Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A little green for the Green Mountains

I received an email from Webs today. The knitting nirvana wants to remind me that its annual summer sale ends August 31, so wouldn't I like to buy even more yarn to stick in my yarn shower?

Off I went in rabid pursuit. I'm currently in love with Nashua Creative Focus Worsted and discovered that Webs has this gorgeous yarn on sale in a chunky weight. Perfect for that Brigid I've been wanting to make! Which color? The heathery lavender? Or maybe that soft light blue?

In the middle of this decision, I got distracted. I learned that my beloved Vermont still reels from Hurricane Irene. Four people died in the Green Mountain State, and flooding has decimated some communities so badly they remain inaccessible. No one yet knows the fate of these poor souls.

If you told me to go home, I'd head straight to Vermont. I've vacationed there for years and dream of moving there one day - for the summers anyway. I work 51 weeks a year so I can spend one week in Vermont. I wanted to visit this fall but the hurricane has now dashed that hope. Tom and I were in Vermont last September; here is one photo from that glorious trip.

There's really only one thing I can do so I did it. I took that splurge money I was going to send to Webs and donated it instead to the Red Cross of Vermont and the New Hampshire Valley. Far better to invest in the place that I love than to buy yet another skein of yarn.

If you would like to help the people of Vermont, donate to the Red Cross. To learn more about the devastation, check out this heartbreaking article from the Huffington Post. And if nothing else, please add Vermont to your prayers. These people need all the help they can get.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Question and answer session

I've received a bevy of questions about my last few posts, so today I'm going to answer them all at once.

Questions about the Mighty Acorn:

Karen G. asks: One question: Do you think the sleeves as they are with the cuffs would make the bustline look larger? I need all the help I can get in that area.

Answer:  Karen, from what I've learned, elbow-length sleeves, especially ones with cuffs, highlight the waist. If you've got a waist, you might want to enhance it and thereby make your breasts look larger. I'm busty but my mighty derriere is still out of proportion so I do what I can to emphasize my bosoms (what an old word!). Some things I do include:
  • Minimize the bottom of any sweater by keeping it as plain as possible
  • Move all patterns to the top of the garment, including fair isle, cables, stripes, and the like
  • Wear a well-fitting bra - it's amazing what a difference a good bra can make
  • Consider putting patch pockets on the bustline. Here's a vintage pattern that shows the technique well. See how it make the breast look larger and draws the eye there, too? I'm too busty to try this, but it would work well for a less ample girl.

Joyce asks: This looks like a beautiful sweater and your mods are excellent. My only question is: why would you make such a warm sweater with short sleeves?

Answer:  I can think of several reasons why one might want to make elbow-length sleeves:
  • Sleeves that end at the elbow highlight a smaller waist as stated above
  • Shorter sleeves make for a lighterweight garment, something that those in more temperate climates appreciate, as well as the menopausal among us who are considering giving up sweaters forever!
  • If you're running short on yarn, shorter sleeves may be your only option.
  • Short sleeves are very trendy right now. One popular example is the Brigid Jacket from Vintage Modern Knits. I love this sweater and hope to make it one of these days.

Questions about widening hips on a sweater

The hilarious Heidi asks: I see this sweater is top-down, but if you were trying to make 'hip modifications' on a bottom-up sweater, would you need to put stitch markers on the extra purls so you can take them out later?

Answer:  Yes, if you were knitting from the bottom up, you could certainly keep markers on the ribs that have the extra purl stitches. You'd need to stagger the decreases similarly to the top-down version. Just use the same reasoning in reverse; all those lower-case Bs below are really purls. :-)

Dancing-girl asks: I am a total noob at trying to alter patterns to fit better so no, I have no idea what you’re talking about, lol! I don’t know for sure but I’m thinking I’ll probably need an extra 4-5” adding so that it doesn’t scream ‘look at mah belly!!’.

