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.)

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

One down, 19 to go.

I’m doing it! I’m doing it!

Finally it’s happening. I have broken its spirit, tamed the beast, wrought it to my will. Talking here about Alice Starmore’s Eriskay (Ravelry link). I have two-thirds of an arm left and then I’m there. Anyone who’s been following will know that this damn sweater has been hanging around for more than TWO YEARS and that there were l-o-n-g stretches of that when we weren’t on speaking terms. Light dawned for me when I realised that I basically hated the collar and didn’t care about finishing the sweater because I didn’t care about wearing it. Then my mother knitted Oldest Boy a sweater that had a ribbed collar like thisSONY DSC and I realised I could do that to my sweater. So, we’ve gone from thisSONY DSC

to thisSONY DSC

in a few weeks. (It helps that I’ve got used to the pace of it too – when you’re on tiny needles you’ve just got to get used to the idea that you knit seven years and find you’ve made an inch of progress.) See the horrid little curled stocking-stitch collar in the first one? I did not like it. It was already an adaptation from the pattern because I don’t really like crew necks either. So now it has a nice standup rib collar and I’m actually looking forward to wearing it.

You know what I’m going to do next, don’t you? I’m going to do another one – but in a man’s size. Expect to hear a lot of complaints.

Oh God, Oh God, it takes forever…

Okay, it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. Alice Starmore herself, in the book (Fisherman’s Sweaters), describes it as an ‘heirloom’ sweater. Which is delightful knitterly shorthand for ‘will take you literally the rest of your life to knit and if you’re not done you can pass it on to your children’. It’s a big sweater on tiny needles (2.25mm and 2.75mm, which as a rough guide is normally what you knit dress socks with, not giant jumpers) and I knit and I knit and I knit and NOTHING HAPPENS.SONY DSC

As an aside, it would probably help if I hadn’t cast on a sweater for the Husband in the interim, but I swear they’ve had equal knitting time since Christmas and while His sweater is now half done, I have achieved exactly those five inches of sleeve on My sweater. No chance it’ll be done this winter – that’ll mean it goes into its fourth winter on the needles.

However, it does mean you get a look at His. It’s Mr Darcy, a free pattern from Cheryl Niamath and it’s a nice, plain sweater livened up with a funnel neck and dot stitch.SONY DSC

Given that the Husband has the deepest suspicion of anything smacking of pattern (unless it’s a skull, or a wolf holding a flaming torch, or a Viking zombie, which I decline to attempt), a  very simple sweater in a lightly variegated yarn is about as much as I get to knit.SONY DSC

The yarn is Debbie Bliss Riva in Cork, which is warm but also (judging by the cowl I wore all last winter) fairly disinclined to pill. I’ve knitted him sweaters in merino before:SONY DSC

but this is what that lovely soft merino looks like now…

SONY DSCPilled to death. Anyway, back to the hell of tiny needles, skinny yarn and the Sweater That Just Won’t Quit.

 

I’m calling it Colin

This sweater is called – by the good folk at Sublime – Boris.SONY DSC

But it doesn’t look like a Boris. Boris conjures images of enormous blond eastern-European men in tight black polo-necks (leaving aside for a moment the shudder-inducing vision of Boris Johnson in a tight black polo-neck). This sweater is much geekier than that – with its ribbed stand-up collar and its big buttons there is more of librarian than KGB killer about it.

It’s also, frankly, doing my head in this morning. Descending from the high-flown world of pattern names and getting down to brass tacks, it asks me to pick up 31 stitches up and down each side of the neck. Where’s the problem? Well, that ‘each side of the neck’ represents only about two inches of knitting – five stitches across and ten rows up, to be precise.SONY DSC

Getting 31 stitches out of that has proven to be more than my temper and will-to-get-it-right will bear. So I’m eight stitches short each side and count myself lucky to have got that many. I am prepared to rip it back if it becomes clear I’ve got it wrong, but so far it looks fine.

Colin is coming along nicely.SONY DSC

Look no needle!

Well, no cable needle, anyway… I have been through a great many cable needles, and am confident that in the dim and distant future when there is a point to having the sofa reupholstered (working from home and with three small children is Not The Time) a plethora of little metal sticks will clatter happily to the floor. Until that time I’m doing reasonably well without them. There are some great tutorials on cabling without a cable needle on YouTube – so far I’m only adept at doing it two stitches at a time (so a maximum width of 4 stitches or similar) but I hope to get better at bigger cables as I haven’t yet finished knitting sampler blankets like this one.

This is Boris, from The Knitter issue 23.SONY DSC

I love the look of the pattern but am getting a bit frowny at the yarn. It’s Rico Essentials Merino DK and I am not altogether a fan of the fabric it’s creating. It seems a bit lightweight and – well – holey. As I am not a diligent swatch-and-block-before-I-start type of knitter (seriously, who is? Who doesn’t cast on lightheartedly thinking It’ll All Be Fine?) I therefore have no idea whether the slightly see-through nature of the fabric will close up once it’s all had a bath. Yes, I could block the back I’ve just finished, but then I wouldn’t be knitting the rest, would I? It also has fairly frequent slubs, which are making my knitting sporadically lumpy. I don’t like lumpy knitting.SONY DSC

We’ll see what happens in the blocking – until then, front-wards we go…

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).

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!