A tale of two Falkenbergs

A year ago today, my first post on this blog went live.  So today is my first blogiversary.  Looking back over the year of posts, I found my eye drawn to a photo of me, sitting in my back garden, knitting the sleeves on a pullover I was making for my husband, Doug.  The post was whimsically called “Do you love your husband enough to knit the sleeves?”; you can find it here.  The pullover I was knitting is Brick, a design by Hanne Falkenberg.   Looking over the photos, I realized that the jacket I was wearing while sitting out in my garden knitting Hanne Falkenberg, is itself a Hanne Falkenberg design, called Decapo.  I think these photos really pick up one of the things I love about her designs – the interplay of colours, the beautiful quality of the wool, the intriguing designs.  It is a feast for the eyes.  For me, however, these two projects represent distinct stages in a knitting life.  Allow me to reminisce.

I learned to knit as a child.  Both my mother and my grandmother were knitters.  (I wrote a series of posts in which I showed some of the vintage garments my mother and grandmother knit in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s; you can find those posts here.)  I don’t remember which of them first put the needles in my hand, but I remember knitting a cabled afghan when I was 6 or 7 years old.  It was knit in strips, each about 6 feet long, with a cable running up through a reverse stockinette background, and moss stitch edging.

I continued to knit, as well as doing embroidery, needlepoint, macrame (everyone did macrame in the 70s!), and other crafty things, but knitting did not reach out and grab me until the summer I turned 15.  I went to visit my grandmother in California that summer for a month.  At the time, she was working in a yarn shop.  She took me to work with her the first day, and I immediately picked out the yarn and a pattern to knit a sweater.  It was bright orange mohair (this was, after all, the 70s) and I knit a cowl neck sweater with 6 inches of ribbing on the waist and sleeves, and a huge ribbed cowl.  I became obsessed.  I knit all day at the shop and then went back to my grandmother’s house and knit through the night while sitting in her LazyBoy recliner, watching really awful late night television shows and eating potato chip cookies (don’t ask – we ate things like that in the 70s).

It took me three days to finish that sweater and then I started another right away.  It was in a soft rose colour and knit side to side in a jacquard pattern with dolman sleeves.  By the time I left my grandmother’s house, I had three finished sweaters in my suitcase and another on the needles.  I was really obsessed and stayed that way for years.  When I was a college student, I became quite ill at one point and spent most of seven weeks in bed.  This was before the days of internet ordering and it was not easy to obtain yarn while stuck in bed.  This is what I did for those 7 weeks:  I knit a sweater.  Then, when I was done, I frogged it (for you non-knitters, this means I ripped it all out) and re-used the yarn to knit another.  Repeat.  Repeat many times.  As you might gather, I was a process knitter at heart.  Having a finished sweater was nice but not necessary; the process of knitting soothed something in my soul.

In graduate school I always had my knitting with me.  I was at MIT, the hub of all things engineering, and knitting was seen as rather frivolous and girly.  The men I think just found it odd, and the women accused me of perpetuating female stereotypes. (Knitting was seen as an antifeminist manifesto, but that is the subject for another post.)  During my final year, I would sit at my computer for hours at a time writing my dissertation, and then, to relax, I would knit.  I ruined my hands.  Two months after I submitted the dissertation, I developed such terrible hand and wrist pain that I could not knit at all.  (I also could not cook, or type, or write, or much of anything else involving one’s hands.)  It was diagnosed as DeQuervaine’s tenosynovitis, caused by repetitive stress.

I was convinced to undergo surgery.  I have heard that this surgery is usually very successful, but in my case it was not.  I could not knit.  For the next 15 years, I could not knit more than a few rows without feeling pain.  In that 15 years, I think I knit four sweaters: a small blue cabled toddler’s pullover (which took three years – it was intended for my nephew Mitchell but ended up for my daughter Emma), the red jacket for Leah at age three, a cute pullover for Emma, and a gansey fisherman’s pullover for Doug.  That was it.  Each of them progressed painfully slowly.  If I got caught up in the knitting and tried to knit more than a few minutes, I would pay for it with a few weeks of pain.  I mourned my knitting.  Not for the things I could have knit, but because I missed the knitting itself.

