Patterns for Men

It’s been a while since I knitted a sweater for Doug (the last was Brick, which you can see here).  I am thinking it is time to knit him another and so have begun the process of considering patterns.  I started by looking through the men’s patterns that I have favorited on Ravelry in the past six months or so.  As I thought this topic might be of general interest,  today I’ll show you some of the patterns that caught my eye for one reason or another.

Rowan is one of the few reliable print sources for Men’s patterns.  Each issue of the magazine has quite a few men’s patterns; always beautifully photographed.  They tend towards lots of ease, so beware if you knit one – think carefully about how much ease you really want in your finished sweater.  The recent issue of Rowan (Rowan 55) had two men’s sweaters that stood out for me.  The first is Guido, designed by Carlo Volpi:

copyright Rowan Yarns 2014

copyright Rowan Yarns 2014

I’ve never heard of Volpi before, but this is a great start.  I like the subtle texture used here and the colour palette as well.  This sweater is knit in Rowan Purelife Revive, which is a blend of silk, cotton and viscose.  I do love silk sweaters for men.

In the same volume is the pattern Estefan, a cotton vest designed by the great colour wizard, Brandon Mably:

copyright Rowan Yarns 2014

copyright Rowan Yarns 2014

I must admit it is hard to decide what I like best here: (1) the vest, (2) the model, or (3) the stairwell.  It is a tough choice but I think the stairwell probably wins.  (Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m showing my age!)

One of the most iconic sweater patterns of all time is the Marius pattern from Norway.  It is named after Marius Eriksen, Jr.  Marius served as a fighter pilot in World War II, before he was shot down and held as a Prisoner of War.  After the war, he became a champion skier and was twice Norwegian National Champion.  His mother, Birgit, designed and knit a sweater for him based upon traditional Norwegian sweaters.  Marius later became an actor and he wore this sweater in the film Troll i Ord.  There are literally thousands of variations of the Marius pattern; drop it in your favorite search engine for some idea of its endurance and popularity.

I recently came across a very modern and spare variation in a vest, called (not surprisingly) the Marius-Vest, by Sandnes Design.  This version is in grey tones instead of the more standard blue and cream.  I like it enough to attempt to translate the pattern from Norwegian:

copyright Sandnes Design

copyright Sandnes Design

To continue with the Nordic theme, I also like the Icelandic sweater pattern Spegilsléttur:

copyright Istex.IS

copyright Istex.IS

This was designed by Bergrós Kjartansdóttir and knit with Lopi wool.  The yoke design is very architectural to me, and feels like late, cold, winter sun coming through lead-paned windows.  (With a few mods here and there, it would make a great women’s cardigan.)

Kyle Kunnecke is a new designer who I am keeping an eye on. He designs and blogs under the name Kyle William.  I think his sweaters are clever and fun.  He is really someone to watch in my opinion.  He recently released this fabulous pattern, called Colton:

copyright Kyle William

copyright Kyle William

I love this sweater!  Houndstooth is big right now, and this is one of the most appealing examples of the houndstooth revival.  I think it is very sharp.  The colour choice here is great and the line and fit are perfect.

Martin Storey has designed more sweaters than possibly anyone.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he designed a sweater before breakfast each day.  He designs for everyone – men, women, children – and in every style – classic, fair isle, cabled, rugged, elegant, slouchy.  He is one of Rowan’s star designers (pointing out again that Rowan is one of the few go-to places for men’s sweater patterns).  I like lots of Martin’s designs, but found myself really drawn to this one:

copyright Rowan Yarns 2013

copyright Rowan Yarns 2013

He calls this Neat Tailored Jacket, which I guess says it all.  I think it is a gorgeous example of knitted tailoring.  I like everything about it.  This is published in the book Sarah Hatton and Martin Storey Designer Knits.

I couldn’t write a post about men’s patterns without highlighting Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed.  Jared has catapulted to fame in recent years both as a designer and as the founder and creative presence behind Brooklyn Tweed, a yarn producer and design house.  In the summer, BT produced its first issue of men’s patterns, simply called BT Men, which was a very welcome entry into this sparsely occupied field.  One of his contributions to the issue is the ruggedly cabled Timberline:

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

This is a great example of taking a traditional style and putting just a bit of a modern twist to it.  Look, for example, at the detail in the lapels.   It is this meticulous attention to details combined with a real love of the history and traditions of knitted garments that sets BT apart.

Interestingly enough, the sweater I like the most from BT Men is one I hardly glanced at when the issue was first released.  This is the design Redford, by Julie Hoover:

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

At first glance this is so ordinary a crew neck that I couldn’t see the point; surely this is the kind of sweater that you could buy rather than knit.  I mean, there are literally miles of stockinette stitch here, all knit in fingering weight wool.  But the more I look at it, the more I like it.  The details are super.  The side panels give a very modern line, the shoulders are perfectly fit, and I like the bottom edge – the lack of ribbing makes this fresh.  This is knit in BT Loft, a delicate, tweedy, fingering weight wool which I am using now to knit my Carpino sweater.  I think it would make the perfect men’s sweater fabric – very light and soft but still 100% wool goodness with all that implies.

