Finished object: dilute torti sweater

Do any of you have sweaters you love almost despite yourself?

I just finished one of these. It’s Heidi Kirrmaier’s Mountain High, which I had seen but never been drawn to until I saw IADJW’s version and became slightly obsessed. (Now that I look at the pattern page, I love the mauve version in the second picture down, too.)

I shouldn’t love this sweater so much, for lots of reasons. Frankly, I don’t think it looks very good on me. It’s worsted weight, and I never knit in worsted weight, because I am bulky enough as it is; I don’t need added bulk. The gauge is tight enough, and the yarn springy enough, that the fabric tends to hide my bustline (which isn’t that prominent anyway). It’s an a-line sweater, with a wide garter hem, which doesn’t do my bottom-heavy shape any favors. The yarn is pretty variegated, which looks busy. I alternated skeins, which kept the pooling to a minimum, but resulted in lot of horizontal striping, which doesn’t make me look any narrower.  And it’s an odd neutral shade mixing cool gray and warm pale yellow, with shades of beige along the way; I look positively haggard in beige and yellow (even light gray can be dicey).

It’s also by far the warmest item of clothing I own, which means I’ll probably be able to wear it maybe three times a year here if I’m lucky.

But.

I love this sweater. Love love love love love.

First, it fits! I absolutely didn’t swatch for this at all – and I’m not sure why, since I usually try to – just cast on and forged ahead. But it worked! (It’s actually kind of big at the moment – I hadn’t realized how the added weight of worsted weight yarn means that superwash worsted stretches even more than superwash fingering; I think it will spring back eventually, though, or I may try throwing it in the dryer briefly). In any case, it’s super comfortable and cosy.

Second, I loved this pattern. It’s yet another seamless top-down sweater – and I know I should try something with set-in sleeves – but Heidi Kirrmaier’s patterns are so much fun. I always find myself a bit baffled to start – this pattern begins with short rows shaping the neck, and I’m geometrically challenged enough that it took me a while to figure out how it all fit together. But if you follow the pattern, everything comes together like a beautiful puzzle. (I’ve knit her Summer Solstice pattern which is even more so like that.) I know some people hate the slog through the body of a top-down sweater, but as long as I can see what it’s turning into, I can knit stockinette for days. Knitting something bottom up and in pieces doesn’t look like a sweater, it looks like a bunch of flat pieces, and my product-knitter self just isn’t motivated by that.

Third, I love that it’s a-line. I know it’s not really conventionally flattering on me, because I have no waistline in this and it emphasizes my hips. But when I’m hanging out at this end of the scale, I HATE having anything fitted at the waist – it’s uncomfortable and makes me super self-conscious. As some fashion bloggers say, I surrender the waistline. Similarly, I like a-line shapes right now because they don’t catch on my hips and ride up, and I never have to tug them down. I get that all the fashion rules say that covering up your body with acres of fabric is less flattering than more fitted garb, and I promise that my more formal work wear is more tailored. But for causal wear I really love having stuff that makes me comfortable in my body, which right now is stuff that doesn’t remind me exactly what the contours of my body look like.

Fourth, I LOVE the feel of the yarn. It’s Malabrigo Rios, and it’s so satisfyingly soft and springy. Yes, it’s superwash, and yes, we’re not really supposed to like superwash, because it’s unnatural and strips the yarn of its natural scale and coats it in plastic. But from the time I was a tiny child I hated wearing wool because it prickled like mad, and superwash doesn’t do that. I finally get to enjoy the lightness and warmth and temperature/moisture regulation of wool in comfort. (Admittedly, there’s only so much regulation can do, and this is going to be too warm for 90% of the time here. But one of the things I’ve realized is that while it seems a waste of money to buy/make cold-weather clothes here, on those few days when it does get cold here, I have nothing to wear. So I can treasure this for cold days for years to come.)

Finally, the color makes me happy. It really doesn’t flatter me at all, which I knew from the start; it began with leftovers from the baby  blanket I made last summer, and I chose the color based on my friend’s nursery color scheme, not on whether the color flatters me. But I have had two beloved dilute torti cats in the past, and this color almost exactly matches the color of their coats. In fact, I was knitting this over the holiday season when we had to put the second of these very special ladies to sleep. So I love that this is a dilute torti sweater, and I can wear it to honor them.

One of our sweet dilute torti girls adoring her papa. See? Sweater color!

I see a lot of discussion in fashion blogs (and on Project Runway!) about whether fashion has to be flattering in shape and color, and I’ve always been someone who tried to wear clothes that flatter my shape and skin tone. But there’s something satisfying and maybe liberating about abandoning that here. It’s not like this is a crazy, hideous, avant-grade kind of garment; it’s absolutely not. No one is going to stare at it for how hideous it is, and I suspect most people won’t even give it a second glance. But given how much women’s clothing normally seems intended to get that second glance, to make people – usually men – look at you, ignoring that feels kind of like freedom.

24028402086_72de9dd6cc_oProgress picture showing the sleeve stitches held on waste yarn. Mostly because I love the look of the pink waste yarn against the neutrals, and kind of wonder if I should have trimmed the sweater with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fancy strap for my fancy camera

I have been working on lots of different stuff lately, including a couple of finished knitting projects I need to post about, but thought I’d show you my latest sewing project:

  

I hated the strap that came with my camera – it had SONY SONY SONY SONY all over it, plus it was flimsy and had scratchy edges. So I decided to make one. 

It ended up being a comedy of errors: I originally intended to use cotton webbing (for durability), but once I stitched on the ribbon and tried to attach the connectors, I realized the webbing I’d bought was way too stiff to hang comfortably as a strap. So then I made a strap out of leftover black canvas and some fusible fleece. That worked much better, but I absolutely mangled the vinyl patches at the ends. I ended up gluing them for function’s sake, and they work, but are ugly.

And of course after I did this I found a much better guide for how to make a strap that would have avoided all these problems – oh well.

I don’t know whether I’ve forgotten how hard it was to learn to knit well enough to produce usable finished objects, but sewing seems to have a much steeper learning curve. In part it’s because I seem to sew in fits and starts, because the lighting in our loft, where the sewing machine lives, isn’t good enough to get much done in the evening. It’s also that depending where you are in a project, it’s harder to pick up and put down sewing in the middle of something. 

But it was fun to get back to the sewing machine, even if the project just required cutting and sewing straight lines, and swearing a bit at some vinyl. 

Au revoir to 2015 in knitting

It’s year-in-review time! I didn’t have any more specific goal this year than “knit stuff when I have time,” so that I certainly accomplished. But I think I’ve also come a long way in thinking about what I like (and need) to wear, and identifying ways that I can make garments that fit those needs.

I finished three sweaters, two adult and one baby:

IMG_0972Dalyla by Cecily Glowik MacDonald (I don’t know why more people haven’t made this; I LOVE this sweater. It’s much less square on the human body than it looks in this [bad] picture. Also, I swear the switch-to-new-skein lines are less obvious in real life. But I should have alternated skeins. The tragedy of this sweater is that it seems to have attracted moths and it has a hole in one sleeve, which I MUST darn before it gets bigger.)

IMG_1910Boxy and Buttony by Joji Locatelli (and I realize I never blogged this – I made it as part of Joji’s Fall KAL this year. The yarn is The Plucky Knitter‘s Plucky Single in Green Goddess, and it’s wonderfully light and soft. I knew going into the project that a single-ply yarn probably isn’t the best sweater yarn, at least in terms of durability, which is true – the sweater isn’t pilling so much as it’s developing the tiniest wee halo of fuzz everywhere – but I don’t need hardy outdoor winter sweaters, and the fabric is wonderful to wear. Am amused at how the last skein – at the bottom of the sweater – turned out “stripier” than the others, though.)

IMG_0240garter yoke baby cardi by Jennifer Hoel (Cascade Ultra Pima Fine in Chartreuse – love this yarn. Buttons from yumyumbuttons on etsy.)

I also knit a scarf, and a winter hat (not yet photographed) for a road trip we ended up having to cancel, womp womp.

I still have some unfinished projects that I will be carrying over into 2016. The ones that I started this year are the Havra shawl from Gudrun Johnston, a Talavera by Amanda Collins, and a pair of Tabi Mittens by Olga Buraya-Kefelian (these are for my husband and I am wracked with guilt because I have no. desire. at. all. to work on them – the needles are so tiny and uncomfortable; maybe metal ones would work better than wood, which feels like working with toothpicks?).

Then there are the long-term lodgers, started before 2015 – my StratumRelax, and Grey Goose Cardi. I’ve been working on the Stratum and feel confident I can get that done this season. And don’t want to give up on the others yet (though I’m a little bit terrified I’ll never figure out where I’ve got to on the Grey Goose Cardi).

I did admit defeat and frog my Adrift and Frost at Midnight. I decided that neither was going to flatter me very much or be very practical for my lifestyle, and that there were other things I’d rather do with the yarn. And I haven’t yet frogged my Worsted Boxy, but I think I am going to, so I can use the yarn for a Tsubasa.

That’s one of the things I adore about knitting – nothing is permanent; mistakes, whether in execution or judgement, can always be fixed.

I wish I had finished more things, but having two sweaters that I adore and wear all the time is a decent outcome.

I will talk about goals for 2016 another time, but must also admit that in the last days of the dying year I’ve cast on something new:

24028402086_72de9dd6cc_oMore about that, as well, another time.

Hey, I actually finished something (so I’m casting on for something new, oops)

Remember that baby blanket that I’d calculated completely wrong? Finished!

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This seemed to go much more quickly than the first half of the blanket of miscalculation, which was a relief. And I think the recipient liked it? It’s always a little hard to tell how much of a reaction is real and how much is politeness. I was a little worried the colors would look drab and not sufficiently cheerful for a baby, but I chose the colorway because the baby’s nursery is grey and yellow (grellow!), and the soft stony grays and beiges-shading-to-yellow seemed just right. The mom seemed to like it, anyway, which is what matters.

Personally, I find myself walking a fine line between beneficence and arrogance with knitted gifts – on the one hand, I want to give people I care about a hand-knit item because it’s personal, made just for them, with affection and care and consideration. I put work and skill into that item.

On the other hand, there’s definitely a part of me that wants to give  hand-knit gifts to show off: look what I can do! look at the pretty thing I made! And I worry that what I give ends up determined by what I can/want to make, more than what the recipient really likes/wants/needs.

But I’m pleased with this one.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, the pattern is Smooth Sailing by Tanis Lavalee (it was very clear and easy to follow, and a fun, easy to read stitch pattern), and the yarn is Malabrigo Rios, which is superwash merino. I know I should disapprove of superwash, because (in my not very technical understanding) it destroys the natural scale found on wool and coats it with some kind of plastic, to keep the scale open and ensure that the yarn won’t felt in the wash (because the scales can’t stick to each other). It also has a slightly droopy, floppy quality sometimes. But I loved this yarn for its softness, and after all, it is for a baby, so both softness and ability to go in the washing machine are important.

(But who am I kidding – I love those things for me. I really want to buy enough in the Aguas colorway to make myself a Lipstick sweater, or a Liv. I’m not going to – at least, not right now – because I have LOTS of yarn, and LOTS of WIPs, and even more in the pipeline, and, honestly, not that much use for worsted weight sweaters. But I still really want more of this yarn. To distract myself – because I totally couldn’t do that with any of my current WIPs, now, could I? – I’ve actually cast on something else:

IMG_1235It’s actually quite a bit bigger than that by now, but more about that another time!)