For Christmas 2004 Doug bought me a Hanne Falkenberg knitting kit, for the Decapo jacket, in two shades of green and a completely gorgeous shade of rusty-orange with green tweedy undertones.  I was flabbergasted.  First, by the wonderfully thoughtful and beautiful gift, which was a complete and total surprise.  Second, by my sudden drive to knit this beautiful sweater and become a knitter again.  I was determined not to let my repetitive stress injuries take my knitting away from me.  I don’t know what it was about this particular jacket that inspired me; I think perhaps it was that Doug gave me the right knitting project at just the right time.  I also don’t remember everything that I did to get past the pain.  What I do know is that I had to change the way that I knit and analyze the knitting process.

I started doing exercises to try to strengthen my hands and wrists.  I would soak my hands in hot water before knitting and do gentle stretches.  I would stop every 20 minutes and shake out my hands, massage my fingers, and give my hands a break before starting again.  I thought a lot about the process – how I held the needles, how I moved my hands, how I placed my shoulders.  Before the injury I had been a speed queen.  I knit really fast, and I would knit for hours, literally, without a break.  Now, I found that I had to slow down; I purposely slowed down each stitch.  I think that before I had enjoyed the speed, getting into a zen state where my fingers would fly; now, I had to use the rhythm more than the speed to get to that state.

It took me 15 months to knit that Decapo jacket.  But I was once again hooked.  My whole relationship with knitting had to change.  I was never again going to be able to knit for hours a day.  My maximum, even today, is about 10 hours a week.  I try to knit an hour every weekday and two on Saturdays and Sundays.  As a result of this, I became more of a product knitter.  I began to produce finished garments again, and to resist startitis (constantly casting on new items as the allure of the new outstrips the appeal of finishing the piece in hand).  Last year I knit 11 items – a skirt, a cowl, a hat, a shawl, a dress, and six sweaters.

The Brick pullover, my second Hanne Falkenberg pattern, was knit this year at a time when I can feel that my relationship with knitting is changing again.  For a while, after Decapo, I was all about the finished product; making beautifully fitted sweaters for myself and my daughters.  But it wasn’t about pushing myself.  Now I find that I long for some challenge.  I want to tackle some new techniques, stretch my skills, become a more accomplished knitter.  I feel that I want to settle somewhere back in the middle of the spectrum between process knitter and product knitter – I want to produce beautiful finished garments, but I also want the joy that just fooling around with knitting for the sake of the process itself brings.  I find myself thinking about designing; something I haven’t done for decades.  Brick was the first sweater that I cast on since beginning this blog, and I find that the very act of blogging about knitting is changing my relationship with knitting.  It is more of an intellectual process.  I want to bring my intellect, my creativity and my skill equally to bear on the projects I make.

While thinking about this post and these two sweaters, I was fortunate enough to get Emma to take some photos of Doug and me wearing them.  These photos were taken on August 26th, which just happened to be Doug’s 60th birthday.  We took them in the beautiful garden of our friends, Mark and Teresa, in Washington state.  As always, the blog has benefited from Emma’s great way with a camera.

So, this has been the tale of two Falkenbergs.  The story of two knitted garments and how they fit into a knitting life.  And this is one of the things I like best about knitting – each item you knit holds a whole range of memories within them, a piece of your life written in wool.

Brick rocks!

A few posts back I asked the question “Do you love your husband enough to knit the sleeves?” Apparently, the answer is yes.

I have finally finished knitting the Brick pullover for Doug and I must say I couldn’t be happier with this one. I love everything about it – the colours, the mosaic pattern, the lofty, light wool, the fit, the feel, the beautiful detailing; but mostly I love how great it looks on Doug.  It was made for him!  ( Literally!)

We are on holiday now in the American Southwest, a far cry from England.  Remember my last post complaining about seasonal knitting disorder? Here is a prime example of that.  This is me putting the finishing touches on Brick while sitting at the pool at my uncle’s house in Palm Desert, California.

