Kathy Bear says: “Knit another one for the baby!”

I have just finished knitting a lovely little baby cardigan, a gift for a colleague who is pregnant with her first child.  The baby is due next month, which means that I am shockingly finished in plenty of time.  I intended to take some un-modelled photos of the cardi to show you before gifting it; however, despite it being terribly cute, the sweater sans baby was missing some vital “je ne sais quoi”.  What to do?  Kathy Bear to the rescue!

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The sweater is knit with The Uncommon Thread BFL Light DK in the shade “Into Dust”. The pattern is Mignon, by Loop London.  It only comes in one size (3-6 months) and I knit it exactly as written, except that I went up a needle size, using a US6.

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The details of this sweater are adorable.  It is knit in one piece with very little finishing needed.  I love this shade, which is a sweet lavender with enough depth of colour to keep it from being too sweet.  It is both very girly and sophisticated.

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I also adore the button, which seems made for this yarn.  The button, pattern, and yarn were purchased from Loop in London.  I used the same buttons, but in blue, for a cardigan I knit for Leah last summer.

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Kathy Bear was hand-made for my daughter Leah when she was born.  She was made by Jill Davis, a lovely friend and gifted seamstress.  Jill and Doug went to high school together and she has two lovely daughters of her own.  She clearly knows how to make a bear with personality.

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Kathy has two dresses which she has worn for over twenty years.  She thinks a fancy cardigan is long over-due.  She is also clearly unimpressed with this baby nonsense.  “Knit another one for the baby!”, she says.

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Laelia

I finished my Laelia cardigan almost a month ago but haven’t been able to get photos taken until today.

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When I first bought this yarn, I pictured it as a zesty, spring-y splash of citrus orange to liven up a summer sweater; something silky and lacey to slip over a sundress and wear with orange heels.   And even though it is most definitely a summer sweater, and will look great next summer over a cute dress, I can’t help but think it looks pretty nice against the brilliant fall foliage here at the back of my house.

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The pattern is by Hanna Maciejewska and the yarn is the luscious Merino Silk Fingering by The Uncommon Thread.  I can highly recommend both pattern and yarn.  The two together make for a very serendipitous pairing.

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(I have a terrible cold; thus the somewhat pained expression on my face.  Or it could be that I am all smiled out after jumping and whooping for joy today – Go, Trudeau!)  You can see how beautifully this yarn showcases the lace pattern.  I made two changes to the pattern.  First, as I’ve adopted from many other Ravellers, I’ve had the two cascading lace patterns “meet” at the back of the sweater.  In the pattern, they are separated by a laddered lace detail; this is done to accomodate the many sizes.  You need to do some fiddling with the numbers to make this work, and it won’t be appropriate with every size.  Second, I’ve knit the sleeves without any lace.

I had both bad and good timing with this one.  Bad timing because I finished it just as the cold weather is settling in, and it will have to sit in a drawer until the spring comes.  Good timing because no sooner had I finished it, then I developed hand and wrist problems which have prevented me from knitting.

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Lace knitting and knitted lace

I am starting a new job this week.  The rush to finish up everything at the old job, and the stress about starting up something new, means that my attentions have not been on knitting lately.  Nevertheless, I’ve managed to accomplish a bit.  I finished up the knitting on my Laelia cardigan (designed by Hanna Maciejewska) and gave it a wash. I had hoped to bring you modelled shots of the cardigan this past weekend, but that was not to be.  I still have the finishing to go (ending off threads in lace!!!) and because of the delicacy of the fabric, I need to do this in a bright morning light when I have plenty of time to concentrate.  This may not happen right away.

The yarn, Merino Silk Fingering by The Uncommon Thread, reacted beautifully to being washed, and the lace opened up without being stretched or pinned into place.  Here is a sneak peak:

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I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the lace in this one.  I adore the way the lace patterns keep extending across the front and back of the cardigan to meet up at the back. (This, by the way, is a variation of the pattern, in which there is a separate laddered lace pattern between the repeats at the back.  I had to fiddle just a bit with the stitch count to get it to work out this way.  This isn’t possible with every size.)   I think the “cascade” of lace that is produced is really pretty.  But the lace pattern itself has always struck me as a bit fiddly.  First of all, it combines both lace knitting and knitted lace.  The former (and, to me at least, most common) consists of a lace pattern where every other row (usually the purl row) is knitted plain (or purled plain, as the case may be).  Knitted lace, on the other hand, incorporates yarn overs and decreases on every row of the fabric – front and back.  The lace pattern used in Laelia is a 20 row repeat of which 8 rows are knitted lace and the other 12 are lace knitting.  This is a bit difficult to get used to, especially if you are not accustomed to incorporating a lace pattern on the purl row, where it is difficult to “read” the knitting. I found that I always kept the chart at hand, never feeling as if I had truly internalized the pattern, despite the many repeats.

