Monday, 29 December 2008

Red Cabled Aran Shrug is Finished

But it's too small, and impossible to photograph. I took it to see my friend Ricky, who has a camera bristling with apertures and F stops and who knows how to use them. I said: 'I can't photograph this red knitting.' He looked at the knitting using my camera first. I think we both thought I'd have some inappropriate setting or other turned on, but it was all working perfectly, except for the fact it was impossible to focus on the red fabric. Ricky started to make humming noises and went and got his own camera. Rick takes wonderful pictures, in fact one of his photos of Salzburg cathedral might be going into a guide book soon, but the humming noises got louder as he looked at my red knitting and twiddled knobs, filters and buttons. Then he shook his head.

You can't photograph that red knitting - how odd! I wanted a picture showing the sleeve ends - I hadn't been happy with just leaving the bottoms of the sleeves. My inner neat freak didn't like the fact that the cast on didn't match the cast off, and it just looked messy somehow. I put an I-cord around the bottom of the cuff, and it looked great - it didn't change the look of the garment, but it neatened up the edges and made the sleeves look finished. I tried picking up and knitting, then doing the I-cord, but that was too bulky. Picking up a stitch, then doing the I-cord worked perfectly.

However, the whole garment is a breath too small - even with my triangular inserts under the arms. 'Did you knit that for the same person as you made the rib warmer for?' Andy asked. The sleeves are the right length now, but the body of the garment is a fraction tight. And I don't see how you can fix that without the body going floppy again. So that's why people invented sleeves!!

I knitted the cowl to 10" but that was too much. Around 8 and a quarter was perfect. I've put the finished in my drawer along with the rib warmer and am now looking for a small person who wants TWO hand knitted garments. The good news is that Andy's sister has decided she likes the shrug I gave her - she wore it over Christmas and enjoyed it.

Seeing as I can't photograph the shrug, I've posted another nostalgia photo. Look what tiny living spaces people squeeze into in Japan. I'm trying to knit Kaffe Fasset's Persian Poppy design - the whole thing was a disaster that never got finished. I have to make a garment using that design - talk about unfinished business!!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Patricia Roberts Jumper

It's quite handy having nostalgia week this week because I can't get a photo of the red Aran cabled shrug and I don't know why - will be asking advice from a friend who's good at photography.

The cable strip is finished - it's 55" long, a little longer than I calculated, but the sleeves are too tight at the top. Decided to knit a little triangle and sew it in to give more room - but how will that affect the ribbing? Only one way to find out.

Patricia Roberts was all the rage when I lived in London in the 80s. She had a bijou shop in Kensington Church Gardens - all wooden floors and model shop assistants who looked down their noses like camels. I remember saving up and going over there to buy the mohair for the easiest garment in one of her books (most of them were made with tiny needles and yarn - completely beyond me). I wore the sweater a lot - in the photo above, I'm actually 'working'. I used to be a kind of urban park ranger on a disused railway line that was managed for ecological benefit. We held moth trapping sessions at night, which I wasn't paid for, but I think I got time off in lieu for. Everyone, scientists, eco-warriers, middle-class enthusiasts and parkies alike drank or smoked or both. It seems odd now, which proves that the government is achieving their aim of 'denormalising' drinking and smoking. All to the good, yet I miss the days before AWFUL WARNINGS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Ralph Lauren Ski Sweater

I'm scanning all my photos and found this - proof that I used to knit items and then wear them! This was a favourite sweater. Ralph Lauren's 1978 Prairie collection was very popular and influential and completely out of my reach. Imagine my delight when I came across Nancy Vale's pattern for the ski sweater a few years later. The yarn was double knit from John Lewis - it was quite a fat double knit, as I recall, because I later made a second version of this sweater in another, thinner brand of double knit that I wasn't so keen on and gave away.

I used to be a terrible knitter - and very, very slow. I'd work a stitch, drop the yarn, pick up the needle, work another stitch by picking up the yarn, wrapping it slowly around the front of the needle, letting go of the yarn, then dropping the needle again to pick up the yarn and pull it through! I also had no control of the number of stitches anywhere. I remember getting to the top of one sleeve and saying to Jon (my ex-husband) 'The pattern says I should have 7 stitches and I've got 24.' He looked concerned. 'That's 17 too many. That sounds bad. ' I said: 'Actually, that's pretty good for me!' And I cast them all off in a lump and sewed up the seams in back stitch. And wore the sweater.

Now I knit quickly and take huge pains to be accurate - and never turn out a sweater I can wear. What is the moral of this story? Just before I started blogging I started to knit this sweater again in brown, and abandoned it because it looked so lumpy. Maybe I'm in a kind of half-way house stage - I was doing fair isle with two hands (one colour in the left, Continental style and one in the right, English style) and weaving in the strands, but for the first time, so I'd not quite got the hang of it yet.

Am I being unreasonable in expecting to be able to knit in less than two years? We kind of expect instant expertise these days, don't we? 'Have Fun Mastering Knitting in a Weekend' rather than a seven-year apprenticeship. Oh, no! Why did I say seven years?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A Wearable Ribwarmer

I am not however, ready to dance the 'modest but triumphant jig' recommended by Elizabeth Zimmerman as being the way to celebrate finishing because it doesn't quite fit. I can wear it, but it's a little too small to fit properly over a winter layer. Never mind. It will fit someone and this is a huge step forward in my knitting!

I followed the instructions on the DVD and knit it in one piece. You start at the neck with a provisional cast on, knit one front, then pick up from the provisional cast on and knit the second front, then flip it over and join both halves and knit up the back. You then pick up stitches at the shoulder and use the I-cord cast off. I trimmed the armholes with the I-cord as well. Because I'd followed Meg Swanson's instructions for shaping the armholes, they looked a bit messy and the I-cord covered that up.

So, following on from my earlier ramblings about practice and expertise, I plan to make a few more rib warmers to see what I can learn.

Saturday, 20 December 2008


Not an entirely random curse. Last year sometime I came across a knitter - and I can't for the life of me remember if it was in a book or on a blog - who pointed out that actually we are pretty hard on ourselves these days. Once over a knitter would have had a set of needles - that's right, one set. A local yarn - that's right, one yarn, even if it was spun and coloured in a variety of ways, and pretty much one pattern to work from. Yes, the knitter would add variations, but that long-ago crafts person would have made the garment that was made and worn in their area: fair isle say, or a fisherman's ganseys. We want to be able to do it all. Knitting from around the world? Bring it on! Yarns in every fibre and every thickness? Yes please. Precision engineered needles in rare woods? I want them all! Not to mention techniques, fashions and constructions.

The connection with fishhooks? Well, according to the SF writer, Robert Heinlein, so far as archaeologists can tell, about five thousand years ago, on the banks of the River Nile, some smart soul invented the fish hook. The first fish hook was a simple curve. It's difficult to be sure of timescales when going so far back, but, again so far as archaeologists can tell, approximately one thousand years went by and then some bright spark came up with the idea of putting a barb on the fish hook. One thousand years. I say those words to myself sometime when I'm being faced with yet another computer programme that I have to suddenly become expert in at work. One thousand years, before somebody somewhere altered the original model with one modification.

So I needn't feel too bad that I can't do garter stitch short row sleeves, need I? After all, it was my first attempt at a sideways construction and sleeves done that way. It was pretty near inevitable that the first attempt would end up in the dustbin. The sleeves look fine, the jacket looks fine, but clearly they don't fit together!

