Knitting treats from Copenhagen

I was teaching on the weekend and so was unable to make my way up to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I admit to having felt rather sorry for myself. For the entire time I was doing the MBA I was unable to make any yarn shows. I planned to remedy that once I finished, but then I took a job (teaching on the very same MBA programme) which meant a lot of working weekends. The universe (or at least the people who schedule yarn shows and MBA classes) seems to be conspiring against me, as they are mostly scheduled concurrently. Oh well. I am not so desolate as I have a Danish consolation prize or two (perhaps three).

A few weeks ago I was in Copenhagen with my friend, Erun (and with Sarah and Sara). One of my top priorities was to make it to Somerfuglen, a knitting shop that I had long wanted to visit.

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I know you won’t believe me but I didn’t buy any yarn there. Why? Because I loved everything and couldn’t choose and I had a plane to catch. That is not to say I didn’t make any purchases. I bought two lovely knitting books. First, I bought Issue One of the new knitting periodical, Laine.

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This is a lovely book. It is filled with knitting patterns, beautiful photography, articles, designer profiles, recipes, and has high production values. Even the ads are lovely! This issue had profiles of Joji Locatelli and Helga Isager among others. It seems to me that this will be a collectable and I am happy to have the first issue.

I also bought this amazing book:

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By Annette Danielsen, it is filled with stunning photos of Greenland and absolutely gorgeous sweaters. I want to knit them all. I particularly want to knit this one, Fjelde, which coincidentally I have in my favorites file on Ravelry:

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© Annette Danielsen

Here is the extra special goodness from my trip to Sommerfuglen:  I tried this jacket on! And it was scrumptious. It fit beautifully and was a dream to wear. As a result, I have purchased the book and now somehow have to teach myself to read a knitting pattern written in Danish! Never fear, dear readers, I WILL accomplish this eventually (perhaps with some help from my friend, Erun, and her mother, Liv)!

Hanging in the window at Sommerfuglen was a very smart jacket by Hanne Falkenberg. I was able to try it on as well. I am a big fan of Hanne’s designs and yarn as you can tell from this post from some years ago. This jacket also fit perfectly and I could not help but notice that it was precisely the kind of thing I need for my working wardrobe. I thought about buying it right then and there, but was prevented because (1) I couldn’t check any luggage on my flight home and (2) the shop didn’t have kits in the colour combos I liked.

Once I got home, I continued to think about this jacket, however, and ended up ordering a kit in the same colourway as the shop sample (colourway #1). Here it is:

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The design is called Sofi, and it is knit in two different yarns – the sleeves and main colour are knit in her No2 shetland 100% wool and the contrast colour is her No4 Sofistica 60% Cotton & 40% Linen. Here you can see the two different yarns from the kit:

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So, even though I didn’t make it to Edinburgh, I can console myself with these lovely Danish knitting treats. I have heard that the festival suffered this year from its excessive popularity – by all accounts it was very crowded and hot. I would have braved both to see Kate Davies’ stand (and all of the other goodness) but perhaps by the time I do make it up there, the venue will be bigger. In the meantime, I have plenty of knitting to keep me happy.

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!