I’m not sure whether any of these will end up on my needles for Doug.  There are many older patterns which just may provide competition.  In the meantime it is fun to keep searching.  Writing this post has led me to two observations.  First, there is a decided lack of patterns for men.  This is really sad and also incomprehensible to me.  Second, beards are definitely in this year!

[11 Feb – edited to fix two typos]

In remembrance of knits past

Yesterday, I came across this photo of a sweater designed by Marc Jacobs for the Fall/Winter 1985 edition of Vogue Knitting:

389_2__mediumI stared at it in shock.  Why?  Because I knit this sweater, and like many of my early knits I have no idea what happened to it.  I didn’t even remember it until yesterday.

I bought every issue of Vogue Knitting the instant it hit the news stands.  I was living in Washinton DC at the time, working as a paralegal in a law firm while taking time off between college and graduate school.  I read this issue and instantly knew this sweater was for me.  I remember shopping for the Lopi yarn.  I knit the sweater in a deep charcoal grey, and the colour panels in yellow, orange and red.  It was absolutely fabulous.  I loved it!  It was so completely 1980s too.  I was young without much cash; I could never afford a designer label but I could walk around looking like a million dollars in that sweater.

The sad thing is, so many knits disappeared over the years.  Why?  I can think of a few reasons.  I was considerably thinner then, what would now be a size 0, I think.  Once I hit my late 20s I began to put on weight and then pregnancy sealed it, so I am now a fairly average size.  Perhaps as I filled out I gave some sweaters away?  Second, some things definitely got eaten by moths over the years and were regretfully and lovingly retired.  Third, I have always been a wanderer.  I was born in California, and have lived in Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, Long Island, Manhattan, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston and Tucson before leaving the US over 20 years ago and moving to Australia, Germany and the UK.  And in many of those places, I would shift houses frequently.  With all of that moving, things are bound to get lost or left behind.  Moving aross continents is expensive so you tend to whittle away all of your belongings each time you move.

Another factor is that back then I was definitely a process knitter; I knit for the sheer joy of it rather than for the finished product.  But now, how I wish I had all of my early knits carefully packed away.  (Regular readers of this blog may recall the posts I wrote two years ago about the beautiful clothing knitted by my mother and grandmother that my mom has carefully kept all of these years.  I promise, I am now reformed.)

So, here’s to all the knits I’ve lost!  You kept me sane in crazy times.  You made me happy. I learned from you and became a better knitter.  We had fun together while it lasted.

The return of the dress

I spend an inordinate amount of time checking out new knitting patterns.  I pay attention to trends, see what’s happening with colour and shape.  I have a favorites list where I keep track of anything I especially like.  This includes things I would like to knit, things I would love to wear, things that would look good on my daughters, men’s knits, garments that I think are interesting or arresting or different, knits that utilize interesting construction details, etc.  This week I noticed that the two garments I had just favorited were both dresses.

The first was the Bryn Mawr dress by Alex Capshaw-Taylor (of worldknits), published in the latest issue of Interweave Knits:

CapshawDress1_medium2I think that this is gorgeous.  I want to knit it; I want to wear it.  I really love this dress.  It jumped right away onto my “Must Knit” list.

The second dress is one that combines a really tailored look with some positive ease.  It has very sophisticated details, like in the saddle shoulders and colour blocking, and a gorgeous line, but also looks so comfortable.  This was knit by RIlilie (here is a link to the Ravelry project page).  She has knit two of them, one in lime and cream and the other shown below, that are prototypes for the pattern which will be released in September.  This would look great on either one of my daughters, but they might have to fight me for it. Rililie’s blog, knittingtherapy, can be found here.

copyright rililie

copyright rililie

I love the ease of this.  It is knit with a wool and cotton blend and has such great drape.  I could see wanting lots of these in your summer wardrobe.  All you need is a strappy pair of sandals (flats, nonetheless) and you’re set.

Then, the new issue of Twist Collective was published, and once again, I noticed a cute dress:

ossel_z_500_medium2This is Ossel, by Alison Green.  It reminds me so much of a dress that I knit for myself in the early 80s with all-over cables.  Knit in worsted weight yarn, with cables within cables and  a moss stitch background, it should be chunky, but as you can see from the back, this one is clingy and sexy:

ossel_b_500_medium2So, what’s going on?  Is the dress really making a comeback among knitters?  Ravelry has a feature in its Patterns section, where you can enter a common category, like “socks” and it will tell you the top 100 patterns that are trending in this category.  I frequently type in something (like “cardigan” or “fingerless mitts”) and see what the top patterns are.  I noticed long ago that this doesn’t work well for the category “dress”. Why?  Because if you do, virtually all of the top 100 dress patterns are for babies and toddlers.  Apparently, knitters knit dresses mostly for the under-3 crowd.  (There is an advanced search option, but that misses the point I am making here.)  I tried this yesterday and there were only 7 adult dresses among the top 100.  These included Still Light (#3), Caviar (#25) and Allegheny (#48) which are all discussed below.  The other four are either beach cover-ups or tunics.  Despite this evidence, there are some knockout patterns for knitted dresses being released.  Here I present a selection of dress patterns released within the past few years that have caught my eye.  (There are tons more, so please run your own search too.)

