Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Bare Necessities

No one would say that building a house is easy. It is not. It is rather hard. I tell from experience. Several months of experience. Last month was especially difficult for us with various inspections and a gazillion “last minute” things that had to be done. We even had to go to Pennsylvania for one weekend and then come back. The only thing that kept me sane was knitting.
In April I decided to make some clothes that I really needed for a change. The bare necessities, so to speak.
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife...
I couldn't forget about my worries but I could make something useful and wearable. 
First, I chose Loving by Kim Hargreaves (again, quite a bit of time was spent contemplating the pattern’s name – why “-ing”?  it looks weird to me but maybe I am just bad at English grammar?) inspired by these finished versions of it on Ravelry. It seemed to be simple (only garter stitch with minimal shaping) project that you can take anywhere and that doesn’t require a total concentration. Plus, I had 6 balls of Rowan Felted Tweed DK in my favorite color – clay. If my calculations were correct, it was just enough to make a size S sweater.

And I am loving the result (maybe this is the reason for the pattern’s name – if you make it you are going to be loving it?). It is very well fitting and goes with anything.  And I was able to take it with me everywhere – to the knitting club, to Philadelphia and back. The whole process of making it went so quickly that I didn’t even tire of it. As soon as the sweater was finished I was ready to start another one in cotton – for Florida. But I had to stop myself because of this book.

Have you seen the patterns from this book? When I saw them for the first time I finally understood what was missing in my closet. Actually, several garments were missing, and I absolutely needed them right this second. They are all simple but very stylish and elegant, extremely wearable and useful, and it is really hard to pick the first one to make. Yet, I’ve been making sweaters nonstop for such a long time that a cardigan seemed in order.
But first a couple of words about the yarn that I wanted to use. Normally, I don’t buy artisanal skein-dyed yarn because: 1) it is too easy to miscalculate the amount needed for a pattern (especially, when you keep changing this pattern in mind) and impossible to buy more later; 2) I don’t like the way this yarn looks in a finished garment – too busy and too handmade at the same time (normally, “handmade” has a positive connotation for me, but sometimes it is just a synonym for “amateurish” or “sloppy”). 
I saw this yarn in a yarn store and was immediately attracted to it because of its color. Sounds familiar? Right, because it happens to me too often (which is why I avoid yarn stores and try to buy yarn online). The yarn – Swans Island washable merino wool from Washable Wool Collection – was on sale J))) but there were only 5 skeins of it ((((: 
Still, I grabbed the yarn and took it to Florida with me. I had 900 yards of this beautiful vibrant yarn and I could see myself wearing it as a cardigan. Yet, even a person of my size cannot make a whole cardigan with only 900 yards of sport weight yarn.
Later, I found a Raveler that had one skein of the same yarn in the same color and who agreed to sell it to me. Unfortunately, the color of her skein was slightly different from my first five. So, if I wanted to use this yarn for a cardigan, I had to figure out how to incorporate this one different ball without it being too noticeable.
Since I never worked with this yarn before, I made a big swatch, washed and blocked it to see how it behaves after washing. The result was amazing – the yarn “grew” and became more voluminous.
I thought that Ebony would be the right pattern for this yarn because its design is unpretentious and restrained: a good way to showcase the yarn, its color and structure. Plus, while making the body (back and both fronts are knitted simultaneously) I could alternate threads from two different balls thus incorporating my extra ball of slightly different color.

This little gem of a cardigan looks simple but there are many interesting details that keep your work interesting and result in an excellent fit. It’s all about the fit, this one! 
The directions for the pattern are clear even though some things are kind of implied and left untold. For example, eventually I figured out that all selvedge stitches are supposed to be knit on both sides all the time, but I was already finishing the right front and it was too late to change anything. So keep it mind, if you haven’t started yet. Also I ended up having enough space for only 5 buttonholes on the front edge (the pattern tells you to make 6) but I don’t think that it is a big deal. And I forgot to make eyelet row on my first sleeve (note to myself – do not start a new part of a garment while chatting with friends!) so I just omitted it on the second sleeve. Sorry, no eyelets on sleeves for me this time.

When I was trying it on while working on it the cardigan seemed to be tiny and at some point I was a little bit worried if I was making the right size. But that was the only size that I could possibly make with this amount of yarn so I soldiered on hoping for the best.  I was right because in the end it grew after washing and became the most adorable cardigan that I ever made. This pattern is what Kim Hargreaves usually calls “understated” but its color is enough to make a statement. It is short, not too warm, looks great with skirts and dresses, and goes with all my clothes (that are mostly black, or grey, or white).

The yarn is absolutely one of my favorite now. I would love to make more things from it for sure.
And I used my new label that I also like a lot. They are made from leather by a small Canadian company Orange Bridge Supply Co

One more thing. While traveling to Philadelphia and back I was wearing (again!) my Bo sweater. Making it was such a drag and I wrote all about it but I never wrote how often I wear this garment and how useful it is. And I felt bad about it and thought that this pattern needs some additional “promotion” because, if made from the right yarn, it is incredibly flattering, practical, and comfortable, especially while traveling. And when we returned to Florida, I asked my husband to take more pictures of me wearing it and put them on Instagram and on my pattern page on Ravelry. Check it out.

Meanwhile I started another project from Helga Isager’sbook. It is called Pearls. I am using the same Rowan fine tweed that I used for my Christmas sweater but in different color. I figured that all these bubbles can hide the yarn’s irregularities and imperfections.
As a result now I am leaving not in one but with many tiny bubbles. Can’t wait to see the end result. Hopefully, in Pennsylvania, where I am flying next week, I’ll have as much time for knitting as I had in Florida.

Monday, April 3, 2017

March Madness

-          - Do I look like a clown?
-          - Yes, but in a good way.
-          - What do you mean?
-         -  Like a cute and stylish one.
(from conversations with my husband)

Project: Sunshine
Yarn: Rowan Pure Wool 4ply in four colors
Needles: 2,5 mm and 3 mm 
Many years ago I fell in love with Alice Starmore’s designs. To be exact, it wasn’t so much love as admiration and awe. Never before could I even imagine using so many different colors while creating one garment. And the end result – oh, where to find words to describe it! It was like a painting or a tapestry, work of art – unique and priceless. The models looked stunning with mountains, lakes, or colorful fields as background. The steeks and knitting in the round without seams were well explained and seemed easy to implement.
I started collecting Alice Starmore’s books and bought yarn in all possible colors. I didn’t order the original yarn since it was either discontinued or too expensive for me, so I had to settle for something much cheaper. And then the fun began. I made several Starmore’s designs religiously following all her directions with steeks and yarn cutting. The finished projects looked pretty and unique but, unfortunately, I didn’t look pretty in them. Rather the opposite. They were too large, long, and oversized. I looked awful – like a shapeless midget with no legs, waist, or shoulders. Plus, they were very hard to wear – imagine wearing a tapestry or painting to a supermarket or class. They were not versatile garments at all. I gave away or donated almost all of them but one, which is still collecting dust in my closet but is never worn.
After that I started wondering why my knits didn’t look on me like on the models in Starmore’s books. At first, I blamed the yarn. I promised myself to splurge on well made English yarn as soon as I get a well-paid job (never happened, because as soon as I got a job I almost didn’t have time for knitting). Then, a couple of top-down seamless garments that didn’t fit later, it dawned on me that maybe the reason was the construction itself.
Seamless top-down sweaters, so popular now with Ravelry knitters, don’t look well on me. To get a good fit I need seams and structure. Otherwise, knit fabric just hugs my body at every protruding point in a very unflattering way. And it stretches a lot with wearing and washing. More it stretches, more shapeless and unflattering it becomes. Until one day I just bite the bullet and unravel it. Only you cannot unravel a multicolored concoction with steeks – remember, the yarn was cut. That is why for a while I didn’t do fair isle at all, or, occasionally, I would make a hat, scarf, or gloves (you can find great design for small fair isle projects), or even a vest (this one was made in pieces, without steeks, didn’t stretch, and is still wearable).
This year in Florida, surrounded by bright, cheerful colors, my appetite for color work was reawakened. After making Juno and getting many colorful balls of Rowan Pure Wool 4ply, I wanted to try my hand in creating something unique and special. Yet, this time I wanted it to be wearable and well fitting. Which meant no knitting in the round or steeks. And the rest is history, as they say.

I was happily finishing my yellow and white asymmetrical sweater when one day, coming from my daily walk, I looked at the sweater’s parts laying on the couch and got rooted to the spot: What was I thinking?!!!! Yes, I managed to make a whole sweater with only 5 balls of Rowan Pure Wool 4ply in yellow, but I definitely won’t be able to wear it any time soon. If ever. Where would you wear something like this?
Surprisingly enough, I got an unexpected encouragement and support from my husband, who usually doesn’t even notice what I am wearing. He is not into clothes or fashion, to put it mildly. Yet, this time he stopped and said: “Look, this one fits you really well! Congrats!” I blame the yellow – it is extremely noticeable.
Anyway, I decided to keep it for now (my first impulse was to send it to my daughter in New York), but switch to making more traditional stuff in less conspicuous color. See what I mean? Something versatile, that I can wear anytime anywhere.