Friday, January 27, 2012

Bits and pieces

Ladies, journey with me now to my dining room table where you will rarely find china, silver, and crystal. Instead, knitting projects hover there waiting to be photographed like a long line of model wannabees.

First up, sisters Theresa and Anita take their stroll down the red tablecloth. These sisters lusted after a Buttoned Wrap Scarf worn by their nephew's girlfriend to a family party last year. 

After much analysis, study, rumination, and shopping, the sisters picked out two bulky-weight yarns with matching buttons. Neither of these creations will be an exact replica of the original, but hopefully they're close enough. Anita chose oatmeal and Theresa selected olive green. Theresa's buttons are another great Etsy find. She bought them from BeckySueCreations, the vendor who made the great buttons for my Under Toad. Becky Sue makes her buttons with very lightweight polymer clay but they really do look like stones.

The Sophisticate is also coming along. After debating how long to make the sweater, I took advice from Linda, an active Knitting at Large Rav group member. She suggested making the sleeves and then deciding on the sweater length. Great idea. I finished the right sleeve except for the cuff and now need to decide whether to make it a folder garter cuff like in the pattern or with a plain garter cuff or ribbing.

I've got several other projects that I want to make - two pairs of mittens, a pair of fingerless mitts for my friend Faith, a pair of socks, and the second Carnation vest, too - but I'm trying to finish something. Anything! Before starting something else.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Sophisticate moves right along

Just a quick update to show you my progress on the Sophisticate. It's moving right along! Got to love bulky yarn and how quickly it knits up.

As you know, the best thing about knitting a top-down sweater  is that you can try it on. I slipped it over my head last night and was happy with the fit. I've got my waist shaping down pat now; I know just what to do. BTW, I never think of myself as a curvy girl until I make a sweater. Then I see the pictures and the truth and recognize that the damn thing actually fits.

This effort is informing how I'm going to shape the Takoma. The Sophisticate and Takoma are very similar, both being straight-sided, shawl-collared cardigans. But as I've said over and over again, I look better in sweaters with waist shaping. If I made either of these sweaters with straight sides, I'd have to make a much larger size to accommodate my over-ample hips. This would leave me with lots of extra fabric at the bust and waist which would make me look larger.

It's been easy to modify the Sophisticate because I can put the waist shaping wherever I want. But the Takoma is different. I need to work around the fair isle bands; I don't want to break that patterning with decreases. So, I'm going to carefully place my waist decreases before and after the center fair isle band. I put the majority of the Sophisticate decreases in a 14-row span, working four increases every other row, using princess seam shaping. I think I can do something similar with the Takoma, but I may have to move that center band a bit. We'll see.

But for now I'm focusing on finishing up the Sophisticate. Then I'm going to complete the Carnation Aquamarine so that it's done before the official pattern release. Lots of girls are test knitting the Carnation now so it won't be long. I'll blog more about the Carnation later this week. I also want to write about bulky yarn on bulky bodies because I'm breaking the rules prohibiting chunky yarn - and the sweaters look great. More on that topic soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gray day sweater

After a mild, snow-free winter, Mother Nature delivered a bit of everything this morning: snow, sleet, and freezing rain. My apartment complex counter attacked with an army of snow shovelers who are delighted to finally be making some extra dough. The streets and sidewalks are cleared and salted, ready for anyone who wants to venture out. But I'm not going anywhere. It's a gray day worthy of some serious knitting.

I'm actually working on a gray day sweater, Linden Down's Sophisticate, a classic top-down, shawl-collared cardi. Linden designed this pattern years ago for the little ones among us. She upsized her original Baby Sophisticate to adult sizes - and plus-size ones, too.

The enlarged Sophisticate comes in up to 62-inch finished bust sizes and sports Aran weight yarn. Linden knitted her model garment in Knit Picks City Tweed in Brocade, a lovely plum color that looks terrific with her complexion.

I'm making mine with yarn I bought from an Etsy vendor, Yarns of Italy. "I'm an Italian (a REAL one from Turin, Italy) importer whose passion is bringing the best "undiscovered" products of Italy to US customers, and my partner is a woman whose greatest passion in life is YARN," she explains. Works for me. I love undiscovered yarn!

So I bought a bevy of Mafil Corteccia, a truly splendid organic merino/alpaca blend. I wasn't sure how I'd like the yarn when it got here - you never know buying something sight unseen. But this glorious string is worth a wholehearted OMG. It is absolutely beautiful and knits up like butter. Right out of the skein, it looks like it's been blocked! I love it.

Sophisticate uses a top-down, seamless construction with lots of stockinette stitch. In other words, it's easy-peasy. I'm flying through it, mindlessly knitting stitch after stitch, feeling grateful that the larger yarn makes for such a quick knit.

Best of all, it fits perfectly. I added a little shaping past the bust to eliminate some of the extraneous waist (waste?) fabric and will add lots of increases for the mighty derriere. My other planned mod is to make a deeper, more luxurious collar like the one I made for the Waltham. That's one kick-ass collar; it will be perfect for this garment. I'll blog more about its complicated construction that results in the perfect face-framing collar.

Of course I spent many hours of my precious life picking out the just-right buttons for this project. I stumbled onto these handmade pewter ones on the button-box-of-all-button-boxes, Etsy. They are gorgeous, exactly the same color as the yarn, and just perfect.

Now I'm off to spend this gray day making the optimal gray day sweater. The weather outside is frightful, but the gas fireplace is so delightful. And since I've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

That pattern I'm making...

I've had several requests to share the name of the round-yoke pattern I'm making. It's called the Open Jacket from Plymouth Yarn.

Here are the particulars:
  • Comes in sizes up to 48 inches but can easily be upsized
  • Is knitted top down with no sleeves (I can hear you all cheering from here)
  • Is made with bulky weight yarn
  • Calls for 800 yards of Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grande for size 48 (I'm using Berroco Campus)
  • Has straight sides (I'm going to add waist shaping and expand for the mighty derriere)
  • Is easy-peasy and knits up fast
The pattern is available in yarn shops and is not downloadable; Webs offers the pattern for sale online. For more information, see the Plymouth Yarns website

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saving the best for last

Yesterday we had a mini-reunion of the Knitting at Large meetup. Thanks to Brenda's kind invitation, Dottie and I headed to Brenda's home in Winchester, VA for a day of pizza, yarn shopping, and used book perusal. Brenda's friends Marilyn (who also attended our initial Knitting at Large event) and Janet came along, too. We had FUN.

I dragged three totebags of yarn to Brenda's house and came home with four, I'm embarrassed to say. We raided Never Enough Yarn, a charming little yarn store in downtown Winchester. Three steps in the door, I spied a really cute and easy-to-make round-yoke vest. I asked for the pattern and was given a lackluster one-pager from Plymouth Yarns. If I'd seen this on Rav or in a magazine, I'd never have given it a second look. But the model garment is orders of magnitude more interesting than this drab pattern. The model garment also features a deeper yoke.

I lucked out and found some firey Berroco Campus on clearance - 30% off. As my BFF says, cha-ching! The wool blend spins together red, burgundy, orange, purple and lavender. I contemplated green but Dottie vetoed me and sent me back to red where I belong.

I was so anxious to try the new yarn out, I cast on for the neckline on the drive back to Germantown. On 10.5 needles, I made quick work of the yoke. My mods include: ensuring the yoke is deep enough; making the skirt wider and A-shaped to accommodate the might derriere; and adding button bands so that I can button the vest up at least at the bottom (I'm still an awod belly gape avoider).

I'm hoping I can whip this baby up quickly so I can go back to the large variety of other sweaters I haven't finished yet. :-S Have I told you lately that I'm ridiculous?

But I've saved the very best for last. As I rummaged around this little Winchester yarn store at least two hours away from my home, I came across this dark blue, mottled mitten sitting on a little shelf. I did a double-take. I had mittens just like that. Did I wear those today? I didn't think so, but my goodness they looked the same. I examined the tag on the mittens: Bodacious Borealis Mittens. OMG! Let me say that again... O M G. Those were my mittens! Made with a free pattern I posted on Rav and knitted up as display pieces for this little shop. I started doing the Snoopy happy dance right there and then. My own pattern! In a yarn store! And according the manager, much beloved by the many customers who had made my very own mitten pattern. A completely unexpected thrill. BIG SMILE.

If you'd like to make a pair of uber-easy, uber-quick Bodacious Borealis Mittens, download the free pattern and get started. Please post pics when you're done. I'd love to see how yours turn out.

Many thanks to Brenda and Richard for their kind hospitality. What a great day!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meet Mechelle, newest member of the Knitting at Large Hall of Fame

Mechelle amazes. If I gave out trophies, she would most certainly receive the Most Improved Knitter award. She's earned it.

I met this lovely Brit on Rav when she asked me to do a Fit to Flatter analysis. She sent me her pictures and we discussed what she could do to make the most of her figure.

Next thing I know, Mechelle has turned herself into Miss America (or Miss UK?) with a fabulous makeover. Her gorgeous red dress and black shrug turned every head in town. Wowwweeee! Best F2F implementation I've ever seen. You go, girl!

Then Mechelle started applying her new skills to her knitting. She made several cute sweaters, including the great adaption of the Buttercup using Sirdar Simply Recycled in sage. (I like her little kitty, too.)

Mechelle recently finished a triumphant, highly customized Emelie that fits her PERFECTLY. She asked me lots of questions about sizing and fit and then cast on for a larger size on this bottom-up sweater. Then she changed to the next smaller size when she reached the underarms so that it would better fit her through the shoulders. It's just amazing. With this well-fitting cardigan, she looks curvy and thin and busty. Excellent work.

The back also fits well. I envy her lack of the mighty derriere!

For all these reasons, especially the tremendous progress towards making a sweater that truly fits and flatters, I am happy to induct Mechelle to the Knitting at Large Hall of Fame. As I said, Mechelle amazes. And her sweaters do, too.

Friday, January 6, 2012

What I've learned from disappointment

Travel with me now back to 1976. The Bicentennial adorns America in ubiquitous red, white, and blue. Son of Sam creeps around New York City murdering young couples on dates. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" wins Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress nods at the Academy Awards. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launch Apple Computer.

And I attend my first prom. I dreamed of going to the big dance ever since I was a tiny girl. Like most women my age, I was raised on Barbie and Ken, Archie and Veronica, and our favorite board game, Mystery Date. If you'd asked me when I was little what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said married. Everything else was secondary. Every love-obsessed prepubescent knows that a dreamy prom is the first step towards marital bliss.

In the winter of 1976, I started dating a smart, kind, and gorgeous blonde named Juan. We worked together at the movie theater; he was older than I and in college, too. AKA the catch of a lifetime! My stock went way up when this hunk of burning love asked me soon after to go steady. The ultimate in prom dates was born.

I couldn't wait until the first week of June when Juan and I would waltz to the Sheraton Ballroom in Washington, DC. Like Cinderella, I would wear my dream dress: a pastel cotton, ultra-prissy prairie dress. 

NOT. My mother, aka eternal maternal dictator, vetoed that idea right away. She liked unadorned, tailored, sleek dresses, preferably in polyester, with bright colors and big flowers. This wasn't the dress, but you'll get the gist of what I ended up wearing - and how far away it was from MY dream dress. Instead, I wore my mom's dream dress.

Now it was time to worry about Juan's apparel. I'd always envisioned my dream date wearing a white tuxedo jacket with black pants. You know, like what Ken would wear.

But Juan insisted on donning a tuxedo that coordinated with my dress. So he rented a lemon-yellow tux with a yellow-lemon ruffled shirt, and six-inch-high platform shoes. Much like this fellow, he looked like a handsome daffodil.

So off we went, Miss Polyester and her daffodil boyfriend, to the prom no-longer-of-her-dreams. Despite a lifetime of fantasies, my prom was... dull. Rubbery chicken and a bad band playing "Colour My World" into the night. The dance ended, the lights went up, and we made our way home. The highlight of the evening was making out in the car, but even that was cut short by my curfew. All in all, a big disappointment. I've had far worse disappointments over the years, but this was the worst of the first.

So why all this reminiscing? Because it reminds me of my current debacle otherwise known as my Carnation pattern. I've dreamed for ages of designing something spectacular with great options for ample women. I wanted to create a garment with a lot of pizzazz that eliminated any notion of matronly. The Carnation Pink was born and I love it - and the rest of you do, too. (Well, I guess no one who doesn't love it would tell me, but it still gets rave reviews.)

I worked on the pattern for weeks and thought I had at least the back documented well enough for public consumption. I sent the design out to the 18 kind test knitters. Within ten minutes, people started sending me corrections. Blushing, I quickly fixed the typos and reposted a new version - over and over again. Finally, Deb Gemmell, designer extraordinaire, told me the truth: you need to take down the pattern and eliminate all errors both great and small. I knew she was right, so down it went.
But here's the real problem. I'm a big-picture girl. I am very talented at a lot of things, including having the 50,000-foot view of any problem. I'm a great marketer and branding expert. I can create products and communities and design logos and brands that tell people instantly why they should buy or participate. I can write. I'm nice and supportive and a good friend. I can even design non-dopey sweaters that others want to wear.

But don't ask me to get down in those weeds and make anything perfect. I am NOT detail oriented. I know I should be but I'm not. I suck at details. There's a reason I'm not an accountant, lawyer, or admin assistant. I just can't do it.

I can knit anything I want; I just draw myself a little picture, cast on, and go. But despite my best intentions and greatest longings, I simply cannot give you accurate, stitch-by-stitch instructions for six sizes. I can point you in the right direction but you'll never get to the sweater I made. 

So I give up.

All is not lost. Deb has agreed to whip the pattern into shape since she IS detail-oriented and experienced in pattern writing. She's working on the Carnation pattern now and it will be ready for test knitters soon. Really ready this time, not just kinda sorta in a way.

This is all a big, embarrassing disappointment to me, much bigger than the lemon-yellow prom. But I've learned a big lesson. If I'm going to design, I will have to have a talented, accomplished, and competent tech editor who can take my design and turn it into a usable, accurate pattern. I literally design a new sweater in my head every single day. Time will tell whether I'll just knit for myself or will find a work-around to my non-anal-retentive brain. At least the Carnation will be available for all the nice people who want to make it. As much as I hate disappointing myself, I even more hate disappointing you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hopeful chest

As a fellow knitter, you'll appreciate the holiday gift I bought for myself yesterday: an antique cedar chest to store my hand knits. Currently, my sweaters live in giant ziploc bags dumped into a laundry basket in my bedroom. I've tried other storage options, but I just don't have a good place to put them.

I started shopping online for the just-right solution. The perfect chest would be beautiful, not too big, not too small, preferably antique, definitely cedar lined to keep the bugs out, and not ridiculously overpriced. In other words, I became the cedar chest version of Goldilocks looking for the perfect porridge.

Tom helped in the selection by using his extensive experience buying and refinishing antique furniture. He pointed out the fatal flaws in dozens of chests I found on ebay and other websites. We also scoured Craig's List for DC and Baltimore. Nothing. Or at least nothing right.

But yesterday I stumbled onto the just-right chest at Maine Antique Furniture, an online purveyor of truly lovely vintage pieces. 

The company describes my dream chest as follows:
This is a wonderful art deco carved cedar chest dating from the 1940s, that looks like a Lane but isn't stamped as one. It features a cedar lined interior, an egg and dart molded top, mahogany Figaro-striped face on the front with a notch-molded kickboard carving on the base with block feet. The chest has been stained in a dark reddish-brown walnut color with clear coat applied, and is all set to go in the home. The overall size is 46 inches wide, 19 inches deep, and 21 inches high. It's a great-looking cabinet that will provide style and function to your home.

Love it! Sold - and for a lower negotiated price, too. I can't wait for my chest to make it's way down the eastern seaboard so I can promptly and appropriately house my hand-knitted apparel. I'm also going to put my grandmother's antique quilts and my baby quilt in this beautiful storage box, too. What vast improvement over that laundry basket, huh?