Still Light, by Veera Välimäki  of Rain Knitwear, is a very popular pattern.  As of today there are 1456 Still Light projects on Ravelry.  The original pattern, shown below, is knit in alpaca, but this has been knit in every imaginable yarn and in many different lengths.  It has an interesting and unusual shape and is really a great, throw-something-on-to-walk-to-the-shops kind of dress.  Easy and comfortable but still fun.

DSC_8469_small2I love the Caviar dress, by Yoko Johnston.   If I was a few decades younger, I would knit this in a minute.  I think it is adorable, and at the same time looks so comfortable and wearable that you could live in it:

IMG_6854_medium2_mediumThe Allegheny dress, by Thea Coleman, published in Brooklyn Tweed’s Wool People 1, is a great classic office dress.  It has lovely features including a chunky, assymetrical cable, fake belt detail, and a cowl collar:

JJF-9908_medium2Kirsten M. Jensen is a colourwork master.  I love her knitting, and her way with colour and pattern is amazing.  (Her Sant’Angelo sweater is a masterpiece; I aspire to it. Some day when I grow up I want to knit like her.)  She designed the cute Mekko dress which is “inspired by the Marimekko designer Annika Rimala and her iconic graphic designs as well as the mod styles of the 1960s.”  I love it:

mekko_medium

(I showed this post to Doug and Mekko was his favorite.  Do you think this is because it is so short?  Or, do you think it’s because he can remember the 60s and it makes him nostalgic.  Hmm….)

Another dress that recently caught my attention is Icon, by Kari-Helene Rain of Purl Alpaca Designs:

icon_stunning_knitted_dress_knitting_kit_medium2I think this has lovely lines, and I love the way it flows.  I would definitely not make it in alpaca, however, as in the photo, nor in a natural coloured yarn.   I can picture this in a beautiful silk blend hand-dyed yarn in a vibrant jewel shade.  Red, anyone?

Emma loves the dress pattern called 50 Shades: Ash, designed by Allison Hendrix.  This has very similar lines to the Icon dress, but is distinguished by its deep, plunging back.

IMG_7895_medium2I think I would have some problems with all of those buttons down the back.  They may be hard to sit on, but there is no denying they look really cute.  It is a young, stylish, sexy dress with lots of swing.

The very talented Sarah Wilson of The Sexy Knitter has two dress designs that I really admire.  First, is the Principesa dress, which I have showcased on this blog before:

IMG_0836_medium2It also has a sexy, plunging back.  The front of this dress is really classy, however.  It is a great combination, with a stylish front view and a sexy back:

IMG_0854_medium2At my age, I love the classiness of the front view, but have troubles with the undergarment question.  What could you wear under this?  So although Emma is drawn to this for it’s plunging back, I could easily see knitting it for myself with a back that matched the front.  It would be uber-elegant and clingy.  In a totally different vein, Sarah designed the absolutely fabulous dress Miss Holloway, inspired by Mad Men and vintage 60s style:

photo copyright Emily Brewer

photo copyright Emily Brewer

Another fabulous pattern is Audrey Totter, designed by Kristen Hanley Cardozo of Knitting Kninja:

6217788390_23d6aacba8_zI think this is so elegant and beautiful.  I love the gauzy scarf, which makes a really dramatic statement, but I’ve noticed knitters making it without; as you can see, the dress has gorgeous lines by itself.  Thus you can make this as a wonderfully fitted but simple shell, or add the scarf for a real statement piece.  (I do know if I wore this, the scarf would get tangled around my legs as I walked; I would love to wear it to lounge against my collection of vintage cars, though – I wish!)

Another really cute dress pattern using colourwork is the Woodstock dress by Heather Dixon:

web_50c1302_medium2I think this is a great office dress.  I love the striped side panels, and also the little shock of colour at the pocket linings.   I would, however, make this in a yarn with less of a halo; I think it deserves a crisper silhouette.

I am going to end this post with a dress I simply adore.  This is the Katie Summer Dress by Andrea Rangel:

DSC_0283_medium2This is a fabulous dress!  Look at the back:

DSC_0284_medium2Wow, if only I had beautiful, toned arms like this model, I would never take this dress off! Andrea Rangel is a fairly new designer who is creating some really cute and clever designs.  She is really someone to keep an eye on.

So, is this the beginning of a strong new trend in knitted fashion?  I don’t know, but I sure hope so.

