Sunshine and knitting are restorative

I’ve been working hard since I arrived in Johannesburg and haven’t had much of a chance to get any knitting done.  Truth be told, I am quite worn out. But today is Sunday and I am not teaching, and after a cloudy start the sun came out.  I cast on for the Match & Move shawl by Martina Behm.  I’m still not convinced that I like triangular shawls, but I am sure enjoying knitting this:

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I sat out on a lounger by the pool, put my head phones in and an audio book on (a re-read of Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold) and had a restorative afternoon.  I am using yarn from a kit I bought many years ago from The Plucky Knitter.  It has three skeins of Primo Fingering (75% wool, 20% cashmere, and 5% nylon) in the colours En Vogue, Faded Grandeur and Elegant Elephant.  The colours are beautiful and rich:

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The photos don’t really do them justice, especially when taken in the bright African light.  I have very little bandwidth here (I have tried to crop the top photo at least five times unsuccessfully) so I am going to go back to my knitting and book and eke out a bit more sunshine while I can.  I hope that you enjoy some time to knit this weekend, in the sun or not.

Travel knitting redux

I’m packing once again for a long-haul flight.  Tomorrow I’m heading to Johannesburg on a business trip.  I’ll have about 10 nights stuck in a hotel, so I definitely need to have some knitting packed, and preferably more than one project.

I am steadily progressing on my Falkenburg jacket, but it’s not good travel knitting at this stage.  I will take my Highland Rogue along.  Here is the last progress photo I took:

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I am further along now, about two thirds of the way through this project.  The ends will be grafted together to make a very substantial cowl which can be wrapped three times around the neck.  I am finding it slow going; in fact, I took it along on my last trip to Johannesburg and possibly the one before that.

I have spent many hours trying to think of another project to take along with me.  I think I may have found one.  Emma and I went through all of my stash last month (more on that in some future post) and I found three skeins of yarn that I purchased long ago to make a Color Affection shawl:

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I wrote about this yarn purchase more than seven years ago in this post.  (OMG! I have been writing this blog for a very long time!)  A year later I wrote about the yarn again, stating that my very contrary nature prevented me from knitting the Colour Affection shawl because it was too trendy.  You can find that post here.  I find the latter post to be rather ironic right now, because I am thinking of finally using this yarn to knit another very popular shawl pattern, the Match & Move shawl by Martina Behm:

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© Martina Behm

Not only is it popular, but it is also a triangular shawl, a shape which, as I have stated numerous times, I don’t like.  However, it checks the boxes for travel knitting: fairly mindless, acres of garter stitch, and lightweight.  It will provide a good counter to the Highland Rogue.  Maybe I can buck my trend to avoid trendy knits by knitting something trendy (!).  Or perhaps it’s now on the downhill side of the trendiness chart so it no longer qualifies.  In any case, now that I have the knitting sorted out, I’m off to unearth my summer wardrobe.

Blast from the past

On February 10th, 2006, I sat with my two daughters on a couch in Potsdam, Germany, knitting needles poised, television on, waiting for the start of the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.  The Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, had come up with a cool challenge for herself – pick a challenging knitting project, cast on during the Opening Ceremony, knit like crazy while watching the Olympics, and finish the project before the Closing Ceremony ends.  She wrote about it on her blog and thousands of knitters around the globe decided to join her in the challenge.  It was fun, it was cool, and it gave us an excuse to both watch every second of television coverage and to knit like maniacs.

Somewhere there is a photo of the three of us casting on our first stitches.  Emma was 12, Leah was 11, and I was determined. I picked a pullover by Nicki Epstein that was featured in the Fall 2004 episode of Vogue Knitting. I still have the magazine:

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And here is the pullover, part of a feature article about Nicki:

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I finished the challenge – succeeding in completing an entire sweater before the Games ended – and then promptly ripped it out and re-knit it as I realised I should have knit it in a different size.   (It was so long ago I can’t remember whether I knit it too small or too large the first time around).  But I remember the sense of accomplishment and the fun.  (Both girls were beginner knitters and made scarves.  Pretty good scarves, too.)

For the last month, while Emma was home she has been helping me clean up and organise the house.  This included going through all of my knitting stuff (more on that in a future post) and while doing it, we found the sweater!

