Wednesday, March 3, 2021


Do you ever have this strange feeling while finishing a project that now is the time to start it all over again? I have it almost every time. When I finally figure out how to modify a pattern to make it look and fit better, it’s all over, and I move on to the next project. Yet, there is always this lingering thought at the back of my mind that if I make this exact pattern again, I’ll do it better.

Last month, after my success with the Hoodless Hoodie, I immediately started knitting another zippered jacket for my husband. To be honest, I hate putting zippers in my knits. I don’t have a sewing machine and have to do everything by hand. It takes lots of time and lots of ripping off. And I hate working with dark yarns – hard to see and hard to stitch parts together. Why then I made the second jacket from a very dark yarn and with a zipper? I think, because I wanted to prolong the feeling of total control that working on the hoodie gave me.

Also I was hoping that going again through the same ropes will help with muscle memory. You know, a bit like in cooking. When I love a dish, I’d make it again and again – not only to savor the flavors but also the process of cooking it. And it takes less and less time with repetition because there is no need to check a recipe and my hands remember all the moves. Yes, a different dish could be more intriguing but here I know already the final taste and I can tweak and play with the ingredients to get exactly what I want and like.

Again, I picked a pattern from an old Phildar magazine. The body is done in four parts, mostly in stockinette (easy) with some ribbing on the sides. Actually, I picked it for the ribbing – I thought it would look flattering and slimming (it does) because even if my husband doesn’t care about his looks, I do. After all, I am walking next to him!

There are only few finished projects for this pattern. Looking at the pictures I decided to forgo the pockets. The way pockets are designed in this pattern, they would have added bulk to the stomach area where you don’t need any additional bulk.

And again, I was using the Hebridean wool from Birlinn Yarn Company. And again, I didn’t have enough yarn and had to order several more balls (very fast shipping, highly recommend!). 

Making the parts was easy. The only problem was the need for the natural light to work with the dark yarn. Otherwise there were no problems. I used directions for two sizes (again) – for the back and sleeves XL and for the front parts XXL – because I wanted the front to be roomier, not too snug.

Sewing in zipper doesn’t get easier with practice but it gets less tedious and nerve raking. Either listen to a book or some music and be prepared to spend several hours (not necessarily consecutive) as well as to do a lot of ripping off. One more thing – all the work with a zipper is done before you stitch the parts together: it goes much smoother when you are dealing with just two fronts, not the whole jacket.

I didn’t make step by step pictures of zipper insertion, but here is the process in a nutshell:

1) Block the finished front parts. When they dry up, don’t take off the wires from the closure edges.

2) Insert a closed zipper between two front parts, pin it in place, and baste with some waste thread (preferably white). Get rid of the wires.

3) Sew the zipper into the front sides first in the middle of the fabric strip, and then – in its edge. Get rid of the basting thread.

As in my previous project - a Hoodless Hoodie – I knit two additional ribbed trims to hide all the seams from the inside.

The collar is identical as well. I used a magnifying glass with a light to work on the collar and it was still difficult to see everything on this dark yarn but the end result was definitely worth all the trouble.

We had a week of cold and windy weather here, so my husband had a chance to actually wear this jacket several times. It is warm, light, practical, and easy to wear. Mission accomplished?

Actually, in a way, it is. Not only I am not afraid of inserting a zipper anymore, I developed a set of steps to go through for this process. Next time it will go if not faster, but definitely smoother. 

After a success with zippers, I decided to concentrate on polo necks. Why? Because I’ve always liked polo neck sweaters, always wanted to make one, but there was always something missing – a good pattern, or yarn, or just knitting time. In November I made myself a polo neck t-shirt (Lace Polo) that turned out great and fits me exceptionally well. So obviously I started thinking about making more polo necks.

I never wrote about this polo shirt here because the pattern is in Russian only and if you want it you’ve got to write directly to its creator on Instagram. Olga @stepmother.queen is a dentist with years of knitting experience and an impeccable taste. She designs for herself (which is why her designs don’t have several sizes) and doesn’t advertise much. It was a delight to make her pattern – very clear directions, tons of pictures, lots of helpful finishing tricks.

I bought 4 patterns from Olga and am going to make all of them one day. But first I got intrigued by the polo neck construction that has so many pitfalls and decided to use it in a couple of projects (at least) to figure out the best way of making it.

