cardi

The observant reader may have noticed a few photos in recent posts of me knitting something new.  In case you didn’t pick up on that, here is another gratuitous photo of me knitting while on holiday in Sicily:


I finished up my Gold Shawl some weeks ago and had nothing lined up to take its place. Coincidentally, I finished it the evening before the girls arrived home for a holiday.  I decided that next on my list would be a sweater for Leah.  The problem was picking a pattern.  I knew some of the things I was looking for:

  1. I wanted a summer cardigan.
  2. I did not want a shapeless cardigan; it needed to have structure and preferably be knit in pieces and seamed.
  3. I wanted to knit with a lovely, smooth, drapey, silky yarn (I was suffering from mohair overdrive).
  4. I wanted something cute; a wear-with-a-pretty-dress cardigan.
  5. Buttons would be good.  And short sleeves.  And an interesting neckline – maybe square and a bit low.
  6. Most important of all, I wanted it to be a style which would suit Leah’s figure.

This last was the tricky part.  Leah is very curvy, and short-waisted.  She is not particularly tall.  I wanted a cardi that would fit over her curves at hip and bust, but not be too big in the back and at the shoulders.  I spent a long time scouring Ravelry looking for a pattern that would fit the bill.

Eventually, it occurred to me to look at an actual print book.  I have an entire bookcase just devoted to knitting and pattern books.  I used to spend forever pouring through them. Somehow I have gotten out of the habit and do almost all of my pattern searching online. This is a shame, as I have some very good resources.  (And it’s fun, too!)

I looked through Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter, because she is one of the people in the industry who really thinks about matching patterns to your body shape.  And there I found what I felt was the perfect pattern, with the (very creative) name Squared Cardigan:


It has really lovely, simple features.  I think it will be a very flattering shape on Leah.


While I am a fan of brown, I thought this cardi needed a pop of a sweet, summer colour.  I settled on a very pretty shade of Madelinetosh called Plunge.  Just the name of the colour makes me happy.  The yarn is Madelinetosh Pashmina, a beautiful blend of Merino, Silk and Cashmere.


I am enjoying knitting this up.  It seems to be flying along, and the Pashmina feels really good in the hands.  I finished the back while in Sicily, knit up the left front in Malaysia, and just finished up the right front while back home in England.


Unfortunately, Leah left on Sunday, so this one will have to be put in the post once I’m done.  I had finished enough of it before she left, however, to ascertain that the fit should be perfect.  Both girls are currently visiting their aunt in the Hamptons; lucky girls!

Pattern, recipe or inspiration?

I have been thinking lately about how we use knitting patterns; they can be used as a pattern, a recipe or an inspiration.  These terms represent points on a continuum and thus can be rather fluid.  Two questions particularly interest me:

  1. What are the boundaries or tipping points?  For example, when does a pattern become an inspiration?  How much do you have to personalize a pattern before it becomes something else?
  2. How does one appropriately attribute those projects that fall on the boundaries?

Part of the reason I am thinking about this now is because of the project I am currently working on.  I am knitting a turtleneck pullover with Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in Tart.  I usually start a project by picking a pattern that appeals and then finding the yarn.  In this case, I started with the yarn – 4 skeins of the Tart – and a gap in my wardrobe.  Specifically, because I’ve put on some weight, all of my pullovers are too tight and too short.  I wanted a pullover that fit properly and that could be dressed up or down.  I wanted it to look good at the office with a pencil skirt or out hiking with my jeans and boots.  I spent some time (I will admit – I spent a lot of time) pouring over patterns and finally came up with the Lightweight Pullover by Hannah Fettig.  Here is the pattern photo:

copyright Quince & Co

copyright Quince & Co

It’s hard to tell from the photo but the waistband is ribbed as are the sleeve cuffs.  I am not quite finished with mine – the body is knit but one sleeve is about half done, and the other about a third done.  If you look at the most current progress photo below, you can see that mine doesn’t really look that much like the pattern photo.


