Saturday, December 10, 2016

Juno, or Knitting for relaxation

Do you knit for relaxation? Do you, really? Honestly?
I know quite a lot of knitters who not only don’t get more relaxed while knitting but for whom knitting is one of the major sources of frustration in life. Haven’t you heard from some people that knitting makes them angry, or nervous, or angry AND nervous, that they have no patience for knitting?
I don’t knit for relaxation. Actually, it is hard to explain with one or two words why I knit.
It all started long ago (34 years ago to be precise), in a faraway land (former Soviet Union), when I first made myself an object of clothing from a ball of old, recycled yarn. My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was 8, but I didn’t really knit till I was studying at Moscow University.
One of our professors required mandatory attendance which meant that we couldn’t skip his lectures if we wanted to pass his class. 
Those lectures were incredibly boring and I don’t like to be bored, it is my least favorite pastime. I began looking for possible useful things to do while sitting in the class and pretending that I was listening to him. I couldn’t read – he would’ve noticed, and his monotone voice was extremely distracting.
At the time a friend of mine got a new hat handmade by her grandmother. The hat was adorable and warm, and you’ve probably heard that winters in Moscow are long and cold. I found a ball of bright blue recycled yarn in my mom’s stash, took a pair of her needles and decided to make a copy of my friend’s hat. Believe it or not but I figured how to knit in the round on my own, without Internet. Those old day, when we had to use our brains instead of the shiny new “prosthetic  brains” in our pockets!!!! Alas, they are gone… Nevertheless, I figured that if I would go in the round I would be using only knit stitch, and I didn’t have to look at my hands too often. So one day I brought my knitting to the boring lecture and by the end of it made a lot of progress on the hat. Actually, I finished the hat in no time and wore it for several years.
The sleep-inducing professor was teaching us 19th century European literature – and there was a lot of literature in 19th century in Europe, lots and lots of it. So we had this professor for the whole year. By the end of that year I finished a scarf and a sweater. And I got hooked on knitting.
My life was rather difficult then and not only I don’t like to talk about those times, I try very hard not to think about them, to forget as much as possible about them. Knitting helped me to survive. It gave me something to look forward to, dream about, control, and enjoy.
And this is why I still knit. For enjoyment. And I am constantly looking for a pattern that would make me forget about my day to day life and completely captivate my attention. A pattern I could “dive into”.
Can you call it relaxation? I wouldn’t. To me it is similar to some sort of trance or meditation, when you are focused and concentrated on one thing – and you absolutely cannot put down your knitting.
Not all projects are the same. Sometimes I get tired of a project before it is finished and then I have to trick myself into finishing it no matter what (I’ve got quite a few tricks up my sleeve!). Or unravel it. However, I am always looking for excitement, fun, something unusual and experimental to try. There are several requirements though for these unusual and experimental things before I start making them:
1)      they have to be practical (i.e., I have to be sure that myself or someone else will be using it)
2)      they have to fit (e.g., I never knit using entrelac technique because I don’t find clothes made in this technique flattering and would never wear them)
3)      they allow me to be creative, to bring something personal to the pattern.
When I first saw Juno, a free pattern by Natasja Hornby, I was drawn to it because of the fit. Have you see the pattern photos? It fits like a glove. Stripes are my favorite, so that also helped. And then I saw another variation of the same pattern made by the author. The original Juno is figure fitting, with waist shaping  and darts. The second version is more streamlined, without waist shaping or darts. But it also looks amazing. Because of the fit. And if you go to Natasja Hornby’s Ravelry pattern page and look at her finished work, you’ll see that this person really understands woman’s body and knows how to make clothes fit well. This is a rare skill even among professional designers.
So I knew that this pattern would probably fit me well if I did the math right and measured my gauge properly. And I knew that knitting it would be pretty exciting because of many different techniques used. 
What about practicality? Actually, for a while I was looking for a short jumper/sweater to wear with a skirt and so popular now high waisted pants (I love them because they make me look taller). Juno seemed to be precisely what I needed.
In Florida inspiration is everywhere: ocean, trees, birds… Sometimes, you walk on a road and find something like that right under your feet. Just look at these colors!
That is why, even though initially I wanted to use white as one of the main colors for Juno because I had 6 balls of Rowan pure wool 4ply in white, and only 3 balls in each light blue and verdigris, I ended up using light blue and verdigris for the stripes all over the sweater. It seemed more appropriate in these surroundings. And the argyle pattern has been in my plans for a while and when I figured out that I could use it here my hands started itching. It looked like a perfect project – practical, well fitting, and creative.
Now, Juno is finished (more details and pictures on my Ravelry page) and I can tell you that it didn’t disappoint me. The jumper is short and fits me well but the most important part were the happiness and joy that I felt while making it. This kind of magic is rare and it doesn’t happen to me with every project no matter how much I try.
A couple words about the yarn. It is discontinued (naturally!) but I liked working with it and wanted more so I bought some odd balls that I could find on the Internet. We'll see what happens when I get them.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Project of interest

