Monday, June 6, 2022


After my long and fruitful romance with intarsia I moved to fair isle knitting. It wasn't difficult - they both involve working with many balls of different colors. 

But first, I wanted to use intarsia and fair isle in one project (call it a "fusion" project:)))). I always wanted to try a sweater with one pattern that can be seen through another pattern, sort of "bleeding" through. There was a sweater in a Rag and Bone collection made in this technique but I don't buy sweaters, remember? Then I saw a similar pattern in an old Anny Blatt.

The fact that it was a man's sweater couldn't stop me. 

Do you start working on a project as soon as you figure out what you are going to make? You see something and you want it like yesterday, wondering why you've never felt this need before. You are itching to pick needles, some yarn, and start going. Sort of "new project" fever (is there a real name for this "disease"?). Does this sound familiar? I have it every time when I see something that I really truly like. And every time I have to make myself slow down and think about my choices. Why? Because I know from experience that when I dive into a new project right away without good ground work, I almost certainly fail. 

First of all, this new project of my choice must have a place in my wardrobe. I need to visualize how I am going to wear it and with what.

I also need time to compute and check everything, plus I have to pick a yarn that could be used for it. Sometimes this preparation process takes years like with this particular sweater. 

I wanted to replicate the fair isle/intarsia mix and I didn't mind the fair isle pattern itself. What I didn't like was the sweater's construction - too bulky in some areas, not well fitting, straight shoulders (beware of the patterns in which you cast off all shoulder stitches at once - these shoulders won't look good on you!). There were asymmetrical cables on the body and sleeves that I decided to ditch immediately (you cannot even see them in the picture, and I think that they would distract from the colorwork and make the final look too busy).

Instead of the Anny Blatt's design I decided to use a sweater pattern from Phildar New Classic again (after my success with this intarsia cardigan it became my trusty companion) because I wanted a certain fit: not too long or tight, and not too bulky either.

The main yarn - brown - is from ColourMart 4/14 NM dk wt angora/lambswool,  the rest - all kinds of yarns from my stash. They are all different but they have the same gauge, and work well together. If someone tells you that you cannot use different kinds of yarn in one project - let them look at this sweater (and this cardigan, and this also).

The actual knitting went faster than I hoped for. Since my gauge was different, I had different number of stitches on my needles and I couldn't possibly faithfully follow the colorwork pattern so I had to improvise, then improvise more, and keep improvising till the end.

A little explaining footnote.

It might look like I am a big fan of improvisations in knitting because I describe it quite often when I talk about the process. I have to set the record straight - I don't like when I have to do it. I always have a very detailed plan before I start making something and I prefer to stick to this plan. Why would you need a plan otherwise? And this is the reason for a long delay before the idea of a garment and its execution - I need to create a good action plan. I don't knit for the process (well, process is important but it is not the best part), I knit for the result and I want to get what I want at the end, not whatever happens to appear from my needles. 

So to make my improvisations more "regular", to organize and put some order in them, I made a magnified copy of the fair isle part which allowed me to make changes right on the grid. Plus I had to reverse the whole thing for the back to have a mirroring effect (you cannot do it mentally - the design is too complicated, you need an actual picture for a referral).

 As for the sleeve (there is a colorwork pattern on one sleeve only), I had to proceed at my own risk - my numbers were totally different, so I just used the same fair isle stripes in varied lengths as on the body.

Working with ColourMart yarn was a pleasure (it almost always is which is why I keep buying yarn from this store). All pieces became soft and a bit fuzzy after washing and blocking . And then I put them all together and discovered my two big mistakes.

First - the neck opening was too tight for my head (!!!!). I could squeeze it through without glasses, but I couldn't have anything around the existing not very big neckhole so the originally planned ribbing was not happening.

My second mistake was that I forgot to make the back longer than the front. I am getting more and more stooped with years and the back of my sweater would always hike up and stick out and I would need to constantly check and rearrange it unless something clever is done with the sweater's construction. This sweater is not long enough to compensate for the lack of length difference between back and front. And It is not tight enough to hug my body. I was so into the intarsia/fair isle combination, that I simply forgot to add some rows at the beginning of the back stockinette, and compensate for the difference by short rows at the front.

Anyway, the first problem had a solution. Instead of a ribbed neckband I made a ribbed collar. Somehow it improved the outlook proportion-wise. I think that even if I made a normal size neck hole, with a collar this sweater looks better, more balanced.

