“Holy Fair Isle Batsuit, Batman!”

I’ve been knitting the button bands on Doug’s vest. I put the project down and noticed that it looked like this:

Because I haven’t yet cut the steeks which will create the armholes, and because the 450ish stitches of the button bands and neck are all squeezed onto a circular knitting needle, it rather resembles a toddler-sized fair isle batman cowl and cape, complete with ears.

Granted, there are no razor-sharp blades on the edges of the cape, which as we all know are useful when dealing with corrupt officials. And while Shetland wool has considerable shape memory, this cape is unlikely to have enough rigidity to allow one to glide over the buildings of Gotham. Furthermore, there is no antenna in the left ear capable of scanning police radio frequencies. Sadly, the cowl is not shielded to protect against mind control.

However, it is hand-knitted using the Fair Isle technique, and is thus both more stylish, and considerably more woke, than all that boring black vinyl. Perhaps just a bit of Kevlar….

Steeking without tears

Today I cut the front steek on Doug’s vest, and it was a glorious thing! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I fretted about the steeks over the last few weeks. (Fair isle knitting patterns are easiest to knit in the round, so that the sweater is in the shape of a tube. The steek is a column of extra stitches which are designed to be cut open once the knitting is done, producing the arm openings or the open front of a cardigan. If you are not accustomed to this, the idea of taking a pair of scissors to your knitting is quite scary.) I finally realised that much of my fretting was actually about the ribbing, rather than the steek itself. That is, I wanted the button band stitches to be picked up perfectly and evenly along the edges of the steek, and I wanted the alignment – both the alignment of one side of the vest to the other, but also the alignment of the columns of rib to the bands of the fair isle pattern of the garment – to be equally perfect. Call me a perfectionist.

I know me, and that means I know that I will pick up the stitches again and again and again, and fiddle, until each one is placed exactly right. I worried about doing this on a cut edge. I posted a question on Ravelry – can I pick up the stitches before cutting the steek? Well, it turns out that the answer – like with most answers in knitting – is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. I determined to pick up the stitches along the steek edge first, and then to cut. This was not only to allay my anxiety that something would go wrong, but also because I didn’t want to be worrying the edge if I ended up ripping stitches out multiple times.

If you are not a knitter and are somehow inexplicably reading this post anyway, or if you tend to get easily bored, please skip this paragraph! For the knitting nerds out there, this is for you! I spent many hours plotting and thinking and measuring and trying to determine the best rate of picking up stitches to allow the rib to lay flat along the button bands, but also to make sure that each button lined up exactly with the middle of each band of colour. The ribbing is 3×2, so the first determination was whether I wanted the buttonholes to be in the troughs (the 2 purl stitches) or along the tops of the knit ribs. This also meant that I needed to know the size of the buttons, and thus the size of the buttonholes. I determined to put the buttonholes in the purl columns. Each band of colour in the pattern was 10 rows high, with two stockinette rows in between, for a total of 12 rows per band. I picked up stitches at 3 per every 4 rows at the bottom ribbing, and then at 5 for every 6 rows for the body of the garment. This meant that I picked up 10 stitches for every band. I made sure that the two stitches at the exact middle of each colour band were purls – these would be where the buttonholes would be placed. That left 8 picked up stitches between each of the buttonholes – 3 knit, 2 purl, 3 knit. It worked out so perfectly!

In the above photo, you can see how I picked up stitches along one side of the steek. Those are on the top half of the photo. This photo is taken along the v-neck, so there are decreases, making the bands of pattern appear at a slight diagonal. I used the little closing markers to mark every group of 2 purl stitches, so I knew exactly how the rib would lay against the fabric. Between every group of two purls, are the three stitches destined to be the knit columns. I picked up stitches along the entire left side of the garment, to where the back neck stitches were held live on a second needle. Then, I used a third needle to pick up stiches all the way down across the other side of the steek. You can see this on the bottom half of the photo. I am picking up stitches from left to right because I am left-handed. I have continued to mark each of the groups of two purls, and this way I can check (obsessively!) to make sure that the purls are directly across from the purls, the knits are directly across from the knits, and furthermore that the middle two stitches of each colour band are always ending up as two purls. Thus, everything is in alignment.