How do you pick your next project?
1) You find out that your beloved cardigan or sweater has a whole in it, or was eaten by moths, and you need a new one pronto?
2) You find some incredibly beautiful yarn and immediately begin looking for a project to use it?
3) You see a picture of a garment on Ravelry and cannot stop dreaming about yourself wearing it? Or you see an amazing picture in a knitting magazine…
4) Or, maybe, you just pick something simple without seeming and shaping, just to occupy your hands while you watch TV (Knitflixing is a word now, you know)?
Do you ever pick a project just for fun and creative excitement, because it seems to be a challenge or a puzzle, and you have only a vague idea what it will become at the end?
That’s what happened to me with my last sweater. I wanted to make something interesting, complicated, and, eventually, beautiful. I blame Pinterest. I got hooked on it while waiting in an airport.
Probably, I spend too much time in airports because my Pinterest boards are growing pretty quickly. It is bewildering how many wonderful, masterful, unique knits you can find there. Made by great designers.
Going back to Ravelry sometimes is really sobering – no more daring shapes and extravagant color combinations, no more experiment or challenge. Same old, same old. Yes, sorry, I know. It is not fair. But I wish big designers would develop a pattern or two for us, knitters, once in a while at least (Footnote:Vogue Knitting publishes this kind of patterns. Not very often and sometimes not well edited but it is something at least).
I found quite a lot of bias cut sweaters on Pinterest that looked really wearable. Here are some examples.
Amazing construction, don’t you agree?
And going through my old Phildars collection that I brought to Florida, I found this bias cut sweater that looked a lot like the ones on Pinterest.
Yet, this time I had a pattern. And it looked doable and, after some deliberation, practical. Actually, that was why I was buying Phildar magazines in the first place: they have an atrocious customer service and their yarns are not that good, but their designers were always great and didn’t disappoint. I don’t know how to sew, but I can have some idea about a finished product looking at its blueprint. And this is how I pick a project in a Phildar magazine – I don’t look at pictures (they are very treacherous and seldom show the most important things) but at diagrams and charts.
This particular pattern drew my attention when I first laid my eyes on it years ago. I even started making it but at the time I had no patience with challenging patterns, needed something to occupy my hands and to relax. This is not a good pattern for relaxation. Actually, till the end I wasn’t sure how it would work. There are no pictures of finished garments on Ravelry and only one dark picture in the magazine.
I used Rowan Kid classic again (almost ten balls) in a grayish, light blue color. I thought that the subtlety of color will balance the boldness of the pattern. Plus, I really like working with this yarn.

The pattern turned out to be very clear and rather easy. The only trouble that I had was the difference in my row gauge. Otherwise, it was rather smooth sailing. And fast. I couldn’t put down my needles – was too impatient to see the end result. And it didn’t disappoint.
If you have this particular magazine and like unusually constructed clothes, I highly recommend this pattern. I didn’t put a zipper in it, because 1) I didn’t want to bother; 2) I thought that it was complicated enough already. Next time, if I make it (and I want one like this for myself, with shorter sleeves), I’ll do it without zipper again. There is no need, in my opinion.
More pictures and details on my Ravelry page, as usual.
While this sweater was drying I decided to finish a little black tank that I started to make in June. Usually, when I start something and like it, I finish it before beginning a next project. Yes, I am a one-project-at-a-time-knitter (I think, we should start a group!). I picked it because I liked the picture on Ravelry and there are not enough tanks in my wardrobe.
Cannot say anything about the yarn – lost all the labels and notes while moving from place to place last summer. You see, it seemed to be a very easy project – just knit in the round, no seaming, no finishing – so I kept bringing it with me everywhere. Yet, after two or three rows, I would fall asleep or totally distracted, and my progress was extremely slow.
The pattern is called Slope by Shellie Anderson. It is a very good pattern, with a lot of interesting, thoughtful details. The whole thing is made in the round with some shaping and short rows.
When finished, it fit well and I was glad that I persevered. However, things without seams have a tendency to stretch. This particular tank stretched a lot after washing. My Slope became really sloppy (pun intended).
After having tried different approaches in order to shrink this top, I discovered that this unidentified and mysterious yarn is practically unshrinkable. Which is supposed to be a good thing for a yarn. But it is not in this particular case. I hope one of my daughters likes this garment enough to take it because I have no use for it. And after all my shrinking experiments I don’t think that unraveling it will be possible.
So, no matter how many times I give myself a word not to make things in the round, I get under the spell of easiness and simple stockinette stitch and then… a disappointment! And, yes, I made a gauge, if you are wondering.
Surprisingly enough, my next project turned out to be also a seamless, or almost seamless sweater. However, this is another story and I’ll tell it the next time (here is a teaser!).
To be continued…

