Monday, August 22, 2011

Epic Adventure with Dale of Norway

Two years ago my brother gamely agreed to wander into a yarn store with me. As I was browsing through yarn patterns looking for a hard-to-find DON pattern, he spotted an M.C. Escher-like pattern that captured his fancy.

I agreed to make it for him and purchased the pattern. A week later, I ordered the kit from Allegro Yarns and cast on as soon as it arrived. I knew that knitting an XL sweater on US2 needles would take a while, so I believed (mistakenly) that if I started right away I could build up enough momentum to sustain the knitting all the way through. Not so. I got about a third of the way up the body and then took a long hiatus as other projects lured me away. But, it bothered me that this beautiful sweater that my brother liked so well was left sitting in a knitting bag, all but forgotten.

So, at long last, in May 2011 (nearly two years later) I committed myself to finishing it (witness my last blog post). Since then I haven't knit anything else. It sometimes took a lot more discipline than I normally possess to stick to it, but I did. I kept working away on this very large sweater with very small needles. And now it's done!

First, I finished the body.
That felt like a big accomplishment in and of itself. But then I started on the sleeves (simultaneously) ... the never-ending sleeves!  My brother is 6'4" and has long arms, so I wanted him to have the luxury of sleeves that were actually long enough for him.
Next, it was time to cut the steeks. I always feel as though I'm going to have a panic attack at this point. So, I talked myself through it by measuring, re-measuring, checking, re-checking and going slow. That helped a little.
I then sewed up the shoulder seams and sewed in the sleeves. Can I just say that those steps took hours and hours?! I'm not sure why, but it took a very long time. My husband was away so I sewed and sewed the sleeves in while watching all 5 seasons of "The Wire" in a marathon session lasting 2 days. When I was done I felt incredibly depressed about the conditions of life in our American cities, if not the entire country, but happy that the sweater was one step closer to being done. I think this is why I knit ... to find a little bit of happiness in the midst of a world that's in big trouble.

Anyhoo, after the sleeves were finally in, I was able to tackle the neckband.
Next came the placket and the buttons and then I was done!
Here is the back:
Here is a close-up of the back yoke design:
And, finally, here is a shot of the inside:
I liked how the pattern called for a self-facing of the inside sleeve seam to cover up and secure the raw steeked edges.

Phew! That really was an adventure! But, it was made with love and hope that it will keep my brother warm for many, many winters to come.

Signing off.

Happy Knitting to All!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It's All in the Details

Recently I have been paying more attention to the fit and proportion of my clothes. This is partly due to the fact that I have picked up a few pounds around the middle and am feeling self-conscious about it. Until I can motivate myself to increase my level of exercise, I certainly don't want my clothes adding any more weight to my silhouette! I have also been following a blog by Alexandra, a couturier as well as a knitter on Ravelry, and have been inspired by her fastidious approach to ensuring that her garments fit properly. For me, Alexandra's pride in her craft reminds me of my Grandmother who is also obsessive about craftsmanship and fit. My grandmother taught me to knit and sew and she did her best to instill this same pride in me, but over the years I have often let my standards slide.

So, in the hopes of rectifying at least one instance of this I focused on the Marion Foale-inspired jacket I knit two years ago.

As you can see above, there is an excess of fabric in the back (and the front) making what is supposed to be a fitted jacket look very sloppy.

I decided the solution to this problem was to knit a two-button half belt for the back. (BTW, I had to search the internet to discover the technical name for this little item.)

I don't think I quite captured the vast improvement in fit in the picture above, but in fact the jacket hangs much better and has a closer fit. I am hopeful that I will feel more confident about my silhouette when I wear this in the future.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to work away on my brother's Dale of Norway sweater. Here is a sneak peek at the back yoke:

Happy knitting to all!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gray Area

On a recent gray, rainy day shortly after finishing my "Black, White, and Gray" tunic sweater I decided that I would never wear it. So, in an impulsive moment, I threw it into the washing machine on hot and then into the dryer in the hopes that it would shrink into a better-fitting size. Surprisingly, it came out of the dryer exactly the same size but not the same color. It had turned gray (The black hand-dyed yarn had bled into the cream-colored yarn turning it a medium gray).

I knew I would never wear this ill-fitting gray sweater and for a couple of days I felt deflated and a little depressed about it. However, I happened to see my good friend Nancy and offered the sweater to her. She tried it on and it fit her perfectly! She loved it and couldn't say enough nice things about it. So, I gifted the sweater to her. It's really good to know that it has gone to a good home.

All's well that ends well.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tracking the Sources of Inspiration for One FO

Most of the time my knitting projects are the result of seeing a pattern I like and deciding to make it. Simple. But, sometimes there is a more complicated genesis as was the case with my most recent FO: "Black, White, and Gray."

First, I noticed a page in the Harper's Bazaar, Spring issue 2011, indicating that Black and White was on trend.

The graphic impact of black and white appeals to me. I tend to wear a lot of black to the office because I think it's chic and slimming, but I do worry about appearing too funereal to the children with whom I work. I'd rather not look like the Wicked Witch of the West. So, the idea of lightening up my professional attire with some white (or cream) was also appealing.

With this in mind I sketched out a general idea of what I might knit with the idea that the sweater would be cream-colored near my face and then blend gradually into the black of my skirt or slacks.

Next, I searched the patterns on Ravelry to find something that would approximate this design and was delighted to discover this pattern "Eva" by Stefanie Japel in Mission Falls Dreamer 136:

"Perfect!" I thought. So, I ordered Madelinetosh Vintage DK wool (my new favorite) from Eat.Sleep.Knit, in antler (cream), composition book gray, and port (black). I cast on and very carefully checked the sizing on my dress form, Heidi. I also modified the neckline from a boatneck to a scoopneck.

I wanted to be sure to make the tunic in a size that was fitted and flattering. To this end I added two darts in the front and two in the back. I measured and calculated, and calculated and measured until I was sure that I had exactly the right fit and happily knit along until I had this:

When I laid it out on the blocking tiles I was horrified to discover that it measured 21 inches across the chest, meaning that it was a size 42". I am a size 36-38, so the sweater is not at all fitted in the way I had hoped it would be. In retrospect, I think I went wrong when I continued the increases for the sleeves well beyond the point I should have. It looks like I increased about 6-8 times too many thus increasing the diameter of the garment by 12-16 stitches, translating into about 3" too much. Furthermore the armscye is about and 1 1/2" too long.

Disappointed, but undeterred, I moved on to the finishing the neckline.

As you can see, the neckline shape (from the "Hillary" version of Mission Falls pattern 136) has pointed edges to the front of the shoulder increases. At first I thought I would reduce this bulk by using a p2sso at these points. However, this resulted in a very wonky neckline edge. Instead of increasing to accommodate the extension in the fabric, I decreased. Exactly the wrong thing to do. Sometimes I think I have no knitting sense whatsoever.

It's hard to see the problem in the above photo as I had pinned the offending points out in an attempt to block the edges so they would lie flat. This did not work at all and that part of the neckline simply puckered when it was worn.

So, I frogged the neckline and re-did it by using a m1, k, m1 stitch every other row at those two points. This created more knitted fabric where it was needed and resulted in a beautifully flat neckline.

I don't know if it's possible to see the difference, but it looks much better (trust me).

Here is a gratuitous close-up shot of the lace pattern:

I believe it is a variation on the feather and fan motif.

However, despite the perfected neck edge and the pretty lace, in the end, I still do not like how the sweater fits me at all.

It's baggy and there are big batwings underneath the arms. A friend suggested I wear the sweater with black leggings to better balance the proportions. I think that's a good idea, but I know it won't make the sweater fit me any better. I am not a big fan of frogging completed garments, so I think I will be looking to donate this sweater to someone who is a 42. Any takers?