As for the second problem, nothing could be done. It is what it is and I have to live with it. 

If you are wondering how to get the pattern on a sleeve to match the ones on the body, that's simple. You need to start the armhole decreases for a sleeve at the same time as for the body. Which is why you need to make the body first and then carefully measure the length of your future sleeve to the armhole. This way you can calculate where to start the sleeve colorwork so the decreases for the sleeve's top will be at the same row that the decreases for the armholes.

My next project was supposed to be an all fair isle sweater. I saw it many years ago in Phildar magazine and was dreaming about making it one day for myself. Last year in Scotland I finally bought all these beautifully colored yarns from Clare @wee-county-yarns

One more footnote, about the yarn

This Scottish yarn - JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool - is a marvel. It is very thin, so the garment is light, not heavy but still warm. It is very sticky so if you are a fan of steeking - it will work wonderfully for you. After washing and blocking it fluffs up a bit, becomes smooth and even. Lovely yarn, I will buy it again!

I am not a steeking fan though (because of the final fit as I've already explained several times), so my sweater was made in pieces. But this time, since so much work was going to be involved into making it, I wanted to be sure that the final fit would be exactly as I wanted it to be.

I started looking for different possibilities of making the back longer while knitting the whole sweater in fair isle technique. The problem is that you cannot just knit the back longer than the front. The colorful stripes on back and front have to match when you seam the sweater together.

One possibility is to make the ribbing longer at the back and then leave the back and front ribbing unsewn, as a slit or vent. That couldn't work in this particular case - my yarn was fingering weight, I was using US 0 and 1 needles, so the ribbing would have looked flimsy and sloppy.

Instead I decided to make the pattern myself to fit my body. Yes, apparently I've got too much time on my hands. I never wanted to even touch pattern making - too many numbers, too complicated for my taste. Plus my brain is weirdly unresponsive and just shuts down when I try to imagine something three dimensional. Brr, total disaster!

You wouldn't believe how many hours I spent watching YouTube videos, reading books (yes, in plural) and websites, searching the Internet. I drew and cut several patterns from paper (like a pro would!), cut them from fabric (!!!), basted,  and then tried on. I used my favorite t-shirts to figure out the best measurements. I didn't start till I knew what I was doing… but actually, I didn't. I wasn't sure that all these drawings and calculations would work and was really nervous about the end result. Probably, this is the reason for finishing it faster than normal for a fair isle sweater from a fingering yarn made with US 0 and 1 needles.

Have you felt this feverish rush to finish a knitting project and finally try it on (pretty much like the one at the beginning of a project, but stronger)? I feel it every time. And again, every time I tell myself not to be in a hurry, and take my time with finishing touches. Because they can make or break your work. Isn't it strange that our instinct makes us sprint at the very beginning and at the end, at times when you have to keep your calm and 1) do all calculations needed; or 2) do all the finishing needed.

Yesterday I put on my fair isle sweater (I call it Enchanted forest) for the first time. And was happy to see that my efforts were not in vain. I got exactly what I wanted.

My shoulders decreases are 2 cm higher for the back which adds length to it, makes the back stay in place, and it isn't particularly noticeable if you don't scrutinize my shoulders. The neck opening is big enough for my big head.

I am particularly pleased with the armholes shapes and the sleeves. They are roomy enough, not too tight but not too big and shapeless either. I know that the most fashionable sweaters nowadays must have long, big sleeves. But I am planning to wear this sweater under a coat or jacket, and big sleeves would scrunch up and crash under another garment, making me uncomfortable and unable to use my hands (I use my hands all the time!).

And this is the story of the bluish-green fair isle sweater. Now I have a lot of leftover yarn in all these bright beautiful colors. I might make a vest, or a hat, or a scarf with it, who knows?

But first I need to make something very simple, without intarsia or fair isle, just monotonous stockinette. And I need to tweak my (!!!) sweater pattern, so next time I won't be a nervous wreck but a self-confident knitter.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Intarsia obsession

How does a knitter get obsessed with intarsia?

It doesn't happen overnight for sure. 

I was never a fan of intarsia for several reasons. First and foremost - the need to cut yarns and work from many small balls. It creates lots of leftovers and complicates your work. Working from one ball is by far cleaner and easier. Second reason - places where colors are changed are prone to have gaps or holes, which is true especially when you begin connecting different yarns. And - as soon as you start seeing a finish line - you get stuck with innumerable tails to hide! 