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Fluffy, or There and Back Again

They say that knitting is therapeutic. I say that knitting IS therapeutic. Let’s knit our astonishment about the last US elections into astonishing garments – at least something good would come out of it as a result! For the next four years I am going to knit up a storm – promise!
Meanwhile, back to my knitting life adventures. We went to Pennsylvania and spent three extremely busy weeks there. What do you normally do when you leave a place? If you ask me (you didn’t but let’s pretend…), I clean. And what do you do when you come back home after a long absence? Again, I start with cleaning. Therefore, I spent quite a substantial chunk of the last month cleaning and didn’t have time to write here. Yet, between cleaning and other important stuff I miraculously managed to squeeze some knitting.
It’s my favorite season in Pennsylvania now – fall. Every day I walked on a trail and took an insane amount of pictures.
What’s not to like – bright colors, crystal clear air, soft light, balmy wind, perfect temperature... Since I knew that this year my fall season was meant to be only three weeks long I tried to enjoy every second of it.
And I finally could get my hands on my stash! Yay! Four bags of yarn in Florida were not enough for my appetite. So I went down to the basement where all the yarn is stored and saw this big bag of Rowan Alpaca Cotton in a cloudy and pearly grey color. I used this yarn before a couple of times and the only problem with it is that it is extremely soft and pliable. And rather stretchy. My initial idea was to make some sort of poncho with sleeves. Something like this.
(This is a pattern from Phildar #38 2011, by the way)
Normally I don’t wear ponchos. For a couple of reasons: 1) I use my hands a lot and don’t want anything to stand in the way between me and them; 2) ponchos are for tall, skinny, and young, and I look really funny in a poncho. But this yarn was asking for something roomy and airy and what can be roomier than a poncho?
There was another possibility. I could make one more Riverband (I used the same yarn for my Riverband # 1) with two strands of yarn together. Riverband is a great pattern – versatile, comfortable, and extremely flattering. I wear it a lot. The problem is that I already have two Riverbands.
If using one thread of yarn, I needed something to reinforce the garment’s shape to prevent it from stretching. What could be better than cables for this purpose? If you have any other solution, please tell me.  So I started experimenting with different cable patterns and eventually picked this one.
As I already have mentioned, I was busy. Yet, the yarn was calling, and my totally improvised pattern seemed to be so easy to make that I would spend every free moment knitting till I almost finished the back.
Do you know what “knitter’s remorse” means? It’s like buyer’s remorse but with knitting. When you pick a pattern and yarn, start knitting, make some progress, and all of a sudden look at your work from a different angle and don’t really like it. Actually, don’t like it at all. Does it happen to you? If it does, what do you do?
It happens to me on a regular basis. Usually, I keep going even though somewhere inside my guts there is this little vermin telling me that I am just wasting my time. Yet, in some cases, I stop and unravel everything. This is how I felt while working on this sweater. I even shared my doubts with the Universe (aka Instagram) and got an answer: Sleep on it, and then, if still dislike it, unravel.
This is how my work was saved and eventually I got this wonderful sweater, if I may say so myself, because this whole thing is totally my invention.

The end result doesn’t look like a poncho, but it is roomy enough. Warm and fuzzy, like a kitten or puppy (hence the pattern’s name). Flattering to any body type. And I am in love with its color!
More pictures on Ravelry.
While we were up north, we visited our daughter in New York and she asked me for a cardigan. A warm winter cardigan. I thought about Flaum from Amirisu Fall 2015 almost immediately. I saw these wonderful incarnations of this pattern on Ravelry and purchased it a while ago (and even started making it but didn’t have enough yarn to finish). 
This time I decided to make it from Rowan Kid Classic that has very generous yardage. The cardigan’s pattern is clear and straightforward. As soon as I figured out all the abbreviations (they are not included in the pattern and you have to download them separately, which took me some time to realize), it was a smooth sailing.
Have I told you how much I love ribs? Well, it turns out that as much as I like wearing ribbed sweaters I hate the very process of ribbing. It is tedious, nothing happens, and it puts me to sleep. At first, I wanted to make two Flaums in a row, but then decided against it. I couldn’t stand even the idea of the endless ribbing. And the fishermen ribs literally make yarn disappear. I used up all 10 balls of Rowan Kid Classic that I had in my stash.
And now let me present you my Flaum.

