Neon lights

IMG_7157This will be a post with lots of photos and few words.  The entire crew here at Knitigating Circumstances has been felled by the flu all week, so words are not flowing freely.  Despite this, however, I have managed to do all of the finishing on my Neon cardigan.  The verdict: this is one fabulous knit!

IMG_7208IMG_7154The pattern, by Joji Locatelli, is really well-written and comprehensive.  I have made few modifications:  I knit the sleeves flat, added one set of hip increases (could have made more), and put in 12 buttons instead of 8.

IMG_7203IMG_7136Despite having made some really stupid (and fairly comical) wrong turns while knitting this (documented on these pages), this project turned out great.  I really think it is the perfect summer cardigan.

IMG_7141IMG_7147This was my first time using Plucky yarn and I can’t say enough good words about it.  I really like the feel of it – it has bounce and loft, but mostly I am crazy about this colour – Kissin’ Valentino.  I definitely see some more Plucky in my future.

IMG_7190Until the last minute I didn’t think it would fit.  In a postscript to my last post, describing my hilarious attempts to block this, I ended up re-blocking the whole thing.  This did the trick.  I won’t take it off until October!

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Red lace and sunshine

My knitting mojo has been on holiday the past few weeks, hopefully somewhere warm with pina coladas and a pool.  Life has been somewhat hectic, and when I have had some down time I’ve spent it with my nose in a book.  When I do pull my needles out, I’ve been working on Neon.  As it is a summer cardigan, and summer is with any luck on its way, it makes sense to concentrate on this one.

IMG_6574I am making Neon in a really great red yarn, hand dyed  by Sarah of the Plucky Knitter.  The colour is  hard to capture on camera, it is really red without orangy tones, and has a lot of depth to it.  It is called Kissin’ Valentino, and especially in the simple lace of this pattern, looks crisp and elegant, with a bit of sexy siren thrown into the mix.  I can’t wait to wear it with a linen blouse and navy heels.  I have a feeling it will be the perfect summer cardigan.

IMG_6549After the coldest spring in over 50 years, we have had two fairly nice weekends in a row, which has led to some peaceful knitting in the back garden.  The wisteria is blooming, and the field on the other side of our fence is planted in rapeseed just about to burst into full bloom.

Last weekend, I woke up early, pulled on my Killybegs cardigan, grabbed my coffee and sat out in the garden knitting.  As the sun warmed up, I shrugged off the Killybegs, and draped it over the back of the chair.  I went in to get another coffee, and when I came outside, Emma was standing with her camera, taking photos of the chair draped in the lovely green Donegal wool of Killybegs and the vibrant red of the Neon.  Just looking at the photos makes me happy.

IMG_6550I have managed to finish knitting the body of the cardigan.  It is hard to judge the fit, because even though it is knit in one piece and I can thus try it on, it also is lace and will need a really heavy block to open up the lace pattern.  What this means is that it seems impossibly small right now and I find it hard to imagine that I will ever be able to button it.  I have to trust in the miracle of blocking (and remember that I have two daughters who would not be overly upset if it ended up being too small for me.)

IMG_6581I followed the pattern almost exactly for the body, only adding one extra set of hip increases, but I am winging the sleeves.  The lace used on Neon is a simple 2-row repeat, and even though the sweater is knit in one piece, because it is a cardigan it is knit back and forth in rows.  This means that the pattern has a knit side and a purl side.  Joji has written the pattern, however, so that the sleeves are knit in the round.  There are obvious advantages to knitting this way, primarily that you don’t have to seam the sleeve, but for this pattern, because of the way the lace is formed, knitting in the round causes more problems than it solves.

