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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!

Delphines and Lace

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Hello again friends! I have been falling behind on the intended posting schedule of one blog post each month. As I am currently fever-ridden and useless, a blog post seems the safest venue for any feeble attempts at writing. I am not going to admit how long it took me to string all of these words together, but you should be impressed. Sometimes when I have a fever I can’t figure out how to read.

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Here we have the Delphine Skirt from the book Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes. I have made several projects from these patterns, but most have yet to be blogged. The Delphine Skirt is a workhorse pattern – A-line, knee length, basic waistband. I made one out of purple uncut corduroy at the beginning of last summer, wore it frequently, but could not figure out what was bothering me about the fit. I loved the skirt, or at least I wanted to love it. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of the skirt and started making this lace version that I figured out the problem.

You can see the fabric pooling at the small of my back in the purple skirt – the zipper even buckles! This was mostly tolerable in the soft corduroy, but the stiff lace and underlining of the second skirt was much less forgiving. To fix the problem on both skirts, I pinched out the excess fabric at the bottom of the waistband and re-sewed the waistband seams. I ended up taking out two inches of length at the center back and easing it out to nothing at the side seams. This did shorten the length at the back on these skirts, but I plan to add length there on any future skirts. In any case, you can see in the picture of the lace skirt that the back is not noticeably shorter, and the fit is much more comfortable for the swayback adjustment.

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The fabric combination on the lace skirt is so pretty I sometimes hesitate to wear it. This is, of course, rather silly as the lace outer layer is a sturdy polyester lace and the under layer is cream cotton broadcloth: both substantial and washable. I cut out the pattern pieces for both layers and then basted the lace and cotton layers together around the edges of each pattern piece. When sewing the skirt together, the combined lace-and-cotton pieces functioned as if they were one piece of fabric. The edges were all finished with rayon bias seam binding. I had planned to hand-stitch the hem, but I found that the lace was complex enough that machine stitching was not noticeable from the outside. Also unnoticeable from the outside? wrinkles in the underlayer! This skirt is basically wrinkle-proof, and I love it.

I’m excited about the lace skirt in particular this summer. It has been a nicely dramatic winter white option, but I think it will pair well with all sorts of brightly colored t-shirts and blouses. The fit on this skirt still needs some perfecting, but I have some warm brown wool twill that will eventually make an awesome Delphine Skirt.

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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.

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.

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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