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It still looks great.  No pilling, no stretching out of shape, just like it was finished yesterday.  It has been packed away for well over a decade.  Emma was 12 when I knit it and she is 25 now and, can you believe, it still fits her!

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This was a very nice blast from the past.  It brought back some fun memories.  I knit this back in the days before Ravelry – before I kept records of my knitting. It was a time when I was just starting to find blogs written by knitters and to become entranced with knitting again.  It was a time when the girls were young and we could indulge in silly projects and be creative as a family.  (Actually, we still do that.  We’re just not as young anymore and live many thousands of miles apart.)

Emma has gone back to Vancouver now.  We are sad.  So is the pullover:

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Doesn’t it look dejected?  Don’t worry, pullover!  Maybe in another 13 years, we will pull you out and Emma can model you again!  And you will probably still fit!

Sleeve cap tinkering

Having just completed a project, last week I found myself pulling out the Sofi jacket which has been sitting unfinished in my knitting pile for most of a year.   This is where I had gotten to before putting it away:

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As you can see, I had finished up the fronts and back of the jacket, and was missing only the sleeves plus all of the edgings and finishing.  Part of the reason that I had stopped working on it was because the sleeves are worked in seed stitch on tiny little needles, and part was because I was having trouble understanding the instructions for the top-down sleeves.

Sofi is a very square garment; the underarms are formed by binding off a bunch of stitches, and then knitting straight up without further decreases, leaving a wide, flat edge under the arm.  The instructions are to pick up stitches along the vertical edges of the sleeves and then to start at the top of the sleeve and knit down using short rows knitted in seed stitch.  I was worried about this construction: didn’t I need to pick up stitches along the bottom of the armhole as well?

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However, the instructions were to pick up 55 stitches along each side, and I had exactly 110 rows of garter, meaning 55 garter ridges on each side.  I took this to be a sign that I was following instructions, and I picked up a stitch in each garter ridge.

I was also a bit thrown by Hanne’s instructions for doing the short rows themselves, in which each row begins by throwing the yarn over the right needle, and ends by working 2 stitches together – one being the yarn over from the beginning of the preceding row and the other the next stitch on the pick up row.  I decided to stop over-thinking it and just follow the instructions and see where they led.  It turns out that this method makes a very nice edge along the shoulder, and looks quite neat:

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As I continued knitting, I began to worry more and more about how the cap was going to be joined under the arm.  I even wrote to the designer, Hanne Falkenberg, sending her photos, to ask if I was doing this right.  It turns out that I was.  Hopefully, you can see from these photos how the sleeve is meant to be sewn to the bound off edge at the underside of the arm.  It is rather clever and also allows you to knit the sleeve back and forth instead of in the round (hooray!).

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Unfortunately, I had to knit the entire cap and start knitting the sleeve itself before I could try it on and see about the fit.  The verdict is that the sleeve is too roomy at the cap.

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Here is another photo where it does not look too bad at the back, but you can see that there is a bulge at the front of the cap:

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I think that part of the problem is that I have too many stitches on the needle. A more serious problem, I think, is that I picked up the stitches at the same rate along the entire armscythe – one stich for every garter ridge.  You can see that the puckering happens along the middle third of the cap, both back and front.  In this region, I should have picked up fewer stitches.

So, what to do now?  I am trying to be sensible and think about it carefully, and examine all of the photos with a critical eye before ripping.  I know that nothing drives me crazier than sleeves which are too tight, so I don’t want to adjust a too loose sleeve and end up with a too tight one.  I think that I will leave this cap as it is, and pick up stitches on the other arm, adjusting the rate of pick-up along the middle third of each side, so that I end up with 10 or so fewer stitches altogether.  Then, I will knit that sleeve down about the same length, so that I will have two sleeves at different widths to compare.  THEN, I will rip out the one that fits the worst!

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I wish you all a good weekend with minimal ripping involved!

Tensho for the win!

I finished my first knitted garment of the year; the Tensho Pullover (Artist), designed by Beatrice Perron Dahlen:

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I knit this for my daughter, Leah, but as she is back in Vancouver now, I have modelled the pullover myself in these photos.  Tomorrow it goes in the post!

The pattern has a good range of sizes covered, from 32.5″ to 51.5″.  I made it in the size 44.5″.  I am wearing it with about 3″ of ease;  Leah is one size bigger than I am, so it will have a tad less ease on her.

