Monday, February 25, 2019


Once in Moscow, while visiting our Russian relatives, I took my children to see a ballet performance. It wasn’t a famous ballet from a famous company in a famous theater like Bolshoi. It was something modern and experimental performed by young dancers. The audience wasn’t very enthusiastic. They rarely clapped and never cheered a difficult dance move. They looked bored and uninterested. My twelve-year old daughter who had been going to a ballet class at the time looked at me with horror in her face: “Why don’t they clap? Don’t they understand how difficult it is?” She knew from the inside about the sweat, blood, and innumerable hours that every move required. For that reason she couldn’t understand the audience’s coldness and disinterest and tried to clap and cheer as loudly as possible to compensate for it.
This is exactly how I feel when I see Carol’s work. Carol (seajean on Ravelry) is an amazing knitter who makes mostly shawls. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and comes to Florida every winter.
Sadly, the only place you can see her work is my website. Because Carol doesn’t take pictures of her work and doesn’t post them on Instagram or Ravelry. Yes, in our age of selfies and non-stop sharing Carol doesn’t seem to need validation from strangers that much. Which makes her an even bigger figure in my book.
Yet, I think that knitters must know their “unsung heroes”.  Not because these people do something else important in life – charity work, scientific discoveries, successful business – but just because they knit things really well. After all, knitting is a craft and craftsmen always honored the most skillful among them. Nowadays everything must have an underlying socio-political agenda, even knitting, as I was surprised to discover lately. Well, I don’t have any other agenda as to validate a remarkable and rare workmanship.
I myself hardly ever make shawls and avoid working with lace weight yarn. However, it doesn’t make me less filled with admiration of Carol’s work because I know how difficult and time consuming it is. And, like my daughter many years ago in Moscow, I try to clap as loudly as I can to try to compensate for the audience’s silence.

Unfortunately, this year I had an opportunity to take pictures of only one of Carol’s shawls - Victoria shawl by Alexis de Gregorio on Ravelry. Carol’s version has the same bright color as the original and was knit from lace-weight silk. Please share my admiration of the craftsmanship! Making of such a shawl takes lots of love and skills.

In conclusion, if by any chance you know of a skilled knitter not represented on the social media, please send me their information and pictures. I would love to feature this person here and cheer as loudly as I can for her artistry and craft.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Blueberry for Scotland

How do you choose a pattern?
Is there some logic or serious deliberation involved in your decision or you just see a picture on Ravelry or in a magazine and start looking for a suitable yarn?
Normally, I spent quite some time thinking about my next project. Usually it happens while I finish the previous one and generally it has to be something practical, that someone really need and that will be worn often. Sometimes though it is hard to make only things that are practical and needed (socks, I am talking about you!). Then I have to coerce myself into working on them by promising to make something easy and fun afterword. That’s how I ended up making my Margaux Red after a two month marathon of gift knitting.
Yet, sometimes a pattern just calls me and I cannot resist. That is what happened with this sweater by Tomoko Noguchi from Daruma pattern book 3. It has all my favorite things: unusual and interesting construction and ribbing. Plus it is a Japanese pattern and I enjoy making them since they are always so well explained and charted.

The only yarn that would go with this pattern was this dark blue variegated one from Rowan that I bought to make an afghan for my new house about 3 years ago. Unfortunately, I have not much information about the yarn since the labels and tags got lost somehow. It is thick wool that is extremely soft and warm. However, it turned out that a wooly and warm blanket isn’t needed here in South Florida. If one day I decide to finally make one it will be from cotton or acrylic.
This is how I ended up with quite a lot of this dark, multicolored wool in my stash. I tried several different yarns when swatching for the ribbed sweater from Daruma. Because as soon as I got the magazine I just had to swatch for it – my hands were itching. It is not easy to find a yarn that would consistently look well in simple ribbing – not brioche stitch, or fisherman rib, or any other type of fancy ribbing. And this yarn was just flying from the needles, it was a pure joy to work with.
Now it was only one small thing left – to persuade myself that I really needed this sweater because, well, why would I? My kids keep asking for socks and cardigans, they don’t want sweaters so it had to be for me. And winters in South Florida are rather mild.
Then I remembered how cold it was last year in Scotland and thought that this sweater would go well with my waterproof pants and jeans. Yes, I definitely needed to make it for our trips to Scotland.

After the decision was made it was all smooth sailing. Despite its highly unusual construction the whole pattern is clearly charted and easy to make. My only little problem was with its size. It looks long and oversized on the pictures. Yet, the back part seemed to me rather short when I came to the armpits and I decided to make it longer. Therefore I made the front longer as well. After washing both parts, I blocked them according to the dimensions given in the pattern.
It turned out rather fitted. The model in the book must be really diminutive because the sweater looks roomy on her. And the reason she is wearing it with a skirt is because the original is rather short, almost waist length.
I already made it longer, now my goal was to make it roomier. It is not a big problem when you are dealing with thick yarn and ribbing. After finishing the sleeves (these I made shorter intentionally for my extra-short arms) and sewing all parts together (if you like puzzles, you are going to love assembling this sweater) I washed and stretched it width-wise.

My only other change was tubular cast-on and cast-off for the collar.
I highly recommend the pattern. Just bear in mind that it is supposed to be short and fitted, so if you want something roomier pick a thicker yarn or bigger needles.

Lengthening the body is easy – just keep knitting till the desired length (in my case I had to make only 8 additional rows). Shortening the sleeves was also not a big deal. Since you pick up two additional stitches around 11 middle stitches in every other row and the sleeve increases are happening only in every 5th or 10th row (I don’t remember anymore), you have to decrease 2 stitches at the beginning and end of every other row to compensate for the increases. As soon as I had 61 stitches total required for the sleeve (73rd row in my case) I casted off all stitches.
Oh, and use a stretchy cast off everywhere if you want your sweater to move and stretch with your body.

More pictures on my Ravelry page. I called this sweater Blueberry because I couldn't translate its Japanese name.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Boredom (part II)

Look around when you are in a restaurant, on a train, or at an airport gate. Everyone (or almost everyone) is on a phone, madly scrolling down.  Nobody wants to be bored, even for a little bit. Yet, according to some research, boredom is actually good for our brains, because it makes us more creative, learn new skills, and develop new ideas.
For me it’s definitely true. I am talking about the creativity part. As soon as we come back to the little island in South Florida, I start bursting with ideas and am not afraid of trying anything.
Are you afraid of boredom when you pick a new project? Do you have a “boredom index” so to speak?
Well, for me on a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the maximum boredom possible, shawls are definitely 11. I believe I’ve told you how much I dislike making shawls here. I made my last one about 10 years ago as a gift and then just stopped.
However, my first project of a new year was… a shawl! Why? Because I fell in love with the designer! Emily Greene is my favorite now and as soon as I see her new designs I want them. They all look modern and at the same time intrinsically wearable. This is why I bought her designs for shawls and even talked myself into making one.
The yarn – Isager Tvinni wool – was initially acquired for a cardigan but I decided to sacrifice it for a shawl because of its color. It is a combination of yellow, grey, and brown with a touch of green -- one of my favorite colors and extremely trendy this year.

I didn’t have any problems with the pattern or yarn and the shawl was growing slowly but steadily. Shawls can be tricky. They require all your attention and concentration because one mistake, one forgotten “yarn over” or “two together” and you are stuck and have to unravel many tiny stitches to fix your error and move on.

I couldn’t take a shawl to a knitting club, a trip, or a doctor’s appointment. It was too risky. I didn’t want to make a mistake and then unravel 400 stitches for several rows, thank you very much.
So I picked another project, mostly stockinette, from Phildar fall-winter 2018-19 magazine Nos Fils Essentiels.

It is called Pull Lou and has an unusual construction: it is made out of 6 separate parts sewn together. This construction was what initially attracted me to the pattern.
The yarn that I used for this sweater – Rowan’s Cashcotton – has been in my stash for about 10 years. It didn’t want to become any of the several projects I planned for it. So I left it alone and then forgot about it. Somehow it came back from oblivion last fall and I started looking for a project for it – again.
I had almost the same gauge with this yarn on US 2 ½ needles as is required for Lou. There are two gauges in this pattern – one is for stockinette, another – for 2 k rows, 2 p rows, called the “point godron”. And they both matched. It doesn’t happen often so I took it for a “sign” to finally start working with this yarn.  I had enough to make the smallest size.