Venetian Audrey modelled

IMG_6465In February, I finished knitting my Venetian Audrey sweater for Emma.  Since Emma was in Vancouver (and it wouldn’t fit me or Leah), I published a post with unmodelled shots.  Emma is now back home for the summer, so I am happy to be able to bring you some modelled photos.  (Lots of modelled pictures; this will be a photo-heavy post).

IMG_6476I blogged about this sweater quite a bit during both the planning and the knitting; you can find these posts here.  I actually found it quite nerve-wracking to knit this without Emma around to try it on.  As the sweater has a huge amount of negative ease built into it, and the ribbing makes it hard to measure properly, I spent many hours with a tape measure and a frown, trying to size it properly.

IMG_6492As you can see here, the fit is fabulous.  I must admit, however, that when I sent it to Emma, I hadn’t yet blocked it.  I wasn’t sure it needed it and didn’t want to make a mistake in the blocking; I really needed to see it on her before I could judge appropriately how much blocking it needed, if any. I was kind of annoyed that Emma didn’t send me any photos of her wearing it.  When she came home and I complained, she pointed out that she thought it perhaps had need of a little tweaking.  (Emma has very exacting tastes; on the other hand, she is invariably right about these things.) The sweater has really benefitted from a good block.  I didn’t stretch the ribbing out at all, but I pinned the lace out, and added a good three inches to the sleeves and two to the body.  (I knit the sleeves a few inches longer than the pattern called for, and then blocked them out even farther.  If you plan to knit this pattern, don’t be afraid to build in lots of negative ease, and add lots of length.)

IMG_6488As readers of this blog may recall, I re-wrote the pattern for this sweater.  First, the pattern as written is knit in pieces and seamed.  Though I don’t normally mind this type of construction, it really didn’t seem to make sense for Audrey.  So, I knit the pullover in the round, bottom-up; knitting the sleeves in the round on DPNs and then attaching them at the yoke, and knitting the yoke in one piece.

IMG_6491I also re-sized the pattern.  This is because, as I have pointed out here many times before, Rowan patterns run big.  If you think you are a size 12, you should knit your Rowan pattern in a size 8.  Since Emma is already at the smallest size, I had to do quite a bit of math to get the sweater to fit.

IMG_6470Audrey has beautiful shaping details.  The waist decreases, knit into the 2×2 ribbing, are gorgeous.  They are very architectural, with columns of ribbing moving in and out across the canvas of the sweater.

IMG_6490The yoke and neckline are also beautifully shaped.   The line of the neck is elegant, sweeping, striking.  The lace is subtle; it is a garter stitch lace, which gives it a lot of texture.  We blocked out the peaks of the lace pattern to give it an undulating edge.

IMG_6494Emma wears it here with jeans and heels, but it is easy to dress up or down.  Last year, I wrote a post about my original Audrey in which I showed how easy it is to style it in different ways, and also how flattering it is to many different body types; you can find that post here.

IMG_6515I knit mine in Rowan Calmer, but the sweater is much more elegant knit in the Madelinetosh DK.  The colour is very rich, and the ribbing controls the tendency to pool; I didn’t need to alternate skeins.

IMG_6526I  am really happy with this one.  I think the fit came out just right, I love the colour, the yarn is soft and warm, the style is sexy and classy, and it looks fabulous on Emma (even when caught on candid camera – hehe!).

IMG_6505

Knitting is not a competitive sport

The super-connectivity of modern life has transformed the craft of knitting.  Thirty years ago when I was fanatically knitting in college classes and in coffee shops and on buses, I would rarely encounter another knitter.   Now, I use Ravelry (an online knitting community of 3 million users) to “meet” other knitters, find patterns, get advice, follow trends, get a knitting fix, rant, find out about events, and discuss yarns, patterns, designers and techniques.  I also follow “knitting blogs”; lots of knitting blogs.  It is easy to find fellow fanatics once you get online.

I was taught to knit by my grandmother and mother.  Every knitter I met had learned how to knit this way, from an older, usually female knitter, who would teach the basics and then hopefully be around to help fix up mistakes and provide some guidance.  If you needed any help, the only place to get it was from asking another knitter, usually at the yarn shop, or buying a book and teaching yourself.  Now there is youtube.  If there is any knitting technique you do not know, it is almost certain you can find a video on youtube where it will be explained and demonstrated.   And, unlike asking your grandmother to help you fix your mistake, youtube is never sleeping, nor in California, nor needs her reading glasses to see.  Ravelry and youtube together are like having thousands of grandmothers (and thousands of young, cool, hip fashion stylists) who never sleep and have an answer to every question.

When I started out, my choice of yarn was very limited.  There were a few big companies who produced mass-market yarns.  Now, there are hundreds of specialty yarn producers and dyers.  Many of these are small producers, who try to provide organic, ethical yarns.  Many of them specialize in particular breeds, or in astonishing colours, or in hand painting yarn.  There are huge and very popular knitting and wool shows where small producers can sell their wares.  But their viability as businesses are based on the internet.  (A word here – I love to be able to find small producers on the internet and support their businesses.  I also believe, very passionately, that you should support your local yarn shops.  You can do both.  The world would be a much sadder place without the local specialty shop, be it for yarn or books or vegetables.  And no matter how good, or how convenient, the internet, there is nothing that compares to a fine shop run by knowledgeable staff.)