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I knit this EXACTLY as written.  This is very rare.  I didn’t need to swatch because I had used the yarn previously and knew my gauge.  I was able to cast on immediately and I didn’t need to change a thing.  I commented on a previous post about how much I love the way that this pattern is written.  It gives me exactly the information I need and doesn’t pfaff around with the information I don’t need. Of course, we will all differ on what we need/wish in a pattern, but I know that I would pick up another pattern by Beatric Perron Dahlen without a moment’s thought.  I like the way she writes and thinks.

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When Leah came home for the holidays, I sat her down and showed her a bunch of knitting designs which I thought she would like.  Her answer to each was the same: “Hmm, that’s nice.”  Imagine this said with no inflection, while trying to hide a yawn.  Finally, I showed her a photo of Tensho, which I had planned to make for myself, and she said “Wow!”.  And, boom, it went from the knit-for-me queue to the knit-for-Leah queue.  I ordered the yarn that day and cast on as soon as it arrived.

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I am wearing it here with the Cascade cap which I knit for Doug, but frequently steal borrow (blogged here).  Tensho is knit bottom up.  The sleeves and the body just flew off my needles, but then I got bogged down with work, Leah flew back home, and I had a gluten-accident (25 years gluten-free and then I made a BIG mistake) – this means I slowed down quite a bit.  Even so, it took me 6 weeks from start to finish, which is a pretty good pace for me.

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I used Gilliat, a worsted weight wool yarn by De Rerum Natura.  I purchased it from Wild and Wooly in Hackney, London. I used this yarn last year to knit another sweater for Leah, SnowFlower, which I blogged about here.  I love this yarn.  It is incredibly durable, it takes to colourwork really well, and best of all – it is economical.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but it is important to me to watch my pennies.  When I go to a yarn event (not too often these days), it is hard not to come to the conclusion that knitters have no limits on their disposable incomes.  I have been spending less on knitting year on year for the past 5 years, and still manage to knit nice things with nice yarn.

Gilliat comes in 100g balls, with 250 metres per ball.  I bought 5 skeins of the grey (Fusian) and 1 of the white (Sel).  I used 45 grams of the white, and I only needed to break the 5th ball of grey for the last few rows of ribbing around the neck.  If I left off a quarter inch from the length of the sweater I could have made this with just 4 balls of the main colour.  This means that the entire pullover comes in at £55.   (As a comparison, if I  knit it with Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, I would have needed 8 skeins of the main and 1 skein of the contrasting colour – and that would be pushing my luck a bit with the CC – which would have come to £112.50.  Note that BT is an American yarn and the Gilliat is a European yarn and I live in the UK; it could be that BT is cheaper in the US and Gilliat more expensive. Nevertheless, my point remains – this yarn is economical.)

Since I know that knitters like this kind of thing, here is a photo of the reverse side:

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I am not a natural in front of the camera.  One of the problems with acting as my own model is trying to relax and not look stiff in the photos.  Emma’s approach is to make me laugh:

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Tomorrow this goes in the post.  Hopefully, Leah will enjoy wearing it.  Apparently it is already warming up in Vancouver.  Am I evil to hope they still have a few cold weeks left in the season so that the pullover gets some use?

Wearability Wednesday: mixed message

Welcome to another episode of Wearability Wednesday, in which I review a previously knitted garment, and comment on its wearability.  Do I wear it, or has it been consigned to a drawer?  How do I style it?  How has it held up?  Would I knit it again? What would I do differently? Does it fit?

Today we will look at this sweater:

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I knit this around this time last year.  I blogged about it quite extensively as it underwent a transformation or two on the needles.  It was a case of choosing the wrong pattern and yarn combination, realising half way through that it wasn’t going to work, and then morphing it into something else to take advantage of the yarn.  You can read about it here.  Given the mis-starts (including some sizing issues), I think it turned out pretty well.  I called it Ocean Waters.

Emma took the above photo yesterday.  You can see that the fit is good.  It is a cool and casual sweater: perfect with jeans, which is how I usually wear it.  It is a “going out for a long walk in the woods” sweater.  A “puttering around the house” sweater.  A “cosy up on the couch with a good book” sweater.  In other words, it is a sweatshirt kind of sweater, only far better because everyone knows that natural fibres beat fleece hands down.

