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Category Archives: Knitting

Reinventing a Must Have Sweater

This knitting story begins with the yarn.

Worsted weight wool, to my thinking, is not unlike rice or pasta. While perhaps not the most exciting gauge or fiber, it nonetheless provides the makings of many a substantial, satisfying knitting project. I like to keep a certain amount of worsted weight yarn on hand in much the same way that rice and pasta are always stocked in the pantry; they are my staples. Two years ago now I ordered a sweater’s worth of an admirable staple yarn from the WEBS annual sale. I like the combination of softness, sturdiness and stitch definition of Berroco Vintage, and the warm, autumnal color Chana Dal. It’s a nice yarn for cables. I am sure that there was a clear plan for this yarn at some point, but I’ve thoroughly forgotten what that might have been by now. Almost two year later, though, I have landed upon a sweater pattern/yarn combination that feels like a good fit.

Well, I got at least one decent knitting picture in.

Well, there was at least one decent knitting picture.

It has been some time since I last made a sweater for myself, so I wasn’t in a rush to use any old pattern. But late this summer, I got the itch for cables for some reason – densely knitted, complicated, twisty cables. At some point in my Ravelry trawling for a good, cable-heavy sweater pattern, I came across fibrenabler’s “On the Bandwagon with the Must Have” sweater and fell in love. I adore a clever saddle-shoulder construction in a sweater; they always seem to fit better across the back and to hang nicely without shifting around. The saddle-shoulder means that the cable pattern on the sleeves can continue up the shoulders to the neckline and even along the back of the neck.

... and then this happened.

… and then this happened.

One advantage of using this particular sweater for inspiration is that I already have the referenced patterns on hand. This lovely sweater is an adaptation of the Paton’s Must Have Cardigan pattern which was released way back in 2002. I suppose it tells you something about how long I have been knitting that I picked up a copy of the Paton’s pattern booklet way back then. According to fibrenabler’s project notes, she also used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s “Seamless Hybrid with Shirt Yoke” sweater recipe. I say “recipe” because Elizabeth Zimmerman doesn’t really do knitting patterns in the way that most patterns are written – they are closer to recipes with notes on appropriate ratios and suggestions for variations depending on the preferences and available materials of the knitter. EZ (as she is sometime affectionately referred to by knitters) wrote several brilliant, practical, and helpful “knitting theory” books in the 1970s and 1980s that I was fortunate enough to stumble across relatively early in my knitting career. If you have any interesting in knitting at all, I cannot recommend them more highly.

My polite request that she move has given great offense.

My polite request that she move gave great offense.

But anyway, back to the sweater! Knitting takes much longer than your typical sewing project, so this is very much a Work-In-Progress. Working in the round and from the bottom up, I have knit the torso to where the armholes should begin… I think. It looks kind of short the longer I look at it? I need to measure the length against some sweaters that fit me well. I am currently working on the first sleeve and knitting it flat. Most of the particulars of adaptations and the mechanics of how this thing will fit together will need to wait for a later post (once I figure it all out!). But for now, I will be giddily watching each cable crossing slowly form.

And here we can see the cat has settled in with no intentions of moving ever again. This peasant understand she only knits by the generous forbearance of her Cat Tyrant.

And here we can see the cat has settled into her new nest with no intentions of moving ever again. This peasant understands that she only knits by the generous forbearance of her Cat Tyrant.

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Belated Baby Sweater Blogging

Where did August go? And can I have some of it back? Really, I am excited about the beginning of a new school year, but one more week of August would have been helpful. And really, considering how much I dislike August heat and humidity, you can understand how much another week would have been appreciated.

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This post features my favorite kind of summer knitting – a tiny baby sweater! With a baby sweater, you get all of the fun and satisfaction of completing a sweater, but the project is also small, lightweight and easily transportable for the vagaries of summer adventures. This particular cardigan was knit for the daughter of my roommate in undergrad, so of course, it had to be a shade of her favorite green. The yarn used to make this sweater is Berroco Comfort DK in Seedling, and the pattern is Grannie’s Favorite by Georgie Hallam. This is a new pattern for me, but one I have considered trying for some time. The simple lace at the neckline and cuffs makes the knitting just interesting enough to be engaging, and the top-down construction allows sleeve length and sweater length to be easily adapted. The pattern includes a wide range of sizes and variations, all of which turn out adorably, judging by the projects posted to Ravelry!

