Saturday, January 2, 2021

No favorite weapon

 “You should not have a favorite weapon. To become overfamiliar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well. You should not copy others, but use weapons which you can handle properly. It is bad commanders and troops to have likes and dislikes”. Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

In my opinion, these samurai’s teachings directly apply to knitting (as many of his other maxims that I recently discovered after reading his book). There is no wrong way of making something in knitting if you get the result you are aiming for. Sadly, teachers who teach others to knit on the Internet (of which there are myriads) often forget to mention this fact. 

Yet, if you know how to make German short rows, and know it well, you should always use German short rows, no matter what designer tells you to use in the pattern. Why? Because knitting is a skill that you acquire through repetition. The more you repeat a technique, the more automated it becomes. After thousands of repetitions you get to the point when the finished project is flawless. Well, almost flawless, because with a handmade there is always something that doesn’t go as planned, but I am speaking in general.

After having read Musashi’s book, I tried to summarize my ideas about knitting and came up with two main rules:

1) don’t be afraid of trying anything that you want to try. You are not a student but an apprentice, you are not graded, and you can always unravel and start all over. I remember discovering fairisle by looking at my friend’s sweater that her grandmother made for her and wanting to recreate something similar in my favorite colors. No one told me that the fairisle technique was difficult so I didn’t consider it as such;

2) when you learn a technique, use it as much as possible – practice makes permanent. Or, as Miyamoto Musashi put it, “you must pursue the value of this technique through training”. “It may seem difficult at first but everything is difficult at first.” 

This year I made only two Christmas gifts: a shawl/wrap/stole for my daughter and a zippered jacket for my husband. Both projects took a while to finish because 

1) I spent a considerable amount of time on planning them before even starting to knit;

2) I spent even more time on finishing them the way they were planned.

The vital element for a successful knit is the sufficient amount of yarn (said the person who almost always runs out of yarn at the end).

I had enough of Cascade Yarns Kid Seta mohair in two complementing colors in my stash to make Plaid, please by Amy Miller. After buying the pattern, I learned that I needed 115 yds in a third color and ordered one ball of Gepard Garn Kid Seta that has 229.7 yards (to use the yarn doubled) from a seller on Etsy. Till the end I wasn’t sure that I had enough yarn in this color but since there was no time to order and receive one more ball I just plowed through till the end. It turned out the designer gave the exact yardage needed. After crocheting the vertical stripes I had about only 20 cm of leftover yarn. Thank you, Amy Miller, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen all the time, keep it in mind and, if you are a worrying kind, better buy 2 balls.

The vertical stripes are crocheted after the whole wrap is finished. To make my life easier, I purled stitches that had to be crocheted later to simplify the finishing.

The shawl was washed in Eucalan with added hair conditioner to prevent excessive shedding and then blocked. It is light, airy, and really warm. My daughter in England got it on time before Christmas and loved it.

I started knitting it cooped up inside during a severe storm called Eta which gave its name to the shawl.

My second gift is called a Hoodless Hoodie. Last year in Scotland my husband finally discovered the advantages of the Scottish wool: how comfortable it is and how well it protects against wind, cold, and even rain. During our long walks in Glen Finglass he described a jacket of his dreams – a zipper (a must!), maybe pockets, and sleeves not too long (he always has problems with sleeves in outdoor garments). I suggested a hoodie but he explained that he never used or needed a hood so he definitely didn’t want a hoodie.

During our memorable trip to the Perth Festival of Yarn 2019 I bought lots of Hebridian wool by the Birlinn Yarn Company. Since my husband not only drove me to Perth but also waited for me for several hours while I was shopping, I thought that it would be only fair if I used the yarn from the festival to make something for him. 

I had 5 balls of Hebredian wool 4 ply in Speckled Hen colorway (more than 1900 yards altogether) which would be enough for a man’s hoodie (with a hood). 

My inspiration came from an unexpected place: an old Phildar magazine with patterns for children. I saw this jacket and figured it would look well in Speckled Hen wool. However, I needed a contrast color. Fortunately, there is Birlinn Yarn Company’s website where you can order wool and rather promptly get it in the US. I picked Peaty Brown colorway that happens to complement my main yarn perfectly.

I found a perfect pattern in another old Phildar magazine – a sporty man’s hoodie with saddle shoulders and  pockets – and kept it without significant changes. My main modification was with sleeves. Instead of size XXL I used numbers for size XL and made the sleeves and saddle shoulders parts shorter, comparable in length with the shoulders on the body parts, so it was much easier to sew the whole thing together. The original pattern doesn’t have any ribbing on pockets that I thought was necessary – made them more visible and the whole look sharper.

The ribbed borders along the fronts are knit separately and sewn in by hand as the pattern recommends. My only change was the tubular cast on that made them look more polished (I hope). The ribbing on pockets was also done with the tubular cast on.

After inserting a zipper I knit two additional ribbed borders and sewn them to the insides, to cover the stitches and seams. My husband rarely wears his jackets zippered, so I wanted the borders to look professionally done from inside as well as from outside.

Most time I spent with the collar. After blocking, sewing, and steaming all the parts, I crocheted a thin line with chain stitches along the neckline.

Next, I picked up stitches with Peaty Brown color and smaller needles in each chain of the front on one pair of circular needles and in the same stitches of the chain from inside on another pair of smaller circulars of the same size.
I made 2 rows of stockinett stitch on each pair of needles, then purled both sides together, and then continued in ribbing on just one pair of needles. I made ribbing twice as long as needed, folded it in half and sewn in from inside.

The process of finishing this jacket was almost as long as making its individual parts. Yet, I like the end result so much that it was definitely worth the pain. My husband also was unusually pleased with his gift and even let me take pictures of him wearing the jacket. Normally, he doesn’t like to be photographed,  I cannot explain why.

I am glad that I mastered enough knitting skills over the years to be able to make this jacket exactly the way I wanted. Actually, it felt unusually satisfying. I even started another jacket for him (with a zipper, of course) trying to prolong this feeling. A feeling of power and control! A rare thing in our troubled times.

As for the Book of Five Rings by a famous swordsman and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi that made me contemplate my knitting strategies, I am glad that I found and read it.  I am planning on re-reading it often because it is short, straightforward, and, in my opinion, unbelievably helpful not only for swordsmen.