I’ve been working nights, over the past few weeks, on my recycled-yarn sweater, and it is slowly taking shape! After dreaming about tackling a seamless top-down sweater (a construction method I love), I decided to work on a seamed sweater project instead. Having had the fun and excitement of making a top-down baby sweater, I felt like I wanted a new challenge.
I felt a twinge of love at first sight when I laid eyes on Roberta Rosenfeld’s Drape front sweater in the pages of a slightly weathered copy of Vogue Knitting’s Very Easy Sweaters (2013).
The sweater looked comfortable, versatile and, yes, very, very easy in its all-stockinette composition. If you recall, the back of the sweater was completed a while ago.
The front of the sweater has since also been knit up, but with one major modification: it won’t be a draping sweater after all! It will be a plain-fitting, non-draping front. Literally, a sweater t-shirt. It’s as simple as tops get. I chose this modification for two reasons:
1. I learned that I did not have enough of the recycled yarn for the drape version, which requires an extra stretch of knitting at the front. Yep.
2. Knitting up using my recycled yarn ended up requiring making many (many) joins. The sweater is basically made up of yarn pieces! This photo may be tantamount to airing out my dirty laundry, but here’s what I mean:
The original pattern requires half of the sweater-front to be twisted after being knit up, leaving half of the front ‘inside out’ (with an outfacing garter-stitch side) and the other half in regular stockinette. The prospect of multiple loose threads from the joins above coming undone and leaving little ends sticking out did not appeal to me. I decided to abandon the dream of that beautiful drape and keep the joins where they belonged: on the inside of the garment!
What’s left, now, is to block the front, then sew the two pieces together. I’m a little jittery about this last step, but I can’t wait to share (and wear) the results. I resolve to love this ‘first sweater,’ regardless of how misshapen it may turn out. In honesty, I already love this future recycled garment with all my heart: I love that this sweater gave me so much time of happy work. It will be that funny sweater I wear that contains all the hours of joy and delight that went into making it. It will be my Happiness Sweater (for this reason, I really hope it fits!). More to come.
Hoping this week finds you enjoying some stitching under the sun!
Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).
I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:
1. I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.
2. I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.
When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.
I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.
I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.
Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.
Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuffand have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.
On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.
The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.
More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace. Jogging, I guess.
Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners – the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).
We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.
It’s an example to live by.
How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?
Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.
We may be heading towards summer, but this didn’t stop me from casting on a pair of Mette Lea’s Norne fingerless mitts for a very dear friend last April. Knit on size 2 DPNs, these mitts are full of delightful details: braided cables along the front, broken-ribbed palms (k2 p2 rows alternate with a row of knit stitches), a stockinette thumb-gusset, and a garter-stitch ‘stripe’ down the side of the thumb for subtle interest. At 6.5 stitches to the inch, the mitts knit up snug and, I think, are pretty sleek. This pattern has made me a fingerless mitten lover.
I used Knitpicks’ Galileo in the Dragonfly colourway. 2 50g skeins were more than enough. Galileo is a Merino-bamboo blend that surprised me with its smoothness and lustre – great for getting those cables to pop and catch light.
The knitting in progress above benefited from the newly returned April sunshine.
By mid-month, the mitts were finished and wet-blocked:
Blocking ribbing + cables: one effect of wet-blocking, I noticed, is that ribbing tends to flatten out a little bit (I used almost no pins, and no pressure). For an already-snug glove, a little extra wiggle-room from the flattened ribbing was OK, but I’ve made a note to tread very lightly when blocking ribbing in the future.
I found that wet-blocking, strangely, had the opposite effect on the cables. The braided cables evened out and came to life after their soak. I was a bit concerned that the blocking would texturally blur them out, so I was really happy to see the opposite effect. Norne mitts were the perfect project for learning about wet-blocking different textures.
Tension: just as I “can’t step into the same river twice,” neither, it seems, can I knit the same fingerless mitten twice (at least not with my current skills!). The first mitten ended up a bit tighter than the second one. The tension difference isn’t visually apparent, but one feels it when the mitts go on.
I followed the pattern pretty closely on both mitts – stitch-wise, they’re identical. I do remember, though, being much more cautious and careful when working the first mitt, then relaxing and loosening my grip on the second one, having eased into a familiarity with the pattern and cables. Apparently, the knitting registered all of those shifts in learning, concentration, and relaxation. The lesson, it seems, is that in knitting, we are also swatching ourselves!