IMG_6582Joji Locatelli is a new-ish designer, but a very professional and thorough one, and she is careful to address this problem. She gives detailed descriptions of how to knit the lace in the round, and even provides links to a video demonstration.  There is no denying, however, that this lace pattern is much simpler and more straight forward to knit back and forth than in the round.  In addition to to the technical aspects of knitting it without purl rows, which involves continually passing stitches back and forth between the needles, there is the very real problem that many knitters have encountered, which is that they end up with a different gauge for the lace when it’s knit in the round.  If you look at Joji’s Ravelry group, you will find many long discussions involving ripping, and changing needle sizes, and trying alternative ways to get the lace to work in the round.

IMG_6577To me, the answer is not only simple, but obvious: knit the sleeves straight, and then seam them.  I must point out that I am not the only one to do this; a number of other knitters have done so, and commented on the forums.  A couple of them asked Joji outright about knitting the sleeves flat and I found her responses very enlightening.  I took a screen shot for you:

Fullscreen capture 02062013 172012I think this reinforces the fact that she is a thoughtful designer, and responsive to her customers, as well as being cheerful and supportive.  The thing I found most interesting about this, however (and why I put them up here) is her comment that knitters today want patterns to be “seamless” and her struggle with the fact that in order to sell patterns you need to make them seamless, even in cases where a little seam would actually make things easier.  I find this rather disturbing.  It makes me want to say “Suck it up, knitters!  Sure, some of us prefer knitting seamless, and some of us prefer to knit in pieces.  But as a knitter, you should really know how to do both and suit the technique to the project!”  It is like those knitters who refuse to do crochet, and are rather adamant about it, even though sometimes a bit of crochet edging is just exactly what your knitting needs.  I think we should all try to be broadminded, and have fun mastering new techniques.  We are still allowed to have our favorites, of course, but why should we restrict ourselves like this in our pursuit of a hobby?  Aren’t we restricted enough in other things we have no choice in?  (I promise, dear reader, this is the end of my rant.)

IMG_6583I included Joji’s second comment, by the way, because if you are going to knit the sleeves flat, please don’t forget to cast on the extra stitches under the arm.  I could so easily have forgotten that; thanks Joji for steering me right!

The sun has peeked out again and I will run out and take advantage of it.  Here’s hoping my knitting mojo gets tired of pina coladas and comes home to challenge my books to a showdown.

Two projects are slower than one

I am knitting along on two projects at the same time lately, my Exeter jacket and my Neon cardigan.  Both are being knit for me (I am so selfish right now)!  Exeter is a fabulous double-breasted jacket knit with tons of cable-y goodness:

IMG_6460That’s a closeup of the back.  The cables are intricate and beautiful, with lace integrated into the cabling.  It is fun to knit but slow-going and tricky.  Although I have mostly internalized the pattern by now, I still need to concentrate.  The Neon, on the other hand, once I got beyond my initial stupidity (documented here) is easy and takes little thought.  It is good TV knitting, or holding-a-conversation knitting.

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Depending on what else I am doing at the time, I am switching back and forth between the two, sometimes quite literally.  Last weekend, when we had pleasant weather, I sat in the garden knitting. When I was by myself, I worked on Exeter; as soon as someone joined me I would put the Exeter down and pick up Neon.  As soon as I was by myself again, I switched back.  While the jacket will likely still take months to finish, the Neon is coming along quickly.  I am just a few rows short of where I will separate off the sleeves and then it will move even faster.

IMG_6445Of course, if I could bring myself to ignore all those luscious cables for a few weeks, I could whip this out super quick, because everyone knows that two projects are slower than one.  I can’t do it though.  There is something absolutely hypnotic about watching the progression of the cables across the back piece of the jacket.  How could anyone resist?

IMG_6457The Neon, while being an easy and intuitive knit once you get started, is still keeping my interest intellectually because of it’s construction.  Knitters today are really moving towards knitting top-down seamless sweaters.  While this has the obvious advantage that you can try the sweater on as you knit, I have never thought the shoulders are properly fitted using a top-down approach.  With either a raglan sleeve or a yoke construction, the shoulder is never as neat as with a properly inset sleeve.  Recently, a number of new methods have been developed for shaping a better shoulder while knitting top-down and seamless.  One of these is the Contiguous Method, developed by Susie Myers.  Many designers are now incorporating this method into their designs.  I have wanted to knit one for awhile.  When I saw that Neon, designed by Joji Locatelli, incorporates a contiguous shoulder, it moved to the top of my to-knit list.

