Monday, December 31, 2007

blue shoes for the new year

Happy New Year! As a gift for the new year I have a free scarf pattern to give you. It is not ready yet, but here is a preview of the finished item in a poor photo that doesn't show the true attractiveness of this scarf, mainly due to the crummy background of a faded, bleached towel.

I have briefly blogged about this scarf in previous posts about the Christmas scarves I knit for friends in 2006. This was my absolute favorite out of 15 scarves. I named it Blue Shoes and Happiness (Blue Shoes for short) after the book I listened to as I knit it. Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith is the 7th of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series featuring South African sleuth and font of wisdom, Precious Ramotswe. I like to think that the charm of this gentle mystery (barely a mystery novel) and its narration by Lisette Lecat was communicated to the scarf.

Appropriately, as McCall Smith is a Scotsman, the design, to me, has a Scottish feel. I think it is partly in the stitch pattern, which suggests plaid, and partly in the short sideways fringe, which suggests a kilt. I gave the scarf away without writing down the pattern. But the pattern is simple enough, and the item is small enough for me to reproduce it by knitting it again (for myself of course).

Part of the reason for the Christmas scarf project was to give myself the chance to experiment with yarns that might be too expensive to risk on a whole project. A silk/wool/cashmere Japanese import, Noro Cash Iroha, is in this category. It currently retails for about $12. per 100 yd., 50 gram skein at local yarn stores, making a basic sweater cost $120, never mind cables. That is a lot for me to spend.

This yarn seduced me though. The yarn is part of the reason why this is my favorite scarf. It has a beautiful soft shine and is smooth and soft to the touch and looks luxuriously heavy, like thick silk fabric. But it is light because of its wool and nylon content. Its only drawback for this project is its thick and thinness. This feature would add a lot of interest to a plain stockinette pattern, but is not perfect for this plaid-like basket weave. Never mind. Although if you want to knit the scarf, plain Cascade 220 or Lamb's Pride worsted, or Paton's Classic Merino would work well. I hope to have the pattern ready next time. Meanwhile, here is a new photo of the work in progress.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I have been wanting to blog about Amanda's Squatty Sidekick for the past month or so because I had some adventures in knitting it. But it was a Christmas gift for someone who might see the blog, so I had to keep it a secret. The pattern for this little felted cutie is on the Interweave Press "Knitting Daily" website and can be accessed through the link in the first sentence.

The pattern calls for about 200 yards of a feltable (wool) worsted weight yarn, so it's great for using project leftovers. It is knit on large needles, so it takes no time at all to make.

I used a few different shades of dark red in Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted, a good felting yarn, although it takes longer to felt than some. My finished bag showed subtle striping, obscured by the felting for a subtly variegated effect. The problem? The bag was way too floppy and kind of small even though it measures 11 1/2" wide and 6" high after felting, larger than the finished measurements given in the pattern.

My little squatty was so cute that I kept it, but I had to do better. I doubled the yarn (I still had enough reds left over), used larger needles (size 13 US rather than 10 1/2) and decided to widen and lengthen the bag's proportions to make it more usable. This should be a piece of cake. After all, I blog about knitting so I must be very good at it, right?

Wrong. My next attempt was so misshapen that I had to frog it immediately or die of embarrassment. I had added stitches in what I thought was a simple continuation of the increase/ decrease sequence of the pattern, but no. It didn't work.

My last and most successful attempt at Squatty is pictured on top. Here is a comparison of the first (single strand) and last (double strand) squatties:

Yes, the size of the final version makes it more usable, but it is the firmness of the thicker fabric that really does the trick. Here are the final Squatty stats:

Prefelted measurements: 19" wide; 13 1/2" tall; 21" long strap

Measured after 2 long washer cycles to felt: 12 1/2" wide; 6 1/2" tall; 15" strap

The construction of the Squatty is so clever. The bottom of the bag is made first as a back and forth-knitted rectangle on a circular needle. The live stitches along one side of the rectangle are kept on the needle and stitches are picked up along the other three sides to start the body. The body (with its careful sequence of increases and decreases) is knit in the round in one piece. At the top of the body, some stitches are bound off and some are kept on a holder for the flap. Others are kept on another holder for the base of the handle. A group of stitches on one side is worked on for the handle. When the handle is long enough, the handle stitches are grafted to the reserved stitches on the other side of the bag. In other words, the bag is made in all one piece. Much more elegant to knit than to describe.