All the signs of summer are returning to my little corner of the city: the neighbourhood lawn mowers are revving, the iced cappuccino dog walkers are out and about, and one hears the slow invasion of flip flop sandals and night-time wind chimes through open windows again.
I look forward to taking my needles outdoors, and can think of nothing better than mixing up a batch of sangria, soaking in some rays, and spending some quality time with friends and the knitting fairies.
The word ‘pastime’ is no coincidence. I’ve been reflecting, recently, on how creative activities seem to devour the time, sometimes voraciously. I am hoping to rein in the times where I’ve crafted myself into several hours-long states of self-forgetfulness; these zones of suspension are creatively desirable, and are calming in their own way, but (alas) lives aren’t entirely made on trance states. In and around the making, there are bills to pay, dogs to walk, taxes to be done, dishes to clear.
Here is a little doodle of that moment of coming up and out of a knitting session. It’s been a few hours, and someone has just reminded me – oblivious – of the time.
In the real world, the glasses will have slipped much farther down my nose, granny-style. As crafters out there know all too well, maker-time tends to escape the dictates of clock-time. That well-intentioned injunction to work for only “15 more minutes” goes unheeded as the knitting grows and grows and takes on a momentum all of its own (if only I could harness this energy when it’s time for the laundry).
What is your view? Do you regulate or schedule your inner crafter, set times when making is “off-limits” or, on the other hand, allow it days where it has free rein? How do you find the balance between clock-time and maker-time?
My posts have been more doodles and drawings as of late – something about Spring’s arrival has back-burnered the warm woolies and stirred up some hibernating drawing energies. I hope to have more knitting news in the next little bit…like a few new FOs!
I have reflected elsewhere on this blog (exactly when already escapes me!) on my sense that knitting is a medium of love. Like other creative activities, knitting renders tangible those important intangibles. Knit objects have, for me, become quite powerful material tokens of care, community, love, comfort, the pure glee of being alive (and the desire to share and communicate a little bit of that glee).
On that note, I recently drew this hypothetical picture of Andrew and I. It’s quite anatomically correct: witness Andrew’s curvy programmer’s back and my forward-leaning neck from the hours spent crafting, reading, and writing (I really must fix that neck). While he is not a knitter (!), I like to think that we’re two creative partners in crime.
I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.
After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.
As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!
Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…
1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams
I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).
After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.
This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.
2. Finding a pulling point
I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!
3. Frogging it!
This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.
I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!
Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)
The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:
By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!
At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.
There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!
Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.
Lately, my sweater-knitting reservations have been less about whether I am capable of knitting myself a sweater, but are more about scale – how to manage and complete all the parts of a big, human-sized project. It occurred to me that if I scaled down and knit a small human sized project, the task of knitting a big one, and learning about its make-up, could become more approachable. And, it did. Small is beautiful.
I decided to knit a baby sweater, My gift to you, by Taiga Hilliard Designs. I liked the pattern’s raglan construction, and I thought that the off-set buttoned front-closure was fun and unique. Also, the sweater is worked top-down – a method of sweater-knitting I’d eventually like to try on a sweater for myself.
I started this project knowing very little about top-down sweater construction. To consolidate what I learn, it helps me to document the process in pictures so as not to forget the next time ’round.
The top-down cardigan knit-cycle
1. This cardigan starts with the collar (on smaller needles) and the yoke, worked back and forth. A series of increases create raglan ‘seams’ across the shoulders, and an 8-stitch section creates a button-band at the front of the cardigan. I like to think of the garment as in its ‘caterpillar’ stage.
2. I think of the next step as similar to biological cell differentiation: stitches are differentiated into types. Some stitches will grow into functional sleeves, others will constitute the body of the sweater. Sleeve-stitches are held on waste yarn and asked to sit tight.
3. Working and casting off the body is the next stage. The project is now looking very much like a garment. I kept my double-pointed needles close at hand for the next step…
4. After completing the body, the sleeves are taken off the waste yarn and are worked individually on double-pointed needles. The sweater grows its wings, er, I mean, sleeves!
Without knowing what to expect, I watched the project transform in my hands into a full garment with shape, texture, depth and dimension. This was amazing. Getting to watch these kinds of slow transformations on the needles is why I come back to knitting again and again (I feel similarly about knitting cables).
A-blockin’ we will go…
I am reforming my habit of neglecting blocking. After weaving in the sweater’s ends and sewing up the gaps which had formed under the arm-holes, I knew it was time to buckle down, soak the knit, grab those pins and….let time work its magic. It was worth it. Blocking is like hitting the reset button; the wonky neckline and bottom-edge curling on the unblocked sweater (top) were smoothed out by being pinned into shape (below).
I decided to wait until after blocking to add the buttons. I spent quite a while in the button aisle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. A set of pink, pearlescent square buttons popped into view and spoke to me. A little embroidery floss helped secure them…
…and this wee garment was ready to go. A sweater is born!
To Learn: Next steps
On the next project, I’d like to learn a little more about how to get more polished button-holes, and also how to avoid the underarm-gaps which occur when switching from the body to the sleeves. Sewing up these gaps is a fine tactic, but I’m aware that there are ways to pick up stitches to avoid those holes. Even farther on the horizon would be to get my colour work skills in shape and try a top-down Icelandic lopapeysa pullover with a stranded yoke (swoon). I tell myself I’ll hazard a colour work project when I improve my skills, but of course, stranded knitting is as stranded knitting does. One doesn’t improve without the hands-on practice. All in due time, dear lopapeysa.
Until then, to tiny sweaters.
Do you remember your first sweater? What moved you to choose that pattern or design?
I don’t often see the words “Top Gun” and “embroidered” in the same sentence. The combination brings to mind a cut-throat needlework academy – a place where high-flying crafting hopefuls train their way to the top, and break all the rules doing it. But, I digress. This week, I finished the embroidered knit project I had been working on for February.
The beau’s cousin, J, recently asked if I could knit him and his best friend a pair of matching caps. Children of the 80s, J and his pal are both big fans of the 1986 film Top Gun. I admit: what I know about the plot comes very second-hand. I haven’t redressed my lack of knowledge by watching it, but in the film “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) are fierce aviation-school rivals who develop a loyal wingmen friendship by the end. They also happen to be J and his pal’s favourite on-screen buddies. The knitting request was simple: could I knit 2 caps – an “Iceman” and “Maverick” hat for J and his pal, respectively? Knowing little about Top Gun fandom myself, I liked the idea of making something in the name of friendship while trying some new knitting techniques.
I chose to knit the Scraptastic hat pattern, using size 3 needles and two strands of fingering weight held together. At my gauge (slightly looser than the pattern), Medium turned out good, though a tad roomier than I expected. I knit the subsequent hat in Small for a closer fit.
Given full creative hat-design leeway, I thought that using the movie logo would be 80s nostalgic while channeling a little bit of the irony of a knit-embroidery tribute to a movie about tough-guy fighter pilots. On the gender politics front, I see no necessary contradiction between ‘masculinity’ and needlework (ah, this is a big topic, with distinctions between men’s and women’s work, and their value, at the heart of debates about gender in the US. I’ll point out the inadequacy of my treatment here, and save that for another time. The gender of knitting is something I think a lot about, as a knitter…).
I used Stitch Fiddle to graph my design out. It allows you to enter your gauge (over 4″/10 cm) to render a grid that reflects your particular tension for making colour work charts. Stockinette stitches tend to be a little wider than they are tall. Because of this, using square-box graph paper to plan a design may result in a slightly skewed final project. Programs like Stitch Fiddle allow for a better idea of what the finished design will actually look like. It’s simple to use; rows and columns are added and deleted with a mouse click. It’s like Excel for your DIY colourwork, embroidery, and cross-stitch projects. All I have to say is “yes!” to this indispensable online tool, and others like it.
Just a single strand of fingering weight and some duplicate stitching was enough to do the trick. I eased into embroidering slowly, working on the hats during free moments during the day. I tend to find my stitching stride best at night, after dinner. The fluid motions of embroidery, and the vigilance to tension, develop a finger-tip attentiveness to the materials quite different from knitting. In contrast to the hardy, elastic, and structured fabric of knitting, embroidered things feel a bit more fragile and precarious to me – until they’re done, my m.o. is to handle with care.
Less exciting was weaving in all the ends. I learned late in the game to use a single long strand to embroider multiple letters, rather than cutting my strand after each character.
Also, I personally find it best to work the duplicate stitch from the bottom to top, starting at the base of a letter, then working up and across. It’s just a little neater that way, I find.
Finally, the Top Gun hats
On the way…
All in all, this was a fun project. It’s hard not to see blank stockinette surfaces as a canvas for some stitchery waiting to happen. It was a surprise for the knitting to unexpectedly serve as a gateway to embroidery.
I received a request, a while ago, for a knitting commission of sorts: a request for 2 personalized ‘name’ hats, due at the end of February. I said yes (always excited to take on a new creative challenge).
But, readers, I have never knit such a thing – I have never put text on a garment. As I watched tutorial after tutorial for intarsia and stranded knitting over the last few days, I wondered if I could deliver the promised goods. Beyond mastering stranded/intarsia techniques (no simple feat), there was the question of designing a colour chart, finding a way to work it into a hat pattern that didn’t initially include one, while making sure to observe the proportions of the letters, the positioning of the name on the hat, etc. I couldn’t conceive of how to pull this off.. I was all question marks – a big long “uhhhhh……??”
A ray of light came through the clouds. I discovered the Duplicate stitch (a.k.a. Swiss darning). Often used on knits for lettering and monograms, the duplicate stitch is a nifty over-embroidery technique. One simply follows ‘on top’ and around each v-shaped stockinette stitch with a contrast strand, as below.
Embroidery must have been invented so that human beings could cultivate awe and develop their powers of contemplation. That’s my theory, at least. I love embroidery – looking at it, following out the details with my eye, running my fingers over the stitches. It’s just delightful. When it comes to doing the actual embroidering, however, I’m an absolute newbie.
After some experimenting with different fibers and thicknesses for this project, I decided to embroider the names on the hats using a single strand of fingering weight (as above). This does not offer perfect stitch coverage, but neither does it bend the knitting out of shape the way doubled thread did (making the stitches look tense and stressed). I was on my way.
The 2 requested hats are for a ski trip. I chose Jane Tanner’s Scraptastic Hat – a simple, close-fitting beanie that hopefully won’t fly off on the slopes. Meant to be worked using sock yarn remnants, the pattern specifies US 2 needles, at a gauge of 7 sts to the inch. Using two strands of superfine/fingering yarn held together, I used my US 3 needles (6 sts/inch). I sized down in the pattern (Large to Medium, for ex.) to compensate for producing a slightly bigger garment than the gauge intends. The finished hat did end up on the roomier side, but is still wearable.
I look forward to posting the hats as I continue to work on them. I can only hope the embroidery muses will help get my skills up to snuff in time. I’ve got my needles crossed. More on this project soon.
It always feels great to come to the end of a knitting project. That feeling is amplified when completing coincides with the new year – it sets the year off on the right foot and is a sign of more knits to come, I think. In that spirit, two recent FOs:
Cartridge belt ribbed scarf
I completed the purple cartridge-belt ribbed scarf and shipped it to its new home. It was happily received in the first week of January. I declare it my first finished object of 2017!
At 60” in length, it is the longest scarf I’ve ever knit. The worsted Paton’s Classic wool was a joy to work with, yielding lustrous, light-catching bright purple fabric with nice stitch definition.
Before sending it off, I couldn’t resist attaching a handmade materials- and care-label. Adding a little drawing to my knit is the veritable cherry on top of the knitting sundae – a continuation of the handmade love in another form (also, the thought of yarn made from purple sheep was too delightful to pass up).
My second finished object of the new year is a ‘knit helmet’ – a gift for my father completed on January 9th. With Canadian winters being what they are, knitting something like this for him has long been on my bucket-list. Worked in the round in 2 x 2 rib, this project knit up quicker than I expected as I took to my size 7 circulars on streetcar and subway commutes across the city. The ‘slit’ for the face is worked by casting off a number of stitches mid-round, completing the round, then using the backwards loop cast on to work a new set of stitches directly above the ones that were cast off, introducing a gap. The new stitches are then worked in-pattern.
The yarn – Cascade 220 Heathers – was purchased at the The Purple Purl (1162 Queen St. E) in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. I still remember my first visit to the store two Thursdays ago. With that night’s temperatures dipping down to -16 C, I bundled up, took the eastbound 501 streetcar to Queen and Jones, and walked into this small, purple-painted yarn shop. Stepping in, I was immediately flooded by fields of colour and softness which worked an instant thawing effect. A knitting table sat in the center of the space where the shop’s knitting and crochet workshops are also held. While perusing some superwash merino hanks, I overheard a seasoned knitter speaking heatedly with staff about finding the absolute right yarn for the sweater she was planning while another employee, donning a baby blue hand-knit cap, wound hanks into cakes on a wooden umbrella swift. Another shopper soon entered the store and said that, while her stash was already voluminous, she couldn’t resist coming in “just to look. I always need to have a look.” The man standing at the register carefully worked a fine, marled grey sock on DPNs, and I was comforted by hearing the question come up repeatedly in the surrounding chit chat: What are you making? – that earnest invitation to some knitter’s shop-talk. With the temperatures steadily dropping outside, I was thoroughly warmed by this cozy yarn haven in Toronto’s east end.
But I digress. Back to the helmet. I chose this pattern for its versatility. The helmet is wonderfully dual purpose and incredibly practical: it can be worn as is, as a balaclava, or can be conveniently rolled up into a beanie. This flexibility makes this knit ideal for multi-weather wear. I just love this thing.
This pattern is taken from The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) website (but is also on Ravelry) as part of the SCI’s Christmas at Sea program. A New York-based organization for maritime workers – “North America’s largest mariners’ service agency” – the SCI makes available a list of maritime garment knitting projects which interested knitters can donate, along with a personal holiday greeting. Donated garments and greetings are collected year round, and are sent to maritime workers stationed away from their families during the holidays. For more maritime patterns, or to donate to the Christmas at Sea program, visit here.
My wi-fi access has been spotty as of late, but I look forward to catching up and reading (with relish!) about your wonderful comings and goings, dear bloggers. In the meantime, wishing you a very happy Monday from Toronto’s Harbourfront.
I hope you are having a splendid week, and are finding some restful down-time.
Last year, I completed my first ‘big’ knit for a friend who is expecting a baby girl this year – the Super Easy Crib Blanket by the folks at Purl Soho. I simply adored these blankets the moment I saw them – so many whimsical and fun colour combos. I decided to try my hand at colour-coordinating and knitting one myself. I can think of nothing nicer than being wrapped up in something warm and bright on a cold winter day – Purl Soho’s creative intuition in designing this simple but lively nursery staple is spot on.
I wanted the crib/stroller blanket to measure around 30″ square. With some garter stitch swatching, I found that, using a 29″ size 11 (US) circular needle and a super bulky wool-blend, I could produce a blanket width of 30″ by casting on 72 stitches. Each of the 7 bands of colour is 4.5″ high, yielding a final length of 31.5″.
With these magic numbers, I took to my needles last October. I wanted to do a jazzy .GIF for you of the blanket growing larger with each stripe, but I lack the technical skills. 🙂 You can watch it grow below.
Blanket statements (a.k.a. Learnings)
1) It was interesting to discover that circular needles have non-circular uses. Not having to carry the weight of a large project on straight needles (letting the project lie in your lap) = an easier time on wrists and shoulders. I pretty much knit all things on circulars these days – they are incredibly portable.
2) Pattern-wise, this was a straightforward garter-stitch knit all the way through. Being loosed from a complicated pattern meant that I paid more attention to the qualities of the yarn. Yarn weight and composition aside, I found that different colours produce different knit-feel – white strangely felt the ‘softest’; pink activated my taste receptors (it reminded me of bubble gum and cotton candy); and the energizing red seemed to jet-propel my fingers right across the stitches. I can’t wait to make the next blanket and experiment with more colours.
Wishing you happy trails on your creative projects this week, big and small.
I hope you enjoyed a very Happy Christmas. Bitten hard by the making-bug earlier this month, I decided to try my hand at designing my own holiday greeting cards using the Knitting Panda art work I posted just a few days ago.
Have you ever wanted to draw or design your very own greeting to share with friends and family? If you’re interested, here was my process – a DIY drawing tale in 4 steps, for the curious:
1. Collect and Design. The fun part of this stage is playing around and ‘collecting’ inspiration – ideas, images, and so on, for drawing. I tried to think of the pictures, colours, and themes that might tickle my imagination.
Bears have always been one of my favourite things to draw. I can’t explain why but from the time I took pencil to paper, human-like bears populated my pictures. I grew up in the era of the Berenstein Bears, Care Bears, Paddington, and gummi bears, so this bear-love is probably a product of the 80s.
