Free yarn!!

There are few things I like more than a free knitting project, as I’m generally thoroughly broke, and when a sweater has proved unsatisfactory it’s better to frog it and knit Something Better.

This sweater started out life as this one:

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It was very generously knitted for her – unfortunately a bit too generous. The neck was so large that the whole thing would just slide off her like a gigantic cowl – cotton is pretty stretchy anyway and the moss stitch made the situation worse. So, obv, I frogged it.

That time, it got turned into a Debbie Bliss hoodie from Junior Knits. I wasn’t especially happy with it so I don’t have a photo of the completed sweater. It wasn’t great because, like a lot of knitted hoodies, the hood part was so heavy that it dragged the whole thing backwards, meaning that you end up with a bare tummy. Also, like a lot of Debbie Bliss’s patterns for children, the length of body is short compared to the length of the arms. I always find with her patterns that I have to add a few centimetres to the body length otherwise by the time the sleeves fit the body is too short.

So, it didn’t get photographed until I was casting around for a new project. I’d started a new sweater for Smallest Boy and had run out of yarn (of which more later) but I really liked the pattern – Rowan’s Jack Pullover. Frogging seemed like the best option. So, here it is after the start of frogging:

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I was hauling the yarn directly off the old sweater and knitting it into the new, as I couldn’t see any reason to pull it all apart before starting, so after a bit it looked like this:

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And now it’s this:

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It got the ultimate vote of approval, which was that Oldest Daughter immediately started wearing it and hasn’t taken it off since yesterday. Definitely Better.

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Unsatisfactory. Do it again.

This is to do with a sweater that I knitted last winter for The Husband. The pattern’s from knitty.com; Mr Darcy is a lovely-looking plainish man-sweater.darcyBEAUTY

Husband won’t wear anything too fancy or patterned, so this moss stitch in a variegated yarn is about as much as I can get away with. SONY DSCThe yarn seemed fine too – Debbie Bliss’s Riva is reasonably priced, comes in some man-friendly colourways, and is warm.

However…

This is a very non-constructed sweater – ie it’s knitted in the round, you divide for the yokes to knit up to the neck and then the sleeves are picked-up and knitted down to the wrists. The only seam is the three-needle bound-off shoulders. And therein lies the rub. No seams makes for a seriously sloppy sweater in the Riva and I really wouldn’t use this yarn again for a project of this size. Because it’s knitted in the round there’s nothing to stop it stretching in any direction and it’s not only got rather longer but it looks pretty formless when it’s on. SONY DSCYou can see from the picture that it’s been pulled out into almost a skirt shape. I promise there’s no shaping doing that! The neck is supposed to be a short funnel-neck with a little roll but because the weight of the sweater pulls it all out it ends up as more of a boat-neck. I would use the pattern again but it’s actually pretty displeasing to me the way it is and if Him Indoors didn’t like it so much I’d probably pull it apart and reknit with seams. I’d take some of the length off too.

In a word. Unsatisfactory.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever…

This marks something of a milestone. I’ve been knitting for about 38 years now, and never, ever, ever have I done what you’re supposed to do before commencing a project and knitted a swatch. But the truth is I had some yarn that I wasn’t quite sure about, and I didn’t yet know what I was going to knit with it, so it seemed like knitting a sample and seeing how it behaved when it was knitted and washed would be helpful.

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It’s mixed Corriedale and Hebridean from Blacker Yarns, overdyed turquoise. I knitted myself a sample using the needles suggested and got quite a stiff fabric. It softened up a bit when it was washed, so I thought I’d forge ahead and cast on. Then it occurred to me that maybe – just maybe – given the number of sweaters I’d knitted myself that I never wore (because they don’t fit), perhaps I should measure my gauge.

Glad I did. Because this yarn, which brazenly calls itself a DK, knits up at nothing like the nearly-six stitches to the inch that DK normally gets you. It’s five (and a tiny, tiny fraction of a stitch). Which scaled up to the 37 inches of the chest of this sweater adds up to at least an extra 30-odd stitches that I don’t need, which in turn is going to translate to an extra SIX INCHES of chest. So. Glad I made with the tape measure. (While I was being The Perfect Knitter I thought I might as well go the whole hog and knit myself another swatch on .5mm bigger needles, to see if I preferred that fabric. And that most definitely gets me five stitches to the inch.)

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Anyway, after all the ruminations I’ve decided to knit myself a v-neck top-down sweater because I had such an awesome experience the last time I used The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top Down Sweaters and I am a glutton for punishment. That one did turn out ok in the end. I was trying to use up various bits of yarn and so getting exactly the same length of colour section in each bit of the sweater was a bit fiddly (had to knit all three sections simultaneously, which makes for a lot of needles). But at least it fits now…

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(Or will do when he finally grows a bit – at the moment he’s pulling some sort of Tin Drum act and still wearing clothes he should have outgrown months ago.)

