Too Many WIPS

A WIP is a Work In Progress, for any non-habitual knitters reading this, and at the moment I am in the stressful condition of having too many on the go.

This is partly to do with finances – although I am no longer a broke student, working half-time does mean that the yarn diet continues (this is seemingly going to be a perpetual state of affairs) – and partly to do with my mother’s endearing habit of knitting sweaters for the boys and their less endearing habit of growing. So I frog them to re-knit them bigger. But then, obviously, I run out of yarn. This means that this:

Julien sweater

and this:

Water Stripes sweater

are currently awaiting an infusion of cash and yarn.

There’s no real excuse for the Scandy cowl. I love this knit and the utter bonkers-ness of it, and a ball each of the Debbie Bliss Slate and Ecru would probably see me through to the end. I have knitted my way through charts A to Q and only have 41 rows of chart R left, so I just need to bite the bullet and get on with it.

This one, though…

This has been heartbreaking. It’s destined to be a colour-striped-with-grey blanket. It’s in 4ply and stocking stitch and there are about 600 stitches per row if not more. I dug it out after a hiatus and … it’s had moth. There were a couple of small holes that I could mend, but I had to grit my teeth and rip back about a foot of it because they’d eaten through a whole stripe of six rows. That represents at least a week’s worth of knitting. So I’ve done the hard part and ripped out all the holey section – now I ‘just’ need to re-do what had already been done before I can get into new colours, but it needs to go into the freezer for a bit to kill any pestiferous eggs, too.

Let’s not talk about the sampler squares that are destined for a blanket sitting in a bag under the desk.

Dreaming of being a blanket…

Oh, and the Eldest has just outgrown her Starshine, so it’s been handed down, so now she needs a new sweater…

Knitting = cooking but with sticks and string

I’ve opined before how similar knitting is to cooking in some respects. For example you generally can’t afford to just throw away your mistakes – you either have to wear them or eat them. The analogy also applies in terms of the things you cook (or knit) so often that you don’t need a recipe – you know enough to vary the details around the edges but you basically do the same core thing every time. So a casserole is a casserole is a casserole – brown the meat, braise the veg, add liquid, put in oven for some hours. A sock is a sock is a sock – it needs a heel, a toe and some length. You might use cider rather than wine, you might use 2×2 rib rather than 1×1. But in essence, these are recipes/patterns you can produce without concentrating all that much.

Which is probably why I don’t generally go for long recipes or patterns. When you’re used to just banging through a process, having to stop and consult a printed page every two minutes really interrupts your flow. I can just about stand it with baking, but if I’m trying a complicated dish or something where you need half a teaspoon of this, half a teaspoon of that, quarter of a teaspoon of the other I tend to get impatient and sloppy. Obviously that’s not mad crucial if you’re cooking (though – Top Tip – you really can’t afford to be free and easy with nam pla) but if you do that with lace then it is absolutely going to bite you in the bum. Which is why this;

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has a lifeline. More on that later…

However, poring over a pattern that even after this many repetitions I haven’t learned yet was kind of getting to me, so when one of Kate Davies‘s emails about the haps in her new book fell into my inbox, it suddenly made me realise that I was BORED of doing complicated and I wanted simple. Even better; simple that meant I didn’t need to buy the woollen poncho I’ve had my eye on, and simple that was going to allow me to use up all the tailends of sockyarn cluttering up my stash. The Hapisk shawl by Helene Magnusson has a gloriously wearable shape and best of all it’s stripes in garter stitch. It’s essentially a big square with a slot in it, so it’s more or less a blanket that you can wear (and you know how fond I am of blankets). So it’s a knitted casserole as far as I’m concerned. It’s going to take awhile because those are 2.5mm needles and 4ply yarn and I’m knitting something that’s about 5 foot square, but still.

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Three balls of sockyarn down; 45 to go.

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.

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:

eriskay

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.

Going round in circles

Purely coincidentally, all my projects at the moment are small-needle circulars, and I really notice the difference in terms of not having great long straight ends flapping around. Circulars feel much tidier somehow, as though my knitting’s more ‘contained’.

Two pairs of socks, both knitted to my usual plain toe-up pattern. These are in Violet Green‘s Beth sockyarn – it’s a 2ply but at 4ply weight. Spinning is a total mystery to me so I don’t really understand this. It’s making lovely socks though. These are for me:

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And these are for the Husband:

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Fat and cosy Opal, in a nice masculine stripe.

The baby blanket comes on apace – I’ve got about four weeks to go until its recipient makes an appearance. Plenty of time.

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And I was given Alice Starmore’s Fishermen’s Sweaters for Christmas, so I blew my yarn diet and bought some crushed-raspberry 5ply from Frangipani to knit Eriskay. This is going to take awhile, as it’s a Big Sweater knit in very fine wool on very small needles (2.25 and 2.75mm). However, as there’s no chance whatsoever of being able to wear it before next winter (due to current bump size) that doesn’t really matter.

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And for some reason I’ve become obsessed with the Fair Isle sweater worn by Forrest Bondurant/Tom Hardy in Lawless (which, apart from the sweater, is a terrible film in many, many ways). I really like the colour combination and the patterns, so now I need to sit down with coloured pencils and graph paper to try and work it out.

Bondurant fairisle 2

And of course this will also be worked in the round on small needles… Well, I’m on a roll.

Lacy shawl

I wasn’t entirely kidding when I said ‘next blanket…’ – the big belly that’s currently rather getting in my way will be turning into a baby in eight weeks or so and so this is on its way to wrap him up.

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I started it a while ago but as I’m making it up as I go along and am now on the fun bit (the borders) I can just keep knitting until the arrival is imminent then pop the edging on. I really like the process of sitting down with graph paper and pencil and making up borders. I’m using design elements from Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting (which is an awesome resource and workbook with some beautiful projects) but one thing I really love about lace knitting is that you can make things up. Some of the motifs I’m using aren’t official and don’t have names, I just drew a load of symmetrical increases/decreases and yarnovers in groups and started knitting.

One great tip I picked up was from Kate Atherley‘s blog (editor of Knitty.com) about double decreases – usually written in patterns as sk2po (slip, knit 2 together, pass slipped stitch over). She suggests an alternative using s2kpo (slip two at the same time, knit, pass both slipped stitches over together). Which creates a perfectly vertical decrease rather than the slanted one a normal sk2po creates. Illustrated on her blog here. I’m using both in this shawl because there are some occasions where the slanted decrease ‘finishes’ a line of decreases perfectly and some where the vertical one carries the look of the motif upwards. Nice to have the option!

As usual when I’m enjoying a knit I immediately want to knit a load more like it – when it’s a blanket, I want to knit blankets. When it’s lace I want to knit lace. I’ve still got a huge cone of Jamieson & Smith cobwebweight from w-a-a-a-y back when and I’m starting to feel like I might be able to tackle it now…

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…

The perfect pattern

Just a quickie post about my current blanket-block because I am completely besotted with this pattern. The cables provide complexity and ‘crunch’ and the lace sections give the cables enough room to breathe. The cables stretch out the lace so you can see it properly and the lace gives the cables enough room to pull inwards as much as they like. Added to that it’s a snap to learn (no repeating the pattern three times before you learn it) because there are only three different pattern rows (pattern row 1, purl, pattern row 2, purl, pattern row 1, purl, pattern row 3, purl). I’m in love, I could knit this all day.

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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.

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