Part of this is for obvious reasons – mine has less ease, more fitted sleeves, is longer, and the waistband is in seed stitch instead of rib.  The choice of yarn also changes the look of the sweater quite a bit – the Madelinetosh Light doesn’t have the halo of the angora blend called for in the pattern.  But as it turns out, the reasons for my pondering have more to do with how I used the pattern – namely, not much at all.

Let me be specific.  I choose the pattern and then I bought the pattern.  I decided which size to knit, looked at the pattern and it said to cast on x-many stitches and knit 9 inches for the turtleneck before starting raglan increases.  I cast on the stitches and knit 9 inches and started raglan increases.  But, here is the crucial bit – since looking at the pattern initially to see how the turtleneck was made, I have not looked at it again.  The truth is that the pattern is for a very basic raglan construction, and I don’t need a pattern to make a raglan sweater.  What I do is try the thing on frequently, look at it critically in the mirror and decide what needs to be done.  Is it the right length to divide off the sleeves?  Do I need more waist decreases?  Where is my natural waist?  Does it flare enough over the hips?  It doesn’t occur to me to check the pattern because I am making it to fit ME and to please ME and I have two eyes and can see how it fits and adjust it accordingly.

I am pretty sure that my sweater is between the sizes offered by the pattern though I haven’t checked.  The seed stitch, too, is an innovation.  When I was knitting the body of the sweater I was in South Africa.  I didn’t bring the pattern with me and had limited access to the internet.  I couldn’t recall what the original pattern looked like, but decided that I would make a turned hem because I wanted a neater, more professional look for the sweater – so that it had a bit more polish, like a blouse.  After agonizing over it for a while, I decided to knit an inch or two of seed stitch as an experiment and see what I thought.  As it turns out, I liked it so it stayed.  (Now that I’ve seen the progress photos, I’m thinking of going back and adding another inch of seed stitch at the hips.)

Hannah Fettig is a very popular designer whose patterns are extremely well-written. Hannah was at the leading end of a recent trend towards finer-gauged yarns in sweaters.  She has a perfect eye and many of her designs are on my wish list.  Some of them are very unique and clever, and others are extremely well-executed classics.  This one falls into the latter category and is why I felt confident doing it my way.

Now let’s look at the question of attribution.  On Ravelry, you link to the pattern page for any pattern you use.  At some point not too long ago, Ravelry realized that many people incorporated certain parts of patterns into a finished piece, or merged two or more patterns into one.  They introduced an option: one can either link to a pattern (thus essentially saying “I knit this pattern”) or one can say that the project “incorporates” a pattern (thus saying “I used bits or pieces of this pattern within another pattern”).  When I started the project entry for my turtleneck, I linked to Hannah’s pattern.  At some point, I started to think that perhaps my project deviates from the original enough to say that it “incorporates” the Lightweight Pullover pattern.  I actually changed the Ravelry entry, changing the Name of the project to “Turtle in Tart” and acknowledging Hannah’s pattern using the “incorporates” option.  I also included notes to outline how I made it, so that someone can replicate it if they wish.   To refer back to the title of this post, I essentially moved it from pattern, to either recipe or inspiration.  I must admit to being undecided about this – I have changed it back and forth a few times in the last few days, and it is likely to end up linked as pattern.

Let’s take another example, which I think contrasts quite well with this one.  In the spring of 2013, I knit the following sweater:



The pattern I used was called Livvy, designed by Tori Gurbisz.  Here is the pattern photo for Tori’s design:


As you can see, I changed this pattern as well.  I detailed all of the changes I made on this blog.   I made it much shorter, put in hems at the hip and cuffs, and made the sweater curvier, with more negative ease built in but also more pairs of waist decreases.  I think that my Livvy looks dramatically different from the pattern – much more so than my Lightweight Pullover looks from its pattern.  In fact, the types of changes I made are very similar in both sweaters – changing the length, the ease, and the sleeve cuffs and bottom edgings.   However, it would never have occurred to me to use an “incorporates” option in Tori’s pattern.  This is partly because Livvy has some very unique features, which I have utilized, which are instantly identifiable as Livvy.   So why have I wavered about the attribution of one and not the other?

