Five countries, three continents, one cardigan!

I have been holding off showing photos of the cardigan I knit for Leah until it actually arrived in Canada.  It is taking forever to get there, however, so here we go.  Unfortunately, Leah is not around to model it (thus the need to ship it to Canada), so I have had to model it myself.

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I started knitting this cardigan in England when the girls came home for a short break.  I knit most of the back piece in Sicily where we had a great holiday (see the photo below of me knitting it on the lawn of the beautiful villa we holidayed in).  I knit one front in my hotel in Malaysia, where I had traveled to do some teaching for the business school.  I knit part of the other front in Singapore, where I met up with my friend Erun for some fun.  I knit the sleeves back home in England.  I took it with me to Johannesburg, where I was again doing some teaching for the business school.  I did some of the finishing there, knitting the neck and one of the button bands.  And then I finished it back home again in England, where I agonized over button bands and general finishing issues.  FIVE COUNTRIES, THREE CONTINENTS, ONE CARDIGAN!

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I used a pattern from Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter, with the not very romantic name of Squared Cardigan.  I had purchased 4 skeins of Madelinetosh Pashmina in the colour Plunge, but only needed three to make the cardigan!  (I used every bit of those three skeins.)  I made a few modifications.  First, following Amy’s advice in the book on options for bust shaping, I ended up knitting the two front pieces in a size larger than the back. This gives extra room for the bust and belly without making the cardigan too big across the back and shoulders.  I think this was a good choice.  I won’t really be able to tell until Leah gets to try it on.  I am modelling it here, and Leah and I are close in size, but she is broader in the bust and shorter in the waist than I am.

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I also changed the neckline.  Amy’s pattern has a rolled neck, but I put in three rows of seed stitch instead.  Other than these small mods, I knit the pattern as written (how unlike me!).

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My biggest problems were with the finishing.  I really struggled with the button bands (as documented here).   I decided to sew ribbon to the backs of the button bands and then to use plastic snap fasteners; the buttons are for decorative purposes only.  I’m not entirely happy with this solution.  Doug thinks it would be better with a zipper, and my mom suggested keeping the decorative buttons, but adding hook-and-eye fasteners (instead of the snaps).  Both of these solutions would be good, probably better than what I ended up doing; but honestly, I was so tired of being undecided and wishy-washy and just wanted to get the thing finished and put it in the post.

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One of the things that makes this cardigan distinctive is the textured pattern on the cuffs and waistband and the way that it curves.  I found this to be very fiddly.  I think that it looks pretty but I don’t feel it was worth the time and effort.  If I made this again, I would just put in ribbing, or better yet, seed stitch.

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The yarn is beautiful, but I did feel that there was a big colour difference between some of the skeins; in particular, the back is a noticeably different shade than the fronts and sleeves.  I could have fixed this by alternating skeins, but I really didn’t want to do that, especially since I was lugging this thing around the world with me and knitting it on planes and in airports.  I also worry that the yarn has too much drape for this cardigan.  If I were to knit it again, I would use a yarn with more wool content and less silk.  I would also make the neckline higher by an inch or two.

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So, the conclusion is mixed.  I think it is very pretty; the yarn is lustrous, and the buttons and ribbon are a perfect match.  But, I have some niggling issues with the finishing.  I think, for me, I will chalk it up as a learning experience.  Hopefully, for Leah, it will be a lovely summer dressing option and will get lots of wear.

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Summer cardi

The observant reader may have noticed a few photos in recent posts of me knitting something new.  In case you didn’t pick up on that, here is another gratuitous photo of me knitting while on holiday in Sicily:

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I finished up my Gold Shawl some weeks ago and had nothing lined up to take its place. Coincidentally, I finished it the evening before the girls arrived home for a holiday.  I decided that next on my list would be a sweater for Leah.  The problem was picking a pattern.  I knew some of the things I was looking for:

  1. I wanted a summer cardigan.
  2. I did not want a shapeless cardigan; it needed to have structure and preferably be knit in pieces and seamed.
  3. I wanted to knit with a lovely, smooth, drapey, silky yarn (I was suffering from mohair overdrive).
  4. I wanted something cute; a wear-with-a-pretty-dress cardigan.
  5. Buttons would be good.  And short sleeves.  And an interesting neckline – maybe square and a bit low.
  6. Most important of all, I wanted it to be a style which would suit Leah’s figure.

