And now for something blue

It’s been a while since I wrote a Wearability Wednesday Post.   This is a series in which I revisit a knit garment and look at its wearability, style and durability.  Let’s face it, sometimes you knit something that seems just wonderful at the time, and then it never gets worn.  Maybe it’s the wrong colour, or the wrong length, or just doesn’t fit in with your style.  Sometimes, on the other hand, you knit something that hits all of the right buttons and you wear it to death.

This sweater is Ingenue, from a pattern by Wendy Bernard.  I knit it for my daughter Leah in January 2010.   It took three weeks from start to finish.  The above photos show Leah wearing it when I first knit it.   I used Malabrigo Merino Worsted in the colour Buscando Azul.  This was the first time I had ever knit with Malabrigo, which has a huge following.  (Did you know that yarns have Fan Girls?)

Mostly I knit it exactly as written in the pattern, making just a few modifications.   Below, are the comments on my Ravelry entry for this project, describing the mods (if you aren’t interested in the knitting knitty gritty, you may skip this part):

“As usual, my row gauge was off, so I had to adjust the math. I made the sweater two inches longer, added extra waist increases, and switched to a size 10 (US) for the bottom. For the sleeves, I added 6 stitches evenly around the sleeve just before starting the ridge pattern. This kept the cuff from pulling in. I did 5 pattern repeats on the bottom and cuffs but left off the purl row at the end, instead binding off in knit. I didn’t like the way they curled out, so I hemmed them, folding them back at the purl row of the 4th pattern ridge; this gave a much neater finish. If I were to knit this again, I would do fewer sleeve increases during the raglan shaping because the sleeves have a little too much bulk.”

Leah has worn this sweater countless times.  This is a sweater that sees serious wear.  We took some more photos of it last month in Vancouver.  (It is a very sad fact about this last summer in Vancouver that this wool sweater got lots of wear in August.)

The pattern for Ingenue can be found in Wendy Bernard’s book, Custom Knits.  I knit another of the patterns from that book, my Flash of Purple, incidentally also for Leah.  I documented the latter on the blog here, but here’s a photo:

Wendy is a great designer, who understands that every body is different; she incorporates tailoring tips into her patterns to help you get just the right fit.  I would highly recommend this book to any sweater knitter.  Wendy has a new book out, Custom Knits 2, which I haven’t had a chance to look at yet, but I would bet it’s also great.

To go back to the Ingenue, what is it about this sweater that makes it a keeper?  From Leah’s perspective, it is incredibly soft, cozy, easy to wear, goes with lots of things, can be dressed up or down, gets noticed, and is an absolutely gorgeous colour.  From a knitting perspective, it is easy as pie to knit, but still manages to not be too boring.  There are nearly one thousand Ingenues up on Ravelry.  This makes it a very popular knit.  It manages to look good on most people.  I have seen some seriously big, curvy women rocking their Ingenues; you don’t have to be young and gorgeous like Leah to carry this off.  It has some panache.

The absolutely best thing about this sweater (which is also the worst thing) is the Malabrigo.  The colour is Fantastic.  The photos can’t do it justice.  It is an amazing, rich, beautiful, textured, deep blue that is absolutely mesmerizing.  It does not look like any sweater that you could buy in a store.  When we were in Vancouver, Leah got stopped in a parking lot of a Chinese restaurant on Commercial Drive by a father accompanied by his kids.  He wanted to know where she got it (and was really blown away by the fact that someone actually knit it for her).

It is also unbelievably soft.  Malabrigo has to be felt to be believed; it really is that soft.  And this, I’m afraid, is also it’s downfall.  Malabrigo is so soft, that it pills almost instantly.  The first time you pull it on, it will start to pill.  The photo below shows how beautiful and lovely the sweater is, but if you look closely, you can see that it is definitely pilling (this despite having just been washed and de-pilled).  After a couple of washes, the whole fabric takes on a fuzzy patina.

In the future I would think carefully about what kinds of projects I used Malabrigo in.  I wouldn’t choose to use it in a pattern that requires crisp stitch definition.  Malabrigo isn’t crisp.  But it is soft as butter, and luxurious to wear.  The next time I knit up an Ingenue, I would probably use Malabrigo, and I would definitely knit it for me.

A flash of purple

Today I have an FO to show you (that is knitspeak for Finished Object).  These photos are of my younger daughter Leah wearing her Flash of Purple sweater.  This is a customized version of Wendy Bernard’s pattern for the Backwards Cabled Pullover from her book, Custom Knits.   I am really pleased with this sweater, which fits wonderfully and really suits Leah.

The best thing about this sweater is that it was a truly collaborative project right from the start. Leah and I spent hours discussing just what kind of sweater she wanted and talking about all of the design features it should have.  When Leah saw the Madelinetosh Pashmina yarn in this colour, Flashdance, she was sold instantly.  Having narrowed down the yarn, we spent hours trolling Ravelry for just the right pattern.  We couldn’t find one that was exactly what we were looking for, but Wendy’s pattern was very close, so we ran with it and modified it as we went.