Now, I have picked up along both steek edges. I ran out of stitch markers at some point, so ended up not marking every single grouping of purl stitches, but I can guarantee every picked up stitch along one side of the garment will align with the other side, so that once I have knitted the 3×2 ribbing, there will be no buckling, or stretching, or buttonholes that are in the wrong place. Here is a close up of the top end of the garment:

The back neck stitches are held live on one needle (with a green cable) and there are two long needles (with red cables) holding the picked up stitches along each side of the steek. You can see the shoulders, which I also dealt with in a slightly unconventional manner, having used a three needle bind off on the reverse side, instead of grafting them together. The whole thing looks strange and out-of-shape, because the decreases for the v-neck are worked along the edges of the steek and pull the two sides of the vest together. The v-neck shaping will not emerge until after the steek has been cut.

Now, I am all ready to cut, and you can see that instead of being apprehensive, I am excited and relaxed! This will be fun!

Snip! I can’t describe how satisfying the sound of the scissors was; snip snip! I had knitted the steeks with alternating rows of colour, so there is no guesswork involved in where to cut, and the fabric parts so easily. Now, I am approaching the neckline:

It all goes so fast! Here just seconds later, I am about to make the last cut, just as relaxed and happy (and perhaps a bit maniacal) as the first:

Yay! A steek! I did it! What was the fuss about, again?

You can see the v-neckline has suddenly emerged, now that the steek is now longer holding the edges of the two sides together. The cut edges are incredibly neat and tidy – this is the result of using the right wool. This is Shetland wool, and it is sufficiently “sticky” so that it won’t unravel. Nevertheless, I am so happy that I’ve already picked up the stitches for the button bands, and will be able to start knitting them right away. Look here as I fold back the two sides. Isn’t it lovely? Be still my heart!

Finally, a close-up of one of the steeked edges. You can see that it naturally folds itself to the inside of the fabric:

Next up will be knitting the ribbing for the button bands. This will be followed by two more steeks – one for each armscythe – and the ribbing around each arm. I haven’t decided yet whether to pick up those stitches first or not. I am not so worried about aligning the stitches between front and back of the armscythe, as you won’t see this when the garment is worn, so I suppose that I could cut first and then pick up. I am also less worried about this beautiful Shetland wool unravelling now that I’ve cut this steek. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I will repeat what I’ve done here, given how successful I found it to be this time.

After weeks of fretting in the back of my mind, cutting the steek was a breeze. It took me over 3 hours to pick up all of the stitches and carefully align the whole thing. It took about 30 seconds to cut the steek. No tears in sight.

Knitting on instinct

Happy New Year! This year has sure gotten off to a rocky start. (This post, I imagine you will be happy to hear, is all about knitting, and not about the rocky start.)

I had a big work project due this past week, and with the stress of it hanging over my head, not to mention the very long hours of work involved, I had precious little time for knitting over the break. It’s so sad, too, because I usually get a lot of knitting done during the Christmas/New Year break, and often start some new projects at that time. However, I have managed to make some progress on Doug’s vest.

What you might not get from the above photo is the sheer amount of angst, and winging it, that went into the last 6 inches or so of this project. It is my first time knitting a steeked garment, so I really have no set concept in my head about how it all works once you reach the armhole stage, much less any muscle memory to call on. I am really knitting on instinct here.

I am using Kate Davies Ursula Cardigan as the basis for this project. However, the pattern is for a woman’s cardigan, and I am knitting a man’s waistcoat, so I am creating all of the shaping as I go. It is really rather nerve-wracking. Here you can see how I cast off at the armholes, and created a steek for the armscythes:

The questions I have been battling with are: how many stitches to cast off at the underarm? How many to bind off as I shape the armscythe? How much of a slope do I need? When do I start the decreases at the neck? How deep should the v-neck be? How many sets of decreases to make? At what interval? How wide do the shoulders need to be? Do I need more steeks at the shoulders/back? How do I put in some shoulder shaping? And all of this is in addition to the fact that I will have to CUT THE STEEKS eventually and not have a heart attack.

I am a scribbler: I write down everything. I have been scribbling little drawings of vests and calculations everywhere – no piece of paper is safe.

I find this example especially funny because this piece of paper also contains scribbles from a class I was teaching. I teach executive MBA students. In the bottom right hand corner of the lower page are some questions I scribbled down during a class. A student was speaking, and these are questions I wrote down to ask her. It says: “What is it that you still need to learn? What does skill look like?” Hmm…I was trying to get my students to reflect, but at the moment it also sounds like a good reflection for me, and very relevant to the subject of this post. I’m going to let these questions percolate around for a bit. Maybe I’ll come up with some interesting answers.

While I am still not sure how my calculations will work for the finished garment, I think it is starting to look okay. Below is a photo where I have folded up the partially knitted garment along the steek lines, so that you can see the right front with the armscythe on the left of the photo and the neckline decreases on the right.