This last was the tricky part.  Leah is very curvy, and short-waisted.  She is not particularly tall.  I wanted a cardi that would fit over her curves at hip and bust, but not be too big in the back and at the shoulders.  I spent a long time scouring Ravelry looking for a pattern that would fit the bill.

Eventually, it occurred to me to look at an actual print book.  I have an entire bookcase just devoted to knitting and pattern books.  I used to spend forever pouring through them. Somehow I have gotten out of the habit and do almost all of my pattern searching online. This is a shame, as I have some very good resources.  (And it’s fun, too!)

I looked through Amy Herzog’s book, Knit to Flatter, because she is one of the people in the industry who really thinks about matching patterns to your body shape.  And there I found what I felt was the perfect pattern, with the (very creative) name Squared Cardigan:

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It has really lovely, simple features.  I think it will be a very flattering shape on Leah.

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While I am a fan of brown, I thought this cardi needed a pop of a sweet, summer colour.  I settled on a very pretty shade of Madelinetosh called Plunge.  Just the name of the colour makes me happy.  The yarn is Madelinetosh Pashmina, a beautiful blend of Merino, Silk and Cashmere.

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I am enjoying knitting this up.  It seems to be flying along, and the Pashmina feels really good in the hands.  I finished the back while in Sicily, knit up the left front in Malaysia, and just finished up the right front while back home in England.

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Unfortunately, Leah left on Sunday, so this one will have to be put in the post once I’m done.  I had finished enough of it before she left, however, to ascertain that the fit should be perfect.  Both girls are currently visiting their aunt in the Hamptons; lucky girls!

A flash of purple

Today I have an FO to show you (that is knitspeak for Finished Object).  These photos are of my younger daughter Leah wearing her Flash of Purple sweater.  This is a customized version of Wendy Bernard’s pattern for the Backwards Cabled Pullover from her book, Custom Knits.   I am really pleased with this sweater, which fits wonderfully and really suits Leah.

The best thing about this sweater is that it was a truly collaborative project right from the start. Leah and I spent hours discussing just what kind of sweater she wanted and talking about all of the design features it should have.  When Leah saw the Madelinetosh Pashmina yarn in this colour, Flashdance, she was sold instantly.  Having narrowed down the yarn, we spent hours trolling Ravelry for just the right pattern.  We couldn’t find one that was exactly what we were looking for, but Wendy’s pattern was very close, so we ran with it and modified it as we went.

The main modification I made was to turn the sweater back-to-front (the original has a high neckline and plunging back),  but I also heavily customized the sizing.  The pashmina has a tighter gauge than that specified in the pattern.  The standard way around this type of gauge issue is to knit a larger size (say to knit a size 40 to obtain a size 36).  To do this properly, one must employ math.  Dear reader, math is your friend; it is part of a good knitter’s arsenal of tools.  Do not be afraid of math but wade into it willingly and your sweaters will thank you for it.

Fair warning – the next two paragraphs will be slightly technical; one is allowed to skip them and just look at the photos.  For this pullover, I had two conflicting pressures on the sizing.  On the one hand, I was using a thinner yarn, so I needed to have more stitches on the needles (to knit a larger size than required).  On the other, we were after a clingy sweater, a 50s sweater girl kind of look.  This means that I needed to build in a lot of negative ease.  For the uninitiated, ease refers to the fit of your garment.  Say that you have a chest measurement of 36″.  If your sweater has a chest measurement of 36″, then that sweater is said to have zero ease.  If the sweater measures 38″ you have two inches of positive ease and if it measures 34″ you have two inches of negative ease.  In order to knit a garment that you are happy with, you have to understand ease, and also know what kind of fit you are aiming for.  You also need to know your yarn and your stitch pattern, so that you know how stretchy they are, and how much they will give after washing.  This is why it is so important to knit a reasonable sized swatch and to wash it before knitting a garment.

