More or less happy. Ish.

After a couple of false starts and various pauses while I waited for new needles, extra yarn, more new needles and buttons to arrive from the internet, the Silje Jacket is finished. It’s quite pretty.


I’m happy with my colour substitutions (original colourway was a bit beigey)15-1

The pattern, however, was not fun to knit. I’ve knit a few GarnStudio patterns before and I think they suffer firstly from being written for a different knitting culture and secondly from having to be translated. I tend to find them odd to read and despite having been knitting for about 35 years now I have to pore over them to ensure that I’m doing them correctly.


So what was wrong with this one? Well for a start it’s knitted from the bottom up. Every pattern I’ve ever encountered to date that has a yoked chest and arms is knitted from the top down. Knitting upwards it’s very difficult to incorporate the sleeves. It also means that when you get to the colourwork you’ve got all that weight of sleeves and body flopping around pulling your work hither and yon. Accurate, consistent tension is crucial if colourwork isn’t to pucker, so having to constantly stop the rest of the work sliding around is – frankly – a PITA.

Second issue is that the colourwork is done back-and-forth. Everyone’s tension is slightly different when they purl from when they knit. Really good colourwork cardigans are knit in the round and steeked (cut open) to be finished. This works well because knitting doesn’t unravel from side to side, only from top to bottom. Purling colourwork in one direction and then knitting it in the other makes for nasty ‘turning’ pulls at the ends unless you’re exceptionally careful and it’s also much harder to follow the pattern because you’re reading it backwards and from the wrong side.

I also wasn’t mad keen on the pattern requiring three colours to be carried for some rows and over very long distances as well. Not only do you have three colours to try and keep de-tangled but one of them has to be wrapped around one of the others every five stitches as otherwise there’ll be a great long loop of yarn on the back. Or several dozen in the case of this pattern. For a child’s cardigan that’s inevitably going to be yanked around and hauled on, that spells picky fingers pulling loops to see what will happen. In case of doubt, this is a Bad Thing to happen to colourwork. Proper Fair Isle colourwork has only two colours per row (as much as anything else so that you can hold one in each hand for speed and non-tangling-ness) and the patterns are by-and-large designed so that you don’t have mile-long floats. You can see on the reverse side where it’s ‘proper’ Fair Isle-style colourwork (the orange and white row that is in effect the negative of the right-side row) and where it’s not (most of the rest, particularly the white and grey where the grey had to be twisted in every fifth stitch).


Apart from grumbling nearly every step of the way, though, I did knit it according to the pattern. Except for changing the needle size down to 3.75mm because I thought the 4mms made the fabric too loose. Which meant I had to knit some sections in the next size up so it was big enough.

So apart from all that, I’m moderately happy with it.

I Do Not Like It, Sam-I-Am

I’ve started a new cardigan for Alice because she’s got a thing at the moment about wearing dresses (probably because I’ve dressed her in trousers for seven years) and you don’t really wear sweaters over dresses (do you? I think it looks odd).

So I found a nice pattern we both liked – the Silje Jacket from GarnStudio. 15-1It’s got a pretty little flounce at the hem and I thought the colourwork yoke would be a nice thing to aim at after a mile or so of stocking stitch.

So far, so hoopy. I ordered the yarn and, after agonising for the requisite amount of time about my colour-substitutions, this is what we’ve got:


The main body of it will be in the navy, and the majority of the colourwork will be the pale blue, the grey and the white. The orange and the mustard are accent notes in the middle of the zigzag to give it a bit of zing. It’s Drops Karisma, which is the first time I’ve knitted with a GarnStudio yarn, despite using their patterns a few times.

