Following the crowd

I have never been good at following the crowd. While my friends drooled over Jane Austen, I was obsessed by Edith Wharton and Henry James.  When the whole world was disco dancing, I was busy folk dancing.  At college, when ripped jeans and tank tops were de rigeur, I was in skirts and heels.  When I had to travel to Barcelona or Bilbao to buy a cute dress at Desigual, I was so there; now that I can buy it on the high street in my local town (or, God forbid, on Amazon) it has lost much of its appeal.

When I was young, knitting was not a cool thing to do, not by a long shot.  I took my knitting everywhere.  Now, however, knitting is trendy.  I still find myself reluctant to follow the crowd, but I am not about to put down my needles and take up book binding just to buck the trend.  These days, with knitting, this rebelliousness asserts itself in my reluctance to jump on trends.  As an example, I have never knit a sock, though for a few years sock knitting was THE thing.  I even went to a three-day sock knitting workshop (an expensive one), where I managed to finish a sweater, cast on a skirt, and knit about 2″ of a sock.  I can be wildly excited about something, but as soon as I realize that everyone else is doing it, my enthusiasm tends to wane.  Yes, I know, this is terribly infantile.

following the crowd

This is a rather roundabout way of introducing my topic: the Colour Affection Shawl, by Vera Välimäki (pictured above).   This shawl was originally a collaboration between the designer, Veera, and Sarah Dimond of The Plucky Knitter.  The yarn was produced by Sarah as a kit and sold with the pattern.  For the first few months, the pattern was only available as part of a kit.  Sarah is known for her sense of colour and her ability to put together interesting combinations.

I saw the pattern on a forum, which announced that Sarah had put together 20 or so different colour combinations, and that these would be put up for sale at a particular time on the internet.  I looked at my watch; they would go on sale in minutes.  I could tell from the forum, and from what I knew of The Plucky Knitter, that they would sell out instantly.  I would be lucky to get one.  I had barely any time to choose a kit.  I looked through the options, picked one out, and then asked Emma which she liked.  She picked out the same one, Parlour Games, I figured that was a sign, the sale went live, I pulled out my credit card and snagged a kit.  I later found out that I was in a lucky minority.  Hundreds of unhappy knitters missed a chance; they truly did sell out almost instantly.  Sarah went on to put up another round of kits, and then another.

I wrote a post when I got the yarn, so pleased by the absolutely beautiful colours.  Here is a photo Emma took:

IMG_1089

I had a few projects on the go at the time, so I waited a bit to start knitting.  Then, I encountered a bit of a snag.  I decided to wind the yarn into balls.  I do all of my winding by hand.  I started with the pink yarn. (The colours are called Faded Grandeur, Elegant Elephant and En Vogue, but for the purpose of this post, they will be green, grey and pink.)  This was also around the time that I had an issue with colour bleeding in a different project, which I discussed in this post.  This was a sweater knit in a slip stitch pattern in red and white.  The red dye bled and the project was useless.  I ended up throwing it away.  I realized belatedly that I should have washed the pink yarn, while it was still skeined, to make sure that all of the dye was released.  Once I had it balled, I couldn’t wash it, and I was very reluctant to re-skein it for the purpose of washing.  This is a long way of saying, that I began to fret about whether the pink would bleed, and so once again put the Colour Affection shawl on hold.

Now, while this was going on, the shawl began to be very popular.  Sarah couldn’t produce enough kits to meet demand.  Then, the pattern was made available independently and knitters started knitting it in lots of different yarns as well.  Some knitters made 5 or 6 or 7 of them.  I began to lose my interest.  And all of this was before Stephanie Pearl-McPhee stepped into the picture.  Yes, the famous Stephanie of the Yarn Harlot, knit blogger extraordinaire, wrote a post about the popularity of the Colour Affection Shawl at a knit workshop she had attended, and before you could say boo, thousands of knitters were making it.  I think this is great for Veera, who makes lovely designs, and great for Sarah, who makes lovely yarn.  However, it immediately made my infantile inner knitter say “I don’t want to make that.”  Why, oh why, do I do this?  Wouldn’t it be more sensible to think “Thousands of knitters can’t be wrong.”  But the honest truth is, the more Colour Affections (CAs) I saw on the internet, the less I wanted to make them.