I was working on this sweater while watching TV or in the knitting club. It was growing fast and I was already looking for another simple project when it came to a halt on sleeves. The sleeves for this pullover are a bit unusual and I couldn’t even imagine how they would fit with the body. I knew that I had to make them shorter – I always shorten my sleeves for my short arms. Otherwise, I followed the pattern but felt completely in the dark. At this moment my enthusiasm for the sweater started to fade.
It is hard to keep being excited making something that doesn’t excite you anymore. Looking at my needles I saw a weirdly shaped ribbon-like thing that didn’t make much sense to me. As soon as the first sleeve was finished I put together the front, back, one of the side pieces, and sleeve. It took me 5 attempts to do it but eventually they all fit together and I was rewarded with a nice looking and well-fitting single-sleeved sweater. Score for me!

Yet, there was another quite unexpected problem. The yarn was shedding mercilessly leaving fuzz all over my clothes. I didn’t notice it before because when I started making this sweater I was mainly wearing white shorts and t-shirts. However, the Arctic vortex brought colder air everywhere, even to Florida. As soon as I put some pants on, the messy yarn situation became quite obvious.

I went online to look for a solution and found not one but two. The first one – putting yarn and sweaters in a freezer for several hours – worked for me to some extent. After two nights in a freezer, my new sweater stopped shedding so much. But there was still some fuzz visible on most of my black pants (except the ones that I was wearing for the photoshoot).
The second solution was to hand-wash the sweater and then air dry it in a dryer for 10-15 min. Even though I didn’t find any fuzz in the filter after air drying the sweater, it seems definitely less fuzzy than before.

Besides the fuzz, I love everything about this sweater. It is modern looking, flattering, and easy to wear with anything and excellent for winters in Florida.
I made a special effort while finishing it and spent about 3 hours on YouTube to learn how to make its collar look less handmade and more professionally finished (this video can be useful only for the Russian speakers because it is in Russian - sorry!). I am so glad that I decided not to cut corners with this one. More pictures and words on my Ravelry page.
As for the shawl, it got finished as well. I had 4 balls of yarn and used 3 full balls and just a bit of the fourth ball (more – on my Ravelry page).

This shawl could be worn in many different ways and the color would brighten up any outfit. Yes, mistakes were made – they are almost unavoidable in a handmade garment. But I think they give more character to it and if I don’t notice them, no one else will.

As to what is next in my knitting plans, I started two more boring projects. It looks like boredom and I are becoming BFFs. Get ready for a creativity blast!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Boredom (Part I)

