Product v. process

I have always been a product knitter – I almost invariably knit because I want the finished object (and since it’s me, because I want to wear a particular sweater). I regularly frog projects partway through if it becomes clear that I won’t wear the finished item, and out of this “the right final product is what I want” mindset, I also frog projects that I’ve finished and worn and have decided don’t really work for me as is. That takes a little bit more resolution, but I’m pretty comfortable with those decisions (in fact, I am considering frogging my Boxy & Buttony pullover – it’s amazingly comfortable but it’s quite a lot of fabric, possibly too much to be really flattering on me, and I think that this yarn would benefit from being knit at a tighter gauge – maybe something like this, or this, or this – or at least something with seams. No rush on deciding, though, since it’s too hot here to wear wool sweaters for the next 6 months again).

Which is why I was kind of surprised recently to find myself pushing the items I want to own and wear to the back of my queue in favor of items I simply want to knit, for the sake of knitting them.

Craftsy had a big sale in the last week or so and it included Malabrigo Rios. I first encountered this yarn when I wanted to make a baby blanket for a friend and their stone-colored gray-yellow-beige colorway was perfect for my friend’s gray and yellow nursery.

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But then I went and made myself a sweater out of the leftovers because I loved knitting with it so much. I don’t normally knit worsted weight stuff, and I haven’t even been able to wear the sweater yet because it got too warm before I finished, but I love having the sweater and I loved making it. This yarn is just so lovely and soft and squishy and yet bouncy and a joy to knit with. It’s probably not as springy-bouncy as your average non-superwash, but it was still amazingly fun to work with, and it created a lovely fabric that had a nice amount of drape without being droopy or draggy. I don’t need super-hardy tough-as-armor sweaters, and I don’t like wearing those kinds of fabrics. This stuff was great.

So there I was, at the Craftsy sale, finding that Rios was on sale for less than I’d ever seen it, and finding myself powerless to resist buying a swack of it. In Teal Feather, because I’m a sucker for a good teal, and a semi-solid seemed more practical than the beautiful but harder to wear variegated stuff.

(I’m also in a particularly labor-intensive, energy-draining, confidence-beating moment at work – which is why I’ve had no time for blogging or even photo-taking – so the yarn was a promise of good times to my future self. Which is a whole other ball of emotional wax, of course.)

And now I just want to make things with this yarn for the sake of making them, not having them. Right now I am obsessed with the idea of making the Waking Tide pullover by Courtney Spainhower.

Waking_Tide1_medium2Photo © PinkBrutusKnits, borrowed off Ravelry; will happily remove if requested.

I just love this sweater. I love the yoke, I love the way the body of the sweater falls from the yoke, I love the minimal eyelet trim at the hem, I love the amount of ease, I love how good the pattern looks in a tonal or semi-solid, I love that it’s knit in the round and in one piece, I love that there’s lots of stockinette but that there’s also the yoke for a bit more challenge, I love that the yoke provides texture and movement but that the sweater is still fairly minimal and not fussy.

And don’t get me wrong, part of why I love it is that I think it would look decent on me – I have broad enough shoulders to hold up a sweater without shoulder seams, my bust is very average-sized so I don’t run into the problems busty ladies face in trying to figure out where a yoke should fall to be flattering, I like having the visual interest closer to my face, I like that it’s not fitted around the waist, and the length and hem treatment should work with my pear shape.

But chances are good I would wear this maybe five times a year. I would only be able to wear it to work on days I don’t have to wear a suit/jacket (i.e. no meetings), and I would only be able to wear it in comfort during our very short winter. It’s not the most practical choice for my lifestyle, is what I’m saying. Honestly, worsted weight wool, period, isn’t the most practical choice for my lifestyle but there are workarounds (I think a cardigan would be more versatile weather-wise than a pullover, especially something short-sleeved or shorter with some lace; or I could go for a short-sleeved pullover).

Nonetheless, I want it. Because I want to make it; I want to see the shape develop under my needles, I want to see how the transition to the yoke works, and what kind of shaping creates the yoke and the neckline. I want to see what this yarn will look like in this sweater. And I want to see what the sweater looks like when it’s done, and what it looks like on me.

