Sunday, December 14, 2014

Der Blaue Pullover

I did it! Twenty-one days from start to finish. Looks like I'll be cozy while in Germany after all.

Evenings this past week were mostly consumed with working out the shirt yoke and collar details, grafting the underarms, weaving in ends and blocking. I decided to go with the 34 stitches across the yoke. I was totally overthinking the whole thing -- 32, 33, 34 -- it really didn't matter. It all came together the way it was supposed to.

I found that the grafted line on the back of the left shoulder is more visible in this one than on the one I made for Jeff several years ago. But I still ended up with that expected little leftover half stitch at the end of the grafting that Elizabeth Zimmerman calls the Schönheitsfehler, or "little mistake of beauty." I like that I was able to fudge it away, but I also kind of like knowing that it's there.

And I also like how the hems and cuffs calmed down and flattened a bit with blocking. Now the lighter Marine color just barely peaks through. I've always liked a photo that Caro posted showing the contrast color when she made a version years ago. In fact, her sweater inspired my first attempt, and thus this one. You can see a bit of the contrast peeking out at the cuff. The colors go so well together. I'm not always confident on my ability to match or contrast colors effectively, but I think I made some good choices this time around. Speaking of cuffs, you might think that the sleeves are a bit long and I wouldn't argue. But I did that on purpose as I have rather long arms and just hate having to pull sleeves down all the time. Not as long as those as of Charlotte Greenwood who played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, but still, I have to be careful.

So the sweater is ready to go. And so are the ManU hats that I made for my niece and nephew to wear at the Boxing Day game in Manchester. Here they are side by side so that you can see most of the motif that goes around the circumference. I pointed them out to my brother a few days ago, and he said they would be perfect. In fact, my niece had been worrying about how to "represent" at the game, so she'll be pleased to have something like this. I hope to get some pictures of them at the game.

Glad to have this finished in time. I was skeptical at first. It was one of those "It's so crazy, it just might work" moments. Luckily, it did. Hah -- maybe I should have patched together one of those 80s movie montages with some sort of power ballad playing in the background.

All I need to do now is get some packing done before we go. And some house cleaning. And maybe a bit of yard work. And a bit more shopping. And get some gifts over to my sister's house. And one more chorus performance. Oh, and I need to get something on the needles to work on while I'm "over there." I sort of have something in mind...



Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Pits

Just a quick post to log my progress this week. I didn't think I would get a lot done, but I did manage to finish the second sleeve and attach both sleeves to the body of the sweater. Now I am working on the raglan decreases that draw in the sleeves and the body as I work toward the yoke and the neck. You can see little creases down the sleeves. Those are where I jumped across from one side to the other using the magic loop method rather than a very small needle (which tends to hurt my hands) or double-pointed needles. I think they'll go away with a little steaming. I hope so anyway. The little gold threads are where the armpits will be grafted. Except Elizabeth Zimmerman refers to that part of the human anatomy as underarms. I don't think she would never write the word armpits.

Rotating from the pits to the shoulders, I've had bit of a counting and/or math issue. The sleeves end up with an even number of stitches before attaching them. And the decreases eat up two sleeve stitches each time. Yet Elizabeth Zimmerman's instructions say I should have 33 stitches when I begin the yoke. How can that be? I've pored over the text like a Talmudic scholar seeking clues or looking for overlooked hints, but I've come up with nothing. Should I only do one of the pair of decreases on the last round? Or should I settle for either 32 or 34 final stitches and just deal with it, keeping in mind that all subsequent instructions will need to be followed by "plus 1""or "minus 1"? I still have a few rounds to worry about it. Rest assured, I will.

The end is in sight, though, and it looks like I'm on track to get this finished before we leave in just 11 short days.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

8 Days In

I managed to do a LOT of knitting this week!

I finished the body of the sweater up to 18 inches. I originally knitted up to 18.5 inches based on my memory of reading the notes from Jeff's version a few weeks ago, but realized I had remembered it wrong. This meant I had to rip back four rounds and try to get 200 stitches back on the needles. Not the most fun way to spend an hour, but it worked. I'm so glad I made those notes in Ravelry years ago. They've really come in handy.

I felt like I needed to get a lot done this holiday weekend while I could. Next week, the Capital City Men's Chorus will be having extra rehearsals for our upcoming holiday concert, and I won't be getting a lot done knitting-wise. Still, it looks like I'm on track for getting this finished before we leave for Germany in a few weeks.

The sleeves knit up much more rapidly than the body of the sweater. I finished the first one at 19.5 inches and the second sleeve is about a third of the way complete. To make the inner color of the cuff work I cast on four more stitches than were necessary, decreased down to where the actual end of the cuff starts, switched to the darker color and then increased on the way up. On the 13th row I caught the cast-on edge on the back to create the hem. The edges are a bit bulky but I think they will be a little less rounded once I have a chance to steam block. Right now, they look kind of spring-loaded.