It may not just be it’s popularity which has cooled my interest; I am astonishlingly fickle.  However, as the number of CAs on Ravelry fast approaches 10,000 (yes, 10,000 – you go, Veera!)  I find myself searching for some other use for the yarn.  Now that I am knitting with Plucky yarn for the first time (for my Neon cardigan), I am even more determined to find a good pattern for these three beautiful skeins.  I have thought about using them separately, for example knitting a pair of mitts from the pink, and maybe a cowl with the green and grey, but one of the things that attracted me to this kit in the first place is how great these three look together.  So, for the benefit of my curious readers, here are my current options (those of you who are not curious, can stop reading here – though you would miss some pretty photos.)

I love the pattern Pop Spots by Juju Vail.  It is becoming popular as well, though not quite on the same scale (yet) as the CA.

pop-006_medium2I have thought of making this in the grey, with pink spots and a green border.  This pattern is one of those rare ones that Emma and I disagree on.  Emma doesn’t like it and thinks it’s too old for me.  I have seen some great ones, in terrific colours, and find the spot pattern really appealing.  On reflection, however, I think I prefer the Pop Spots in a softer yarn with a bit of a halo.

Veera had published a new pattern, which being new has not yet taken off like the CA, which I think is very cute:

happy-street-2_small2This one is called Happy Street.  I would knit it in the grey, with the stripes in the green and pink.  You can see why Veera’s shawl patterns are so popular; she uses colour and garter stitch and simple shapes to great effect.  In fact, my very first post on this blog was to show off my Stripe Study shawl, a Veera design.

There are two other shawl patterns that I think would look fabulous with this yarn.  Each of them uses four colours of yarn, however, instead of three, so I would have to obtain another skein (probably in a darker grey).  One is called All the Shades of Truth by Laura Aylor, and I think it is stunning:

Pattern_photo_3_medium2 It is beautiful in these neutral colours, but imagine it in the fabulous grey, green and pink I have, with deep charcoal borders.  So simple, but so beautiful.  Laura first attracted my attention years ago with her Lizard Ridge blanket pattern; lately, she is making so many beautiful things.  Please go check her out.

The other pattern is called Eden Prairie and is designed by Nancy Whitman.  This one was inspired by a piece of Prairie-style stained glass:

EP_on_wall_medium2Well, dear readers, what do you think?  Should I ignore my rebellious inner voice and knit the Colour Affection?  Should I knit one of these other lovely shawls?  Should I hold out for another pattern down the line?  Also, if anyone has experience with Plucky yarns, should I re-skein the pink yarn and wash out the dye?

Red lace and sunshine

My knitting mojo has been on holiday the past few weeks, hopefully somewhere warm with pina coladas and a pool.  Life has been somewhat hectic, and when I have had some down time I’ve spent it with my nose in a book.  When I do pull my needles out, I’ve been working on Neon.  As it is a summer cardigan, and summer is with any luck on its way, it makes sense to concentrate on this one.

IMG_6574I am making Neon in a really great red yarn, hand dyed  by Sarah of the Plucky Knitter.  The colour is  hard to capture on camera, it is really red without orangy tones, and has a lot of depth to it.  It is called Kissin’ Valentino, and especially in the simple lace of this pattern, looks crisp and elegant, with a bit of sexy siren thrown into the mix.  I can’t wait to wear it with a linen blouse and navy heels.  I have a feeling it will be the perfect summer cardigan.