So I cast it on and the frill was fine. Switched to 4mm needle for the body – which ought to be a perfectly reasonable size for dk – and I Am Not Happy. I think because it’s superwash (something I will be noting more carefully when buying yarn in the future) and therefore doesn’t ‘stick’ to itself, it’s producing a very thin and holey fabric:


It might be something that gets fixed when it’s washed, but given that the superwash treatment is specifically designed to stop it changing when it’s washed, I somewhat doubt it. Two options: a) carry on and hope or: b) change down a needle size again and hope that the extra stretch you get from superwash will compensate for the smaller size * (again, because it doesn’t stick to itself this creates a less stable fabric so it stretches more). I don’t really trust that the colourwork is going to look nice – you need the yarn to kind of fuzz up and get friendly with its neighbour for good colourwork – so I’m going to wash what I’ve done so far and see what that does.


*Yes, there is an option c) ‘just don’t be so picky’ but I think we both know that’s unrealistic.


My Left Hand…

…is rubbish at knitting. You may ask how it is that I have only just discovered this, after knitting (on and off) for thirty-some years, but apparently Fair Isle does things to a person. Needing to knit one stitch of main colour and then one stitch of contrast for a total (so far) of about 2,500 stitches, it has been borne in upon me that holding/controlling both yarns in my right hand is not something I’m dexterous enough to do. So I tried to hold the contrast yarn in my left hand. At which point I ‘discovered’ (never having given it a moment’s thought before) that it’s always been my right hand doing all the work – all my left hand does is basically stabilise my needles. I now have a better understanding of the Shetland women I’ve read about who used to stick a long left-hand needle in their knitting belts so they still had a hand free and could knit All The Time (and yes, I may be looking into knitting belts after this project is finished).


In the meantime, my left hand is going to have to suck it up and Get A Grip. Literally – the problem at the moment is that my left index and middle fingers seem to have no idea about holding the yarn at a sensible tension for me to be able to ‘pick’ it with my needle. I knew this project was going to teach me stuff, but this wasn’t something I’d thought of. All to the good though – learning to do new physical things like this is terribly good for your brain.

Upcycling and Fair Isle

If you have ever knitted for a baby (or had a baby for whom things have been knitted), you will know that they do not get a lot of wear out of their handknits. That lovingly-created small cardigan might get worn three times before it’s outgrown, and to my mind that is a Shocking Waste of Nice Yarn. So here I am with various small baby jackets etc, many of them in shades of blue, and it occurs to me that an adult-sized garment that uses lots of different colours could usefully be created out of all these little quantities, with a little supplementation (it’s all Debbie Bliss baby cashmerino).

So I fish out my box of colouring pencils, and my copy of the amazing Alice Starmore‘s Fair Isle Knitting, and start fiddling about with colours. What I end up with is a plan for a pattern that looks like this:SONY DSC

And I think that is Quite Pretty. And as I’m only supplementing the yarn I’ve already got, and don’t mind frogging if it all goes wrong, I feel no need to swatch (to be honest, I have never, ever felt the need to swatch). So, I am all cast on and doing the bi-coloured rib as we speak. It’s going to be a gilet. Or possibly a cardigan if it all goes well.SONY DSC

I’m knitting anti-clockwise, rather than clockwise – essentially going around the inside of the circular needle rather than the more-usual outside. This is because with Fair Isle one of the most crucial elements is keeping your floats (the carried yarn you’re not using) even and not too tight and leaving the floats on the outside is one way of helping this to happen. It’ll be more obvious as I continue, because I’ll be basically knitting it inside-out. The other thing I’m planning is to steek – not something I’ve done before, and I’m trying not to think too hard about it because it involves taking shears to your knitting after it’s all done and the ways in which that could go disastrously, expensively wrong are too many to think about.

I’m talking a good game here, but I’ve never designed a ‘proper’ Fair Isle garment before, or knitted a gilet, or steeked so, y’know, there’s doubtless going to be some learning-curve stuff that’s going to happen. As the man says, the day you don’t make any mistakes is the day you don’t learn anything. I learn a lot, all the time.

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!

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.


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…


B-o-r-i-n-g and b-o-r-e-d

Remind me never, ever again to do a project in garter stitch on tiny needles with slubby yarn. It takes forever to get anywhere and I can’t even knit on autopilot because the yarn is kind of catchy and lumpy, so I’m in constant danger of splitting it or generally knitting ‘wrong’ unless I Look At What I’m Doing All The Time. Which is rubbish.


