Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Something Personal

Ready for some crazy?

15 sweaters
1 pair of socks
6 hats
9 sets of boot cuffs 
1 hair band
1 pr of shorts
1 bag
1 wig
5 cowls, collars, shawls

40 projects

So I've been robo-knitting this year, that's apparent.  I've shown you every project in every stage of development.  I've talked modifications and blocking and such, but I haven't talked about many personal things.  I'm usually a confessional person, so why in a year where I sent a child off to college, grew in Bible study, made several health strides, spent most of my 39th year, and made new friendships have I only talked about knitting?

I think it's because I've been walking beside my best friends at the end of their lives.  That's as clearly as I can say it.  I don't want to give the impression I am an official "caregiver" because my grandparents aren't in need of nursing care yet.  He has dementia and she is very weak, struggling to get around.  They are almost homebound now, so I get groceries, prepare some meals, drive them, and pay bills.  Only, it's really more than that.

I am a presence.  I am the only one they see many days.  I am there to help and remember and to witness their troubles.  That's why I need to  be a presence of hope.  It's a real stretch for me because I was hurting with them.  I see that many of their choices these days are between two equally unpleasant things.  There is unavoidable heartache down every road and I 'm not naturally a "glass half-full" kind of girl.  But as I see life through their eyes, I want to be because they have always been that for me.      

The need for another person present makes me think of when I was a new mother.  My baby girl suffered from undiagnosed food allergy and cried all of the time.  I didn't know why, but I knew it was more than colic and questioned my abilities as a mother.  I also felt a little afraid to be alone with her.  I realized I wasn't breathing easy until my husband came home each evening.  He was a first time parent too, but it was an uncertain, new experience and I didn't want to go through it alone.  I think that is how it is for my grandparents.  They just need another person there sometimes.

Please understand, they are secure in their faith.  The larger questions like,  "Do I know God?" and "Where will I go when I die?" are answered for them.  It is the day to day thoughts like, "Will I be able to get up today?" and "How much worse will this get before the end?" that raise her anxiety level. She is just feeling the way, for both of them, through a dark place she has never been before.  For him it is the constant self-doubt of wondering where he is, what she just said, and where this or that bruise came from.  

So, having someone there to see this, and to care is reassuring.  I have no more wisdom to give than my husband did all those years ago when my baby was crying, but at least they know they are not alone.  So that's my place in this.  I can love them and see them and run to God with them.

 Being on the inside of their struggles has felt heavy, though, like the weight of that baby shuddering against me as I walked up and down the room.  It was different than the feeling of walking before I had a child.  It was heavier, but with a weight that meant something wonderful.  I loved that weight.  It didn't feel burdensome because it was part of me.  Once I knew her, I needed her and it was a privilege to carry her.   Knowing the pain of someone you love is not easy, but do you really want to be anywhere else than beside them, holding them?

 My heart has just been too full to risk opening up with anyone, especially a blog, unless I knew I had the strength to close the door before too much flowed out.  It seemed best to just save it for my prayers and keep busy.

So I kept busy.  After taking care of lunch for Grandmommy and Papaw, I'd come home, eat and knit for a while before getting my son from school.  Then, when the house was quiet, at night, I'd have to knit some more.  Like most of my crafty friends I'm antsy without something in my hands.  I find it occupies and quietens part of my brain so I can look like a normal person, even on a good day.  So you can imagine the intensity with which I worked away at sweater after sweater this year, my hands flying to release the pressure building within.  When my heart ached I could pray, but if I'd said all I could and was just waiting for wisdom, I'd knit some more.  All of my frustrations seemed to be exorcised through the acts of prayer, running, and knitting.  They were actions that had a definite beginning and end.  Like a road marker, I could look back to the start of a project and see that it had actually gone somewhere.  Seeing progress, any kind, is so powerful when you're hurting.

So, I knit and I didn't talk about things.  Even now, I'm not going to bother with editing this because there is no perfect way of talking about this.  I'm just going to type the words and throw in some random photos I don't think I've shown.  There's no way something like a blog post will do this justice, but I'll try because it is so much a part of me that I want to record something about it.

We were blessed to celebrate Christmas with them at their home again this year.  The picture below is from a couple of years ago.

(my ravelry, kollabora, flickr, and instagram,
 where you'll find none of these photos, but will find lots and lots of knitting)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I'm pretty proud of this one.  It's Sothern by Rohn Strong and only my second time to do real fair isle for the body of a garment.  Though the vintage design had no waist shaping, which is always a plus, it did involve a gathered shoulder that proved challenging for me.

When I first saw the Fall 2013 Holla Knits Collection this was the pattern that called to me.  I have nothing like this- high neckline, peep back closure, all the color, and those sleeves!

So I accepted the challenge and ordered Wool of the Andes in baltic, cilantro, grizzly, and marble heathers, along with clarity.  I added some stashed yellow to assuage any yarn accumulation guilt and I was ready to go.
I wanted the cropped version but I have long arms and a long torso (think monkey) and, after swatching, knew the ribbing wouldn't hit me in the right place.  Since my row count was a little bit off, I thought I could knit the full length version and still, possibly, get the slightly shrunken look.
So I knit the long version in the smallest size and I'm satisfied with the fit.  It's not too fitted but I can wear it with my low waisted jeans, which I will desperately need after holiday eating.

The entire time I worked on this I kept thinking how classic it felt.  The chart and the pattern itself.  I felt like I was making something vintage and using techniques my great grandmother would have employed if she had knit rather than sewn.  That's a good, grounded feeling to have about your making.

The part I thought would be challenging wasn't.  Most people see fair isle like this and think that all the color work will be hard.  But it's no harder than paint by numbers.  Working it flat helped me to keep the floats loose, too.  I've never worked fair isle flat before.

 No, my difficulties came from my own tired brain.  I knit at night and don't always read carefully or think things through.  After working the body flat, I just started working the sleeves in the round.  I have no idea why I didn't do them flat.  It would have been easier.  I also think my stitch count was wrong on one shoulder.  Thankfully, my gauge was the same on sleeve and body (Sometimes working fair isle in the round makes it tighter than when flat.)  Most likely, they would have been easier for me to set the sleeves in had I worked them flat.  Since I didn't, the seaming really kicked me.

 I could not get my shoulders to look right.  I tried everything.  I frayed two different seaming strands of yarn from all of the seaming, then ripping.  My sleeve cap seemed to be too tall for the body and seaming it resulted in an extreme puffy shoulder that inched ever- upward, like it had been hung on the most misshaped wire coat hanger in existence.   I've included a frustrated phone pic of it, below.  It didn't look forties; it looked like a factory mistake.  Or a birth defect.
I had done something wrong.

I tried a gathering technique I saw on By Gum By Golly, in which I ran a thread through the cap and gathered it before using mattress stitch to seam it.   Even so, it seemed that my sleeve just wasn't the right width or height for the top of the body.  So I had to modify.

My mods, some of which you will be too wise to need:

I used size 2 needles and reduced the cast on stitches for the body ribbing by 12 because my ribbing is always too loose.  I just increased by 12 with the first even knit row in color A.

For the shoulder fix, I undid my sleeve seams enough to free up the top of the sleeve cap on each side.  Then I ripped back just the top of it.  I started re-knitting it about 34 rows after the second underarm bind off.  (I happened to be on row 3 of the color chart.)  I decreased on the purl side once and did the K2tog, repeat row sooner so my sleeve caps came out a little shorter and less pointed.   It wasn't a big difference, but I think it compensated for whatever mistake I made in the knitting.

For the button loop, I just picked up 3 little stitches from the top corner of the right side of the neckband and knit a few rows of I-cord, then curved it downward to the place where I wanted to attach the loop.  I picked up three more stitches from that area and joined the I-cord with it using Kitchener stitch.  I like it and it feels sturdy.

I'm so glad it worked out.  It doesn't have as much gathering in the shoulder as I wanted, but it does have a hint of the vintage look I so admired and I think it's cute.

This pattern was well written and thought out, so much so that I am positive the difficulty in seaming was due to my own knitting mistakes.  I haven't had a lot of experience seaming sweaters (I've only made a few that weren't seamless.) so I thought the pattern instructions for pressing the individual pieces before seaming was a nice touch.  There is also an option to gather the front and back of the top a little, like the longer sample knit.  I really like that look too.

 What I'm taking away from this project, besides the sweater itself, is more knowledge about knitting in pieces and more experience knitting fair isle.  I've learned to weave in ends as I go and to really study my pattern before diving in.  There's even a sense of pride that I didn't give up on the shoulders and braved ripping back to correct my problem.  All that fiddling worked.

I'm also left with a desire to knit more from Rohn Strong.  I'm thinking Betty... Betty Grable would be great for a Downton Abbey KAL, should there be one, when worn lace side up.  It has a similar collar to a few jackets I've seen on the show.  I think it would help me break into crochet.  I also love the ease and casual look of Brando.  His designer's page is here.

