Thursday, 29 January 2009

Decreases in K2 P2 Rib

TA DA! The actual knitting took about 20 minutes. Figuring out what to knit about three weeks. It took me nearly 40 attempts to get this right. There are people who say that dyslexia is an excuse, but I'm sure my head doesn't work like other peoples! This pattern has one star for easy in the Rowan book, and lots of people said it was a 'straightforward knit.' I seem to have spent months struggling and getting stuck in various places. With reversing the shaping for the right side of the front, despite help from Ravelry, I was making several classic errors.
I wasn't considering all the data:
1. If you decrease a single stitch in a double rib, you must end up with an odd stitch - does it matter if that stitch is before or after the decrease? Yes it does. Could it possibly be different depending which side of the fabric you are working? Oh yes, it certainly could. Should you therefore write down whether you work a stitch and then the decrease or the other way round? Absolutely. So that was one learning point.
2. Does that pattern suggest that you start a new set of ribs up the side of the armhole? Oh yes, if you follow the instructions for the sleeve and back, that's exactly what you get.
3. Have you modified your own knitting in any way that might conflict with normal instructions? Taken up Lucy Neatby's alternative purl, for example? Because my knitting was very uneven, I sent off for one of Lucy Neatby's DVDs that promised to examine the 'mysterious 2-row gully'. (That's the effect that makes the back of stocking stitch look like a ploughed field and the front like a half-trained monkey knit it.) She explains why it happens, and shows you how to solve it. I think this may be what some people call combination knitting, but you form the purl stitch differently so that the yarn doesn't travel so far and it doesn't get a chance to pull loose. On the DVD, Lucy shows how you make your decreases differently to allow for the fact that your purl stitch is now seated differently on the needle. I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN THIS VITAL FACT. I didn't even try to work out what I should do. I simply reseated the stitches that were about to be decreased.

The buttonholes deserve mention - they are Lucy Neatby's buttonhole for k2 p2 rib, and they are much, much nicer than even Maggie Richetti's Neatest Buttonhole Ever which I used in Cloud one and mashed up the rib somewhat.

I sewed the side seams last night, and knew a moment's panic when it looked as if it wasn't going to fit, but adding sleeves changes it a lot, so I think I'll go ahead and set them in. I might pull back the shoulders and short row them - because the rib is uneven - some lines of four or one at the top and there's a different number of stitches, I thought it might be easier to sew the shoulders, but it looks so messy.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Cloud and Butterfly

My knitting is very poetic this week! This is the back view of Elizabeth Zimmerman's Butterfly Jacket. She does call it a jacket, not a shrug or bolero. Odd little beast, isn't it?

Cloud is causing me grief. Even with help from the Internet I'm lost in the thicket of reversing P2tog Tbl and so on. Decreases in K2 p2 rib are hard. I had a look back through my scribbles and I've done it at least 30 times. I got it exactly right last night, then smoothed out the left and right fronts for a final check and DOH! You guessed it - two left fronts. At the moment I've got the front right and the arm wrong. I might have one more go. I must be able to do this. The same way I must be able to parallel park a car with a caravan attached behind it? Maybe it's not going to happen. There's something about reversing anything that makes my head spin wildly.

Monday, 26 January 2009

No Cable Needles were Harmed in the Making of this Swatch

Actually, it wasn't meant to be a swatch, it was meant to be my third attempt at the cabled Aran shrug, but I was concentrating so hard on knitting backwards and cabling without a needle that I got one stitch out somewhere and I couldn't get the next panel straight. I've been playing with it while waiting to hear back about Cloud 3, and now I have help with those pesky decreases, it's time to go back to Cloud anyway. So I cast it off, called it a swatch and threw it in the washer with yesterday's muddy gaiters to see how the yarn would stand it. That large cone was 50p. Two strands held together make a good Aran weight yarn. From the cone, the yarn is a bit stiff and smells faintly of machine oil. Washed it softens nicely and smells only of washing powder. It doesn't smell of wool, burns brightly and leaves a blobby residue rather than ash, so I think it must be mostly artificial fibre. However it's very flexible when wet and has felted slightly, so it might have a bit of wool in it. When I make the shrug, I'll hand wash it, I think, to be on the safe side.