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The only real adaptation I made to the pattern was in the way the sleeves are knit. The pattern calls for knitting the sleeves in the round, but I knit them flat and seamed them instead. Generally speaking, I try to avoid working on double-point needles, especially on such a small circumference. They always make me feel like I spend more time switching needles than I do actually knitting. In this case, it was faster to knit the sleeves flat, and the seaming is only visible if you are looking for it.

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This pattern will almost certainly be used again. It is a quick, versatile knit, and I am particularly charmed by the simple lace elements. And goodness knows, there are no end of babies to knit for!

Citron Mimi Blouse

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Here we find a second Mimi Blouse from Tilly and the Buttons’ Love at First Stitch. I am still in love with the Chelsea collar and the neat fit at the shoulders! This blouse was made with a cotton voile which is a much more summer-friendly fabric than flannel.

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I love wearing and working with voile, but finding budget-friendly voile can be a trick. This pretentiously named fabric is “Bromley Voile Arbor Citron,” and it comprised my inaugural order from Fabric.com. Yes, I have surrendered to the siren call that is online fabric shopping. I love the range of fabrics available (especially apparel fabrics), and if you are careful, you can find quality fabrics in a price range that won’t break the bank. Yet at the same time, I find nothing can substitute for actually handling a fabric before purchasing it. Also, digging through actual piles of fabric is undeniably more fun than scrolling. My best advice is to get your hands on sample swatches whenever possible – it helps to know what you are getting into!

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Still, I am gleefully happy with this voile – it was very reasonably priced, the pattern and colors are interesting, and the quality of the fabric is good. The buttons were originally intended for a different project, but they work nicely here with their simple shape. There were two extra buttons on hand, so I added them on to embellish the sleeves. Both the sleeves and the hem have two rows of top-stitching.

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Speaking of those troublesome sleeves…. With the other version of the Mimi blouse, the only fit issue was some tightness at the sleeve hem. For this version, I added two inches of width at the underarm seam and thus revealed that I still think more like a knitter than a seamstress at times. You see, modifying fullness at the seams is standard practice in knitting. Sometimes patterns use “full-fashion shaping” in which increases and decreases in the number of stitches are made deliberately visible, and I would say there has been more of this sort of design in the past decade or two. BUT for the most part, in knitting, shaping is concealed at seams whenever possible, simply because it is easier to add there and more discrete. Now when you are knitting, the fabric you are creating has built-in stretch. This means you do not need to be much concerned about additional fullness ending up in the right place – the garment adjusts to fit the body.

Here, have some silliness - this is getting technical

Here, have some silliness – this is getting technical

In sewing, you adjust fullness at the seams too, but as I have learned,  you need to be much more careful about how that fullness is distributed because even fabric with good drape does not behave the same way a stretch fabric will. All of which is to say, I added two inches of fullness to the sleeve hem at the underarm seam as drawn in this picture, and it was not a very good idea. The resulting sleeve tends to bunch up, and when I move my arms, the sleeves still feel a bit constricting despite the added fullness. It is not bad, but I over-analyze everything – why would I stop here?

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Now as I was adding width to the sleeve hem willy-nilly, I had a vague awareness that this was not the proper way to go about things. I read enough sewing blogs and old sewing books for fun that I really do know better. But on some level, I have never been entirely convinced that I needed to make adjustments for fit the way all those fussy diagrams suggested. I mean, all you need is the correct circumference on a garment at any given point on the body, right? Wrong. You can cheat some, but I am learning that woven fabric is not a particularly forgiving Overlady.DSCN2018

So instead I have altered the sleeve pattern piece using the “slash and spread” method. Typically, you would just slice the sleeve pattern vertically at the middle, but there is some complicated folding going on there that I do not want to mess with. Instead, I split the sleeve on either side of the folds and separated the bottom edges to add in the desired width. As you can see from the phantom sketching and the first pattern picture, you end up with a rather differently shaped pattern piece. You can see the final version below.

DSCN2019So now we all know what I should have done! The blouse fits well enough as it is that it’s not worth ripping out the sleeves to fix. The altered sleeve pattern will just have to wait with its brethren until the next time I make a Mimi blouse with short sleeves. I am toying with the idea of making a long-sleeved version first, possibly stealing the sleeve pattern from the Bruyère pattern? We shall see. In any case, I have plenty of projects lined up first, a dissertation to write, and a rather cheerful blouse to wear.

