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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!

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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.

Miette Cardigan, un-Penelopied

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As my apartment only recently regained internet access after the first significant thunderstorms of what promises to be a beastly DC summer, a wool sweater has never seemed more seasonally irrelevant. When I began knitting my version of the Miette Cardigan, I suspected that it would be completed just as the weather got warm enough to make wool layers ill-advised. In fact, the cardigan was entirely knit in mid-May, just as the spring semester ended. A brief jaunt back to PA meant that there was time to block it and wear it once or twice before it got intolerably warm.

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Because the cardigan is made with worsted weight wool (rescued Cascade 220 in Vermeer Blue) it is warm, substantial, and cozy. Yet the loose gauge (16 stiches in 4 inches where worsted weight yarn is often knit to 20 stitches in 4 inches) makes the cardigan light, drapey and airy, and extends the usability of the sweater into somewhat warmer weather. I found the sweater perfectly comfortable for temperatures in the mid-60s, and I am fairly intolerant of anything that even suggests overheating.

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The actual knitting process for this sweater is entertaining and fun. It the closest a sweater pattern can get to instant gratification knitting – the gauge and shorter sleeves/body make it quick to knit, the top-down construction and lace pattern keep it an engaging project, while the stockinette sections are mindless and restful. After a knitting hiatus, I felt like I was being wooed back by all the fun parts of knitting with this project.

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Trying out a new sweater pattern is always a gamble, even more so than a new sewing pattern in terms of time invested (in terms of material reclaimability, knitting always wins). Until the sweater is entirely knit, it is impossible to tell how all the pieces will hang together. Will the neckline stretch weirdly under the weight of the sweater? Will the sleeves be too big? Too small? But because all of the shaping of the sweater happens as it is being knit, it is far too late to make modifications to the pattern once the sweater has been entirely knit. This makes for a wildly different construction experience than sewing where, aside from those absolute changes made with a pair of scissor, a garment can be endlessly taken in and let out until it fits just so. Despite all of the cross-applicability of drape and fit and construction knowledge between sewing an knitting, the two crafts require different kinds of planning. I’m still not sure how they are different, but they certainly are.

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The Miette Cardigan pattern is knit from the top-down, which allows you to try the cardigan on as it is being made (this works best if you actually take the sweater off the knitting needles… which I didn’t do). This only gives a vague idea of fit, but I suppose it would help fend off any major disasters. The only change I made to the pattern was to add an additional repeat of the lace pattern to the length of the sweater. The added length makes the cardigan a shorter standard length, rather than the “cropped” sweater of the pattern. I’m not sure why, but my sleeves ended up hitting longer than 3/4 length but before my wrists. I rather like them that way, but I hadn’t expected them to come out that long.

I sincerely adore the color, and those coordinating buttons came from my Mom’s button jar(s), a mish-mash of buttons heirloom and more recent that fills three jars and part of a drawer.

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On an informational note for my non-knitter readers, when I mention “blocking” I mean the process by which knit stitches are set and the finished knit project is shaped. This involves wetting the wool, arranging it into the desired end shape, and then allowing it to dry. Wool has a remarkable knack for taking on a new shape when wet and then remembering and retaining that shape once it dries. There are a number of methods for accomplishing this, but I prefer to take my knitting and dunk it in a sink full of warm water and a bit of shampoo. With the way I drag projects all over, the yarn usually deserves a good bath. The key thing at this point is to avoid felting the knitting, so it needs to be wrung out very gently. I usually roll the knitting up in a towel to get most of the water out before laying it flat and shaping it to dry.

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Here you can see the cardigan pre-blocking. Note the general rippling lumpy-bumpiness of the sweater. The stitches are uneven, the borders sit weirdly and it looks like it has been crammed in the bottom of a bag. (which it totally has)

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And after blocking, waiting for buttons, it looks like a sweater! Which is always pretty exciting when you think about starting with a few balls of yarn – or in this case, a half-forgotten sweater. I am not unraveling this thing again, but I like to think Penelope would be pleased anyway.

Spring Progress Update

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This is just a short post with a few brief updates.

The Miette Cardigan flew off the needles. It has been far too long since I last took on a sweater-sized project, but knitting this cardigan has rekindled of my first garment-making love. Yet just as I feared would happen, the cardigan has languished 95% finished and lacking buttons due to a busy end to the Spring semester. Inevitably, the sweater will actually be finished just as the weather gets too warm to tolerate a wool cardigan. Ah, the woes of a knitter.

