Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Cheerful Knitter Returns

This knitting blog, and this knitter, have been on hiatus for retooling.

W.I.P. Update
I finished the lovely 2-tone rose and dark raspberry color-block sweater by knitting a folded-over collar with a center split. No need to center the cable pattern; I just had to make sure my stitch count when picking up the neckband stitches accommodated a full repeat of the same pattern I used on the hem and cuffs. The edges of the pattern were 2x2 ribbing so they wouldn't roll.

I knitted the collar back and forth on a circular needle so I could try it on and get an idea of how long to make it, which worked well, except that the nylon wire of my needle was very curly. I have since dipped all my circular needles in boiling water in order to relax them. I think this will greatly improve my opinion of circular needles. I have no idea why I didn't try this sooner, as I read this tip a very long time ago.

I haven't officially worn this sweater yet (trying on doesn't count) as I finished it just in time to put it away with other winter clothes, but I am looking forward to that first chilly fall morning to give it a whirl.

The deep violet yarn sees the light of day.
The deep violet yarn was at last next, and I am almost finished knitting a thick, intrepid cardigan with it. The sleeves and part of the body fabric are Irish moss stitch, a pattern I have never used before as I thought the constant switching from knit to purl and back again after every stitch would be maddeningly slow. I was right of course, but in this gauge I liked the results so much that it was worth it. It looks animated and affable, and I think it will be very warm. The moss stitch is broken up by a very impressive stripe of bold moss stitch diamonds on a background of stockinette stitch, separated from the rest of the fabric by a couple of 1x1 ribs. There is one thick stripe on each side of the front, and at the shoulders they meet 2 corresponding stripes on the back. Don't think that didn't take a lot of math.

There is 2x2 ribbing at the hem and cuffs, and I plan the same for the button bands. Picking up stitches for them will be my next step after I finish sewing on the second sleeve and do the side and sleeve seams. I have already tried it on (with pins) and the size seems right. Confidence is high.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Low Stasher Unburdens Herself

I understand that there are many knitters who feel the need to have a lot of yarn on hand. These knitters build up their stashes of yarn with dedication and gusto. They buy yarn for their next knitting project. They buy yarn for future projects they are thinking of knitting. They buy yarn to keep the other yarn in the stash company. It seems that some knitters enjoy buying yarn as much as they enjoy knitting it.

I, however, cannot claim to be among their number. While I love buying yarn for a specific project, I don't like to buy yarn too far ahead of when I will actually be knitting it. Browsing through the aisles of my l.y.s., touching the skeins, combining colors, and calculating the cost of enough of a certain brand to make a sweater, are all activities I can engage in with no expenditure of cash or commitment. If I change my mind about what color I'd like to use, if I decide I'd prefer something in a different thickness, or if I happen to win the Irish Sweepstakes and can suddenly afford to knit exclusively with cashmere, I will have no encumbrances holding me back from my true destiny. The universe is full of surprises, and I prefer to allow for all possibilities.

Did My Second Ugly Sweater Teach Me Anything?
The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits provided the pattern for my next sweater, although this time I had no objection to its name: "Trick or Treat." Refusing to take to heart the lessons my second ugly sweater tried so hard to teach me about using thick yarn, I used even thicker yarn and bigger needles for this project--size 11, with a gauge of 3 sts=1". Further disregarding even the pleasant lessons, the things I did right, I unaccountably chose black for the color. Not "Midnight Serenade" or "Raven's Feather" or "Ladybug Spots." Just black.

I felt that the set-in sleeves were one of the most successful aspects of my baroque sweater, and I was glad I could repeat this design feature on my next project. It would be knit in stockinette stitch, with 4x4 ribbing at the edges. Reading through the finishing instructions, I saw that they expected me to use a circular needle again for the neckband, but since there was a crewneck instead of a v-neck, it would be much easier this time for me to knit it on straights.


