A cast of hundreds…and me.

I have been enjoying working on the Killybegs cardigan designed by Carol Feller.  It is a lovely design and the pattern is really well written.  As a result of this, I have been paying attention to Carol, and her other designs, and so I sat up and noticed when she announced she was about to publish her 100th design.  Not only that, but it is a lovely design; a cardigan, called Ravi:

To go along with it’s publication, she decided to host a KAL, or knit-along.  I think that most KALs used to be when a small local group of knitters decided to all knit the same thing, and to meet up once a week or so while doing it, so they could compare notes and offer encouragement.  With the advent of the internet and the huge online knitting community, mediated by Ravelry, the KAL seems to have expanded out of all proportion.  I am normally a more solitary type I guess, or maybe don’t like to think of myself as trendy, so I have never participated in a KAL.  But here, I thought, is a lovely design and an opportunity to experiment with a KAL for the purpose of blog reporting.  (Yes, dear reader, I am doing this for the purpose of science.)

When I joined the Ravi KAL group on Ravelry, there were about 40 others in the group.  This seemed like a nice size to me.  However, the urge to knit this cardigan seems to be pretty irrepressible, and today, as I write this, there are 755 knitters participating in the KAL, and the number keeps creeping up.  The recommended yarn for the cardigan is Blue Moon Fibre‘s Socks that Rock (great name, huh?) in medium weight.  Though many are using alternate fibres, a huge number are using the BMF, which is a small company specializing in hand painted yarns.  Imagine the chaos there when 600 or so people placed cardigan-sized orders of hand painted yarn!  I ordered this yarn, in the colour called Copperline, which is a beuatiful, rich copper, with strand of browns and rusts.  I like the fact that it has the richness, depth and variation that comes from the handpainting process, but not too much variation, which I really don’t like knit up in sweaters.   Isn’t it a lovely shade?

I am going to hold off on my comments about KALs until a little later in the experiment.  I should point out, however, that this is one of those in which the pattern is released in Stages, so that everyone can make an attempt to keep up.  The first clue to the pattern, with directions for the yoke, was released about two weeks ago.  I had yet to receive my yarn at the time, and was determined not to start until I finished knitting Laresca, so I started about a week late.

The first step to knitting anything, however, is to wind the skein into a ball.  I still use the old fashioned method.  This means that for every single skein of yarn that I knit, I shanghai Doug or Emma or Leah into standing around with the yarn draped over their outstretched hands while I wind the yarn into a ball by hand.  They are really terribly good about this whole process, and never complain, though I think they sometimes conspire to run out of the room when they see me holding a skein of yarn in my hand.

I must say that the above photo altered reality a bit in order to get a good shot; I don’t normally stand quite so close, and I usually wind at a furious speed; I had to slow down in order to capture this.  This was also taken on a cloudy, rainy day, and Emma managed to catch the only ray of sunshine that fell in our back garden that day.  This mix of sun and shadow playing on the yarn really reflects the richness you see in person.

I will now make a short diversion in this post, intended for those people who buy me birthday gifts (Doug, are you reading this?).  Many knitters nowadays don’t have to shanghai their family into standing around motionless for hours with arms outstretched.  These knitters have shifts, small mechanical devices which hold the yarn, and which spin, allowing a ball to be wound more easily.  Many of these swifts are beautiful works of art in and of themselves.  Some can even be dismantled and easily stored away when not in use.  Like, for instance, a Hornshaw swift:

Some knitters might also have a ball winder, thus facilitating the process even further, but those hints will wait until another birthday is upon me.

The Ravi cardigan has an unusual construction. The yoke is knit sideways, from center front to center front.  Stitches are then picked up along the bottom edge, and the rest of the cardigan is knit downwards in garter stitch.  The first clue for the KAL was for the yoke section, which is made using short rows, which shape the yoke into a gently curving shape which is wider along the base than along the top.  There is a panel of lace along the bottom edge of the yoke, and the top is formed by garter stitch rows, into which short rows are inserted at even intervals to form “wedges”.  These wedges look really interesting and beautiful in the handpainted BMF yarn.  I have been working on this, very sporadically I must say, for the past week, and am about half way through the yoke.  Here you can see it from close:

And closer:

And closer still:

Isn’t is completely lovely?  In the last photo you can really see the short rows and how they interact with the garter stitch.  I will discuss the short rows in more detail in the next post.

