Christmas Cowls 2014

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I knit cowls for both girls this Christmas.

Leah’s is knit from the pattern Cabernet Infinity Scarf by Monika Sirna, in the DK weight cowl version.  I had a skein of the gorgeous Madelinetosh Tosh Merino DK in Candlewick left over from Leah’s Peloponnese sweater.  I ordered an extra two skeins to make this cowl, as per the yardage instructions, but only used two skeins in all (thus leaving me with one skein for…moi!).

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I knit this with a US size 5, which gave it a pretty tight knit.  I imagine that most people would knit it to a bigger gauge, but I liked this look better.  I then blocked it heavily.  It was 7″x36″ pre-block, and I blocked it out to 8″x46″.  Once blocked, the cowl is light and airy, and very soft.  The cables and lace are crisp and clear in this yarn.

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I have wanted to make this cowl for a long time. It is really a striking pattern, particularly in this rich golden hue. It is a bit of a fiddly knit, but is worth the extra effort.   It was clearly a big hit with Leah.  It goes beautifully with her Peloponnese sweater, but also looks good with many other colours.  Leah wears a lot of reds, burgundys, and purples and the gold really shines.

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Emma’s cowl uses the Lowbrow Cowl pattern by Thao Nguyen.  I had two skeins of the lovely Madelinetosh Tosh Merino DK in Venetian left over from Emma’s gorgeous sweater, Venetian Audrey.   I knit this one with a US size 6 needle, and also knit an extra pattern repeat to give the cowl more width; blocked, it measures 8.5″x48″.  I had almost half a skein left over.

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Unfortunately, Emma’s Audrey is across the ocean and couldn’t get in on this photo shoot, but I think they will work well together.  On my Ravelry page, I have named these two the Golden Cowl and the Ruby Cowl, because of the beautiful jewel tones.

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The weather here has been lovely this Christmas; cold but very sunny.  We have gone for many long walks through the countryside.  The winter sun gives beautiful light.  This, of course, gives many opportunities for photo shoots.

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My family are surprisingly good at indulging me and this blog.  Yesterday, Doug and the girls went into London for the day.   They dutifully took many cowl photos in the British Museum.  Here they are standing in front of the Bronze Gates of Balawat (fragments and replicas of the huge bronze gates of Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) from Balawat).

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Incidentally, Doug was also wearing a hand-knit cowl.  I knit this one a few years ago for myself but it looks better on Doug so its his now. (Its just Malabrigo Worsted held double knit in seed stitch).

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Happy New Year to all of you from all of us.  I am heading off now to drink home-made eggnog and watch Dinner for One (if you don’t know, ask a German!).

Edited to correct yarn used for Lowbrow cowl.

A smidgeon of knitting

A smidgeon of knitting.  It has a ring to it.  Perhaps like an unkindness of ravens?  A murmuration of starlings? A bevy of beauties?  An absence of waiters?  A prey of lawyers?  Perhaps not.  But when I think of this month, I definitely come up with a smidgeon of knitting.  The rest of the knitting world seems to be on fire this month, but I am moving at a snail’s pace.

IMG_5936I have managed to finish the sleeves on Emma’s Venetian Audrey.  The sleeves are endless tubes of ribbing knit on DPNs.   I hate knitting sleeves.  I especially hate knitting sleeves in the round.  And I especially, especially hate knitting the second sleeve.  These sleeves also seem extra long, but before she left Emma said “Make sure you make the sleeves long enough.  The sleeves on your Audrey are inches too short on me.”  Here is a shot showing the pieces of Emma’s Audrey on top of my finished Audrey.

IMG_5943It looks impossibly skinny but you have to remember that mine has been blocked and washed and worn countless times and the ribs have relaxed.  Notice, Emma, the sleeves are really long.  Promise.  We had a hard time getting the colours to look right with the lighting today.  Here is a better shot:

IMG_5941Why is there a bowl of chili peppers in my knitting shot?  Because they are pretty, that’s why!  See?