I gave myself a stern lecture about not allowing the quest for perfection to get in the way of excellence and learning something new, and started picking up the neckband stitches for my rose sweater. I'm stopping frequently to check for holes and to make sure it's even, but I'm almost at the back, which of course will be a breeze. Then I'll need to plan the positioning of the cable pattern, which I'm hoping will not be as tricky as I fear. If necessary, I'll work on my auxiliary knitting (a reversible cable scarf) for a while in order to build up my confidence.

Purls of Wisdom

From Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot's Guide to the Land of Knitting: "The low stasher is a knitter who genuinely feels no need to stockpile wool in vast quantities...Many low stashers...find having a small or nonexistent stash spiritually lightening. Should you encounter a true low stasher, admire her greatly. You may never meet another one."


  • My third ugly sweater: So thick! So quick!
  • W.I.P.: Will I have finished picking up the neckband stitches?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Baroque Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned From My Second Ugly Sweater
Although I proudly wore my new sweater on my birthday (and on several other occasions when I was confident of encountering no acquaintances blessed with bracing honesty) I recognized that this second sweater-knitting effort allowed much room for improvement. It was as beautiful to me as my first sweater had been, cradling as it did my ambitious hopes within each stitch. Yet it still qualified as an "ugly sweater" to me because of its unmistakenly amateurish nature. Once I had blown out all my candles and my giddiness had abated, I took stock of what I had learned from my second ugly sweater.
  1. Knitting with a color you love is much more enjoyable than knitting with a color you do not love. While staring into the depths of "Baroque" I imagined sunsets, waves, mountains, and wildflowers. It does help the time pass when you're knitting monotonous stockinette stitch.
  2. Picturing yourself wearing a knitted project on a specific date is an excellent motivational technique.
  3. Translating neckband directions for knitting in the round to straight needles is a difficult thing to do, and may not be easier than actually learning to knit in the round.
  4. My arms need longer sleeves than patterns may allow for; I should knit about an inch more before shaping the sleeve cap.
  5. A neckband opening that is too snug may look fine once it's on, but it is difficult to pull over your head.
  6. Thick yarn makes thick seams.
  7. Although thick yarn knits up quickly, it may not make the most flattering garment.
  8. Parents are easily impressed, and are therefore the best people to ask, "How does it look?" when you don't necessarily want the whole truth.



Whenever I find myself virtuously performing some unpleasant but non-urgent task, I eventually ask myself what even more unpleasant task I am trying to shirk. Usually it's something involving bleach or a toilet brush. This morning as I removed all the plates and storage bowls from the kitchen cupboards and wiped down each shelf, I suddenly came to my senses and asked myself why I was doing this. Surprisingly, the answer is that I was trying to delay picking up the neckband stitches for my rose sweater.

I've picked up neckbands before, but this time feels different. It will undoubtedly be more difficult because of the cable pattern, but I have strategies in mind to deal with this increased challenge. I have to admit that because I have such high hopes for this sweater, I'm afraid of a less-than-perfect neckband ruining the whole project. I need to remind myself that it's only yarn, and that I've started over with this sweater before, and I can certainly pick up a neckband more than once if necessary in order to bring the reality as close as possible to my imagination.

Purls of Wisdom

From Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot's Guide to the Land of Knitting: "Knitting, like music and art, challenges us to see how parts become a whole, and in doing so, it provides many of the same incredible benefits for your brain. The ability to think creatively, contiguously, and linearly...knitting challenges our brains and makes us better thinkers."


  • Thoughts on stash.
  • The planning of the third ugly sweater.
  • W.I.P.: Will I overcome my qualms and start that neckband?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Happy Birthday

By working diligently, I was able to make up time on the second sleeve, and my second ugly sweater was completed in time for my birthday. Contrarily, the weather was warm that day, without even a hint of an autumn chill in the air that might have made a thick handknit an appropriate wardrobe choice. I wouldn't have cared if the sidewalks were melting; I wore my sweater proudly and cheerfully. It didn't garner any compliments (except from my parents, the most biased of reviewers); nor did anyone noticeably snicker at my poor taste in tops. All in all, not bad.
In a long knitting session this morning as I listened to the steady drizzle on the pavement outside my window, I finished the front of my sweater. As soon as it was off the needles I retrieved the back section from the closet and pinned the shoulders together. Happily, the color transition matches perfectly, and the sections are the same length. Tomorrow I will sew the right shoulder seam and pick up the neckband stitches. Although I do not intend to knit it in the round, I may use a circular needle to knit it back and forth. Then, I will plan the positioning of the traveling cable pattern so that it is centered around the neck. I think using the circular needle will make this easier. I'll mark the center 2 stitches of the neckband bind-off with a safety pin to help as well.