I’d like to end, however, with a comment about Laresca.  I bemoaned the weather in my last post, and said that I would be ready for the sun if it ever showed it’s face. Today, it wasn’t particularly warm, and it definitely wasn’t sunny, but I managed to wear Laresca anyway, through the mediation of that wonderful piece, the jacket.  Here are some photos Doug snapped of me at the office with his phone.

The jacket looks a bit shapeless in these photos, but it’s actually a lovely, comfortable, warm jacket made from felted wool, just perfect for a knitter (it’s from Hobbs).

That’s all the news from Knitigating Circumstances headquarters.  Stay tuned for the scintillating topic: short rows!

If the sun ever does comes out, I’ll be ready

England continues to be in the throes of a non-summer; endless days of cold and rain and grey.  I am still wearing a coat to work, making hot soups for dinner, and soaking in a steamy hot tub in the evenings.   I have not worn my sunglasses since leaving Arizona and have forgotten what sandals are. But, if the sun ever does come out, I’ll be ready:

Yes, I have finished knitting Laresca.  (Finally, a finished project!)  And, if I do say so myself, it turned out pretty good.  I complained in an earlier post that I wasn’t really liking this one; both because I had regrets about the colour and because I didn’t think it’s loose, swingy style was really me.  One of my readers (hi, Lou!) pointed out that perhaps I should be applying my own Wearability Wednesday criteria before knitting it, and not investing the energy to finish something I ultimately wouldn’t find wearable.  Well, in a sense I think that is what I did, because in fact my Laresca doesn’t quite look like the original (which I will repeat here again, just for comparison’s sake).

I love this photo, with its long, loose, flowing lines, and I might aspire to wear this look, but it really isn’t me.  On the other hand, my Laresca, a much more fitted garment, paired with a short snakeskin print skirt, suits me rather well.  My top is more fitted for two reasons: first, because I knit it with 4 inches of negative ease instead of the called-for positive ease (a big difference), and second, because I somehow, inadvertently, accidentally ended up with 12 fewer stitches across the back after doing the arm decreases, thus making it even more fitted.  Was I aware that I was decreasing the hell out of it?  Consciously, no.  But, unconsciously, I was clearly going for a different kind of sweater in my head than on the paper.  My hands knew what they were doing.

And as far as the colour goes, it was only after I finished knitting it that I realized that it went perfectly with this beautiful skirt and matching snakeskin heels that I bought months ago (from Hobbs) in anticipation of the summer-that-isn’t.  It’s almost as if I had a grand plan, all along.

So, I’ve got my linen and silk thing going here.  I’ve got a bit of lace.  I’ve got a cute short skirt.  Go ahead, sun, do your worst!  I’m ready for you!

Up to my armpits in sweaters

There hasn’t been as much time to knit as I could wish this past week, but then again there never is.  Nevertheless, I have been slowly plodding along on my Laresca.  I have reached the point where I split for the armholes, after which I will knit the front and back separately.

The lace panel is looking kind of pretty and the linen fabric is cool and has nice drape.  It is still difficult to know whether it will fit properly when finished, but it is not as bad as I originally feared.  In fact, looking at these photos, I am pleasantly surprised; it looks much better than I thought it would.  (Emma has just called me to say “Gee, this looks much better than I thought it would!”)

I am sure that it will look better with a pretty skirt and some sandals, and maybe an iced coffee in my hand, and some sunshine (though I fear that here in England the sun may never come out this summer).

I have also been slowly working away on my Killybegs cardigan, and, lo and behold, I have also knit up to the armholes on this one.  (Get it –  I am up to my armpits in sweaters!).  Here, I am trying it on for the camera, attempting to smile while awkwardly holding it up in place.