IMG_5938While I am busy writing this post, Doug is in the kitchen whipping up a batch of Thai green curry paste, using these lovely chillies.  We will have butternut squash and eggplant curry for dinner (following this recipe more or less; try it – it’s great).  We are using the last of the lime leaves and curry leaves and black peppercorns that Doug brought back from his last trip to Malaysia. Luckily, he is going again this week and can refill our larder.

In addition to the endless sleeve knitting, I have also managed a bit of scarf knitting on my February scarf.

IMG_5928This is fun to knit and the Quince & Co Osprey is perfect, soft and wooly.  It is going to make a lovely scarf.  Hopefully, I willl manage to finish it while there is still cold weather to wear it in.

IMG_5929The scarf may have to compete for my affections, however.  Look what I just received in the mail:

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Yes, dear readers, this is a great, giant bowl filled with Shelter yarn from Brooklyn Tweed. (A meringue of Shelter?  A cauldron of Shelter?  A shedload of Shelter?) Fourteen fabulous skeins of Shelter in the colour ‘fossil’.  I have never used Shelter before, but have finally been coerced into buying it, by the unbelievably beautiful designs that Jared and his team of great designers keep turning out.

What do I plan to knit with this?  The Exeter Jacket, designed by Michelle Wang for Brooklyn Tweed Spring Thaw:

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

This is a completely gorgeous double-breasted cabled jacket, but you cannot appreciate it until you see the back:

copyright Jared Flood/ Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/ Brooklyn Tweed

Be still my heart!  As you can see, I will have to get a move on and turn my smidgeon  into a banquet of knitting.

A possibly boring post about sleeves

It has finally gotten cold in England.  There may even be snow on the way.  What does your friendly knitting mom do on a freezing cold afternoon?  Why, make her daughter stand in the cold in a T-shirt modelling a knitted sleeve. To add insult to injury, the sleeve is for her sister’s sweater.  Here is Leah, shivering but being a good sport modelling the sleeve for the Venetian Audrey sweater:

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You might recall that Audrey is designed by Kim Hargreaves to be knit flat. I decided to re-write  the pattern to (1) knit it in the round, and (2) re-size it for an XS as the pattern directions had too much ease.   I described my reasoning behind both of these in this post.   It was fairly easy to re-write the sweater body.  The written pattern calls for 96 stitches to be cast on for a size small.  I cast on twice this number, or 192, joined in the round, and knit in K2P2 rib (starting with K1, P2, K2, and ending with a K1; this keeps a K2 rib up the center sides).  I already said that the pattern had too much ease, so why did I start with so many stitches?  Well, despite the fact that Emma is very thin, she is also quite curvy and has hips.  I also hate sweaters that are too clingy on the hips.  For Emma’s figure, I want the sweater to be fairly loose on the hips and then to pull in quite dramatically for her waist.  (I used to be shaped exactly the same about 30 years ago!)

Bear with me now as we delve into technical detail.  The pattern calls for 4 sets of double decreases, each decrease being made about 4″ in from the side seams.  When knit in the round, this means 8 stitches decreased on each decrease row for a total of 32 stitches decreased.  I made 7 sets of decreases for a total of 56 stitches decreased, to 136 stitches (68 each side).  The pattern calls for 74 stitches at the waist for an XS and 80 for a S.  So, I have now decreased from a size S at the hips, to 6 stitches less (per side) than the XS.  The bust increases are single, rather than double, increases so each increase row adds 4 stitches when knitting in the round.  As the shaping disrupts the K2P2 pattern, and the aim is to end up with the pattern intact, you must make sure that after your increases are complete you have K2P2 all the way around.  I made 6 sets of increases, to end up with 160 stitches (80 each side).

