Saturday, September 19, 2020

I do it my way, or how I made Deconstruction (twice)

I love patterns with unusual constructions, they intrigue me and make me knit faster in order to get to the point when I can assemble strangely looking pieces together like a puzzle, and something beautiful (or ugly) comes out of it.

As soon as I saw Deconstruction by E-ca on Instagram I wanted to try my hand at making it. 

Have you seen E-ca’s Instagram photos? They are stylish and artsy, professional and impeccable. This designer pays lots of attention to little details and is very meticulous in execution. Which is why, I believe, she doesn’t publish new patterns often. 

Her patterns before Deconstruction were also intriguing but not exactly my style – I mostly avoid super-oversized clothes and have no need for warm accessories in South Florida. Yet, I really wanted to try a pattern from E-ca to see what her extreme attention to details would do to the fit. Because this is what she keeps saying in her Instagram posts (for those of you who don’t understand Russian) – a garment must fit from all points of view and in all places, all the wrinkles and folds must be planned and work for the overall look. And because this is the most important part of knitting for me – to get the right fit in my handmade clothes.

This last design – Deconstruction – seemed perfect for my goal. It is a summery oversized sweater with lots of short rows and other artful tricks to better fit its owner. I bought the pattern as soon as it was published on Ravelry. It has Russian and English versions – fortunately for me, because at the end I used both to understand the design better.

When I read through the pattern for the first time I got really overwhelmed. I cannot imagine how much time and effort the designer spent to create such a detailed and complicated work. The body of the sweater is made out of two pieces of different size and form that are made separately and are sewn together afterwards (there are several detailed tutorials on how to sew them using different types of stitches).

The shapes are created with a clever distribution of specific increases and decreases on both sides of each body part. There are charts at the end of the pattern with numbers of rows for increases and decreases on each side - yes, they are all different. Plus, there are short rows front and back – to accommodate for all of our bodily curves (even if they are not very conspicuous).

Initially, I wanted to use some yarn from my stash to make this sweater. Yet, after taking a look at all the numbers, charts, and tutorials, I decided that I won’t be able to recalculate them if my stitch or row gauges are different. So I ordered the same yarn that was used in the original pattern.


Why did I pick this color? I really didn’t want to make it in black since I have enough black clothes, and it is hard to knit with black yarn. The white color didn’t speak to me either – too much white yarn in my stash already. At the moment I decided to be adventurous and picked this pinkish color (vieux rose) that looked brighter on the picture than in the real life.

A couple of words about the yarn – Feza Yarn Alp Natural. It’s made of mixed fibers – cotton, silk, rayon, linen – and every so often changes its thickness and texture. How is it done? When I got the yarn and was winding it into balls, I discovered that it was made out of short-ish pieces of yarns of different thickness and texture, knotted together. As a result, each ball of this yarn had tons of knots. Honestly, it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. 

My first obvious solution to the problem of countless knots was to make them a part of the pattern, leave them on the front side of the fabric. This way they would add some additional quirkiness to the garment, or so I thought at the moment. 

I also didn’t like the color of some of the parts – they looked too bright or too dull to me. I am a purist and a retrograde, I know, but when I make something for myself I do have some standards.

Also, it was hard to calculate my gauge with this yarn. Because its different parts have different gauges – some are really thick and some more on a thin side. Eventually, I went with smaller needles (4.00 mm/US 6 instead of 5.00 mm/US 8) than recommended in the pattern because I didn’t like the look of my swatch with thinner yarn on bigger needles. 

While calculating my size I made a major mistake and picked size M. I won’t bore you with the details why it happened.  Suffice to say that quite a lot of positive ease is already incorporated in the pattern and it is hard to calculate how much because the patterns’ parts are uneven and have irregular shape.

From the very beginning I was really surprised by the recommendation to leave a specific length of yarn at the cast on. I love to leave the longer ends of yarn to seam the parts later and always do it myself when I knit. This is the first time in my life that I see a designer recommend how long the end should be to seam the part later.