Unlike my rather wishy washy feelings towards the Laresca, I love the Killybegs.  I think it is fabulous.  I adore the brilliant green, the sharp flecks of orange and blue, the unusual placement of the honeycomb cables, the shaping, the cozy, lofty, lovely wool.  In short, I like everything about it.

My only negative comment on this one, is that I wished I had put only four pattern repeats of the single honeycomb pattern, before branching out for the waist. (This is through no fault of the pattern, but likely a combination of a slightly off row gauge and my natural shape.)  As it is, I have knit the 16″ required to the armholes, but the waist of the cardigan sits above my natural waist.  To correct this, I either have to rip out about 10″ and start the waist shaping earlier, or I have to make the cardigan a couple of inches longer.  Can you guess which I will pick?  Hopefully, long cardigans will be stylish this year.

I have also been considering putting a zipper in this.  The pattern has an I-cord edging on the front and hook-and-eye closures, but I rather think that a zip would be pretty nifty.  I am not the best seamstress, and haven’t put in a zipper before, but I am leaning towards trying it out.  What do you think?

It has been a strange week around Knitigating Circumstances headquarters.  Emma is still in Berlin, where she is sick.  Doug has been in Malaysia, where he was sick, and is now in Brussels, where he is still sick.  This leaves only Leah and me (thankfully, not sick) and the house seems very quiet.  Thank you to Leah who very kindly took over Emma’s job as blog photographer this week (though we did send them out to Berlin for a final tweak!).

Second thoughts

For a week or two the weather here warmed up, so I put aside the thick, wooly Killybegs cardigan to concentrate on Laresca, a breezy summer pullover knit in a linen blend yarn.

And I must say that I am having second thoughts.  First, although the Rowan Panama yarn comes in many lovely colours, when I went to the yarn shop (fully intending to buy red) I bought the yarn in a completely neutral beige colour.  In the shop, in the normal very unhelpful lighting that shops tend to have, this neutral shade looked like bone or oyster and had a bit of luminescence to it.  I thought that a light summer top in this colour would go with everything – I could wear it with navy, or brown, or black, or red, or with wild prints.  Now that I have been knitting with it, the colour is looking more muddied to me – more like the colour of a pair of chinos; very ordinary beige.  This might have been helped along by my friend Inge, visiting me last weekend, very politely asking “And why, exactly, did you pick this colour?”

Unfortunately, my second thoughts are extending past the colour choice.  I am accustomed to making sweaters that are fitted.  This is a very unfitted, loose sweater.  Here again, is the photo from the pattern webpage:

I don’t normally knit unstructured garments like this.  Furthermore, I don’t normally wear unfitted garments like this.  I continue to like the way it looks on the model, but am questioning what made me choose this style for myself.  This could turn out to be a real mistake.  I have tried it on now, twice, and both times thought it looked way too big and very unflattering.  But, having measured and remeasured, I do not think that I am off gauge.  Thus, the sweater should fit as intended once done.  Plus, instead of the recommended 1 inch of positive ease, I am knitting it with 3 inches of negative ease.  Surely this will mean that the sweater will not swim on me.   I am trying to believe that the drape of it will not be apparent until I have knit the whole thing.

There was yet another thing that gave me second thoughts with this project.  When I was in Phoenix over Easter, I discovered that my mother lived only a few blocks from a wonderful knitting store, Knit Happens.  This is a really great shop, with tons of space and lots of room for knitting and a great selection of wool and books and accessories.  I went a little crazy and bought a lot of stuff there.  (I was there at Easter and they had a promotion – after you rang up your purchases at the till, you could choose an Easter egg from a basket; inside the egg was a discount that would apply to your purchase.  I won 25% off!  Good thing I had added that lovely silk laceweight for Emma to my basket.)  One of the things that I bought was a long-coveted knitting needle – the Lantern Moon Destiny circular knitting needle; in fact, I bought two of them in a US5 and US6.  I bought the ebony model.

