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.