For maybe the first time, that’s enough. Maybe I will make this sweater and try it on. Maybe I will love it, and keep it, and treasure it for those few times a year I can wear it. Maybe I will love it, and put it in a drawer, and nonetheless frog it a year later to make something else with the yarn. Maybe it will be meh, and I’ll decide right away to frog. But whatever I decide, I will have had the pure pleasure of making, which seems to be what’s hooking me now, more than the pleasure of having.

(Or maybe instead I’m hitting my annual discontent with the desert and want to knit this as an expression of homesickness for places that have what I think of as a normal climate. With winter. And cold. And a legitimate need for wool sweaters. That, too, is a whole other ball of emotional wax.)

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Fickle

I used to feel sort of strongly about finishing a project before starting a new one.

But somewhere along the line I lost that discipline.

And now…oh dear. I have way too many different things on the needles.

The funny thing is that there’s an arbitrary dividing line in my head between “recent enough projects that I should feel bad for not working on them,” and “old enough projects that (for no particularly good reason) I don’t count them as works in progress any more.” When projects cross that imaginary line and fall into the abyss of “really old projects,” for some reason they no longer count against my total, so casting on something new is entirely justified, right?

Going back in reverse chronological order, here’s what I currently have going:

The Harvest Moon Blanket (which is getting frogged, but will get restarted when the new yarn arrives, so I think counts as a current project)IMG_0075

Frost at Midnight

Stratum

Relax 

Worsted Boxy

Gray Goose CardiIMG_0196

Adrift

(For the record: the photo-bombing cat is Harvey. He loves to sleep on that table, which is conveniently placed for me to get natural light so is a good place for me to take pictures, although it’s definitely seen better days… let’s just say it has a patina, shall we? His tail is like that naturally – he’s a Japanese Bobtail. Here’s a better picture:)

I would say that the arbitrary, imaginary dividing line between projects that count as WIPs and projects that don’t falls right around the Relax. Adrift and the Worsted Boxy are both patterns I cast on sort of as placeholders while I was between other projects, to be dropped when something better came along. I never had a clear goal for when I’d finish them. I like both yarns but don’t love them, so was easily lured away by other, shinier projects, and they’ve languished long enough in my work basket that I don’t really count them as current WIPs. (Not that this makes any sense, but there you go.)

I actually really like the way the Gray Goose Cardigan is turning out. The yarn is Nashua Handknits Summer Garden, bought ages ago, and I’ve had a hard time finding the right pattern for it, but this fabric is a lovely weight and drape. It’s also a great summer project, but when I put it down I never thought it would be for long, and now I seriously have no idea where I am in the pattern. (Lesson: take notes!) Knitting something new has always seemed easier than figuring out where I am, so it’s fallen out of rotation.

Relax hovers on the edge of my knitting consciousness, nagging me to knit it. The back is done and the piece pictured is the front – then it will just be the not-very-big sleeves. It would also be a great summer project. I don’t really have any excuse for not working on this one, except that while I like the fabric it makes, I don’t find the yarn the easiest; it’s KnitPicks Lindy Chain, and while I love that it’s fingering weight in linen-cotton (great for a hot climate), it’s chainette construction, and I keep snagging it. It does have the loveliest drape, though.

Stratum is on hold mostly because I won’t be able to wear it for another 5-6 months, so there’s no rush to work on it.

Then we get to projects that (in my head) I am currently working on: I’ve been making good progress on Frost at Midnight, and am close to starting the sleeves. I’m not convinced it’s going to look very good on me, but I’ve been enjoying plowing through the body. And, of course, once the new yarn comes in, the Harvest Moon Blanket.

So, I have plenty of projects in the works right now, even if you don’t count the ones that aren’t right in front of me, and so (in my head) don’t exist.

And yet… I find myself swatching. For new projects. As if I need any.

More on that to come.

Reboot

I was traveling for much of this week.