The main modification I made was to turn the sweater back-to-front (the original has a high neckline and plunging back),  but I also heavily customized the sizing.  The pashmina has a tighter gauge than that specified in the pattern.  The standard way around this type of gauge issue is to knit a larger size (say to knit a size 40 to obtain a size 36).  To do this properly, one must employ math.  Dear reader, math is your friend; it is part of a good knitter’s arsenal of tools.  Do not be afraid of math but wade into it willingly and your sweaters will thank you for it.

Fair warning – the next two paragraphs will be slightly technical; one is allowed to skip them and just look at the photos.  For this pullover, I had two conflicting pressures on the sizing.  On the one hand, I was using a thinner yarn, so I needed to have more stitches on the needles (to knit a larger size than required).  On the other, we were after a clingy sweater, a 50s sweater girl kind of look.  This means that I needed to build in a lot of negative ease.  For the uninitiated, ease refers to the fit of your garment.  Say that you have a chest measurement of 36″.  If your sweater has a chest measurement of 36″, then that sweater is said to have zero ease.  If the sweater measures 38″ you have two inches of positive ease and if it measures 34″ you have two inches of negative ease.  In order to knit a garment that you are happy with, you have to understand ease, and also know what kind of fit you are aiming for.  You also need to know your yarn and your stitch pattern, so that you know how stretchy they are, and how much they will give after washing.  This is why it is so important to knit a reasonable sized swatch and to wash it before knitting a garment.

For this sweater, the thinner yarn meant I needed to knit a larger size, but the negative ease meant that I needed to knit a smaller size.  I ended up doing a completely customized sizing, deciding that in order to get an extra small, I needed to knit something between a small and medium.  So, I redid all of the figures, and made sure that Leah tried it on every 2″ or so, just to make sure.  This method requires both math and a lot of trial and error.  I reported in an earlier post that I had originally made the arm opening too shallow and had to rip out quite a few inches and redo part of the yoke.  I also knit 3 sleeves for this pullover.  The first sleeve was too tight on Leah, so I ripped it out and knit it again, making fewer decreases (I decreased at rounds 10, 20, 30, and 40 and then knit to 6″ before knitting the cuffs).  The finished garment has 4.5″ of negative ease.

I would highly recommend this pattern, and indeed the whole book.  I have previously knit one of the other sweaters from this book, Ingenue, and it is a lovely sweater that gets worn all of the time.  Wendy’s whole approach to knitting is to encourage people to customize their knits, and I really like that.  She has a brand new book out by the way, Custom Knits Accessories; I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet but I would bet that it’s great.

Would I recommend Madelintosh yarn again?  Perhaps this will answer the question best:

Emma and I went into London yesterday, and spent some time in Loop, a wonderful yarn shop in Islington in the Camden Passage.  I had just finished knitting Leah’s sweater and went to Loop armed with a list of seven sweaters that I was considering making for myself and their yarn requirements.  Emma saw the above Madelinetosh DK in Venetian and fell in love. It is hard to capture the richness of the colour which is a very deep red with black undertones.  I bought a sweater’s worth which is destined for Emma.  And the seven sweaters for me?  Maybe next time.

Winging it

We arrived back in the UK from our glorious holiday in the desert to rain and gloom.  I had arranged our flights so that we would come home on Friday mid-day and have a few days to recover before the working week began.  Although a brilliant plan, it seems to have had no effect on our recovery.  We were hit over the heads with a whopping case of jet lag.  To make matters worse, this week I was hosting two international conferences at work, which meant six consecutive long days of being “on” and dealing with near catastrophes from morning till night.  (No matter how well organized you are, something will go wrong; it is the nature of conference organization.)    I learned an important lesson this week:  never schedule a two week holiday directly preceding a conference that you are responsible for organising.

Do you imagine that the combination of long hours, stress, and jet lag means no knitting?  Think again, oh ye of little faith.  The horrible weather we had all week, with downpours and wind, cold, hail and other nastiness, resulted in terrible traffic.  Every morning we were stuck in traffic battling the elements and drivers who seemingly forgot how to drive in the rain.  And there we were, Doug behind the wheel and me merrily knitting away.  I managed to get quite a bit of the body of Leah’s sweater knit this week.  Today, during a five minute break in the rain,  Emma rushed Leah outside to get some photographic evidence.

As you can see, this pullover is coming along nicely and the fit is fabulous.  Though I am nominally following Wendy Bernard’s pattern for the Backwards Cabled Pullover, I am, in fact, winging it.  I turned the sweater back-to-front, got rid of the short row shaping, and moved the cable (to keep it on the front beneath the deep square neck); all of these are modifications which Wendy suggests herself as options.  I found however, that a few inches into the sweater, that I was better off just following my instincts.  I changed the raglan sleeve increases.  According to the pattern, they are made every second row, but it was clear that if I continued increasing at that rate, I would reach the required width long before I had enough depth for the arms; so after a few inches, I switched to increasing every fourth row.  It doesn’t look as neat as it would have without the change, but it doesn’t look bad and it fits properly.  I find I have to do this anytime I knit a top down raglan because my row gauge is always tighter than called for by the pattern.