I wanted to show you a photo of them, but no photo shows how beautiful they are.  These are made from ebony wood, and are perfection indeed.  They have a swivel at the base, where the needle tip meets the coil, that allows them to swivel as you knit. This keeps the needle from curling up on you and doing other nasty twisty things while you knit.  They feel so great in the hand, and the wood is hard and smooth and polished and pretty.  And since they cost $28 for a single pair (let me repeat that, $28 for a knitting needle) they most definitely fall under the category of luxury item.

Could you tell, dear reader, that there was a “but” coming?  Here it is…But, knitting this project with my beautiful, expensive needles was a nightmare!  The swivel at the base of the needle tip prevented the stitches on the left-hand needle from advancing up onto the needle tip.  I had to wrestle and struggle with every stitch to move it past the join.  I wanted so badly for this needle to be as marvelous to use as it is to look at, that I struggled on unnecessarily for the first two inches of fabric.  After that, I switched to my HiyaHiya steel interchangeable needles (I bought mine from Loop, in London) and the knitting went three times as fast and saved me from pulling my hair out.

So where does that leave Laresca?  I keep telling myself that I should just keep knitting the pattern as written, and wait and see.  I am sort of hoping for a magic transformation once I put it on, from boring, beige, unfitted, unstructured, stretchy, shapeless blob to some sort of chic, summery, drapey linen goodness.  Wishful thinking maybe?  I’ll keep you posted.

Trials and tribulations

This has been a frustrating weekend here at Knitigating Circumstances Headquarters.  We have been trying very hard to post the first installment in RETROspective, a series featuring vintage garments handknitted by my mother and grandmother, and lovingly remodelled and rephotographed by three generations of us knitigating gals.  I have the text all ready to go, but we have hit a technological wall.  Emma is in Germany, which means she has no access to the thousands of photos we took for this series.  Before she left, Doug uploaded all of the photos onto a cloud service so that she could access everything remotely.  Unfortunately, Emma has very poor bandwidth, and way too many photos to sort through, so this solution isn’t working out. Yesterday, Emma and Doug had a two-hour long skype call trying to come up with a fix, and finally called it off.

We are now attempting a second solution, using a semi-professional photo sharing site.  I am doing an initial triage through the photos, narrowing them down to a hundred or so, and then we hope that Emma will be able to access them and apply her magic (oops, I meant skills) to get the right photos into the post.  Our aim is to have a system that is optimized for our purposes, because once Emma is finished in Berlin she will be heading off to university and the future of our partnership depends on our being able to work together remotely.  If any of you readers have any experience with these issues, and can offer us advice, please drop us a note.

In the meantime, knitting progresses.  If you recall, last Sunday I discovered a mistake in my Killybegs cardigan and had to rip the whole thing out and start over. I have made great progress this week and have now got 10″ on the needles.  This is a lot of knitting, since the fronts and back are knit together in one piece.

I have also been busy planning another knit.  Assuming that the wind and cold and rain ever comes to an end here, I thought that I might make a summer sweater.  I had a hard time choosing one, mostly because there are so many lovely patterns available.  I finally decided on Laresca, a very pretty, drapy, summer tee:

Laresca is designed by Corrina Ferguson and is available on the Twist Collective.  If you haven’t checked out the Twist Collective, you really must.  It is a webzine with amazing patterns and really good design and layout.  Laresca is made with a Rowan yarn, Panama, that is a blend of rayon, cotton and linen.  There is a nice lace panel that runs up the side of the top and then around the armholes.

Panama comes in some nice colours and I went to the shop fully intending to make this in red, or perhaps purple or green, and completely surprised myself by buying the yarn in a neutral colour – I would describe it as oyster.  I have finished the swatch and hit the gauge right on first try.

My plan is to knit the two simultaneuosly.  The thick wool and needles of the Killybegs are a little hard on my hands, so I hope to switch back and forth between the two projects.  And if we ever get any summer weather, I may concentrate more on Laresca.  Well, dear reader, that is all for today.  Hopefully we will sort out our trials and tribulations and bring you RETROspective shortly.