My life as a knitter has been transformed by the internet.  This transformation has been almost entirely positive.  However, there are certain things I find annoying about the whole inter-connectivity thing (and my reaction to them).  First, it is rather addicting.  I spend an awful lot of time, every day, looking at knitting on the internet.  I check to see what my “friends” are up to, I check to see what patterns are trending, I check to see if there are any interesting discussions taking place, I look at projects and yarn. Sometimes, these forays take a minute or two, but other times much more.  Now, the sad thing about this is – when I am online, I am not knitting.  In fact, I have noticed that there seems to be a trend of knitters getting so sucked into Ravelry that they virtually stop knitting all together.  (You know the type – they have 4 projects on their project page but have written 32,417 posts.)  And, the more time I spend on Ravelry, the less I feel I can lecture my kids to get off of Facebook.

I have a favorite group on Ravelry.  I follow it religiously, every single post, every photo.  It is a group in which the members strive to make 12 completed adult-sized sweaters a year.  There are lots of knitters in this group, about 1500 of them, and a nicer, more supportive bunch of people is not to be found anywhere.  Most of them, like me, never get to their goal of 12 (I knit 7 sweaters in 2011 and 6 in 2012).  Quite a few of them manage to hit their target.  This is a personal goal – there are no prizes, no penalties, just a wonderful group of people cheering you on, and providing advice, and sharing a huge love of the craft.  There are also quite a few fabulous knitters, who not only knit the most amazing, technically-proficient, stylish, well-fitted garments, but who can easily knit 30 or more of them a year.  I love to follow their progress and cheer them on from the sidelines.  Sometimes, however, I look at yet another sweater which seems to have literally flown off the needles of one of these super-knitters, and I find myself thinking “I should knit a bit faster.  Perhaps, if I knit in the car on the way to work….  or, if I knit while I’m stirring the soup….or, if I give up reading and knit instead… or perhaps, if I double my knitting speed… I can knit more sweaters in less time.”

I then have to take a deep breath and remind myself “Knitting is not a competitive sport.”  I knit because I love it, not to be faster or better than anyone else.  I wrote a post last year about my personal history as a knitter (you can find it here), in which I talked about my difficulties with deQuervaine’s tenosynovitis, a repetitive stress disorder, and how it led to surgery and many years of not knitting.  In order to knit again, I had to purposely slow down my knitting, and I also have to purposefully limit the amount of knitting I do each day to avoid hand pain.  Trying to keep up with the super-knitters would be crazy (and, let’s face it, impossible).  To all you super-fast fantastic knitters: I love that you can do this.  I think you are amazing.  In the very back of my mind, I really, really want to knit 38 sweaters a year to your 37.  But, hey, knitting is not a competitive sport.  I will make a sport of watching those beautiful projects trip off your needles.  And I will console myself with the fact that I spend a hell of a lot less money on yarn than you do.

Style and age

Last week, the Guardian online published a list, with photos and commentary, on the 50 best-dressed over 50s.  This is a twist on standard best-dressed lists which tend to favor the young and beautiful, who can usually look good in anything:

“[w]hen youth and beauty are taken out of the equation, the best-dressed competition becomes a little fairer, and more interesting…. Beauty fades; style becomes more important….because style over 50 has a depth of character with which no youngster can compete, however good she may look in hotpants.”

This list is ostensibly not about beauty but about style (though many on the list are very beautiful).  It’s about finding a style that works for you, and then working it.   I can’t say I agree with all of their choices, but I love the fact that they are celebrating people who have confidence in the way they dress and the way they look as they age.

(I also like some of their snarky commentary.  On Judi Dench: “Owning the pixie cut since before Anne Hathaway was born”; on Carine Roitfeld: “The only woman on Earth who looks a bit like Iggy Pop, but in a good way”; on Nick Cave: “He always, always has one too many buttons undone on his shirt, but it works.”; on Kirsty Wark: “Proving night after night that, contrary to popular opinion, a woman who knows her Miu Miu from her Mulberry can, astoundingly, still have sufficient brainpower left over to be well informed on other important issues”.)

What really struck me, however, were comments from two women who made the list.  The first, from Iris Apfel, age 91:

“No amount of money can buy you style …If someone says, ‘Buy this – you’ll be stylish’, you won’t be stylish because you won’t be you. You have to learn who you are first and that’s painful.”

I think I’m still trying to learn who I am, and hope by the time I get to be Iris’ age, I’ve figured it out and can make it work.  (In the meantime, I’d love to sit next to Iris at a dinner party.)