IMG_6450As you can see from the above photo, the shoulder resembles a set-in-sleeve, in terms of its shaping and general architecture.   However, it is knit in one piece with no seams.  I think my execution is not perfect, but I will fix that up in the blocking. So far, I am really liking this.

The Neon is going to need some serious blocking, both to get it to fit (it’s a bit snug) and to get the lace to pop.   It really is a lovely pattern and a fun knit.  Joji is meticulous in her instructions.  If you are looking for a summer cardi, I would recommend it.

IMG_6441In the meantime, our short glimpse of spring has disappeared.  I was shivering in the cold and rain while taking these shots.  And the wind tried to make off with Exeter:

IMG_6454Never fear, the wind and I had a tussle, but I won.  I am now enjoying the indoors, cooking up a storm (butter chicken and spicy eggplant) and sneaking a row in here and there.

How to be stupid at knitting

Last weekend, I got up early on a Saturday morning and decided to do some swatching for my next sweater, Neon by Joji Locatelli.  Here is a photo of Neon:

copyright Joji

copyright Joji

As you can see, the cardigan is knit in a pretty, lacy stitch pattern.  This pattern, Tulle Stitch, is a 2-row repeat.  You can’t get much simpler than a 2-row repeat.  This is my first pattern from Joji, but I can tell you that it is meticulously written.  There is no guesswork involved in a Joji pattern.  She even tells you exactly how many stitches to cast on for your swatch and how to measure it.  So, here I am at 7am on a Saturday.  Doug and Emma had returned home the evening before from Canada.  They are in jet-lag city and are bound to sleep for hours.  Leah is also unlikely to wake early, and if she does, will probably stay shut in her room.  I have literally hours of prime knitting time stretching out before me.  I cast on my swatch before I even make coffee (egads!).

Now the tulle stitch is a 2-row repeat, but since the pattern is offset on every alternate repeat, in the interests of being very thorough, it is charted as 4 rows.  I am sitting on the couch, needles in hand, freshly wound ball of Plucky Sweater yarn at my side, and the Neon pattern on my laptop.  A message pops up saying that my laptop is out of juice and needs to be plugged in immediately, or it will close down.  The cable is upstairs, and not only do I not want to wake Doug up to get it, but I am highly lazy.  So, I grab a piece of paper (the back of a yarn label) and hurriedly scribble down the pattern for the swatch.  I then close down the laptop and cast on for my swatch.  Row 1 of the pattern stitch looks like this:

Row 1: k1, * k1, yo, k1 * to end

This is what I write:

Row 1: k1, * k1, yo, k1

Now for those of you unfamiliar with knitting terminology the star (*) in the pattern means to repeat, in the following sense – you repeat the bit between two stars.  So to knit row one, you would start with a knit stitch, and then do k1, yo, k1 over and over again until you reach the end of the row.  Easy, huh?  But that is not what I wrote.  The star notation is only used in pairs, it makes no sense otherwise.  So the fact that my scribble has a star on row one implies that I need to be repeating something.  This is what I knit:

k1, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, etc. etc.

This means that I am somehow interpreting my scribbled notation as:

Row 1: k1, * k1, yo * , end k1.

Okay, so this is stupid, but not outrageously so, and could easily be done by anyone who has not only neglected to drink their morning coffee before starting a new pattern but is also too lazy to charge their laptop.  Does my stupidity end there?  No, it does not.

