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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Blanketed

The Blanket is finally Done. If I thought the beaded cardigan had a long gestation, this has had a longer one! Started November 2007 and finished TODAY!

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The border was a lift from this afghan from the Rainey Sisters‘ blog and really makes the edges look neat.

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The finished blanket is 6ft x 5ft (183cm x 152cm) – about double-bed size. It could really do with blocking en masse (I did block the squares individually too) but that’ll have to wait for summer weather and a nice hot day to dry on the grass. I’m really pleased – it took a while but I finally got the blanket I wanted!

Right – next blanket…

Once upon a time, there was a blanket

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It was a blanket that I’d knitted way back (about 15 years ago, long before the eight-year knitting hiatus) and it had taken me ages. But I liked it, and I’d recently heard about sampler blankets (or afghans, as they call them in America) and I thought it would be fun to make my own.

So:

Step one (as it nearly always is for me) – buy a book. In this case the Knitting Stitch Manual by Lesley Stanfield (I can’t link because it’s out of print but the various stitchionaries out there would be equally useful). There were some GREAT cable patterns in there and I was really excited about putting a load of them together. This was going to be easy!

Step two – buy yarn. I didn’t have much cash at the time and as it was for a blanket I thought a cheapish but all-wool aran weight would be ideal. I picked the Wendy Traditional Aran because it comes in enormous 500g balls and is pretty good value. (This was the only thing I was right about, incidentally.)

Step three – cast on. This is where things started to get iffy. Having recently heard about blocking and believing (wrongly) that it could resolve all ills, I cheerfully knitted blocks according to how much I liked a pattern, without regard to a consistent number of stitches, or how many cables there were in the pattern (not realising that the more cables there were, the more they would ‘pull’ towards the middle. I also periodically forgot how many stitches at the edges and how many rows at the top and bottom I was leaving as a border, meaning some had skinny borders and some had fat.

Step 4 – realise that my squares Are Not Square. Block some of them, sew them together and realise that this Really, Really Isn’t Working. The heavily–cabled ones couldn’t be blocked square and the few blocks I’d sewn together just looked awful. (This was also the point at which I realised that at some points I’d knitted too few rows or stitches of border). Here’s one of the heavily cabled ones that also has uneven borders.

Step 5 – give up for about three years.

Step 6 – read about compensating for cable-pulling by adding stitches.

Step 7 – run out of anything else to knit (I can thoroughly recommend this approach for finally forcing you back to a misbegotten project).

Step 8 – take a deep breath and start frogging. I probably unravelled 13 of my original 16 or so blocks.

Step 9 – start reknitting. This time with a consistent stitch count at top and bottom (72), a hard lock on how many rows (12) and stitches (6 per side) I was using as a border and with extra stitches in the middle of cabled blocks to compensate for the cables doing their pulling-in thing. I also discovered the heady (read quick-to-knit) delights of simple knit-purl patterns, so there’s now about 50% knit-purl and 50% cabled blocks.

Step 10 – Be Happy. It’s working. Each block is now about 13.5″ square and – wonder of wonders – they block square. So here’s where I am at the moment, with another row of four blocks busy drying and then to be sewn on.

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One more row of four to go and then it’s the border, and I will have a very warm blanket that covers a double bed or acts as a throw on the sofa.

Happy with that!

Hottest days of the year – merino blanket time, obviously

It’s had an ill-fated history, this one – I started the Debbie Bliss alphabet blanket a couple of years ago

but I made so many mistakes with the chart I had to half-frog it twice and then got so irritated with it that I frogged it altogether. Most of the yarn got turned into this sweater:

which I hated. So that got frogged too and last winter I went back to plan A and the alphabet blanket. Then I ran out of yarn (RYC cashsoft aran).

After hunting through Ravelry stashes and ebay I couldn’t find any of the same colour but I did find some contrast colour, and that’s where we got to. Done at last and hopefully never to be frogged again. I’ve been pretty impressed with the cashsoft aran – you can’t tell by looking at the blanket which half was a sweater for a while (machine washed and all).

 

In an aran weight it’s about 4 foot square and I made no changes to the pattern.

Enough squares now

This is the last block I’ve got yarn for – then it’s on to another project. I haven’t got a blocking board so blocking things square is tricky, but I realised a blue blanket I have is divided into squares, so I blocked a couple of blocks (including the new one) to see how it went. Nice and easy!

(That is actually square.) Got seventeen blocks now – another seven and that’s a queen-sized blanket!

Missing, presumed frogged

Here’s a thing. When I was looking at the photos of blocks yesterday I found this one:

in my flickr account. I remember knitting it, because I remembered using those cable patterns when I was flicking through my stitch dictionary last night. However, I don’t have either the block itself, or the photo. I copied that one from flickr. I don’t remember frogging it, but it appears no longer to exist. Weird.

The bobbly block I couldn’t frog turned out to be because I was – ahem – trying to unravel it upside down. Rookie error. As all knitters (and no cartoonists) know, you can’t unravel a thing from the bottom up, only the top down. So now I have enough yarn for one more block, which sadly delays the next phase of work on a cardigan that’s been hibernating for three years (in my defence it’s a summer cardigan and for the last two summers I’ve been either pregnant or baby-wrangling. Neither of which marry well with a delicate, fitted, beaded cardigan).

A glow of righteousness!

Is it cheating on your ‘no new projects’ resolution if the project that you’re dutifully finishing actually consists solely of short new projects? Anyway, it works for me. Twenty days of diligently knitting on my sampler aran afghan and I have the following:

and about two inches of a sixth block. They’re all knit/purl pattern blocks, as I’ve already got lots of cable ones. Now I have sixteen blocks (out of 25) which feels like most of a blanket. I’m about to run out of yarn, though, and as I’m on a strict yarn diet (the stash is far too big and I’ve got at least three sweaters to knit for summer) this puppy’s going to have to go back into hibernation for now. Bring on the next hibernatee!