The second comment was from Diana Athill, 95, a literary editor, novelist and memoirist.  She had the most sensible, honest insight into style and aging that I have yet heard:

“However old one is, one still feels inside like the person one used to be. It’s a foolish mistake to try too hard to look like that person, but it would be a bit sad to look very much like something else.”

I think this shows real wisdom.  I also think this balancing act is one that many women get wrong.  I know my fashion misses almost always come from trying to be who I used to be, or from not paying attention to who I am.  Style takes confidence and self-knowledge.   I’m going to try to take these words to heart, and to grow older with style and wisdom.

You could knit it for me!

Last week, the Guardian newspaper online published a photo journal from the 2013 London men’s fashion week.  As I looked through the photos, I thought that I found the perfect outfit for Doug:

J.W Anderson AW 2013The above look, from J. W. Anderson’s “Mathematics of Love” collection is described by the Guardian as “an exercise in gender bending”.

“Look, Doug,” I said.  “Can’t you see yourself in this?”

Leah strenuously objected.

“Ok,” I said.  “Here is one much more appropriate for your Dad.  “What do you think?”

Agi & Sam AW 2013Unfortunately, neither Doug nor Leah were overly enthused by this number, by Agi and Sam, either.

“Here, give me that laptop,” says Doug, who then looks through the fashion collection.  “This one,” he says.  “This is the one that I want”, pointing to an outfit by Sibling:

Mens London Collection“Really, Doug?  You want this one?”

“Yes.”

“Really?  But why?”

“Because,” he says, “you could knit it for me!”

My year in Knits – 2012

Today is the last day of the year, so in keeping with last year, this post will document the year in knits.  I knit 6 sweaters, two cowls, two hats and three pairs of fingerless mitts this year; two of which I have somehow failed to document on the blog, but will remedy that today.  I haven’t managed quite as much knitting this year as last, perhaps because I now spend considerable time on this blog that might have been spent knitting (but more likely as a result of a big reading spree the last few months).

I knit the hats in the fall to send to my friend Maria who has been undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.  These were the Zelda Cloche by Alexis Winslow:

IMG_5225and the Odessa Hat, by Grumperina:

IMG_5262

(Please note that for convenience sake – my convenience that is – I am using the Ravelry links for the patterns in this post.)

In August, I knit a cowl for my sister-in-law Vivian.  It is knit in seed stitch with three shades of Kid Silk Haze held together.  I am told that she wears it often.  It is light as a cloud, and soft and fluffy.  I decided to make a second one, exactly the same, for Emma as a Christmas gift.  I didn’t use a pattern for this; I used big needles, three strands of Kidsilk Haze, cast on an odd number of stitches (I used 149 stitches for Emma’s cowl), and then knit until it felt long enough (about 11″-12″).  So, this cowl counts as two:

IMG_5738

I made the cowl with the leftover yarn from Emma’s Smoulder sweater, which I blogged about here (it’s a great sweater, check it out).  I bought a bag of Kidsilk Haze (10 balls) on sale at the end of the year a few years ago; I think I paid about £20 for the bag.  With it, I made Emma’s Smoulder sweater and both cowls.  That was definitely one of my better yarn bargains!

The first sweater of the year was by far my favorite; I love everything about it!  This is the Brick pullover, designed by Hanne Falkenberg, that I knit for Doug:

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Next up, I knit the Backward Cabled Pullover for Leah.  This sweater, designed by Wendy Bernard, is called that because the scoop is supposed to be in the back; I knit the Backward Cabled sweater backward, thus having the scoop forward!  I knit it in Madelinetosh Pashmina in the luscious colour Flashdance.  Leah wears it all the time:

IMG_2919I then made three sweaters for myself.  First was the cool and breezy summer sweater, Laresca, designed by Corrina Ferguson:

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I then knit two cardigans, both designed by Carol Feller.  The absolutely marvelous Killybegs, which I wear constantly:

IMG_4911And then the very classy Ravi, which I knit as part of Carol’s Ravi knit-along this summer (with 800 plus other knitters):

IMG_5452I love these both so much.  And having just seen Carol’s new design for Brooklyn Tweed, I have to say that there is another Carol Feller design in my future (stay tuned this spring).

The last sweater of the year, which I just finished a few weeks ago, is the pullover I call Medieval Gems, that I designed for my daughter Leah (based on patterns by Marnie MacLean and Lauren Osborne; see this post for details).

IMG_5714 Perhaps some of you have noticed that there were no sweaters for Emma this year?  Oh dear!  How could this have happened?  But, never fear dear readers, my needles have been smoking all week as I race away on a beautiful sweater for Emma; you will have to stay tuned for details in the New Year.

Last, but not least, I knit three pairs of fingerless mitts this year.  The first pair I knit in August for Emma, to match her Carnaby skirt. These are the Optimistic Mitts, by Devin Joesting:

IMG_5757This is a really great pattern, and it gives you an excuse to use up any cool buttons you have (or, even better, go button shopping)!  I wrote a post about these in September (and about various trials and tribulations I encountered while knitting them), but I never published it because I waited in vain for a photo of Emma wearing them with the skirt.  (Emma’s excuse is that she doesn’t have a camera at university and that she won’t allow an inferior phone photo on the blog.)  Perhaps just for fun, I’ll post it up next month – sans photos.