Answer: I wrote the post about one way to widen hips on a sweater, but Miniknits had another take. I quote her in full:

...another solution, especially in a sweater of this style, is to gradually increase the circumference of the sweater by increasing the needle size, and thus the gauge. The advantage to this is twofold: with all the ribbing maintaining its ratio of k’s and p’s, its a bit easier to knit. The other, more important one is that the slightly drapier fabric may sit better over the wider part of the body. If this route appeals to you, definitely swatch and experiment with needles. I have a vast selection of needles of various brands to choose from in most sizes,(some might say too many), and if you swatch with several different brands you can notice differences in gauge from one brand and or material (wood, metal,etc) to the next, so you can sometimes minimize a big or obvious jump in gauge by choosing a different brand of needle."
I've never tried this approach but my friend Loraine uses decreasing needle sizes to perform waist shaping. I'll give this a try the next time the opportunity permits.

Questions about Tom versus the hurricane

Jamy asks: Wait--why did he feel the need to be there? I love that you are trying to accept Tom the way he is, but I just don't understand!

Answer:  I have no earthly idea other than that he is testosterone addled. It's a trade-off. I love that he is a manly man and kind of macho in his gentle way - until there's a dangerous hurricane. Or until he buys a crotch rocket and wrecks it at night in a rain storm and breaks his shoulder, three ribs, and his foot (true story and amply covered in this blog). The dude longs for adventure but at 57 with a bad back and bad heart, his options are limited, thank God.

Tom told me once that learning to love is now his great adventure. Isn't that lovely? He's a great man when he's not driving me absolutely nuts.

Pat asks: What is Jersey Shore? Is it a TV program??? I have a cultural deficit, I think.

Answer: Yes, it is a show on MTV. Your IQ is at least 100 points higher because you've never seen this debacle. It's like fried Twinkies... someone might call it food but you shouldn't because it has zero nutrional value. I found the show after Obama was asked if Snooki should run as mayor of Wasilla (Sarah Palin's hometown) and he said he had never heard of her. I hadn't either. Anyway, my strong suggestion is that you go back to never hearing of it. You'll be a better woman in the long run.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What I did during the hurricane

First, a quick update on Tom versus the hurricane. He is okay and his house is okay but a tree fell on his SUV. Last I heard, he was headed out with a chain saw - he never sounded happier in his life. I'm apparently dating the Brawny guy, except my dude is bald.
As many of you pointed out today, this is DEFINITELY a man thing. And I am without a doubt a woman who just doesn't get it.

Anyway. So what else have I been doing other than surviving earthquakes, hurricanes, and a lumberjack boyfriend? Knitting of course. I am working on that Mighty Acorn I wrote about the other day and it's coming along well. The Quercus pattern uses an interesting top-down construction technique that begins with a provisional cast-on. You then knit the upper back; unravel the provisional cast-on; pick up the stitches; put most of them on two holders; and then use the rest to knit the first upper front, as shown below.

I'm adjusting the fit as I go; like on my last sweater, I'm making the crossfront (for the lack of a better word, meaning the space between my shoulders above the bustline) wider than the crossback (the space between the shoulder blades in the back). I pinned it on the duct tape dress form and it fits perfectly, as far as I can tell. I'm also increasingly in love with the Nashua Creative Focus Worsted yarn. It is truly gorgeous.

Now back to work. I am going to knit and distract myself by watching the Jersey Shore's big fight between Ron and the Situation. Watching Ronnie come to blows with Mike is SO much more fun than watching him argue with Sam. This is my guilty pleasure. Kind of like eating potato chips for dinner.

OT: What it's like to love a mule

Today should be a joyous day. Four years ago, I met the beloved Tom. Four years is forever! We could have graduated from college, borne five children (theoretically!), and jetted around the world almost 750 times. We could have even had a leap year. Four years!

Tom and I found each other through an online dating site for BBWs. Tom didn't know what a BBW was, but he figured he'd give it a shot. He wrote to 20 women; I was the first one to answer. We talked constantly for five days and finally met. We've been together every day since.

When I asked him why he was into big women, he said, "What do you mean?" I pointed out that he'd found me on a BBW site. He just looked puzzled. "I wondered why that site was called BBW. What does BBW mean?" Big, beautiful women, I explained. He shook his head. "I'm into women but they don't have to be big. They just have to be nice. That's all that matters to me." And he meant it. I had a father who hated my weight  and shamed me constantly to diet. I then had a husband who loved my fatness and begged me to get fatter. I'd never been with a man who was genuinely into ME rather than my weight. I didn't know what to make of this. I still don't, frankly.

It hasn't been a perfect relationship - but what relationship is? Maybe if you hook up two perfect people they'll have a perfect love, but we're both flawed folks who do the best we can. Love at midlife comes with complex baggage: former marriages, teenagers, childlessness, illness, financial crises, lousy childhoods, and the like. We did what we could do: partner up, soldier on, and love each other along the way.

So after four years, it's time to celebrate! I bought food for a feast: my signature crab cakes (I am a Marylander after all), Tom's favorite roasted potatoes, fresh yellow squash, and a homemade blueberry pie. Maybe we'd go to the movies or for a long drive. We'd talk about the past and our future and make some romance, too.

But instead of a romantic weekend, Irene sauntered into town. Irene, that narcissitic drama queen who walks in and instantly commands everyone's attention. Utterly seduced, my two-timing boyfriend followed her home and stayed there. Home for Tom is 100 miles away on a peninsula in the Chesapeake Bay. It's a fine place to live - unless some hussie hurricane hustles by. And last night, one hell of a floozy had her way with Tom.

Everyone knew that Irene would wreak havoc. I begged Tom to spend the weekend here as he always does. But NO. He excitedly dug out his generator, camping stove, and kerosene lantern and hunkered down for the duration. All day long, under a foot of rain and 80 mph winds, he waved goodbye to modern living, first losing land line service, then cable, then the internet, then power, lights, and air conditioning, and finally his only way out. There are only two routes off of his peninsula and both are now blocked by downed trees and powerlines. To make matters worse, the dam down the street, which was built to stop flooding in his county, is overflowing, putting him at greater risk. And the state just announced that Irene also damaged the nuclear power plant near his house. Could this get any worse? Other than him dying in the storm?

Did I tell him this would happen? Did I beg him to stay here last night? Did I know our anniversary weekend would be ruined if he insisted on hunkering down? YESYESYESYESYESYESYES.

Am I really, really, really pissed off? YESYESYESYESYESYESYES.

Is Tom so hardheaded you could use him as a jackhammer? YESYESYESYESYESYESYES.

All I can do now is pray. God, grant me the serenity to accept the stubborn-as-a-mule boyfriend I cannot change. The rest of that familiar prayer continues: the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I know there's nothing I can do about Tom and his decisions except wait for the roads to clear and the power to come back on and life to go back to normal. In the meantime, I'm going to do all I can do: Freeze the crab meat. Walk the dog. Knit my sweater. Let it go. And be grateful for this man who drives me completely nuts - and loves me better than anyone I've ever known.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

One way to widen hips on a sweater

Francesca, knitter extraordinaire and a devoted member of the Knitting at Large Rav group, yesterday posted pictures of her amazing Skara Brae in Autumn. Isn't this absolutely gorgeous?

Twist Collective, the pattern publisher, describes Stephanie van der Linden's Skara Brae as "Gansey-influenced, with the traveling stitches and attention to detail of finely made stockings." I describe it as classic and stunning. 

Francesca wisely started knitting this top-down pullover according to her bust measurement, so it will fit well above the waist. But like me, she she has a bottom-heavy form. She knows that the pattern's prescribed fit (shown in the schematic below) won't work because she needs five or six additional inches through the hips.
Francesca isn't shaped like a shoe box so her sweater shouldn't be either. Francesca's Skara Brae will look best if it mimics her figure. Her sweater should be shaped more like this:

Francesca asked me what she should do. You know me... I always have an opinion (or perhaps it's a suggestion?). My approach: for this particular sweater, I'd insert some additional purl stitches in the ribbing on the sides of the pullover.

Let's assume Francesca needs five additional inches through the hips and that her gauge is 4.25 stitches per inch.This means she needs to add an additional 22 stitches throughout the bottom of the sweater. How did I get this number? I multiplied the inches needed by the gauge, or 5 x 4.25 = 21.25, and then rounded up to 22.

Now let's figure out how many stitches should go on the front and how many should go on the back. This is an easy calculation. Divide the 22 stitches in half and you get (obviously) 11 stitches. Eleven additional stitches need to go on the front, and 11 need to go on the back. With me so far?