I've written about this a lot because it's been on my needles since before all of the Christmas knitting.  Should you be interested, there's:
color combo and ribbing,
picking or throwing,
starting over,
and blocking.

(more poorly exposed photos and info on ravelry, kollabora, and flickr)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Real Fast, Before Christmas

I couldn't help it.  Journey has been calling to me from the end table all week as I scrambled to finish various crafts, gifts, and sleeves.  Something came over me a couple of nights ago.  Before I knew what I was doing, I had cast on for Inland and was almost through the yoke.

Check out the reverse stockinette body with stockinette sleeves!  I have big, wooden buttons ready to go for this one.

I haven't abandoned Ravello, and this isn't a case of my ever-splitting attention span either.  My hands just needed a break after so many tiny stitches on size 0 needles.

Besides, I was waiting for Sothern to completely dry for finishing anyway.   So Inland is my prize for knitting color work and seaming seams.  That's a bizarre reward system, even by American standards:

If I make this thing that I want to make, and totally enjoy making, then I will have earned the right to make this other thing that I want to make and will totally enjoy making.   

It's like being rewarded for being rewarded.  Whatever.  I'm just enjoying a big, seamless project.

I am using Wool of the Andes bulky in porcini and wallaby for Inland and I can tell it will be a great classic jacket.  I liked the two tone idea of RoHart's version, on Ravelry, so I decided to do my pockets in the wallaby.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Want to See Something Not-So-Neat?

How about knitting striped sleeves two at a time?  That's four balls of yarn perpetually turning on your lap like a vortex.

I have come up with a way to lower the crazy a notch or two:  tucking each non-working ball into its sleeve until needed.

This is for those of us who've discovered the ease of magic loop and the speed of two at a time and refuse to lose a touch of either speed or ease as we hurtle through the queue.

Anyway, I have another aspect of the dark underbelly of the knitting community to reveal.  I'm warning you, it's not pretty...

These are my unwoven ends on Sothern.  While achieving maximum speed and ease in knitting fair isle I saved all of my end weaving for the end.  I also saved money by using stashed fingering weight yarn for the yellow.  The fact that it had to be tripled then wound into a ball wasn't about to stop me.  I looked really smart with all of those ends and a gigantic ball of yellow yarn hanging from my sweater for a couple of months. Really smart.

After finishing my first sleeve, it just seemed too short.  I had checked my gauge periodically and knew it was a bit off, but this was a big difference.  So I wove in ends and blocked it to smooth it out.  I probably gained 3 inches by doing that.  Mind you, most of that length was already there, just wrinkled up in all of the fair isle floats, etc.  See my late night relief photo, below.

Once I was sure the entire sweater would be long enough, I decided to amend my hasty sloppiness and weave in every end before starting the second sleeve.   From that point forward, I have been weaving in the ends as I go because the number 6 is so much less intimidating than the number 666.

I had some ideas for how I would handle things if my sleeves were too short, none of which involved violence, but they weren't my preference.  I'm so glad they weren't necessary. This was definitely a case of Trust the Pattern!

This was probably my most challenging knit of the year, but not because it was a complicated pattern.  It could be the fact that my working on it was interrupted with Christmas gifts and a home project I 'll be writing about soon.  Or maybe it was just the amount of space I seem to take up when I do fair isle.  Seriously, I should list the whole sofa as one of my notions on my projects page.

Most likely, it was some heavy thoughts that have been brewing inside of me, making it hard for me to concentrate.  As I "worked these thoughts out" while knitting on the fair isle, I found the project and the solutions to these difficulties becoming synonymous in my mind.  Knitting, like running, is very analogous to me.  I think, "If I can do this (complete a certain project), then I can also do that (a certain emotional task)."  I'm not the only person to do that.  Read Paul.  So saying, "I finished this fair isle beauty!" reminds me that I can survive other hard tasks, too.  I found myself putting off lots of things until the sweater, and the issues I'm facing, were worked out.  So the fact that I have basically finished this project gives me confidence I can solve or handle any other difficulties that arise.

When that last sleeve was bound off and all of the sweater blocking across our dinner table, I felt like I could run a marathon.  I was really thinking big.  Things like: "Now I can walk the dog again, my sweater is finished…" or  "With the sweater finished, I can start brushing my hair again… " and  "Want some wine, the sweater is finished?"