I also completely ignored the decreases and increases written in the pattern and made my own.  Remember knitters, that patterns, like recipes, are guidelines; they are made to be tweaked.  The pattern calls for four sets of waist decreases every 7 rows.  The cable pattern (which is really lovely by the way) has an 8 row repeat.  It seemed overly complicated to superimpose a 7 row repeat on an 8 row repeat; that would mean keeping track of every row.  I would have to count!  So, I made my decreases on the first row of every cable repeat; thus every 8th row.  I marked the beginning of every cable repeat with a pink removeable stitch marker, thus keeping track of the cables and the decreases simultaneously.  I kept decreasing every 8 rows until the sweater looked right on Leah.  This means trying it on frequently, which can be annoying, but it results in a good fit.

I did a total of 7 paired decreases instead of the 4 the pattern calls for (we are after slinky here), and then at the next pattern repeat I started paired increases for the hips.  I marked each of the increase rows (which correspond to the cable pattern repeats) with a green removeable stitch marker.  This means that I never have to count, or keep track of anything.  The sweater just knits itself.  Hooray!

Desert Knitting

We are still enjoying a holiday in the American southwest, soaking up the hot desert sun.  In my last post, we were touring through the Joshua Tree National Forest in California, which is the southernmost stretch of the Mojave Desert.  A few days later, we were driving the Apache Trail in Arizona.  The Apache Trail is an amazing unpaved road, that twists and turns with hairpin curves through the Tonto National Forest, which is in the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert.  It has some of the most spectacular desert scenery imaginable.  How is this for a knitting spot?

The Apache Trail was built in the early part of the 20th century to allow access for the vehicles and labour trucked in to build the Roosevelt Dam.  The dam resulted in a string of finger lakes that cut through the high, dry mountainous desert.  Teddy Roosevelt said the following about the Apache Trail:

The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the Glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have.  To me, it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created.

I have to say that Teddy wasn’t exaggerating.  This trip is really special.

Since finishing Brick, I have been working steadily on a new sweater for Leah.  It is knit in Madelinetosh pashmina in the colour Flashdance, a lovely mix of purples and blues, with streaks of greys and pinks.  Leah wanted a close-fitting short-sleeved pullover with a deep, square neckline.  We spent weeks searching through the Ravelry databanks for a pattern we liked.  We settled on the Backwards Cabled Pullover by Wendy Bernard, from her book Custom Knits.  I already owned the book, having previously made the Ingenue sweater from the book, also for Leah.

The sweater pattern calls for a plunging back, and has a high neck in front, like this:

Leah requested we flip it around, and have the deep square-cut neck in the front.  Any knitter with some experience can alter patterns to suit their own needs, thus using the pattern more as a template than an exact blueprint.  One of the nice things about Wendy’s book is that she anticipates this, and gives lots of suggestions for ways to alter the patterns, as well as encouragement to knitters who haven’t done much in the way of alterations.

I have spent the week knitting my Flash of Purple sweater in many desert locales: on the Apache Trail, in the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, while driving through the Saguaro National Forest, in the Desert Museum in Tucson (a wonderful spot).  Just to demonstrate a little knitting craziness, here is a photo of me knitting on a bench in the Desert Museum.  Why is this crazy?  It was 95F (35C) at the time.  (Man, do I love the desert!  Especially since I couldn’t help but notice that it was about 10C and raining in England all week.)

Besides flipping the sweater from front to back, I have been reworking all of the math.  This is for two reasons: first, because the Pashmina has a tighter gauge than the specified yarn, and second, because I always have to rework the math in top-down raglans (or any raglan for that matter).  This is because I can never, ever get the specified row gauge.  My stitches are shorter than most, I guess, because if I am on target with the stitch gauge, I am always off on the row gauge.  As an example, if the gauge is 20 stitches and 30 rows, I will invariable hit 20 stitches and 34-36 rows.  This can be death to a raglan; thus, a lot of fiddling with the math ensues.

With this particular sweater, I fiddled it wrong the first time.  I had it knit to about 4 inches below where I separated off for the sleeves, when I had Leah try it on and discovered that the sleeve openings were too tight and too high.  So, yesterday morning I ripped back (sigh) and then spent a lovely day, sitting on the front porch of a friend’s house in the Tucson foothills, staring out at the desert, and reknitting.  I am almost back to where I was before ripping.

Just because I can’t resist, here are a couple more photos of Joshua Tree (sans Brick).

And lest you think that we have been ignoring our blog while on holiday, I will let you in on a secret.  Emma has been busy photographing like mad the entire trip, for an upcoming series of posts on the blog featuring knits made by my mother and grandmother in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Be sure to stay tuned, as the Southwestern theme continues!  And remember folks: