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

Footy

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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Masculine Mis-Steek

(My apologies in advance to Betty Friedan)

Disaster! Doom! Gloom!

During the week I crocheted my steeks; the crochet chain can be seen in gray sock yarn in the photo to the left. Yesterday I cut them without much fanfare, but with perhaps a touch of hubris, as we will see. After all, I'd done this before.

I spent the morning picking up stitches for the neck band, and then settled down for some simple 1x1 ribbing. But as I worked, I noticed the crochet chain was hanging loosely, rather than being snug up against my work. Closer inspection revealed that many of my yarn ends had worked their way out of the crochet chain!

This means I put the chain into the wrong parts of the stitches, cut the wrong threads, created the chain too loosely, or some unholy combination of the three. What to do? All I could get out of Jeff was sympathy and the sound advice to talk to someone who could help. I talked to Staci, and she talked me off the ledge. After discussing the problem with her and thinking through some options, I decided to hand sew the decrease row of stitches to the picked up stitches to minimize movement. When all is in place, I'll do some things to try and felt the backsides to further stabilize the cut edge.

I think disaster has been averted, but that remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'll keep working carefully and try to keep the nausea at bay. I'm off to a conference tomorrow and I think I'll take a sock and put Machrihanish in time-out until I get back. Sigh -- it would have even wonderful to be able to wear it in Denver.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Machrihanish Bound

I had a bit of time to devote to knitting this weekend, and I've made some progress to share with you on the Machrihanish vest.

Major patterning is done! The reason this looks like a sack right now is that the arm hole and neck steeks have yet to be cut. Once the neck steek is cut, it will expand to be more vest-shaped. I'm actually looking forward to the cutting part. It used to be intimidating. It's till a sobering thought -- cutting knit stitches -- but no longer panic-inducing. As mentioned earlier, I will be reinforcing the cut edge with crocheted chains as the designer, Kate Davies shows on her web site.

I'm a little concerned about fit. It's measuring a bit smaller than my gauge led me to believe. But, it's also hard to judge while the garment is still bound up with the steeks. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that cutting and a good soaking will help with that.

I was hoping I could get this finished before a planned trip to Denver next,week, but I don't think I'll be quite finished by then. I might be able to get the steeks cut, but I don't think I'll have the neck and arm ribbing done. And before I can do any of that, I need to make sure the ends are woven in around the first steek. I had temporary knots tied in the ends to maintain tension while working, but now I need to undo all of those and work the ends back in. Tedious, but necessary. Can't wait for this to be finished!

 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Machrihanish Progress

Just a short and long overdue post about my progress on the Machrihanish vest...

I've not been working on it steadily. Beginning-of-the-semester busy-ness, catching up with relatives and trying to get ahead on yard work has kept me away from the needles, but I'm getting to it when I can. I've been through three 42-row repeats of the pattern so far and am about a dozen rows into the armhole steeks. The decreases at this point are rapidly drawing in the circumference, so I was able to speed up a bit this weekend. It will only get smaller and smaller as I head toward the shoulders -- quite the opposite of center-out lace or top-down sweater construction.

I love making and looking at steeks. I've made both the checkerboard and striped variations. I think I like the stripes better. Easier to see when cutting. These are narrower than others I've done -- only seven columns instead of a safer nine or eleven. I think I might actually crochet these to secure them before cutting. I didn't on my last vest and it's sticky Shetland wool has held up just fine, but I'm worried that seven is too narrow a margin -- literally.

My 32" circular needle is getting a little too hard to work with, so I picked up a 16" 2.75mm needle this afternoon. I'll need it later for the neck and armhole edging, and in a few rows I'll need to start transferring stitches too it as the circumference narrows even further. It will be pretty crowded at first, but that won't last long.

I should have this finished by the time the cooler weather gets here. If it ever does.