All this said, a couple of years ago I made a cardigan from Keito Dama, with some elements of intarsia.

It turned out to be not too difficult to use different balls at the same time. And the process was rather engrossing and fun. It was akin making a tapestry only with needles. The bonus part - I love the end result!

My next intarsia project - also a cardigan, also from Keito Dama - was a total revelation for me. Not only did I figure out how to avoid gaps and holes between different yarns easily (just hold them tight at the connecting point) but I wasn't much annoyed by the constant untangling of balls in use. There was some method in the madness and after a while I could identify the ball that was "the main culprit" and get rid of the mess quickly. And the fact that my colorblock cardigan was worn quite a lot last summer made my affection for intarsia grow.

I've already told you many times about my love of old knitting magazines. Of course, there is some nostalgia involved but the main reasons are accuracy of their math (especially true for the old Phildars and Pingouins), clarity of their drawings and diagrams, and unlimited choices and variations of patterns that could be incredibly inspiring.

In my vast collection there are several Anny Blatt and Filatura di Crosa magazines from the 80s full of colorful intarsia projects. I don't think that they all look modern now. Moreover, most of them definitely don't match my style and I wouldn't wear them in a million years. Especially the ones from Anny Blatt - too complicated, with too many adornments and details that distract attention from the whole garment and make it look too busy. Yet, I love looking at these magazines for inspiration. They are so full of clever ideas!

Meanwhile, life was going on, and I became busy knitting for my nearest and dearest. All of a sudden I started getting requests from everyone. It is nice to feel needed and useful but it is boring and not exciting to make the same things again and again. As a general rule people like things that they already know, right? Especially in clothes, as I discovered recently. Last year my older daughter took me to a store and showed me a sweater (made from some very expensive cashmere, but oh so bland and simple) that I had to recreate for her. Done (no pictures, sorry).

My husband asked for another zippered jacket with nothing - no hood, no pockets, just a zipper. Done (also no pictures).

My other daughter didn't want anything but she liked my sweater with a zipper and tried  the one that I made for Halloween/Christmas.

It fits her like a glove - the sweater went to New York.

My half-brother (I have two half-brothers) asked me for a sweater and I spent a long time making it (he is tall with long arms).

It wasn't easy because he lives far from us, in a different country, on another continent. He gave me his measurements but still it was nerve wracking and I was anxious and stressed till the moment he put the sweater on and sent me pictures.
So this one was done as well.

In between I managed to make a little jacket for myself in simple stockinette. I made it almost entirely while watching TV (there is always lots of TV watching around Christmas and New Year).  I saw a colorblocked jacket on ME+EM website that I liked a lot plus I had similar colors (not exactly, but close enough) in my stash.

I changed the construction of the jacket  - mine has raglan sleeves. Otherwise, I tried to stay as close to the original as possible.
This is the original version from ME+EM website
I love this jacket - it is light, soft, warm, and can be worn under a coat. The bright sleeves are my favorite. This color makes me happy. I don't have good pictures because I still haven't learned how to photograph myself (and probably never will) and besides me there is only one person here who agrees to do it, albeit reluctantly. This person has been busy with other stuff most of the time and my jacket was left unphotographed (like most of my other projects, alas).

And then the war started.

During the last five years we went through several natural disasters (I am not even touching politics now). We survived a category 4 hurricane, a pandemic with lockdowns, new rules, and disappearance of toilet paper. 

And now the war. February 24 was a terrible day in our family life. No, I don't have any relatives or friends in Ukraine. Even in Russia there are not many people who still remember me. After all, for the last 27 years we've been living in the US, our children grew up here, we stopped checking news from Russia many years ago. Yet, still it hit us like a ton of bricks. 

For a while I couldn't do anything but check the news feed every 5 minutes.  I - the person who keeps telling everyone "Stop reading the news" - couldn't concentrate on anything else. At some point I noticed that my whole body wouldn't stop shaking and knew that something drastic should have been done to change the situation.

I remembered a jacket with a palm tree and a parrot (sort of) that I saw in an Anny Blatt magazine.

I promptly collected as many matching colors as I could find. Most of them were tiny balls of ColourMart cashmere scraps. My yarns had different thickness and couldn't be used together. So I spent quite a lot of time mixing, reballing, and rewinding them to get approximately (the operative word here!) same gauge in all of them. By the way, I made several changes while in the middle of making the back when it became obvious that some colors didn't look right or some yarns were too thin or too thick for the main fabric.