After a few rows, I can tell that there is something seriously wrong.  The swatch looks wrong.  There is no rhyme or reason to the pattern.  It does not look pretty.  Furthermore, it is impossible to “read”, which means that even after a few rows, I could not tell where I was supposed to be in the pattern just by looking at the row underneath.  So, I rip it all out, make myself a cup of coffee, and sit down once again, now properly fortified, to knit the swatch again.  And, of course, even though I look at the pattern again and again, I never even realize that it is missing a star, or notice that my brain is automatically filling in the missing star into the equation, and filling it in wrong!

My second attempt at a swatch looks as wrong as the first.  But the lack of any symmetry to the pattern stitch is only part of the problem.  You see, on the second row of the pattern repeat, you are decreasing one stitch out of every three.  Notice, that my mistaken interpretation of the pattern means that on every odd row, I am increasing one stitch for every two, and on every even row, I am decreasing one stitch for every three.  This means that the number of stitches on the needle will keep growing….and growing…and growing.  After only a few rows, my swatch has doubled the number of stitches.  How could this be?

Thoroughly annoyed by now, I run upstairs, grab the cable (waking up Doug in the process), come back downstairs, plug in my laptop, and start reading the pattern.  Clearly, if the tulle stitch is continually multiplying the stitch count, there must be something in the sweater pattern that continually decreases the count.  But no, the pattern has no such stitch-decreasing mania (and is also very well written and organized).

Doug walks into the room.  He is jet-lagged and half asleep.  “I am a stupid knitter!” I say to Doug.  “Un huh,” he says while making himself a coffee, clearly not thinking this topic worthy of comment. (This is like asking “Do I look fat in this?”  A sensible husband will know that no response is a good response.)

I decide to log into Ravelry and search for an answer to this stupid problem.  First, I look at the finished Neon cardigans.  Lots of them, all beautiful.  I notice that the knitters all make comments like “fun pattern” and “easy knit”.  One knitter even said “Thought it was going to take me 2 weeks, but only took me 11 days, not bad.”  Aargh!  I am getting really annoyed now.  I look at the forums searching for other people agonizing over the pattern; surely someone has commented on the fact that the pattern increases exponentially.   Or that it MAKES NO SENSE AND LOOKS STUPID!  Or, maybe it’s just me.  “I really am a stupid knitter!” I yell to Doug.  “Sure, honey,” he says, clearly paying zero attention to my plight.

I make myself yet another cup of coffee (a double shot espresso latte).  I sit at the dining room table.  I very carefully read over the pattern again, the whole pattern, every line.  At some point a light bulb clicks on: “I missed the star!,” I say to Doug.  “I wrote the pattern stitch out wrong!  It is not k1, yo repeat, it is k1, yo, k1 repeat.  Well, jeez, ” I bang my palm to head, “that makes sense!  See, now it increases one stitch out of every three, and then decreases the same number on the alternate rows!”  I shout this, as if I have had an epiphany, on par, perhaps, with Newton and the apple.  “See, Doug, I am NOT a stupid knitter.  I’m just stupid!”  Wisely, Doug doesn’t respond.

Post epiphany, I knit the swatch.  It looks beautiful:

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The pattern is lovely. Furthermore, it is intuitive.  It makes sense.  I can “read” it, from the row beneath.  As for the sweater, once you get past the initial inch or two, the pattern is easy and intuitive.  (The yarn is also gorgeous, but that will be the topic of a subsequent post.)  Here is a progress shot, proving I have indeed advanced from swatch to sweater proper:

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I like to think that sometimes even genius knitters have their stupid moments.  I imagine Elizabeth Zimmerman yelling at her husband “But this pattern makes no sense, Arnold!”.  Or Barbara Walker, tearing her hair out, saying “There’s too many increases here!”  Then, at least I’d be in good company.

Christmas in April

On Friday, I came home from work to find a pile of packages at the door.  Among them, were these lovely goodies:

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A big pile of knitting goodness, which I had ordered from three different sources (in three separate months, no less) which all arrived on the same day.  Furthermore, they all arrived on a cold, grey April day in which snow flurries drifted out my window all day.  Christmas in April?  Most certainly.

I placed an order months ago for five skeins of Plucky Sweater in the scrumptious colour called Kissin’ Valentino.  It was a pre-order, sold as a kit for the sweater pattern Neon, by Joji Locatelli.   This means that you order the yarn before it’s been dyed, and then have to wait for it to arrive on your doorstep.  In this case, that took even longer than anticipated since the yarn was held up first by Customs, and then by the Easter holiday.  I had wavered quite a bit about between red and green for this cardigan, and even once I settled on red, there were a number of different reds available.  Red is always hard to capture properly in a photo, so when you order it from a photo on your computer screen, it can be a gamble.  Well, this gamble paid off.  The colour is smashing:

IMG_6277This yarn is destined for Neon, a beautiful, lacy, summer cardigan:

copyright Joji

copyright Joji

I also received an order of completely lovely Skein yarn.  I ordered this from Loop, in London, who as always were very helpful.  This is Merino Silk Sport, hand dyed 50% Merino, 50% silk in two colourways, Fig and Outlaw:

IMG_6280Isn’t it gorgeous?  I have a great project lined up for this yarn, but as there’s a story behind it, I will keep it a secret for now.  You will have to check back later to see it knit up.  The colours are spectacular, very rich and yet soft at the same time, like an old painting.

I also received a copy of Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter.  I am really looking forward to reading it; I have always admired Amy’s blog.  Perhaps I will post a review of it soon.  In the meantime, I’ve got lots of knitting lined up……

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Too many beautiful patterns to choose from

Sometime last winter I went into London shopping with the aim of buying some yarn to knit a sweater for me.  I went armed with a list of sweaters I was interested in and their various yarn requirements.  I also went with Emma, which means that I left the shop without any yarn for me, but with a pile of absolutely luscious Madelinetosh DK for Emma:

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Ever since then, we have been trying to pick a suitable sweater to knit with this yarn.  Not a week goes by when I don’t email Emma with a link to a sweater pattern and the query “How about this one?”  Sometimes, I think we are close to making a decision.  But somehow, we never seem to find the one.  Since the end of the year is upon us, I have been looking back over the year’s knitting and have discovered that I have not knit a single sweater for Emma all year (egads!).  Plus, Emma is flying home for Christmas and will only be here for two weeks before she must fly back for the start of term.  This means we have to decide now!  I want to be swatched and ready to go when she gets here.

So, what are our criteria?

  1. The sweater has to be right for this weight yarn (DK) and I must have enough of it (I have 1030 metres).
  2. It has to meet Emma’s strict style criteria.
  3. Because the yarn is slightly variegated, a simple, not-too-busy sweater will show off the yarn best.
  4. It has to be something I want to knit (after all, I knit because it is fun; if it’s not fun, I don’t want to knit it).

Every week, our options change, but I thought I would show you some of the ones I am considering at the moment.  (Emma, are you reading this?)

First, there is Sotherton.  This was the first sweater that Emma picked out for the yarn, many months ago, but we have been wavering about it ever since.

sotherton

Sotherton is designed by Kathleen Dames, and is in the Summer 2012 edition of Jane Austin Knits by Interweave Press.  I don’t really know why I have been wavering about it.  Most of the time I think it is just beautiful.   Part of the problem has to do with the reverse stockinette, which of course forms the background to the cables.  I am not convinced that reverse stockinette is the best canvas for this yarn.  Part of it has to do with the shaping – this is the kind of sweater that must be fitted exactly right; if you screw up anywhere in the shaping, it will show and it won’t look good.  Emma and Leah very kindly point out that I am good at this kind of sweater fitting, but it also means that I would have to knit it up very fast as fitting is much easier when you can fit it directly to the recipient.

Another one I really like is Low Tide Ripples, designed by Suvi Simola, for Twist Collective.

ripples_z_500_medium2

This one takes a very basic shape and adds some pretty features.  I think the cuffs are cute and distinctive, the zigzags show up nicely on the stockinette background, and I like the shoulder shapings.  This pullover is designed to be a little roomier, with a comfortable shape that makes it great with jeans.   Nonetheless, it is a very grownup and elegant version of a simple crew neck pullover.