This was the first (and so far, only) project which I knitted with Nua yarn, a new-ish yarn developed and distributed by Carol Feller.  The yarn is a blend of 60% merino wool, 20% yak, and 20% linen. It has a very rustic look, with long fibres, and muted colours (the linen takes up dye differently thus lending depth to the colour).  It is also very warm, due to the yak I suspect, which is why it didn’t lend itself to the summer top I had initially planned to knit.

So, back to the wearability question: do I wear it?  Yes, all of the time.  How is it holding up?  The short answer is: it has pilled terribly.  Here is a photo from a few weeks ago, which I took myself in a bit of a contortionist pose, in order to show some of the extent of pilling:

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This is pretty awful.  As a result, I tended to wear the sweater all of the time around the house – but not out in public.  I want to make clear that this yarn is the most cuddly, warm, deliciously soft next to the skin, absorbent, comfortable, lovely, natural, lightweight, scrumptious stuff ever.  But it pills if I just look at it.

It is also the case that I had not spent much time purposely trying to de-pill it.  So, last week, I took it to task, and tried my best to get rid of all the pills:

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Then, I washed it and laid it out to dry.  You can see from the photo at the top, and the below close-up that it definitely looks better after getting this spa treatment.

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You can also see how very beautiful the colours are, and how the blended yarns result in such a rich canvas.  I mean, this close-up is gorgeous!  Look at the stitch definition! However, I have been wearing it now for a few hours and already the sleeves are starting to pill again.  I have heard of sweaters which are initially very pilly and then magically cease to be after a few washes, and am hoping that might be true for this one.  Because, on every other count, I love this yarn.  It is incredibly warm for its weight, and as soft as can be.  I will continue to wear it and periodically de-pill it, and hope for the best.  And I will probably try Nua again on a different type of canvas – maybe as a cowl or a pair of mitts, perhaps with a smaller needle size and a textured stitch pattern (note that the sweater doesn’t show much pilling across the bodice which is knitted in a knit and purl patterned stitch).

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For all of you who asked me on Ravelry for a review of Nua, I have to say its a bit of a mixed message.  Regardless, it is cold here in the UK this week, and I am staying toasty warm in my Nua sweater.

Bulky knitting isn’t travel friendly

I have been making progress on the Tensho Pullover I am knitting for Leah. Here is the latest progress photo:

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However, I am in Copenhagen today, sitting in my hotel room after a busy day teaching, and the Tensho pullover is back at home on the couch.  You may recall that I took it with me to Berlin a few weeks ago, but that was before I joined the sleeves to the body and started the yoke.  Bulky knitting isn’t travel friendly.

This sweater seemingly flew off my needles for the first two weeks but has since slowed down a bit.  Although worsted weight yarns knit up quickly they also hurt my hands and I have to be careful not to overdo it.  Also, as soon as I realised that I had zero chance of finishing it before Leah flew back to Canada, I purposely slowed down the pace.

Tensho, written by Beatrice Perron Dahlen, is a great pattern.  Not only is it gorgeous but the pattern is written in just the style I like.  It is incredibly easy to navigate.  I have found myself getting aggravated sometimes with the lengthiness of some patterns today, but find this one works really well for me.  (It is the pattern equivalent of Goldilock’s third bowl of porridge:  This porridge is too hot.  This porridge is too cold.  But THIS porridge is just right.)  Note that the pattern has a fair few pages, but most are photos.  The pattern itself is short and sweet without compromising in any way.

I decided to reverse the colours on this project.  The original is shown with dark yarn on a light background.  It is designed, in fact, to look like ink on paper.  The pattern notes state: “This pullover is named for Tenshō Shūbun, a Sumi Ink artist dating from the 14th century.”  I love this style of painting and I am always drawn to black and white designs.  However, I really didn’t want to make a white or cream-coloured pullover and had my sights set on grey.  I wondered whether reversing the colours would be un-true to the intentions of the design.  Is it? I don’t know.  But it works, and I like it.  Here is a closeup of the beginnings of the yoke patterning around the shoulder:

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I did bring another project with me to Copenhagen (one which is easier to carry) but my heart is with Tensho at the moment.