Monday, December 24, 2007

rowan fits

A recent thread in the Ravelry 'Rowan Love' forum reminded me of a sweater I made this past Summer. It is a menswear pattern called Mason from the exquisite Rowan Vintage Knits book. Besides the fact that I already had the yarn (Rowan Yorkshire Tweed Chunky in Coast, a greyish blue tweed) and wasn't sure what to do with it, I don't know why I decided to knit a man's pattern for myself. The photo in the book was kind of macho looking. One feature of the sweater was the description which suggested that it would be good for winter gardening. That is probably what sold me.

Here is the finished product:

Pretty Cute, yes? I knit this sweater in a man's small which was meant to fit a 38" chest. As you can see from the photo, I am pretty chunky (though NOT as chunky as the photo makes me look). My chest is more than 38" and I usually wear a store-bought women's large, which would translate to a man's medium.

Now maybe my gauge was off, but not that off. I chose the size small based on the finished measurement which was 45" around. That is pretty big for a small, and 3-5 inches bigger than I usually knit for myself. The only modifications I made were to shorten the body a little and the sleeves a lot. I also narrowed the sleeve because I hate floppy sleeves. And I left off the huge cable that is supposed to run down the arm, thinking it would broaden my already broad figure.

Here is what is really odd about this sweater:

It fits my husband, who usually wears a man's large. And he likes it. He has never liked a sweater that I've made for him. He actually asked to try it on when he saw it. So now I know that if I ever knit him a Rowan design I will probably chose the size small. Never in a million years would I have thought to do that if I hadn't seen him in this sweater.

Anyway, I like the sweater too. It is comfortable to wear and move in; the largeness is not too floppy. I can see myself doing my winter pruning in it, but I guess I will have to share.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

sweater design by the book

Ann Budd is an editor of Interweave Knits who has published a number of designs and several books focusing on knitwear design. So last month, when I started a sweater of my own design, I turned to my own library and the Internet for help with the trickiest parts - neck, shoulders, armscye, and sleeve cap. For me, the most difficult calculations are for the sleeve cap.

The Knitters Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd has a section on sweaters with set-in sleeves. But I found little guidance here on sweater design. Budd works with a variety of sweater styles such as drop shoulder, seamless yoke, or raglan; sets of sizes ranging from 26" to 54" inches around; and gauges from 3 to 7 stitches per inch. Within these parameters, you can fit your own sweater design, but you are bound to the conventions of fit and proportion established by the author. Each sweater type has a long series of charts that you can follow like a recipe to know how much to cast on, where to increase and decrease, when to bind off, etc. Here is a section of the chart for sleeves. You can see that you don't get the principles of design from this. No doubt you can knit a sweater, but you wouldn't understand how to draft the measurements that would fit the sweater together and to your body.

In my library however, I found this treasured classic of sweater design:

Sweater Design in Plain English was published in 1990. In it, Maggie Righetti uses examples and simple formulas to help you calculate the measurements you need to make your set in sleeves fit, as well as calculations for chest width, length, shoulder slope, neckline, etc. In short, everything you need to design a sweater to your own specifications.

As given in her examples, Righetti's ideas of design and fit don't jibe with mine. Her design aesthetic seems dated. But that doesn't matter. With this book you get the tools you need to do it your own way.

So I designed my armscye and sleeves based on Righetti's advice. I haven't finished the sweater yet. I'll let you know how it comes out. But along the way I found two incredible Internet resources. Lucia, the Knitting Fiend, on whom I have a knitter's crush, has made a sleeve cap calculator. Check it out. And while you are there check out the endless number of calculators, tips, techniques, patterns, and how to's that Lucia provides out of the kindness of her heart.

The invaluable Jenna Wilson, through the wonder of Knitty, has also published a series called "Ravellings on the Knitted Sleeve" which includes a wonderful article on sleeve types, and a fabulous primer on creating a set in sleeve.

Monday, December 17, 2007

afghans for babies

Continuing with the theme of afghans, I want to show some afghans I made for baby gifts. And speaking of Doctor Who, this afghan that I made in 2005 best represents the colors of the Doctor Who scarves. I must not have been able to fit all of these colors into the afghan I made for our living room.

Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of this creation. It is based on a picture I saw in one of the Vogue Knitting on the Go baby books. Below is a photo of the notes I made for it. You can see that is was square, 35" x 35". The outside was 2 rows of squares with a square of contrasting color in the center. The inside portion was 12 row stripes. I knit it in one piece in stockinette stitch. There was a garter stitch border around the outside.