Next, let's figure out how many stitches should go in each quadrant, meaning both sides of the front and both sides of the back. This is easy: 11 stitches divided by 2 is 5.5. But let's not split hairs. We can't knit half stitches, so let's just round up. We'll put 6 stitches on one side and 6 on the other on both the front and back.

At this point, Francesca has two choices. She could put all these increase stitches on the side seams and be done with it, but that won't fit terribly well. If you read this blog, you know I've tried this approach and what I ended up with is a little triangle on the side. I had to surgically remove this appendage from my Waltham!

What works better is to add the increases as darts like I did with the Petrea and the Undertoad. This allows you to create four increases areas rather than two. It also provides a great fit that mimics princess seaming.

The only problem with the Skara Brae is that if you insert a consecutive line of increases in a single line, you'll end up with a gusset. The following shows the ribbing pattern used in the Skara Brae:

If you add purl increases on top of each other, you end up with a wedge of purl fabric that breaks the ribbing.

What would be better, I think, is to spread the purls out so that they're not stacked on top of each other but instead get distributed throughout the fabric. This reduces the degradation of the ribbing. In the example below, I added two purl stitches to a rib and staggered the increases. This will give the sweater a balanced look.

Here's another way to look at the same thing. The little red dots don't show up well, but what they say is +2P, or plus two purl stitches (as previously discussed, the extra purl stitches are added to the beginning and end of the rib). This diagram shows the placement of the 24 stitches and corresponding widening of the sweater.

Ta da! That shows how I'd do five or six inches to the bottom of the sweater. Does this make sense? Do you have any questions? Would you approach this differently? Leave a comment and we'll discuss!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Mighty Acorn

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"What is a Quercus?" I wondered. Almost instantly, an email from Teresa unraveled this riddle. "A quercus is just an acorn!" she explained. The Quercus is also a new pattern from Knitty designed by Julie Turjoman.

From first sight, the pattern filled me with ambivalence. I absolutely love the back - LOVE! It's made for a figure like mine. I have to have it.

But other details make me itch and scratch. I don't like the yarn - or maybe it's the gauge? - for this sweater. It's too stiff and crunchy. The cuffs bother me; the way they're photographed, the sleeves look like they were knitted too long and haphazardly rolled up. The model looks engulfed by the collar - but she's a tiny little thing so maybe the wide collar wouldn't be an issue on a big girl like me. And then Teresa exclaimed that the cable looks like a spine. Eek! I agree.

But still, I like this design. It has great promise and with some tweaks, it could be just right for me. (As it is now, it's probably just right for most other people. I'm just contrary. And the joy of knitting is that you can make sweaters however you want. Thank goodness there are no knitting police or I would be arrested.)

Given this, I'm going to make Quercus with the following mods:

I'm going to use a different, lighter weight yarn with a better drape. My choice: Nashua Creative Focus Worsted, a 75% wool/25% alpaca blend in Taupe Heather, an oatmeal color. A few weeks ago, I purchased a treasure trove from Little Knits at a steep discount. Apparently Nashua Handknits has sold the yarn brand to Rowan. I bought the Nashua version for $2.50 a skein a week before Rowan released its new and unimproved version for $10 a skein! It was such a great deal, I bought two sweaters worth, one in oatmeal and one in light blue. I'll be making a fair isle sweater with the rest of it soon. 

I like the elbow-length sleeves, especially the natural line that occurs between the sleeves along the back waist where the cable ends. But I don't like the cuffs so I will either end them at the elbow with ribbing, revise the cuffs so they lay better, or extend the sleeves to the wrist. Still pondering...

I want to swap out the rolled edge front on the sweater with ribbing and buttons because I know this will be more becoming on me (see the quick-and-dirty mockup below). Like lots of bottom-heavy women, I look better with the top of my sweater open and the bottom buttoned; this draws the eye towards the bust, shoulders, and face. I created a graphic for the F2F Rav group this morning that shows why I don't wear three-button sweaters. The same principle goes for sweaters like the Quercus; I'm skeptical that using a pin at my waist will be attractive on me because my belly will protrude. I'm also so short-waisted the the pin will ride right under my bust. Buttons are better - for me anyway.

As I said before, my knitting gal pal Teresa remarked that the Quercus cable looks like a spine. To reduce this effect, I'm removing the two purl rows that bisect the cable. I'm going to use a more classic style instead, as shown here in my swatch.