As you may have also read in past posts, I like to think that the essence of my recent knitting practice lies in expressing care and generosity – towards myself and others – in ordinary ways. Knitting, for me, is a modality of loving; in its form, it can convey the idea that the fabric of life is stitched and held together by the acts of love and generosity we share.
So…. a knitting bear it was. However, I still needed some concrete pictures to make the leap from idea to image. A Google search of “bear knitting” unfortunately gave no direct results. But, when I found the photo below in a 2011 Daily Mail article on how pandas digest bamboo, I knew I had found the reference image I was looking for. To my eyes, this ambidextrous panda was clearly a knitter (and a happy one, at that):
2. Draw. If you’re a drawing amateur, like me, this step is likely to be riven through with all kinds of worries about whether the drawing ‘looks good’ (maybe along with internalized standards about whether it looks ‘real’ or not). When this hits me, I like to think of why children draw, the way they draw, and how I drew as a child: often and copiously, mostly un-selfconsciously, in order to share and tell stories, and out of the simple pleasure of moving messes of lines and colours around. I suspect that the desire to recapture this pleasure is behind the recent interest in adult colouring books (which I haven’t tried yet). When I was 6, my parents also gave me those smelly Mr. Sketch markers. Remember those? These added ‘smell’ to the already long list of reasons to draw.
So, I tried to back-burner my preoccupation with the end product, drew (copying the reference image, but adapting it a little), water-coloured, and inked. It was fun to see Knitting Panda take shape. I’m glad s/he got drawn.
The gist of step 2 is appreciating that your way of drawing and seeing are unique and cannot be produced by anyone else – “that might be a good thing”, you jest, but it can also be an adventure to discover and develop your style and way of seeing things through the materials, colours and subjects that feel right.
3. Copy. I had to outsource this step of the DIY. I scanned my water-colour image, and sent it to the local business-supply store/copier’s. Surprisingly, my batch of greeting cards (single-sided 5 X 7″ matte prints) were ready to take home that very day at little over 50 ¢ per card. The copies aren’t perfect (the colour is less saturated than the original), but they did their job of spreading holiday cheer. There are many copying alternatives; I went with the simplest and most affordable (short of printing them at home).
4. Share. Off the little pandas went, into the mail slots and taped to presents, (bear)ing their glad tidings. If this panda brings a smile or two, then I’m happy.
There’s nothing like the glee of seeing your design go from daydream, to doodle, to hot-off-the-press copies. I’m excited to try this again for the next occasion.
It looks like Christmas is just around the corner. This one really crept up on me (it always does, but I’m usually a little better prepared!). We are leaving today to spend the weekend south of Chicago with A’s relatives. I’m, of course, bringing my latest work-in-progress with me – a purple cartridge belt ribbed scarf for my friend, R.J. Yep. Still working on it (but past the halfway point now). I’m looking forward to catching up with A’s family and getting some more rows on that scarf.
In the meantime,
Whatever your plans, Knitting Panda and I hope that the next days find you warm, stuffed with treats, and in the presence of your very nearest and dearest.
P.S.: I am working on a little backstory post about ‘Knitting Panda’ in the coming days. Stay tuned, and stay warm!
The thread of knitting puts you back in touch with who you are…[Knitting] makes life more livable. It makes you happy to be in your own company.
– Kaffe Fassett
Knitting and other forms of hand-crafting are, to me, apprenticeships in living well – they’re tutors in patience, (self-)care, focus, commitment, reciprocity, and pleasurable flow. Sharing knitting with others shares a little bit of these good things. Double the happiness if you happen to be knitting or crafting something special for yourself this week (’tis the season!).
That said, my holiday knits recently included a new hat for a very good friend, my partner’s cousin, J. This project was a good lesson in knitting for others. When he first requested ‘a hat,’ I did what perhaps most enthusiastic knitters would do: I took to Ravelry to feed my eyes with ideas. Maybe I’d try an interesting stitch pattern, or cables, or helix stripes, or (gasp!) stranded colour work… In the end, J preferred something far more simple: a classic monochrome ribbed cap.
So, I found a simple pattern, adapted the number of stitches to my gauge, cast on, ribbed (7.25″ from the edge) and resolved to navigate my way through the crown decreases on my own. As luck would have it, the Red Heart ribbed hat pattern calls for the exact number of stitches I was working with (112). Good old reliable Red Heartsaved my crown from becoming a knotty knit-experiment gone bad. The capricious knit gods were smiling upon me that day.
The finished cap, worked in k2 p2 ribbing – a winter staple.
Snowy days are the cap’s new habitat.
I’ve noticed that J and my partner are regularly wearing their handmade caps. It brings me so much delight to see my handiwork doing its job out in the world (and this winter is really putting my fledgling skills to the test with Chicago’s recorded temperatures colder than Mars yesterday). Seeing people wear your knits is incredibly reinforcing, in an almost Pavlovian way; it’s a happy sequel to the days or weeks (or months) it takes to move a project off the needles. There must be a German compound word to describe the specific happiness that comes with knitting for others: if Schadenfreude is the pleasure derived at another’s misfortune, then perhaps Strickenfreude (?) might be the happiness that comes with another’s knitting-gain.
Ribbed cap learnings
2 things in particular struck me about this project:
1. Measure.This was my first hat made to measure. While my first 2 beanies took a more ‘one size fits all’ approach, it helped to have a head circumference measurement when making this more close-fitting, cuff-less cap. In tandem with swatching (revealing a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch using worsted weight yarn and size 7 circulars), I knew that the final hat ought to be around 19″ for the wearer, allowing for the rib to stretch about 4″. To find the number of stitches I needed, I did the following (I write this to jog my memory):
6 / 1 = χ / 19 (or 6 stitches per inch = χ stitches to 19″)
Solving for χ yielded a count of 114 stitches. I rounded down to 112 (only certain even numbers preserve the alternating k2 p2 pattern when joining in the round).
It was a longer wait to cast on, but I think this prep paid off, and it taught me to how to adapt a pattern to work with the materials I have on hand. I’ll be swatching, measuring, and doing the math much more carefully from here on.
2. Do ‘simple’ well.In my zeal to build my skill set, I was forgetting an important all-around principle: learning to do simple things well. Simple often gets conflated with easy, and easy is often overlooked or de-valued. The unexpected challenges of completing this seemingly simple knit taught me that attention and care go into making simple things look easy. At my skill level, I’m resolving to refine my handiwork and focus a bit more on doing simple well.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’re finding a little bit of calm, warmth, and downtime in the midst of the holiday rush.
I hope you are having a good week. Winter here in the Midwest has started off on a very cold note, but thank goodness for the sun. It’s been a very sunny week, and I suspect the ample sunlight is the only reason we are taking winter – the sudden and low subzero temps, the icy sidewalks, the wind, and dealing with all of the above while de-snowing the car or waiting for a bus at 7 am – in what seems to be good stride.
Ok. Among my holiday WIPs this week is a scarf for a dear friend. This is a holiday but also a Thank You gift to someone who has helped me quite a bit over the years with my work and studies – a thank you that is long overdue. The scarf is worked in what is now my new favourite rib stitch: the cartridge belt rib. I first discovered this stitch while perusing Purl Soho’s No-Purl Ribbed Scarf. I was intrigued by the idea of a rib that didn’t require any purls! Beyond being simple, other advantages of this rib: it’s entirely reversible, lays down flat, and produces a lovely elongated stitch and dense (warm) fabric.
Working this stitch requires a multiple of 4 + 3 stitches. The rib is a 2-row repeat, worked as follows:
Row 1: knit 3, *[slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 3]; repeat from * to end of row
Row 2: knit 1, *[slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 3]; repeat from * to last 2 stitches, slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 1
I’ve been making headway on the scarf – a few inches here and there, and I should hit around 60″ before long (scarf-length preferences are subjective, but for a scarf like this, I’d like it to be long enough to at least go ‘once around’ and still hang midway down the torso). The stitch pattern is quick to memorize; the scarf shows you the way as you make it. The ‘knit 3, slip 1′ repeat is also easily set to 4/4 time, if you think of knitting in that way (I often do). I’m finding it much funner to do my flat knits on circular needles. I’m not sure why. Something about their flexibility and portability makes it exciting to get my needles and go. I feel like I can take ’em anywhere.
I love making (and wearing) scarves, and I love the idea of wrapping a dear friend in a little bit of woolly warmth on a cold day – like gifting a warm hug.
A Big Thanks goes to luciddays.wordpress.com/ for the beautiful fabric photographed here.
I look forward to catching up on your crafty projects and holiday happenings. What are you excited to be doing/working on this week?