Feeling properly chastened by this failure, I am retreating to finish a Dale of Norway sweater for my beloved brother who has been patiently waiting for about two years now. Coincidentally it is in the same color palette. My hope is that I will do a better job of fitting it to his true proportions. Onward and upward ...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Longest Shrug

Back in November I attended a wedding in Miami, Florida. I naturally assumed that the weather would be warm and sunny and therefore neglected to bring sweaters, wraps, etc. As luck would have it, the evening of the (outdoor) wedding, a cold front swept in from the North. Fortunately for the bride and groom, the rain held off until after the ceremony but the wind was chilly and I was forced to don my DH's blue blazer in order to stay warm. This was not the elegant look I was attempting to achieve. When I viewed the wedding video several weeks later I realized that I looked like a hobo in a coat three sizes too big (no offense to hobos). Then and there I decided that I needed to be more prepared in the future. As I am not the sophisticated type who can pull off the look of a wrap draped across my shoulders with elan, I decided to knit myself a shrug.

A shrug from Stefanie Japel's  GlamKnits, the Textured Circle Shrug, had caught my eye a while back so I decided it was just the ticket. I like how it hugs the waist in back, has a curved line up the front and a deep collar. I've also been obsessed with burgundy reds recently so I chose MadelineTosh Vintage yarn in tart. (As a side note, apparently their hand-dyed yarns don't indicate dye lots so I was unable to ensure that the skeins from different sources matched).

Here is the final result on Heidi:

I made several modifications and discovered several things about this pattern which I will list here. I think this next section will be interesting to anyone who plans to knit this up, but otherwise I'm afraid it will be somewhat boring.

Do's and Don'ts When Knitting Up Stefanie Japel's Textured Circle Shrug:

* Do be prepared to knit miles of ribbing before you start. I know this sounds trivial, but just to bring home the point: There are 78 rounds of ribbing (22 are in seed stitch) across at least 268 stitches. I needed 15 minutes per round. If my math is correct (which is a big "if") this means I spent approximately 20 hours knitting ribbing. The ribbing is critical to the final look of the garment, but as everyone knows how you feel about the final product and how you feel about the experience of making something are two very different things.

* Do check out the Lion Brand sponsored knit-along (KAL) that Stefanie led in the Spring of 2009. You will find many helpful photographs and explanations. I printed out the entire 5-week series of posts and referred to them constantly.

* Do pick up exactly the number of stitches recommended. This has implications for how the garment will hang when it is completed. I had to re-do my stitch pick-ups a few times, but it was well worth the effort!

* Don't cut the yarn after completing the first part of the body. I found that it saved on loose ends and hassle to just keep the back stitches live. I think it may have also reduced some of the "puffiness" that others have encountered in that portion of the garment.

Do change to the smaller needle size when picking up stitches for the ribbing. This piece of the instructions can be easily overlooked and makes a huge difference to the final look!

* Do take the time to watch the video included in the KAL on how to do RLI if you don't already know how. (I wasn't familiar with this method and I was very glad to learn it.) There has been much confusion on Ravelry about this piece of the instructions. If you do the increases as described in the pattern, it works out perfectly. If you try to do a different type of increase, it will likely throw off the stitch count and ribbing.

* Do place markers! During most of the knitting you will have an endless round of ribbing that looks the same from every angle and it's very easy to lose track of where you are on the garment. Stefanie** recommends markers at the beginning and ends of the sleeve sections (different colored markers for each sleeve is helpful). I also used markers to indicate the collar section and the middle of the lower back. The lower back marker is useful for when you have to begin a new ball of yarn so that the ends can be woven in where they won't ever be seen. Finally, a marker in the middle of the right sleeve section is helpful for buttonhole placement. I had to guess where to put one and was wildly wrong.

* Do knit the sleeves in the round. It saves on seaming and, IMO, it enhances the final finished look.

In the final analysis, I did enjoy the process of making this shrug, but I'm glad I took my time and followed the tips listed above. I also deviated from the pattern in several ways as follows.