Oh, the excitement of picking a pattern among many and finding a suitable yarn with a similar gauge, the excitement of starting a new project! Nothing can be compared to this happy feeling of anticipation, hope, and certainty that this one is going to become your best ever.
However, after making some progress and maybe even finishing a part (or two), doubts start creeping in: have I made the right choice? Have I picked the right size? Is it going to fit my body?
You feel much less excited and more worried, hesitant, and uncertain. You get to your most vulnerable point when, if something goes wrong, you might stop working on the project or even unravel the whole thing altogether.
And some projects become unbelievably boring when you are actually working on them: a mindless repetition after only few rows makes you antsy and restless, ready to start doing anything but staying in place and knitting.
I think that boredom is a major killer of projects. They die “in utero” not because they are too difficult, or a pattern is not clear enough, or there is not enough yarn, time, or space for working on them. They die because of boredom. Those who can find their way back to their work and overcome boredom become knitters with lots of finished projects. And those who can’t, quit knitting altogether or become “process knitters” with lots of unfinished projects.
I prefer to finish my knits, yet, since I am only human, in many cases boredom gets almost unbearable. Over the years I invented some tricks to make myself pick up the stitches and finish a boring project. Until recently I didn’t even think about them as tricks, so much they were ingrained in me like a long-standing habit.
However, recently I 1) had to work on several really boring but useful garments; 2) read a book Atomic Habits by James Clear (great book, highly recommend); and 3) watched the second season of Patriot on Amazon Prime. These three incidents made me seriously think about boredom in knitting and how to deal with it. And now I decided to share with you some of my ideas.
But first, what Patriot has to do with knitting? Nothing, of course. If you don’t count that I absolutely loved the first season which allowed me to tolerate the second season that wasn’t particularly good. At some point in the second season the main character, an unlucky CIA operative, played by adorable Michael Dorman, explains how he accomplishes some grueling and painful tasks that come up in his line of work. “I go 50% plus one step in and then there is less than half left and it would be faster to get to the end than to turn and go back. This is how I get to the finish”. I am not sure the quote is correct but you get the point. And it does apply to knitting and finishing directly.
Sometimes it is enough to finish a back and half of the front to feel morally obligated to finish the whole thing as soon as possible. I use a row counter when I knit and as soon as the back is finished I know how many rows approximately will be in the front. So I just summon all my willpower and get to the middle of the front plus a bit more – and voila! It is faster to finish. Of course unraveling is faster, and sometimes it is necessary, but you can talk yourself into believing that from now on it will go faster and if you are good at self-persuasion, it will. Fake it till you feel it, or something like this.
The book Atomic Habits is about developing good habits and getting rid of bad ones (again, it’s brilliant, highly recommend). One of the ways of stopping procrastination and starting doing something that you don’t want to do is to attach this action to something enjoyable. For example, I need to swim as much as possible because of my bad back, and I am not a big fan of swimming. So I bought an MP3 player for swimmers and listen to music while I swim – much more fun.
The same with knitting. Some boring parts can be done while watching TV, or talking to friends, or listening to a book, music, podcast, or radio. Some people can knit in a car while on a road. I personally get carsick but sometimes, rarely, I have to do it in a car just to get to 51%.
Sometimes, when it is only stockinette, I knit and read a book. It works well when the book is captivating otherwise you'll fall asleep even faster.
My last personal trick is to give myself a day's goal, to decide how much I should accomplish in a day before I even start knitting. And this goal must be real and doable. For example, "knit 20 rows of the back". Or "get to the armholes on the front" etc. Keeping your eyes on a reachable target makes you move ahead steadily without being distracted by doubts. 
One more thing. When I start knitting, I take very few brakes. I am not the one to stop and admire my handywork every five minutes. That is why there are few pictures of my work in progress. I hardly ever photograph my projects before there is some progress made.
Can you think of any other tricks? If you do, please share them with me.

Here is my first project that would put me into sleeping coma after a row or two.
It is a Japanese pattern (you know how much I love them) from Daruma pattern book 2
The pattern is easy and straightforward. It is made on big needles with thick yarn. There is a clear chart with all the rows, increases and decreases. My only problem was the different row gauge. While making the back I kept measuring my work to figure out where to stop and change needles or do decreases. Probably, that is why the back was finished quickly enough. But then it was fronts’ and sleeves’ turn and I started moving at snail’s pace.

At first, I was really annoyed with myself: why couldn’t I finish this whole thing faster – it was so easy. Yet, every time I’d pick up the needles, after a row or two of plain stockinette my eyes would close of their own volition. 

Fortunately, there weren’t that many rows and I managed to finish all four parts at the end of December. The assembly process was more complicated, and, therefore, more enjoyable. Since the yarn for this cardigan is extremely soft and fluffy, I put extra thought and effort into the bands’ ribbing: used twisted stitches, slipped last and first stitches on both sides – so it would help to keep the cardigan’s shape. For the same reason I cast off the shoulder stitches on the back and two fronts and sewed them together instead of using Kitchener stitch. 

This cardigan is all about little details: a V at the back of the neck, balloon sleeves, and a bit balloonish body shape make it subtly unusual and interesting. It has no buttons but I like it this way. And it can be closed with a pin. 
The yarn – Wool And The Gang’s Feeling Good Yarn – was bought as a kit to make a totally different cardigan. Yet, after careful consideration, I decided not to make it and used 5 out of 6 balls for my Margaux Red (the yarn color is called Margaux Red, hence the name). I’ve worn it many times and so far there is no peeling, or shedding, or any other unpleasant surprises. The yarn does feel good and I loved working with it. I would love to use it again in future.

As usual, you can find more pictures of the cardigan on my Ravelry page.

To be continued…