Sweaters with polo necks were trendy in 70s and 80s (old history, nobody lived then, right?) so, looking for a pattern, I turned to my constantly growing collection of old magazines.

If you are like me, and collect them, I highly recommend Etsy and eBay for hard copies, and this website for the PDFs. I think they are absolutely priceless!

My secondary goals were: 1) use as much of my stash as possible (constant motto!); 2) use colors because I didn’t work with different colors for a while and was “craving” for some colors in knitting.

The first choice was this pattern for a man’s sweater for its easy and straightforward design and colorwork. The creamy yarn of main color is ColourMart  DK wool/mohair, the beige is leftover camelhair from this sweater, and the blue mohair is leftover of this scarf.

I followed directions for the smallest size changing only sleeves (shortened them). After finishing the front and back, washing them, and blocking, I decided to get over with the most difficult step – inserting the button bands and making a collar.

Why is it the most difficult step? Because both button bands are knit separately and sewn later by hand. If you ever tried to do it, you know how difficult it is to accomplish without distorting the front colorwork, and how hard to avoid puckering and scrunching around the seams.

Buttonholes also must be perfect because they are right in front, on display, you cannot afford even a minor mistake here.

Then it was the collar’s turn. Basically, I went through the same steps as for the Lace polo shirt (and both zippered jackets).

1) Made a crochet chain around the neck opening.

2) Picked up stitches in every loop of the chain from the outside of the neck opening using circular needles half a size smaller than needles that I used for the ribbing.

3) Picked up stitches in every loop of the chain from the inside of the neck opening using the same size needles that for the outside part. IMPORTANT: the amount of stitches on both sets of needles must be identical!

4) Knit two rows of stockinette stitch on the first pair of needles.

5) Same work on the second pair of needles.

6) Knit one row using stitches from both needles – knit together each stitch from the front needle with a corresponding stitch from the back needle.

7) Continue in 1x1 ribbing on one set of needles for 5 or 7 rows and switch to bigger needles – the ones previously used for ribbing on the body.

8) Finish with tubular cast off.

Did I like the end result? It wasn’t perfect (yet) but at least I learned where my weakest spots were (spoiler – I didn’t like the edges).

After all the work on the collar, finishing the sleeves and putting the whole garment together wasn’t too difficult. I called this sweater Café au lait and I like it a lot. It was a fun knit and it works well for me.

But almost simultaneously I started making another sweater inspired by a pattern from the same magazine (the stripy one on the cover) that I modified for a polo neck sweater. This time I want to try another method of making a collar (the buttonbands will be done the same way). At least this is the plan. I am still in doubts and can chicken out at the last moment and just repeat the steps (again) for the collar. As soon as it is finished, I’ll post the pictures.

By the way, I made one more blanket (pattern – Umaro by Jared Flood)! From the yarn unraveled in this post. The yarn was a sweater first, then – a cardigan, then – a dress. Finally it became a blanket and will stay a blanket for good.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

No favorite weapon

 “You should not have a favorite weapon. To become overfamiliar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well. You should not copy others, but use weapons which you can handle properly. It is bad commanders and troops to have likes and dislikes”. Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

In my opinion, these samurai’s teachings directly apply to knitting (as many of his other maxims that I recently discovered after reading his book). There is no wrong way of making something in knitting if you get the result you are aiming for. Sadly, teachers who teach others to knit on the Internet (of which there are myriads) often forget to mention this fact. 

Yet, if you know how to make German short rows, and know it well, you should always use German short rows, no matter what designer tells you to use in the pattern. Why? Because knitting is a skill that you acquire through repetition. The more you repeat a technique, the more automated it becomes. After thousands of repetitions you get to the point when the finished project is flawless. Well, almost flawless, because with a handmade there is always something that doesn’t go as planned, but I am speaking in general.

After having read Musashi’s book, I tried to summarize my ideas about knitting and came up with two main rules:

1) don’t be afraid of trying anything that you want to try. You are not a student but an apprentice, you are not graded, and you can always unravel and start all over. I remember discovering fairisle by looking at my friend’s sweater that her grandmother made for her and wanting to recreate something similar in my favorite colors. No one told me that the fairisle technique was difficult so I didn’t consider it as such;

2) when you learn a technique, use it as much as possible – practice makes permanent. Or, as Miyamoto Musashi put it, “you must pursue the value of this technique through training”. “It may seem difficult at first but everything is difficult at first.” 