I am reassured by the fact that it looks reasonably similar to the right front of a v-neck garment, rather than, for example, like a sleeve. And while I have fretted tons about how deep to make the armholes, they look reasonably like armholes:

Keep knitting everyone. (Or whatever else it is that keeps you sane and happy.) Coming soon: the steek!

A lot of not knitting going on

Given the weather – cold and dark – and the whole staying isolated at home thing, you would think that I would be busy knitting like mad. Not so, I’m afraid. I’m not sure why that is, but I am feeling pretty drained from this year and working long hours for the day job, and I don’t seem to have much brain power left for anything else.

When I have managed to pick up the needles, it’s to knit a row or two (three if I’m lucky) on either of the two projects which are currently on the go. First up is the Ursula vest for Doug, which is looking very nice:

I’ve had trouble capturing the colours of this, but the photo above comes pretty close. It was sitting in a heap on this chair just as a beam of sunlight kissed it and the camera finally managed to capture it in an almost real life way.

I managed to get Doug to try it on while there was enough light to snap a photo, and I think the fit will be good. I am relieved about this, particularly since he won’t be able to try it on again once I’ve put in the steeks at the armholes.

I have also added a few inches to the Koko shawl. This is a very relaxing project that’s incredibly easy and intuitive to knit. I am taking my time with it, however; picking it up now and again as the spirit moves me. Much of the time, it’s just sitting on my lap, rather like a prop for a knitting blog photo.

That’s it. A lot of not knitting going on. I think I will sign off and go not knit some more.

Taking Stock

Taking stock of my WIPs (works in progress), that is. Taking stock of my life, or of life on earth, or of the crazy sauce that is politics these days, would take too long. And be rather depressing. Knitting is better.

I only have three projects in progress right now. I was going to say “on the needles” but one of them is in the finishing stage, so already off the needles.

TREIT

I finished knitting this little lace tee-shirt at least a month ago, I think. It is knitted with a lovely wool and linen blend yarn called Kalinka 21, in a gorgeous, sunny, grassy green.

I have only three things that have still to be done with this one. First, I need to graft the sleeve stitches at the underarms:

Second, I have a few ends to weave in:

And third, it needs a good blocking.

If that is all that remains to be done, why haven’t I done it? First, I hate grafting and insist that it can only be done in full morning light. I have been working on the weekends again, and the weather has been often cloudy and rainy, so there has been no opportunity to take advantage of clear, morning light. Second, I finished knitting it just as the summer ended and the autumn weather set in. What motivation do I have to finish a summery linen tee at the beginning of autumn? I can’t even use the winter holiday in sunny locale excuse, because well…Covid. I’m clearly stuck in England for the foreseeable future. Third, I am lazy. Enough said.

URSULA

In my last post, I talked about having swatched for a vest for Doug, using the Ursula pattern (Ravelry link) by Kate Davies. This is a women’s cardigan pattern but I am trying to be creative and transform it into a men’s waistcoat. It will be my first steeked garment, so I am imagining all sorts of anxiety to come as I take up the scissors to cut my knitting. But, for now, it is a rather straightforward project. Here is exactly two weeks worth of knitting progress:

Today, I had Doug try it on for the first time, and it fits. Whew! I am terribly slow at stranded knitting, however. At the moment it is taking me 18 minutes per row, which amounts to 3 hours per colour pattern. I am hoping to improve on my speed a bit, but the days of my super fast knitting have gone. This will clearly not be a quick knit. But see how pretty it is?

By the way, Treit is a Kate Davies pattern, too, so I seem to be on a bit of a Kate thing at the moment. I have also joined her latest club so I am currently waking up to a new design by her every Friday morning. Chances are this will result in another Kate project on the needles before long. (Anyone else enjoying the new club?)

KOKO

Remember this?

It is an ingenious three-dimensional knitting pattern designed by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, which I am knitting in three luscious shades of Northiam by Kettle Yarn Co. This is what it looks like unblocked, but rest assured, when it is blocked it will undergo a transformation and knock your socks off.

I have only knitted about 4inches/10cm since the last time I showed it on the blog, some months ago now, so this is clearly going to be one of those very-long-in-the-making shawl projects which I sometimes undertake. They take forever to knit because I can’t stay monogamous to them, but the end project is worth it (like this or this).

I am looking around for a new project to cast on, so that I have enough variety in my WIPs to keep me interested. What’s next? Well, Doug and I have been walking a lot and it is getting colder outside, so mittens and hats are appealing at the moment. How are your WIPs going? Does this autumn air make you want to cast on? (And for those in the Southern Hemisphere, soak up some sun for me. If I was there with you, I’d be wearing my Treit right now!)