A flash of purple

Today I have an FO to show you (that is knitspeak for Finished Object).  These photos are of my younger daughter Leah wearing her Flash of Purple sweater.  This is a customized version of Wendy Bernard’s pattern for the Backwards Cabled Pullover from her book, Custom Knits.   I am really pleased with this sweater, which fits wonderfully and really suits Leah.

The best thing about this sweater is that it was a truly collaborative project right from the start. Leah and I spent hours discussing just what kind of sweater she wanted and talking about all of the design features it should have.  When Leah saw the Madelinetosh Pashmina yarn in this colour, Flashdance, she was sold instantly.  Having narrowed down the yarn, we spent hours trolling Ravelry for just the right pattern.  We couldn’t find one that was exactly what we were looking for, but Wendy’s pattern was very close, so we ran with it and modified it as we went.

The main modification I made was to turn the sweater back-to-front (the original has a high neckline and plunging back),  but I also heavily customized the sizing.  The pashmina has a tighter gauge than that specified in the pattern.  The standard way around this type of gauge issue is to knit a larger size (say to knit a size 40 to obtain a size 36).  To do this properly, one must employ math.  Dear reader, math is your friend; it is part of a good knitter’s arsenal of tools.  Do not be afraid of math but wade into it willingly and your sweaters will thank you for it.

Fair warning – the next two paragraphs will be slightly technical; one is allowed to skip them and just look at the photos.  For this pullover, I had two conflicting pressures on the sizing.  On the one hand, I was using a thinner yarn, so I needed to have more stitches on the needles (to knit a larger size than required).  On the other, we were after a clingy sweater, a 50s sweater girl kind of look.  This means that I needed to build in a lot of negative ease.  For the uninitiated, ease refers to the fit of your garment.  Say that you have a chest measurement of 36″.  If your sweater has a chest measurement of 36″, then that sweater is said to have zero ease.  If the sweater measures 38″ you have two inches of positive ease and if it measures 34″ you have two inches of negative ease.  In order to knit a garment that you are happy with, you have to understand ease, and also know what kind of fit you are aiming for.  You also need to know your yarn and your stitch pattern, so that you know how stretchy they are, and how much they will give after washing.  This is why it is so important to knit a reasonable sized swatch and to wash it before knitting a garment.

For this sweater, the thinner yarn meant I needed to knit a larger size, but the negative ease meant that I needed to knit a smaller size.  I ended up doing a completely customized sizing, deciding that in order to get an extra small, I needed to knit something between a small and medium.  So, I redid all of the figures, and made sure that Leah tried it on every 2″ or so, just to make sure.  This method requires both math and a lot of trial and error.  I reported in an earlier post that I had originally made the arm opening too shallow and had to rip out quite a few inches and redo part of the yoke.  I also knit 3 sleeves for this pullover.  The first sleeve was too tight on Leah, so I ripped it out and knit it again, making fewer decreases (I decreased at rounds 10, 20, 30, and 40 and then knit to 6″ before knitting the cuffs).  The finished garment has 4.5″ of negative ease.

I would highly recommend this pattern, and indeed the whole book.  I have previously knit one of the other sweaters from this book, Ingenue, and it is a lovely sweater that gets worn all of the time.  Wendy’s whole approach to knitting is to encourage people to customize their knits, and I really like that.  She has a brand new book out by the way, Custom Knits Accessories; I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet but I would bet that it’s great.

Would I recommend Madelintosh yarn again?  Perhaps this will answer the question best:

Emma and I went into London yesterday, and spent some time in Loop, a wonderful yarn shop in Islington in the Camden Passage.  I had just finished knitting Leah’s sweater and went to Loop armed with a list of seven sweaters that I was considering making for myself and their yarn requirements.  Emma saw the above Madelinetosh DK in Venetian and fell in love. It is hard to capture the richness of the colour which is a very deep red with black undertones.  I bought a sweater’s worth which is destined for Emma.  And the seven sweaters for me?  Maybe next time.

Desert Knitting

We are still enjoying a holiday in the American southwest, soaking up the hot desert sun.  In my last post, we were touring through the Joshua Tree National Forest in California, which is the southernmost stretch of the Mojave Desert.  A few days later, we were driving the Apache Trail in Arizona.  The Apache Trail is an amazing unpaved road, that twists and turns with hairpin curves through the Tonto National Forest, which is in the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert.  It has some of the most spectacular desert scenery imaginable.  How is this for a knitting spot?

The Apache Trail was built in the early part of the 20th century to allow access for the vehicles and labour trucked in to build the Roosevelt Dam.  The dam resulted in a string of finger lakes that cut through the high, dry mountainous desert.  Teddy Roosevelt said the following about the Apache Trail:

The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the Glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have.  To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.

I have to say that Teddy wasn’t exaggerating.  This trip is really special.

Since finishing Brick, I have been working steadily on a new sweater for Leah.  It is knit in Madelinetosh pashmina in the colour Flashdance, a lovely mix of purples and blues, with streaks of greys and pinks.  Leah wanted a close-fitting short-sleeved pullover with a deep, square neckline.  We spent weeks searching through the Ravelry databanks for a pattern we liked.  We settled on the Backwards Cabled Pullover by Wendy Bernard, from her book Custom Knits.  I already owned the book, having previously made the Ingenue sweater from the book, also for Leah.

The sweater pattern calls for a plunging back, and has a high neck in front, like this:

Leah requested we flip it around, and have the deep square-cut neck in the front.  Any knitter with some experience can alter patterns to suit their own needs, thus using the pattern more as a template than an exact blueprint.  One of the nice things about Wendy’s book is that she anticipates this, and gives lots of suggestions for ways to alter the patterns, as well as encouragement to knitters who haven’t done much in the way of alterations.

I have spent the week knitting my Flash of Purple sweater in many desert locales: on the Apache Trail, in the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, while driving through the Saguaro National Forest, in the Desert Museum in Tucson (a wonderful spot).  Just to demonstrate a little knitting craziness, here is a photo of me knitting on a bench in the Desert Museum.  Why is this crazy?  It was 95F (35C) at the time.  (Man, do I love the desert!  Especially since I couldn’t help but notice that it was about 10C and raining in England all week.)

Besides flipping the sweater from front to back, I have been reworking all of the math.  This is for two reasons: first, because the Pashmina has a tighter gauge than the specified yarn, and second, because I always have to rework the math in top-down raglans (or any raglan for that matter).  This is because I can never, ever get the specified row gauge.  My stitches are shorter than most, I guess, because if I am on target with the stitch gauge, I am always off on the row gauge.  As an example, if the gauge is 20 stitches and 30 rows, I will invariable hit 20 stitches and 34-36 rows.  This can be death to a raglan; thus, a lot of fiddling with the math ensues.

With this particular sweater, I fiddled it wrong the first time.  I had it knit to about 4 inches below where I separated off for the sleeves, when I had Leah try it on and discovered that the sleeve openings were too tight and too high.  So, yesterday morning I ripped back (sigh) and then spent a lovely day, sitting on the front porch of a friend’s house in the Tucson foothills, staring out at the desert, and reknitting.  I am almost back to where I was before ripping.

Just because I can’t resist, here are a couple more photos of Joshua Tree (sans Brick).

And lest you think that we have been ignoring our blog while on holiday, I will let you in on a secret.  Emma has been busy photographing like mad the entire trip, for an upcoming series of posts on the blog featuring knits made by my mother and grandmother in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Be sure to stay tuned, as the Southwestern theme continues!  And remember folks: