Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Finishing touches

Can anything be compared with the excitement of a new project? When yarn is picked, a swatch is done, needles are ready... Usually I cannot wait to start, already mulling in my head how I’d be wearing this particular item of clothing when it is finished.
And then the actual work begins and sooner or later the excitement is gone, and instead I feel impatient. I can’t wait to finish this one because there is another one, much better, more interesting, and most importantly, much more needed in my wardrobe. Sometimes, it requires all my willpower and self-discipline to finish a project, especially when a thing or two go wrong. By “going wrong” I mean situations when I have to re-knit, unravel, correct, or totally forget pattern’s directions and just improvise. In these cases it is especially hard to stay the course and finish the garment. Really, really hard!
Yet, as I discovered many years ago, when I just began getting serious about my knitting, finishing is a very important process in creating an item of clothing. Probably even THE MOST important process. As the saying goes, God is in the details. All these details – seaming, edges, buttons, pockets and collars, washing and blocking – make or break our knits. They either look professionally done and sophisticated, like designers’ clothes, or crude and amateurish, handmade in DIY kind of way. Finishing needs some special effort and determination. And where can you find them if all you can think at the moment is the next project?
Do you have this problem as well? Please, admit that you do, that I am not struggling alone.
My “rule of thumb” for the good finishing is to separate washing/blocking and seeming stages of the process. In my experience the more time you put between them, the better is the end result.
Exhibit 1Dark Walnut cardigan that I made for myself in October.

The handspun yarn used for it was given to me by my daughter. She brought it from her trip to the island of Lewis and Harris where she had bought it from a woman on a street selling her own handspun by weight. And this was the only marker that I ever had about this yarn – its weight. It looks rustic and heathery, and very “handmade” but lovely. The color is dark brown with some rare blue specs – extremely difficult to photograph. I had this yarn for a couple of years and couldn’t find a fitting pattern for it.
The best way to showcase the yarn was to make something simple, with straight lines. The yarn was chunky weight to knit on big needles. A sporty style and handmade wool seemed to me a good combination. Add here my infatuation with biker jackets and military style and you’ll understand why I ended up making a bomber. I measured my favorite leather jacket and calculated the number of sts needed according to my gauge. The best bomber pattern for this gauge was found in an old Phildar magazine for kids. I don’t give any link to it because I used the pattern only as a suggestion and mostly improvised. I added pockets, an i-cord finishing, and changed the collar. I also added some narrow strips to hide the zipper from inside.

I finished the second sleeve the day before we left for a short trip, washed (with a lot of fabric softener) and blocked everything, and went away. In a week I was back and getting ready for another trip. There were tons of things to do, yet, I managed to finish this cardigan. And I absolutely love it. It fits me the way it was supposed to fit, it became much softer after washing, it is warm and sturdy, and can be worn outdoors. My perfect bomberJ))

I believe, the reason I managed to put everything, including a zipper, well together, is the fact that I wasn’t exhausted from making this cardigan, took some time off, and was really looking forward to finishing it.

Remember, in June I wrote about a jacket that I made as a gift for a girl and didn’t have time to finish since we had to leave Florida?
Well, as soon as we got back, I finished it. I wasn’t in a hurry anymore and decided to finally learn how to do a tubular cast off for 2x2 ribs. It made it look so much more professional! Now, I am glad that I didn’t have time to finish it in June. When I gifted the jacket (it fits perfectly, yay!) I felt really proud of my work.
Fortunately, sometimes we don’t need much space in between the process of making and finishing. It happens, for example, with hats and scarves. I made two scarves as gifts over the last two months – the red one from the handspun yarn brought from Scotland and Rift from the leftovers of Cascade 220 Heathers and Berroco Ultra Alpaca that I used for a sweater and a hat for my daughter.
The red scarf was not difficult to make, just tedious and time consuming, since it was knit on 2,5 mm needles.
Yet, the tubular cast on and cast off definitely added some sophistication to it. And I spent quite a lot of time blocking it properly after washing.
Rift was a quick and unplanned project.
I didn’t expect to have so much leftover yarn and really wanted to get rid of it. And I’ve been in love with this pattern for some time (actually, I have to make a confession – I am in love with all the patterns by Emily Greene, she is my favorite designer “du jour”). I knew that I didn’t have enough yarn in one color to finish the cowl but decided to go for it anyway. I figured that my daughter wouldn’t mind two colors (even if she would, I wouldn’t, I can always keep it to myself) and if I like the end result I could make it again in one color. You can read my notes about Rift here. What else can I add about this pattern? It was challenging, definitely not for TV knitting, but fun to make.
I also made several hats for gifts this fall. One of the hats – Dipyramid, also by Emily Greene – to go with the Periwinkle jacket.
It has a tubular cast on and a nice neat pompom and is rather cute.
Another hat I want to talk about is my Tensho hat made to compliment my Tensho pullover. The idea of making this sweater came to me when I finished the Clear Creek Cardigan. Looking at the leftovers of Berroco Ultra Alpaca I realized that it would look fabulous together with Cascade 220 Heathers in light grey that I had in my stash. Killing two birds with one stone, I could make a Christmas sweater for my younger child and somewhat reduce my stash.
The pattern for Tensho pullover is one of the best that I’ve used lately.
The only reason I didn’t follow it to a T was the fact that I don’t like seamless garments especially for my children. Sweaters with seams have longer life and don’t stretch that much after washing. I explained all the changes that I made to the pattern on my Ravelry page. It was a very quick and satisfying project and I would love to make this sweater again one day.
I used the same colors for the Tensho hat but reversed. And I finally learned how to secure the floats that are too long in fairisle knitting (there is a link in the pattern to a tutorial and a video) – double score!
My last gift was a sweater that I made for my older daughter. The pattern and yarn were picked for some time but with Thanksgiving preparations and another short trip abroad I didn’t have much time to focus on it. As a result, I started knitting Janus pullover at the end of November and had to finish it by December 11 (the day my daughter was coming home).
This project was a big challenge for me. At first, I decided to follow the pattern which tells you to make the body in the round, sew the shoulders together, then pick up sleeves around the armholes, and make both sleeves in the round. I didn’t have much time to recalculate everything.

When I came to the armholes and the moment the body is divided in two parts, I tried it on myself for the first time and, frankly, got scared. The body hugged me like a corset, but it was a corset with lots of cables that make it look rather like an armor. Who wants a corset from a thick yarn with intricate cables, raise your hand! Not flattering, not even close to flattering((( I couldn’t unravel and start over with a different pattern, so I decided to continue with the sweater hoping that a good steaming and blocking will help with the corset problem.
My second hiccup was at the armholes. I was making the size for 40” bust and the numbers didn’t add up. I had to improvise to get the final number of stitches for my size.
My third problem was the front and back side cables after armhole decreases. I had to figure out how to situate them so they wouldn’t look like broken sticks and would complement the main cable pattern. I believe all sizes in the pattern but the first would have this problem so, if one day you decide to make this sweater, be extra careful and try to figure out the direction of your side cables ahead of time.
Do you understand now why I decided to abandon the pattern and make sleeves differently? Plus, I almost never make sleeves in the round – it is awkward and time consuming. It is much easier and faster to seam them later. And I wanted the purl side to be the right side – I thought it would work better with the sweater body.

You can find all the details and numbers for the sleeves on my Ravelry page. After washing and some very aggressive blocking I steamed the body trying to make it as loose-fitting as possible to avoid the corset effect. Here is how it looks on me.
My daughter has yet to try it on. Hopefully, it fits and she likes it. Anyway, next time I’ll need to start making my gifts much earlier to avoid stress and frustration.
I know, the best way to avoid stress and frustration is not to make handmade gifts. Yet, I still cherish the fact that my kids wear my clothes, like them, and keep asking for more. And I don’t need warm sweaters for myself so much anymore. So, most likely, I’ll continue knitting for other people.
The main take-away of this whole story is that since having more time for each project is certainly advantageous, I will have to plan accordingly.
Now the gift knitting is done. I can relax and enjoy the holidays with my family. Happy holidays to all of you! I’ll talk to you next year.


Friday, October 5, 2018

A Knitter's Lament

What is one of the main reasons of knitters’ frustration? What is the worst thing that might happen while you work on a project? To be completely honest, what is your greatest fear when you embark on a new knitting adventure?
At least for me, this is the worst that can happen… Because it would mean that hours and hours of work (and subsequently hours and hours of my life) were spent in vain. And I have to start all over again. As much as I love starting a project I definitely prefer one successful start to several failed.
And what are the reasons for the need to get back to the beginning?  

1. False planning

Yarns could be capricious and cranky and refuse to become a garment that you want them to become. Let’s face it! If your yarn doesn’t cooperate, it won’t look good no matter how skillful a knitter you are and how much heart and soul you put into your work.
Last May I had to unravel 4 times in a row 4 different projects because my yarn just didn’t want to collaborate (meaning, my creations looked just ugly).
Then, I wanted to make a colorful round yoke cardigan with Rowan Fine tweed and ended up with something quite different for the same reason. My last project for #summerofbasics was supposed to be a cabled sweater and eventually became a plain V-neck cardigan with pockets (via another sweater, this time lacy).

Rule # 1 – do not start planning a project just looking at a pattern. Yarn comes first. From now on I will play with the yarn before deciding which pattern to make out of it. I need to make several gauges, try different designs, wait, and see which one will agree with the yarn and my current needs (because some yarns want to be hats or scarfs when I need a sweater or a cardigan).

Therefore, I probably won’t be participating in a #summerofbasics knitalong in the future. Because this knitalong involves explaining the planning process with notes and drawings. I figured out this is not the best planning process for me: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Last summer it worked about 50% of the time. From now on, no more #summerofbasics for me (sigh!).

2. Mistakes in a pattern

Yes, they happen quite often and we, knitters, better be prepared. Yet, even after so many years of knitting, it takes me by surprise every time.
Slouchy cardigan that I eventually picked to make out of my marled Colormart yarn, looks amazing on the model. I was instantly attracted to it: a stylish garment with modern shape, V-neck, and side pockets seemed the epitome of practicality.
Actually, the final result didn’t disappoint.
I’ve been wearing my Slouchy for a month now, mostly inside to protect myself from air conditioning (we still have pretty high temperatures in Pennsylvania). However, the process of making it was a real struggle.
My first problem with the pattern was a row by row instructions. It is literally row by row – almost every sentence starts with “Next row”. It didn’t bother me that much while making the back, but, after finishing the left front, I discovered that I missed several rows at the bottom of it. I had to unravel, knit it again, and then unravel again. Finally, frustrated beyond words, I printed out the pattern (I was using it on my tablet while traveling), enumerated all rows, and got a second row counter. Then and only then, I could finish both fronts. Why two row counters? Because there are many short rows that should be counted separately. And no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t succeed in getting the right amount of total stitches at the end. I decided to leave it as it was because nothing is perfect and one or two stitches more or less are not that important in the grand scheme of things. Honestly, I was just tired of being wrong.

And then I came to the sleeves. The pattern’s drawing of a sleeve doesn’t correspond with its verbal instructions. Simply speaking, if you knit it as explained you won’t make a sleeve shown in the schematic drawing. And I already made the back and two fronts (one of which 3 times!!!). At this point I was really frustrated… No, let’s be honest, I was angry… Nonetheless, my anger couldn’t help me finish my cardigan.

I described in details what I did for the sleeves on my Ravelry page. The goal was to make the decreases as inconspicuous as possible, and to avoid holes while decreasing in order to make the seams neater. I think my goal was accomplished. The yarn and the pattern were the perfect match even though some of the finest pattern’s details were lost on the marled fabric.

How to protect oneself from mistakes in a pattern? 
Rule # 2 – either wait till several knitters make it and explain its mistakes on Ravelry or get ready for a possible failure due to the fact that the pattern as it is written cannot be executed properly.

Actually, this rule – to be always prepared for a possibility of a failure – is one of my major life rules. Failures are inevitable; you cannot live without them like you cannot live without air or food. Admitting this simple fact makes it easier to go on with less bitterness and more determination, I think.
I hope I don’t sound preachy here. This is also one of my greatest fears. I used to be a teacher and I know that teachers often have a tendency to do just that. I don’t want to look like I am on a higher moral or other ground that anybody else. And I am not giving anyone any advice for that matter. My only aim is to share my thoughts and opinions and it is for you to decide if I am right or not.

My next pattern was supposed to be something that would be more straightforward and less complicated (I don’t think anyone would blame me for taking an easy route here!). Strangely enough, the inspiration for it came during our trip to Scotland. On the Isle of Skye there were some yellow flowers (I am blissfully unaware of their name) that reminded me of this yarn from my stash. Many years ago I made a bright yellowey-greenish sweater. I wore it for a while before my youngest child took it. A couple of times I tried to make something from the yarn leftovers but it didn’t work and I totally forgot about it till I saw those flowers.

The last couple of Kim Hargreaves’ books have several designs made using different sized needles. This technique produces a stretchy, drapey, and porous fabric and doesn’t require a lot of yarn.
I really liked Subtle from the book Pale for its neckline and an unusual form of the raglan sleeves. And I made it quickly from the leftover yarn without any changes to the pattern. This one doesn’t have any mistakes and was delightfully easy. Just what I needed!

The only problem with this garment in my view is the neckband. It should have been a little tighter. If one day I make it again, I’d pick up 4-5 less stitches at the back.

Yes, it is extremely stretchy. But I can live with it and it will look perfect in Florida.

Since working on Subtle didn’t require a lot of brain power, I started another project for myself from the new yarn that I bought in Scotland. I fell totally in love with this yarn – Illustrious by West YorkshireSpinners - and I believe I picked the right pattern for it – Early Morning by Yuko Shimizu. It is a gorgeous cabled sweater made in the round from the bottom up using lots and lots of short rows. It looks rather intricate but its puzzle-like construction is clearly explained and is fun to make.

After more than two weeks I made to the armholes and one bright morning (after all it is called Early Morning) I decided to try it on. And I decidedly didn’t like what I saw in the mirror.  The asymmetric hem made my butt look too low and the shape was wrong for my short frame. This wonderful pattern that was a perfect match for my new yarn just didn’t fit me well. Needless to say that I was almost in tears while unraveling it.

3. Some patterns don’t work with our body types. 

This is the last reason why sometimes we need to frog our work. At least as far as I could figure it. Do you know any other reasons?
Anyway, now I  am working on small projects – socks and hats – and it turned out to be really soothing.
So I’ll probably stick with gift knitting for a while. Everyone needs a confidence boost from time to time.

Talk soon,


Friday, September 14, 2018

“The Isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs…”

If you like traveling and are looking for an interesting place to see this is a post for you.

Visiting the Isle of Skye last August was one of the most memorable experiences in my life.

It is in Scottish Highlands, up North, and if you like sun and high temperatures this is not a place for you. Even in August it was relatively cold for our bodies spoiled by Floridian weather. Yet, cold wasn’t a serious problem – I had my knits with me and finally (FINALLY) could wear them. It was also extremely windy and raining most of the time (bring everything waterproof that you own). We spent more than a week there and had only 2 sunny days.

And the roads… Oh, the island roads… For our American souls this was a real torture. Two way roads on Skye look like tiny one way lanes in the US. Driving there requires some special skills, first of which is patience. They have “passing places” where you stop your car and patiently wait for the upcoming cars to pass before going forward. And you know what? Lots of people came there in RVs. Imagine driving on these roads in an RV! I can’t!

Anyway, those are the problems you are going to encounter if one day you travel there (which you definitely should do). Nevertheless, tourists keep coming to the Isle of Skye in droves (or herds, since there are so many sheep there that “herd” looks like the best word to describe the tourist phenomenon). It is pretty hard to book a lodging there in summer time, even though B&Bs, hostels, hotels, camping and RV spaces, and all sorts of other housing accommodations are abundant.  Plan ahead.

Why this place is so popular?
It is a small island with population less than 10 thousand people, mostly rural, with glens and mountains, ocean, lochs, rivers, mountain streams, and waterfalls. The air there is so pure you want to drink it. Every time I was outside, I tried to breathe as much as possible of it in my lungs. If I could, I’d stored it away to uncork later, and breathe it again. The experience was truly unique – like getting washed up from inside. By the way, the water, regular top water there is also pure beyond believe and tastes delicious.

I think there are more sheep on the island than populations (tourists included).
Sheep are everywhere, even on the roads (yes, you’ve got to let them pass as well).
I’ve been a big fan of the movie Shaun the Sheep, yet I used to think it is just a clever animation. On Skye I discovered that it is actually a documentary. The house where we were staying was in a middle of sheep grassland. Blackfaced and blacklegged sheep were peeping in our windows every morning, looking curious and a bit scornful at the same time. After all it was their land. We were only visiting.

Once we were lucky to see how a farmer trained his sheep to get into a barn. An extremely smart and agile sheep dog was helping him. Baffled, we were glued to the windows. It was a lesson in mastery, artistry, and patience. Every participant knew what and why they were doing and it was just a delight to watch. I must admit that the “sheep ballet” captivated me probably more than anything else on the island.

Where are sheep, there must be yarn. Right? Especially since you can just pick up wool as you go on a road.

We visited TheSky Museum of the Island Life and saw a Weaver’s cottage with many wool working instruments, a loom, spinning wheels, handspun wool, dye-pots, and old dye-making recipes.

Yet, surprisingly enough, it took us a while to find a knitting shop on the island. The first one, that promised hand dyed wool, coffee and cakes, was mostly coffee and cakes. It was a small private house with one room downstairs transformed into a sort of cafĂ© cum weaver’s studio. There were some cones of handspun yarn in bright and beautiful colors without any information on them about the yarn’s length, type, or price. And as soon as I entered the room, all people who were sitting there eating cakes and drinking coffee started looking at me. I felt being on display together with the yarn (my husband and daughter wisely decided to stay at the entrance). The whole experience was rather weird and not pleasant. So we promptly left.

Next day driving on a road we noticed a sign Island on theEdge, Designer knitwear and Skye yarns. My husband turned the car without even my telling him anything. It was a teeny-tiny shack surrounded by black sheep.
The entrance to the store.

There is a black sheep near a rock. It was a dark and windy morning.
This little coo is made from the black sheep wool.
Most sheep on the Island are white but, as I was told by one of the women in the shack, the original Skye sheep were black. And their yarn is from these original black sheep. I had to have it. Especially since it was handspun right there by the woman who sold it to me (I was too shy to ask her name which I deeply regret). Yes, I broke my promise to use only the yarn from my stash this year. My daughter picked the color. It is going to be a present for her.

Also, among other wonderful things in this shop, there was a magnificent handknit man’s gansey. I’ve never been a big fan of ganseys. To my eye they look practical but not particularly remarkable. Not this one! It was knit from fingering weight handspun wool in dark chocolaty hue and had a subtle and interesting pattern all over the garment (not only on the top part). The salesperson told me that it was made on 5 dpn, not on circular needles, in the round, and seamless.  Unfortunately, you have to believe my words because I wasn’t allowed to take its picture as well as a picture of a handmade fairisle hat (costing 95 pounds!). Copyright protection in action!
Anyway, now I really want… need to make a similar gansey and replicate that hat. It was adorable (not to mention 95 pounds)!
Next day we found another knitting shop on the Island. Again, by pure chance, just saw a sign while driving to a totally different destination. Again, it was a tiny place/shack next to a private house.

I bought there this beautiful yarn bowl. It is light, smooth, has little holes for yarn, and is made with a lot of love.
Yet, the most impression (and the biggest damage to our wallet) was made by the last knitting shop that I visited – The HandspinnerHaving Fun. This one was huge comparing to the previous shops, and the selection of yarn, needles, and everything else that a knitter might need, was colossal. I literally lost my breath when stepped inside. This was a place where I would love to die one day. And yes, I bought two big bags of yarn there and I don’t think anyone can blame me. It was inevitable. Places like that one should be marked on maps as “yarntraps” or “knitterstraps”.
Mushroom hunting was another big and unforgettable experience from our stay on Skye.

With so much rain and air temperature far from tropical mushrooms grow like… well, like mushrooms in patches of the island covered with trees, especially rowan trees.
One time, while driving on a tiny road, we found 10 or even more boletes without even getting out of the car. Mushrooms were so big that we could easily spot them just by looking through the car windows.
Our first serious “mushroom hunting” experience happened unexpectedly when we were visiting the historic Dunvegan castle.
The castle is Bronte sisters’ wet dream – old, dark, gothic and romantic in a melodramatic sort of way. It is surrounded by an immense garden which, as we soon discovered, was full of mushrooms. Since we came unequipped for mushroom picking, at first my husband was putting mushrooms into his pockets. Yet, after a while he had to retrieve grocery bags from our car that we filled in no time. All the while, I felt really awkward because no one else around was interested in mushrooms and it looked somehow inappropriate to pick mushrooms on someone else’s property. So, while my daughter and my husband got carried away full of excitement and enthusiasm, I followed them pretending to be an innocent bystander.
We used to go mushroom hunting rather often when we lived in Russia, but in all my life I never had as many mushrooms for one meal as I had on Skye.

Because after our first foray, we discovered even more mushrooms growing around another castle, or rather ruins of a castle – Armadale.
Note to myself – where is a castle, there must be mushrooms!
Another unexpected discovery made on Skye was the gigantic amount of people running from civilization. The island was supposed to be a rather isolated place beneficial for solitude and meditation, yet, there were herds of people running around in cars and on foot, climbing every mounting, walking every path, parking in every parking spot (and where there was NO PARKING sign), sleeping in tents, cars, RVs everywhere we went. Once, while visiting the famous fairy glen with otherworldly beautiful fairy pools I had to put my headphones on to isolate myself from crowd’s noises, because the traffic along the waterfalls was exceptionally heavy. If you are thinking about visiting the island one day and want to avoid big crowds of people, I found a special website just for you. I wish I saw it before our trip.
All in all, our trip to Skye this year was an immense success. The island is so beautiful that I was constantly taking pictures of everything around.
That is why this post has so many photographs. I took them with my phone (I refuse to carry a camera when I travel) and I left them almost unedited and without any filters or other fancy adornments.

These pictures are mostly for my friends who haven’t had an opportunity to see the island yet, but would like to know more details about it.
As to my knitting, of course I was knitting on the island. Even before we left for Europe, I finished two hats from my never ending stash of Rowan fine tweed. I tried to photograph them in action there but hats and knits were not a priority on Skye so I didn’t try too hard. Here are some of the pics. My daughter and I are the models.

According to my plans (ha-ha, remember those?), in August I was supposed to work on my third big project for the #summerofbasics. I wanted to use as much of my ColourMart Fine Geelong yarn as possible (I already used it for 2 projects but still had quite a lot) and I thought that I found the right pattern for it. Wrong! The yarn didn’t want to become that pattern. Actually, the yarn turned out to be rather tricky and didn’t want to become any pattern. 
A couple of days before our departure I started making Tensile by Emily Greene from it because I got exactly the same gauge as needed for the pattern (rare occurrence for me) and I dutifully plugged away at it while in Scotland. Then, one bright and sunny day, after having bought a new yarn bowl, I decided to photograph my progress (and the yarn bowl).
My pictures showed clearly what I knew all along – the beautiful lace pattern was indiscernible in this yarn, it was useless to work so hard on something that won’t be even visible.
Finally, a day before we left the island, I saw these patterns published by Quince and Co and couldn’t resist anymore. My Tensile was unraveled because it had to become Slouchy.
However, this is a totally different story, that I’ll tell you next time. This post is dedicated to the magical and mystical Isle of Sky.

Talk soon,