I've just about got the hang of cabling without a needle now - the trick is to drop the stitches off the needle, freeze, and then stop breathing until the cable is done and the stitches are safely back on the needle. Or in other words, keep everything as still as possible while working. Knitting, or rather purling backwards to do the bobbles is hard. My poor head goes into meltdown at the very idea. At the moment it takes three times longer because I have to turn the work around, see where the yarn and needles should be for each step of the process, then turn the work back and have a bash. Then I realise I've got it all wrong. Undo it. Start again. Just once or twice have I managed to purl the last stitch of the three bobble stitches backwards, but by the time I've knitted three I've forgotten again. Never mind. It'll come. It's not that I'm planning to knit that many bobbles, but think how useful knitting backwards will be for knitted-on edges.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Butterfly Wings

Look what a difference needle size makes. These are the arm openings on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Butterfly Jacket. I'm putting I-Cord around the openings and also using the three-needle I-cord cast off across the shoulders. (As the name implies, that's having live stitches on two needles and using the third needle to work I-cord - tricky, but not impossible.) I didn't want the trim to look baggy and ethnic, so I overcompensated with 3.5 mm needles for the I-cord. It did look neat, but it pulled in the armhole too much. This could be a useful trick to remember if I ever make a sleeveless vest with baggy armholes. I frogged it, steamed the yarn to get out the kinks because I didn't want a knot and finished the garment using 4.5 mm needles. It actually fits me! And there are no major errors in it!! Definitely time to do that modest but triumphant jig. Do I like it, though? Ah, yes, slight problem there. It's an odd little beast, this butterfly jacket. I'll get Andy to take some pictures of the back and you'll see what I mean. It's quite cute, but the 'wings' leave a very open bit on the back - it might work in summer, but leaves an odd draughty spot in winter.

Rowan haven't replied re my reversing shaping query on Cloud. Maybe my email went astray. Maybe the knitting guru is on leave. Maybe they are not speaking to me because I haven't bought the yarn yet. I suddenly remembered how nice knitters on Ravelry were and fired off an email to a knitter who'd finished a beautiful Cloud. I had an answer the same day. How cool is that? I'm going to try the left front again tonight.

Incidentally, I drove myself nuts last night trying to post some photographs on Ravelry. They use Flickr, and Blogger use another system. I once managed to log in and create a Flickr account, but it wouldn't let me back in. It wants me to use my Yahoo ID, but my computer will only show a dialogue box with my broadband ID showing. I did link the relevant post to each garment. Until Ravelry add a bit that lets you upload easily from your computer, that will have to do.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Butterfly or Sea Creature?

This is Elizabeth Zimmerman's Butterfly Jacket - I hope! The two fronts have just been united and I'm knitting up the back. I'm not keen on the yarn - it's a big ball of Robin I bought from the market when I first started knitting. I prefer vintage thrift shop finds to cheap acrylic, and don't buy new acrylic now but it doesn't matter. Some deep pessimism tells me that this is going to be a test garment rather than something I'll actually wear, so it won't matter any more than it mattered that I knit a 50's 'Ladies Jacket' in vile green Robin double knit yarn. It would have been unwearable whatever it was knitted in.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Shrugging off Defeat

I tried on the red shrug again this weekend. It's too small, there's no way around it. Incidentally, I was cross with Andy because when I said that I needed someone smaller than me to give it too, he mentioned a group of 'ladies' that I interact with but he's never met and said would any of them like it. 'Oh no,' says I. 'They are all large ladies. They say things like 'How do you stay so lovely and slim.' And Andy snorted into his dinner. Snorted! I'm not a skinny little smoker any more, but I'm not a size that warranted that snort!

Well, the hunt for a small shrug wearer continues, and I just might have to knit one more. The small size so far as arm length goes, because that's just right, but the large size for width.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Death of a Butterfly

I knitted Portuguese last night. The plan was to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman's Butterfly Jacket to practise the Portuguese method. The purl stitch is easier, so I planned to do one jacket in purl and one in knit and be proficient by the end of making both garments. In fact, I only got to the end of the third set of short rows, then I stopped to look at my knitting. Ugh! Nasty. Lumpy, wobbly, beginner's knitting. And then I put my brain into gear. I've been mad to try Portuguese or Arabic or 'thumb as a shuttle, yarn around the neck knitting' since I read Maggie Richetti's 'Knitting in Plain English.' A wonderful book, by the way, but in it she states clearly that Portuguese knitting is faster than Continental knitting. 'It's the fastest of all,' she states. She was wrong. She has to be - even for the purl stitch, you have to insert the needle into the stitch to be worked and then move your thumb to bring the yarn ready to be worked (that's how the yarn is fed onto the needle by the way, the flick of the thumb has to be strong enough to pull up a section of yarn), then you dip and dive your other needle and make the stitch. That's three movements. Continental is two. The Portuguese knit is even slower, because you have to put in your needle, twist your needle up to compensate for the fact that the yarn is in front not the back, and then move your thumb and make the stitch. That's four movements. Continental is two. So, as of this moment, I am putting Portuguese knitting back on the shelf. I'm glad I tried it, because I'd hate to find out at the end of my knitting life that there was a faster method and I'd missed out on it, but it is not worth putting in the several month's practice it would take to produce nice even knitting.

If you have never learned Continental and want a second method to knit with a colour in each hand or whatever, I think Portuguese might be worth considering because so far as physically holding the needles and yarn goes, it was much easier to learn than Continental. I did not like having the yarn behind my neck, and although the pin is good, it makes holes when you pin it to your shoulder, so you can only use it if you have old clothes on so that's something else to think about. I also think it would be easier to knit without looking in Portuguese knitting because the yarn feeds from the front, so anyone with vision problems or a serious TV habit might find it useful. Finally, it was easier on the hands because the neck or the pin take the strain of tensioning the yarn rather than the fingers, so anyone with hand problems might find it worth trying out - but for good old simple speed, Continental wins the day.

Andy was deep in Match of the Day on the new TV but he very heroically got out the stopwatch function on his phone, and over 34 stitches, here's what we found:
Portuguese (purl - the fastest stitch) 1 minute 12 seconds. English knit (throwing) 1 minute 3 seconds. Continental knit (picking) 53.5 seconds.
I am not practised in Portuguese, so if I stuck at it, I'd guess it would probably end up at around the same speed as English style knitting, which I've done for a long time. I was surprised that the improved speed difference of Continental wasn't greater - but observation (between goals and good bits of football) by Andy solved the mystery: It takes three times longer to settle the yarn in the left hand than to settle the yarn in the right hand ready to work with the other two methods. That's interesting. For short row of stitches, it would probably work out the same speed to use the English style because the slower stitch formation would be balanced out by the faster yarn settling. While working in Continental, it would definitely be worth learning to knit backwards for bobbles and edging strips. And as we all know, once you have the yarn set up and get going - a sweater in the round, for example, Continental stitches just fly.

So, the Portuguese Butterfly goes to the bin. I started one in Continental, and although it looks much neater, when it is put on top of the Portuguese butterfly see how much smaller the Continental sample is? I need bigger needles to get the right size.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Genius of Elizabeth Zimmerman

I spent all night knitting and re knitting this little collar - how smart Elizabeth Zimmerman must have been to invent it. I had DVD instructions and it took me forever to get it. Part of the re knitting was due to the fact that I'm working in Portuguese for the first time, so I kept making messy stitches which had to be redone, but the structure of the collar honestly made no sense to me at all - and even now, with a successful swatch under my belt, I'm baffled by how it works.

The edge of the collar looks a bit ragged because there are two cast offs on the edge - the one at the top and bottom is the Portuguese cast off demonstrated by Andrea Wong on her DVD, and I think it looks better than the section in the centre.

I chose to put a line of purl (an option demonstrated on the DVD) along the line where the collar joins the shoulders in the end. I thought it looked neater than the wobble of the increases - not everyone's increases will wobble like mine, of course. It took me a while to realise that as I was purling, and Meg Swanson's instructions were for knit, I had to reverse the increases to make them work.

So, finally, after hours of tussling and re knitting, I had a great little collar. And I don't think it will suit the butterfly bolero - too angular in shape. Andy agreed, but then he said: 'You could round the edges of the collar.' And he's right. I could. But not this time round. I've enough to be going on with.

Saturday, 10 January 2009


I've posted another Nostalgia shot rather than try to photograph the tangle I'm currently in. This sweater is an Icelandic Lopi sweater. They are very quick and easy to knit, yet look rather impressive - and they used to be cheap. The local market had a stall that used to feature bin bags full of yarn and crates full of cones left over from the mills - thinking about it now, I wonder how Icelandic wool got into the mix? I used to buy piles of odd balls and make sweaters for everyone, whether they wanted them or not! The one in the photograph was either knitted in Japan, or knitted while on a trip to America. I know that's 2-day stopover in San Francisco in the background of the photo. My American boyfriend took me on a ski trip to Colorado - and we had a day trip to Aspen which was just about the most glamorous place I'd ever been too. For some reason my response to being in a place that had a plane park bigger than the car park was to urgently need to buy wool. We went to a delicious yarn store in Aspen with snow on the roof and fairy lights all down the street - I clearly remember enjoying the American-style service, so different from the UK's grudging sales staff, and I remember buying a pile of Lopi, but after all this time, I can't remember which colour yarn I bought there. I made a Lopi for the BF as well - he really liked it because he was so tall he'd never had a sweater with long sleeves before - the advantage of custom knitting.

Well, that's enough pleasant nostalgia - back to painful reality. I simply cannot get the shaping for the right slope of the last side of Cloud Three. I can't parallel park either. It's the same kind of skill. I cannot do decreases in double rib without clear directions. Something in my head simply won't translate P2tog tbl at end of row for the left slope to what you need to do for the right slope. The pattern simply says: 'reverse shaping for right side'. What do I reverse? Work at the beginning of the row not the end? Is P2 tog the opposite of P2 tog dbl? Or is it K2tog tbl? Or simply K2 tog? I would have thought that I'd tried every available combination over the last couple of days. It's a problem because you have to shape on both sides of the work - so I need to know what you do at the beginning and end of the row for both sides and it's just not working. I admit defeat. I'm going to email Rowan for help and knit lace for a bit instead. Although I can knit the lace now, I still need to be alone in the house so I might start my next project while I'm waiting to hear back from Rowan - Elizabeth Zimmerman's Butterfly in Portuguese knitting - so of course it will be the Portuguese Butterfly.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Odd Sleeves - Very Odd

And I know why they are odd as well. I was curled up all nice and cosy in my big chair last night, watching our wonderful new TV - and I simply couldn't be bothered to get up, switch on the big light and check both sleeves on a hard surface. When I got to the armhole section of the second sleeve, I spread them out on my lap, said: 'They look OK. I've been following the check list I made for the first sleeve, of course they are the same length,' and carried on. That's not all - there was another clue. After I'd cast off 6 stitches at each side under the arm, I was two stitches wrong. I did not do a count, to find out which way I was wrong. I cast off a stitch at each end and carried on. And now look: odd sleeves.

I promise that, when I get to the armhole shaping for a second garment piece, I will always, always, always put my sleeves (and bodies) on a hard surface and check them properly from now on. No more odd lengths. I'm not going back. I'm going to sew the longer sleeve into my left arm, because I use my left hand less and an inch of trailing sleeve won't be so noticeable. And (assuming that finally I've made a garment that I can wear) I'm going to tell no one what I've done. It'll be interesting to see if anyone says: 'Er, that it longer than the other one?'

I've been thinking about the knitting I used to do in the 80s - I used to enjoy it so much, and if something was wrong I just used to laugh about it. I think I've got too stressed and hung up on perfection. I want to get some items finished - if nothing else I need the finishing practice! OK that sounds like an excuse, but it's what I'm going to do. Practice may well produce perfection, but I'd rather practice the whole garment again than undo the top of one sleeve.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Cloud Lace

I am getting better at knitting lace! Cloud has a 36 row repeat lace trim around the bottom, and I spent at least a week weeping over my first attempts at it. So, how do you get better and faster at knitting lace?

The thing about lace (like most knitting) is that if you are in the right place and you do the right stitch, then it all works. If (like me) you are a bit slap dash and frequently get one stitch in a row wrong, then all is lost! You have to know where you are, and you have to know exactly what goes next.

