Slow-cooking

In general I really like knitting blankets/afghans, and one of my favourite things that I’ve ever made is the sampler blanket I finished three years ago.

So often with knitting you don’t get quite what you were after, and like a chef on a shoestring you have no choice but to eat your mistakes and move on. The yarn may disagree with the pattern; the shaping may not be quite right, or the colours not sit together well. However, this blanket was one of those lovely occasions where the yarn, the construction and the pattern(s) all blended just perfectly to create the thing I really wanted. (Better pic coming when I can get outside to take one. I find it very difficult to take good pictures of blankets.)

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The blanket is constructed from individual squares sewn together – I learned the hard way that if you knit all in one piece not only do you get an impossible-to-manage behemoth for the majority of your knitting time, but when it’s done its own weight stretches it in all kinds of ways you didn’t want, making it a sad, saggy, sack-thing. The other advantage of squares is that one is relatively quick to do, and doing 16 or 20 or 25 (or however big you decide the blanket’s to be) is much easier to manage. All-in-one makes it feel as though you knit and you knit and you knit, and after forty million years you have an extra two inches of blanket. Storage is also much easier with a neat pile of squares, for those inevitable times where you just don’t feel like knitting a blanket.

So obviously I’m going to make another. This is going to be a tick-along background project – hence the ‘slow-cooking’. I really like having something going that I can major or minor on depending on my mood and then one day – boom. Blanket.

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For anyone who’d like to try something similar: each square starts with 72 stitches, and has a border of six stitches of garter stitch at each edge and 12 rows of garter stitch top and bottom. You’ll need a good stitchionary to get patterns from – the Vogue ones are great (they have a few online but the books have oodles). The lace and knit/purl patterns are fine using these stitches but you have to increase a few for a cable pattern – do this on the last row of garter stitch or the first row of the pattern. The more cabling, the more extra stitches you need – you also need to remember to decrease them out again on your last pattern row. Doing this ensures that your squares will block square. And you’re aiming for about 100 rows – again to get the squares square. When you move to doing the garter-stitch top border you’ll need to start knitting on the wrong side, otherwise you’ll have an odd-looking plain row at the beginning of the border. When all the squares are done, sew them together and put a border on the lot.

Easy peasy.

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One down, 19 to go.

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Finished Shepherd

And here it is, a finished Shepherd.SONY DSC

I love the buttons, which I got at totallybuttons – they’ve got a pretty slighty-Celtic-feeling leaf design carved out of black wood, and I was really pleased to find them. Though somehow I managed to fit in an extra buttonhole – Kate specifies a buttonhole every three inches but for me that resulted in seven, not six!SONY DSC

I was pleased by how much lateral stretch there was in the blocking – it had seemed pretty tight when I was trying it on as I knitted, but I had no problem blocking it out to the measurements Kate gives.SONY DSC

I was also very pleased with how the yarn (West Yorkshire Spinners aran-weight bluefaced Leicester) responded to blocking – and for all those who think blocking is a waste of time, check out the difference in the yarn before and after blocking. It’s nearly doubled in volume, which means that the fabric of your garment will fill in nicely and soften up too.SONY DSC

HOWEVER. I really am not a fan of the sleeves. For a start, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t like knitting decreases in seed stitch as knit stitches (Kate gives a k2tog and a skpo) because I think too many knit stitches show up in seed stitch far more than too many purl stitches (example below). So it didn’t take me long to decide to purl all the seed stitch decreases.SONY DSC

What is also clear, though, is that Kate must have very skinny arms! I knitted the third size up, which has a 38″ chest. Now that’s got a couple of inches of positive ease, so it’s broadly aimed at a 12-14 size (UK sizes – 8-10 in the US) person. I knitted that size because I have broad shoulders and long arms – the rest of me is a size 10 – so I would have expected the sleeves to be comfortable. But they’re more or less skintight. I mean, really snug. Not so I actually can’t get my arm through or anything, but really noticeably close-fitting.  I knew the first one was tight but wanted to give the pattern the benefit of the doubt and also see what happened in the blocking, so I knitted the second one as per instructions too. I’m very tempted to frog the sleeves back up past the elbow or higher and do fewer decreases, especially as I have plenty of yarn left.

It’s cosy and warm, and on me skims my hips nicely, but in the wearing, the heaviness of the hood tends to pull the whole garment backwards and puts quite a lot of strain on the top button, so I might see how it goes and frog some of the hood. Hopefully I can take some of the weight off without losing the pixie shape.SONY DSC

For anyone interested, for me this size used about 1450 metres (the pattern is fairly unspecific about what different sizes might require in the way of yarn).

Ha! Nailed a quickie.

The sweater-I-shouldn’t-have-been-knitting is Done.SONY DSC

Several firsts here – the first time I’ve knitted top-down and probably also the first time I’ve measured my gauge, ever. I was using the Knitters Handy Book of Top-down Sweaters by Ann Budd. The way it works is that you find your gauge for the needles and yarn you’re using, then decide on your measurements and then just read off all your stitch numbers from the charts. It was super-simple. I used Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle book to pick some patterns and just inserted them into the sections between the increases.

The only part that gave me serious grief was the neck. For some unknown reason, despite the fact I was going to knit it on 5mm needles, I cast it on with 4.5mms. I think I had some vague idea that otherwise it would be too loose. That was emphatically not the case. In fact it was so tight that pretty much anything I tried to do, neckwise, made it completely untenable in terms of being able to get it over the future wearer’s head. I started out by knitting the same bi-coloured rib that I’d finished the bottom and sleeves with but that was too tight. I assumed it was my cast-off, and re-cast-it-off using a different bindoff technique. But that was still too tight. So then I re-knitted the rib in as loose a gauge as I could manage. That was too tight. Then I re-knitted it in the rib but using fewer rows. That was still too tight. At this point I lost the will to carry on and simply knitted two rows of garter stitch and bound off using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bindoff. Done. And it was a useful learning exercise in terms of exactly how stretchy a bi-coloured rib is (the answer, for the curious, is Not Stretchy At All). And next time I do this I will cast on using the needle size I plan to continue with. Lesson learned.SONY DSC

Anyway, the recipient is grateful and wore it to school the next day, bringing it home with ‘alien slime’ all over it (hence the reddened sleeves). Good thing I’m not too precious about my knits! It’s in Debbie Bliss’s cashmerino aran, which has frogged and reknitted very nicely indeed.