The real problem here is that the yarn is cursed

Every now and then I drift into the delusion that I am a reasonably competent knitter. I know at least three methods of casting on, two methods of casting off, three kinds of increase and I can remember how to do Kitchener Stitch without having to look it up. (This is a barefaced lie.) That’s usually when I get my arse handed to me in comprehensive fashion. Would you like to know how many times I have restarted this sweater? There was the time I didn’t increase on both sides of the fabric. There was the time I (repeatedly) tried to increase twice out of the same stitch (though I do blame the pattern for that one). There was the time I didn’t slip the raglan stitches (that was on me). That was all before the “At The Same Time…” debacle. Then there was the time I knitted all the way down a sleeve and realised that it was too narrow and I’d need to frog it and do fewer decreases. There was the time… but you get the idea. This has been a catalogue of knitterly error.

Anyway. I got to this point:

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Body, sleeves, neck – just the final casting off to do. I thought as one final check before I cast off I’d slip it off the needles and pop it over the recipient’s head to check that all was well. And here’s the thing. When I had it laid out on the table it looked like a sweater. It does look like a sweater, doesn’t it?

Well, you should have seen it on him.

It looked as though I’d knitted it for a very skinny orang-utan with a conical head. I checked my gauge, I checked the instructions. And there was the kicker. All those times I had to frog back to the beginning? Not one of those times did I think to check that I was following the correct set of instructions for my yarn.

So. Here we are. Again.

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“At the same time…”

Four little words that mean so much… This is one of those moments they have in films where some terrible situation unspools in the first few minutes and then a caption comes up: “One Day Earlier…”

So – one day earlier (ie yesterday afternoon), after the Great Fair Isle Rip Back, I decided I had to make friends with the yarn again. I’d gone right off all of it, even colours like the baby blue that I usually find very appealing. So obviously the only thing to do was plan a new project and I thought I’d go with something simple and classic, a basic raglan-sleeve colour-block sweater. It’s going to be a colour-block sweater because I’m just planning to knit each section until I run out of that colour and then switch to another. I have four different blues so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Anyway, all was going swimmingly and by yesterday evening I had a whole yoke knitted, neatly divided into stitches for the front, sleeves and back. I was about to move on to the bit where you join up for knitting in the round to complete the body, having followed the fantastically simple instructions in Ann Budd’s great build-your-own pattern book The Knitters Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters. Then, looking back, I saw the stomach-sinking instruction “Read all the way through the following section before proceeding.” Dear Reader, I had not so done. Which meant that the next instruction I was looking at said “At the same time…” So yes, there was a whole bunch of stuff that I should have been doing while I was doing all the other stuff I’d been doing, and I hadn’t done it, and it was totally my fault because THE BOOK SAID READ EVERYTHING BEFORE DOING ANYTHING. Sometimes you just have to kick yourself firmly and begin again…

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So what else was I doing?

You’re quite right, I haven’t JUST been knitting Eriskay, because then I would have gone completely mad. I have a bad case of project-envy – every time I go to knit group someone there is knitting something that I love and immediately want to cast on (I was even tempted by the gauntlets with real chain mail). And the last time I went to knit group one person was wearing a lovely drop-stitch scarf. It’s a very simple pattern – knit three, purl one (with increases and decreases so you get a triangular shape) and then when you’re decreasing you drop all the purl stitches so you get a long ladder running all the way down the scarf.SONY DSC The really clever bit is that you just weigh the yarn you’ve got, divide by two (with a little extra for emergencies) and increase until you’re halfway then decrease all the way home. It has the completely unmemorable name of Clapo-Ktus (that’s a Rav link). In fact I was so totally unable to remember it I had to pester the poor girl at knit night for about three weeks until finally she sent me a link to it. I used some apricot-coloured Debbie Bliss baby cashmerino (frogged from a ballet top that never got worn). It used about three balls-worth (140-ishg) to get a cowl-sized scarf about 48 inches along its longest edge. I’m really annoyed with myself for giving it away before I had a chance to take any better photos of it, but I’ve got two leftover small balls of laceweight that I’m considering doing another one with. It’s perfect portable brainless knitting – rolls up nice and small and you don’t need to take the pattern with you because once you’ve got into the swing of it it’s easy to just keep going until you’re halfway. I had to block the pants out of it to get it to a right-angle though – I think next time I’d make more effort to keep my edge stitches looser or maybe go up a needle size for the yarn I’m using.

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).

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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.