The pattern asks for several special techniques: Italian cast on, short rows, sloped bind-off in order to avoid step-ladder effect on shoulders, different seams, and slip-stitch crochet seam. For each of them (with the exception of the Italian cast on) there are detailed tutorials with step-by-step instructions at the end of the pattern.

The only problem for me – I use different techniques to get same results and I’ve been using them for many years now. From the beginning I had to make a choice – either follow the designer all the way and embrace the new techniques and try using them for the first (or maybe second, third, fourth) time or do it my way, the way I usually do.

You can guess what choice I made. Yes, I didn’t take a risk – the whole thing already seemed extremely complicated, I didn’t want to stress over a new technique, and decided to go with my tried old tricks. After all, they served me well in the past. 

Here is the list of my substitutions:

1. Tubular cast on instead of Italian cast on.

2. Japanese short rows instead of wrapped stitches method.

3. A different bind off to avoid step-ladder effect.

4. Knit the side stitches on the knit side, purl them on the purl side to help with the mattress stitch seaming.

5. I tried to learn the crochet slip-stitch seaming but the result looked weird and I used the old method found in Phildar magazine.

There are also different types of decreases and increases that at first I couldn’t understand because I was using the Russian version of the pattern. It turned out I know the English knitting abbreviations better than the Russian ones. Luckily, there was an English version of the pattern that I could understand better. And I didn’t make any changes here – followed the instructions to a T.

The main patterns of Deconstruction are very easy – most parts are knit in plain garter stitch, and one part – just variations of knit and purl rows.

Keeping a tab on all decreases/increases takes a lot of focus but it is also fun in a knitterly perverse kind of way. I was so absorbed and intrigued by this pattern and the yarn changes made me so nervous that I finished all the parts, washed them, and blocked rather quickly. They grew a lot after washing and blocking. It is no surprise with garter stitch but I think the yarn composition added to the fabric stretchiness.

When assembled this sweater was huge and I was drowning in it. It wasn’t a total failure though. Yet, in my opinion, all the finesse and ingenuity invested in the pattern got lost in the final product because 1) it was a wrong size; 2) the yarn was too busy. Eventually, I had to hide all the ends from the knots because they created messiness without adding anything to the style.

As any normal knitter with a failure on hands, I immediately dived into my stash and started a new version of the same sweater. This time – the smallest size and less patchworky yarn. I came to a conclusion that the yarn choice can make or break this pattern. It has to be some sort of yarn that could hold shape. For my second version I used some ColourMart  cotton scraps (main color), some Elsebeth Lavold Bambool, some Sublime Yarns Organic Cotton DK, and some Anny Blatt cotton blend from an old unraveled sweater.


It is especially important for sleeves in this case. You see, in this pattern the sleeves design is a work of a genius. Not only have you got to make different increases and decreases at the sides of the sleeves, but also in the middle. And then you need to reverse the shaping for the second sleeve on your own. Fortunately, at the end of the pattern there was an almost empty sheet “Notes”. I barely had space to fit all my “notes” for each separate part of the garment, see?

And all this work goes almost unnoticed in my first version of the sweater.

What did I do differently the second time? Besides picking different yarn  and size, I sewed all the parts together before washing and skipped blocking completely. I tried to prevent excessive stretchiness and I think that I succeeded. I am in love with the sleeves on my second version. Just looking at them makes my hands itch to start another Deconstruction.

Yes, I want more of it. I explained the process of making this sweater in such detail not because I think that the pattern is poorly written and you cannot puzzle it out without my help (because all experienced knitters certainly would). I believe this pattern is great, is much easier than it seems, and is a breath of fresh air in the endless row of top-down seamless designs that gratify the “HOT RIGHT NOW” Ravelry page. I also believe that it should be made from a different yarn, not the one recommended by the designer, on smaller needles, and in a right size. It is a great pattern to use up the multicolored leftovers that accumulate dust in your stash. It is a wonderful experiment with shape and form that keeps you focused and absorbed by the process from the beginning till the end.

While laboring on my two consecutive Deconstructions, I crocheted myself a bag. I saw this bag on Pinterest (and later found out its price) so obviously I had to make myself something like this. Just for fun and to see if I still could crochet anything.

Nowadays all my communications with the outside world happen on Zoom. When I talk I can work only on something mindless. This bag became my Zoom project which is why I called it Zoom bag.

I searched for a pattern but couldn’t find anything exactly like the one on the picture so I made the pattern myself (wrote it down on the project page). However, later I found a pattern, it is free on Ravelry, and I think it is much more detailed than mine. Anyway, I am very pleased with my bag (the yarn was recycled from an old cotton sweater, by the way) and now want to make more bags in different shapes and forms.


Monday, August 17, 2020

Knitting for babies and fighting with yarn

This bird comes daily to take a bath in our pool and meditate upon the frailty of life. It looks melancholy and contemplative and we call him Professor. No, don’t tell me his scientific name because I am not interested. I like our Professor and he likes us (at least I think he does since he comes over every day – no one else does!) even though he expressed a pronounced dislike of being photographed. As soon as he hears a click of a gadget he flies away.
Lately, not only I’ve spent long time observing the Professor, I discovered several other birds’ rituals and habits, learned to distinguish different birds’ cries and songs. Am I becoming a birdwatcher? Hopefully, the answer is "NO", because I still refrain from learning birds’ names. Yet, this is something that I’ve never done before…
Another thing that I suddenly started doing is making jams and marmalades. This year we had an abundance of starfruit (aka carambola) from two starfruit trees.

I used some of the fruit to make starfruit jam for the first time in my life and the rest – to make starfruit chips. Yes, I spent 6 hours in the kitchen making these chips – I couldn’t believe my own culinary zeal.
 One day we put mangoes in our InstaCart order and got a whole lot of lemons instead. What do you do when universe (or an InstaCart shopper) gives you lemons? Right, you make lemon marmalade!
I don’t even remember when I made jam or marmalade for the last time – 25 or 30 years ago most likely. When I needed some jam, I usually would buy it in a supermarket. Yet, now, stuck on a beautiful but isolated subtropical island I perused several recipes and ended up mixing two of them to make this beauty.
Now the starfruit chips are all gone (6 hours in the kitchen!!!), one jar of the marmalade is also gone, we have one more jar though and some leftovers of the starfruit jam. I wonder what other culinary endeavors are ahead of me because it looks like we are going to stay put for a long while.
Among all these “firsts” in my life, I made a baby blanket. Normally, I don’t knit for babies. Babies rarely appreciate our knitting – they are ungrateful creatures. Most of the time their mothers also don’t appreciate hand knitted gifts – they are so proud of themselves having produced a new live human being that everything else they see as not important.
I know and admire lots of knitters who make mostly baby clothes for charities. Even though baby clothes are easy and fast to make, I still prefer to knit for adults.  Because babies are messy, they outgrow these handmade clothes only too fast, and because, in all honesty, babies in general are overrated. Here, I said it; you can throw stones at me now. 
Before we moved to the United States, I never even thought about making something like a baby blanket by hand. It seemed a lunacy to me – why would one spend many hours lovingly creating something that would get a seriously rough treatment: be constantly cleaned, washed, and dried, plus constantly abused by a baby? Maybe my children, when they were babies, were exceptional? Anyway, the idea of knitting a baby blanket never even popped into my head. Until I started going to various knitting groups. I would say half of my knitting mates in all the groups that I frequented over the years were making baby blankets. Of all possible sizes, colors, and shapes. I am not sure I’ve seen as many babies in my life as I’ve seen baby blankets.
This year – exceptional in many ways – I began listening to birds’ songs and making marmalades so the headway into knitting a baby blanket came quite naturally.
Since my own children refuse to reproduce I decided to adopt someone else’s baby. My daughter’s friend is expecting and I had some amazing yarn – Mungo by Rosa Pomar – that could be used for a blanket. What a happy coincidence! Then I found the pattern – Baby Honey Blanket by Craftling Designs – that looks striking (at least to me), and the rest is history.
This blanket was finished quickly. It was such a joy to work on it! The hexagons are positioned randomly, there is no order or symmetry in the pattern which is why it is written row by row and you’ve got to pay attention and count your rows to succeed.
I don’t like sugary pinks or blues for babies, I think that babies rock neutrals (and look cleaner in them).Plus, babies are super-cute and adorable (at least, at first) and need no extra embellishments. This heathery grey is appropriate for a baby, don’t you think?
I got a bit carried away and also made a tiny hat from the yarn leftovers and baby booties in beige (see on my Instagram). Now I understand the lure of knitting for babies – it was hard to stop and not make something else. These tiny 
garments are so easy to make!
Since working on the blanket required constant focus and attention, I started another project to work on while talking to people on Zoom. This is my only source of communication with the world now and I am really grateful for its existense. Otherwise our life in isolation would have been much less bearable.
This yarn –Maggi’s Multi Llinen from MaggiKnits Irish MK Collection - was given to me by one of my knitting buddies our first winter in Florida. Honestly, I would never buy a yarn like this myself – too fancy for my taste. But I couldn’t refuse such a generous gift and I sort of felt bound to knit something from it. After all it was presented to me with a request of making something beautiful out of it.
A tough ask! I looked everywhere and tried many patterns with this yarn. My swatches were so long I could use them as a scarf. Nothing really worked and the yarn didn’t agree with any pattern. It is part cotton part linen, a bit shiny, variegated (mix of blush pink with bluish greys), thick and thin non-plied yarn. It produces an uneven fabric with rustic vibe and is difficult to work with since it is non-plied. Basically, there are three different strands of yarn to knit with, they don’t stick to each other, and have a tendency to separate and slide from needles on their own volition.
If you think that working with this yarn is nothing for a person who makes jams, marmalades, spends several hours in a kitchen, and listens to birds’ songs, you are totally wrong. It was hard, painful, and frustrating.
The pattern I picked is from an old Pingouin magazine. It is knit in one piece sideways from sleeve to sleeve and has only two side seams. This kind of short batwing sweaters used to be fashionable in the 70s and 80s but I think they are getting back into fashion now. Anyway, big sleeves are all the rage nowadays, aren’t they? And this sweater has ginormous sleeves.
Believe it or not, I was attracted to this pattern mainly because of its jumbo sleeves (plus the main design with slipped stitches – it looks pretty in this yarn). Silly me, I was hoping to use up all the yarn on this oversized sweater, didn’t want to deal with leftovers. In reality, the yarn turned out to be rather long and the sweater – rather short. Fortunately, my other knitting buddy agreed to take all the leftovers from me so I don’t have to deal with this yarn ever again.
Working on this sweater was painful and frustrating but not difficult. The pattern is easy and straightforward. I modified it just a bit – made cuffs larger, used tubular cast on and cast off everywhere, worked the ribbing through the back loop to make it look neater, and went down several sizes in needles for the ribbing. The best part about this sweater is that it is light and airy, made out of cotton/linen mix, and can be worn in Florida (starting October, I hope).
I think the main attraction of finishing a garment nowadays is the subsequent photoshoot and the possibility to wear normal clothes (unlike my daily uniform of t-shirts and shorts). This time I decided to fully enjoy the experience and even included a change of pants (unfortunately, it is too hot for pants here now).
My quasi-rationale for the change of clothes was that it allowed demonstrating the versatility of my new sweater that can be worn with all sorts of garments. But let’s be honest. I really wanted to wear “grown-up” clothes at least for a little while, even in this scorching heat.
 
Actually, this sweater looks great with shorts as well as with a skirt because it is short, but not too short and could be worn both ways – tucked in or untucked.
I called it Pink # 1 because I am planning to knit a series of pink sweaters. I was surprised to discover several pink yarns in my stash: the shades of pink are different, yet, they all belong to the same color family. The inspiration comes, as usual, from the environment.
This time of the year in South Florida pink is the king. In the evening everything looks pink here – the ocean, palm trees, clouds, sand, even the moon.
So…get ready for more pink knits. I hope that one day I’ll have an opportunity to wear them not only for a photoshoot.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Change of heart

Making things is much more fun than writing about making things. At least for me. I’d rather knit something than describe my process of knitting. This is why there are long intervals between the entries into my knitting diary.
As I mentioned before, in June I was working simultaneously on two projects – one was finished and I love the result, and the second one was unraveled being a total failure.
First, my success story.
Kalin by Kim Hargreaves was initially Dreich from her book Grey. I  bought 4 cones of the caramel colored camelhair yarn from ColourMart because I always wanted to try this yarn and seem to have a mild obsession with this color. At the beginning I made a big swatch and washed it in washing machine on high temperature.  The yarn hasn’t felted at all and became softer and a bit fluffier after washing.
The idea was to make a light but warm V-neck sweater, slightly oversized and at least hip long. I started with 2x2 ribs and kept going for almost 16” (40 cm) straight till the beginning of an armhole. It turned out that the bottom part of Dreich is rather short but it has very long armholes to compensate for length. These long armholes wouldn’t have worked with my already long bottom part: see what happens when you don’t read the pattern till the end! Yet, I didn’t want to unravel all my work because it took me about 15 min to finish every row and I made quite a lot of rows before reaching the armhole. What would you do in this case? I looked for another V-neck pattern with approximately same gauge and number of stitches for the body and found Kalin.
Kalin from the book is longer and roomier than my version, and I modified the sleeves – made them shorter with fitted ribbed cuffs. I know that straight long sleeves are the hottest new trend in fashion but they are not easy to wear (at least for me). Unlike the original pattern, my sleeves are knit top-down from picked up body stitches.
Kalin in the book has a deep V-neck, so deep that is slides from model’s shoulders. And from my experience Kim Hargreaves’ patterns often have rather deep necklines. It looks very feminine and attractive on a picture but is not easy to wear. I personally don’t like to fiddle with my clothes while wearing them and I would hate to constantly adjust the sliding down neckline. That was my reason to make it smaller: I started front decreases later than recommended in the pattern, picked up less stitches around the neckline and used the tubular bind off to keep them all in place. You can find all the details of my modifications here.
Surprisingly enough, after being washed in washing machine twice (!!!) the sweater’s dimensions stayed the same, while the fabric became much softer. I still have some leftovers of camelhair yarn that seems to be a very good choice for socks.
My only regret about this sweater is that I cannot possibly wear it now or sometime soon. I do hope though that one day we’ll be able to travel again and will go to colder places. My husband even suggested to turn the thermostat down in one of the rooms and stay there for a while wearing my warm clothes, reading a book, and pretending that I am in Scotland…
My second June project was a total disaster. This yarn – Shibui linen in flaxen – looks amazing but I cannot find a project for it that would suit me. My attempt at making Kim Hargreaves’ Sheringham didn’t work: the pattern wasn’t easy but almost invisible on the finished fabric. At first, it looked like an advantage – I could make as many mistakes as I wanted, no one would ever notice. But then I figured that it was not worth going through all the intricacies of the pattern if no one would ever even appreciate it. And Sheringham was unraveled making it the 6th pattern that I tried to make out of this yarn and failed.
Have I ever told you how much I love old knitting magazines? I believe I have, but I am not ashamed of repeating it again and again. I collect old Pingouins, Phildars, Vogues, and Japanese Keito Damas because you can find in them some great designs. They have more choices and variety in patterns than modern knitting magazines and the pattern descriptions are more detailed and accurate. For me the old magazines are a constant source of new ideas and inspiration.
As a rule, I avoid making patterns that are popular on Ravelry and don’t participate in knitalongs – I cannot explain why but, when I knit for myself, I tend to like things that not many people want to make. Maybe it comes from my childhood in the Soviet Union where we didn’t have much choice in clothes. I would stand in a long line and get a pair of shoes and then half the women in my neighborhood would wear the same shoes and I would see them everywhere. Call me individualist/pretentious/show off, whatever. I do like clothes that are unique and maybe this is why I keep knitting.
This is a long preamble for a sad story of my next attempt at conquering Shibui linen yarn. I found a pattern in an old Phildar that has a very unusual construction and that I’d wanted to make for a very long time and decided that I’ll make it from this yarn. That was a classic case of overconfidence – my Kalin turned out great, a couple of my previous projects also were rather successful. I felt invincible. What can I say? I nearly finished the sweater, but decided to put the parts together to see if it fits me (plus, the parts looked a bit like a puzzle and I wasn’t sure they would fit together). The puzzle came together great but unfortunately it looked ugly on me – plain and simple. The ugliest garment that I’ve produced in a long time (at least, I hope that it was).
I nearly cried. I was so so so disappointed and my first impulse was to throw away the whole thing. I couldn’t even look at this yarn anymore. However, next day (there is always a next day, even though sometimes we forget about it) I was talking with a friend on Zoom and she persuaded me to at least salvage the yarn. Maybe one day I’ll make something from it but the jury is still out.
Meanwhile, during this neverending drama with Shibui linen I managed to start and finish a great cardigan with a very unusual construction from an old Phildar magazine.
It happened rather unexpectedly. First, I unraveled this sweater because, after a couple of washes, it stretched too much and lost its shape. When I was winding the dried skeins into balls the color of the yarn reminded me of the cardigan that I’ve been admiring in this magazine for a long time.
As soon as the balls were done, I sat and made a swatch using the pattern stitch.
This pattern stitch – I believe it is called “basketweave” – looks a little bit like a herringbone stitch but it is much easier. It produces a rather thick and dense fabric preventing the yarn from stretching.
There are only two rows in this stitch pattern. If you want to try it, here how it goes:
Row 1: twist 2 stitches to the left knitways (with needle at back of work skip the first stitch on left needle; knit in the back of the second stitch but do not pull off stitches knit the first stitch skipped; pull off both stitches), repeat 2 twisted stitches to the left till the end of the row.
Row 2: purl one stitch, 2 twist stitches to the right purlways (skip the first stitch on left needle; purl the second stitch but do not pull off stitches; purl the first stitch skipped; pull off both stitches), repeat 2 twisted stitches to the right till the end of the row, purl one stitch.
The cardigan is made in parts. The sleeves are quite unusual, after shaping the rounded top you start increasing, making the haves of the upper front and back. Sewing the parts together was a bit nerve wracking but they all fit like a glove.
The original pattern has the shawl collar and front borders in garter stitch with no buttons.
I made them in 1x1 ribs with buttons and tubular bind off. My only regret – not enough yarn for pockets (Rowan Silky Tweed is discontinued and I couldn’t find even a ball of this yarn in my color).
In the original design you have to cast on fewer stitches for the ribbing and then increase lots of stitches for the basketweave pattern. I didn’t want the difference between the ribbing and the basketweave stitch to be that dramatic and used the numbers for the second size.
While choosing buttons for my new cardigan, I found the vintage ones that I brought several years ago from England – they have the same color that the yarn and, if you look closely, each button has “protest” written in a round.
The cardigan was a fast and easy knit. No drama, no tears, no pain. I recycled all the yarn from the old sweater plus some leftovers of the same yarn in my stash. Love the fit and length of it. Probably, I should follow my husband’s advice and lock myself in a cold room just to experience its softness and warmth.
And now again I am working on two projects simultaneously. One is a gift for a future mother (yes, I am finally decided to tackle a baby blanket), the other one is for myself using a pattern from a vintage magazine (again).

Stay tuned!