I'm not going to do any more vintage patterns, not until I'm better at knitting. There's so little help in them. If there had been a schemata, I could have checked the first sleeve, and I'd have known it was far too large. Because there's no measurement given to check the sleeve against, I can't begin to work out how to get to the right measurement. What is it? What am I aiming for? I might keep this one in a dark cupboard for a while, just because I'd like to know what I did wrong, and the answer might pop up one day. The good thing about the sleeves being so wrong, is that I don't have to tackle the pockets and crotchet trimming - all of which threatened to consume hours and still look naff.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Cabling Without a Needle

Isn't this a terrible picture? I don't know what it is about this red wool, but I can't seem to get a photo of it at all. This is the best of about 50 attempts. I tried it light in front, light behind, light from the side,with a flash,without a flash, near the window, far from the window. I give up. You'll just have to imagine it.

There's two wobbles in the last cable diamond where I dropped a stitch, fudged it for 10 rows, found the dropped stitch, picked it up with a crotchet hook and then had to undo the fudge. I'm not going to redo it.

And what am I doing, dropping stitches? Trying to cable without a needle, that's what. And I can't do it. Lucy Neatby demonstrates the art on her knitting DVD. She says something like: 'Your stitches won't go anywhere. They are not malevolent.' Well, mine are! The second I let them go, they prang about all over the place. 'Quick! Head for the hills! Hey, I know. Let's go to Skegness. Louise'll never notice.'

I need to learn, because it is going to be so much quicker. I must have spent about three hours of this week looking for my cable needle. But I'm not finding it easy. Lucy slips three stitches off the main needle, puts them to the back of the work and they stay there while she knits the next stitches, then goes back and picks them up to complete the twist or cable. I can almost, sometimes do the cable where you put one stitch behind your work, knit three then pick up the one. I have to pull it off the needle, then out, so that it enlarges, then hold it down with a finger so it doesn't head for a seaside resort, then pull it out again, because the loop will be hardly visible, it will have shrunk so much, and then, finally, slip it back on the needle to work with. Three I cannot do. The last stitch always, always, always ladders down at once.

I wonder if the reason I can't cable without a needle is connected to my lack of knitting success in general? Am I somehow not smooth enough? If I'm jerking my knitting around as I work, in both senses of the word, is it getting p**ed off at me? Or to leave the metaphor and descend to the technical, are there uneven points of stress in the fabric? It's something to think about.

The ribwarmer is nearly done - I need to watch Meg Swanson on the DVD showing the short rows at the back neck and then I can attempt the three-needle I-Cord cast off on the shoulders.

I'm practising the Portuguese knitting at odd moments - about 10 minutes a day, perhaps. It's a bit soon to decide how fast a technique it might be.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Stash and Speed Knitting

I don't know when I'll ever actually need a cone of gold yarn, but it was so cute and so sparkly I couldn't leave it be. The reel of gold sewing thread was inside the cone. The vintage 4-ply is a pretty mushroom pink and it is real wool. 4-ply is a great weight for a centrally heated world, and once I can knit, I expect to buy lots of it for the second good reason that it's cheaper because it lasts longer. For now, though, I'm enjoying Aran weight knitting. Last night I knit another diamond panel for the Aran cable shrug, and a few more inches of the rib warmer. Knitting it up in one piece makes it impossible to photograph - unless I could get some plastic ants to march around the edge to demonstrate which line is going where, it just looks like a blot and tangle. Which of course, it may yet turn out to be.

The Portuguese knitting is going well - on the whole. I can make the movements now, but it looks like a beginner's knitting! It will probably take months to get it smooth. The one thing I'm struggling most with is how to feed the yarn from my right hand up to the knitting pin. I suppose it'll be a combination of tiny movements - a knack that will come with time. Andrea doesn't mention it (which is probably why I'm struggling - she explains everything else). I had a look at the clips on You Tube. Some of them show you how people wrap the yarn around their fingers, but none of them explain what to do to feed the yarn up to the pin. I expect it will come. I will persevere because I like the feel of knitting this way - it is easier to do without looking, great for watching TV, which is when I knit, and it feels more relaxed than Continental.

I then got sucked into watching loads of great little video clips - the world's fastest knitter was one. The first tip she gave was to relax! Then she said knit at the tips of the needles, which I do now, and have noticed made me a little faster, and then it was a case of making tiny movements. Interesting. I also watched a clip of the Yarn Harlot doing Irish Cottage Knitting. A lot of women in Lancashire knit this way - with a long needle tucked under the arm. It doesn't look relaxing to me. I dislike long needles - I don't like the weight of them and I don't like them tapping on my arm (yeah, OK, I probably do something wrong!). The very large movements, which may be better for your hands, take up space, somehow. I think I'll stick with Portuguese.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Messing About with Knitting

I've got too many projects on the go! This weekend I have been learning to knit with the yarn round my neck, trying to finish the Simple Garter Stitch Jacket, making a ribwarmer in one piece and working on the Aran Cabled Shrug. I thought again of the BBC time management experts (whose names I can never remember, two little chaps in suits). They were trying to stop one woman from flitting from task to task, so they laid out some kids puzzles and timed her while she did them, first in her usual pick up and drop manner, secondly not moving on until the puzzle she was working on was complete - result? Sticking to one project at a time is 30% faster.

We are both tired so this weekend we did nothing - I had a lot of knitting time but most of it was spent wrestling with the garter stitch jacket. I'm struggling with the patch pockets at the top. I undid the messiest pocket flap and tried out several edgings, but none of them looked right, so I might just re knit the pocket flap and trust it will look OK when it's got a button and a crotchet edging.

The ribwarmer is going well. I had some maroon Aran in my stash which is interesting to work with - it's very rough and scratchy - it spit splices like a dream! This is good for the ribwarmer, because there is nowhere to hide any ends. It's interesting how some yarn will splice easily, and other yarns go dirty and little ends poke out. I think roughness is the key - smooth yarns don't cling the same way. I'm following the DVD and trying out several new techniques. Meg Swanson uses the 'twisty-wrap' provisional cast on, so I used Lucy Neatby's crotchet version, which is much, much easier to do. I'm using a braid edging (except where I forget to do it) and knitting up the back in one piece.

I got into a mess with the shrug and ended up frogging two panels. The problem was caused by following the chart accurately. How unfair is that? I have discovered that the cable repeat along the side is a 6 stitch repeat, and the diamond panel is a 28 stitch repeat. 6 does not go into 28 and the bottom of the chart does not correspond to the top of the chart - so there I was in cable hell. It took some time to work out what was happening and why I was going wrong, but at least I understand it now! I've bought a knitting notebook (and A4 sketch pad with a spiral binding) and it's full of scribbles and curses!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A Tax on my Knitting

The postie dropped a card through the letterbox on Saturday morning. My DVD had arrived, but I had to pay £11.97 and drive to the sorting office in the rain to collect it. Obviously I spluttered and fumed, but there was no way out. For some obscure reason, although the DVD cost $20 dollars and the pin $2.50, Andrea had put a value of $40 on the packet, and so I was into taxable territory. The Post Office then charge £8 to collect it. I consulted Google, and it seems that the old £18 threshold has been abolished and even tiny purchases are being hit - so there was no point in even trying to argue - and sometimes I think you have to admit that you are beaten. I'm glad I read that, because taking the receipt and trying to get out of it would have only done my head in. So, it turned out to be an expensive exercise all round! If you are going to order a DVD (or anything) from abroad, ask the retailer to put the exact value on the packet, and better be ready to pay tax and a handling charge if you use Royal Mail.