Christmas Knitting and How to Block a Beret

This delicate beauty is a modified version of the free pattern, Foliage Hat, by Irina Dmitrieva. The lace pattern itself is stunning and easy to memorize. Once you knit through one repeat of the leaf pattern, you can see how the stitches fit together and how the leaf pattern interlocks with itself. I always prefer lace patterns to be charted, and the chart in this pattern is a perfectly accurate one. My many misadventures while knitting this hat were in no way the fault of the pattern. I can only blame reckless knitting without a swatch. It’s a real problem with the youth these days.

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This hat began last October with some Malabrigo Silky Merino yarn in the colorway Wisteria and vague plans for knitting a Christmas present for my mother. After deciding on the Foliage Hat, I knit through one repeat of the lace pattern before noticing that the knitting was coming out very soft and open. While the knitted fabric was beautiful, I worried that it wouldn’t survive contact with water without losing its shape. My super-scientific method* of testing this theory was to dunk the knitting, needles and all, in a sink full of water. My fears were confirmed when the hat grew to a ludicrous size as soon as it hit water.

*Seriously kids, don’t do this at home, especially with bamboo needles. You will ruin the finish on the needles which can take ages to fix. 

My attempts to fix this problem were similarly well-considered and scientific: I messed around with the gauge until I thought it looked right. The pattern recommends that you knit the hat at 5 stitches per inch, but I ended up knitting it at 7 stitches per inch. The knitting still relaxed while I was blocking it, but it was much more controlled. The tighter gauge also meant that I needed to increase the length  which I did by knitting seven repeats of the lace pattern instead of the suggested four.

Once the hat was knit, it needed to be blocked to have the beret shape. This bring us too…

A Very Technical and Precise Beret Blocking Tutorial

What on earth do I mean by blocking? Blocking is the process of gently washing and shaping a knitted item. It is the last step of any knitting project, and depending on the project, can make a significant difference in the appearance of the knitted item in question. I tend to knit with wool and wool blend yarns because they respond so well to blocking (the shape they are given while wet remains after drying).

  • To block a Beret or Tam o’Shanter style hat, you first need a hat to block. I suspect that this blocking method would work with any basic stocking cap (or toque or beanie or whatever the heck you call these things. Why are there so many hat names for the same thing?) You want the hat to fit comfortably on your head. I think they block more easily when the band at the opening is a bit snug but that is not strictly necessary.

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  • Once you have a hat, you will want to complete the water-based portion of blocking. My favored approach is to fill a sink up with warm water and a bit of shampoo. You don’t want to use a harsh detergent with wool unless you want it to shrink and felt, and shampoo is for hair anyway, right? It works pretty well with sheep hair too! Dunk your hat in the water, swish it around once or twice and leave it to soak for a bit. Once the hat has hung out in the water for a while, gently squeeze the water out of the knitting and roll it up in a towel to speed up the drying process.hattowel
  • Take your partially dried hat and go explore your dishware. This is a time when having an unruly assortment of plate sets is a good thing – it increases your chances of finding the perfect plate. You are looking for a plate that can fit into the hat snugly. If the plate is too big, you won’t be able to fit the hat around it, and if it is too small, it won’t stretch the knitting enough to get the shape you want. Shift the hat around until the knitting is evenly distributed. I prefer the hat opening to be on the top of the plate, so the crown of the hat sits over the raised bottom edge. hat plate back
  • Let the hat dry completely. This will take at least 24 hours. Be patient. Flip the plate over a couple times as it is drying. If you are so inclined, feel free to coo over how pretty your knitting is.DSCN0865
  • Once the hat is completely dry, carefully take the hat off the plate. Now that it has dried, the wool keeps the shape it was stretched to while drying. I am always amazed by how different the final product looks from where it starts out pre-blocking.DSCN0868

You can now wear your hat on the adventures of your choosing, or give it to your mother for Christmas depending on your current hat-related needs. The same basic blocking methods apply for washing wool sweaters, mittens, etc. except with fewer plates involved. Knitted lace is its own beast, but lace actually comes out pretty well using this highly sophisticated plate method.

This knitting pattern is named “Maize.” Insert the pun of your choosing.

And for the month of November, we have a last minute, super short, I-forgot-I-have-a-blog-because-I-occasionally-have-a-life blog post.