The first essential is to know where you are. I tried several systems - from charts to writing out the lace pattern stitch by stitch, and what works best for me at this stage, is a 'lace book' written out on a document set up for labels in the word processor. When I lived in Japan, you could buy study aids which were pieces of card on a keyring - they would have been perfect for a lace book, because you could turn each row over when you've finished, but British stationers have never heard of such a device and it's a long way to go for a study aid, so I've settled for printing out the labels and pushing a coin onto each label when I've finished knitting the row. I've written out the instructions for each row, and also added the number of stitches I should have at the end of each row, as a quick way of checking accuracy. I've also found a fairly plain row, and that one I'll knit in a red lifeline each time I come to it.

The next thing that makes a huge difference is good tools. I always thought the saying 'a bad workman blames his tools' was promoted by a stingy boss! What about the skill of the people who produce fine tools? They deserve kudos and deep thanks. Addi needles must have had thousands of hours of skilled design and manufacturing spent upon them. I don't like long needles, so I started using my Addi double pointed needles, which were just the right length, but the ends are too blunt. My ordinary Addi needles are too long (80 cm) and also the tips, while fine for most knitting, just don't dig in to K2togs made into yarn overs the way they need to - so I switched to 60 cm Addi lace needles. Utter perfection! The cord is short enough not to get in the way, even working on a tiny lace strip. Long, tapered tips slide under the twisted K2togs and make them a breeze. There are other brands of lace needle as well - and I mean to try them all eventually, but I wouldn't even consider tackling a lace pattern without proper lace needles from now on.

And the third thing is knitting lace Continental style instead of English. Once I'd got the right needles and a tracking system in place, I felt confident enough to switch the yarn from my right hand (throwing it) over to my left hand (picking it) and what a difference in speed that makes! I estimate that I can knit at least three times faster when I use Continental style knitting. I'm so glad I stuck with it. It took me a good few months to learn - the purl stitch especially was tricky at first. I had to use my finger to coax the yarn around the needle, but now I have the knack of just catching the yarn with the needle tip and it's real easy to do.

I found the perfect quote to describe me and my knitting today. Winston Churchill said: 'Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.'

Friday, 2 January 2009

Cloud Three

It's a funny thing about holidays - I've had lots of knitting time, but no time to blog! Our new 40" television has arrived WOW! Movies look terrific, and I feel a serious bout of nature & travel programme watching coming on - all of which is great for knitting.

Here is Cloud. The Sidar Denim is lovely - very soft and cosy to work with. The k2 p2 rib looks quite neat - but stretches nicely, so I've great hopes of this garment actually fitting. It knitted up very quickly - and so it should: this is my third attempt at this particular Kim Hargreaves cardigan. I found the increases in the k2 p2 rib very confusing at first. The instructions in the pattern are perfectly clear. I made the mistake of trying to understand what was happening which led me into a wilderness of different slanting increases. I get very confused with left and right, so add the front and back of the fabric to the mixture and it's no wonder I went wrong.

I only frogged a couple of rows - each time because I either read half of an instruction and started knitting without checking the end of the sentence for the infamous 'at the same time' instructions, and once because I turned "rib until there are 13 stitches on right needle and turn" into " knit until there are 13 stitches on the left needle and turn". I have no idea why someone as dyslexic as me should love to knit.

Keeping a knitting notebook helps. A few weeks ago I bought an A4 artists' sketchpad. It is spiral bound, so it folds back on itself. It looks neater than the old clipboard and scrap paper I was using, and has the advantage that I can refer back to it if need be. I don't bother with photos or long rambles - the blog is perfect for that - but I find if I write out the instructions for the size I am making, a section at a time, along with any modifications, along with all the row and stitch counts, that I go wrong far less often. I've started making a note of when I frog as well - maybe I'll see patterns in my errors that will stop me going wrong as often.

A kind knitter on Ravelry has responded to my email asking her how she'd found Alef the cardigan in Classic Kid I've had such trouble with - 4 failed attempts no less. "BAD" was the answer. She sounds like an accomplished knitter who is not accustomed to failure,but every time she wore Alef the collar flipped up. She advised me to ditch the pattern and have no more to do with Rowan. I would not knit another pattern with twiddly bits by Leah Sutton, that's for sure, but I can't wait until I'm a good enough knitter to buy Rowan's lovely yarns without the fear of ruining them.

This year, by the way, I plan to enjoy my knitting!