Was it worth it? Well, the extra expense and hassle kind of puts an unfair burden on any purchase: This had better be good - look how much it cost me! But even leaving that aside, I think the DVD is going to be worth it. Andrea Wong calls this Portuguese Style knitting, but I think of it as Greek. Years ago, a mate and I caught the Magic Bus to Athens and took a ferry to Crete and lived in the caves near Matala for a month. All the ladies in the Cretan village where we stayed knitted like this - with the yarn flowing over their shoulders and their thumbs shuttling back and forth so fast you couldn't see what they were doing. They made huge soft jumpers for the tourists - and because it was April and cold at night, I bought one, I think! Memory is so unreliable. I know I bought a pair of soft green cotton trousers to keep my legs warm, and I think I bought a grey jumper with a lot of garter stitch in it, but I can't be sure. Keep a blog, everyone!

Whatever name you give this knitting, it is interesting and completely different in style. For a start, the purl stitch is the easy one. I found it much easier to get the hang of the movements than when I learned Continental knitting - although my tension is still all over the place and I can see it will take a lot of practice before I can knit neatly this way. The knit stitch is much more difficult. In a few weeks time, I am going to make a couple more ribwarmers, and I could do one all in knit and one all in purl using this technique, just to get the hang of it. I think it may be easier on the hands because the pin (or your neck) tensions the yarn.

Andrea Wong's DVD is good value. She shows you the knit and the purl, cast on and cast off, increase and decrease, single rib, knitting backwards, knitting with two colours and a few other tips as well, so it pretty much covers the technique, which is good. I'm not sure about the pin - you have to be wearing something you don't mind sticking a pin in, and I'm not sure yet what I think about the feel of the yarn running though it. Still, I'll play around with it this week. I think the using the purl for garter stitch might be quicker than using Continental for garter stitch, and anything quick, I approve of.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Got it Taped

Last week someone said to me that they wished they had a hobby they could spend money on. I kind of know what they mean - I've had lots of fun with exciting parcels arriving this week. As soon as the tangle over a different Louise Armstrong cancelling my knitting order was straightened out, the Woolly Workshop got my order sent first class and it arrived today. I ordered 3.5 wooden needles in the end. They look lovely - and are so light. Knitting the first panel of my shrug on 5 mm metal needles made my hands ache - there's a huge weight difference. I can't wait to try wooden ones out. I don't know why I didn't order wooden needles to knit my shrug on? I knew it was next in the queue. Oh well. For the second panel I changed to my lovely Addi circular needles. There's a bit of excess wire flipping around, but they are light.
I've come to a halt on the Simple Garter Stitch Jacket - my attempt at pocket flaps is nasty. I'm considering not having pockets at all, and trimming it in garter stitch I-cord instead of crotchet. I've put it to one side to think about.
As you can see, (apologies for the lousy picture but I couldn't get the chart and the knitting in focus at the same time) I couldn't resist casting on for the next Aran cable shrug so I could try my new toy - highlighter tape. It is brilliant - at the moment you can't seem to get it anywhere but the Woolly Workshop but I'm sure it will catch on. I can't imagine ever using a lace, intarsia, Fair Isle or Aran chart ever again without this handy dandy little aid. I have tried using a ruler, but it always moves, and also, I often need to see where I've been so that I can understand what I'm supposed to be doing on top of it. This tape is perfect. Because this is a free pattern printed out from the Internet, the ink is lifting slightly, which wouldn't happen if you were using a book, but one strip of tape still did two diamond repeats or about 60 rows. It might well have done more, but I was mad to try another colour! The green is pretty good too.
I have made a couple of errors, but overall, this is the most accurate cable knitting I've ever done and, as an agreeable side effect, it makes me faster! No stopping to count rows and stitches, no pausing to scratch my head and wonder where I am. No frogging and re knitting. With the first shrug, I was completing a panel repeat in an evening, and sometimes, if I'd gone very wrong, I'd sit up a little later in order to finish. Using the tape, in the same time, I did a panel repeat and 6 more rows. Good - I like anything that makes me faster!
A text came today saying: 'Thank you for the Alien Shrugigan Cardiug'. This suggests that Andy's sister may not yet be completely in love with her Shrug. Had visions of it being stuffed in a cupboard unless we came round: 'Quick, get out the Alien! Louise is visiting.' Texted back to say seriously no offence if she wants to chuck it out or pass it on.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ribwarmer DVD Arrives

And plays, thank goodness, so that plunge into technology worked out after all. Was it worth it? You bet! I love this DVD. Andy winced when he saw the receipt, but it runs I hour 45 minutes in total. I already watched it twice, which is around 3 hours fun, and for sure I'll watch it another 6 times or so at least, not to mention checking back for odd techniques, so in terms of cost per hour, it's not expensive at all. No, really! Knitting costs practically nothing, right?

I like this DVD because it is completely different from the Lucy Neatby DVDs, but just as good in its own way. Lucy shows you lots of single techniques in great detail. Meg tells you a little of the history around the ribwarmer, including one knit by Elizabeth Zimmerman herself, and a copy of the magazine it first appeared in. Then she shows you lots of variations on a single garment and encourages you to make your own choices and change your mind as you go - which is very empowering. She demonstrates making a child's ribwarmer in detail, then how you can adapt it to a longer length, or make a very pretty bolero version called the butterfly jacket. (The basic patterns are included inside the DVD case.) Also she shows lots of variations: a collar, a sports vent, a seamless version, I-cord trimming, a braided edge. She also shows you how to measure and size the garment and how to shape it a bit more - if you want to. Then she runs over all the techniques she uses. Pretty good value for money, I'd say. I plan to make a good few ribwarmers in the near future and have fun with it.

The techniques Meg shows for garter stitch would have been handy to know for my simple garter stitch jacket, but too late now! I picked it up again and solved the short row mystery - it turned out to be a matter of terminology. If you are knitting short rows, every row is 2 rows, so do you count one each time you do 2 rows, which add up to one complete short row? Or do you count 2, because after all, you knit one way, turn around and knit back, which adds up to 2 rows?Different patterns refer to it differently. Once I understood this, I knit the second sleeve with no problems. BUT I wanted to try grafting the seam. I knit the extra flap in bright yellow so I could a) have something to hold and b) use the waste yarn as a guide, but oh, dear, I didn't go back and watch Lucy again before I started and I carefully grafted two hills together, so there's a ridge on the right side and a double valley on the wrong side. DOH!

I decided not to undo it all. Instead I frogged the mistake sleeve back to where I'd gone wrong, finished it and sewed the seam so it looked pretty much like the other one. Job over! All I have to do now is sew it up and crotchet the trimming.

Those handy techniques Meg demonstrates on the DVD will apply to all garter stitch garments, and she really explains things in a way that helps me to understand. She doesn't say: 'At this point, put the yarn left and then right', She says: 'if you put the yarn left this happens, then if you put the yarn right that happens, and it's up to you which effect you want'. Although I'm not a huge fan of the ethnic knitted look, I will definitely get all the DVDs and knit my way through them, just because of how much I'll learn.

One thing that fascinated me: she knits Continental, but right down at the bottom of her needle! And I just spent two months learning to knit at the tips! After some thought I realised that she mustn't have any problems because she'll use her needles like that consistently - my stitches were altering all the time, probably because I wasn't aware which part of the needle I was using at any one time, so I knit differently in different chairs, or with different needles or even as the piece I was working on changed size. It just goes to show that there is no right or wrong in knitting, but, as Lucy said when she demonstrated the knitting at the tips technique: if you're not getting the results you want, you might want to consider something new. An added bonus is that I do believe that it's faster to knit at the tips - I'm sure I've sped up a bit since I got the hang it.