This year I made only two Christmas gifts: a shawl/wrap/stole for my daughter and a zippered jacket for my husband. Both projects took a while to finish because 

1) I spent a considerable amount of time on planning them before even starting to knit;

2) I spent even more time on finishing them the way they were planned.

The vital element for a successful knit is the sufficient amount of yarn (said the person who almost always runs out of yarn at the end).

I had enough of Cascade Yarns Kid Seta mohair in two complementing colors in my stash to make Plaid, please by Amy Miller. After buying the pattern, I learned that I needed 115 yds in a third color and ordered one ball of Gepard Garn Kid Seta that has 229.7 yards (to use the yarn doubled) from a seller on Etsy. Till the end I wasn’t sure that I had enough yarn in this color but since there was no time to order and receive one more ball I just plowed through till the end. It turned out the designer gave the exact yardage needed. After crocheting the vertical stripes I had about only 20 cm of leftover yarn. Thank you, Amy Miller, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen all the time, keep it in mind and, if you are a worrying kind, better buy 2 balls.

The vertical stripes are crocheted after the whole wrap is finished. To make my life easier, I purled stitches that had to be crocheted later to simplify the finishing.

The shawl was washed in Eucalan with added hair conditioner to prevent excessive shedding and then blocked. It is light, airy, and really warm. My daughter in England got it on time before Christmas and loved it.

I started knitting it cooped up inside during a severe storm called Eta which gave its name to the shawl.

My second gift is called a Hoodless Hoodie. Last year in Scotland my husband finally discovered the advantages of the Scottish wool: how comfortable it is and how well it protects against wind, cold, and even rain. During our long walks in Glen Finglass he described a jacket of his dreams – a zipper (a must!), maybe pockets, and sleeves not too long (he always has problems with sleeves in outdoor garments). I suggested a hoodie but he explained that he never used or needed a hood so he definitely didn’t want a hoodie.

During our memorable trip to the Perth Festival of Yarn 2019 I bought lots of Hebridian wool by the Birlinn Yarn Company. Since my husband not only drove me to Perth but also waited for me for several hours while I was shopping, I thought that it would be only fair if I used the yarn from the festival to make something for him. 

I had 5 balls of Hebredian wool 4 ply in Speckled Hen colorway (more than 1900 yards altogether) which would be enough for a man’s hoodie (with a hood). 

My inspiration came from an unexpected place: an old Phildar magazine with patterns for children. I saw this jacket and figured it would look well in Speckled Hen wool. However, I needed a contrast color. Fortunately, there is Birlinn Yarn Company’s website where you can order wool and rather promptly get it in the US. I picked Peaty Brown colorway that happens to complement my main yarn perfectly.

I found a perfect pattern in another old Phildar magazine – a sporty man’s hoodie with saddle shoulders and  pockets – and kept it without significant changes. My main modification was with sleeves. Instead of size XXL I used numbers for size XL and made the sleeves and saddle shoulders parts shorter, comparable in length with the shoulders on the body parts, so it was much easier to sew the whole thing together. The original pattern doesn’t have any ribbing on pockets that I thought was necessary – made them more visible and the whole look sharper.

The ribbed borders along the fronts are knit separately and sewn in by hand as the pattern recommends. My only change was the tubular cast on that made them look more polished (I hope). The ribbing on pockets was also done with the tubular cast on.

After inserting a zipper I knit two additional ribbed borders and sewn them to the insides, to cover the stitches and seams. My husband rarely wears his jackets zippered, so I wanted the borders to look professionally done from inside as well as from outside.

Most time I spent with the collar. After blocking, sewing, and steaming all the parts, I crocheted a thin line with chain stitches along the neckline.

Next, I picked up stitches with Peaty Brown color and smaller needles in each chain of the front on one pair of circular needles and in the same stitches of the chain from inside on another pair of smaller circulars of the same size.
I made 2 rows of stockinett stitch on each pair of needles, then purled both sides together, and then continued in ribbing on just one pair of needles. I made ribbing twice as long as needed, folded it in half and sewn in from inside.