I decided to photograph it before washing because I am much shorter than my daughter and, I hope, it will grow after washing to fit her better. It is extremely warm (not for South Florida’s weather, for sure) and its color reminds me of autumn leaves and long walks in Pennsylvania. Happy times! I wish I were more patient, so I could make one for myself. Well, maybe one day (in a very distant future).
Again, more pictures and details on Ravelry.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Of colors, patterns, and happy endings

How do you get inspired? My main inspiration comes from colors and shapes. Some colors almost make me cry, or swoon, or feverishly leaf through knitting books and magazines looking for an appropriate garment to make.
Florida Keys is an especially colorful place. Evenings and mornings here are major events because of sunsets and sunrises. This is not a joke, I am deadly serious. Look at these pictures, for example.

Amazing colors and color combinations, dramatic changes, overwhelming grandiosity, elemental and unfiltered, give an immediate boost to my creativity. I am not sentimental by nature, rather the opposite. Yet, some colors make me feel all gooey and soapy inside.

I had had 3 balls of Knitpick’s Palette in a bright blue-green color for several years without any idea how to use them. Somehow, in Pennsylvania this yarn looked too bright, too loud, and even garish. Here, in Florida, it looks natural. This color basically surrounds me all day long.

So I took a pattern by Jared Flood, Cinder, and used it for a little infinity scarf. The cables look like ocean waves. The yarn is springy and soft, with very good stitch definition. It was very easy to work with, no need for a cable needle to make cables.

Another color very common here on the island is bright green. Avocados, key limes, guacamole, cilantro, jalapeƱos. 

A friend of mine asked me for a green scarf before I left for Florida. But I already made her a green scarf that she’s been wearing quite often. So, instead of a scarf, I decided to make this avocado-lime-cilantro green sweater. 
Again, the yarn for it has been in my stash for ages. It was discontinued long ago and I had to find a right pattern to use the yarn well and to come up with a decent garment. Fortunately, I had Roz by Uandiknit in my library, and it happened to be a perfect match.

This pattern is really well written, thoughtful, and clear. It was a pleasure to work with. I usually don’t like top-downs (*End note: It doesn't mean I don't like OTHER people's top-downs, I just don't like MINE **End end note). I made quite a lot of them and eventually unraveled almost all. Why? They don’t fit well. Top-down clothes have a tendency to hug my body in a very unflattering way or to be too big and shapeless, making me look too short and shapeless as well. They look good on Ravelry pictures, usually with young, tall, thin models. Being not young, or tall, or particularly thin, I started avoiding top-down designs. This one is an exception.
It does hug your body, but it doesn’t make you look out of shape. I am probably going to use this pattern again in the future, especially when you need to make something easy and quick. That was a very satisfying knit!
See what you get when you ask me for a scarf? With me, you’ve got to be very careful with what you wish for. I hope my friend likes her sweater (at least as much as I like it) and its colors. More pictures and details on my Ravelry page.
I’ve been using discontinued yarns from my stash lately and it made me  feel partly "discontinued" myself. After all, I was a grown up when I bought this yarn and now it doesn’t exist anymore, like dinosaurs. 
Actually, this issue (discontinued items) has been reemerging all the time lately. Half of the materials we picked only two years ago for our new house have been discontinued. And one day I went to a hairdresser and there was the last blow.  At some point she asked her coworker to pass her “happy endings”.
 -   Oh, happy endings have been discontinued, - answered the other stylist. – Here is the last jar. I was really surprised and asked what they were talking about. It turns out that “happy endings” was a brand name for a sort of special pomade that you put on your hair at the end of blow drying to make it stay in place. And it was discontinued. Like so much of my yarn or the materials for our house. Even happy endings belong to the past. Isn’t it sad? Yet, I managed to finish this little sweater even though I had to use every last bit of the yarn and the result is rather successful. Maybe not everything is lost after all?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Home Depot Cardigan, or I am not a designer!