* Eliminated the textured stripes to create a smoother, more slimming look
* Knit the sleeves in the round and made them full-length
* Did 8 short rows across 120 stitches across the back of the neck to ensure that the collar would lie flat over the seam line at the bottom of the collar.
* Added a black edging or tipping to create more of an evening look.

So, There you have it!

** Disclaimer: I am using Stefanie's first name as though we are close friends. I should make it clear that, alas, we have never met and she doesn't know me from Adam (or Eve). I just feel that I know her well after living with this pattern over the past month. I intend no offense by presuming a first name basis - I hope none is taken!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Getting Organized

I have come to realize that I am an episodic housekeeper. Or maybe a hit-and-run organizer is more accurate. I have great difficulty keeping things neat and tidy all of the time, but periodically I go on intense cleaning and organizing sprees. One of these sprees hit this week-end and involved my yarn stash.

My DH and I live in Boston in a tiny, two bedroom condo (and the second bedroom serves as his home office). This means that I don't have a craft room (dream on!), but only a craft corner -- located in our bedroom. Recently it's really gotten to be an eyesore. See for yourself.

To be fair, it's usually neater than this, but the above photo reflects the level of chaos I was starting to feel and the degree to which things had gotten out of hand.

So, rather than spend $350.00 on this Pottery Barn cubby organizer which caught my eye in the catalog, I decided to be more thrifty and purchased this Martha Stewart cubby organizer for about one-third the price.

Now, granted, I had to assemble it myself, but it only took about an hour before it was good to go. So, I then took all of this:

... and turned it into this:

On the upper-middle shelf is a three-drawer organizer that holds all of my dps; the left-center shelf holds my sketching notebook, knitting journal and circular knitting needle organizer; and the brown cloth drawer in the middle-bottom holds my awkwardly shaped tools such as a yarn scale, a ball winder and, my most recent acquisition, a darning egg.

I had originally intended to display the yarn a la LYS style which I had thought would be very pretty and would allow me to constantly admire my beautiful yarn. However, after careful consideration I decided that I needed to protect my yarn from dust and moths. So, each of the cloth drawers is lined with a  100% cotton, zippered pillowcase cover into which I packed the yarn and then included a cedar sachet for good measure.

Finally, almost everything got a label. (Be still my heart!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fashion Week in Milan

My new favorite blog is The Sartorialist (found here ). The blogger, Scott Schuman, has a great eye for fashion and is an excellent photographer to boot. I like to check out his blog in the morning to seek inspiration before I head to my own hum-drum closet to get ready for work. He is currently in Milan for the fashion shows and included a photo of these Dries Van Noten socks in a recent post. Aren't they great?

I wonder if they were handknit? I'd love to knit up a pair of these babies! Just seeing them made me smile.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Darn Those Socks!

A confluence of three events this past week led me to try something new: darning. First, I received my Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits. I was very interested to read a column by Sigrid Arnott all about how her father had taught her to darn socks when she was growing up in Montana. (See her blog at The thing that struck me the most about her description was the use of a lightbulb in place of a darning egg. That tid-bit stuck with me. The second event was that my beloved brother sent me Vogue Knitting's Knitopedia as a birthday gift. As I was flipping through this fabulous book I noticed a description of darning (complete with technical drawings) on pages 64-65. Finally, my DH came home one day and showed me that the socks I knit for him in March 2008 each had a hole in the heel.

Since these were the first pair of socks I'd ever knit I wanted to save them. So, I resolved to learn how to darn. With the Knitopedia on my lap, some balls of left-over yarn at my side, a lightbulb firmly stuck inside the sock and a tapestry needle in hand, I dove in.

It was actually kind of fun! Who would have thunk it?

My first sock (on the left) came out a little bit lumpy, but my DH was kind enough to say that he really didn't notice it too much.

The second attempt (on the right) went along a lot more smoothly (literally) and I added some duplicate stitching to both disguise and extend the reinforced section of the heel.

I have a feeling other parts of the sole are ready to go soon, but this should hold them for a little while longer.

Maybe just until the snow melts!