Here, I made some fingerless gloves. They are pretty nifty.

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These fingerless mitts were made with the free pattern, Maize by Tin Can Knits. These were a quick, easy knit. I extended the wrist cuff by a few rows but otherwise followed the pattern exactly. I like the clean design, the overall reverse stockinette stitch and the way the small section of ribbing flows from cuff to cuff  for visual interest. The yarn used here is Malabrigo Rios in the colorway Archangel (a colorway I have had my eye on for… five years now?). There is still over half of the skein left. These came out just how I wanted, and I have already been wearing them everywhere.

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And here we have the obligatory cat picture with our resident diva and camera hog. She was being particularly dramatic and unhelpful here. Truly, her life is a misery.

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Baby Sweaters: In which there is actual yarn and it is actually autumn

There comes a time in every young person’s life when suddenly, seemingly without warning, there are babies everywhere. Reactions to this state of affairs are varied, but when my Facebook newsfeed started overcrowding with tiny people who need knitwear,  I was rather more than excited. I got bitten by the baby sweater bug sometime last winter and descended into the black hole of baby sweater patterns that is the internet. Beguiled by the rationalization that as babies are smaller their sweaters must go faster, I dreamed of happily knitting endless, tiny, adorable sweaters.

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Sadly, the tiresome constraints of real life squashed this delusion, as did my horrified realization that knitting a sweater for a baby out of sock yarn means that it takes roughly the same amount of time to knit as a sweater in worsted weight yarn for a grown-up. Ah well. The months have past, my fervent ardor has cooled, and I am left with an embarrassing number of baby sweater patterns bookmarked on Ravelry.

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Last January, I began knitting Nova for my disturbingly adorable second cousin. I used two sock weight yarns that I had on hand: Knitpicks Stroll Tonal in Golden Glow and Araucania Itata in a grayish periwinkle color (both machine washable, no worries!). The little knitted dress has stripes AND buttons at the shoulders, so naturally I was powerless to resist.

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It was a fairly simple knit with miles of stockinette stitch made bearable by the simple pleasure of switching colors every six rows. The only real modification I made to the pattern was to knit the sleeves flat and then sew them up before joining them to the body and reducing for the yoke. There is absolutely no reason to be fiddling about with rows and rows and rows of tiny stitches in a small circumference on double point needles when knitting the sleeves flat is faster and less fussy.

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At some point last Spring, I also knit up Ewan, a cardigan pattern with lots of texture. This cardigan was made with Berroco Comfort DK in a dark blue-green for a friend. (I am ashamed to admit that I may have boxed up half the sweater, a ball of yarn and the knitting pattern for the baby shower). If I were to knit this pattern again, I would knit it all in one piece from cuff to cuff. The pattern has you knit from each cuff to the center back and then graft the two pieces together. If you are a grafting virtuoso, this is no problem, but it makes for rather too much grafting otherwise.

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While planning this post, I discovered that it is a bit tricky taking pictures of knitting if you have no one to wear the garments in question. My stuffed bunny, Bunny made a valiant effort but was not entirely up to the task. The roommate’s cat Re seemed eager to volunteer, but I didn’t want to risk the inevitable tangled disaster that would follow. Models these days – there’s just so much drama.

A Quadratic Cap of My Own

Hello again blog, it’s been ages! This is a quick knitting update to get me back into the blogging rhythm. Did you see it’s snowing on wordpress? I love December.

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After borrowing and coveting my father’s Quadratic Cap(s) all last winter, I formed vague plans to make my own (and to stop stealing my father’s, Sorry Dad). My winter coat is now a nice olive green instead of basic black, so my new hat needed to coordinate with the warmer color. Some of my old favorites in the hat department look a bit… odd against an olive coat. Bright magenta and olive green are not natural allies.

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I have a minor obsession with Berocco’s Ultra Alpaca yarn, not only because it is a cozy, well-balanced blend of wool and alpaca, but also because the colors are saturated and gorgeous. Many of the yarns are “mixes” or blends of a number of vibrantly colored fibers to create one richly colored yarn. The two colors I used for my hat were the Tiger’s Eye Mix and Lobster Mix, a caramel gold and a deep, muted purple respectively. I knit the pattern as written, and it is precisely as warm and cozy and complementary-colored as I had planned.

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Of course, now I need matching hand gear…

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