The process of finishing this jacket was almost as long as making its individual parts. Yet, I like the end result so much that it was definitely worth the pain. My husband also was unusually pleased with his gift and even let me take pictures of him wearing the jacket. Normally, he doesn’t like to be photographed,  I cannot explain why.

I am glad that I mastered enough knitting skills over the years to be able to make this jacket exactly the way I wanted. Actually, it felt unusually satisfying. I even started another jacket for him (with a zipper, of course) trying to prolong this feeling. A feeling of power and control! A rare thing in our troubled times.

As for the Book of Five Rings by a famous swordsman and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi that made me contemplate my knitting strategies, I am glad that I found and read it.  I am planning on re-reading it often because it is short, straightforward, and, in my opinion, unbelievably helpful not only for swordsmen.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Salix Alba


As a rule, I don’t do test knitting. Why? I hate deadlines. Plus I imagine that a test knitter’s main reason to exist is to try a pattern as it is, without modifications, and let the designer know when something just doesn’t work. I always change something in a pattern that I knit. Maybe I have a tendency to overthink it, but I always see a way to modify patterns to make them mine.

Last month though, suddenly, I became a part of a test knitting group for Lotta Löthgren of elkmarketyarn. I first discovered Lotta on Instagram and fell in love with her pictures and her writings. And also her jewelry – she makes adorable necklaces and earrings that I am planning to buy all one day. Long story short, when Lotta posted an announcement about a test knit of her new pattern, I promptly pushed a button and filled out a form. 

The pattern seemed to be easy enough – a round yoke top-down with a pretty colorwork – and, looking at its gauge, I thought that I could use up some of my cotton yarn leftovers and help Lotta at the same time. Needless to say that I applied for the smallest size – too often designs are too big and bulky for me. If I were one of these loud, endlessly complaining types that are so popular on the Internet nowadays, I would write everywhere how designers “discriminate” against small people with short limbs. Yet, instead, I just redo patterns making them fit my body. Because that is why I knit – to make custom garments flattering to my body type. And I enjoy the process immensely!

The very next day I got the pattern for Salix Alba – this is how Lotta’s new sweater is called and it didn’t take me long to regret my hasty decision to become a test knitter.

As soon as I saw the actual measurements for size 1 I figured that it would be too tight for me. The sweater is supposed to have a relaxed fit with 10-20 cm of positive ease. In my case the ease would have been negative, and I would’ve felt like wearing a straight jacket without any mobility.

At first, I thought that it wasn’t a big deal and I could use bigger yarn and bigger needles to make it a size or two bigger. Not in this case. I spent 2 days (!!!) making swatches with many yarns from my ginormous stash but none would give me the exact row gauge. And you understand that in a round yoke sweater row gauge is a key to a correctly fitting garment. With bigger yarn and bigger needles my yoke would end at my elbows and I would still be very restricted in my movements.

Since there were only two volunteers for size 1, myself being one of them, I decided to find someone who is even smaller than me for this sweater and ended up with a teeny-tiny college student in Indiana. Sydni is a grand-daughter of one of my knitting friends, and even though I never met her in person, I saw several knits made for her so could approximately figure out her size.

Now, after two days of swatching, the only two yarns that gave me the correct gauge (stitch and row) were Rowan Fine Lace in Vintage (knitting with three strands of yarn together) and two of my ColourMart yarns in white also hold together. I used exactly 6 balls of Rowan Fine Lace (436 yrds -399 m each) and an unknown quantity of the white yarns.

You see, instead of a fast and easy project for myself with the yarn from my stash I got a challenging task of fulfilling my test knitter’s duties while making a useful and fitting garment for a person that I’ve never met before. Tricky, right?! And this is why all my best intentions of following the pattern to a T went down the drain and I started modifying, adapting, changing, call it as you like. And all the way till the end I was feeling terribly guilty: I wasn’t sure that the designer would appreciate my modifications (why would she, since she wanted me to test her design, not my version of it) and I could only guess what Sydni likes or dislikes in a sweater based on my rather limited knowledge of college students.