For this sweater, the thinner yarn meant I needed to knit a larger size, but the negative ease meant that I needed to knit a smaller size.  I ended up doing a completely customized sizing, deciding that in order to get an extra small, I needed to knit something between a small and medium.  So, I redid all of the figures, and made sure that Leah tried it on every 2″ or so, just to make sure.  This method requires both math and a lot of trial and error.  I reported in an earlier post that I had originally made the arm opening too shallow and had to rip out quite a few inches and redo part of the yoke.  I also knit 3 sleeves for this pullover.  The first sleeve was too tight on Leah, so I ripped it out and knit it again, making fewer decreases (I decreased at rounds 10, 20, 30, and 40 and then knit to 6″ before knitting the cuffs).  The finished garment has 4.5″ of negative ease.

I would highly recommend this pattern, and indeed the whole book.  I have previously knit one of the other sweaters from this book, Ingenue, and it is a lovely sweater that gets worn all of the time.  Wendy’s whole approach to knitting is to encourage people to customize their knits, and I really like that.  She has a brand new book out by the way, Custom Knits Accessories; I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet but I would bet that it’s great.

Would I recommend Madelintosh yarn again?  Perhaps this will answer the question best:

Emma and I went into London yesterday, and spent some time in Loop, a wonderful yarn shop in Islington in the Camden Passage.  I had just finished knitting Leah’s sweater and went to Loop armed with a list of seven sweaters that I was considering making for myself and their yarn requirements.  Emma saw the above Madelinetosh DK in Venetian and fell in love. It is hard to capture the richness of the colour which is a very deep red with black undertones.  I bought a sweater’s worth which is destined for Emma.  And the seven sweaters for me?  Maybe next time.

Winging it

We arrived back in the UK from our glorious holiday in the desert to rain and gloom.  I had arranged our flights so that we would come home on Friday mid-day and have a few days to recover before the working week began.  Although a brilliant plan, it seems to have had no effect on our recovery.  We were hit over the heads with a whopping case of jet lag.  To make matters worse, this week I was hosting two international conferences at work, which meant six consecutive long days of being “on” and dealing with near catastrophes from morning till night.  (No matter how well organized you are, something will go wrong; it is the nature of conference organization.)    I learned an important lesson this week:  never schedule a two week holiday directly preceding a conference that you are responsible for organising.

Do you imagine that the combination of long hours, stress, and jet lag means no knitting?  Think again, oh ye of little faith.  The horrible weather we had all week, with downpours and wind, cold, hail and other nastiness, resulted in terrible traffic.  Every morning we were stuck in traffic battling the elements and drivers who seemingly forgot how to drive in the rain.  And there we were, Doug behind the wheel and me merrily knitting away.  I managed to get quite a bit of the body of Leah’s sweater knit this week.  Today, during a five minute break in the rain,  Emma rushed Leah outside to get some photographic evidence.

As you can see, this pullover is coming along nicely and the fit is fabulous.  Though I am nominally following Wendy Bernard’s pattern for the Backwards Cabled Pullover, I am, in fact, winging it.  I turned the sweater back-to-front, got rid of the short row shaping, and moved the cable (to keep it on the front beneath the deep square neck); all of these are modifications which Wendy suggests herself as options.  I found however, that a few inches into the sweater, that I was better off just following my instincts.  I changed the raglan sleeve increases.  According to the pattern, they are made every second row, but it was clear that if I continued increasing at that rate, I would reach the required width long before I had enough depth for the arms; so after a few inches, I switched to increasing every fourth row.  It doesn’t look as neat as it would have without the change, but it doesn’t look bad and it fits properly.  I find I have to do this anytime I knit a top down raglan because my row gauge is always tighter than called for by the pattern.

I also completely ignored the decreases and increases written in the pattern and made my own.  Remember knitters, that patterns, like recipes, are guidelines; they are made to be tweaked.  The pattern calls for four sets of waist decreases every 7 rows.  The cable pattern (which is really lovely by the way) has an 8 row repeat.  It seemed overly complicated to superimpose a 7 row repeat on an 8 row repeat; that would mean keeping track of every row.  I would have to count!  So, I made my decreases on the first row of every cable repeat; thus every 8th row.  I marked the beginning of every cable repeat with a pink removeable stitch marker, thus keeping track of the cables and the decreases simultaneously.  I kept decreasing every 8 rows until the sweater looked right on Leah.  This means trying it on frequently, which can be annoying, but it results in a good fit.