The other fiddly bit has to do with the visual impact of the lace, which is a bit of an optical illusion. Hanna says on the Ravelry project page “Laelia is a beautiful subtropical orchid with petals that fan out into stars.”  I found when knitting it that sometimes your mind sees the orchid shapes and sometimes not, depending on whether your eye is drawn to the petals, which are shaped by the decreases, or to the holes in the fabric, which are shaped by the yarn overs.  Now that I’ve washed it, and the lace has opened up, I can see better what Hanna had in mind.  It is definitely growing on me (perhaps because I am done with all the work of knitting it).

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Hopefully, I will be able to bring you some modelled shots of this soon, especially as it is by now definitely autumn here, which means that I am yet again a season behind in my knitting.  Alas.

In addition to the Laelia cardigan, I cast on for a new project.  This one is intended to be a gift, and so it’s a surprise.  After the fingering weight lace, all of this stockinette in DK weight is growing rapidly.  One little photo shouldn’t give away the surprise:

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I’ll tell you about the new job in another post, once I have settled in and have a chance to relax.

Too lazy for words

Today I find myself in a rather strange position: I am too lazy for words.  I would like to tell you all about my slow but steady progress on the lovely Laelia cardigan, designed by Hanna Maciejewska.  I would like to wax lyrical about the magical qualities of the Merino Silk Fingering yarn  by The  Uncommon Thread.  I would love to describe in glowing detail the luminosity of this particular shade of orange.  But today I am lazy.  I want to knit, and drink my coffee, and empty my mind.  So today, dear readers, you must be satisfied with photos.  As luck would have it, Emma is home, and she kindly snapped some shots for you.

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Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

Recently, I wrote a paper (for my MBA studies) about digital marketing and the yarn industry.  While writing the paper, I looked at the range of producers in the sector, in particular new entrants.  I also researched how people buy yarn, for example, what kinds of things influence when and how we buy yarn.  This made me think about my own patterns of buying yarn.  I don’t have a record of all the yarn that I buy and where and when I buy it; some people use Ravelry’s Stash function to keep track of this, but I am not that organized.  However, I do have records of all of the projects that I have knit since joining Ravelry in late 2007, and of which yarns I used for each project.  I looked at 2008, the first full year that I was on Ravelry, and discovered to my amazement that every single project I finished knitting in that year was made with Rowan yarn!  I had only just moved to England in August of 2006 and was still very thrilled to be able to walk into my local John Lewis store and buy Rowan.  That seemed the height of luxury at the time to my yarn-buying self.

I then compared 2008 with last year, 2014, and a very different picture emerged, as you can see from the below:

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I must point out that these charts show the percentage of projects made with each yarn and NOT the amount of yarn bought; nonetheless, they show a pretty compelling trend. To me, the most interesting thing about the 2014 distribution is that with the exception of Rowan and Noro, which is a Japanese yarn company founded over 40 years ago, each of the other yarn companies I have used in 2014 is a new company: Madelinetosh started in 2006 and Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co and The Uncommon Thread all started in 2010.  More than 80% of the projects I knit last year were made with yarn from companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  New entrants into the sector are rapidly changing the market, at least for premium yarns.

I didn’t show pie charts for 2009-2013, but I am a pretty eclectic yarn user.  During these years, in addition to lots of Rowan and the companies above, I knit projects using Debbie Bliss, Cascade, Studio Donegal, Hanne Falkenberg, Blue Sky Alpaca, Malabrigo, Mirasol, the Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fibre Arts, BC Garn and Wollmeise.

Though my Rowan projects have fallen from their 2008 pinnacle, I still find it a great product.  In particular, I am totally in love with Kidsilk Haze, Felted Tweed DK and Fine Tweed.  As long as Rowan keeps producing these (and maintaining quality), I will keep buying them.  This year, I have so far made four projects, and two of them – the spectacular Soumak Wrap and my Gossamer pullover – used Rowan yarn.  When I lived in Australia and Germany, I considered Rowan a luxury product; now that I’m in England, it is more like the standard for me – I use it as a benchmark to compare yarn prices and qualities.

I realize that my yarn-buying profile reflects the fact that I am willing to spend a lot for yarn.  In my mind, both yarn and books fall into my entertainment budget.  Let’s say that the yarn for a new sweater costs 100£.  Well, if that sweater will take 100 hours to knit, then I am spending 1£/hour on entertainment.  A bargain!  (Compare to a cinema ticket!)  A cashmere cowl that costs 120£ but takes only 10 hours to knit is very luxurious but still costs 12£/hour for knitting enjoyment.   While I might splurge now and then, my general idea is that if the yarn costs less to knit per hour than a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then it’s a good deal.  This kind of thinking (where I consider the yarn as entertainment rather than part of my clothing, or gift,  budget) is perhaps reflective of the fact that I am still more of a process knitter than a product knitter.  On the other hand, for the past few years I have made fewer impulse yarn buys.  I tend to buy yarn for a specific purpose and this seems to be more in line with a product knitter.