Look away, loss-of-self-control here

I know, I know, I know. I shouldn’t be casting on a new sweater while I’m arm-deep in the Shepherd hoody. BUT – it’s frogged yarn from a sweater that didn’t really work on a practical level (and reknitting something doesn’t count in the same way as new knitting), and I’ve already not-cast-on another sweater that I really, really wanted to, AND I haven’t even spent the local-yarn-store vouchers that have been burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas Day. So when you think about it, I’ve actually exercised a heroic level of self-control already and can therefore cast on with a light heart. It’s in aran on 5mm needles and it’s for a person who’s less than a metre tall, so how long can it possibly take?

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(Actually I know I’m not the only knitter who gets January start-it-is and my personal theory is that it’s caused by the head-space/thinking time you get back when Christmas is out of the way and all the Stuff associated with it has been put back in storage. I haven’t been able to do knitting calculations or dream up new projects for a few weeks but now all the hoo-ha is out of the way my brain’s buzzing with Things I Want To Make. Not enough hours in the day.)

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and judging by my experience I would recommend not making a colourwork sweater with patterns located in a handy place for picky little fingers. The sleeve and bottom-edge pattern has been yanked tight several times by absent-minded float-pulling (floats are the loops on the back where the non-working yarn is carried) and it takes ages to redistribute the tension. So she’s getting the same yarn in a different sweater, and hopefully with the patterns well out of the way!

A Shepherd in progress

 

Well, it turned out that my secret fantasy of having the hoody done by Christmas Day was wildly unrealistic (obviously, to everyone but me, given where I was on December 20th), and in fact there were two whole days there when I knit not a single stitch.  Parents, parents-in-law and mega-cooking are not compatible with parking one’s butt on the sofa and cabling away blithely!

However, Christmas is Done and so is one sleeve.SONY DSC

The shoulder-tops are three-needle bound-off too which is great because it makes it easy to try on. It’s pretty snug at the moment because of all the cables pulling it together but I can see that when it’s blocked it’ll be just right. A lady at knit group the other night said that she never blocks, but I can’t see how you’d get away with not blocking something like this – the cable and in-between-cable sections would stretch completely differently if you just went ahead and wore it. The seed-stitch hem would stay all frilly too because of the uneven stretching. (Edited to add: the Yarn Harlot has a great lecture about the need for blocking here, so I’m not going to repeat all she said, just underline it!)

One thing I haven’t liked about the pattern, though, is the undersleeve patterning.SONY DSC

Kate picks up stitches around the sleeve and then knits down to the wrist (which I’m totally on board with) but I don’t like the way the decreases affect the pattern. I think if I was knitting this again (which I may well do because the pattern would be a piece of cake to customise for one of the children) then I’d seed-stitch all the stitches that need to be decreased away so that you don’t get half-cabled bits at random intervals.

Apart from that, I’m loving the pattern and can’t wait for it to be finished. Excuse me, I have a hood to knit!

A Shepherd hoody

There’s been a lot on and off the needles since the last post, so I’m not going to attempt to catch up! Much of it has been socks and much of it has been simply ploughing on with projects like the linen-stitch scarf and the 4ply gansey. Which I now think is going to swamp me but there’s no way I’m going to frog.

However, one new project I’m very happy to have cast on is Kate Davies’s Shepherd hoody. I love a lot of Kate’s patterns and this one pushes several of my buttons. It’s a classic shape, a great cable pattern, and as I got some local-yarn-store gift vouchers for my birthday it had the benefit of being essentially half price.

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The yarn on this giant cone is West Yorkshire Spinners wool-spun Bluefaced Leicester (they do a worsted-spun as well but I think the wool-spun is giving me better stitch definition). I was very happy they do cones because I hate weaving in ends and this is knitted all in one piece so there are no seams to hide joins in. I’m just heading up the back to the neck, then it’s a case of joining the shoulders, knitting the hood and sleeves. Then NO sewing up and only minor end-weaving! In my wildly optimistic dreams it’ll be done by the end of December…

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No self control

Over the years it has been borne in upon me that when it comes to starting new projects I have no self control at all. New yarn? Cast it on! New idea? Cast it on! Knit on it obsessively for a week! Then do something else new! I have the attention span of a gnat.

Which is why the baby blanket for the baby (who has now arrived and is having to use Other Blankets) is languishing on the needles, with three sides of edging still to go. (I have run out of yarn for this one and on my currently zero income am not buying any more for a bit. It’ll be done before he leaves home.)

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The jacket for the Bear is half done (I have Mary Poppins shouting “Well Begun Is Half Done!” in my head. Not that it’s terribly obvious to me what that actually means, other than Finish The Job.)

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The linen stitch scarf, while proceeding beautifully, is necessarily a lengthy project (pun half-intended).

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The gansey for me remains a four-inch wonder (though in mitigation I plead that I have lent the circular needle for this to my mother and therefore CAN’T make any progress on it.) When done it will look like this:

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And which is why the most obvious thing to do was therefore to cast on another two pairs of socks. (Sockyarn as always from Violet Green – Emerald City – top – and Rushen Coatie.)

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I roll my eyes at myself, I really do.