IMG_0179It reminded me what it looks like where water falls from the sky on a regular basis.

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IMG_0121And I got to see a cat catch a lizard:

IMG_0096And I bought some shoes.

IMG_0108I also brought some knitting with me:

IMG_0075One of the things I love about travel knitting is how guiltless it is. There’s no concern that you should be doing something other than knitting; you’re away from home, you can’t really put a dent in your to-do list or clean the house, and often you’re trapped on public transport anyway. Knitting transforms tedium into pleasure. Four hour layover? Great, lots of time to knit! So I very much appreciate the opportunity I had to knit the above project.

But as the yarn shrank and the knitted fabric grew, I finally had to admit to myself: I just didn’t like it.

I liked (and still like) the pattern, the Harvest Moon Blanket by Aimee Alexander. (All her blankets look lovely.)

And I like the yarn fine – Comfy Worsted Special Reserve Heather by KnitPicks (in Overcast Heather – much lighter than it looks photographed above). I had wanted to use cotton (or in this case, a blend) because it seemed more functional here in the desert, and I have some fingering weight Comfy, and I thought the acrylic in it would be fine, and help keep it a bit stronger and lighter than all cotton. I looked at the project pictures on Ravelry, and thought the cotton ones looked perfectly nice.

But I just didn’t like them put together. In part, that’s because the Comfy Worsted is fluffy, fuzzy, and soft-edged. The stitches don’t get completely lost, but there isn’t the kind of stitch definition that I think would highlight the pattern best. Beyond that, though, I didn’t love the fabric. It was extremely soft, so perfect for a wee baby in that respect. But it was also supremely floppy. And word choice matters here, I think. If I said the fabric was drapey, that would sound fairly positive, but when I say floppy, that doesn’t sound so good. And it’s not so good. I don’t want something stiff, but I would like a little body, a little bounce. I think that would benefit the stitch pattern, too.

And it matters mostly because this is a gift, and I want it to be as nice as I can possibly make it. In part because I really want my friend to love it, and in part because I want to give her something that looks handmade, but not so much homemade.

So back to the drawing board. I’ve ordered new yarn – wool this time (superwash, because I hope for my friend to use this, and making her handwash it seems cruel). And now that I’m back, will start over again.

(And figure out something else to make with floppy cotton yarn.)

Scarves, continued: more recent versions

Talking about scarves and knitting and evolving, here are a couple of more recent scarves, finished in the last three years or so:

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(Just Enough Ruffles by Laura Chau – Malabrigo Silky Merino in Cumparsita)IMG_1808

(22.5 Degrees by Martina Behm in Done Roving Yarn’s Frolicking Feet in Robin Eggs)

I like these scarves much better than the previous ones. Partly that’s because they’re not a decade out of fashion; we’ll see how I feel about them in 2022. But there are a bunch of differences between this and its predecessors.

First, the yarn: To begin, it isn’t fuzzy! And I’m moving away from the super multi-colored yarns, because I’ve come to realize how limiting they can be. Colors that look gorgeous in the skein can look like unicorn barf when knitted; something more moderate may be less overwhelming. I’ve also come to realize that wearing a gazillion different colors at once is a bit busy for my personal style.

Having said that…neither yarn is a solid, and the Done Roving sock yarn (the blue) especially still counts as variegated (I would call the Malabrigo more of a tonal semi-solid). But they’re still moving away from the first two choices.IMG_1809

Ironically, both these scarves would work fine with even more variegated yarns than those I chose here, because the stitch patterns are simple – the one is simple stockinette, and the other is garter. In fact, the garter stitch scarf was designed expressly for multicolored sock yarn. And the plum scarf would look fine in something fuzzy (the blue scarf wouldn’t be bad, but I think the fuzz would obscure the yarnovers down the spine, as well as the looped edges).

IMG_1612And I’m still picking yarn that I think is cool (because of course; why knit with yarn you don’t like?). But I think maybe I’m learning how better to match patterns with yarn, rather than treating them as entirely independent decisions – that, or I’m just getting luckier in my choices.