OK, that takes care of the body, but what to do with the sleeves?  I want to knit them in the round, but this means I need to make some decisions about how to incorporate the increases into the pattern.  In the original pattern, increases are made at the edges, and then the sleeves are sewn together.  My first issue is how many stitches to cast on.  The pattern calls for 56.  I know I need less; for the body I was knitting at a ratio of about 8:9 for the size XS (thus, I had roughly 8 stitches on the needle for every 9 stitches in the XS).  Looking at the pattern, however, I think that the sleeves are designed too wide in proportion to the rest of the sweater.  First, this is because there is no difference in the pattern between the size S sleeve and the size XS.   Second, you can see it in the photo from Rowan 35, where the pattern is published:

theknittinggarden.com-audrey-lgI think that these sleeves look really baggy, so I want to cut back on the number of stitches even more than my 8:9 ratio.  The pattern calls for 56 stitches to be cast on, and I cast on 43.  Why an odd number?  Well, I decided to have a purl stitch running up the center sleeve, and to increase on either side of this stitch, incorporating increases into the K2P2 ribbing pattern.  The increases look like this:

IMG_5841I think it looks kind of interesting, and though I don’t have a good photo to compare with (since my Audrey is knit in black yarn and thus hard to show these kind of details) it looks a lot less messy than the seam on mine.  Here is a close-up:

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I increased 8 times, at 2″ intervals for a total of 59 stitches.  My goal was to knit it 2″ longer than the sleeves on my Audrey pullover because Emma has longer arms.  I thought I had done that, but as you can tell from the photos, once it is on it stretches horizontally and this makes it shorter.  This sleeve is not yet long enough for Leah so I have to make it longer still to fit Emma.  I won’t make any more increases, however, as I would have to add 4 more sets of increases to keep the rib in pattern.

It took me an entire week to make this sleeve (egads!), mostly because I kept second guessing myself and measuring and remeasuring and contemplating. Now that I have it all figured out, I hope to turn out the second sleeve fairly quickly.

Rowan runs big

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I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  Rowan patterns run big.  Rowan produces beautiful knitting pattern books with high production values – thick, glossy paper, full page photos, interesting backgrounds, beautiful colours.  They have a stable of fabulous designers who consistently turn out lovely garments.  They have a sense of colour, and of colour playfulness, that can’t be beat. The patterns all use Rowan yarn (of course) which I love and use frequently.   I buy every issue and collect them; I pour over them again and again.  I have knit many of their designs.

That said, there are some things that drive me crazy about Rowan.  They are not big on charting; though they seem to be getting better at this, there are quite a few patterns which I wanted to knit and decided not to, simply because there were no charts provided.  A lot of their patterns seem unnecessarily fiddly, and the construction unnecessarily complicated.  I recommend reading the entire pattern, and then think each step through carefully; don’t be afraid to rework the construction method.  Remember that a good knitter can think of a pattern as a recipe.  It won’t kill the brownies to add a little rum and go light on the sugar; and you might come up with something delicious.  This same philosophy should apply to your knitting.

The most serious problem with Rowan patterns, however, is the vast  amount of positive ease they write into every garment.  I tried knitting a Rowan sweater for Doug a few years ago.  It had about 10″ of ease written in.  I know that men like to have room in their sweaters, but that is ridiculous.  I purposely knit down a size, and then ripped out and knit down a further size, and finally gave up all together with a partially finished garment that was huge.

Why am I writing this rant about too much ease in Rowan patterns?  Well, the answer lies in Emma’s sweater dilemma.  Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have been trying for quite a long time to find the perfect sweater pattern to knit for Emma.  We picked out the yarn ages ago (Madelinetosh Tosh DK in Venetian) but have not been able to settle on a pattern.  I wrote a post here, where I talked about a number of the pattern options being considered.  I was anxious to settle on a pattern before Emma arrived home for the holidays.  She was only home for 12 days, and I thought that if I had a pattern picked out and swatched in advance, I could just about finish it in 12 days (if I really pushed it).  But Emma and I could not find THE pattern,  the one that screamed “I was made to be knit in Tosh DK Venetian for Emma!”

