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.