I did a total of 7 paired decreases instead of the 4 the pattern calls for (we are after slinky here), and then at the next pattern repeat I started paired increases for the hips.  I marked each of the increase rows (which correspond to the cable pattern repeats) with a green removeable stitch marker.  This means that I never have to count, or keep track of anything.  The sweater just knits itself.  Hooray!

Desert Knitting

We are still enjoying a holiday in the American southwest, soaking up the hot desert sun.  In my last post, we were touring through the Joshua Tree National Forest in California, which is the southernmost stretch of the Mojave Desert.  A few days later, we were driving the Apache Trail in Arizona.  The Apache Trail is an amazing unpaved road, that twists and turns with hairpin curves through the Tonto National Forest, which is in the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert.  It has some of the most spectacular desert scenery imaginable.  How is this for a knitting spot?

The Apache Trail was built in the early part of the 20th century to allow access for the vehicles and labour trucked in to build the Roosevelt Dam.  The dam resulted in a string of finger lakes that cut through the high, dry mountainous desert.  Teddy Roosevelt said the following about the Apache Trail:

The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the Glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have.  To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.

I have to say that Teddy wasn’t exaggerating.  This trip is really special.

Since finishing Brick, I have been working steadily on a new sweater for Leah.  It is knit in Madelinetosh pashmina in the colour Flashdance, a lovely mix of purples and blues, with streaks of greys and pinks.  Leah wanted a close-fitting short-sleeved pullover with a deep, square neckline.  We spent weeks searching through the Ravelry databanks for a pattern we liked.  We settled on the Backwards Cabled Pullover by Wendy Bernard, from her book Custom Knits.  I already owned the book, having previously made the Ingenue sweater from the book, also for Leah.

The sweater pattern calls for a plunging back, and has a high neck in front, like this:

Leah requested we flip it around, and have the deep square-cut neck in the front.  Any knitter with some experience can alter patterns to suit their own needs, thus using the pattern more as a template than an exact blueprint.  One of the nice things about Wendy’s book is that she anticipates this, and gives lots of suggestions for ways to alter the patterns, as well as encouragement to knitters who haven’t done much in the way of alterations.

I have spent the week knitting my Flash of Purple sweater in many desert locales: on the Apache Trail, in the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, while driving through the Saguaro National Forest, in the Desert Museum in Tucson (a wonderful spot).  Just to demonstrate a little knitting craziness, here is a photo of me knitting on a bench in the Desert Museum.  Why is this crazy?  It was 95F (35C) at the time.  (Man, do I love the desert!  Especially since I couldn’t help but notice that it was about 10C and raining in England all week.)

Besides flipping the sweater from front to back, I have been reworking all of the math.  This is for two reasons: first, because the Pashmina has a tighter gauge than the specified yarn, and second, because I always have to rework the math in top-down raglans (or any raglan for that matter).  This is because I can never, ever get the specified row gauge.  My stitches are shorter than most, I guess, because if I am on target with the stitch gauge, I am always off on the row gauge.  As an example, if the gauge is 20 stitches and 30 rows, I will invariable hit 20 stitches and 34-36 rows.  This can be death to a raglan; thus, a lot of fiddling with the math ensues.

With this particular sweater, I fiddled it wrong the first time.  I had it knit to about 4 inches below where I separated off for the sleeves, when I had Leah try it on and discovered that the sleeve openings were too tight and too high.  So, yesterday morning I ripped back (sigh) and then spent a lovely day, sitting on the front porch of a friend’s house in the Tucson foothills, staring out at the desert, and reknitting.  I am almost back to where I was before ripping.

Just because I can’t resist, here are a couple more photos of Joshua Tree (sans Brick).

And lest you think that we have been ignoring our blog while on holiday, I will let you in on a secret.  Emma has been busy photographing like mad the entire trip, for an upcoming series of posts on the blog featuring knits made by my mother and grandmother in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Be sure to stay tuned, as the Southwestern theme continues!  And remember folks: