Sitting here in limbo

Sitting here in limbo
But I know it won’t be long
Sitting here in limbo
Like a bird without a song

– Jimmy Cliff

The girls left yesterday to move to Canada for university and I am officially an empty nester.  Instead of throwing a party, I am feeling rather sad.  As a matter of fact, the very thought of their imminent departure has had me in a state of both melancholy and crankiness all summer, and as a result I have not been getting much productive knitting done.  Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I interrupted my lovely Exeter jacket to knit a Haruni shawl, which I interrupted to knit a Neon cardigan, which I interrupted to make a Viajante shawl/poncho, which I interrupted to make an Enchanted Rock cardigan.  The only one I have managed to finish was the Neon.  I can’t seem to commit to any one project because I am melancholic and cranky in equal measures.  (Did I mention sad?  I am also sad.)

Over the weekend, I decided (rather foolishly) to continue in this interrupted vein to quickly knit a skirt for Emma in the few days before she hopped on the plane.  The skirt was very cute – Chevrolette by Antonia Price:

A_Price-2491_medium2I didn’t have the time to source out any yarn for it, however, and we ended up picking out something that didn’t quite work.  It was too tweedy and rough, it hurt my hands to knit with (thus not lending itself to a quick project) and my gauge was too big.  I knit like a mad woman on it for a day and a half before realizing it was a futile pursuit.  I really like the pattern, however, so I will search out some better yarn for it and make it later in the year.

Despite the fact that I have so many projects on the needles, I keep staring at my knitting basket, wanting to knit something but feeling unmotivated by everything.  Now that the girls are gone, I am thinking I need to get my knitting mojo back on track by knitting things that are deeply appealing to me now, even if it means putting some things aside, being selfish or being unproductive.

I realized this morning that I am not enamored of the Enchanted Rock cardigan at the moment.  I think it is the colour, which while it looks lovely in the photograph:

7785209580_ea4e1b6750_b_medium2really doesn’t suit me.  I have decided to put it aside for now.  Maybe when I am finished being cranky and out-of-sorts, it will once again appeal to me.  I am also putting away the Haruni shawl.  I am not liking the variegation in the yarn:

IMG_6234_medium2I have actually knit it up to the point where the lace pattern begins, so quite a bit more than this photo indicates.  I have realized that all of the Harunis which I like are very simple and plain, with no variegation in the colour.   I think that later I might continue with just a little ruffled border and then end up with a small shawl that I could wear more like a scarf.  Again, I am not in the mood for it now, so into the basket it goes.  I will not feel guilty about putting it aside, even if it is Wollmeise.

This leaves me with the Viajante and the Exeter.  I feel as if I keep knitting and knitting the Viajante but the ball of lace never seems to get any smaller.  It will be beautiful, however, and it is mindless knitting, so I will persevere.  Also, it is purple which is intrinsically pleasing, so it can stay.   Right now, however, I will pull out the Exeter jacket again, which I adore completely, and hopefully it will kickstart my knitting mojo.  For those of you who can’t remember, here is a photo of Exeter, which is designed by Michele Wang:

Exeter_3_medium2

I have both sleeves finished:

IMG_6356and about six inches of the back.  It is the type of knitting that takes concentration, and I haven’t been in the mood to concentrate on much of anything for a while, but maybe that is what I need right now to keep me distracted.  Besides, I can’t wait to wear this and envision snuggling up in it all winter.

If these two don’t push my buttons, I have some other projects simmering on the back burner.  I have wanted to knit the Maxfield Cardigan by Amy Christoffers for a long time now.  Here is a photo:

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I bought the yarn for this months ago. It is Skein Merino Silk Sport, which is 50% silk, 50% merino and 100% lucious:

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And if these aren’t enough to keep me happy, I am busy trying to find the perfect sweater to knit for Doug (my options will be the subject of a future post) and I am seriusly considering the Soumak Scarf Wrap from Rowan 54, designed by Lisa Richardson:

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In a change of subject, I would like to thank Vi (pronounced Vee) from Girl Meets Yarn who nominated me for a Word Press Family Award.  I hadn’t heard of Vi before, but I went and checked out her blog which is really cute.   It is hard not to like someone who not only knits and writes well, but plays the flute in a marching band!   Thanks, Vi!

And I thank all of you, dear readers, for putting up with my rather distracted and poorly crafted post today.  Hopefully I shall pull myself out of limbo soon, get some knitting done, and remember how to write.

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.

Appeasing your inner perfectionist

I have been working on my Exeter jacket again, after taking time off to knit Livvy.  I finished the sleeves, and washed and blocked them:

IMG_6356The yarn, Shelter from Brooklyn Tweed, undergoes an amazing transformation when it is washed.  I cannot believe how light and airy these sleeves are.  The Shelter feels much rougher and chunkier when knitting.  As soon as I took it out of the water, it seemed to have halved in weight (even while wet).  It is astonishing.  Exeter has a very interesting cable pattern, that combines cables and lace.  Here is a close-up of the cable on the sleeve:

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The cable has a 16 row repeat.  It is not one of those patterns that is instantly memorizable, so you have to pay attention.  For anyone who is planning on knitting this, I have two tips, which will make it easier to navigate the cable.

  1. On the reverse rows (the even rows), you knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches.  The yarn overs are always knit except on pattern Row 6, where they are purled.  As long as you pay attention to the yarn overs on Row 6, the reverse rows are straightforward and need no concentration.
  2. The set-up row at the beginning of the patterning establishes some stitches as knit stitches and some as purl stitches.  While you are cabling, you are crossing stitches in front and behind of other stitches, but it is always the case that knit stitches will be knit and purl stitches will be purled, except on rows 3 and 7. On row 3, a knit stitch becomes a purl when it is is cabled (twice), and on row 7, a purl stitch becomes a knit (also twice).

I really love this.   I especially love the way it looks on the back of the jacket, where there are four columns of cables.   I have only knit a repeat and a bit of the cables on the back, but you can get an idea of how great it looks with the four cable repeatsIMG_6342Here is a closup of the above photo.

IMG_6344Now, dear readers, look carefully at the photo above.  Can you see that I have made a mistake in the cabling?  In the interest of truth in blogging, I will help you out:

mistake detailedOn the left, is the properly executed cable.  On the right, there is a mistake.  I should have a column of two knit stitches travelling to the left, but for three rows, I have purled one of the stitches instead of knitting it.  This is the kind of mistake that is very hard to catch, in fact, one could easily wear the sweater for years before noticing it.  Once you know it is there, however, you see it every single time you look at the sweater, as if it is outlined in purple.  In fact, there is an infamous cover of Vogue Knitting magazine, from a dozen years ago, in which the sweater on the cover has a cable mistake.  I looked at the cover many times without noticing it, but once brought to my attention, it is glaringly obvious.

Now this is where we knitters have differing levels of tolerance.  Some knitters will blithely ignore mistakes.  They may fall into the school of thought whereby “mistakes” are charming proofs that the sweater is hand-made.  (The fallacy of this is that machine-made knits are so shoddy these days, that mistakes are rampant.)  Another group of knitters are fanatically anal-compulsive, and will rip out miles of knitting in order to correct any mistake, no matter how small or insignificant.  This school of thought follows the “I will know even if no one else does, and it will forever make me unhappy” principle.  I think the latter camp sometimes revel in their knitting masochism.  I try very hard to fall into the middle.  The sad truth is, I do a lot of frogging because I want things to be just right.  However, I think it is sometimes important to ignore your inner perfectionist.  Or at the very least, learn how to fudge.  Behold!

First, I thread a tapestry needle with a small length of yarn:IMG_6348

Then I insert the needle at the bottom of the mistake, where I  purled instead of knit, and I pull the yarn through.

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Then I make a loop, and pull the yarn through the loop, as in the below photo.  This will have the effect of embroidering a knit stitch on top of the purl.

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When the yarn is pulled tight, we see a knit stitch, exactly where it should be.

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I then repeat twice more:

IMG_6354By the way, what I have done here, is basically the same as what is called duplicate stitch.  However, duplicate stitch is done with a different colour of yarn, and the embroidered knit stitches are put directly on top of knit stitches; this allows you to insert small areas of colour without having to knit them in with intarsia. So you see, a good bag of tricks is a knitter’s best friend.

Here is the final product:

IMG_6355

Perfect!  No one will ever know.  And I didn’t have to rip.  I won’t tell if you won’t.

The almost-finished versus the barely-started

Here we have the almost-finished:

IMG_6086This is the February Scarf, designed by Beth Weaver, that I am knitting for Leah.  I made Leah pose for this just as she got off the bus from a week-long ski trip to the Italian Alps.  Literally.  She hadn’t even walked in the door yet.  Not only had she just spent a week skiing all day long every day, but then she had stayed up all night, on a bus, with 50 other girls and a bunch of teachers driving from Italy to the UK.  (That’s right – they don’t fly them to Italy; they take a bus.)  So, this photo is designed only to show off the length of this almost-finished project and not to be a particularly stylish photo of either scarf or daughter.

Since the Scarf isn’t blocked yet, it is hard to see how lovely it is from the above photo, so here is a close-up so you can see how great it’s going to look:

IMG_6099I have about 8 inches or so left to knit and then I am done.  As you can see, it is pretty long, and will be even more so when it’s been blocked.  The funny thing is, the pattern is written for 6 skeins of Quince & Co Osprey wool.  I am knitting it with just 5 skeins, so you can imagine how long it is supposed to be.  I think 5 skeins is plenty long enough.

So, that is the almost-finished.  Here is the barely-started:

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Oh, be still my heart! Isn’t it beautiful! This is the beginning of a sleeve of the Exeter jacket, designed by Michele Wang, in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter.

So, which one do you think I want to be knitting today?  The almost-finished, with at most 3 hours of knitting remaining:

IMG_6099Or the barely-started, with about 3,729 hours of knitting remaining?

IMG_6093

We knitters are so fickle.

The joke’s on me

Yesterday, I thought that I would do some swatching for my new sweater.   I am going to knit the lovely pattern, Exeter, designed by Michele Wang:

copyright Jared Flood/ Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/ Brooklyn Tweed

I am going to use the same yarn and colour as in the pattern, Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed in Fossil.   You can probably tell by the title of the post that there is a joke (of sorts) involved here.  First, I will explain what a swatch is and why you need it, then I will provide a set-up and the punchline.

Part 1: The swatch

Now, we all know that in order to get a sweater that fits, you have to have the right gauge.  The sweater is designed to a particular gauge – that is, it is designed so that x number of stitches and x number of rows measure out to a given size.  Traditionally gauges are given for a square measuring 4″ (10cm).  Exeter is designed for a gauge of 20×28; this means that a 4″ square section of fabric will have 20 stitches across and 28 rows.  Normally a gauge will be given for stockinette stitch, but might be given in a pattern stitch.  Gauge is nearly always determined based on a washed and blocked sample.

Since different knitters knit with different tensions, the only way to make sure your sweater fits as the designer intended is to knit up a sample (called a swatch) on a particular size knitting needle, then wash and block it, let it dry and measure it carefully.  If your gauge is too narrow (ie, more stitches or rows than called for) then you must knit another swatch with a larger size needle (ie, a needle with a bigger width).  If your gauge is too wide (ie, less stitches or rows than called for) than you must try again with a smaller sized needle.  Each of these measurements must be taken on a swatch that has been washed and blocked and dried.

An experienced knitter will be able to adjust a pattern even if their gauge is not quite right.  Also, sometimes, you might hit the stitch gauge but not the row gauge (this happens to me all the time).  Then, you have to make a judgement as to which is the more important one to get right (which depends on the pattern) and make adjustments as you knit.  These kinds of manipulations are tricky, and take both experience and math skills.  Obviously, the best solution is to match the given gauge as carefully as possible; then, you can follow the directions as written.  (Note that you may still need to adjust the pattern – for example, the sleeves should fit you, and therefore you need to knit to your arm length.  However, hitting the right gauge will save you lots of headaches.)

Part 2: The set-up

Now we come to an interesting problem.  Sometimes, you need to knit quite a few swatches before you hit the right gauge.  Notice that the most important element of the swatch is to identify it with the needle size it was knit with. While the swatch is on your needle, it is easy to tell what needle size the swatch represents.  Once you take it off the needle, the problems begin.  Let’s say that you end up knitting 4 swatches, one each with a US size 4,5,6, and 7.  Now, you throw them all in the basin, soak them, blot them between towels, block them, let them air dry and then carefully measure.  And you’re in luck – one of them exactly matches the gauge!  Yes!  But which one was it?  Is this the swatch you knit with the size 5 needle?  Or, perhaps, you somehow mixed them up in the process….

I cannot tell you how many times I have knit a swatch and then come back to it and can’t remember what size needle I knit it on.  This is especially problematic if you come back to swatches weeks or months after they were made, or when you have multiple swatches of the same yarn.  I tried attaching notes to the samples with safety pins, but this solution isn’t the best either.  Notes get lost; they must be removed when washing.  Many times, I am forced to re-knit a swatch just to be absolutely certain.  (Of course, as with many things, keeping very careful notes is best; many knitters record all of their swatch measurements on Ravelry on their project page.  Unfortunately, I am often too caught up in the moment to do so; I am convinced I will remember everything and record it later, which is generally a bad idea.)

Now, when one is faced with a knitting dilemma, the answer can usually be found on Ravelry.  A few months ago, I was reading a thread in which a knitter was addressing this very problem.  She said that she had been taught a great tip by the knitting designer Ysolda Teague.  Ysolda told her to knit the needle size into the swatch.  Let’s say that you were knitting a swatch in stockinette stitch.  You knit a series of purl bumps into a corner of the swatch – one bump for each size. (Separate them out with a knit stich in between to make them easy to count.)  Thus, if you are swatching with a size 5 needle, you will knit 5 purl bumps into the right side of the fabric.  You will then know exactly what size needle you knit the swatch with, no matter how much time has gone by or how many swatches you’ve knit.  (Please note that you need to be consistent with units – either use US sizes or metric sizes consistently.  If using metric sizes, you can use a purl bump for each mm, and a yarn over for each 1/4 mm; thus, a 3.5mm needle would need three purl bumps followed by two yarn overs.)  Wow!  A system!  A pretty clever system at that!

I knit the first swatch for Exeter using a US size 7 needle.  I carefully (and very smugly) knit a series of seven purl bumps in one corner of the swatch.  Even before washing it, I could tell tell that I would need to try a larger needle, so I went to my box of needles to pull out a size 8 needle to knit the next swatch.  I was feeling very pleased with myself and my new system.  Never again would I be stuck not knowing which swatch was knit with which needle.

Part 3: The punch line

I use circular knitting needles almost exclusively.  Unlike straight needles, which usually have the needle size printed on the cap, for the majority of circular needles the only way to tell the size of the needle is to use a needle gauge.  A needle gauge is a tool which has labelled holes in it of different sizes. A size 6 needle will fit into the hole marked size 6, but will not fit into the hole marked size 5.  I am always losing my needle gauges.  They are never where I need them to be.  My solution is to have lots of them.  I try to  always keep one in the box with my circular needles, and one in the box with my DPNs, and one in my knitting notions kit, and one in each project bag.  I opened up the box with my circular needles, reached for the needle gauge and found a size 8 needle. I grabbed both the needle and the gauge and ran upstairs to knit.

I then started knitting my second swatch, very smugly knitting 8 purl bumps into a corner of the swatch.  Now for some unknown reason, I picked up the needle I had used to knit the size 7 swatch, and idly inserted it into the needle gauge I had just carried upstairs.  But, horror of horrors, it was not a size 7 needle but a size 6!  Oh no, I couldn’t have made such a basic mistake;  I was sure of it.  So, I tried the needle in the first needle gauge and it was a size 7.  No, this could not be!  The very same needle registered as a size 6 on one gauge and a size 7 on another!  I frantically ran around the house collecting needle gauges.  I found five (though I’m sure there are others scattered around):

IMG_6052The top two are ancient Susan Bates gauges with US measurements, the third one is a Boye gauge (also US), followed by a Tailorform gauge from Canada (with metric needle sizes and centimeters on one side, and US and Canadian knitting needle sizes and inches on the other), and the bottom one is a KnitPro gauge with both metric and US measurements.  The needle that I used for the swatch is the blue one in the right hand corner below:

IMG_6053This is an ancient needle, you can see that the blue enamel is wearing off.  I have no idea how old it is or which make it is.  However, this needle registers as a size 6 on the top three needle gauges and a size 7 on the bottom two.  Could it be that the US -produced needle gauges use slightly different measurements?  To check, I grabbed the needle on the top left of the photo.  This is a fairly new HiyaHiya interchangeable needle, which is still clearly stamped “US size 7, 4.5mm”.  I checked this needle against all of the gauges and it clearly registers as a 7 on all of the gauges.  So, perhaps this is a problem with the blue needle.  It is old, and possible worn.  I decided to check another new needle, the interchangeable KnitPro needle tip on the bottom left.  It registers as a size 6 on all of the gauges, except the Boye gauge, on which it is a size 5.  This divides the gauges along a different line than the blue needle.  Now, I start to pull my hair out.

Clearly, THE JOKE IS ON ME!  Here I am, smug as can be because I have found a fool-proof solution to figuring out which swatch was knit on which size needle.  But, it turns out, I have no idea which needle is which in the first place!  My seven purl bumps on the bottom of the swatch are rendered meaningless.

As an afterward: I poured this whole sorry tale out to Doug.  His solution: he went online and ordered me a micrometer, a precision instrument for measuring the diameter of a round object.  I throw myself on the mercy of the engineers.

A smidgeon of knitting

A smidgeon of knitting.  It has a ring to it.  Perhaps like an unkindness of ravens?  A murmuration of starlings? A bevy of beauties?  An absence of waiters?  A prey of lawyers?  Perhaps not.  But when I think of this month, I definitely come up with a smidgeon of knitting.  The rest of the knitting world seems to be on fire this month, but I am moving at a snail’s pace.

IMG_5936I have managed to finish the sleeves on Emma’s Venetian Audrey.  The sleeves are endless tubes of ribbing knit on DPNs.   I hate knitting sleeves.  I especially hate knitting sleeves in the round.  And I especially, especially hate knitting the second sleeve.  These sleeves also seem extra long, but before she left Emma said “Make sure you make the sleeves long enough.  The sleeves on your Audrey are inches too short on me.”  Here is a shot showing the pieces of Emma’s Audrey on top of my finished Audrey.

IMG_5943It looks impossibly skinny but you have to remember that mine has been blocked and washed and worn countless times and the ribs have relaxed.  Notice, Emma, the sleeves are really long.  Promise.  We had a hard time getting the colours to look right with the lighting today.  Here is a better shot:

IMG_5941Why is there a bowl of chili peppers in my knitting shot?  Because they are pretty, that’s why!  See?

IMG_5938While I am busy writing this post, Doug is in the kitchen whipping up a batch of Thai green curry paste, using these lovely chillies.  We will have butternut squash and eggplant curry for dinner (following this recipe more or less; try it – it’s great).  We are using the last of the lime leaves and curry leaves and black peppercorns that Doug brought back from his last trip to Malaysia. Luckily, he is going again this week and can refill our larder.

In addition to the endless sleeve knitting, I have also managed a bit of scarf knitting on my February scarf.

IMG_5928This is fun to knit and the Quince & Co Osprey is perfect, soft and wooly.  It is going to make a lovely scarf.  Hopefully, I willl manage to finish it while there is still cold weather to wear it in.

IMG_5929The scarf may have to compete for my affections, however.  Look what I just received in the mail:

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Yes, dear readers, this is a great, giant bowl filled with Shelter yarn from Brooklyn Tweed. (A meringue of Shelter?  A cauldron of Shelter?  A shedload of Shelter?) Fourteen fabulous skeins of Shelter in the colour ‘fossil’.  I have never used Shelter before, but have finally been coerced into buying it, by the unbelievably beautiful designs that Jared and his team of great designers keep turning out.

What do I plan to knit with this?  The Exeter Jacket, designed by Michelle Wang for Brooklyn Tweed Spring Thaw:

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/Brooklyn Tweed

This is a completely gorgeous double-breasted cabled jacket, but you cannot appreciate it until you see the back:

copyright Jared Flood/ Brooklyn Tweed

copyright Jared Flood/ Brooklyn Tweed

Be still my heart!  As you can see, I will have to get a move on and turn my smidgeon  into a banquet of knitting.