Mom points


It’s been over two weeks since I last published a post.  Is this because I won the lottery and have been Island-shopping in the Carribean?  No, I am afraid the truth is not so interesting (or profitable).  I was busy – with work (boo!) and with Christmas preparations (yay!).  I was experiencing laptop difficulties (boo!) and distracted by Emma coming home (yay!).  The days are short and full of rain (boo!) so there have been no photo opportunities, and I have been perhaps a bit overindulgent with holiday food and wine (yay!) leading to spelling difficulties.  In regards to the last, I have eaten so many New Orleans pralines, I may need to avoid clothes with buttons for weeks.  (Make them!  The recipe is in Joy of Cooking.  You will not be sorry!)

We are enjoying a lovely, peaceful Christmas.  Emma arrived, very jet-lagged, on Friday afternoon.  On Sunday, we spent the day in London which was virtually empty.  Does everyone in London leave to spend Christmas on the coast perhaps, or are Londoners sensibly ensconsed inside for the week, leaving London to outsiders?  We made the all important treks to Monmouth Coffee to stock up on espresso beans, and to Neal’s Yard Dairy to buy a box of cheese (no trip to London should miss Neal’s Yard).  We went to the British Museum late in the day and practically had the place to ourselves (at least by British Museum standards).  I have never before been able to gaze at the Rosetta Stone without filtering it through a stream of tourists.  Doug took photos of entire galleries filled with fabulous antiquities and no people.  Lovely!  We walked across the bridge to South Bank and looked at the gorgeous views of London at night, all misty with rain and blue and purple lights from the Christmas decorations.

On Christmas Eve, the girls put up and decorated the tree (a little late this year) and we baked lots of Christmas cookies.  In addition to the New Orleans pralines, and rolled sugar cookies cut in Christmas shapes and decorated with colored sugar, we always make lots of German Christmas deliacies.  This year, it was Pfeffernüsse – made with tons of spices and rum and candied orange peel, they get better every day – and Kipferln – delicate and almondy and light and flaky.  And, of course, we made pumpkin pies.  We had some old friends join us for a traditional Christmas Eve salmon dinner (my husband is from Vancouver thus making salmon the default celebratory food).  We ended Christmas Eve the way we always do, by listening to Dylan Thomas read A Child’s Christmas in Wales.  I can’t imagine Christmas without it.  The four of us have it memorized of course and all recite whole stretches of it under our breath.  It is the most beautiful poem, and Dylan Thomas reads it so beautifully.  I never think the English language quite so magical as I do when listening to Dylan Thomas.

Yes, yes, I know this is a knitting blog; be patient – there will be knitting momentarily.  Christmas Day and Boxing Day have been spent opening gifts, listening to music, reading books, playing games (the girls beat us twice in a row at Articulate), lots of knitting, sleeping (Emma, who is not only jet-lagged but exhausted from a busy first semester of university, fell asleep at noon on Christmas day and only woke up when we dragged her out of bed for dinner in the evening), cooking, eating and being lazy.  I did, however, manage amidst all of this generalized laziness to get Emma and Leah to jump up during a 5-minute break in the rain, and take sweater photos in the garden, so I could write this post.


Some of you may remember that I was busy knitting a medieval-inspired sweater for Leah, which I blogged about here.  I designed this sweater, with Leah’s input, by combining bits and pieces of a couple of patterns I purchased, with lots of my own math and trial and error.  I was using the basic shape from the pattern Astoria by Marnie MacLean and the fair isle pattern from the mitten design Frank by Lauren Osborne.  Though I mostly followed the Astoria pattern, I ended up redoing most of the calculations.

Leah wanted to wear this sweater for her eighteenth birthday, which was two weeks ago Friday.  Since it needed to be wet blocked, this meant that it had to be finished, washed and blocked before I went to sleep on the preceding Wednesday evening.  That day, I had a very long day at work and didn’t get home until nearly 9pm.  I ate dinner, and then started to knit, not finishing with the knitting until well after midnight.  Then, I had to end off all of the ends, soak and wet block it.  Since I was worried about it not drying on time, I used up six towels getting as much water out as possible.  (I put a towel on the kitchen floor, spread the wet sweater on top very carefully so as not to stretch it anywhere, put another towel on top, and then walk on it, barefoot, squeezing out the water with my feet until the towels are soaked.  Then I repeat with fresh towels.) Picture me, at 2am, after a very, very long day, treading with bare feet on layers of wet towels and sweater in my kitchen.  I had visions of the I Love Lucy episode where she is in the wine vat with her bare feet, stomping on grapes.  Then, while in an I Love Lucy and exhaustion-tinged state of mild hysteria, I carefully blocked it on the living room rug.  I had two thoughts going through my head.  One, I am too old for this.  Two, I better be earning lots of Mom Points for this.

The sweater was finished on time and Leah wore it for her 18th birthday.  The idea behind the design is great, and in certain lights and certain angles after carefully pulling it into configuration, it looks pretty good:

IMG_5714However, it must be honestly said that this is not my best effort.  If fails in some very obvious ways on the fit front.  I can see what needs to be fixed, and have spent lots of time trying to visualize how I can fix it without actually ripping it out and redoing it from scratch.  For example, here is a photo of the back after it has been carefully pulled into shape:

IMG_5728And here is a photo of the back as it looks normally, after a few minutes of wear:

IMG_5731I have to admit that this drives me crazy.  Clearly, the fair isle portion of the pattern had a tighter gauge than the stockinette portion, possible caused by my lack of experience with knitting fair isle.  What I should have done here is to have decreased regularly, every fifth stitch or so, all of the way around on the row under the yellow pattern (it was knit top-down); that would have fixed the buckling.  Instead, I tried to fix it by making more decreases.  What was I thinking?  So, part of me is busy imagining that I could just rip out the bottom portion of the body of the sweater, up to the bottom of the patterned panel, and then re-knit the body and waist.  That would definitely fix the buckle you see in the above photo, but the fact is that there are a number of other fit issues: the sweeping neckline is way too sweeping (imagine it without the turtleneck underneath), the arms don’t fit right (again, this is due to the gauge difference in the stockinette versus fair isle), the patterned panel should be an inch higher on the front and two inches higher at the back (short rows, perhaps?).  I don’t think I will really be happy with this one unless I rip it all out and start again.