Sitting poolside while sewing down the hem in a man’s wool sweater;  I must be crazy, right?  Leah, on the other hand, has the right idea:

Yesterday, we were driving and hiking through the Joshua Tree National Forest, which has the most amazing landscapes.  Big boulders strewn around, desert forests of gorgeous and unusual cacti like the Joshua tree, high promontories, sweeping valleys, beautiful light;  it is really very unique.  Leah described it as “a cross between being caught in a Dr. Seuss book and being on Mars”.

As we drove through, Emma said “This would be a great place to photograph Brick” and Doug reached into my knitting bag, pulled out the virtually finished sweater, and then dutifully posed for a million shots all over the JoshuaTree National Forest, while Emma said things like “Smile”, “Just a little bit to the left”, “Climb up on those rocks”, and “Pull in your gut” while snapping away.

In the middle of the National Forest, there is a huge patch of cholla cacti which is amazing.  It is spooky and surreal and feels so completely alien.  We arrived there as the sun was setting and the cholla seemed to glow.

The observant reader might have noticed a few paragraphs ago that I mentioned Doug reaching for the “virtually finished” pullover.  It certainly looks done, does it not?  What was left to do?  Well, I had finished everything except for seaming the underarms.  See?

This morning, of course, I woke up bright and early and finished the seaming and then made Emma and Doug go outside and take more photos, for the sake of honesty and thoroughness in knitting blog reporting.

And, some details.

And even more details:

And so, four long, arduous months later, Brick is finally finished!  I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed this project; it’s a very satisfying knit and a beautiful pattern.  Now I can knit something else – guilt free!

Best method for weaving in ends

There has been no time for anything but work around here lately.  No time for knitting, no time for taking photos, and most definitely no time for blogging.  Since we are gearing up for an Easter holiday, however, I will not complain any further about the work load.  I have been steadily, if very slowly, progressing on Brick.  I will most certainly finish it just in time for the weather to warm up so that Doug won’t be able to wear it till the fall.  Today I want to show you a brilliant design feature of Brick: the best method ever for weaving in ends – don’t do it!  Here is a photo of the bottom  ribbed band (before hemming):

The stitches were picked up along the bottom edge of the sweater and knit down in rib.  The purl ridge that you can see halfway through is the turn line; the band is folded over on the turn line and hemmed down.  Here is a photo of the reverse side (I have folded up the bottom to expose the reverse side):

See all the ends?  Trust me, there are a lot of them.  Normally, they would all be individually woven in, a painstaking process.  But herein lies the beauty of a hemmed waistband.  The ends will be knotted together and cut off shortish, and then:

the waistband will be folded over and hemmed, thereby trapping all of the ends to the inside of the waistband.  No ends to weave in!

Now, for any of you readers who are thinking of making Brick for yourself and are reading this to gleam some tips, I make a small technical diversion regarding the sleeves.  The pattern, though a little difficult to get the hang of at first, is pretty straightforward.  I did find, however, that the instructions for the sleeve caps were really opaque (perhaps even wrong).  I had to redo the first one.  My advice: ignore the pattern and just knit the sleeve cap.  Here is what you must do.  The sleeve caps are knit back and forth in a modified rib – knit one row, and k2 p2 on the next row.  The sleeve caps are made with short rows – you work 13 stitches past the middle and wrap and turn, then work 13 stitches past the middle in the other direction and wrap and turn, then repeat short rows, adding three stitches each time each side until you have made a total of nine wraps each side of center.  Trust yourself instead of the pattern – keep the two center stitches as a knit rib (k2 on RS, p2 on WS), wrap and turn at the right spots, and then use your eye to keep the pattern as set.  When I tried to follow Hanne’s directions I made a mess of things, but if I just knit it intuitively, keeping the pattern as established, it all worked out fine.  Plus, I didn’t bother to pick up the wraps and knit them together with the wrapped stitch.   The wraps didn’t show and it wasn’t necessary.

Two other sleeve tips:  I thought the sleeves were too wide at the top, so I changed the decreases to add more at the top part of the sleeve.   Then, I thought that they narrowed too much at the cuff so I made fewer increases all together.  This is what I did (for the size medium):  I decreased every 4th row 9 times, then every 6th row 19 times till I had 72 stitches (instead of the 68 in the pattern), then worked to desired length before cuff.  The other modification (which I think reflected an error in the pattern) is that for the decrease rows in the sleeve, I started with a K2 and ended with a K2tbl.  This ends the technical digression.

