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.

Viajante means traveller

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It has been a long time since I last wrote a Wearability Wednesday post.  For those of you who are new to the blog, this is a post in which I re-visit a hand-knitted garment and look at it from a wearability standpoint.  Does it get worn?  If yes, how do I style it?  Has the garment held up to time?

In this Wearability Wednesday post, I look at my Viajante, a sort of cross between a shawl, a cowl, and a poncho, designed by Martina Behm.  Here is me wearing it, just after finishing it, in 2013:

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It is a laceweight shawl, made with one skein of Wollmeise Lacegarn.  I knit it over a period of 5 months, which doesn’t seem so long now, but at the time I remember feeling it was endless.  The above photo is from my blog post about the finished garment, which you can find here.   In that post, I comment that it is actually not an easy garment to wear:

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I am extremely proud of this shawl, it is a beautiful piece of knitting, made with fabulous yarn, and it makes for a striking garment.  However, I wore it exactly three times.  I never received a single comment on it.  Not one.  I came to the conclusion that it looked silly on me.  (I think in the top photo of me it looks as if I have one arm and giant boobs and am wearing a voluminous purple cape. Maybe like a costume shoot for a new Wonder Woman movie? Showing off the purple Kevlar-like battle garments worn by her backup crew of middle-aged, ex-Amazonian battle advisors?)  Perhaps, more accurately, I decided that I obviously didn’t have the necessary panache to carry off this piece.  So what did I do?  I gave it to Emma, of course!

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Emma is tall and slim and extremely stylish and could carry off anything from haute couture to a potato sack.  If you put her and Wonder Woman in a photo shoot, no one would spare a glance for Wonder Woman.  Emma apparently wears this Viajante frequently, and enjoys it.  She brought it with her to Sicily in May, and I couldn’t resist taking some photos of her wearing it.  Viajante means traveller, and this knitted piece was started in Lebanon, finished in England, given to Emma who lives in Vancouver, and modelled in Sicily; traveller indeed!

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These photos are taken in the gorgeous villa we stayed in (see this post and this one for more details on Sicily and the villa).  You can see that Emma has styled it in a more casual way, and has bunched up the material more around her neck, making it have less of a fall. On her, it looks cute and pretty and natural.  She switched to a pair of heels in the evening and she wore it to cocktails and dinner, and looked elegant.

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This is not the first time I have solved a wearability issue by giving away a garment to my daughters.  In this previous post (which I must say is a very good post), I showcased a hand-knitted dress which I made for myself but gave to Leah, and it ended up suiting her far better.  Luckily, I have two daughters who love my handiwork and wear these garments with pride.  It means that if I make a stylistic error, I can always remedy it through the ‘daughter route’  (and earn mom points as well)!

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At least something got done around here

I have finally finished knitting something!  It is far too long since I last had a finished object to show you.  My Viajante, a sort of cross between a poncho, a shawl and a cowl, is off the needles and duly blocked.

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When I first tried this on, before blocking, I must admit to despair.  It lacked the beautiful drape and was much too tight.  I looked sort of like a purple sausage with fringe.  But blocking did something extraordinary to the fabric, resulting in a light, sheer, fluid fabric that is really gorgeous.

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I have a very stupid look on my face in the below photo, but love the way the pond grasses look through the sheer lace:

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This is not the sort of thing I usually wear.  The shape of it is really different.  I suppose it is a kind of statement piece.  It is also not all that easy to wear:

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IMG_8034IMG_7965It is also a bit of a pain to knit.  I found it to be endless, and slightly soul-sapping.  I spent four months on this project.  That is one-third of the knitting year; which to my mind is a big commitment for one project.  However, despite it being slightly on the edge of my fashion comfort zone (where to wear it?  how to wear it?) and a fairly annoying (albeit easy) knit, I find myself totally fascinated with it.  You really have to feel the fabric to appreciate it.  This is my first time using Wollmeise Lace-garn; its fans are legion and vociferous, but I can see why.  It feels great.  It is so silky and has a magnificent drape.

IMG_8036IMG_8007The thing that sold me on Wollmeise, however, was when I washed this prior to blocking.  Not a single drop of purple bled into the wash water.  Not a drop!  The colour is so gorgeous, so rich and vibrant, and it didn’t bleed at all.  I have been veering away from colourwork after my colour bleeding disaster reported in this post, but now I think there is more colourwork (and more Wollmeise) in my future.

IMG_7958This post is very photo-heavy and word-light.  I am afraid that this represents a compromise due to my new commitments.  I promised myself I would spend most of the day studying.   But, I can comfort myself with this thought, at least something got done around here!  I’ll end with the gorgeous shot below: isn’t it just perfect?

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First hint of lace

This has been a good week for knitting.  I am excited about my Soumak Scarf Wrap, and that excitement translates into time actually spent knitting (rather than my other spare time pursuits of either reading or, my favorite, thinking about how I should be doing housework while actually not doing housework).  In addition, I am determined to power through with my Viajante poncho/shawl, so I have been putting hours into that as well.

This morning, I finally decided to start the lace section of Viajante.  Here it is, dear readers, the first hint of lace:

IMG_7888For those of you who are noticing my newly short hair instead of the lace (I got a good 5 inches chopped off yesterday), I give you a close-up.  One row of lace:

IMG_7889These photos really show the sheer quality of this fabric.  Knitting with the lace weight yarn (Wollmeise Lace-Garn) on a larger size needle (this is knit with a US4, while laceweight would normally be knit with a US1 or 2) produces this very light, sheer, translucent, delicate fabric.  It’s one of the things that really attracted me to Viajante when Martina Behm first published the pattern.

I have found, however, that knitting with a very fine yarn on a larger needle seems to affect the quality of my stitches.  I am normally a very tight, even knitter.  Here is a close-up (thus slightly out of focus) of a section of my Libby pullover, knit with worsted weight wool:

IMG_7877You can see that, with slight variations here and there, the stitches are very even.  Here is a comparable shot of the Viajante:

IMG_7879You can see that certain stitches appear to be crossed, as if the stitches were twisted on the needle, or knit through the back loop.  (Doug says that I need to circle some of the twisted stitches so that you can see them; I claim that anyone who has bothered to read this far through the post can probably figure out what I am talking about.)  I don’t know why the fabric looks like this.  At first, I kept thinking that I was dropping stitches, but finally decided that this is somehow due to the fact that I am knitting at a larger gauge than would normally be appropriate for this yarn.  Still I have no idea why these stitches are not neat and even.  As far as I can tell, my knitting style is exactly the same on this project as on any other.  Has anyone else encountered a similar problem?  I am not fretting about this however, for the following reason:  I am fairly sure that this will all even out with a good blocking.

A fair amount of agonizing has gone into deciding where to start the lace.  The pattern says to knit until you have about 60g left (of a 300g skein), and then to begin the lace.  As my skein was overweight, about 340g, I was unsure where to start.  This was exacerbated by the fact that I used a different decrease rate than the pattern calls for, decreasing every third row instead of every second.  This will effect how much of the material will be bunched around the neck like a cowl, before draping over the shoulders like a poncho.  The narrower the funnel, the more bunching and thus the less length; contrastly, the wider the funnel, the less bunching, so that you will get more of a poncho effect than an elongated cowl, and the longer the long edge will be.  Here is a photo of the pattern so you can see what I mean:

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Many of the projects on Ravelry (and there are well over a thousand) have the long edge actually brushing the floor.  I don’t want it that long.  So, there is quite a bit of guesswork involved here, especially since I know it will block out quite a bit.  In the end, I decided I was tired of knitting stockinette, and this morning I knit the fist row of lace.  For those of you knitting this and looking for details, I had 82 grams of yarn left and 459 stitches on the needles at the start of the lace section.

While pushing ahead on the Viajante, I have also been indulging myself a bit by working on the Soumak Scarf Wrap.  Here is a progress photo from this morning:

IMG_7892I am really loving everything about this shawl, designed by Lisa Richardson and published in Rowan 54.  It’s interesting, too, because I would never have picked these colours, or even put them together in this order.  I debated substituting a different colour selection (Thank you, Ann, for discouraging me!).  I am so pleased that I stuck with Lisa’s design; the colours hang together and look beautiful and striking in all different lights.

And now to change the topic completely, about an hour ago I received my 100th follower on this blog.  This is a pretty exciting milestone for me!  Especially since I only know 6 of my followers personally (hi Romi, Sandra, Mom, Jossie, Joanna, and Teresa!) and very briefly met one other at a knitting workshop (hi Jen!); this means that 93 virtual strangers come back here and read again.  (The internet – it’s such a strange beast.) To each of you, I’m glad that you stop by and I love receiving comments.  Since I’m on the topic of milestones, I also recently got my 40,000th hit.  I think this is pretty cool. In fact, I think this is pretty cool even given that I was speaking to someone yesterday who gets 40,000 hits a day on his blog.  Speaking of 40,000 – I bet that there are 40,000 stitches on my Viajante shawl; and now, dear readers, I’m off to knit a few thousand more.