Planning completed, last night I casted on and started the long march down from the shoulders to the hem. The Quercus is knitted top-down design and is almost seamless. I am intrigued by the construction and am interested to see how it effects fit. We'll see. But I like what I've made thus far. My sweater will be even prettier after blocking because the Nashua Creative Focus Worsted blooms luciously.

So, what am I calling this creation? The Mighty Acorn, because it's SO much easier to spell and say and remember. I hope you will come back and watch my little Acorn grow into what I hope will be a very beautiful oak tree.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lessons learned: the Under Toad

For each and every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But in Knitting at Large Land, for each and every sweater, there is an equal and opposite post-mortem. Welcome to the Under Toad lessons learned.

My Under Toad is based on Lisa Kay's Undercurrent in the First Fall 2011 issue of Knitty.

First off, I really like this sweater.

Of all the garments I've ever made, this one is the most me. My personality apparently contains stripes, yarn from recycled fiber, and a big collar/hood. When I put on this sweater, my insides sing YES.

The colors suit me.

People have always said I look best in reds, from baby pink to fire engine red to burgundy. Red makes me feel at home - and romantic, too. When I was young, I dreamed of getting married at Christmastime and wearing a red velveteen ball gown. That never happened, but it's still a good thought.

I'm proud of my yarn selection.

As I've said a thousand times before, I just don't like Noro. The dye colors clang and clash loudly for me. The one exception: Jared Flood's Noro Striped Scarf. The undulating stripes of color sing in visual harmony.

The Undercurrent obviously draws on the creative spirit of Jared's scarf, but I was leery to use Noro anyway. With a scarf, you get short, fixed color repeats. On a sweater, those repeats stretch unpredictably. I discovered this in the first sweater I made Tom four years ago. I happily knitted the body of the sweater until the V-neck - and then the colors pooled. I was a novice sweater knitter at the time and couldn't figure out how to fix it so I just kept knitting. But this lesson came to mind when I chose my Under Toad yarns.

My first instinct was to use a solid and variegated yarn. I already had a pile of Berroco Remix in my stash so I searched for a color-striping yarn that coordinates well. After hours of research, I settled on the Plymouth Kudo because I like the colors and thought the unusual fiber content would mesh well with the Remix. These two disparate yarns looks like a matched set when knitted up. I'm very happy with the results.

Finally! Back shaping that really fits!

My greatest achievement, however, is the elimination of the pooled fabric at my waist. If you read this blog, you know about my ongoing waist shaping issues. You also know that my intention was to move the extra fabric from my back waist to my front chest where it belongs.

Although I planned for this at the outset, I also ended up improvising when I realized that even though I'd done some pretty aggressive decreases from the hips to the waist, the sweater was still too wide at the back waist. I added additional decreases at the sides until the garment ws narrow enough. Then I knitted straight up instead of adding bustline increases as I have in the past. The result: a back that really fits (as shown in this mega-lousy photo).

And a front that fits, too!

The corollary to a well-fitting back is that I ended up with a well-fitting front, too. On the front pieces, I added bustline increases and made the crossfront about 18.5 inches wide rather than the crossback measurement of 17 inches. If you look at the schematic below, you can see that my front and back aren't symmetrical - and that's because I'm not symmetrical! If you want a well-fitting sweater, make it mirror your body. That's the key.

I like the length.

Sweater length is the bane of my existence - or one of them anyway. I both made the Petrea and the Undercurrent to test differing lengths. My conclusion? There is a place in my wardrobe for both sweater lengths. The longer sweaters work best when I'm wearing jeans, for example.

On the Under Toad, I added additional ease through the back hips and used a 5 x 5 ribbing to keep the sweater from pulling in under my butt. It still cups my read end more than I like so maybe next time I'll do a hem or just eliminate the bottom edging all together. But the bottom line - pun intended - is that I have a large bottom and comparatively smaller thighs. Ultimately, it just is what it is.

In conclusion, I'm pleased with this successful creation. My next task: thoroughly measure every piece of the Under Toad so I can create an updated schematic for use on future projects. I plan on using this shaping for the upcoming Deb's Cardigan and several other sweaters that are rolling around in my brain, too. Hopefully in the next sweater I can make the shaping even better.