Since Rowan Fine Lace is 80% alpaca, it is soft and silky but also extremely stretchy. From my experience, I know what can happen to a seamless top-down sweater with this kind of yarn. It stretches greatly after the very first washing and loses any shape or form. Since I was making it for a young girl in Indiana, I couldn’t possibly keep the original seamless construction. This is why I made the body and sleeves of Salix Alba flat. I kept all the numbers but after the yoke was finished I picked up stitches for the body and sleeves gradually, like for a raglan sweater but in reverse. I hope that seams will keep this sweater from stretching too much and that the raglan mini-seams give some additional mobility to the arms.

Actually, while making sleeves, I had to stop decreasing after the 5th decrease (there are 6 decreases for sleeves in the pattern) because sleeves were getting too tight. I don’t know, I am a swimmer and have strong arms, maybe it was just me.

I spaced decreases in every 10th row. The sweater is supposed to be rather on a short side with ¾ sleeves. I made it as long as possible with the yarn in my disposal, with full length sleeves. After all, it is cold in Indiana.

I used the short rows on the back as per pattern directions but I moved them higher, before the ribbing (I really didn’t like how they looked on ribbing). Also I used 1x1 ribbing with twisted ribs all over the sweater instead of 2x2 ribs for body and sleeves. I did tubular bind off on cuffs and body, and it looks more polished with 1x1 ribbing.

About the collar. I tried to make it following the pattern directions with short rows, but I really didn’t like how it looked and it didn’t fit well at the neck. So I unraveled it, knit 10 rows of twisted ribs, folded it in two, and sewed it on the wrong side.

The colorwork on this sweater requires long floats. I used the technique from this website to trap them: jewelry or sometimes a bras strap can get entangled in a long float. I ruined a sweater this way once (stitches never looked the same after I untangled myself from a float). 

It sounds straightforward and logical when written but the actual process was agonizing.  I felt terrible, couldn’t sleep well, and gave myself a word to never ever do test knitting again. Yet, I kept making changes to the pattern. I absolutely had to make all these changes – I wanted this little sweater to be warm and comfy, easy to wear and flattering to its owner. Remember, my sweater was going to Indiana to a young college student.

Then I took pictures of my handiwork and mailed the finished sweater to Sydni. While anxiously waiting for her feedback, I wrote a long apology letter to Lotta in which I explained all the changes I made, and asked her to forgive me for being such an awful test knitter.

Then I got pictures from Indiana.

Obviously the sweater fits well and Sydni looks lovely in it. Big weight from my chest. More pictures on my Ravelry pattern page.
And then I got a letter from Lotta. What a wise young woman she is! Lotta understands perfectly that knitting is for real people and if there is a need for a modification, a pattern should be modified. I was so relieved, you cannot even imagine. Because I am in awe with designers and their creativity and didn’t want to be disrespectful of the design. And I felt like I failed in my attempt to help her.

So my first crack at test knitting made me a bundle of nerves for a while and to alleviate all this anxious thoughts I started making another Baby Honey Blanket. This time – for myself. I used to have a big warm cabled wool sweater that was never worn since we started going to Florida for winters. I like the color and the texture of the yarn (I don’t remember what yarn it is, something by Ella Rae, I believe) so one sunny day (since most of them are sunny here) I unraveled the sweater, washed and balled the yarn, and put it aside.

This blanket was finished in no time. I don’t know why: because I made this pattern recently and remembered the stitches and all the pitfalls, or because it was a soothing and repetitive pattern, easy to follow but requiring enough focus to make me forget my worries. Anyhow, now I have a blanket all to myself and I’ve been using it almost every day. I think, it is the most often used knit that I made this year.  And now the jinni is out of the bottle – I want to make more blankets, maybe even crocheted. They are warm and squishy, and really cozy.

In conclusion: I learned my lesson – never sign up for test knits again. Apparently, I don’t enjoy group chit-chat and have no need to discuss my problems with other knitters. I prefer to find solutions on my own. This is how it works for me and I like it this way. When I knit something, I have to like it no matter who is the recipient of my work. If you decide to make Salix Alba though I highly recommend picking 2 sizes bigger your normal size - it will fit better. You can use my method of making a top-down sweater flat or knit it in the round if your yarn is not too stretchy - in any case, I think you won't regret your choice of pattern. It is very clearly written and easy to follow. 

And on this note I’ll leave you today. I need to finish my last project - its pattern was extremely challenging and I didn’t make any changes whatsoever in it (!). Till next time then…