The good thing about this afghan was the richness and sophistication of the colors for a baby afghan. The bad thing was the blocking, or lack thereof. It would have worked better in wool. As it was, I was not able to get it to lay perfectly square and flat. Also, I picked up the garter stitch border after the main portion was knitted, and I did not pick up the correct number of stitches. It tended to flare. I think that means I picked up too many stitches. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not redo it, as the baby shower was upon me.

The next afghan, actually made 6 months earlier than the one above, was not finished in time for the shower, but I was able to show off the pieces. It is the fish afghan from Knitters magazine, Summer 1998 issue. It also appears in Baby and Toddlers: A Knitters Dozen. There are many examples of the finished afghan in Ravelry.

I also failed to take a photo of this finished project. I guess I did not have a digital camera yet. Here is the afghan as it appeared in the magazine:
It was particularly apt for my pregnant friend, because she loves fishies. Note that the designer of this piece chose to make it in 2 colors. I chose to make in 4 related colors in my favorite color combination of blue and green, using Lion Brand Wool Ease. Here is a photo of the yarn I used and some notes showing how I alternated the colors in rows. My daughter, who is good at math, helped me to work out the color sequence.
If you check out the photos in Ravelry, you will see that this afghan is considered to be a good scrap afghan, because so many people who made it used a variety of colors, a different color for each fish. I like the results better in the restricted sequence of colors I used. I think it looks more harmonious. With many blocks of unrelated colors, it is hard to know where to rest your eye. The Wool Ease yarn also worked well for this project. It is soft, and while not entirely blockable, it blocked some. Sewing the fish together (I think I used matress stitch, not crochet) put them under a tension that made them hold their shape.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

afghans I have known

On Monday of this week I blogged about my beloved Doctor Who afghan. It got me to thinking about other afghans in my life. Here is the swatch from the one I made for my daughter and son-in-law when they moved into their new house.The pattern I used is the bottom stripes of the scanned swatch (above). I used the Garter Stitch Chevron pattern from the Harmony Guide. Isn't this a crummy-looking looking scan? You may or may not be able to read my notes indicating that I cast 232 stitches onto a #8 (US) circular needle. I knit the afghan back and forth horizontially over a finished width of 48" and to a finished length of 60". For myself, I would have made a bigger afghan, but my daughter wanted it fairly wide, but not too long.

As the swatch scan indicates, the stitch pattern made a lovely sawtooth border for itself, so an edging was not required. The finished afghan is pretty - kind of girly in its wavy pattern, but manly in its coloring.

The tan and brown shades of the Lion Brand Wool Ease I used coordinate with the caramel walls and darkish green upholstery in the family room with its big-screen tv. The room is much-used but chilly, so the afghan has come in handy. I used Wool Ease because of its washability, but it worked well for this in general. It is very soft.

I love chevron and ripple patterns. I have the Jan Eaton Ripple Patterns book, but what else can you do with ripple paterns besides afghans? I would love to hear some other ideas from you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

doctor who revisited

In 2002 or 2003, to please a new boyfriend, my daughter made three massively huge Doctor Who scarves. She carefully chose the colors of acrylic yarn (two were similarly muted and one was all reds and purples) and got very busy, working on the scarves while watching TV at night. I was jealous that she had a project to work on so I took up knitting again and became Obsessed With Knitting. The rest is history.

Anyway, I got tired of having the acrylic leftovers in my natural-fibered knitting room, so I took them up and made an afghan out of them. I used a tweed stitch from one of the Harmony Guides . It goes K1, slip1 with yarn in front as if to purl. Even numbered rows are all purl. The knits and slips are offset: the 2nd right side row goes K2, slip 1. I changed colors every 2 rows, so I could use up the Doctor Whos.

It took a long time to make with worsted weight yarn and #7 (US) circular needles. It wasn't finished until 2006. I was thrilled with the result, and it was machine washable:

After seeing this afghan for a while, I began to think that I was a genius at combining colors. A color combination I like is green and blue, so I thought to use more leftovers and make a green and blue afghan. Since finishing the first afghan I had learned to crochet, so I decided to crochet this one in a ripple stitch. I used all sorts of greens and blues with purples for contrast. The result was garish and wrong:

What happened to my color combining genius? Out the window. I did learn something from this fiasco, however. One, do not use the ripple stitch in crochet, especially in stripes. I had made a section like this where the colors were good together by accident and made it into a scarf, but that was a fluke. Two, in combining blues and greens, severely edit the colors.