I'm not sure what kind of collar to make. For Jeff's, I did a 1x1 ribbed collar twice as long as needed and then sewed it back under. But this is a little small for my big head. I still have some time to think through options. Not a lot, but some.

A note on color: my phone seems to push this color of blue more toward violet than it really is. It's more of a softer midnight blue in person. Which is a little more me.

[After crashing one post, I hastily composed this post using the voice recognition function on my tablet. Upon re-reading, I was horrified at the weirdness wrought by auto-correct. If you read this earlier, please give it another go.]

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chattily Written

As I thought about our upcoming trip to visit my brother's family in Gemany this winter, I thought back on my cold-weather sartorial options from last year's trip. While I did take my then newly-knit Redford Sweater, I wasn't entirely happy with it -- mostly due to seaming unevenness and a length problem. Crop tops on middle-aged dudes are not attractive. I do have some vests, but what I didn't have was a nice pullover or jumper that fit. The question entered my mind: Do I have time to knit one before we leave?

I always liked the Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern for the Seamless Hybrid Sweater from her book Knitting Without Tears. I made one for Jeff years ago. He doesn't wear it much, and these days it's a bit large on both of us. I still might take it, but I still want one of my own. So yesterday, I went to the yarn shop and got some skeins of that great workhorse of a yarn, Cascade 220. I bought the colors based on what I liked, but they were only numbered. At checkout, I found the colors were called Atlantic and Marine -- perfect for a trip across the ocean, even if it's on a plane.

Atlantic is the darker blue main color. Marine is a lighter blue that's going to serve as a peek-a-boo contrast for the insides of the hem, cuffs and collar. I started the hem with Marine, using the German twisted cast-on. I worked 12 rounds, switched to Atlantic and worked 12 more rounds, then knit the next row together with the cast-on after folding it under. It's exactly the effect I wanted. The Marine just barely peaks out, and the edge doesn't curl. Plus, it's a different hem look from the usual ribbing. This detail picture shows the hem from the back.

I've mentioned this before, but I really enjoy Elizabeth Zimmerman's patterns. They're the knitting equivalent of story problems in mathematics. There are rules and proportions you have to figure out, mixed with commands one would be wise not to ignore. All interspersed with her razor-sharp wit. As she herself says, the instructions are rather "chattily written." Let's just hope I can keep up with the conversation and get this cranked out in the next three weeks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Lots of knitting wrapped up this week, having to do with feet and foot-intensive sports.

First, I finished the Inlay Socks I'd been working on in fits and starts since this summer. I used some yarn I bought at a shop in Idar-Oberstein, Germany last winter while visiting my brother and his family. This pattern features diagonal traveling twisted stitches that give the illusion of weaving. And best of all, the cabling aspect is done without a cable needle or dropping stitches precariously off the main needles. Very fiddly and a bit difficult to get used to. I never could memorize the flow of it, but I still enjoyed the process.

These are a bit snug on me, but I imagine that's due to the lack of ribbing. They're 76 stitches in circumference, which is a tad bigger than I usually make, but the traveling of the stitches pulls the fabric in and makes it a bit inflexible. I made the largest size, but if you ever make these, consider looking at the next size up. Can't wait to wear them this week. The weather has turned chilly, making for some brisk mornings on my bicycle. My hands and face have been frozen, but my toes have been warm in my handknit socks, though now I'm faced with a pile I need to wash today.

We'll be going to Germany again this Christmas, and this time I'm planning on taking some handknits for our niece and nephew. They're quite the English Premier League fans, and their parents are treating them to see a Boxing Day match in Manchester, featuring their favorite team, Manchester United. I found a pattern in Ravelry that I thought might be a nice little something to keep,their heads warm during the match -- the ManU Hat.

I ordered the yarn, Knit Picks Brava Sport, a few weeks ago. It got here Wednesday and I immediately cast on. It's tougher than it looks. First of all, knitting with acrylic is always a challenge, but I wanted this to be durable. And there are some awfully long floats in the red and yellow sections, necessitating catching the unused color behind the work every few stitches. It pulled in a few places, but I think it mostly worked.

I made a few modifications. There were supposed to be additional Red Devils and a soccer ball motif in the black section up top. I couldn't get the floats to work around the corners without pulling. So I left them out with the idea of duplicate stitching them on later. But when I was done, I decided I like it better plain. And I added a tassel using all the colors and attached it with some i-cord. Overall, I think it looks pretty sharp, although I won't know until I see it on some little noggins.

Now -- to make another one. I'm playing with the idea of reversing the red and yellow in the pattern, but haven't decided for sure.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Border Security

I've never been happy with the button band on the Fine-Knit Cardigan I made last summer and this weekend I decided to do something about it.