IMG_5760I knit the Nalu Mitts by Leila Raabe for Leah:

IMG_5420and the Green Thumb Mitts by Diana Foss for me:

IMG_5502Today, on this warm, rainy last day of December 2012, we are all here at home, healthy and happy.  We braved the rain to have Doug snap some photos of the three of us – Emma, Leah, and me, Kelly –  in our knitted fingerless mitts.

IMG_5766Happy New Year to you all!

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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.

RETROspective knits – Part 3

This is the last in a three part series featuring garments that my mother and grandmother knit in the 1950s through the 1970s.  You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.  In April of this year we took an Easter holiday to Arizona to visit my mother and step-father.  My mom pulled out piles of vintage hand knits to show us, and we all went a little crazy and had a trying-on and photo-taking party in the desert.  These posts are the result.

One of the very early garments my mom made was this lilac dress.  This probably dates to about 1963 or ’64, and is modelled here by my daughter Leah.

I am guessing the date based on Mom’s recollection of it being one of the first dresses she knit, but also by the length – the dresses she knit later in the 60s were quite a bit shorter.  This dress is wool and a very simple shift with minimal shaping.  The lace panels are knit separately and then sewn onto the finished dress.  Thus, you can’t see through the lace, although it gives an interesting embossed character and beautiful feminine detailing.

I really like this dress and am thinking about making something similar, but this time with the lace panels knit in, so that it would be a combination of a very classic and conservative shape with a bit of flirty added to to the mix.

My mom, Mary Lou, tells me that she made quite a few similar dresses in the ’60s and ’70s; some of these were given away over the years or otherwise lost to posterity.  All of the knit garments she held on to are still in wonderful condition and very wearable, though they might be considered a bit itchy by today’s standards.  As I’ve mentioned before, I think these two things  are related – these slightly more itchy wools were more durable than many of the super soft wools being produced today, and are therefore more likely to look like new decades down the road.  After having been seduced by the softness of some unplied super soft artisan wools lately, I find that I am being drawn back to the real thing; there is something very satisfying about a wool that is still ‘sheepy’, if you know what I mean.  It breathes better, it lasts longer (and it steeks better too).

Here, Leah is modelling the dress along with a lace shawl that Mom knit, also in the 60s.  It is a simple lace repeat, knit in a rectangle, in mohair.  (In contrast to what I said above, I find mohair yarns being produced now to be far, far nicer than most of those from the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Imagine how much more soft and lovely this shawl would be knit in Rowan Kidsilk Haze, for example).

Shawls like this are very popular today.  This is certainly an item that won’t go out of fashion.  Here is a close-up of the stitch pattern:

When I was in the eighth grade, my mom knit a very cool white coat out of super bulky wool.  This was a time when big silhouettes were starting to be all the rage.  Having an enormous, long sweater pulled over slinky pants was extremely fashionable.

That’s my mom, Mary Lou, modelling it this spring, 40 years after knitting it.  She looks great, as does the coat.

Look, no buttonholes!  Having a coat that didn’t button – to me this was the height of fashion.  How completely impractical!  How could you not love a coat that didn’t button!  And, look!  It was white!  How even more supremely impractical!  Who would wear a white coat?

Yes, my teenaged self adored this coat.  I coveted it!  I borrowed it frequently!  I secretly wished mom would knit one for me.  It probably was this coat that got me thinking about knitting garments for myself.  I had knit from an early age, but it was this coat that made me first think “Hey, I could knit that!”  Even through  my crush, I could see that it was a very simple knit.  Most of the things mom knit were way above my skill level, but this was in the realms of accessibility even then.

I added the above photo for sentimental reasons.  That is Harlei, who thought this whole photo shoot thing was immensely fascinating and couldn’t resist getting into the shoot.  Harlie was a rescue dog and my mom and Stuart had her for less than a year.  She died a few months after these shots were taken, from liver damage.

Though these posts focus on hand knitted garments, I couldn’t resist throwing in the following shots of a beautiful handmade lace centerpiece.  This piece, which has a fine cotton central portion, surrounded by very delicate white lace, was made by my mother’s grandmother, Theresa, probably around the early 1900s.  Theresa was born in 1988, and married in 1904.   I remember visiting her as a child.

I am fairly certain that it is crocheted, though my mother remembers watching her grandmother make bobbin lace (that is an art we don’t see much of anymore).  We washed it and pressed it for this shot, and it looks like new;  crisp, and white and fresh.  The stitchwork is so lovely and even.  (And Emma’s photos are so pretty.)