Last week I ordered some highlighter tape from the Woolly Workshop - I promised myself not to start the next cabled shrug until it arrived. It's so hard to wait though. Yesterday I dropped the shop an email just asking how my order was progressing. The shop owner rang up and said: but you cancelled it as soon as I sent the confirmation email. I said: oh no I didn't! She said: oh yes you did. Very odd. We dug deeper and an explanation emerged. I had put the wrong email address on my form - the one at work has no numbers in it and I sometimes mix them up. So, the shop had emailed a Louise Armstrong with no numbers in her BT email account - and this Louise Armstrong must knit, because instead of emailing back to say she'd never ordered anything from a knitting shop in her life, she replied to say that the order was from a year ago and she didn't need it now so please could she have a refund!! Anyway, my order is on its way and I'll be able to start shrug number two at last. But first I must finish the simple garter stitch jacket and the ribwarmer I couldn't resist starting last night.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

This week, I have been mostly knitting ... Thorpe Hats

Five of the little fellows, one after the other. Thorpe is a free pattern by Kristin Kapur, which she has generously made available on her blog
or you can get the pattern at Ravelry. It's an easy knit in the round in chunky yarn.

Hat number one turned out too large - but it didn't matter because it was made in Lopi and Andy asked me not to make another one in Icelandic wool because just trying it on made him itch! Lopi got frogged and missed out on the group photo.

It was interesting making a small item over and over. The first three were pretty numb, but four was OK (in a surprising kind of way - it was meant for Andy, turned out too small, so got a pink trim and became mine) and hat number five was perfect. It's gone off for field testing in the frost today. No plaits - health and safety at work.

What did I learn from the hat exercise?
  • Read the pattern carefully, and then read your knitting - I had missed the instruction to knit a plain row in between the increase rounds on the crown. I kept thinking: the crown doesn't look so puffy in other people's photos. In fact, I thought that four times over four hats before thinking to check and getting number five right.
  • It is worth taking the time to try out new techniques. Hats one and two had pretty messy joins at the garter stitch because in the round you have to purl a round, then knit a round to make garter stitch - and it looked messy at the change. I hunted out the instructions for a jogless join for garter stitch in the round, and it's so easy! All you have to do is take the yarn to the side you will be working on, slip the next stitch, work the round, including the slipped stitch, change the yarn to the side you will be working on, slip the next stitch, work the round including the slipped stitch - that's it! A lovely neat invisible join. If you mark the beginning of the round, you'll see that each time you are moving the start of the round one stitch over as the slipped stitch becomes part of the previous round. Wonderful.
  • It's OK to customise ear flaps - the first couple looked a bit Japanese warrior helmet, so I did the decreases more often to get a pointed flap.
  • A bigger crotchet hook just might be a huge improvement if the original choice didn't look just right - again, I twigged this at hat number five. The original instructions are not set in stone!
  • Different brands of chunky yarn will knit differently - the cream hat was very small, yet it was knit on the same needles and to the same size as the second grey hat, which was an inch or so bigger - just right.
  • That I can get better - but if I have to knit every garment five times to get it right, I'll be dead before I'm a good knitter!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Another Test Cloud

There's only 8 balls, which makes me nervous, but I can always make the sleeves a bit shorter if necessary.

The lady in the hospice shop asked me if I was a dealer today. Oh dear. I certainly never leave without buying something! All in a good cause, of course! Today I joined the Knitting and Crotchet Guild - members get a 10% discount, and I'm going to be spending a lot on DVDs. I buy more and more from them because they always have what I want in stock - so why ring anywhere else?

I've ordered a DVD on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Ribwarmer - I hour and 45 minutes instruction - surely by the end of that I can make a ribwarmer? I had a go at one last year - the construction made my head ache and it turned out far too big. It was a pretty colour though, so I gave it to my mum, who wears it in winter.

I can't remember where I saw this comment now, but it's been depressing me all week - somebody on a blog or on Ravelry said that they had tried out Continental knitting and it had taken them a few hours to get the hang of it. A few HOURS? It took me months! It was like learning to knit all over again. Me hunched muttering over messy little swatches. Needles clattering to the floor. Knitting hurled across the room. The first thing I made was a monkey from Tracey Chapman's stuffed toys book. There was a typo in the pattern which didn't help! But I finally got him finished and the next small person to come to the house fell for 'Practice Monkey' in a big way. We chose buttons for his eyes and away he went.

It also took me several months to get used to knitting at the tips of the needles as Lucy Neatby suggests. Tangerine Alef didn't turn out too badly, other than uneven sleeves, but I ruined my first Turbulence U-necked sweater because I knitted too close to the tips. Oh well. As long as I get there in the end. I want to be faster and neater so changes have to be made. I wish I could make them in a few hours, though. It's like there's a knitting world where people pick up new skills and achieve effortlessly, and there's my world which is all damn and blast it!

I Give Away a Shrug

A mixed success, as you can see - it's great to have produced a garment which I like the look of. It's a shame it doesn't fit me by miles! I think what's happened here is overcompensation. I knew several of these shrugs had turned out too small, so I thought, right! Mine's not going to have that fault...
I will make another one of these - but I will knit the 10 diamonds that the pattern suggests and not 12. I think the rib section is only just big enough. I cast the usual proportion for ribbing - pick up 3 and skip one all along the edge, which gave slightly more stitches than the pattern suggested. I think it needs one stitch picking up for every stitch. Following a helpful suggestion from Ravelry, I knit the rib section in the round, which worked really well and eliminates a seam. I also changed needle size - pick up on one smaller, first few inches in the same size as the body (5.5mm) then a few inches in 6 mm, 6.5 mm and 7 mm. I had to stop there because I've no bigger circular needles. Then I cast off in rib. This tip came from a Lucy Neatby DVD - and the ribbing did look nice - it wanted to turn over and lie prettily. I might make it a few inches deeper as well.
It's so hard to measure knitting. Andy helped me with this one and it still came out wrong. He fits kitchens. He wallpapers. He cuts holes in £500 doors to fit the furniture. He can build a kitchen extension - and all his building stuff turns out perfectly. What is it about knitting? When I picked up my simple garter stitch jacket again at the weekend, there were 3 people in the room. I had pulled out the needles and forgotten to write down what I was using, so I knit up a tiny swatch along 10 stitches of the garment until I thought I had it right. Then I checked with the others, just to be on the safe side. Andy said: you need a bigger needle. Rick said: I think she needs a smaller needle. And Stewart said: I don't know.
The shrug saga doesn't end too badly though. When I knit a sweater for Andy's sister, she asked me to knit the sleeves 2" longer than usual because she has very long arms. Remembering this I took her the shrug. She wasn't too sure about the construction, never having owned or worn such a strange item - but it fitted her so I insisted that she take it. Hopefully she'll decide that she likes shrugs, I thought she looked smart in it, but then, I'm biased - it's my baby!

Monday, 8 December 2008

NVQ in Knitting

Thank goodness I'm better at last - other than still having to whisper as my voice hasn't come back properly. While I was sick, one of the things I missed most was my knitting blog (TV or computers made my head ache so I couldn't update it). So instead, over the week, I thought about why I missed my blog so much, and I think it is helping me to knit in the same way that an NVQ is supposed to help you be more efficient at work. I thought NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications) were rubbish when I was first introduced to them - partly because I was told they were the same as A-levels, which they clearly are not. A-levels are more about critically examining an academic subject. NVQs encourage you to examine your approach to a practical subject - and that's what my blog does for my knitting. Several times I've written down a problem or described a situation that I didn't understand and shortly after clarifying the issue, the answer has arrived. It's like keeping a nature notebook or a record of scientific experiments. There's also a touch of zen in there - by recording what's happening in the moment, I'm learning to be more mindful.