I guess this post ends with something neat after all. I don't want to speak too soon, but I'm pretty proud of how it's turned out.  There's a post about styling this knit by the designer on the Holla Knits blog.  It has nice photos not taken on an old towel across my table.  Check it out.  I can't believe I'm about to have one of these for my very own.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wanna See Something Neat?

It's a Dreiecke hat on my daughter.  I knit it for her best friend for Christmas.  It's unblocked, of course, but I do like the amount of stitch definition the Andes del Campo gives for this design by Shannon Cook.

This is a one day knit, folks.  When it's cold, I wear mine daily to walk the dog.

My only mod was to decrease the cast on stitches by 4, then add 4 stitches to my first non-rib round.  I don't know if 4 stitches make a big difference, but I usually knit ribbing too loose.  How I can do that on size 1s I'll never understand.

I know, I stink at blocking… and swatching… and using the yarn I already have... and the thing I'm writing about next.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

All Mine

Yes, these are mine… all mine.  I'm back to selfish knitting and it just feels so right :)

I used the left over City Tweed Heavy Weight from my daughter's cuffs and the leftover dk from her cowl, doubled, to have enough yarn for these.  I even threw in a little doubled city tweed from my Henri sweater and made stripes because I was running out of yarn.

It was worth the added effort; but now I am really, truly through with boot cuffs... for a while.

If you say the word "cuffs" over and over it loses all meaning.


said in my knitting "Wrath of Kahn" voice.  This time it's Wrath of WIPs.  

Anyway,  I have finished all Christmas knitting and am now back to all of the projects I abandoned to participate in nerdy knitalongs, the spirit of giving, and all that stuff.
I want some new winter sweaters before it gets too cold, and it is going to be so cold here for Christmas.  "So cold" for me is the teens and twenties.  

That's why I needs me a Sothern.  It makes me think of Christmas with the bright colors and little stars.  Of course, I can only handle one sleeve at a time for this fair isle design.  It is knitting up fairly quickly, once I got back in the fair isle groove.  I am a little unsure about how to make gathers at the top of the sleeves, but it was one of the things that drew me to this pattern, so I've got to do it.

Sothern is the thing I work on when no one is around or when no one is talking to me.

When they aren't (or are?), I work on Ravello's sleeves.  I am doing two at a time, even though it is a striping project.  It's fingering weight y'all and December already.  I only have so much patience and cold weather in which to do this.

Stare into the magic, mysterious, puppy hair - dusted void that is striped sleeves knit two-at-a-time with me.

(more on ravelry, kollabora, and flickr)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Arbutus and Cuffs

I spoiled Christmas.  My daughter didn't have class that day; so when I saw it was neither stormy nor smoky from the marsh fires, I grabbed her for a few photos of one of her Christmas gifts from me: the Arbutus cowl and Becca's Boot Cuffs.

First up: the cowl.  Did you recognize it from Jane Richmond's Island?  It's my first knit from the book, but will not be my last.  I want to make everything in it before the next year is up.   I'm particularly excited about knitting Strathcona in a colorway inspired by the downtown square of my favorite city to have lived in.  

It is so rare that I make something without one single hitch.  Okay, I did twist my cast on row when joining to work in the round the first time; otherwise, this cowl was cinchy.   

I used a long, size 3 circular and magic looped this.  Check out the tiered construction!  So cool.  When my daughter requested it, she actually thought it was a thin, doubled cowl in the photo.  As I began working on it, she was doubtful.  I think she was afraid it was a balaclava.

The City Tweed dk was a really good substitute for the suggested Madelinetosh.  In fact I prefer the softness of alpaca and the look of tweed.  The alpaca blend feels so good against the neck and is a little more drapey than wool would be all by itself.  That  drapiness made this cowl work so well.

 Of course, after she tried it on today I had to wrestle her to get it back for gift-wrapping.

Now, about those boot cuffs.  They were designed by one of my Ravelry friends, Rebecca Gunderson. You may think I've become the crazy boot cuff lady since I've made so many.  This is my last pair to knit as a gift. (I still have to make my own.)

I used City Tweed Aran in the same color, blue blood.  The properties that made City Tweed so perfect for Arbutus, made my boot cuffs too loose.  So, I reduced the number of stockinette stitches by four.

The funny thing was, my daughter was wearing shorts and a tank top when I asked her to take photos with me.  (We live in the humid south.)  She pulled the cuffs on over her flip flops, up to her shins, and called them flip flop cuffs.  We laughed at our white trashiness, but before we were done taking these photos the temperature dropped like 15 degrees and it did become boot weather.

 (on ravelry, kollabora, and flickr)