One of the things that Emma has been mentioning frequently these days, is that she is cold.  It rains all the time in Vancouver, and the winters are dark and grey and gloomy and wet.  Emma wants some warm, cozy clothes.  That makes me think maybe the best use of this yarn is as a cardigan, rather than a pullover.  For cardigans, I think my top candidate at the moment is Dark and Stormy, designed by Thea Colman of Baby Cocktails.  Here is a photo of the back:

dark and stormy 1

and here is a photo of the front:

dark and stormy 2

I like everything about this design.  If Emma doesn’t want it, I will definitely make it for myself sometime down the line.  It looks like the type of cardigan which you could live in.  I particularly like the shawl collar.

Another one on my list is the Wrapped pullover, designed by atelier alfa:

mais_wrap_medium

I think this is ultra cool.  It is different, it is fun, it has attitude.  This is another one I could see making for myself.  I am not sure how it would look with a variegated wool, however; the pattern is very strong, and should stay that way.  You want the cables to make a statement; a variegated wool will make it stand out less.

Just this week, as I was putting together this post, Ruth Garcia-Alcantud of Rock and Purl, published a new sweater design, Echoes of Winter:

echoes of winter

I met Ruth at Knit Nation in 2010, when we both took a design course taught by Shirley Paden.  At the time, Ruth was hoping to become a sweater designer.  She now has many designs published in some great places.  For some reason, Echoes of Winter reminded me of Emma.  It could be because it’s very fitted, and Emma can really rock this look.  I also think it would look great in this yarn.  I do think that if I were to make this one, however, I would shorten it by an inch or two.

The Dragonflies Jumper, designed by Joji Locatelli, is another good one.

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I would definitely make it as a turtleneck, however.  This jumper has a very pretty cable pattern, that does indeed look like dragonflies, and a nice simple shape.  There are many lovely versions of it popping up on Ravelry.  I think it would be warm and cozy.  I would need to swatch the dragonfly pattern first and make sure it popped enough in this yarn, but I think it’s a nice simple sweater with some flair.

Hannah Fettig has designed so many great, classic sweaters; a number of them were in competition for a place on this list.  I am leaning towards the Lapis Yoke sweater, from the Fall 2010 edition of Knitscene:

FettigPullover1_medium

I think this is a really classic shape done really well.  If you are on Ravelry and you want to see what inspired me to put this on my list, go check out FeyaPL‘s version of this.  It is made with Madelinetosh DK and is absolutely gorgeous.

Another option is the Isis Tailcoat:

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This is designed by Keri-Helene Rane for Purl Alpaca Designs.  This is designed for and knit with alpaca, which gives it a nice rustic look, but done in the Madtosh DK, I think it would be very chic and sophisticated.   It doesn’t look as toasty warm as some of the other designs; but it has a nice shape to it.

Last, but not least, is the Jewel Lake pullover:

5816113452_930c29def8_zI really love this one and it has been in my queue for a long time, targeted for Emma.  (It is so clearly an Emma sweater!)  The designer is Kristen Hanley Cardozo from the Knitting kninja.   This one is designed for worsted weight, not DK weight, so would take a bit of mathematical manipulating; then again, math is what keeps a knitter’s brain young!  This sweater is so beautiful (and I love the photo).  Imagine that you could change the ribbon according to your mood: black velvet, red lace, etc.  The only drawback (besides the math) would again be the warmth factor; with it’s bare neck and 3/4 sleeves it’s not exactly toasty.  Remember, Emma is cold over there in Vancouver.

I could continue to add other patterns for hours, but I think I’ll stop now.  What a terrible problem to have, don’t you think?  Absolutely gorgeous yarn sitting around, and too many beautiful pattern to choose from.  Now all I need is for Emma to make up her mind!