Disclaimer: I am not a designer!
No, I am much better at following directions than at writing them up.  Normally, I find a pattern for my next project somewhere (on Ravelry, in a book or magazine), then find a yarn for it, make a swatch, and if the gauge is the same or close I begin working on it.
However, sometimes, my starting point is a yarn. I had this yarn – Naturelle Chunky 14 ply, 100% pure New Zealand wool – in my stash for a while. I bought it for a winter cardigan that I never made. This year I decided to finally use it for another jacket. 
Cardigan is a staple of my older daughter’s wardrobe. She wears them everywhere and with everything and is constantly looking for a new one. And I try to provide her with a new handmade cardigan as often as I can. So I took this yarn with me to Florida hoping to find a good pattern for it.
There have been so many amazing patterns for big oversized cardigans from chunky yarn on Ravelry! I have a whole board on Pinterest full of them.  Yet, none of them asked for the same gauge (11 st. x 14 rs in 4” on size 7 mm needles) and I either had not enough or too much yarn for all of them.
So, after spending long hours looking for a matching pattern I decided to improvise it myself.
I repeat: I am not a designer! It just happened... One long afternoon that I had to spend in a Home Depot with a designer who worked on our kitchen cabinets I just visualized a cardigan and all of a sudden drew a sketch of a pattern. I call it “A Home Depot Effect”, it happens when you look at lots of different design options and materials for a long time. I don’t know about you, but I feel an urgent need to make something with my hands from scratch.
This is how this project got its name.
My first swatch was just white. And I didn’t like it. Looks like a cheap acrylic yarn. Boring.
Fortunately, I brought a bag of Cascade Kid Seta with me in four different colors (don’t ask me why I had this bag in the first place – it’s a long story). I took two slightly different brown threads of Kid Seta, added them to the white, and – voila! It doesn’t look cheap anymore. Far from it.

From the very beginning I wanted cables on this garment. Cables are my obsession “du jour” and they usually look classy and very British.
The cardigan was finished in a week. Thick yarn and big needles normally lead to quick results but in this case my impatience was my strongest motivator. I couldn’t wait to see the finished garment. And now you can see it as well.

Yes, there are some things that I would change and do differently next time but overall I am rather pleased with the outcome. Basically, I managed to incorporate everything that I wanted (long warm cardigan from chunky wool with cables and pockets) and use up quite a lot of stashed yarn in the process.

I summoned my inner Kim Hargreaves, found a belt, and used it during our photo shoot. If Kim’s books taught me something, it is the importance of a belt for quality pictures. Of course, the cardigan can be worn without a belt.

Since I am thinking about using the same pattern again I decided to write it down. 
Again, DISCLAIMER # 150 – I am not a designer! All the details are on my Ravelry page. All the charts are here (yes, I made charts for the first time in my life and I am really proud of myself!)
Chart A

Chart B

Friday, September 2, 2016

Sunset in Florida, or Pull # 079-T12-173

Some yarns just need to wait till the right project comes up. This yarn was supposed to become a cardigan for my daughter. Yet, it turned out that the cardigan required much more yarn so I made it from a different yarn and put the unfinished project away. I am so glad I did, because this yarn worked remarkably well for this pattern.
The pattern is from the same old Phildar magazine that I took to Florida with me and that turned out to be a treasure trove of unknown and wonderful patterns. The structure of this sweater reminds me of body armor and a corset at the same time. It is short, fitted, but not tight, with wonderful, seemingly unstructured cables.
To me it looks edgy and modern. I could instantly visualize my younger daughter wearing it with high-wasted jeans that are so trendy now. Plus I got the exact gauge with this yarn so the rest was a piece of cake. And I mean it. This pattern is extremely well written and easy to follow. Thank you, Nadege, I wish I knew how to find you and your other designs on the Internet.
The only two things that I changed were ribbing and finishing. I used 1x1 ribs because, to me, they look less hand-made on a finished garment. And I find making borders separately and grafting them to a sweater tiresome so I just picked up stitches and knit the ribbing with smaller needles.
I love everything about this sweater: fit, style, versatility, construction. If my daughter doesn’t like it I will gladly wear it myself. If she does, I’ll make another one. 
It is better to use soft yarn with good stitch definition for this pattern. I really liked working with Nashua Handknits Shenandoah even though at first its color got me a little perplexed. It is something in between bright orangey brown and blue-grey. That is why I named this sweater Sunset in Florida. First, because “pull # 079-T12-173” is non-descriptive. Second, because of its colors.
Finally, I find it really unfair that such wonderful patterns got totally ignored and forgotten by knitting community because Phildar did such a poor job at photographing and marketing them. They look like nothing in the magazine, and there is only one picture of each, which doesn’t help imagining their fit and structure. And I don’t think that the yarn choice complements these garments either.