On another note:  It just might have been the case that I was stranded with nothing to do earlier this week, having left my Brick pullover at home.

And, it might just have happened, that as a stroke of fate, I had a skein of Madtosh Pashmina in Flashdance, the appropriate size needle, and a pattern for Leah’s sweater, somehow tucked in my bag.

In which case, as you might imagine, it would have been a crime not to cheat on Brick (just a little bit) and cast on this purple beauty.

Shhh!   Don’t tell Doug!

Do you love your husband enough to knit the sleeves?

Do you love your husband enough to knit the sleeves?

Well, do you?

Knit two, purl two, knit two, purl two, knit two……..

I don’t know, Doug.  I might have to think about this one.

Round and round and round and round and round…..

You mean I have to knit two of them?

I don’t think I can knit another one.  Are you sure you want two sleeves?

Do you love your husband enough to knit the sleeves?

The jury is still out.

The never ending sweater

I feel as if I have been knitting the Brick pullover for Doug forever.  I have been remarkably monogamous to this project; since finishing Smoulder and Peerie Flooers at the end of December, I have knit nothing but Brick.  Still, it seemed as if I was never getting anywhere with it.  This weekend, I finally got to a point where it feels as if progress is being made.

On Friday, I finished knitting the front of the sweater, so that the entire patterned part of the sweater is now complete.  (Remember that the front and back are knit in one piece; one very long piece.)  Saturday morning, I knit together the side seam, using a three needle bind off, and then sewed the shoulder seams (from the right side using mattress stitch).  Then, even though it was still missing a neck band, waist band and sleeves, I washed and blocked the main piece.  The sweater responded beautifully to being washed, the wool plumping up and becoming soft.  It is very lightweight and the stitch definition is lovely.  It also dried very quickly, so on Sunday morning, with my first morning coffee I picked up stitiches around the neckline and started knitting the neckband in 2×2 rib.

The neckband is knit twice as long as needed and then folded over and hemmed.  When I got to the half way point, I asked Doug to try it on so I could judge if the neckband was wide enough.  Emma and I grabbed the opportunity to take photos, despite the fact that it had snowed overnight and was freezing out.  What is standing out in your shirtsleeves in the freezing cold, compared to furthering the cause of fashion?  So, here is Doug wearing Brick, with a half finished neck band (the stitches still on the needle), no waist band (which is why it looks too short and has threads hanging from it) and no sleeves.

In the above photo, you can see the needle at the neck line and the grey yarn that I am knitting the neckline with trailing across the back.  Nonetheless, you can see that it fits really well and the pattern and colours are lovely.  The finishing details to this pattern are so well thought out; I can’t say enough about how brilliant all of the little touches to the pattern are, like the shoulder below (the edge of the sleeve will cease to be wobbly once the sleeve is cast on).

We got Doug to model it with a jacket so you can get a better idea of what it will look like when done.  I think it looks really great this way (just ignore the knitting needle still holding the neck band stitches live).

Now, I only have miles and miles of ribbing to do, to finish the sleeves and the waist band.  I only hope that I can keep powering through and avoid the temptation of all of the lovely yarns just waiting to be cast on.  And avoid the dreaded second sleeve syndrome.  Despite the progress, it still feels like the never ending sweater.

Back to reality

After a lovely two week holiday in which I could knit all I wanted (and sleep in as late as I wanted), on Tuesday it was back to reality.  And in this instance, reality was accompanied by wet, stormy weather, and generally dark and dreary days.  The girls and I were coping with virtual jetlag after having slept till noon and stayed up till the wee hours for a few weeks.  Doug was also coping with very real jetlag, since he left well before the crack of dawn on Wednesday to fly to Japan (hi, Doug!).  Needless to say, it has not been a great week for knitting.