In the previous posts in this series, I showed photos of some of my collection of vintage knitting magazines, mostly from the 60s and 70s.  While I was living in Germany, my mother sent me a huge box filled with old knitting magazines.  Also around this time, I received a box from my grandmother.  Edna had arthritis, and as she got older, she was less and less able to knit.  At some point, she gave up completely.  When she was in her mid 80s, she insisted that her son, my Uncle Dick, box up her knitting bag and send it to me.  Dick apparently thought this was crazy, and that no sane person would want an old case of old knitting supplies, but Edna prevailed.

The case was obviously placed in a box and mailed to me just as it was, without any cleaning or sorting of its contents, for which I am very grateful.  It is a wonderful carpet case, the leather old and cracked and the fabric faded.  I love it.  Here is the clasp:

On the inside, two hand made quilted needle cases for crochet hooks and DPNs:

She had crochet hooks in every size, many of them made from bone:

Circular needles, all in their original packaging:

These Susan Bates and Boye needles were made from Nylon, and were likely the newest thing when she bought them.  Interestingly, I have tried to search for Circlon Nylon needles, as is clearly marked on the Susan Bates package, but my internet search only produces ‘Circulon’.  I don’t know if the packaging had a typo, or if the name changed, or if my search was inadequate; I will have to do some more digging.

The case also contained straight needles:

Lots and lots of beautiful straight needles:

I especially like the bent needles on the left below, and the luminescent green plastic ones (plastic isn’t so pretty these days):

And I loved her notions container; all of her safety pins and stitch markers kept in an old glass prescription bottle, dated 1959:

So, you see, my knitting legacy from Edna and Mary Lou is threefold.  First, in the beautiful garments that they knit.  Second in the tools of they trade which they passed on to me.  And third, in the love of craft and skill which I inherited.

I am going to end this series with a truly remarkable knit dress and way too many photos.  This series has showcased knitted garments made by my mother, Mary Lou, and also some that were made by my paternal grandmother, Edna.  This last is a dress that unites the two of them.  It is a dress that Edna knit for my mother in 1959, shortly after my mom and dad married.  This is my daughter, Emma, modelling it in April this year at a friend’s house just outside of Tucson.

The detailing on this dress is fabulous. It is knit in a very light mohair in a pale apricot colour (a much finer mohair than in the pink shawl).  Note the breast darts and the full fashioning, the set in sleeves, the brass buttons, the full circle skirt (amazing in a hand knit dress). To me, this just shouts 1950s.  It is elegant and sexy.  It makes me think of movie stars.

Mom says that Edna took her measurements, and then knit the dress perfectly to fit, without any extra fittings or fuss. Remember my grandmother was an expert seamstress and corsetière; if anyone could make a dress perfectly to fit, it was Edna.  My mom believes that she knit this without a pattern, and that it took about a month or so, even though Edna was working full time.  That is some speedy knitting.

I love the photo below done in black & white.  This just seems to emphasize the glamour of this dress; talk about movie stars or pin-up girls.  And though I can just imagine shooting this dress in a stylish restaurant, with a Cary Grant type in a tuxedo, and a fabulous cocktail in a fabulous glass, and a stole draped over the back of the chair, somehow this desert background really does something for it too.  Oh, don’t you wish we lived in the days when you could stroll out of the house in this dress, with a matching handbag and heels, and others would be dressed in similar fashion (though certainly not as fabulous).

In 1965, we flew back to California from Michigan during Christmas break. My mother’s grandfather, Jesse, was dying and she wanted to spend time with him.  In the six years since Edna had knit the dress, styles had changed; hemlines were creeping up.  Edna decided to shorten the dress.  She took her scissors and cut close to 2″ off the bottom of the dress, picked up the stitches, knit the edging and bound off.  Let’s put this in perspective: There were over 1000 stitches around the hem of that dress.  In mohair.  With a US size 1 needle.  Here is some more perspective:  See the photo below?  Emma is holding the piece that Edna cut off.  That is what a full circle skirt means.

When Emma was sorting through photos for this post, she started playing around with the photo below, putting it into sepia tones, to look like an old photograph.  Doug was walking past the monitor  and said “Hey, where did you get that photo of my mom?  I don’t think I’ve seen that one before!”  Doug’s mom, Ethel, died before I even met him.  We have always thought that Emma took after Doug’s father’s side of the family (the Lebanese side).  It’s funny; we’ve never before noticed a resemblance between Emma and Ethel.  But in this photo, with it’s astonishing 1950s vibe, Doug mistook Emma for his mother.

I love this dress.  With its 22″ waist, there is no way I will ever be able to wear it.  Not only is it stylish and sexy and elegant, it is a knitting work of art.  As a knitter, I get intense satisfaction out of this dress, and out of all of these beautiful pieces, knit with skill  and flair, and preserved so carefully through the decades.

Writing this series has been a wonderful experience for me.  It tied together more than four generations of women through something created using simply two needles and a length of yarn.  Seeing the clothes brought back so many memories and writing these posts reminds me of the fascinating stories in my family.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this series as much as Emma, Leah, Mary Lou and I enjoyed making it.