On the other hand, Leah has worn it at least 10 times in the last two weeks. She clearly  likes it.  And when the sun hits it (sun? what is this thing, sun?) the colours are fantastic. Perhaps I should chalk it up to a learning experience and stop being such a perfectionist?  Perhaps I should work on making my next sweater fit better instead of knitting this one yet again?

I have other finished projects to report but will leave that to my next post.  In the meantime, I wish all of my readers a peaceful holiday.

Anatomy of a design

My daughter Leah is into medieval history in a big way.  For a long time we have been discussing designing a sweater based on medieval motifs.  Leah and I thought that we had come up with an interesting design for a bottom-up yoked pullover with some Anglo-Saxon text worked across the yoke.  We spent a long time discussing texts, colour schemes, yarn choices, etc.  We also discussed shaping and style.  We had picked out a nice, deep red for the body of the pullover, and planned to make the text in a brown wool on a parchment-coloured background in a circle around the yoke.

As an aside to this discussion, Leah asked me whether we could work a small pattern into the pullover, around the neck and sleeves, in gold and red.  She was inspired by Anglo-Saxon jewellery.

The above piece was buried with an Anglo-Saxon princess over 1300 years ago.  This photo, along with a brief description, is from the BBC, A History of the World – an online archive of objects from the British Museum, which you can find here.  Here is another example, the Canterbury Pendant, also Anglo-Saxon, circa the early 7th century.

This type of cloisonné work, using garnet and gold, was popular in the period.  The above photo, can be found, along with a description of this piece, on the webpages of the World Gold Council, here.  If you run a search for Anglo-Saxon jewellery, or for Early Middle Ages jewellery, you will find many such pieces.

Leah asked if we could try to recreate the look of this technique for a narrow colour band around the neckline and cuffs of the pullover.  We searched for some appropriate yarn.  I wanted to use Cascade 220 for this pullover, and we found what we thought would be the perfect colours, which we ordered from Get Knitted in Bristol (along with the brown and parchment colours for the text planned for the yoke).

As they didn’t have all colours I wanted in stock, I waited a few weeks for the delivery.  (They have very nice customer service, by the way.) In the meantime, I had these pictures of Anglo-Saxon jewellery fermenting in the back of my brain.  One day, while rooting around Ravelry (my favorite occupation), I came upon a pattern for a pair of mittens, called Frank, designed by Lauren Osborne.  The Ravelry link is here.

I don’t know why, but as soon as I saw these, they reminded me of the medieval jewels.  I reasoned that one repeat of the design, knit in gold and red, would have much of the same feel as the jewellery I was trying to replicate.  My yarn arrived, and one night, while Doug and Leah sat watching a movie, I cast on a swatch and knit one pattern repeat from the Frank mitten pattern.

Isn’t that great?  Leah and I both fell in love with it.  It wasn’t, however, appropriate to our original conceptions of the pullover design.  The  cloisonné pattern was intended to form a very narrow ring near the neckline, just to add a bit of colour and flair to the main design element, which was intended to incorporate text from a medieval manuscript. This pattern repeat is 25 rows long, and coupled with the width of the Cascade 220 (a worsted weight wool), the resulting pattern was too wide.

However, the more we looked at it, the more we loved it.  Leah and I decided to put aside the medieval manuscript idea for the moment, and knit a pullover based on this pattern repeat, with the inspiration of the Anglo-Saxon jewellery in our heads.  Now we had a lovely band of colourwork, the yarn, but no sweater design.  The original idea, for a yoked pullover, didn’t mesh with this swatch. (The pattern knit in this wool is about 4 inches wide.  I didn’t see how I could incorporate a 4 inch pattern into a yoke without having decreases as an integral part of the pattern.  Furthermore, I didn’t feel as if the yoke was the appropriate placement for this pattern.)  I was left with two options; one, to design a pullover from scratch to incorporate this pattern, or two, to find a pullover design which I liked, into which I could incorporate this band of colourwork.  Again, Ravelry came to the rescue.

I had a pullover in my queue on Ravelry, which had been there for a very long time, always with the intent to make it some day for Leah.  It is the Astoria pullover designed by Marnie MacLean (Ravelry link here).  Here is a photo:

I love the shape of this and, once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop imagining it in deep red, with the gold and red pattern from the Frank mittens in place of the colourwork band.  Interestingly, just as I cast on for this project, Blair – one of the readers of this blog, who is a fabulous knitter and great blogger, posted her Astoria pullover.  Her blog, Blairistan, is great; go read it.  She and I have such similar tastes in sweaters, it is uncanny.

So began Leah’s Medieval Gems pullover. There ensued a lot of math (some of which will be described in the next post) and some knitting, and some ripping, and some re-knitting (some of which will also be described in the next post).

This was followed by some general admiration and photo-taking:

and also much fitting and refitting:

Since these photos were taken last weekend, I have ripped out and reknit the neckline, and am now considering re-ripping and re-re-knitting the neckline.  I have also knit down to the waist, and am about to rip and re-knit down to the waist, adding more waist decreases.  Despite all of the fiddling, both Leah and I are thrilled with how this one is developing.  This has been the anatomy of a design; stay tuned for the rest of the story.