Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stranded purling and other Takoma adventures

Knitting evokes every emotion imaginable. Frustration when your stitch counts don't match the pattern. Anger when the sweater of your dreams doesn't come in your size. Pride when you finish something beautiful. Confusion when that complicated cable chart just doesn't make a damn bit of sense.

And abject, overwhelming joy. I'm now so deliriously happy with my Takoma that I stayed up until 4:00 in the morning knitting and watching PBS' Downton Abbey. Oh my goodness, what a tremendous show! I can't wait until this evening when I spend another long night with Bates, my humble, honest, stoic, and heroic favorite character. He's so handsome - and fictional. Oh well, I have a nice boyfriend already. :-)

Last night, I added in the third color, a warm antique gold that coordinates nicely with the dark olive and contrasts beautifully with the deep red. Rich and luscious and vibrant - unlike my eternally sleepy dog! No matter what Moose thinks, I'm truly excited about this project.

Yesterday Robin (thanks for reading, girl) asked how the stranded purling is going. Excellent question. The Takoma is designed to be knitted flat and seamed, but many KAL participants are knitting theirs in the round with a steek. I decided to make the pattern as Julia Farwell-Clay wrote it, which means doing colorwork on both the knit and purl sides of this stockinette stitch piece.

I have to admit it's a bit tricky. What this means is that you knit conventionally from a chart, starting at the bottom right and moving to the left as shown in row 1. (FYI: The photographs below do NOT use the chart I'm using in this demonstration. I just wanted to give you a sense of how it works.)

At the end of the row, you turn your work. Now you're on the wrong side where you can see the strands from the previous row.

So now what? Well, you keep on stranding, but now you need to work backwards on the chart, moving from left to right, purling the stitches instead of knitting them.

Knit, purl, and repeat until you've completed the chart.

It didn't take me long to get the hang of this. But then things got really complicated. To shape the sleeves, you need to increase on each side every three rows - in pattern. YIKES. If I'm adding a stitch to the right of the pattern, where in the heck am I in this chart?  It boggles the mind! But it is doable.

This issues explains why so many people are knitting the Takoma in the round. It's a lot easier to keep in pattern if you're not having to envision which color comes next in a colorwork pattern that you can't physically see. What would help (and I haven't done this yet) is to take the charts, copy them, and paste them together so you can more easily see what should come next.

To be honest, I'm enjoying the challenge. My knitting brain likes to stretch from time to time. Plus I love the results.

I have another great idea to share with you today. One of my fellow Takoma knitters, redheadeb on Ravelry, knitted herself a hat as a gauge swatch. Brilliant! What a terrific way to practice the stitchwork and ensure that you're making gauge, too. Plus you get a hat when you're finished. I love it.

Okay, enough waxing on and on about the Takoma. I'm going off now to work on the Carnation pattern. I've got a bevy of earnest test knitters waiting impatiently for me to finish, so back to the grindstone. I'm grateful for every one of them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Knitting ADHD

I envy those knitters who pick a project, buy yarn, knit the piece to completion, and then repeat. It seems like a better way to live, more sensible, less costly, more focused.

But it ain't the way I work. At all. (BTW, if you search for "yarn shower" on Google Images, this photo of my fiber storage pops right up!)

So last night when I should be working on the Carnation Aquamarine vest - I mean, jeez, the back is done and one front is almost finished - I instead cast on for the Takoma sleeve. I just couldn't wait another minute. I've wanted to knit this since it came out in the fall but agreed to start the KAL after Christmas - and yesterday was after Christmas. So it begins.

I'm loving the Cascade Eco+ yarn, an Aran weight 100% wool that is very affordable even after the $5 price increase from last year. (Tip: buy it from Webs and get the 20% percent discount.) Eco+ is very colorwork friendly and knits up quickly on the size 9 needles.

Moose kindly and sleepily modeled my work yet again. What would I do without him? I'd have to boringly photograph everything on my dining room table. Love that pug! And this sweater is pretty cool, too.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A happy holiday indeed

Merry everything to you! If you're a Christmas celebrant, I hope you had a lovely holiday. If not, I wish you a happy winter solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year, or whatever.

Tom and I cuddled up for a quiet (aka perfect) Christmas. I yet again achieved good girlfriend status by giving him motorcycle tires - even though I hate his fricking motorcycle! He worked me over, convincing me that new tires and a great helmet are a motorcyclist's most important safety equipment. I know it a load of crap; look up oxymoron in the dictionary and you'll find the term "motorcycle safety." Oh well, I gave him what he wanted. As a big surprise, I also got him a new GPS since his is as finicky as an old cat.

Santa Tom was very good to me, too. After much consternation and indecision, Tom found the perfect real pearl and diamond earrings. Classic and beautiful, they make me look good even with messy hair and no makeup. I love them... love him, too. 

After opening presents and eating Tom's traditional pancake and bacon breakfast, we headed to the movies to see "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo." I fell asleep for much of the first 30 minutes and was then lost for much of the rest of the movie. But it was fun anyway. We then went home and I made a delicious ham dinner topped off by a homemade apple pie that was to die for. My secret weapon: I use two different kinds of baking apples. Makes all the difference in the world.

I hope you had a lovely day and that you'll get most of this coming week off. While I'm not working, I'm going to work on the Carnation Pink/Aquamarine pattern so I can get it to the test knitters who are reading and raring to go. However you spend this week, I wish you unending comfort and joy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Blocking the back

The Carnation Aquamarine has backed off - the needles! I finished the back last night and left it to soak overnight in Eucalan. The Lion Brand Alpine Wool is awfully stiff and crunchy, but I think the nice long bath has softened her up a bit.

I'm really digging these cables. Classic braids, simple to knit, and very impactful in a bulky wool. I love the Carnation Pink cables but they are a veritable pain in the ass compared to the braids.

I am humbled by how many of you want to test knit the Carnation. I'm sorting out how to move forward from here; remember that I've never done this before. I've published a couple of free patterns that didn't have test knitting (as the kind souls Janet can tell you, since she found an error when she knitted my Dixie Rose Mitts). If you don't get a chance to test knit, you can count on a knitalong with this designer. It will be so fun to see how this vest turns out for other ample knitters.

Thanks to all of you for the interest and support! Hope you all enjoy your holidays - get get some knitting in there, too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


As I work out all my mods for the upcoming Takoma Cardigan, I'm busy knitting away on my second Carnation Pink, this one entitled Carnation Aquamarine. I'm re-creating the vest to check the pattern; my intention is to have the design ready for test knitting right after Christmas.

My current plans, which are subject to change, include:
  • Offering sizes 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64
  • Providing two shaping options, straight and a-line. My personal version of the vest relies extensively on custom shaping, but no one except my doppelganger would benefit from the instructions, so I'm going to simplify things and skip the complicated waist shaping.
  • Giving a tutorial on how to sew a zipper to a cardigan.
I'm also going to offer two cable options. Carnation Pink features a more complicated lattice and rope cable (my terms - I'm not sure what this cable is officially called) and the Carnation Aquamarine uses a classic braid design.

I'm looking for three or four people who would like to test knit this design at the first of the year. The test knitting requirements include:
  • You understand that this is my first wearable design and therefore you must be patient with the pattern. I'm doing the very best I can to ensure that the pattern is perfect, but don't be surprised if there is a hiccup or two.
  • You can use the yarn of your choosing, but for test knitting purposes, it must be a true bulky weight. Heavy Aran won't work, so yarns like Cascade Eco+ are out. The gauge is 3.25 stitches per inch.
  • I'd like you to stick to the pattern for the most part. If you need to make a mod for a better fit, that's fine, but I'd prefer you not radically change the pattern because this is a test knit.
  • You provide the yarn and I'll provide the pattern for free. After test knitting, I'll be selling the pattern on Ravelry.
  • You have some knitting experience; if you've never made anything but a scarf before, this test-knitting project isn't for you, but we'll have a KAL after the pattern goes live so don't worry! You can make it then.
  • You have time to work on this project and can start around January 1.
  • You agree to post photos of your project on Ravelry.  I'd prefer that you model your garment yourself so others can benefit from your experience and can see how this garment fits a larger figure. Don't we all long to see patterns modeled by women who are remotely shaped like we are?
If you're interested in knitting the Carnation, please email me at Moose is NOT interested in knitting a Carnation, but he does like sleeping under one!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Re:coloring the Takoma

This week, amid Christmas family celebrations and long boyfriend naps where he slept and I pondered sweaters, I envisioned a Takoma Cardigan customized for my own shape and size. I know large women should never wear bold horizontals across their overabundant bodies. I get it. But sometimes you have to break the rules. Now is the time for this good knitter to come to the aid of her against-the-rules sweater.

I don't want to stray too far from the traditional Cowichan styling. Julia Farwell-Clay's tremendous achievement in freshening up a classic First Nation design deserves honor and respect. At the same time, I'd like to lessen the visual impact of the central stranded patterns. I'm not ditching the strong horizontals; they make the sweater. But if I could make them a bit more subtle, my over-ample belly and hips would benefit.

Today I downloaded the charts and started coloring using my virtual crayons. I once was a little girl who loved crayons. Some things never change, so I colored and colored and finally settled on this plan.

I am going to make the large center pattern with a burgundy background and gold diamonds. Hopefully this will command less attention visually.

Keep in mind that the yarn colors aren't as saturated or bright as the mockup. They are closer in real life to these Cascade yarn samples.

I'm still cogitating about whether to knit this in the round with a steek or to knit back and forth as the pattern lays out. Julia designed the sweater to be knitted in stranded stockinette stitch, knitting on the right side and purling on the wrong side. I've never tried stranded purling. Guess I'll have to swatch and see if I can maintain good tension this way. Unlike everyone else I know, I'd prefer to have seams to better hold the garment's shape and provide a better fit. We'll see how it goes.

Next on my agenda: how to work some a-line or waist shaping into this straight-sided garment. I'm still cogitating on this one. More after I've figured out a solution to the challenge.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dude abides - and his sweater does, too

As soon as I finish the Carnation Aquamarine, I'm starting the Takoma Cardigan. I know it's not the optimal sweater for a big-bottomed girl, but once in a while you have to say the heck with it. It was love at first sight from the moment I set eyes on this knitted Cowichan coat designed by Julia Farwell-Clay. Just gotta have it.

I was daydreaming about the Takoma today when Facebook displayed an ad for the Dude's Cowichan sweater. How ironic! Of course, I'm referring to the Dude from The Great Lebowski, one of my favorite movies of all time. Who could resist Jeff Bridges, even playing the scruffy, dirty Dude? Goodness, he's handsome.

The original Dude sweater, a 1970s bulky fair isle cardigan made by the Winona Wool Mills, contains FOUR pounds of yarn and is based on a traditional Indian blanket design. Note the circle zipper pull - haven't seen one of those in decades.

The original Dude sweater went up for auction earlier this year. According to auction house Profiles in History, "There were four sweaters made for the production — this vintage sweater and three modern copies, according to costume designer Mary Zophres. Bridges wore this vintage sweater exclusively during the entire production, preferring to wear it all the time and thus delve deeper into the ‘Dudeness’ required of the role.”

The price for this archetypal sweater soared to over $11,000 before the auction was cancelled. "A day before the auction, questions arose about the screen usage of the 'Big Lebowski' sweater. Originally there were several copies made of the Lebowski sweater for the production of the film, it could not be determined if this one was screen used. In keeping with the policies of Profiles in History, it was withdrawn from the auction pending further research." So the Dude's sweater abides - whichever one it was.

The Pendleton Woolen Mills now sells an updated version, which the company describes thusly: "Like our original (you might have seen it on the Dude Lebowski), this vintage look is inspired by sweaters made by the Cowichan Natives of British Columbia. Chunky 3-gauge knit with leather tab pull." You can get this dry cleanable, lambswool sweater for $188. I prefer the original - especially if Jeff Bridges is wearing it.

For my own personal Cowichan, I'm using the pattern's prescribed Cascade Eco+ in Merlot (burgundy), Yakima Heather (dark olive), and Straw (gold). Julia's version used burgundy, dark olive, and tan, but it looked a bit flat to me, so I added the gold instead.

As usual, I spent hours looking for the just-right buttons. I finally found some 1920s-1930s Bakelite buttons on ebay. I love the dark art-deco-carved wheat motif. I bet they'll be perfect, plus it will be fun to have truly one-of-a-kind fasteners on this creation.

The Dude abides! And these 80- or 90-year-old Bakelite buttons do, too.

Carnation Aquamarine

You all know about Carnation Pink (or many of you do anyway). It's the first garment I've created on my own that I plan to release as a pattern. The vest features bulky yarn in a  figure-skimming fit, which allows a larger woman to wear a chunky sweater without looking chunky herself. It also ensures a faster knit - I made mine in just a couple of weeks. The vest is adorned in strong, vertical cables that give a pretty, slimming effect. The handsewn zipper closes the deal - and don't worry, it's not hard to do.

I'm working on writing up the pattern and decided to knit another Carnation to make sure I get the pattern as close to right as possible. I've got several volunteers willing to test knit for me, but the pattern still needs to be as perfect as possible. This time I'm using Lion Brand Alpine Wool which is the spitting image of the original Berkshire Bulky yarn I used for the Pink. I love the subtle blue green color which Lion Brand calls Bay Leaf.

I'm making the vest exactly the same except that I'm swapping out the cable. I don't want two identical vests in my wardrobe, plus I like the idea of showing design possiblities in the pattern. Let's get the creative juices going for anyone who wants to knit my vest. In this version, which I'm calling Carnation Ultramarine, I'm using a classic braid cable that very easy to knit but absolutely beauteous, too.

Stay tuned... I'll keep you posted on my progress. I'm anxious to get this done so I can start the Takoma KAL right after Christmas. No rest for the weary - but I love knitting so much, it's never wearisome anyway.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Dixie Rose Mitts - FREE!

I published a pattern today on Ravelry. Now that was fun!

Yes, I know you're all waiting for the Carnation Pink Vest but I'm caught in Christmas Gift-Making Land so you're getting this free fingerless mitts pattern instead. Named for my beloved Aunt Dixie, the Dixie Rose Mitts are easy and quick to make - I literally made the pair in two nights. The pattern comes in two colors, black and pink, but you could obviously make yours any way you want.

Aunt Dixie specifically requested the black rendition. She wanted a pair of fingerless gloves in anything but wool to which she is very allergic. I chose Berroco Weekend, a really terrific cotton blend yarn. With its high acrylic content, I wasn't sure I'd like it, but like it's wool companion Berroco Vintage, it truly feels like the better fiber. Aunt Dixie didn't want anything too froo-froo, but I didn't want to make a boring mitt either. So I knitted welts on the cuff, mitt top, and thumb and then added some gorgeous antique Victorian glass buttons I found on Etsy. I could spend days looking at antique buttons on Etsy. In fact, I already have.

I'm going to package these up and send them off for Christmas along with the copy of the pattern. Aunt Dixie hasn't knitted a stitch in her life, but hopefully she'll get a kick out of being the pattern's namesake.

I stash dove to get the yarn for the pink version. I wanted to make completely different mitts so show the versatility of the design. This time, I used Universal Yarn Deluxe Worsted in Hot Fushcia and Knit Picks Swish in Asparagus. I found some cute matching flower buttons in my overflowing button bag and a cute mitt was born. Now I need to make the second one which of course I don't want to do. But the mitts really fit perfectly and would be great for dog walks so I'm going to work on the twin today.

I added another quick-knit mittens pattern to my Ravelry store today, too. The Bodacious Borealis Mittens, which I designed last year, use one skein of Berroco Borealis. I made the pair of mittens in six hours, so these would also make for a fast, fun gift.

Hope these patterns help someone. Download the Dixie Rose Mitts and the Bodacious Borealis Mittens for free on Ravelry.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yarn selection for the Twisted Artichoke by way of the Waltham

Marly Bird designed the crowning glory of the latest Knitter's Magazine; in fact, it's the only reason I bought the rag (which I had to search out at Barnes and Noble three times because my subscription copy never appeared. Finally, a month after it was published, the magazine finally appeared at my local BN and I grabbed it. But honestly, Knitter's is consistently late, poorly distributed, and therefore irritatingly ridiculous).

The Artichoke Twist Cardigan features beautiful yoke cabling, simple body styling, and seamless construction, which makes it a winner for larger women (and thinner ones, too). I'd make one mod: I'd have the cardigan button all the way down - you know how I feel about belly gape.

There has been lots of talk on the Rav Knitting at Large group about this cardigan which Marly designed with the beautiful but expensive Bijou Basin Bliss. Much of the discussion centers on yarn substitution as people look for a more affordable choice. Some alternatives include:
  • St. Denis Nordique, 100% wool
  • Wool of the Andes Sport, 100% wool
  • Classic Elite Portland Tweed, 50% wool/25% rayon/25% alpaca
  • Cascade 220 Sport, 100% wool
  • Reynolds Whiskey, 100% wool
  • Ultra Alpaca Light, 50% wool, 50% alpaca

So what happens when you change yarns in an attempt to replicate a 50% yak/50% wool fiber? A lot. I have an object lesson to prove my point. Let's look at how another sportweight/dk weight project turned out in different yarns: the Waltham. Kathy Zimmerman designed the original in Louet Eastport Alpaca, a 70% alpaca/30% merino wool blend. I saw the original at Kathy Zimmerman's store, Kathy's Kreations, and it's lovely.

Dottie made hers in the 100% alpaca Filatura Lanarota Puno. I've seen Dottie's sweater in person and it's gorgeous, too. The all-alpaca yarn gives her a drapier, softer, and warmer sweater with a fuzzier cable.

My online gal pals Mary-Kate and Celine also made lovely Walthams, but their cardis are in Cascade 220, a 100% wool. This yarn delivers crisp cables with less warmth and drape than the 100% alpaca.

Elizabeth took a tweedy approach for her beautiful Waltham by using Lion Brand's Wool Ease, an 80% acrylic/20% wool yarn. The sweater looks beautiful on her, too! The acrylic blend delivers chiseled cables and machine washability, too.
Look at Kathlynn's gorgeous wool and silk blend Waltham. I love the eye-popping cables on this and the perfect fit, too. Kathlynn used Berroco Inca Gold.
Long-time friend of this blog Pat made a luscious Waltham in 100% wool. I can't remember which yarn she used, but I do remember how pretty she looks in this. She complained bitterly about the seaming, but look at how wonderfully she finished this cardigan. Perfect.
Finally, I made my Waltham in my favorite Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light, which yields a deliciously soft, fuzzy sweater that's warm without overheating this menopausal girl.
So, after this trip down Ravelry finished objects lane, keep these lessons in mind as you consider yarn choice for your Twisted Artichoke. I'm going to make mine in the prescribed Bijou Basin Bliss because I was lucky enough to get paid in yarn for some logo design work I did. I look forward to tackling the Artichoke in the new year and think this sweater warrants another knit-along, too.