Here are two pictures of the forlorn sweater in progress, waiting for its buttons. There will be another post with project notes and nicer pictures once the buttons are attached and the cardigan is completed.

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In the month ahead, I will be taking on the challenge of Me-Made-May ’13, a challenge to crafty bloggers organized at the lovely sewing blog, sozowhatdoyouknow. Me-Made-May exists for the very simple purpose of encouraging people who make or refashion their own clothing to deliberately wear their results. This can serve many different purposes depending on how the challenge is implemented. For me, I think it will be a good way to enjoy experimenting with clothing combinations and to determine which of my projects are most successful in real life conditions and why. The end goal would, of course, be making more wearable, useful projects.

I have pledged to wear a me-made garment at least 3 days each week for the duration of May 2013. The standard challenge is actually to wear a self-made garment every day of the month, but I am afraid that my current wardrobe will not support the necessary activities in the month ahead. I’ve not sewn much that would serve me well while gardening or moving to a new apartment. I am thrilled at the challenge to take full advantage of the blouses, skirts and dresses in my closet! It should be interesting to see how May progresses.

Pulling a Penelope (without the missing husband, creepy suitors, or battle in the dining room)

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In January of 2011, on the tail end of my season of frantic knitting, I made a sweater that was never worn. Literally. I mean I put it on to take some pictures for record-keeping purposes, but I never wore the thing for regular, sweaterly duties. There are many reasons the sweater was never worn – I moved to DC where there is less cause for warm woolen garments, it ended up fitting weirder than anticipated, but mostly, my ideas about what I am looking for in a sweater changed. I like buttons. If I’m going to wear a sweater, I want it to stay shut without me fussing with it. I like more tailored shapes. The flowy, unstructured sweater thing just annoys me. And I like set-in or similarly shaped sleeves. Gravity drags the bulk of a knit sweater out of shape even with a neat, structured shoulder. Drop-shoulder sweaters just feel sloppy and not office appropriate (which rather defeats the purpose).

The sweater in question is the Hampton Cardigan. To be fair, it has an unusual construction which I found very rewarding to knit, but my cardigan preferences ended up conflicting with the resulting sweater. Sometimes this just happens.

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I love pretty clothing. I love to make pretty clothing. However I am also brutally practical about said pretty clothing. If it is not useful, what is the point? When this poor sweater sat in my trunk unworn for two winters, I started to give it suspicious glances. It was clearly not pulling its weight. When I recently started getting the itch to wear a blue-green sweater layered with certain clothing, the suspicious glares turned speculative. In its current form, the sweater would not serve. But what if it was something else?

This is the beauty of knitting. You start with some string, you create and shape the fabric and form of the garment at the same time, with complete control over its outcome, and if it is not to your liking, you can rip it back to its component parts and begin anew. Talk about infinite possibility.

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However, the decision to frog a sweater is a serious one. There is a great deal of time that goes into knitting, even if most of mine happens while I am doing other things (computer-based hands-free reading = knitting time). But over Spring Break, I gathered my courage and frogged it. For those not up with the knitting lingo, “to frog” is the preferred verb for undoing large quantities of knitting and returning the yarn to its initial wound state. This supposedly originates from the similarity of “rip it” to “ribbit” – the act of ripping out stitches is said to mimic the sounds made by your average frog. In similarly charming parlance, “to tink” is to undo a row or two of knitting by undoing one stitch at a time, “to knit” backwards.

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I had hoped that I would be able to get away with not washing the frogged yarn, but it came out so crinkley that it was necessary. Someday I will do a nice, long post about wool and blocking and explain why. In short, I made the yarn uncrinkley by dunking it in water and waiting for it to dry.

So what will I be doing with all this pretty, newly free yarn? Which is, by the way, Cascade 220 in Vermeer Blue. I will be making the Miette Pattern by Andi Satterlund. It is fairly close to the sweater I have in my brain, and while I am perfectly capable of making up the sweater as I go, I have neither the time nor the mental energy to do that math. So for now, it is turn off brain and get busy fingers. Well I say turn off brain – I mean do your schoolwork.

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