Thursday, April 21, 2022

Intarsia obsession

How does a knitter get obsessed with intarsia?

It doesn't happen overnight for sure. 

I was never a fan of intarsia for several reasons. First and foremost - the need to cut yarns and work from many small balls. It creates lots of leftovers and complicates your work. Working from one ball is by far cleaner and easier. Second reason - places where colors are changed are prone to have gaps or holes, which is true especially when you begin connecting different yarns. And - as soon as you start seeing a finish line - you get stuck with innumerable tails to hide! 

All this said, a couple of years ago I made a cardigan from Keito Dama, with some elements of intarsia.

It turned out to be not too difficult to use different balls at the same time. And the process was rather engrossing and fun. It was akin making a tapestry only with needles. The bonus part - I love the end result!

My next intarsia project - also a cardigan, also from Keito Dama - was a total revelation for me. Not only did I figure out how to avoid gaps and holes between different yarns easily (just hold them tight at the connecting point) but I wasn't much annoyed by the constant untangling of balls in use. There was some method in the madness and after a while I could identify the ball that was "the main culprit" and get rid of the mess quickly. And the fact that my colorblock cardigan was worn quite a lot last summer made my affection for intarsia grow.

I've already told you many times about my love of old knitting magazines. Of course, there is some nostalgia involved but the main reasons are accuracy of their math (especially true for the old Phildars and Pingouins), clarity of their drawings and diagrams, and unlimited choices and variations of patterns that could be incredibly inspiring.

In my vast collection there are several Anny Blatt and Filatura di Crosa magazines from the 80s full of colorful intarsia projects. I don't think that they all look modern now. Moreover, most of them definitely don't match my style and I wouldn't wear them in a million years. Especially the ones from Anny Blatt - too complicated, with too many adornments and details that distract attention from the whole garment and make it look too busy. Yet, I love looking at these magazines for inspiration. They are so full of clever ideas!

Meanwhile, life was going on, and I became busy knitting for my nearest and dearest. All of a sudden I started getting requests from everyone. It is nice to feel needed and useful but it is boring and not exciting to make the same things again and again. As a general rule people like things that they already know, right? Especially in clothes, as I discovered recently. Last year my older daughter took me to a store and showed me a sweater (made from some very expensive cashmere, but oh so bland and simple) that I had to recreate for her. Done (no pictures, sorry).

My husband asked for another zippered jacket with nothing - no hood, no pockets, just a zipper. Done (also no pictures).

My other daughter didn't want anything but she liked my sweater with a zipper and tried  the one that I made for Halloween/Christmas.

It fits her like a glove - the sweater went to New York.

My half-brother (I have two half-brothers) asked me for a sweater and I spent a long time making it (he is tall with long arms).

It wasn't easy because he lives far from us, in a different country, on another continent. He gave me his measurements but still it was nerve wracking and I was anxious and stressed till the moment he put the sweater on and sent me pictures.
So this one was done as well.

In between I managed to make a little jacket for myself in simple stockinette. I made it almost entirely while watching TV (there is always lots of TV watching around Christmas and New Year).  I saw a colorblocked jacket on ME+EM website that I liked a lot plus I had similar colors (not exactly, but close enough) in my stash.

I changed the construction of the jacket  - mine has raglan sleeves. Otherwise, I tried to stay as close to the original as possible.
This is the original version from ME+EM website
I love this jacket - it is light, soft, warm, and can be worn under a coat. The bright sleeves are my favorite. This color makes me happy. I don't have good pictures because I still haven't learned how to photograph myself (and probably never will) and besides me there is only one person here who agrees to do it, albeit reluctantly. This person has been busy with other stuff most of the time and my jacket was left unphotographed (like most of my other projects, alas).

And then the war started.

During the last five years we went through several natural disasters (I am not even touching politics now). We survived a category 4 hurricane, a pandemic with lockdowns, new rules, and disappearance of toilet paper. 

And now the war. February 24 was a terrible day in our family life. No, I don't have any relatives or friends in Ukraine. Even in Russia there are not many people who still remember me. After all, for the last 27 years we've been living in the US, our children grew up here, we stopped checking news from Russia many years ago. Yet, still it hit us like a ton of bricks. 

