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.

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.

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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.

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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!

Knickers!

Pilchers are knickers! (See Bonnets and bootees.) Or nappy-coverings. Knitting them has made it clear.

Also it seems, once I’d googled, that it’s a very old English word derived from coverings of skins. These aren’t made from skins, I’d like to make clear. The Aussies and Kiwis must have kept the word when we’ve stopped using it – you can still buy pilchers in Australia. Glad that’s cleared up.

The Bear has cottoned on to what I’m doing, and although it means she’s less likely to attack my knitting, it now means that she goes through all the dolly pattern books on the shelf, bringing them to me and ordering ‘Knit that!’. I may be making dolly clothes for the forseeable future. In any case, this is where we are on that particular set:

I’m going to have another go at the too-small bonnet (Bonnets and bootees), because on this doll (who still isn’t as large as the doll-size the pattern is for) it looks like a yarmulke. My best guess is that instead of ‘cast on 52’ it should be cast on ‘152’. Going to give that a go, anyway!

Bad decisions – possibly

When you’re in the throes of moving house, into what Americans call a fixer-upper and I would call a wreck, it’s possibly not the greatest time to start a lace shawl.  The realities of spending days scraping off wallpaper, filling holes in skirting board, hands rougher than sandpaper and no energy in the evenings for reading lace charts mean that progress can be slow…

However, the cosmetic stuff that I can actually do (as opposed to the structural stuff that a builder needs to do) is nearly done for the meantime, so progress on the shawl is actually being made. I’d like one of those Ravelry progress bars to show that I’m on the last foot or so! I’m really loving this colourway – sometimes you just can’t tell how a handpainted yarn is going to come out when you knit it, but this is gorgeous. Violet Green’s lovely laceweight.

I’ve also got as far as retrieving the stash from the spare room where it’s been lurking amongst boxes of books for weeks, so there’s every chance that I’ll soon have too many things on the needles again. Which makes me happy.

Bored now

While the sampler shawl is doubtless going to be very pretty, the knitting of it is boring in the wrong way. It doesn’t look like anything at the moment of course (because lace never does), but the colours are coming out beautifully.

The patterns are repetitive, but because they’re all infinitesimally different, you can’t just memorise and knit on auto-pilot. I’m nearly halfway through and I’m still having to read the charts every line or so. I’m never still reading charts by this point in a shawl. Because of the constant switching from one pattern to another very-similar-but-not-the-same pattern it takes quite a bit more concentration than I was bargaining for, without any of the satisfaction you get from radically different patterns. I think next time I do a sampler shawl I’ll use some of the awesome Estonian and Shetland motifs (which is possibly a terrible lace-knitting faux pas) – the lily-of-the-valley pattern in particular is calling to me.

Unnecessary and probably stupid

Because we’re moving house.

Because I’m surrounded by boxes.

Because the stash is packed and I kept out one skein of laceweight.

Because it’s been in the stash for ages.

Because when I’m surrounded by chaos, if I have to knit then knitting something solid and dependable and simple and reassuring should surely be the order of the day, but bugger that, frankly.

Because the sampler shawl from Victorian Lace Today is so pretty.

Especially when it’s in Violet Green’s laceweight 2ply in colourway Peonies.

New blocks

Knitting on the afghan is coming along nicely – completed two more blocks this week. Once I get going they only take two or three evenings each, which makes it even more ridiculous that I left it in the cupboard for so long. Plus I think I’ve found someone to give the finished blanket to, who will hopefully appreciate the hundred-odd hours and four kilometres of yarn that will have gone into it by then…

Block 11
Picture of block 12
Block 12

Though on the downside I have accidentally cast on a new thing. Well, I had this lovely fluffy mohair yarn sitting in my stash, without a ballband or anything, so I thought I’d just knit a quick swatch. Just to see what it looked like. And it looked rather lovely, and was so soft to knit with, I thought I’d just do a few rows. And now here I am with another project to be getting on with.

Picture of mohair rug
Mohair lap rug

Though fortunately I’m about to run out of the yarn and have to find some more, so it can hibernate for a bit.

New Year, old project

I am determined. This year I will Finish More Things. And avoid the seduction of casting new things on while current projects languish in the Great Basket of Forgotten.

With that in mind I cast on a new square for my sampler aran blanket last night. This has been lurking and not progressing for at least a year – I don’t think I knit a single stitch on it in 2009. For some reason in my head it always looked rubbish and I got disheartened, but when I got it out a few days ago I thought  ‘actually that doesn’t look half bad’. I love cables and lacy patterns, and even if you know that all that marketing garbage about people on Aran identifying the bodies of washed-up loved ones (how gruesome?) by their sweater patterns is – well – marketing garbage (ie not true), cables are endlessly fascinating. It never ceases to engage me how one stitch this way, two stitches that way (or whatever) can result in an intricate web of pretty twistingness. I’ve got a whole book of cable patterns and still find others on the interweb. These are a couple of the blocks to date – I’m on block 12 of 25.

Afghan block
Another afghan block

It does feel good to be nearly halfway through the block stage – after that comes the border stage and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do that. In any case it feels good to be working on a blanket when the world outside looks like this:

Snowy garden

and the thermometer hasn’t gone above freezing for days.

Serendipitous quickie

There’s nothing so delightful as the confluence of:

a) a friend to whom you have the opportunity to give a present

b) a pattern you want to knit

c) a yarn you’d like to knit in

d) notions to finish it off

and

e) enough time to make a small thing…

Hey presto!

Serendipitous booties

Pattern is Christine’s baby booties, a free pattern – very quick and simple to knit – and the yarn was half a ball of Rowan wool cotton left over from a sweater my mother knitted recently. There was exactly as much left as you can see in the picture! I started them last night and finished them this morning, and rumour has it these are the one type of bootie that stays on!

Unfinished objects

As well as the queen-sized bedspread there’s another baby blanket on the go and the mohair shawl – which currently looks like an old-fashioned mob-cap while I work out how to start patterning outwards in a spiral. Trouble with mohair is there is no possibility of mistakes because as everyone know, Mohair Does Not Frog. It clings stubbornly to itself as though its destiny was always to be in that particular stitch next to that other particular stitch, and having achieved this nirvana it’s not going to be parted from it. At some point soon I am going to have to sit down with graph paper and a pencil and a stitch dictionary and work it out properly, but that’s going to have to wait for the bedspread to be finished.

I haven’t cast anything on (other than the bedspread) for AGES and am feeling very virtuous. I don’t even have any socks on the go, though have three balls of yarn in the stash calling seductively to me. I also haven’t bought any yarn for ages, but that’s not so much virtue as enforced abstinence brought on by being on maternity leave and Not Having Any Money.

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