They say you should always write down your goals, so here's my knitting goal: I want to be able to knit beautiful designer garments very quickly. Oh, and they have to fit and be perfectly finished as well. And after a year or two on that happy pinnacle I might move on to designing my own garments. That's pretty ambitious, and it's not happening quickly. This week I've been wondering why.

I was browsing through some knit alongs and then looking at people's finished projects at Ravelry and the huge variety in outcome on the same pattern is fascinating - even when knitters use the specified yarn, the results vary, so the answer has to lie in the skill of the individual knitter. At the moment my knitting lies at the rubbish end of the spectrum. So how do I get to the fabulous finished garment stage? I've been hopping from pattern to pattern - thinking, well this one didn't work so I'll throw it away and look for the magic pattern that will work, or the magic yarn, or hey, maybe there's a magic needle out there. Instead maybe I should settle down to knit several versions of the same simple pattern and not leave it until I can knit it beautifully?

I hunted out another of my disasters from before I started blogging: Cloud by Kim Hargreaves. This is my third attempt at it - I spent ages struggling with increasing and decreasing in double rib (all I had to do was follow the pattern to the letter, but I managed to get tangled up). I made two test versions using 2 strands of a big cone of Shetland that came from a charity shop for 50p. The first one was such a mess of tangled ribbing that I threw it away and started again but the second attempt came out too small, so that went in the bin and I decided to make the 'real' one in the largest size. Unfortunately, it too was tiny, as you can see, but I think I know what went wrong - I substituted a fine wool for the specified cotton of Calmer, and the wool is far too elastic. I knit a swatch of double knit cotton and you can see how flat it lies in comparison to the wool. It's Jaeger Extra Fine Merino in Alpine green, which is far too good to waste, so it's the frog pond for this particular yarn.

I made the sweater version of Loll from the same Rowan Calmer book using some white vintage Jaeger double knit wool for Andy's sister, and that turned out beautifully; she looks like a snow princess in it, so substituting yarn obviously has a lot of angles to it. What works beautifully in stocking stitch might not work at all in rib - in fact, it didn't! Never mind, I will make another test Cloud when some cotton-type stuff turns up to see if my theory on the nature of the yarn is correct. I do like the look of this cardigan and one day I'll own it (beautifully made, of course) in coffee-bean coloured Calmer.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Folk Mittens

I got an email asking where I got the pattern for the 'lame mitten' from. I should apologise here and make it clear that it's my knitting that's lame! It's true I'm not keen on bulky mittens, but there are some fantastic patterns in this book which is Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski and published by Interweave Press. There are folk mitten patterns from around the world, and most of the mittens feature at least one authentic technique, so if you knit your way through the whole book, each mitten would be different and you'd be a better knitter at the end of it - that was my plan, but alas, it turns out that I don't like knitting mittens.

No More Alef - We're Through!

I'm off work with a cold and no voice today, so I finished sewing Tangerine Alef . Then I spread it out and took a long sad look at it - it's hopeless. I still don't like the gap at the front of the lace trim, even though I knitted one half of the strip and purled the other then grafted them together in order to have the edges match, which they do now, but now the edges match and are no longer annoying my inner neat freak, the gap seems to show more and I just don't like it!

Then even though I must have spent a month of my life knitting and re knitting that collar, I cannot make it lie flat. It looks very cute lying flat on the floor, but as soon as it moves - FLIP! Rowan suggested stitching it down, but I can't find a way to do it neatly. That's it. I quit. I knit the first Alef in Classic Kid, then a peach test, then a brown test and now this tangerine test, not to mention a shed load of swatches and I'm just not getting it. We're through.

The fault probably is my rubbish knitting. I fully fashioned the sleeves, which looks messy and doesn't help them set in properly, so I wouldn't have been happy with this garment anyway. There's a great photo showing the difference between flat decreases and fully-fashioned decreases in Stitch and Bitch. I don't think I'd properly grasped the difference or the uses before. I'd got a fuzzy idea that only one way was correct, but in fact both ways are right. It's just a case of what effect you want. Say you are knitting up a right side, If you want your stitches to lie down and form a decorative ridge (this decorative effect is called 'fully-fashioned') you use a left slanting decrease, if however you want the stitches to stay pointing straight up and decrease without any fuss or showing off, then you use a right slanting decrease.

I am pleased with the graft on the lace trim, the Elizabeth Zimmerman sewn cast off, Maggie Richetti's neatest buttonholes ever and that my sewing is improving. I can see that the sleeves are odd, but it wasn't glaring. One sleeve was knit in my old haphazard way, the other Lucy Neatby's way at the tips of the needles - guess which one looks best? More care and attention, that's always the answer!

I'm going to email Rowan and ask if they have a pattern that uses the same amount of Classic Kid and 3 buttons.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

This is my favourite card. Andy knows me so well! The other thing I got for my birthday, with a gift card from work and some supermarket vouchers, is a DVD player. What's that to do with knitting? Read on!
Americans have wonderful resources - including knitting DVDs. Elizabeth Zimmerman's TV series is available. You can buy DVDs where Meg Swanson talks you through all the stages in a lace shawl or a fair isle vest. You can buy the Knitting Daily TV series which features the authors of your favourite books and knitters you'd love to meet. You can buy a DVD by Andrea Wong showing you how to do Portuguese knitting, which is even faster than Continental, so I hear. You can buy them, but if you are British you cannot play them without a head-aching plunge into the world of technology.

I tried contacting the knitters, and they would reply sweetly and pass me onto their tech guys. This never helped, because the techie guys speak another language and assume you have a level of knowledge and gadgetry that would, if you were so inclined, enable you to launch a small satellite, but really doesn't apply to the average knitter.
Next I tried hunting on the Internet for information and Lo! After a several months determination, all was revealed. If you are in the UK and you wish to play DVDs from the USA, here is the situation as I understand it:
The producers of DVDs divide up the world into regions and make DVDs which will only play on equipment set for that region. This is, they say, to combat piracy, but personally I suspect that all it does it make life difficult for innocent British people who want to watch American DVDs. Anyway, to continue with the solution:
DVD players are made so they can play anything and be sold anywhere, but because of this anti-piracy thing, before the unit leaves the factory, it is set to play one region only. But, and this is the important bit, it has the CAPACITY to play any disc from any region. Enter the clever and generous people who make up the Internet community. If there is a way to make your machine play a disc from any region they will post the solution on the Internet. This is called a hack. Type in the model number of your model and the word 'hack' and see if there is an answer.
If your machine is new, then applying a hack will invalidate your guarantee - so do not do this with new and expensive equipment. Instead, head for your local supermarket/favourite bargain shop and look for a cheap DVD player that advertises it will 'play it all'. Then check on the Internet to see if a hack is available, and if it is, buy the machine (mine is a very neat Phillips machine that was under £30) take it home, apply the hack and BINGO! You can play American knitting DVDs in your own home at last.
Today I sent off for Andrea Wong's DVD at last. I may or may not take to Portuguese knitting - but at least I can explore the option now.

Friday, 28 November 2008

It's Taller Than I Am!!

The back of my cabled shrug is finished. It's about 60" long. I've come down with some kind of bug and am not feeling enthusiastic about anything.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Lame Mitten

This mitten has been languishing in the gigantic UFO parking lot hidden at the top of the house. After my attempt at Elizabeth Zimmerman's Norwegian mittens failed so miserably, I bought a mitten book with a laudable, but ambitious and ultimately doomed to failure of an idea: I would start with the easy mittens and work my way through the book. Good idea. Great way to learn to knit. Trouble is - I hate simple mittens. I'm trying to think of words to describe the mitten above: worthy, numb and naff spring to mind.