Purls of Wisdom
From Maggie Rightetti's Knitting in Plain English: "Stop frequently and admire your work and yourself. You are making something out of nothing and you should be proud of what you are doing and proud of yourself for doing it!"

  • Lessons learned from my second ugly sweater.
  • W.I.P.: How's the neckband coming along?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Egg Lady

Yes, indeed.
There I was yesterday afternoon, buying cheese and trying to restrain myself from singing along too conspicuously to "The Night Chicago Died" (When did supermarkets start playing such awesome music?) when I spotted it. Checking for goo on the bottom of her egg carton was a lady wearing the perfect sweater. At least, it was perfect for what I was on the lookout for: a stitch pattern for my deep violet yarn.

I have had this yarn for a long time, and on more than one occasion it was going to be "next." However, none of the swatches I've made with it seems to be just right. It's a smooth yarn, acrylic, with a gauge of 4 sts=1" on size 8 needles. You might think it would readily lend itself to any stitch pattern, but it hasn't been so. I've tried a simple eyelet lace, but the holes seem too wide and the decreases too lumpy. I've tried rope cables, but the color seems too deep to show them off to good advantage. I've considered stockinette stitch, but it would be too craven a choice. When this yarn speaks to me, it appeals to me to knit it into something winsome but unfussy, special but substantial. The only thing I know for sure is I want to make a cardigan. I think.

The egg lady's sweater was a spring green raglan style with a zipper, but these features were irrelevant to me. I maneuvered my cart next to hers and picked up an egg carton myself, pretending to check for broken eggs as I studied her back. It was an allover stitch pattern combining knit and purl stitches, and it reminded me vaguely of waffles.

As soon as I got home I rushed to check Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. I flipped through the first section: moss stitch? sand stitch? spot stitch? Aha! Broken rib pattern. I've seen this pattern before, of course, in this book and other stitch encyclopedias, but I failed to fully appreciate its charm until I saw it knitted into a bona fide sweater. I think this pattern might be just right, but I am not the final authority. I will have to consult the yarn.
Sleeves, Sleeves, Sleeves
I worked on the sleeves of my second ugly sweater during every spare moment: a couple of rows early in the morning, at least an inch during lunch, and as much as I could manage in the evening. Day by day as my birthday deadline approached, the first sleeve grew longer and longer. At last I reached the shaping of the sleeve cap, and I realized that the bind-offs at the beginning of the rows exactly matched the directions for shaping the armholes. I felt like the astronaut in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 reflecting on the measurements of the monolith. How logical! How necessary! The geometry of knitting can be as elegant as any mathematical formula.

I had allocated a week for each sleeve, but the knitting of the first one exceeded that by two days. I would have to make up time if I was to have the sweater sewn together by my birthday. With renewed energy and determination, I cast on for the second sleeve.
Although I haven't yet reached the center neckband bind-off, I'm pleased with my progress. I finished the armhole shaping and am well into the section of lighter rose. I like the look of these colors together very much. Maybe my next sweater will also be a type of color block design, unless I finally begin that deep violet cardigan.

Purls of Wisdom
From Carolyn Clewer's Kids Can Knit: "Knitting your first sweater will take less time than you think."

  • The second ugly sweater: Will I meet my birthday deadline?
  • W.I.P.: Will I still be working on the front?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Knit What You Know

My Second Ugly Sweater, or My First Ugly Vest?
I'm sure that everyone who has ever knitted a sweater has had this thought at one time or another: "Wouldn't I really like a vest better?" After knitting the back and front, and maybe even sewing the shoulder seams and finishing the neckband, getting started on the sleeves can seem like an unnecessary chore. After all, vests are legitimate garments, too.