In totally unrelated news, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to wear a tank top on my walk today, around noon, in the hopes of evening out the slight farmer’s tan I’ve acquired from wearing tee shirts the rest of the time. I didn’t really think about how I usually walk in the evening, when the sun is very low on the horizon, and that even though it’s September, it’s still hot here because the sun is still very strong here. I have lobster shoulders now. Ow.

More adventures in sewing things to hold other things

In further sewing chronicles, I have made a stab at making lined bento bags, for carrying lunches to work. I started with one for the husband (I feel a bit guilty because I should have made mine first, to work out the kinks, but I wanted to surprise him and do his first, so he got what is essentially the practice version), then made one for me. I also made myself an unlined one.

The husband’s, not pictured, is made from appropriately manly gray chambray with a gray/white lining. Mine, however, has a cute desert-themed lining:
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As the above pictures may suggest, the geometry on this didn’t turn out quite right. These bags’ success depends on straight lines and correct angles, which seems a lot easier on the page than it turns out to be in practice. I think there are a couple of issues (for my sewing skills at this point): first, I need more practice cutting. For my husband’s bag, I marked all the lines and cut with shears, but for mine, I used a rotary cutter and marked only a few places as a guide for the ruler. I think I do a better job getting the angles correct when I draw all the lines and cut by hand, but I don’t get the cutting line perfectly straight, so it’s harder to sew a straight seam when everything’s assembled. When I use the rotary cutter, my cutting line ends up beautifully straight, but I suspect the ruler slips just enough that my angles end up a tiny bit wonky. (It doesn’t help that there’s a nick in my rotary cutter blade that requires me to go over everything twice.)

The second issue is bulky seams. You start by sewing two big triangles wrong-side together, leaving an opening to turn the triangle inside out to have an exterior and a lining. (I was following this pattern, if you want a visual of what I mean.) The pattern uses 1/4″ seams, and I’m not very good at pressing them open in any way that makes them lie smoothly after the pieces are turned right-side out. So I end up with bulky seams, and then I layer two of these triangles on top of each other and sew through the seams again, and it’s a bit raggedy, and makes the handles sort of hard to tie.

On the other hand, I’m very pleased with my turned hems on the single-layer bag, which you can see below:
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There, the issue was folding the fabric and getting the angles lined up exactly – again probably partly due to imprecision in cutting the fabric.

(I also suspect that part of the issue is that these bags originally developed to carry bento boxes, which tend to be wider than they are tall, and most of what I want to carry in the bags is not shaped like a bento box – so some of what seems like failure of execution is actually a design flaw, on my part.)

I’d kind of like to futz with the measurements, to see if I can come up with a version of these that fits our lunch containers (or yarn) a little better. But I have also been having great fun figuring out how to make a lined skirt (more on that later), and want to try another one of those, as well as make some more zippered project boxes/pouches. So we’ll see when/if I get back to bento bags.

In the meantime, let me show you Stripey helpfully ensconced on the not-yet-assembled-at-the-time pieces of said lined skirt (there are lining pieces pinned to the pattern under there, too, but Stripey is not exactly the princess with the pea, so was happy as a clam).

IMG_1086

Finished object! Small = cute.

Earlier on here I talked all about how I only knit sweaters, and then I proceeded to show you a bunch of scarves. I have another sweater-heavy post drafted, but in the meantime, here is a sweater for you, if only a wee little sweater for a wee little person.

It’s a gift for some friends of the husband, who just had a baby boy. I’m not really good on baby sizes but I think this will fit the little one at some point along the line, even if not for very long. 

The pattern is garter yoke baby cardi by Jennifer Hoel, which is free and generally easy to understand. I’ll confess I had to look for an online tutorial for the i-cord bind off, but that’s probably me. The yarn is Cascade Ultra Pima Fine, in Chartreuse. The buttons (so adorable!) are from Yum Yum Buttons on etsy. 

The sweater began life as Joji Locatelli’s Garter Stitch Baby Kimono, because the husband adores the little baby kimonos, but that didn’t work out. My gauge was off (I thought that Cascade Pima Ulta Fine was fingering weight, but it’s sport), which messed with the proportions of the neckline increases, and the fabric wasn’t very good, so change in plans.

I can see a lot of problems with this (leaving aside the taken-at-night-poor-light pictures): the fabric has a bunch of uneven patches (I knit this in a lot of short sessions, and I think the picking up/putting down all the time shows), the i-cord bind off is a little too tight (so short), and the corners of the collar and hem aren’t very square. I think the buttons are secure, but the reverse of the button band isn’t the most attractive.

But the shape and size is pretty much right, the yarn is very soft, and I think the raglan increases against the garter yoke look rather tidy and handsome. And it benefits from the universal truth that even the most ordinary object looks many times cuter when you miniaturize it. I hope the new parents will like it.

Welcome to the world, little one.

New to me yarn: KnitPicks Diadem & 28’s Cousin 53!

I’m sure you are all already familiar with KnitPicks, a lovely lovely company selling all kinds of goodies for knitters and crocheters, including lots of different yarns, at very reasonable prices. In those late-night Ravelry-surfing sessions where I pick out a couple gazillion patterns I’d like to knit, there’s something strangely reassuring about being able to go to the KnitPicks website, price the cost of the various projects, and realize that I could actually afford to knit them. (I almost never buy anything in those late night sessions, but it’s reassuring to know that in the hypothetical distant future when I run out of yarn, affordable options are out there.)

KnitPicks also produces an informative and entertaining podcast series. I haven’t worked my way through all of them by any means (I only stumbled onto podcasts around the beginning of this year, and they have 200+ episodes by now). However, I responded to a call on their blog for comments/stories for their podcast, sent an e-mail, and got my comment included (which is about as close as I’ve ever come to internet fame). The attention would have been reward enough, but in return for my comment they sent me a “charm pack” of yarn – one of their project bags stuffed with sample skeins! It was extremely generous and I’ve been having fun playing with yarns I might never have purchased on my own.

One of those yarns is Diadem. This is a fingering-weight yarn, 50% baby alpaca and 50% mulberry silk. It comes in skeins of 329 yards. And I’ve been intrigued enough by this yarn that it was the first of my freebies that I wound into a ball and cast on, to test it out. (I was too eager actually to make a proper swatch, so you get a finished object instead.)

FullSizeRendersorry, I forgot to take a picture of it in the skein/wound until mostly through the project!

The first thing you notice about this yarn is that it is incredibly soft to the touch. If I could sleep in a bed made only of skeins of this yarn I would be a very happy woman.

It simultaneously has a notable sheen and a subtle but definite halo, which may sound a little contradictory. The halo is very fine and soft, less obtrusive than the kind of halo found in, say, mohair. Perhaps because of that halo, it doesn’t have quite the glossy, almost metallic sheen you can see in polished silks. It’s a dry shiny, not a wet shiny, if that makes any sense. It feels matte rather than slick.

Structurally, it’s a very loosely spun single ply. It reminds me of the way that lopi yarns are described online, as a yarn very close to roving. The end of my cast-on tail seemed to lose its structural integrity quickly and devolve into a vaguely linear piece of fluff.

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Casting on was fine (although I realized that using dark wood needles to knit dark green yarn wasn’t my smartest move). That aside, it was still tough at first to distinguish the individual stitches. There’s so little twist holding the yarn together that the stitches spread out on the needle and the edges aren’t very clearly defined.

The looseness of the spin and the yarn’s inclination to spread makes it very very susceptible to splitting (though it probably doesn’t help that I prefer pointy-tipped needles). I found it helpful to insert the tip of the right-hand needle a bit lower in the stitch, closer to where the stitch emerges from the row below, rather than right up against the left-hand needle, because it can be hard to get the needle under those diffuse, undefined edges. If you do split the yarn, the resulting loops and pulls are pretty conspicuous. If you just catch the very edge, you might end up pulling away a wee piece of halo rather than actually splitting the yarn. It’s a little like what I imagine it would be like to knit with cotton candy.

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The yarn also has very little elasticity, which isn’t surprising given its components. Frankly, that lack of elasticity combined with the blurry stitches made knitting the first couple of rows pretty annoying. I tend to knit more tightly, and for the first couple of rows I had a hard time getting the stitches over and past the join between needle and cable in my circular needles. I had to make a conscious effort to knit loosely (which I don’t normally have to do even in cotton or other non-elastic yarns). Once I did that, things started to move along.

Knitted up, the fabric is extremely soft and fluffy. The halo is more obvious when knitted than in the skein. On the one hand, this halo obscures stitch definition, but on the other, the yarn’s sheen highlights stitch definition, so it’s a little bit of a wash.

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A yarn this soft and fluffy positively begs to be knit into something worn against the skin. I’m not sure it has the body to be an effective sweater, but that may just be my own preferences speaking, as I don’t always find fuzzy halo-ed yarn very flattering on the scale required for a whole sweater. I’m also not convinced this will be very hard-wearing, given how loosely it’s spun and how easily the halo seems to pull away from the fabric. If I were going to try to make a sweater out of this, I’d try smaller needles (I used US size 6 on this project) and make a fairly tight fabric, to try to reduce abrasion and give it a little body. Alpaca and silk also tend to stretch without springing back, so a sweater would be likely to grow, which knitting at a tighter gauge might also counter, at least a little. This also seems to produce the kind of fabric that might benefit from the structure provided by seams, if I were inclined to knit a garment in this.

But obviously if you’re not me you might be interested in knitting something other than a sweater. I don’t think this is going to be hard-wearing in any context, so it’s probably not the right yarn for a workhorse sturdy item you wear every day. In cold weather it would be lovely snuggled around your neck and ears, so I can see this making an excellent cowl (I especially envision one that’s long enough to wrap around twice, knit generously), with a slightly dressy twist from the sheen. However, you’d probably want to avoid a pattern dependent on wool’s inherent springiness and bounciness (for instance, something that relies on cables’ tendency to pull fabric inwards?), because this is fluffy but neither springy nor bouncy. I also think this would make lovely mitts – not so much actual gloves or mittens to wear in nasty weather as fingerless mitts to wear indoors in the winter or air-conditioning. That’s maybe not very practical either, in terms of wear, but they’d be so light and soft and warm, and not require very much yarn, that I think I wouldn’t even care.

Rather than swatch – which would let me give you some information about gauge, though it feels like a thicker fingering to me – I dove straight in to 28’s Cousin 53!. This is a free pattern for (as you have seen) a fingering-weight scarf with a little bit of simple texture from garter stitch ridges, yarnovers, and ribbing. It’s a pretty design and the pattern was clear and straightforward (although I’ll admit I chose it mostly because of the amount of yarn it required – I wanted to use as much of the skein as I could). It makes strategic use of straightforward knit-front-and-back increases to create a close-to-crescent shape without short rows, so would be a good beginning project.

IMG_1847 I wet-blocked (which I always do), and the result is a lovely, drapey, soft fabric that feels like wrapping kittens around your neck.

(So, I mentioned I wanted to get as much out of the skein as I could? I actually ended a couple of rows short of the pattern – and in fact, I ran out of yarn with something like 20 stitches left to bind off. The HORROR. So I hacked my knitting: I have been knitting another sweater from Lindy Chain, another Knit Picks yarn, in Ivy. Ivy is a dark green… pretty much the exact same dark green as Diadem Emerald. I thought, eh, no one will ever notice, and finished binding off with a piece of the Lindy Chain. Which is a cotton-linen blend chainette yarn with a texture about as different from Diadem as you can get, but I figured, for a free scarf I can’t complain. The overexposed pic shows where the patch is, but in ordinary light it’s pretty hard to see.)

IMG_1851 Tl;dr: Soft, luxurious, and snuggly; drapey; inelastic; probably not particularly sturdy; great for next-to-the-skin accessories.

(Thanks again, Knit Picks!)