I think that part of my willingness to buy expensive yarn reflects the fact that I am knitting less these days.  When I am knitting more, then I am conscious of cost and try to use more yarns that are good quality but affordable, like Cascade 220 for instance.  I seem to be edging now into a more active knitting phase and I find that this is accompanied by a wish to search out some new affordable yarns (Quince & Co, while very high quality, is pretty affordable; it is moving up fast in my go-to list.)   Having two daughters in university is another compelling reason to seek out more affordable yarns, or at least to knit fewer luxury projects.  It is good to have a selection of yarns to knit with, and some of them should always be outrageously luxurious to the senses, because knitting, like cooking, is a sensual art.  How about you?  Are your yarn buying habits changing?  Are you buying more, or less, luxury yarns?  Do you calculate cost per hour of knitting (surely I’m not the only one)?  Do you plan every purchase or are you an impulse buyer?  Do you only buy local, or organic, or machine-washable?  Inquiring minds want to know…….

Happiness is orange yarn

My orange yarn finally decided what it wanted to be when it grew up.

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I bought five skeins of this beautiful silk blend from The Uncommon Thread back in February.  As I wrote in this post, the yarn has a mind of its own and I had to wait for it to come to its own conclusions.  We finally decided on Laelia, a lovely, lacey cardigan designed by Hanna Maciejewska, of Hada Knits.  (Thank you, Laril, for sending me a link to your beautiful Laelia; it definitely helped us decide.)  I’ve had my eye on Hanna’s designs for a while; she’s got a really great style.

This cardigan has a cool construction technique.  You start with a provisional cast on at the back center neck, and knit the lace for a bit; then, you unravel the cast-on, put the live stitches back on the needle, and knit some more lace in the other direction.  Now you have a rectangle with live stitches at both ends.  You pick up along the long edge, and – voilà – you get this:

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Isn’t it clever?  I love it!  Then, you start knitting, incorporating raglan increases as you go.  This is where it stands as of this morning:

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As you can see, the lace pattern runs down the front edges of the cardigan, while the back and the sleeves are in stockinette stitch. The best part about the design is that there is almost no finishing involved.

Here it is, molded into the actual cardigan shape (as much as is possible given the limitations of the needle length):

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In the photo below, I’ve held it up so that you could get an idea of the shaping at the front edge and shoulder, and also so that you can see the lace pattern better.  (Ignore the pesky hose that wanted to be in the photo.)

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I love everything about this one so far.  Happy pattern!  Happy yarn!  Happy knitting!

My yarn has opinions

I can’t help but spend time staring at my beautiful, sunny hand-dyed merino and silk yarn from The Uncommon Thread:

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I ordered the yarn to knit the Aisance cardigan pattern with it.  But, truthfully,  I must admit that the more I stare at this lovely yarn,  the less I feel that it wants to be an Aisance:

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© Carrie Bostick Hoge

Yes, my yarn has opinions.  It knows what it wants to be.  Unfortunately it doesn’t speak, so part of my job is to be an interpretive artist.  It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

I still want to knit Aisance, but maybe not with this yarn.   As with most hand-dyed yarn, there is a fair bit of variation in colour both within and across skeins, so it would need to be alternated.  However, it is hard for me to see how best to alternate skeins in Aisance –  it is knit in one piece and the long edges of the fronts need to be very neat and sharp.  Once doubt settled in, it was hard to shake.  My yarn could sense my doubts and took advantage.  “Find another pattern,” it said.  “Find the PERFECT pattern for ME.”  (I have tried, believe me, to coax my yarn into being more specific.  It refuses.  It wants me to work for this relationship.  It wants understanding.)

I have spent more time than I care to admit sorting through cardigan patterns and looking at the yarn:

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It is the most gorgeous shade of orange.  It is luscious.  It is happy.  This yarn is special and I want to knit exactly the right thing with it.  And although I am dying to knit with this fabulous stuff, RIGHT NOW, I won’t do it until I have the perfect marriage of pattern and yarn.  I have knit up a lovely swatch:

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I like the look and feel of the fabric at this gauge, 24×36 knit on a US4, and would be reluctant to knit at a looser gauge. I am lucky to have 2000 metres (5 skeins).  My yarn and I are happy to take suggestions.

PS – This is my 200th post.  Thank you to all my readers who keep this fun!