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What to knit when your brain takes a holiday

My body might be going to work every day, but my brain is definitely on holiday.  It all started, in a predictable fashion, when I went on holiday with my family last month.  When you are on holiday it is a very good thing if your brain comes along for the ride.  Luckily, my brain cooperated and I spent a week in which I never thought about work.  The day we got back, we all came down with a ghastly bug, which meant we spent a week being truly, horribly ill and then two weeks being queasy, pale and shaky.  Unfortunately, work intruded on this time and I dealt with it as well as I could, but my brain decided it was still off-duty thank you very much. And this was followed by a heat wave which is now stretching into its second week.  I love the heat so am not complaining, but clearly my brain has used this opportunity  to put up a metaphorical “Off fishing” sign, and shows no intention of returning to duty any time soon.

When I packed for my holiday, I took far too much knitting.  I took my Neon cardigan, which was done except for the finishing, and I took the back of my Exeter cardigan, a densely cabled piece.  Both of these required more than the normal amount of concentration.  Why did I take them on holiday?  I am not sure.  I think I imagined sitting by the side of the pool with my feet up, gazing at the view and knitting.  What I didn’t realize was that when you go somewhere new (Lebanon) to visit family that you have never met, and furthermore, when that family runs into the hundreds of people, you don’t spend your time gazing at the view and knitting.  I loved absolutely every second of my holiday, and Lebanon is truly a wonderful, magical place, full of absolutely fantastic people.  It was not the place to take the kind of knitting that demanded concentration.

Luckily, at the very last minute (while the taxi was pulling up to the door), I threw a skein of Wollmeise Lace-garn into my bag, and printed out a copy of the pattern for Viajante, a shawl (of sorts) by Martina Behm.  This is the skein of wool:

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It is really a gorgeous blend of purples and blues which I had purchased at Knit Nation 2010 in London.  That venue, by the way, was the first time I had ever come into contact with Wollmeise yarn.  They had the most amazing display of wool that I have ever seen, before or since, and practically started a stampede by yarn buyers.  I kid you not; it had to be experienced to be believed.  While there, I purchased three skeins of Wollmeise Pure, and then couldn’t resist this skein of Lace-garn, even though I had no plans for it, and don’t often knit with laceweight yarns.

A skein of Lace-garn has 1591 metres per 300 gram skein.  My skein weighed in at 338, so it has even more.  (Wollmeise skeins are often generously overweight.)  Do you have any idea how long it takes to hand wind that many metres of laceweight yarn into a ball?  Answer: it takes a very long time.  Eventually, the whole family got into it.  Emma and I took turns winding while a number of cousins lent a hand.  (Note that this was done by the pool, in front of a lovely view.)

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Viajante is a completely gorgeous pattern.  It is a sort of a combination of shawl and poncho, and is a really clever, original design.  I loved it the minute I first saw the pattern on Ravelry.  Here are a couple of the pattern photos:

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Even though I loved this pattern straight off, and even had the perfect yarn for it sitting in my stash, I still had no intention of ever making it.  This was for two reasons.  First, the idea of knitting this enormous shawl in laceweight in stockinette seemed like an act of torture.  Surely, I reasoned, it would take a year to knit and cause me to pull out all of my hair in the meantime.  Second, even though I think it is completely gorgeous I really couldn’t visualize myself actually wearing it.

Enter Rachel.  Rachel is a colleague of mine at the university, and the only one who knits.  She gave a talk a few months ago, and I went to hear it.  The talk was truly fascinating, but I must admit I could not keep my eyes off the Viajante shawl which she had just finished knitting, and which she wore to give her talk in, in an obvious ploy to make me jealous.  As soon as the talk was done, I ran up and asked her if I could touch it.  “Here,” she said, pulling it off, “Try it on!  I knew you would want to.”  I was completely smitten.  Would I wear this?  Absolutely.  I decided at that point that if I was ever insane enough to want to knit endlessly in stockinette with laceweight yarn, I would knit myself a Viajante.

Viajante can be worn as a poncho or as a shawl.  It is knit in a tube.  It is totally mindless knitting (and when I say that I really mean it – there are hundreds upon hundreds, maybe even thousands, of tiny, laceweight stitches on tiny needles knit in the round).  It is the perfect “my brain is on holiday and I can’t be bothered to think about anything” knitting.  You could knit this while sleeping if necessary.  You could definitely knit it while laughing and talking and eating fabulous food with hundreds of newly-met relatives.  You could also definitely knit it while recovering from the flu and barely hanging in there.  You could certainly knit it in 30+ degree heat with humidity, even while imbibing gin.

IMG_7248So, my friends, here you have it: what to knit when your brain takes a holiday.  Do yourself a favour and send your brain packing today.  You won’t regret it.