I'd known all along from the sample pictures in the pattern book that this button band would be a bit gappy. In the original bamboo yarn it was even more of a problem. The fact that the band is ribbed only exaggerates the gaps. As you can see here, the effect isn't very attractive. I'd gotten to where I wasn't even bothering to button it while wearing it at work.

So I did a little research and consulted with my friend Abbe Saturday morning about some options. I ran by the fabric store and got some matching 5/8" grosgrain ribbon to back the band. After watching several YouTube videos on the technique, I sat down to work.

What I don't know about sewing. Geez. I decided to just run the ribbon continuously up the button band, around the inside of the neck, and then back down the placket. I pinned it flat and whipstitched (new skill for me!) it all the way around. It went more smoothly than I expected, although rather slowly. Today, when I finished, I had to figure out getting buttonholes cut into the ribbon. Ideally, I should have put the holes in with a button hole attachment on a machine before attaching it. Yeah, I know. Seems obvious now. Grosgrain frays terribly when cut, so I thought I should try to sew button hole stitch around the openings by hand. After several hours of practicing I realized this wouldn't be happening anytime soon. I had just about given up ever buttoning this sweater again, when I ran across another frustrated crafters solution.

Super Glue. Don't judge me. It worked. I just dabbed a bit on the back of the ribbon opposite the buttonholes, then carefully cut slits through the glued parts. No fraying. It's not beautiful on the backside, and if my skills ever improve, I can try buttonhole stitching over the glue-discolored sections -- maybe with individual plies of yarn rather than thread?

I'm happy with the end result, though. The edge is much sturdier all around. It drapes from my neck better, and the button band doesn't gap any more. I'm glad I went outside my comfort zone and tried this. I learned a lot -- maybe more about what NOT to do -- but I'll have a better idea how to approach this next time.

I really need to get a machine and learn to sew.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October Surprise!

My Machrihanish vest is finished! And it seems that it's going to stay together, despite my steeking mishap.

I've thought some more about it, and I do think that I made the crochet chains correctly and in the right locations, but made a poor choice in the yarn for the chains. The instructions called for sock yarn and the nearest at hand was some slightly slick superwash leftover from some previous project. I think its slipperiness along with my loose chaining was the problem. I would recommend using one of the less-used colors from your own vest, like the green in mine, so that the natural grabiness of the Shetland wool works in your favor. If you're nervous, you might consider making the neck hole steek seven stitches wide like the armhole steeks are constructed, rather than the called for five. A bit bulkier, perhaps, but worth it for the peace of mind? Think about it. The thread I used to sew up my disaster is just barely visible in the decrease columns next to the ribbing if you look at a larger version of the photo above. But seeing it while I'm wearing it requires a certain intimacy preserved for few.

The instructions called for steam blocking, but I usually opt for an old fashioned full immersion altar call dunking. My gauge often ends up on the snug side and I need the stretching power of a complete soaking. But as soon as I popped this in the sink, the water starting turning blue and I worried that it would dull the other colors. So I took it right out. Still, it got wet enough for serious shaping. With hindsight, I realize I should have followed those particular instructions. As it turned out, I didn't have to do too much stretching to get this the right size.

Most of the dimensions were right on. I had to stretch out an extra inch or so of ease from side to side. The length came out a half inch longer, but I have a longish torso, so that worked in my favor. The armholes, however, sit a little high on the garment and are the slightest bit snug. It may just seem that way because the shirt I was wearing under it is a bit big on me, but I would like just a bit more room. Some careful additional blocking might work for that, but I don't want to put any more stress on the cut openings than absolutely necessary.

I finished this Sunday evening, but wasn't able to take pictures until tonight. As it was, I had to race home on my bike to catch the last bit of usable sunlight. Having really pushed it on the way home, I was a hot, panting, sweaty mess when I came through the door. Jeff was so patient to put up with my "art direction" (read: persnickityness) and did a pretty good job with the short amount of time we had in the rapidly dwindling autumn light. It couldn't have been fun putting up with me sweating in our mosquito-filled backyard wearing a sweater-vest in 80-degree weather. I hope I was patient enough. I look at this picture of myself and wonder...

All in all, this was a great project. I really love the balance of colors, and it has a wonderful symmetry to it in the size I knit. The solid arm and neck edging pull it all together nicely. I can't get over how different it looks close up versus far away. And as I've mentioned before, the crayon-like primary colors created wonderful patterns that meld together beautifully. Thanks, Katie Davies, for designing such a beautiful garment! More pictures are available over at my Flickr site.

I have yarn left over, more than I predicted. Maybe enough to make a hat? Not one to wear with this particular vest. That would be too matchy-matchy even for me. But Tony pointed out this nice hat pattern called Shwook, one of the examples of which appears to be made out of leftover Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage yarn. I'm really liking it.