IMG_1815These scarves continued to add new techniques to my repertoire. The plum scarf is shaped with short rows, which I had to learn, and the ruffled edges are made with knit-front-and-back increases. The blue scarf also uses on increases – knit-front-and-back and yarnovers – as well as the little scallops on the edge, which are formed with sort of mega-increases. None of those things are hard, but I had to learn them. (Which meant teaching myself via videos online, mostly.)

So, my knitting continues to evolve. And I’ve finished enough scarves that they make quite a pretty pile of fabric, lined up next to each other.

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Weighty talk 

What weight yarn do you prefer? Do you have a favorite? Do you have one that you keep buying and then not using?

IMG_2037I am a huge sucker for lace weight yarns. They check a whole bunch of boxes for me:

• warm-weather friendly: they’re very lightweight and tend to be used for airy, almost weightless fabrics.

• economical: they often come in cones (as at left) or hefty skeins of 800+ yards for not much more cost, or even less, than their weightier cousins who show up in lengths of 400-ish.

• good knitting return on your investment: it takes quite a long time to knit 800 yards of lace weight yarn!

(These last two are not original to me; Elizabeth Zimmerman points them out in Knitting Without Tears. But I wholly agree with her.)

• frequent non-wool content: lots of lace yarns blend wool with drapier kinds of fibers like silk or alpaca, which is good if (like me) you tend to find wool a bit itchy.

• elegant: this is obviously subjective, and depends on what patterns you use. But generally speaking, the small diameter and significant drape of laceweight yarns seems to me to offer a more refined, formal, dressy look than heavier, more rustic yarns do. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no need to aim for a more formal, dressy kind of look all the time, and a good rustic wool has its own kind of elegance. But it’s a different kind of look, and I like the elegance lace offers.

HOWEVER…

I am not actually the best at knitting lace weight yarns:

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• it takes quite a long time to knit 800 yards of laceweight – which is great, until you get tired of the pattern, and of feeling like you’ve been knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting, and your fabric has grown two millimeters.

• the yarn is so light that the resulting fabric can lack structure. That’s great for flowing shawls, but not always flattering in other kinds of projects.

• knitting lace can be discouraging because it often looks terrible until blocked. Obviously this is the case if you’re knitting proper lace stitches, but even if you’re just doing stockinette, lace seems to show every last uneven stitch (unless done on truly tiny needles and then you really do take forever). Pretty much every project benefits from blocking, and if you can make it through a lace project and block it properly a magic wonder awaits you, but sometimes it’s hard to have faith that the crumpled thing hanging from your needles is going to turn out properly.

• I’m not really a lace shawl kind of person, so am usually trying to use it for other things – but there’s a reason so many designs for lace yarns are shawls.

• did I mention knitting laceweight takes a long time?

So, I keep buying lace yarn, but my finished objects have all pretty much been fingering weight, sport, or DK. I have some worsted weight that has been through various attempts at projects, none of which are yet finished, but I think the only thing I’ve knit out of bulky yarn was a hat for charity. (I think this is due to wool-aversion – many bulky wools are too warm/itchy for my current climate, but bulky cotton can get really really heavy, and I’m not a big fan of acrylic. There are a few bulky cottons of interesting constructions – tape or chain – that I’d like to try, but I’ve been too cheap to take the chance so far.)

I do have a couple of laceweight projects on the needles right now: The first is Carol Feller‘s Adrift in the pinky-maroon Misti Alpaca on the right in the picture above. I cast on at some point last fall, but it’s been languishing since I hit the short rows for shaping the neck – I really wanted some uncomplicated in-front-of-the-TV knitting, and kept screwing up the short rows in in the tiny yarn, so put it aside in favor of other projects and…well. (Nothing against the pattern, which is lovely, or the yarn, which is ridiculously soft.)

IMG_2050The second is Kate DaviesFrost at Midnight out of her amazing book, Yokes. I cast on a couple of months ago when I had been playing with the yarn, swatching and trying other projects for which it turned out to be unsuitable. It’s a heavy laceweight from Posh Yarn, 55% superwash BFL and 45% silk, and the color is amazing. That’s it to the left. I just ordered a bunch of different pinky and purplely beads to see which would work for the beaded yoke; can’t wait to see which are best!

(And oh, hey, it’s yet more brightly-colored variegated yarn! And more purple! The more things change…)

I’m not very far into Frost at Midnight yet; I made it through the provisional cast on and a few rows, but got distracted by baby gifts, Dalyla, and Stratum. Stratum had been going well, but I came to the end of the first skein of the gray yarn and didn’t want to wind another, so picked up Frost at Midnight again.

For some reason, this time I’m finding knitting lace especially soothing and meditative, and I’m enjoying the process almost more than the prospect of the final project. Maybe this time I’ll actually finish it, and acquire the knack for knitting lace? Maybe I’ll start using up my lace stash? Or, maybe this time next year, I’ll be talking about getting back to this project, and totting up how many more skeins of lace I own now (I bought two more last week…).

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Why I knit sweaters (which is not to say I will never knit anything else)

Before getting much further into project descriptions, I thought it was worth explaining that I mostly want to make sweaters these days. There are a bunch of weirdly contrarian reasons for this.

First, it’s hot in the desert (or at least in my part of it).

That probably doesn’t make any sense – why am I knitting sweaters if it’s hot? – but you can wear many kinds of sweaters throughout the year, while lots knitted accessories are useful only in cold weather. Mittens and gloves – even fingerless mitts – are really cold-weather things. Many scarves and hats are designed to keep you warm as well – admittedly, not all of them, but enough that the average person around here wouldn’t make much use of of them. Second, I’m not the biggest fan of certain knit garments on me.

I know, I know, this is kind of ridiculous given how much time I spend knitting, but here’s why: my 9-5 job is the kind that requires suits a bunch of the time. Even warm-weather versions of hats and mitts aren’t work-appropriate items for me, and I spend enough time at work that I prefer to invest in items I have a shot of wearing at work (at least occasionally). Leaving aside work, my casual style isn’t really one that involves hats or mitts, either.  Scarves are a little more complicated, because there are so many gorgeous patterns out there, and such a huge diversity of styles. But I’ll confess that I still mostly like handknit scarves as adjuncts to outerwear. I prefer fairly tailored and streamlined clothing, so while there are some laceweight scarves I would enjoy, anything much thicker than that still reads “outerwear” to me. I also have a fairly short neck, so bundling handknits around it can make me look like a turtle.

And that takes me to shawls, and lace, and my most shameful confession: I don’t really have any interest in wearing lace shawls. I just don’t see them as fitting most occasions these days besides maybe going out to the opera or a wedding; in my head they fit into the broader category “dressy wraps,” and, well, I never go anywhere where a dressy wrap would be fitting.

Which brings us to perhaps the final reason I knit sweaters, which underlies all the above: so far I am a selfish knitter, and a product knitter rather than a process knitter. As bad as it sounds put baldly like this, I knit so I can have more nice things, and they have to be things I can believe I will wear. I don’t get the chance to wear mittens or gloves or warm hats and scarves or dressy wraps very much, so I see no need to make them very often.

But sweaters… you can wear sweaters year-round. Sure, there are heavy warm winter sweaters I’m not going to make; I’m intrigued by fair isle/color work, but apart from not having a clue how it works, I know that carrying the colors along the back of the work makes the fabric even thicker and warmer, so most colorwork patterns aren’t going to be a great choice for me. Like I think I said once before, I’m not going to start churning out traditional Aran fisherman sweaters. But an elbow-sleeved open front cardigan can be worn much of the year, especially in air-conditioned office buildings, and depending on the yarn used.

So: I’m a warm-weather knitter knitting warm-ish weather sweaters.

I can’t say this is the last word, though; as I get more intrigued with the craft of knitting (and not just getting to an end result), I’m more drawn toward knitting smaller items to experiment with different techniques, and matching them with different kinds of yarn. I start to see the appeal of making a lace shawl just for the sake of having done it, of having learned new techniques and created something beautiful in its own right, even if I’ll probably never wear it. I can’t say I’m there just yet – I have little enough time for knitting that I still mostly want to spend it on things I want to wear – but I’m starting to see the appeal.

(It wasn’t till I was reading this over for the last time before sending it into the publishing queue that I realized I hadn’t once mentioned socks. That should make clear how frequently I make them. Oops.)

What about you? What do you knit, and why? Do you like the process, or the pretty product at the end?

Stratum part 1: escaping the tyranny of choice

I feel like color knitting is a big thing right now – partly because I see it showing up frequently in new patterns and books, and partly because I find myself drawn to it for the first time, ever, and I’m not really creative or independent-minded enough to pick up this kind of interest on my own.

(A while back the husband and I had a long conversation about what we’d name our hypothetical sprog, should we ever produce any, despite not intending to do so. We both agreed that we loved the name Isobel and would definitely name a daughter that, and congratulated ourselves on our originality. We didn’t know anyone named Isobel or with kids named Isobel. Neither of us had heard the name Isobel in popular culture. We were genius baby-name-pickers. We then looked at the then-current top 10 girls’ names and Isobel was number 3. I mean, it was spelled Isabelle, but really, same name. At that point I stopped worrying about being unique and accepted that I am entirely a creature of my time and place.)

However, while I’d like to give colorwork a shot, that’s a pretty big leap from my usual practice of knitting miles of stockinette. I figured it was safer to make a few, smaller jumps, and begin by knitting stripes:

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Stratum by Karolina Eckerdal, published in Brooklyn Tweed’s Wool People 8.

Apart from the stripes, I liked the lovely wide neck and the graceful A-line skirt, and the way the sweater has ample positive ease without looking shapeless or sack-like. (Why yes, this does sound like all the other sweaters I like.)

But then I had to pick colors.

I was determined to use yarn I already owned for this (I do not need to buy more yarn; someday I’ll show you how much I have kicking around). In fact, that was one of the reasons the stripes were so attractive to me: I have a number of random skeins of fingering weight yarns, none of which are enough to complete a solid sweater on their own, but can combine to make a striped one.

Stash diving is interesting, though. On the one hand, you have that feeling, “Do these yarns really go together, or have I just decided that they go together because they’re what I have? Am I really just letting my desire not to spend money disguise the fact that I’m making an ugly sweater?”

On the other hand, if you’re like me, it can be hard to get to yarn stores in person. It’s absolutely, utterly worth it, when you can. Local yarn stores are fully of pretty things and knowledgable people and it’s important to support them. But the few lovely yarn stores around here are open almost exactly the hours that I work, and sometimes you just can’t wait till the weekend to look at yarn. It’s often easier to trawl the internet tracking down yarn online.

So if you decide, “No, I will buy new yarn! I will choose the perfect colors that go together perfectly!”, but cannot get to the yarn store, you find yourself staring at swatches from about 17 different online sources at once, trying to line them all up on your laptop monitor at the same time that you weigh their fiber content and qualities and price, and simply end up stymying yourself into immobility.

(Or that might just be me.)

(Of course, I do this in yarn stores, too. If you’d like to kill a few hours doing nothing, come to a yarn store with me when I have the intent to buy yarn and also a budget. I’ll probably pick up and put down the same 5-6 skeins of yarns at least 62 times. It will be scintillating, I promise.)

So despite the little voice whispering in my ear, “But do the colors actually work together, or are they just convenient??”, it was actually a relief to limit myself to choosing from the few things in my stash that go together closely enough to be worth a shot. It’s not really surprising that I could come up with some plausible combinations, given that my stash is full of things that I’ve chosen, and I tend to like the same kinds of things over and over. (See: purple yarn; taupe nail polish.) But this is the first time I’ve really managed to make it work.

Besides, I don’t need another handknit wool sweater in the least – so there’s no pressure on this. If it turns out hideous, I’m no worse off than when I started, and I’ll have got some entertainment out of the process at least.

So soon I’ll talk about swatching for this sweater.