On reflection, the underlying difference between these two cases has to do with the math.  To make the Livvy sweater, I used all of Tori’s numbers as a basis for my own calculations.  In knitting the Turtle in Tart, I didn’t use Hannah’s numbers, essentially ignoring all of the math and calculating my own numbers as I knit.  Thus the former “feels” like I followed a pattern and the latter doesn’t. Looking at the photos, you can see that the end results are very similar – a project based on a lovely pattern that has been “tweaked” to fit my curvier body and my style.  The only real difference is whether I used the numbers or not.   But perhaps this distinction is odd or outmoded.  Is it math that makes the pattern?  Or is it vision?  And, if it’s math, does it still “count” the same now that most numbers are generated by software?  I don’t think there is any right answer here.  (I suspect that both math and vision count, though, depending on the sweater, and perhaps on the knitter, one may be more dominant than the other.)   Many knitters are now using Amy Herzog’s CustomFit, in which they can basically input specifics of a pattern they like and it will generate the maths specifically for their body.  The resulting project is usually attributed to both the original pattern and the CustomFit programme.  (CustomFit also generates a selection of “classic” designs to fit.)   To me the important facts for my two projects discussed here are that (1) I paid for both patterns, and (2) I acknowledged both designers.

There are many related issues I haven’t even begun to get into here, and I have been trying to keep to the issue of how patterns are used, and where one draws the line between following a pattern, using it as a recipe, or being inspired by one.  (That said, I recently came across a funny case.  Someone had seen a sweater worn by a certain celebrity baby, and reverse-engineered it.  She then “published” the pattern.  Later, she became incensed that other knitters were knitting the sweater without attributing her pattern.  Someone asked, very reasonably and politely, why she believed that no one else would be able to reverse-engineer it as well.  After all, if she had done it, thousands of other knitters could have as well.  She responded – in an increasingly snippy and clueless way – that there was no need for anyone else to reverse-engineer it because she had already done so! She was completely unable to see that someone else could have knit it without using her pattern, or that someone might not have seen or had access to her pattern.  I must admit to finding the discussion fascinating.)

What do you think?  When is a pattern not a pattern?  Does it matter?  Is anyone else fascinated by these types of questions?  Have I been adversely affected by writing a philosophy grant this week?  Can I use British spelling conventions and still say “math”?  Maybe I should get to work on those sleeves…..

Christmas in April

On Friday, I came home from work to find a pile of packages at the door.  Among them, were these lovely goodies:


A big pile of knitting goodness, which I had ordered from three different sources (in three separate months, no less) which all arrived on the same day.  Furthermore, they all arrived on a cold, grey April day in which snow flurries drifted out my window all day.  Christmas in April?  Most certainly.

I placed an order months ago for five skeins of Plucky Sweater in the scrumptious colour called Kissin’ Valentino.  It was a pre-order, sold as a kit for the sweater pattern Neon, by Joji Locatelli.   This means that you order the yarn before it’s been dyed, and then have to wait for it to arrive on your doorstep.  In this case, that took even longer than anticipated since the yarn was held up first by Customs, and then by the Easter holiday.  I had wavered quite a bit about between red and green for this cardigan, and even once I settled on red, there were a number of different reds available.  Red is always hard to capture properly in a photo, so when you order it from a photo on your computer screen, it can be a gamble.  Well, this gamble paid off.  The colour is smashing:

IMG_6277This yarn is destined for Neon, a beautiful, lacy, summer cardigan:

copyright Joji

copyright Joji

I also received an order of completely lovely Skein yarn.  I ordered this from Loop, in London, who as always were very helpful.  This is Merino Silk Sport, hand dyed 50% Merino, 50% silk in two colourways, Fig and Outlaw:

IMG_6280Isn’t it gorgeous?  I have a great project lined up for this yarn, but as there’s a story behind it, I will keep it a secret for now.  You will have to check back later to see it knit up.  The colours are spectacular, very rich and yet soft at the same time, like an old painting.

I also received a copy of Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter.  I am really looking forward to reading it; I have always admired Amy’s blog.  Perhaps I will post a review of it soon.  In the meantime, I’ve got lots of knitting lined up……