In my next attempt at the blue and green afghan, I plan to use the richer, deeper colors on the top and eliminate the lighter, muddier colors on the bottom. I'll also go back to my trusty tweed stitch, which I seem to be using for everything lately.

I just finished a scarf in this stitch pattern, and last year I made two men's sweaters in it. Today in Ravelry I spotted a fabulous Jean Frost jacket in a three color version of it that I immediately put into my queue. So more on the tweed stitch in the future.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

outerwear: outings with rebecca

Rebecca, the German knitting magazine, offers free patterns online. This is great because Rebecca, while available, is not common. In order to carry the magazine, yarn stores have to stock the yarn they specify, the German brand GGH. It is also great because I need to be saved from myself. I am a little frightened at the thought of adding more patterns to my collection that includes every Vogue Knitting since its premiere as a periodical in 1987, every Knitters since issue 28, and almost every Interweave Knits since Fall 1996. Not to mention over 100 books. Yes, I have an entire room in my house devoted to knitting.

I love jacket patterns. I think warm coats and jackets are one of the most useful things you can knit. So I was pleased to find this pattern on the Rebecca site. I also found some vintage yarn online called Reynolds Jarelle, a thick boucle blend of wool and nylon. I got an acceptable gauge of 3.25 stitches to the inch, but I had to use relatively small needles, #6 U.S. The resulting jacket is warm and cozy.

Because I think that button holes can distort the smooth line of a knitted garment, I skipped the buttons and used snap fasteners. But I bravely sliced and embroidered one buttonhole at the neck and put on a big beautiful button for decoration. I love, love, love the finished product.

In a few recent posts I have been bitching and moaning about the design flaws of some knitting patterns. Well, I found no flaws here. I would need to knit more Rebecca patterns to confirm this, but I suspect the fit of European patterns to be more precise than that of American designs. That is certainly the case with their ready made clothes. They tend to run small compared with their American counterparts. That is a good thing in a knitting pattern where there is a lot of give. This way you don't end up with swimming arm holes or flapping sleeves. I am beginning to pay more attention to the significance of finished measurements.

I knit Jarelle in the Spring of 2006. A year later I saw the yarn that had been specified for the pattern on sale at Jimmy Beans Wool. It is Relax by GGH, a boucle blend of alpaca, wool, nylon, and acrylic, knit on a #10 needle. (They still have 3 colors left at $4.99, marked down from $10.50.) This yarn is very soft and thinner than the Reynolds Jarelle, so the resulting jacket is suitable for wearing outdoors in not- too- cold weather and can also be used indoors.

I used navy blue, and to make it different from Jarelle, I used a grey crochet trim and grey buttons. I love this sweater as well, but I find it hard to mix navy into my wardrobe which is mostly black and brown. I like black and navy together, but it is not my first choice combination, and navies vary so much that they don't mix well in my opinion. Plus the style of this sweater is too cutsey to look good with black.

All in all, very happy with this sweater design except I am afraid to wash them because they are knit in all garter stitch. What do you think? Should I dry clean?

Monday, December 3, 2007

outerwear: hey, einstein

Someone gave me the yarn. It was Reynolds Lopi in the undyed shade. It is a greyish, beigeish color and looked truly ugly in the skein. But I had seen this pattern in Sally Melville's book, The Knitting Experience 1: The Knit Stitch, an outstanding book. And I wanted to try it.

I guess the Einstein Sweater is famous by now. I made mine in December of 2005. The yarn looked much better knit up. It doesn't look good in the photo at all, but it had a bit of 1950s sporty car-coat style that I liked. I wore it that winter and and the following year, spring, fall, and winter again.

Then I washed it. It grew about five inches in length and some in width. Now I know why some knitting experts warn against garter stitch. Despite its oddness, I loved this coat and wanted to save it. So I felted it. A little. It seems like the same size now as originally, but I don't like it as much any more.

The wonder of Sally Melville's pattern is that it can be successfully made by a rank beginner, and it knits up fast for quick gratification. Besides the use of all garter stitch though, another problem with it is, obviously, those underarm wings. I know that many knitters have cleverly corrected the underarm bulk, but I didn't. I like to knit patterns as they are written, thinking I can make a corrected version later, if need be. But I rarely do.

I did make a baby version, though. Actually I made several, but I didn't have a camera for the first two. I worked on this one while flying to Berlin and bought the buttons (which are little whales and elephants) at a store in the Kreutzburg neighborhood that sells buttons and only buttons. How cute is that?

What do you think of my Einstein and Albert? Have you made one too? Did yours grow? Please add your comments and let me know. Thanks!