For a while I couldn't do anything but check the news feed every 5 minutes.  I - the person who keeps telling everyone "Stop reading the news" - couldn't concentrate on anything else. At some point I noticed that my whole body wouldn't stop shaking and knew that something drastic should have been done to change the situation.

I remembered a jacket with a palm tree and a parrot (sort of) that I saw in an Anny Blatt magazine.

I promptly collected as many matching colors as I could find. Most of them were tiny balls of ColourMart cashmere scraps. My yarns had different thickness and couldn't be used together. So I spent quite a lot of time mixing, reballing, and rewinding them to get approximately (the operative word here!) same gauge in all of them. By the way, I made several changes while in the middle of making the back when it became obvious that some colors didn't look right or some yarns were too thin or too thick for the main fabric.

This project was extremely absorbing. It required all my focus and dedication and definitely helped restore my self-control. 

The magazine's variation of the jacket has lot of "bells and whistles": different intarsia versions for back, fronts, and sleeves; sleeves have stripes in the middle; crocheted stripes go along the sleeves and back shoulders; there are multicolored bubbles; intarsia is not uniform stockinette, some of it is done in moss stitch. Plus the whole pattern is rather short and boxy, not to my liking.

After I finished with colors and yarns, I went looking for a jacket pattern that would fit me better and found one in an old (surprise!) Phildar magazine appropriately called New Classic.

True to its title it contains simple but classic patterns for the whole family. I picked a jacket with "fully fashioned shoulders" (aka "Japanese shoulders") that I described in detail here. This type of construction is really well fitting if done right and I like my stooped back in it better (if it is possible to like a stooped back).

My version of the jacket was supposed to have intarsia only on its back, everything else was supposed to be done in black with colorful borders, wrists, and button band frames. I was also hoping for pockets. 

Sleeves - the easiest part - were knit first. Then I started my journey with the back.

When the back was finished (surprisingly quickly), the balls of black yarn looked tiny and almost all other colors mostly disappeared. Ok, no pockets, but would I have enough black yarn for the fronts in one color? After long deliberations and lots of yarn weighting I didn't want to take a risk and started looking for other solutions. 

I made several sketches trying to visualize my future fronts in different color patterns.

The one with a big flower seemed to be more logical. I drew this pattern on a piece of graph paper (it wasn't easy at first, but it wasn't too hard either) and promptly started knitting. At this particular moment knitting was like a drug to me. More knitting - less thinking (and less worrying).
And that is, in a nutshell, the story of my Tropical cardigan. By the way, the original pattern from Anny Blatt is called Salamandre but I changed it so much it didn't feel right to use the same title.

There is one last thing that I haven't told you about this jacket and you cannot see it in the pictures. I put my Floridian address on it, knit it in the side of the right front which makes it almost invisible (unless I raise my right arm and turn sideways). It is a sort of inside joke that can be understood only by the people who live in the Florida Keys and are familiar with the local direction system.

I would have preferred my original plan - all black front with intarsia only on the back. I do think that two intarsias are different in style and partially in color. Yet, I still like this jacket because it taught me quite a few important lessons.
Lesson one: intarsia is the best therapy for anxiety. While living through a traumatic event, just pick up your needles and start knitting something extremely complicated. You'll feel better... eventually... 

Lesson two: you don't have to hide all the tails in one go. Actually, it works better if you pace yourself, going methodically section by section. I did it this way for each part before washing and blocking.

Lesson three: there is no need for many colors of the same exact yarn. Using a little bit different yarn actually adds some texture to the final look.

Lesson four: intarsia only looks scary. It is a lot of fun, but it requires total absorption and focus. 

While making the jacket I stumbled on this cardigan by R13.

It has an intarsia pattern (check), a really well known intarsia pattern (check check) originated in Scotland (check check check). It is extremely expensive and made look older and worn out on purpose - two things that I don't like in knits. Instantly I had an idea to recreate this cardigan without distressing and with the yarns that I had. I think that unconsciously I was afraid of starting something simple and straightforward that wouldn't require all my attention. Plus I do like distressed jeans but truly hate distressed knits. Blame my poor childhood in the USSR. I don't find laddered  knits with holes and frayed edges attractive, rather the opposite. They look depressing and untidy to me. 