Every day, I would throw out pattern ideas to Emma, and each one would be rejected.  On Boxing Day, I suddenly, for no reason that I can recall, said to Emma “We should just knit another Audrey.”  And we both stared at each other, knowing instantly that Audrey was IT – the absolutely perfect sweater, both for this yarn and for Emma.  Audrey was designed by Kim Hargreaves for Rowan 35.  I knit one for myself in the fall of 2009 in black in Rowan Calmer, a cotton blend.  I wrote a post last January about how versatile Audrey is; in the post, Emma, Leah and I all model my Audrey sweater.  My point was that even though we each have different shapes and styles, the sweater suited each of us.  Because the entire sweater is knit in 2×2 ribbing, it has amazing give and is very stretchy – thus, Emma can look good in my sweater.  However, as soon as I said it, I could imagine how much better Emma would look in an Audrey that had actually been knit for her, in her size, designed for her shape.  And a quick swatch of the Tosh DK in 2×2 rib showed up its fabulousness in every way.  Lush.  This yarn is lush.

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Looking over the pattern again, I struggled to find any reason why it should be knit in pieces and seamed.  Now, the fact is that unlike many thousands of rather vociferous knitters, I actually enjoy knitting in pieces, and seaming.  I think that in many sweaters (dare I say most sweaters?) the shoulders and sleeves look infinitely better if the sweater has been seamed.  I know that it is all the rave to knit in one piece, usually top down, and I can see all the advantages of this, but the primary disadvantage is usually lack of proper fit in the shoulder and underarm and arm scythe.  However, there are some styles of sweater for which knitting in one piece, with a yoke, is the obvious way to go.  Audrey seems to me to be a clear candidate to knit this way.  So, the first thing I did was to rewrite the pattern to be knit in the round, bottom-up.

The second problem with the pattern is the sizing.  Repeat after me: Rowan runs big.  The smallest size for Audrey is an XS, which is listed as a size 32.  Remember that this sweater is knit in rib, and that ribbing needs negative ease.  This should be obvious.  Ribbing, especially 2×2 ribbing, normally pulls in, producing a thick, cushy fabric.  When it is on the body, you want it to be stretched out enough to give the rib definition – you should be able to see each rib articulated.  See in the top photo below, how narrow the sweater looks; it is the width of my hand at the waist.  But, as you can see in the second photo, when it is worn the ribs will stretch out and become articulated.  They will pop. Ribbing gives an architectural interest to your sweater.  If you don’t put enough negative ease into the garment, the ribs won’t pop – and you might as well be knitting in stockinette stitch.

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Looking back at my project notes, I can see that I knit down a size for my Audrey, because I knew that Rowan runs big.  I knit a size M, which gave me 2″ of negative ease.  I can also see from my notes that I fretted the whole time about whether it would fit, because it looks tiny as it comes off the needles.  (Note that this problem magically disappears when you knit in the round; I had Emma try this on repeatedly – I know the body fits her perfectly.)

Given all this, imagine my astonishment to look at the schematics for the sweater and see that the XS, which is designed for a 32″ bust, actually has 2″ of positive ease written into the pattern (that is, it is designed for a 34″ circumference around the bust).   Thus, it is clear that the XS size in the Audrey pattern, the smallest size it is written in, is a good two sizes too big for Emma.  What this all means is that I am rewriting the entire pattern, first to knit it in the round, and second to resize it appropriately for an XS.

There was a chance that I could have finished it for Emma while she was home – if I had had the Audrey Eureka Moment in early December.  As it was, I had only 7 days to work on it before I put her on the plane to fly back to Vancouver.  So, I did the best I could – I knit the entire body of the sweater up to the armpits, so I know that this bit at least fits properly.  Then, I took lots of measurements.  I also had Emma try on my Audrey and took measurements on it.  For Emma’s sweater, I am obviously making it a lot narrower, to fit her narrower torso, but also, Emma is taller than I am, so I will be adding an inch to the length and at least two inches to the arms.  Plus, Emma wants it to definitely be an off-the-shoulder garment, so I will knit the yoke an inch shorter.

I am a little nervous about reworking all of the math, and fitting it, without her here to try it on.  It is easy to properly fit a garment when you have your model near to hand and can torture them by having them try it on every inch or so.  In this case, I will have to rely on my judgement and my tape measure, and then ship it to her with fingers crossed.