IMG_6549After the coldest spring in over 50 years, we have had two fairly nice weekends in a row, which has led to some peaceful knitting in the back garden.  The wisteria is blooming, and the field on the other side of our fence is planted in rapeseed just about to burst into full bloom.

Last weekend, I woke up early, pulled on my Killybegs cardigan, grabbed my coffee and sat out in the garden knitting.  As the sun warmed up, I shrugged off the Killybegs, and draped it over the back of the chair.  I went in to get another coffee, and when I came outside, Emma was standing with her camera, taking photos of the chair draped in the lovely green Donegal wool of Killybegs and the vibrant red of the Neon.  Just looking at the photos makes me happy.

IMG_6550I have managed to finish knitting the body of the cardigan.  It is hard to judge the fit, because even though it is knit in one piece and I can thus try it on, it also is lace and will need a really heavy block to open up the lace pattern.  What this means is that it seems impossibly small right now and I find it hard to imagine that I will ever be able to button it.  I have to trust in the miracle of blocking (and remember that I have two daughters who would not be overly upset if it ended up being too small for me.)

IMG_6581I followed the pattern almost exactly for the body, only adding one extra set of hip increases, but I am winging the sleeves.  The lace used on Neon is a simple 2-row repeat, and even though the sweater is knit in one piece, because it is a cardigan it is knit back and forth in rows.  This means that the pattern has a knit side and a purl side.  Joji has written the pattern, however, so that the sleeves are knit in the round.  There are obvious advantages to knitting this way, primarily that you don’t have to seam the sleeve, but for this pattern, because of the way the lace is formed, knitting in the round causes more problems than it solves.

IMG_6582Joji Locatelli is a new-ish designer, but a very professional and thorough one, and she is careful to address this problem. She gives detailed descriptions of how to knit the lace in the round, and even provides links to a video demonstration.  There is no denying, however, that this lace pattern is much simpler and more straight forward to knit back and forth than in the round.  In addition to to the technical aspects of knitting it without purl rows, which involves continually passing stitches back and forth between the needles, there is the very real problem that many knitters have encountered, which is that they end up with a different gauge for the lace when it’s knit in the round.  If you look at Joji’s Ravelry group, you will find many long discussions involving ripping, and changing needle sizes, and trying alternative ways to get the lace to work in the round.

IMG_6577To me, the answer is not only simple, but obvious: knit the sleeves straight, and then seam them.  I must point out that I am not the only one to do this; a number of other knitters have done so, and commented on the forums.  A couple of them asked Joji outright about knitting the sleeves flat and I found her responses very enlightening.  I took a screen shot for you:

Fullscreen capture 02062013 172012I think this reinforces the fact that she is a thoughtful designer, and responsive to her customers, as well as being cheerful and supportive.  The thing I found most interesting about this, however (and why I put them up here) is her comment that knitters today want patterns to be “seamless” and her struggle with the fact that in order to sell patterns you need to make them seamless, even in cases where a little seam would actually make things easier.  I find this rather disturbing.  It makes me want to say “Suck it up, knitters!  Sure, some of us prefer knitting seamless, and some of us prefer to knit in pieces.  But as a knitter, you should really know how to do both and suit the technique to the project!”  It is like those knitters who refuse to do crochet, and are rather adamant about it, even though sometimes a bit of crochet edging is just exactly what your knitting needs.  I think we should all try to be broadminded, and have fun mastering new techniques.  We are still allowed to have our favorites, of course, but why should we restrict ourselves like this in our pursuit of a hobby?  Aren’t we restricted enough in other things we have no choice in?  (I promise, dear reader, this is the end of my rant.)

IMG_6583I included Joji’s second comment, by the way, because if you are going to knit the sleeves flat, please don’t forget to cast on the extra stitches under the arm.  I could so easily have forgotten that; thanks Joji for steering me right!

The sun has peeked out again and I will run out and take advantage of it.  Here’s hoping my knitting mojo gets tired of pina coladas and comes home to challenge my books to a showdown.