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…