I’m not especially wild about the pattern, either. It’s a GarnStudio pattern, and although it was free it’s often quite hard to follow – there’s the occasional instruction in shouty capitals with a paragraph of its own and exclamation marks. The shouty instructions are usually something non-critical like REMEMBER THE GAUGE! whereas something moderately crucial like ‘At the same time decrease one stitch towards neck edge every four rows’ is buried in a whole paragraph of text. Plus they’ve written a jacket pattern for 4ply on 3mm needles, which in my humble opinion makes far too loose a fabric for a jacket. And while I’m complaining about it, I’d say that their 5-6 year old size has never been near an actual 5-6 year old, as the correctly-gauged sleeve that I knitted according to their instructions wouldn’t even go around my 3 year old’s wrist.


Despite all this, I quite like the construction, and because of the way it’s put together I can just knit to my own chosen gauge and number of stitches, on the size of needle I like, to get a fabric I’m happy with, that actually has a chance of fitting the child it’s for.

It’s still a pain to knit, though, and I don’t even really know why I’m continuing to knit it when I’ve got four other projects on the go, every one of which I prefer.  I would call it masochism but my understanding is that masochists enjoy it (presumably that’s the point). This is just tedious and unsatisfying. On the other hand it will be finished at some point, and apparently if you knit on just one thing it goes a lot faster than if you knit on four others simultaneously. So perhaps there’s a part of my brain that understands that finishing it sooner rather than later would be better for my sanity and drives me to pick it up every flipping day!

Finally! The beaded nightmare is over.

It’s taken almost exactly four years. Started (according to my notes on Ravelry) 22 August 2008 and finished 5 August 2012. (Not completely finished, because I don’t have any buttons. Apparently four years’ notice is insufficient time for me to buy buttons.) This cardigan has accompanied me through four years of my return-to-knitting after a decade’s hiatus. It’s also seen me get considerably better as a knitter and a finisher. Which is why some of the cast-ons are different and the increases and decreases progress towards greater smoothness as I’ve learned new techniques and applied them every time I’ve returned to it. It also shows some other things that I learned too late – there are three little lumps in the back which are from before I discovered you really shouldn’t join on a new ball in the middle of a row, and you definitely shouldn’t if you’re knitting with cotton.

The pattern’s called Faye – it’s a Kim Hargreaves from a Rowan collection whose name escapes me (I got it out of the library – you’re allowed to photocopy up to 10% of a book without breaching copyright) as it was so long ago.

The proportions aren’t as nice as the picture when you knit the largest size (which is only a medium – 36” chest) – it’s short in proportion and therefore a bit boxier. It’s also difficult to get the buttonholes spaced evenly as the pattern asks you to mark out the buttons on one front-band and then knit the buttonholes on the other as you get up to the button-places. The amount of stretch in the bands means that you can get quite different numbers of rows between buttonholes. If I was doing it again (unlikely!) I’d set a particular number of rows for between-buttonholes and then sew the buttons on to match the holes. In the largest size about every 40 rows of moss stitch between each buttonholes would be right, I think.

Photos of it being modelled when I have good weather, husband, camera and cardigan all in one place!

Just peachy

I am realistic about the chances of my daughter being a ballerina, but that’s not going to stop me knitting her a ballet cardigan, obviously.

This is a pretty pattern from Debbie Bliss Essential Kids, in baby cashmerino.  The Bear is three (just) but is tall – this is Debbie’s 4-5 year old size.  The edging is picked-up-and-knitted using a very simple cast-on cast-off that’s really effective and I think I’ll use again – it would make a very nice neckline. Unusually for me I knitted the pattern exactly as written – normally I’d at least do a three needle bindoff on the shoulder (and the associated not-casting-off for the shoulder shaping) and mattress stitch up the sides (requiring a garterstitch edge). Not this time – neither more nor less than Debbie had written.

And very nice it is too.

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