I have been steadily making progress on the Brick pullover for Doug.  The pullover has an interesting construction; the body is knit in mosaic stitch from side to side.  You cast on the sweater at the left side seam (the stitches are held here on the blue yarn, which will be removed later).  Then the underarms are shaped by increasing for a few inches before casting on the additional stitches for the body; this cast-on edge will form the seam between sleeve and chest.  You knit across the back, until you get to the center back where the mosaic pattern is reversed. When you get to the sleeve edge, you cast off stitches, and again decrease along the edge for the underarm slope, until you get to the right side seam, at which point the mosaic pattern is again reversed.  The front will basically mirror the back until we come to the left side seam, at which point the blue yarn will be removed, the stitches put back on the needle, and a two needle bind off will join the piece into a single round pullover body with no seams.

Later, the neckline will be picked up and knit, as well as the bottom ribbing.  (The lack of ribbing on the bottom is why this piece is looking a bit out of proportion; try to imagine it with three inches of ribbing on the bottom.)  The sleeves are also picked up and knit down, in rib.

I think that the pattern is brilliant.  This is the second Hanne Falkenberg sweater that I have knit, and I greatly admire the way in which she constructs her designs.  They are very architectural and the details are fabulous.  I love the transition at the center back:

I find the details of the side shaping and armhole shaping, along with the mosaic transition, so pleasing to the eye:

I really think Hanne is a design genius.  (You can find her website here; her sweaters are not as fitted as I usually like, but I love her sense of colour and the architecture of her designs.)  That said, her patterns are not all that easy to follow, and I would not recommend them to beginners.  I think part of this is her way of contructing and writing the pattern, which I find to be a bit opaque; this is quite likely a result of the patterns being translated into English.  Her patterns are well worth the effort.

On the subject of genius; knitting genius, I am not.  I made the stupidest mistake with this pullover, partly because I misunderstood Hanne’s instructions.  The pattern says to use a continental cast-on when adding additional stitches at the sleeve edge, and to cut an extra length of the grey yarn to use in conjunction with the working yarn to this purpose.  I didn’t know that a continental cast-on is a long-tail cast-on; since I always use a cable cast-on to add additional stitches at the end of a row, I assumed that “continental cast-on” was another term for cable cast-on.  I thus, in a prime example of generalized stupidity, interpreted the pattern to mean that I should hold two strands of yarn together and do a cable cast-on.   What does this actually mean for the sweater?  See the wobbly, ugly cast-on edge at the back left sleeve edge?  See the neat, pretty cast-on edge at the back right sleeve edge?

Of course, I knew it was wrong when I knit it.  My instincts shouted at me to rip it out and redo it my way, but I thought I was following Hanne’s instructions, and felt that she must be right.  The moral of this story: always trust your instincts.  The second moral of this story: a good wet block and steam will make even bad knitting look good (or so one hopes).

Autumn Colours

I’ve been fascinated by the progression  of colours in the Brick pullover.  It alternates stripes of Poppy red, Cerise, and Dark brick red, worked in a mosaic stitch with Charcoal. It is very hard to photograph and looks very different depending on the light.  While knitting it in the house in the evening, I can scarcely tell the difference between the cerise and brick colours.  Today – a foggy, misty autumn day – brought out all of the colours.

The above shot not only shows how lovely the colours and stitch pattern work together, but also is a good progress shot.  This represents one week of work; it is very nearly half of the back.  Brick is knit from side-to-side in one piece starting at the left side seam.  Afterwards, the sleeves are picked up and knit down in rib, and the neck band and bottom rib are also picked up and knit.  (Note that the blue yarn is not part of the sweater; it is holding the stitches live so that I can knit the two sides together when I’ve finished the body of the sweater.)  This next photo really captures the colours and vibrancy of the pattern.

I haven’t put much work into the Peerie Flooers hat since becoming obsessed with Brick this week, but I have made some progress since the last time I posted about it.  Here you can clearly see the flowers:

Aren’t they pretty?  My daughter Leah was raking leaves in the back yard when we pulled the half-finished hat on her head, in order to get a modelled shot. She didn’t want to take it off.

We are just about at the end of the autumn colours here.  We went for a walk yesterday afternoon in the countryside around Turville (where they filmed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and countless English murder mysteries).  It was picture perfect; the paths were strewn with leaves which made a lovely crunchy sound as we walked.  We could tell that it was the last weekend to see the colours, however; the leaves are all on the ground and no longer on the trees.  I will let the fall settle on my knitting needles.  I will pour a glass of Beaujolais, and watch the reds march across my lap.