So why did I even cast on for the second one? If I felt so negative about one ethnic mitten, whatever made me think two ethnic mittens would be a good idea? In fact they've been cluttering up a basket for months now - but today they meet their doom! I want the Pingouin yarn for the Aran cabled shrug and it will tidy up my stash. I might have to dig out and trash a few more UFOs - they are depressing things to have about the place. Tangible reminders of what a rubbish knitter I am!

The theory wasn't altogether bad - I have made a better job of the easier mitten, although if you look closely you can see that the thumb is green instead of the background colour and the pattern has gone wonky in a couple of places.

My cabling has gone wrong a few times on the shrug as well - but I have seen the answer on the Internet - highlighter tape! What a great idea. It's like a cross between Post its and a highlighter pen. You lay a row of tape over your chart - and move it up one row as you knit. But because it's transparent, you can see where you have been. I have tried using paper and rulers but always have to move them to see what's underneath. I'm going to buy some this week - but the knitting store that sells them also sells wooden needles, which I want to try. So, I might decide what my next project is going to be, swatch for it, then send off for the wooden needles at the same time as the tape - all in the interests of saving postage, of course.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Farewell, Tiny Turbulence

I threw the Turbulence U-necked sweater into the washing machine - and it promptly shrank back to the size I knitted it - blocking to a larger size was only temporary! Every other cotton I've ever worked with has stretched into a saggy baggy faded sad thing after a couple of washes. I wonder if Patons still make Laguna?

I had another light bulb moment when I realised that the shoulders must have seemed to be too long because I'd knitted the sleeves too tight so they didn't fit into the armhole. If the sweater was the same tension all over, I might have finished the neckline and found a tiny person to wear it - but the sleeve line is horrible so into the bin it goes.

The given tension is 22 stitches to 4". I can't remember what I did about tension when I started, but in the actual garment, the body turned out at 25 stitches to 4" and the horrible sleeves at 26.5. The good news is that, thanks to knitting a swatch the other day on Clover needles with coloured tips, I now understand that I wasn't sliding the loop far enough over the tip - it was forming on the tapered part of the knitting pin and that's why each stitch came out too small.

I will make this pattern again. It's my knitting that's at fault, not the design. I like the cabled neck line - and I should be able to do the cables OK next time! I like the bracelet sleeves, the cable up the centre and the twisted rib. I wouldn't make even a test in a light colour - and I happen to have some olive green Jaeger Extra Fine Merino which is currently all knitted up into a failed Cloud by Kim Hargreaves. I could frog that, recondition the yarn and have another go at Turbulence.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Half Way There on the Aran Panel

Eight Panels done and only half way there? Didn't the pattern say 10 panel repeats made a whole garment? Well, yes, but I thanks to the advice from the Ravelry members, I'm trusting a tape measure more than the pattern. I'm also trying it on a lot.

Here's an interesting fact - and one that might explain why people found this shrug came out too short for them. The pattern shows the garment laid out flat. When I measured myself (with Andy's help) I stood up and put my arms out straight. My arm span measured 53 and a half inches. The small size is 54 inches, so, I'll knit the small length I said. BUT, Andy is a careful soul (he works with expensive materials) and he said: 'Put your arms down and measure.' This time I measured 57 inches, much closer to the large size of 60". That's a huge difference, certainly enough to ruin a garment.

Exploring this finding further, we measured Andy first with his arms up and then with his arms held down. The difference in measurements was the same. Then we measured a fleece that fits him perfectly. The fleece, when laid flat on the ground, measured the same across the arm span as Andy did with his arms held down. In other words, you need the larger measurement, the one that you get with your arms held down, in order to get the sleeves long enough. So you have to be careful when you measure yourself. It is safe, however, to measure a favourite garment, because that will come out at the larger size.

Very, very interesting!

I got lost a few times in the pattern - because the increase was every eight rows, and you did it 8 times, I got the number eight in my head, and started making the cable twist every 8 rows instead of every 6 rows. I'm not frogging! I'll just be more careful from now on and if I make a 'real' one I'll count the rows as I go.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Test Yarn

Why do I knit a test garment? Why work with vintage acrylic and oddments? Because I hate waste! If my knitting goes wrong and I'm working with under a fiver's worth of yarn, I can shrug and put it down to experience. The time that went into it was pleasantly spent - like doing a crossword or a jigsaw. If however I have bought fifty pounds or more worth of yarn, and buttons, and the garment goes wrong, it's a tragedy. I feel that I'm a bad knitter and a wasteful person and all kinds of other horrible feelings that I don't want attached to my hobby!

Sewers make lots of test garments. They keep a supply of gingham or muslin and quickly run up a shell to see how the design works. One book I read said that you can expect to throw away 5 patterns for every one that you will make up with good fabric - fashion fabric they call it, to distinguish it from the test fabric. I thought this was a great idea. When people see me knitting they often say that they gave up knitting because they would spend time and money on a garment, put it on and think: nah! I don't like it. It doesn't suit me. Knitting a test garment saves you from this disappointment.

It takes time of course, but you'd be surprised how much knitting time is spent puzzling out the directions and thinking what the *** does that mean? The second attempt knits up in half the time. I also learnt to knit faster. I was an English knitter, or a thrower. Now I knit Continental, which is nearly three times faster. That makes a difference.

It is always difficult to find a bargain pack of double knit, especially if you want a nice colour as well, but my stash is full of other bargains - so much so that I'm getting stricter about what I buy. Even though I want to test a Kim Hargreaves design in Calmer called Cloud, I passed by a bag of Stylecraft cotton in a bright coral pink. It wasn't my colour! It's shameful how acquisitive I am - part of me still yearns for that bag of yarn - it was a bargain after all!

The Yeoman shade card came - their merino wool looks good (I wasn't keen on the acrylic). Buying direct from them would cost around £20 for a garment. When I get better at knitting, I'll probably start doing my test garments in this kind of yarn - a kind of middle road. There are colours like black, cream, pink and burgundy that are always useful because they go with everything. Then if I really love a garment and it suits me, I'll splash out on the fashion wool in the perfect colour. And when will I be this good? By next year. By the end of next year. By the year after for sure!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Horrible Yellow Krista

This is test version number three of a design called 'Krista' by White Lies - the trade name of an American designer called Joan McGowan Michael. I saw a photograph of the design in a knitting magazine and fell in love with it at once. I sent off to America for the design and launched in. Oh dear. Oh dear!! It doesn't look too bad hanging in the window - but nobody living is to be allowed to see how terrible I look wearing it! I'm not just talking yellow test yarn here, which admittedly wouldn't do any pattern any favours. I think there are problems in the lines of the design. I have added waist shaping by decreasing and increasing at the sides in this test version - but test version one had no shaping and test version two had the suggested shaping of using a smaller needle at the waist and I didn't like them either!

I wish I had discovered the Internet sooner. I paid for this pattern before I discovered the Ravelry and knit blog world. I'm not the only one with a horrible Krista, as you will be realising by now if you are - being smarter than me - looking to see what people have to say about the pattern before buying it. There are many good things about this design. The lace front is very pretty - I may add it into another garment one day. The effect of lightness in such a thick, quick-knitting yarn is very, very clever, but knitters be warned - this garment can only work on slender people. I wouldn't risk it on anything over a UK size 10. If you have even the slightest suggestion of a round tummy, forget it! If the tops of your arms are anything but honed perfection, heave a regretful sigh and move on.

It's also quite difficult to knit nicely. You can see on the Internet how many people have had trouble with the lace curling at the bottom edge of Krista. I spent months trying to find out how to make the lace trim at the bottom without it curling up. I hunted through every book I owned. I tried seventeen different cast ons in all different sizes of needles. I even emailed the designer. Unlike Rowan, she didn't respond. The best lace cast on I found came from Rowan, apparently, and was posted on a blog (thanks!) which I now can't find again so that I can post a link. You wind the yarn twice around the needle as you cast on, which gives a lot of stretch, but even with this cast on, the bottom edges of the lace trim still flip up, which is especially horrible on the sleeves.

The idea of this garment is so pretty that if just the right amount of bargain dark mohair came along I think I would try again, but then, I never know when I'm beaten!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Pause for Thought

I completed two of the panel repeats, then followed Maggie Richetti's advice and put the work on a thread so that I could Knit Klip it together, try it on and measure it and think about it. Very interesting. I started measuring in metric, but caught myself just in time. Never again! 4" in not the same as 10 cm, whatever the pattern might say. Now I always measure in the system that the designer used. This is an American pattern, so imperial all the way.
I do not like baggy sleeves, so it feels exactly right at the moment, but several people said it turned out small, so it probably won't be wide enough at the top. OK, I'll carry on increasing for the large size, but because I started increasing every 8 rows (as given for small) and not every 10 rows (as given for large) I'll carry on doing this so the increases are in proportion. And I will write all this down, so that I know what to do on the other side!!
Each repeat is 4.75 inches - so even my math knows that 10 panels will not make 60". I will knit two extra pattern repeats. This being so, I need to stop after one more panel repeat, put it back on the thread and see what I think about the placing of the markers for the back panel.
I feel as if all the kind advice I received from the Ravelry knitters will bring me luck. I'm sure this will be the garment I wear!
When I was making the various swatches a few days ago, I used a pair of Clover needles I bought years ago when I lived in Japan. This pair were white plastic with yellow tips, and the coloured tips helped me understand why my tension in the Turbulence U-necked sweater got smaller and smaller as I went. I suddenly realised that I wasn't pushing the newly formed loops off the tapered tips and onto the main part of the needle.
I'm trying to follow Lucy Neatby's instructions to knit on the tips of the needle because my knitting used to get larger and larger as I used to stretch the original stitch by shoving a complete second needle in. Knitting at the tips avoids this. BUT the second error I was falling in to was knitting at the tips, and not making sure the new loop went off the tip and onto the body of the needle so that it formed the correct size. And not knowing that I was doing any of this meant that none of my stitches were consistent. Leading to knitting hell. This could be a useful discovery.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Hurray for the Cavalry @ Ravelry

Before I went to work yesterday I went onto Ravelry (the Internet knitting community) and emailed a couple of people who had already made the Aran shrug. When I got home from work I had replies from around the world. Isn't the Internet brilliant?

The people who had most liked the shrug were those who didn't bother much with tension (gauge). The shrug had turned out too small or the neck hadn't worked for a couple of people, which suggests to me that there are problems in the pattern. Experienced knitters were able to jump over the hurdles, others smacked into the barriers caused by a less than perfect pattern.

Me? With my history of failure, shouldn't I quit now? But I like this shrug!! Decided to carry on, bearing in mind all the kind words and shared experiences sent by the other knitters, I'm going to try to apply common sense to the garment and see if I can make it work.

Above is the swatch that I'm keeping. (I've used a ball and half just swatching!). It's knit on 5.5 mm needles and the yarn is Pingoun Aran - I have 11 balls (Or I did have!) and another ball that I started to knit some fair isle mittens with and got bored. I can rescue that if I need to. I also have some green mohair which I can use as a contrasting trim if I run out of yarn.

The row gauge is slightly too small, and my favourite jacket measures one inch more than the given size for the smaller version, so I'm going to knit the larger size. A jolly Californian knitter suggested changing needle size for the collar to get the larger gauge. A light bulb went off in my head. Do I not own a DVD with Lucy Neatby demonstrating how to make a rib roll-neck sit beautifully by changing needle size as you work? If you knit an inch, then change to a larger needle, knit another inch and change up again, the rib expands slightly and wants to lie flat. It's a nice theory, isn't it?

Well, I'm committed now. Here we go...

Monday, 17 November 2008

Tension Hell

I should have known there was no easy knitting! I gave up on the 'Simple' (the very word makes me want to scream) jacket. I should have ignored the word simple in the title and paid more attention to the two star rating. I'm beginning to realise that I'm a one star kind of knitter.

So, I rummaged in my stash, fetched out some Aran and waded in to the cabled Aran shrug. You can buy the Crystal Palace yarns here, if the test is a success. Which it already isn't. I didn't rush in! I don't deserve to suffer - I was a good knitter and checked Ravelry first. About a dozen people had knit the cabled shrug. Nobody reported any horrors, although one person hated the finished garment and one said she'd made one for her mum, who loved it. Which made me wonder about the fashion element inherent in that statement. Which then made me wonder about my attitude to mothers. Hopefully it was a mother of the fashionable variety who loved that shrug.

So, after checking I waded in. I knit a half swatch and got the stocking stitch tension of 14 stitches and 19 rows. I cast on, and bar a few of the inevitable snarls caused by me mixing with cables, I did 5 happy inches. And then I stopped to measure. Oh my paws and whiskers. What is going on here? It was far too big - and open and sloppy. I went back to the pattern. Oh, yes, they give a second tension for the Aran panels. I did notice that, but I remember deciding to knit on and check the tension once I'd done a few inches. The tension for the Aran panel is 21 stitches and 21 rows. Wait a minute, here! Isn't that rather a long way away from 14 stitches and 19 rows? In the same piece of fabric? No needle change or anything.

I've spend several hours wrestling with this and coming to no useful conclusion. I started again on needles that got 21 stitches in the Aran, but it looks too small and the row tension is off. Calculating the pattern repeat I can see that it would be 35" long instead of 54" long. This is progress. Once over I'd have knit the whole thing and then found that out!

Baffled! I wish I'd stuck to baffling short rows now. Now I have two garments in pieces that I can't do. To make matters worse, we called in at a yarn store. Oh, the glory of real wool! I wish I could knit.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Short Row Slough of Despond

The positive side of this week's knitting is that, thanks to Lucy Neatby's DVD, I now understand that I was mixing up all the many kinds of short row. I'd got all the techniques hopelessly confused. There are three main kinds of short row:
1. yarn over
2. wrap
3. Japanese
And, you have to keep in mind that the neatening process (when you work back and do a manoeuvre to hide the place where you turned) is different for all the techniques and for knitting or purling, so in fact there are about 7 kinds of stitch manipulation in total. Now that I know this, my head is a lot, lot clearer! I was using a pin and wrapping the stitch. Don't laugh. It isn't funny!

This vintage jacket has sleeves that are knit sideways and shaped at the cap with short rows. I watched the section on short rows a couple of times, light bulb moments pinging and blazing while I did, and then picked up the sleeve for the 'simple' Garter Stitch Jacket. I couldn't follow the instructions. They are so sketchy! I read them slowly out loud to Andy, which sometimes helps. He's very good at spatial things, and then sometimes as I explain it to him, I get it, but we were both baffled.

There is no schemata, so I can't measure the width of the sleeve to see if I'm on track. It's a vintage pattern, so I can't ask anyone else who is making it. I went to Ravelry and checked the boards. Nada. So I just launched in. I've gone wrong, of course, and will have to undo two thirds of the sleeve that 's in the picture, but I think I understand how to make it now. BUT...there's another little wrinkle. As I was knitting away I suddenly thought: Lucy's DVD shows how to graft garter stitch. Why didn't I use a provisional cast on and then I could have grafted the two sleeves sides together? The seam on the 80s photograph looks ugly. I didn't have the moral fibre to undo so much knitting, but now I have to pull most of it back...oh, I don't know! I might go back to finishing the yoke while I think about it.