However, in the motivating mental image I had created to encourage me toward my birthday deadline, I was definitely wearing a sweater with sleeves. (For some reason, I was also swinging an umbrella and singing about fresh laundry, a scene I might have imprinted from a detergent commercial.) I would be true to my vision. I plunged right in and started on the sleeves.

The first thing I did was write out row-by-row directions so that I wouldn't miss an increase. Checking off each row as it is completed helps me to keep track of how many stitches I should have on the needles at all times, and it also provides tangible evidence of progress. Unlike measuring the sleeve itself, by checking my written directions I can also count how many uphill rows are left to go before shaping the sleeve cap.

The increase I used was the same for each edge of the sleeve; I did not match them as I have since learned to do. At least I left two edge stitches before working the increases, since I now knew that this technique greatly eased the task of sewing-up. In fact, it was not until making the beige sweater that I just completed that I used matching sleeve increases designed to lean left or right. I found the instructions for these raised increases in Beth Brown-Reinsel's book Knitting Ganseys, along with some very clear photographs. At the time that I was knitting my second ugly sweater, however, I knitted what I knew and used the right-leaning increase for both sides of the sleeves.

I was able to finish the back section, and I've started the armhole shaping for the front section. Now that the back is complete and safely stored in the closet, out of reach of curious paws, I've switched back to my normal-sized knitting bag. I'd like to reach the neckband bind-off today, but since the clocks changed last night and I lost an hour of knitting time, this might be too ambitious a goal.

Purls of Wisdom
From Roger von Oech's A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative: "If a thing's worth doing, it's okay to do it poorly. Otherwise, you'll never give yourself permission to be a beginner at a new activity. If you have to do well, then you'll prevent yourself from trying new things."


  • Sleeves, sleeves, sleeves.
  • W.I.P.: Will I at least be at the color change yet?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Knitting to a Deadline

My Second Ugly Sweater: My Birthday Deadline Approaches
Whenever I start a knitting project, especially a sweater, I generally fix in my mind some date, either significant or random, by which I hope to have it completed. Usually this involves picturing myself wearing the item in question. For example, I wanted to finish the beige wool sampler sweater by Valentine's Day because of the many hearts stitched into it. Valentine's Day came and went with the sleeves still on the needles, however, and I gave myself an extension til the kitten's birthday next week.

While casting on my purple sweater at the beginning of August (about two and a half years ago now), I decided I would like to wear it on my birthday, about six weeks from then. Keeping this picture firmly in mind motivated me during the repetitious bits. Never mind that a thick sweater of a color designed to absorb heat might not be the most comfortable choice of clothing on that particular date. September's weather is always a roll of the dice, and so was my plan to have my project sewn up by then.

I started on the sleeves with a week allocated for each, plus one day for the sewing. It was a tight schedule, but after all, the neckband was already finished, such as it was. I figured that as long as knitting the sleeves proceeded without a hitch, I could meet my birthday deadline.
I completed the armhole shaping and rushed through the few rows of working even with the dark rose so that I could change to the lighter shade. The combination is subtle and pretty, and I am cautiously optimistic about a rosy future for this sweater despite its inauspicious inception.

Tomorrow I have several hours of "waiting time" to fill while my daughter takes a marathon of an exam, and in case I finish the back early I prepared the front to be re-knit in the same fashion. After all, I wouldn't want to be seen frogging in public; it's best to take care of such things privately. Nothing's worse than time on my hands and no knitting to occupy them. I've been obliged to transfer everything to a larger knitting bag, though, as I am now carrying two half-completed body sections, a second skein of the light color in case I reach the front neckband, a notepad to mark the rows, and my usual small kit of notions. I like to be prepared.

Purls of Wisdom
From Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac: "I knit all year, day in, day out. It is my passion, and I rarely knit the same thing twice the same way."

  • The second ugly sweater: Maybe I really wanted a new vest for my birthday instead of a sweater.
  • W.I.P.: Will I have finished the back and started re-knitting the front?