I remembered the wonderful walnutty brown Hawkshaw sheep yarn bought last year during Perth Festival of Yarn. Here is the link to the seller's website and her Instagram page. Next time I plan on buying more of this yarn in Perth.

It is finger weight but if doubled it could work for my R13 jacket knock off. I also brought from Scotland several balls of Rowan kidsilk mohair in black and white that could work as well but were thinner than needed for the project. I decided to mix them with Drops alpaca in black and white (leftover from the Keito Dama jacket). Together these yarns gave me the right thickness  and added the fluff of the original jacket that the Hawkshaw wool was lacking. 

All the preparations - sketch drawings, pattern calculations, gauges, yarn balling - were made while the parts of the Tropical jacket were blocked and drying. As soon as one jacket was finished I started working on another one. No pause whatsoever. 

Here you can compare and contrast my cardigan with the original.

What did I do differently? 

The shoulder construction. This time I didn't go for the "full-fashioned shoulder". And I think the original has exactly this type of shoulders if you look closely. Obviously, I didn't look closely - too much in a hurry.

My version doesn't have pockets - again!

The paradox of my existence is that I own so much yarn yet am constantly running out of yarn. Like everyone else, I am very much risk averse. When it looks like I won't have enough yarn to finish my knit, I start panicking. And making an intarsia project you deal with many balls that are smaller than the initial ones, plus in this case I was using the yarn doubled. After the back was finished my brown balls didn't look too promising, so I decided to get rid of the pockets. Now I can tell you that it was a wrong decision. I would have had enough yarn for pockets. Big sigh!

I made more buttonholes and my buttons are different. My cardigan is less fluffy and less oversized.

And I had to embroider the colored strips that criss-cross the losanges unlike in the original cardigan which is machine knit and the strips are done simultaneously with everything else.

Embroidering was the most difficult part while working on this cardigan. The actual knitting went pretty quickly. The pattern is geometric, regular, and easy to remember. I was using 3.5 mm needles, not 2 mm and 2.5 mm like in my Tropical jacket. And there were only 3 colors. 

I spent the whole day figuring out the embroidery technique that would work better for this piece. Normally for embroidery you would use yarn that has either the same thickness or even is thicker than the main yarn. My crocheted strips with alpaca/mohair mix looked terribly handmade and sloppy. Any other kind of embroidery looked the same since I wasn't really skillful in it, and no matter how much I practiced it would not get better. Eventually, I went back to crocheting, but used only Rowan kidsilk mohair for it, omitting Drops alpaca.

I had to crochet as loosely as possible to avoid tightening and gathering around the strips. It took a while (and many unravelings) to find the right tension. On the bright side (always look at the bright side...) this cardigan will keep its form and won't stretch no matter what - the thin crochet strips keep it in place nicely.
And this a short account of how I suddenly became obsessed with intarsia. Now I am working on another project from an old French magazine with intarsia and fair isle together. Who needs a therapist when you can just knit intarsia instead, right?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Traveling in the time of Covid-19

Testing, testing, testing. 

Flight canceled. 

Flight delayed. 

Flight delayed, delayed again because of a thunderstorm.  

Connecting flight (missed twice) to Glasgow. 

Rented cars office.

Driving from Glasgow to Sterling. 

10 days in quarantine. 

Testing, testing, testing. 

While in quarantine - unpacking and moving furniture. 

Getting used to our new apartment. 

Finally free to go. 

Scotland. Stirling, shiny city on a hill. 

Why Scotland? Because there one can take a walk any day and any time without sweating and constantly drinking water to prevent dehydration.

There is no humidity and high temperatures during summer, and it is a perfect place to wear knitted clothes (albeit only briefly this year) in the fall.

Because it is a lovely country with lovely people where, strangely enough, I feel at home even though they have problems understanding me and I have problems understanding them.