I found a pattern for a Aran cabled shrug in Kaya wool by Crystal Palace Yarns on the Internet last night. It is EXACTLY the kind of garment I like - so far as one can tell from looking at a picture. I'm mad to cast on for it now! Or at least start swatching and see if I've got enough Aran in my stash to make a test garment with. The trouble is that I watched a programme on the BBC about time management (do you remember it? Garner and someone, was it? Two chaps in suits) and they strongly made the point that it was about 30% faster to start one project and stick with it. 30% faster I like. Not casting on for this wonderful garment I don't like! I might just make a swatch, just to see.

I don't know if you can buy Crystal Palace Yarns over here. I'll look out for it. The pattern is so clearly written. Maybe I could do this one. Maybe I should leave the 'Simple' jacket until I'm an expert knitter. I definitely should have been more influenced by the two stars for 'knitters with some expereince' and less carried away by the word simple!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

And I Thought it Would be a Quick Knit!

I don't know what gets into me. Where does my sense of proportion go? I think it was the word 'simple' in the title. A simple little old jacket. Designed in 1934? Nothing but garter stitch. Blow that off in a week. No trouble.

I have a 'to knit' wish list as high as the Eiffel Tower -and I'm slogging away with charity shop yarn, and it's taking ages! I have a lot less time at the moment, but still...

The back and sides are finished, and I cast on for the back yoke - but the pattern gives practically no information, so what if I haven't done it right? You pick up and knit 70 stitches 'across the back.' What does that mean? Up to what point of the armhole shaping should I go?

After three inches of worrying, I realised the sensible thing to do was stop, knit a sleeve and then see how the sleeve would fit into the back shaping. Read the sleeve instructions - they are knitted sideways and the sleeve cap is done with short rows! 'Simple' Oh ha ha. Just carry me away, now!

Cast on for the sleeve and knit an inch. Sleeves take ages whatever direction you knit them in!

Monday, 10 November 2008

More Turbulence Problems

This photo was taken by mistake, but I like it because you can see my stash in the background - on top of the wardrobe. I'm gazing at my camera, puzzled, wondering what the best angle to hold it at would be. It's really hard taking photographs. I never did manage to work out how to take a picture that showed clearly how the neck of the Turbulence U-necked sweater gaped - I've knitted the shoulders too long, so back it all has to come. This happened with Krista. I measured both garments carefully when I blocked, so I'm beginning to wonder if I have short shoulders? It's the kind of information to look out for, when customizing a pattern. Next Turbulence I knit, I'm going to measure my armhole against the knitted piece, and if the garment seems long, then I'll stop knitting. I undid at least an inch of the shoulders.

The good news is that it's recoverable. The bad news is that I'm sick of it! I've already done the neck three times. I've put it all away in a deep dark hole until next weekend.

I don't think this garment knitted in a light colour will do anything for me. I probably won't wear this version. It is too small, and that's my knitting mistake, but the light colour makes it very unflattering around the tum and the arm area is painful! Talk about bingo wings! I love the neckline with the cable detail and the bracelet sleeves, so I think I'll knit another test version - in a lovely dark Gothic colour.

In theory, I ought to sew this cotton one up until I get it right, because how else am I going to learn? But like Tangerine Alef, and horrible Yellow Krista, it might stay in its hole until next spring, when it's light enough to see for sewing after work.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A Whole Week's Knitting

The size of the piece is deceptive - I've had very little time, but it knits up real quick. This piece is the sides and back knitted together, sideways. then you pick up stitches across the centre for the back and front yoke, the the sleeves are knitted sideways in one piece. Simple, huh? It seems to be going OK, although I've lost a stitch somewhere. I don't know if I'll like it - the yarn looks very crushed. I'll carry on though, it's a nice soothing knit.

I managed to seam up the second sleeve of Turbulence one night last week. I started setting in the sleeve, but I was so tired that I went wrong three times and gave up. I'm off to do it now (Sunday) in what passes for good light in November in Lancashire.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

November Project

I have sewn up one sleeve on the Turbulence U-necked sweater, but seaming isn't knitting. When I get home frazzled after a long day with only an hour or less to relax before bed, I don't want to do seaming, I want to KNIT! So I've started the simple garter stitch jacket. I think it was the word 'simple' in the title that attracted me. 'Simple' sounds good to me! Maybe I can manage simple without the sturm and drang that accompanies so many of my projects.

The pattern is from a book published by Vogue in the 1980s - a collection of vintage patterns. There is a picture of a model with 80s hair wearing the jacket - but no schemata or measurements. We have much better patterns these days. I also like knowing who designed a garment. Then you can look out for their pattern books and read their blogs or websites. It makes the garment feel more like a friend designed it somehow. I think one of the hardest things about knitting is finding the right patterns, and if you love a designer's work and their patterns turn out for you - Kim Hargreaves and Norah Gaughn spring to mind - it helps the selection process.

The yarn is also vintage. It's 100% wool in Aran-weight, in quite a nice soft green with flecks in the wool, and there was heaps of it, which is good, but it's not that nice to knit with. It's very 'grabby' and keeps making a butcher's knot around my yarn-holding finger, which is annoying as I have to keep stopping and undoing it. It's been treated to be machine washable, but this has made it very rough and hard, so it's more like stroking porcupines than kittens. Well, maybe I exaggerate a little. Imagine stroking baby hedgehogs, that about describes it.

I saw an advert for Yeoman Yarns in December's copy of Yarn Forward, so I've sent off for the shade card. Their double knit acrylic is only 79p a ball - and the advert promises it's much better quality than the acrylic you can buy on a market stall. I used Robin acrylic from a market stall to knit a 50s 'Ladies Jacket'. Luckily my knitting was so awful that it had to go to the trash can. I say luckily, because although the acrylic was a nice colour and knit well, it did look cheap and naff in a finished garment. I tried it on with the tweed skirt it was knitted to go with. The skirt is a good one in a beautiful fabric (a Paul Costelloe snapped up in a sale) and the acrylic knitted fabric looked so wrong above it. Even though I use thrift shop finds for my test garments, I still always start out with the hope that they will be wearable!

I'm already thinking that I'll need to make another Turbulence before I knit the 'real' one. This is because I'm going to add waist shaping to the next one, and knit the sleeves in the round. That's two changes to test out before launching into one knit in expensive wool. I also want to make one in a dark colour. If the boxy shape of the garment still makes my middle-aged middle looked even more middle-aged than it is, even knit in a nice dark Gothic colour, then I'll save the lovely Jaeger for another project.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Lovely Pink Silk

It's taken me over half an hour to get into Blogger today - for some reason it wouldn't accept my password while I was logged in, but the password was correct because when I logged in as Andy, it let me log in as me! Words fail me.

Computer frustration almost destroyed my pleasure in this lovely stash addition - 50p worth of lovely pink silk. But not quite - it will be perfect for poppies.

Tomorrow I'll report on progress on Turbulence - and my new project. I've had it for now.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Sleeves are Done

I don't think I'll ever dare wash this sweater - it took so much pulling, tugging and coaxing to get the sleeves anywhere near the size they were supposed to be.

The side seams are done too. I stitched it up while watching Strictly Come Dancing last night. I'm getting nervous as completion looms - it's been a long and traumatic journey!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


I put the front and back of the Turbulence U-necked sweater into the washbasin, left it a few minutes and then lifted it out. The whole garment kind of sighed and relaxed. It is now the right size!!! Nobody could be more surprised than me. I'm so glad I didn't a) sling it into the garbage or b) pull the whole thing back and re-knit it in a larger size. The wonders of blocking!