Two years ago we bought a small flat/apartment in Stirling, Scotland. We became the actual owners of the apartment and got the keys to it two days before our flight back home. And then the pandemic struck and lock downs happened, and there were travel restrictions. We couldn't get back to Scotland for a year and a half. When we finally did, last June, we stayed in Scotland for four months.

Somehow I couldn't write any posts for this site while in Scotland. Things were happening. There were many walks and trips taken, books read, people and sites seen, yet somehow no time to sit quietly and process all that. 

I started posting videos and photos from Scotland to my Stories on Instagram, because some of my friends have never visited this country and most likely never will, and they asked for more details. I tried to film everything that I thought was worthy of filming. 

And I was knitting there, of course. Not as much as I do here, in Florida. For two reasons. The first and obvious one was the lack of time. The second reason was the yarn that I packed with me was mostly lace or fingering weight. It takes less space in a suitcase but it knits slowly on tiny needles.

I made 5 garments altogether in 4 months. Not too bad all things considering. Posted 4 of them on Ravelry

First I knit one more vest with Japanese/fully fashioned shoulders, in cotton this time.

I made it longer and bigger than my first vest. By the way, this last one turned out to be extremely useful in Scotland, I wore it a lot there, and got complimented on it numerous times (felt really flattered).

Then I knit a jacket for a one year old girl, daughter of a friend.

I used a pattern from an old Pingouin magazine without any changes.
This is the Pingouin magazine that I used
The yarn (one of my all times favorite) is Dream in Color Smooshy, repurposed from an old unworn adult cardigan. If I make this pattern again, I might knit ribbing instead of garter stitch for borders, but otherwise I wouldn't change anything because it is an excellent pattern. I'll definitely try more patterns from this magazine if one day I need to make more children's clothes.

I also made a short/cropped striped sweater from the leftover Rowan cotton glace. I wasn't extremely pleased with the end result - the sweater being smaller than I wanted. I took some pictures of it anyway but they got erased from my phone by mistake so now I cannot even show you my failure. Maybe it's for the best… Who wants to show off their failures?

Next, I knit this tiny pale pink polo neck which is also from an old Pingouin magazine.

I bought this pink Isager Tvinni yarn several years ago in a store on a whim, because it was on sale and because I liked the color. The pattern looked feminine and dainty, a good match for the yarn.

I picked the size 14-16 (4-6 sizes bigger than my normal size) thinking that it would give me enough room and look at least a little oversized. I forgot that fashionable clothes of the time were form fitting and tight.

My point is that I wish this sweater was a little bit bigger, at least in the shoulders. My shoulders are getting wider and wider from swimming, some clothes even don't fit me anymore. Yet, I am still not used to these changes in my body. I plan to knit this pattern again, in cotton, linen, or silk, with short sleeves, so I can wear it in Florida. It looks plain and simple, but I like how thoughtful the details are and how finished it looks.
The raglan decreases are done differently, so they are more visible and become an important part of the design.
I tweaked the button bands' construction in order to avoid a thick seam at its bottom. In the original pattern you just pick up additional stitches in the middle, and later fold both parts of the button band in half and sew on from inside to the front. I picked up the additional stitches from inside of the front stitches and knit them like I would knit in the round. 

The collar is knit with lots and lots of short rows, folded in half, and sewn on the inside.

This  is the last pattern in the magazine - # 80. Imagine that! 80 patterns in one magazine! Not all of them are difficult or fashionable from the modern point of view, but all of them are really well calculated, edited, and proofread.

And finally I made this sweater.

I didn't want to write the same thing two or three times, so I made a couple of posts on Instagram where I explained how I came up with this particular idea. And I copied the same text to the project page on Ravelry. My major problem was that I had very little yarn but stubbornly refused to abandon this project. 

I've always been saying that scarcity is the mother of creativity.

This is the original pattern that I used for the sweater.
The one in the middle. It is dark brown and difficult to see in details.
It is from the French version of Phildar 1984 (if you own a translated English version of this magazine, it is not there).

To finish it, I divided all the stitches of the front in two parts after ribbing and knit them separately, adding in the middle one stitch on each side for the seam.

The intarsia and fairisle parts have different tension, and I had to recalculate everything (many times) to make them look the same and fit with the monochromic back and sleeves. My first version of the collar was also wrong, and I had to unravel it and knit it again.

As the result of all these manipulations and unraveling, I hardly had time to wash and block the finished sweater before our departure from Stirling. When I was putting it on to go to the airport, it was still slightly wet. Most pictures (all the modeled ones) were taken in Florida. 

If you want more details, you can see them on Ravelry or IG.

As for what I saw and did in Scotland for four months, I'll tell you more about it next time.

Talk to you soon,


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Fair isle vs. intarsia

I just finished two projects with colorwork. One was knit using fair isle technique and the second one - using intarsia.

Since I worked on these projects almost simultaneously I was constantly comparing these two styles (and two sweaters). Here are my notes and thoughts.

Part 1

Let's start with the more difficult and time consuming project - my Nili Lotan knockoff. I began planning for this sweater a year ago when I found a copy of its colorwork pattern on Pinterest. Instantly, I decided that it would be a perfect project to use up as many ColourMart scraps as possible. Looking at the original sweater, I picked my colors.

I had to combine 4 threads of similarly looking laceweight yarns  because otherwise finishing this sweater would have taken ages, it would have been rather fragile and get holes after a couple of wearings. Since they were all bought as sets of leftovers I had no idea about the length of each ball. I could only hope that I had enough to finish the sweater (spoiler alert - I didn't!). 

I was using thin needles - 2 mm/US 0 (for the ribbing and same color stripes) and 2.5 mm/US 1.5 (for the fair isle parts) - because I wanted the fabric to be sturdy.

I based the sweater construction on a man's sweater pattern from an old Phildar - big and long, with wide sleeves. Yet, I wanted to change its neckline and collar. 

Originally, I wanted a zippered collar - again!  Now that I bought zippers in several colors, my hands are itching to add them everywhere. Pretty much  like when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Then I saw a collar on another male pattern in a different Phildar and became instantly convinced that I needed to try it with this sweater.

And then I picked up 134 sts for the back…

What can I say? I love working with ColourMart yarns and this sweater wasn't an exception. However, small needles, long rows, and very slow progress were really depressing. I liked the color combination and the thickness of the fabric, but my hands would start to hurt after a little while, and I needed all my focus and concentration in order not to make a mistake. It wasn't a project that you could work on while watching TV or talking on Zoom. 

After finishing back and front, I noticed that my ball of black yarn almost vanished. Who would have thought that black was so much used in this pattern? Definitely, I didn't. And I needed black for the sleeves. So I went online and ordered some black yarn from Colourmart. 

I used the waiting time to finish the collar. It was knit separately using short rows and then sewn onto the neckline. 

Then, since I couldn't work on sleeves - too little black yarn was left, it was pretty obvious that I couldn't finish even one sleeve with it - I started another project (see Part 2). 

Yet, I kept feeling bad about abandoning my difficult but lovely sweater. After all, black is black, right? So, I dived into my bottomless stash and rooted out little balls and pieces of black yarns, all from ColourMart, but a bit different in color. And I used them all to finish the sleeves. The ordered yarn came when the sleeves were already blocked and drying. I bet you cannot see the difference. I can see it because I know about it but only with a very good light and up close. Vive ColourMart and their color compatibility!

This sweater took a year to plan and a month to make. It is soft but sturdy, warm, but light, with enough ease to accommodate a long sleeve shirt underneath. Each color is actually a mixture of colors and I like how they look.

 I was right to try a new collar shape - it is flattering and comfortable, not a boring tired crew neck. 

However, this project was supposed to be a huge stash buster and I ended up with more yarn (black) from ColouMart.

Part 2

My second colorwork project, the one I worked on in between, waiting for the yarn, was a colorblock jacket from the cover of  Keito Dama # 188 Winter 2020. I've already made one colorblock jacket from Keito Dama and it was a very pleasant experience. 

When I saw this design, I immediately thought about a bunch of Drops Alpaca yarn leftovers in several colors that were languishing in my stash forever. I got the magazine from Etsy and started playing with colors and gauges. The pattern is not for a fingerweight yarn. To get the required stitch gauge (19.5 sts in 10 cm) I had to use two threads of yarn together. My row gauge was still a bit different (23 instead of 24.5 rows in 10 cm)  but I thought that it was close enough.

I didn't have 7 colors of the same yarn required for this jacket, so I thought that I could use some other leftover yarn with close stitch gauge. However, when I started experimenting with gauge and colors, it dawned on me that if I wanted this cardigan to look good and professional, I had to use the same yarn. This is how I ended up ordering Garnstudio Drops Alpaca in 3 more colors. Again, this project was supposed to be a major stash buster! How ironic!

While waiting for the yarn, I drew a copy of the pattern from the magazine and colored different blocks in my chosen colors. I had to go through this process a couple of times to get the color combination that would suit me. My main colors were black, beige, dark and light blue, which is why I couldn't use the original color combination (that I love, by the way).

When I finally got the yarn (the wait was endless since it was mailed from England), everything went pretty quickly. 

I balled two threads of the same color together and started knitting.

While knitting intarsia I used to get little holes in places where colors are changed. Fortunately, in my previous experiment - this Colorblack cardigan - the yarn was extremely sticky and the holes were almost nonexistent. Drops Alpaca is also a very hairy and sticky yarn (which didn't stop it from constantly splitting up and separating under my needles while working with it).

I followed pattern directions for the body, just shortened the ribbing at the beginning, because my row gauge was smaller (20 rows instead of 22 as per pattern). 

The main attraction of this pattern is a tasteful, almost artistic distribution of colors. Mondrian comes to mind of course. Later I found several Mondrian inspired pictures with very lovely colors that might give you ideas for making your own colorblock - sweater or cardigan.

My only problem with this project were the sleeves. My arms are shorter than normal and usually I just shorten up my sleeves while working on them. I couldn't easily do it here because of the intarsia pattern that had to take a certain amount of rows. Not to mention that my row gauge was a bit smaller which meant if I followed the pattern without changes, my sleeves would have been much too long for me.

OK, I had to use my little grey sells and here is my solution. First, I shortened the ribbed cuff from 22 rows to 7. Next, I didn't change the needles from 3.25 mm/US 3 that I was using for the ribbing to 4.00 mm/US 6 for the main body, and knit both sleeves on 3.25 mm/US 3 needles. It gave me a bit thicker fabric (the difference is not noticeable after washing and blocking) and the exact length. No changes in the colorwork though!

The ribbed border on the front is knit separately and sewn in later. I used 4.00 mm/US 6 needles for all borders (pockets and front). And I made 4 not 6 buttonholes: I could find only 4 buttons that would satisfy my taste with this jacket, plus I was making vertical buttonholes that take up about 6 rows, so it was more than enough to hold the front parts together.

By the way, I learned how to make great vertical buttonholes without breaking yarn or using a second ball while making this pattern.

Maybe one day I'll explain it here - easy-peasy, but really cool looking!

Now, this cardigan took me only 2 weeks to make, if you don't count all the planning, swatching, and block coloring.

 I was really afraid that the colors would bleed in water so I kept them in a strong vinegar solution for a couple of hours before washing and blocking. I also washed them with hair conditioner to get rid of excessive hairiness  - it helped but not much. 

When a friend of mine saw me in this jacket for the first time, she couldn't help but saying: "This is not you!" 

Well, unlike the usual grey and mousy clothes, I made something bold and colorful. A statement. We'll see if I can wear it in real life (real life starts soon, stay tuned!).

Finale notes

Even though in both cases I got what I wanted - a fair isle sweater looking almost like its original and a colorblock cardigan that fits me like a glove - my major goal wasn't accomplished. My stash didn't get smaller. I had to order some additional yarn for both projects and now have to figure what to make out of the leftovers. Again!

Another common thread - it takes longer to plan for a project than actually making it. For me this planning part is the most interesting albeit the most frustrating. Lots of projects get abandoned at this stage. Yet, I am usually satisfied with the ones that survive this long "vetting" process. What about you? How much time do you put into planning comparing with the actual making of a garment? Does it help or maybe paralyze you instead of motivating? I know, this is individual, depends on our personal style and preferences. Still, I would love to have some statistics (I am deep into statistics now, don't know why!).