This project was extremely absorbing. It required all my focus and dedication and definitely helped restore my self-control. 

The magazine's variation of the jacket has lot of "bells and whistles": different intarsia versions for back, fronts, and sleeves; sleeves have stripes in the middle; crocheted stripes go along the sleeves and back shoulders; there are multicolored bubbles; intarsia is not uniform stockinette, some of it is done in moss stitch. Plus the whole pattern is rather short and boxy, not to my liking.

After I finished with colors and yarns, I went looking for a jacket pattern that would fit me better and found one in an old (surprise!) Phildar magazine appropriately called New Classic.

True to its title it contains simple but classic patterns for the whole family. I picked a jacket with "fully fashioned shoulders" (aka "Japanese shoulders") that I described in detail here. This type of construction is really well fitting if done right and I like my stooped back in it better (if it is possible to like a stooped back).

My version of the jacket was supposed to have intarsia only on its back, everything else was supposed to be done in black with colorful borders, wrists, and button band frames. I was also hoping for pockets. 

Sleeves - the easiest part - were knit first. Then I started my journey with the back.

When the back was finished (surprisingly quickly), the balls of black yarn looked tiny and almost all other colors mostly disappeared. Ok, no pockets, but would I have enough black yarn for the fronts in one color? After long deliberations and lots of yarn weighting I didn't want to take a risk and started looking for other solutions. 

I made several sketches trying to visualize my future fronts in different color patterns.

The one with a big flower seemed to be more logical. I drew this pattern on a piece of graph paper (it wasn't easy at first, but it wasn't too hard either) and promptly started knitting. At this particular moment knitting was like a drug to me. More knitting - less thinking (and less worrying).
And that is, in a nutshell, the story of my Tropical cardigan. By the way, the original pattern from Anny Blatt is called Salamandre but I changed it so much it didn't feel right to use the same title.

There is one last thing that I haven't told you about this jacket and you cannot see it in the pictures. I put my Floridian address on it, knit it in the side of the right front which makes it almost invisible (unless I raise my right arm and turn sideways). It is a sort of inside joke that can be understood only by the people who live in the Florida Keys and are familiar with the local direction system.

I would have preferred my original plan - all black front with intarsia only on the back. I do think that two intarsias are different in style and partially in color. Yet, I still like this jacket because it taught me quite a few important lessons.
Lesson one: intarsia is the best therapy for anxiety. While living through a traumatic event, just pick up your needles and start knitting something extremely complicated. You'll feel better... eventually... 

Lesson two: you don't have to hide all the tails in one go. Actually, it works better if you pace yourself, going methodically section by section. I did it this way for each part before washing and blocking.

Lesson three: there is no need for many colors of the same exact yarn. Using a little bit different yarn actually adds some texture to the final look.

Lesson four: intarsia only looks scary. It is a lot of fun, but it requires total absorption and focus. 

While making the jacket I stumbled on this cardigan by R13.

It has an intarsia pattern (check), a really well known intarsia pattern (check check) originated in Scotland (check check check). It is extremely expensive and made look older and worn out on purpose - two things that I don't like in knits. Instantly I had an idea to recreate this cardigan without distressing and with the yarns that I had. I think that unconsciously I was afraid of starting something simple and straightforward that wouldn't require all my attention. Plus I do like distressed jeans but truly hate distressed knits. Blame my poor childhood in the USSR. I don't find laddered  knits with holes and frayed edges attractive, rather the opposite. They look depressing and untidy to me. 

I remembered the wonderful walnutty brown Hawkshaw sheep yarn bought last year during Perth Festival of Yarn. Here is the link to the seller's website and her Instagram page. Next time I plan on buying more of this yarn in Perth.

It is finger weight but if doubled it could work for my R13 jacket knock off. I also brought from Scotland several balls of Rowan kidsilk mohair in black and white that could work as well but were thinner than needed for the project. I decided to mix them with Drops alpaca in black and white (leftover from the Keito Dama jacket). Together these yarns gave me the right thickness  and added the fluff of the original jacket that the Hawkshaw wool was lacking. 

All the preparations - sketch drawings, pattern calculations, gauges, yarn balling - were made while the parts of the Tropical jacket were blocked and drying. As soon as one jacket was finished I started working on another one. No pause whatsoever. 

Here you can compare and contrast my cardigan with the original.

What did I do differently? 

The shoulder construction. This time I didn't go for the "full-fashioned shoulder". And I think the original has exactly this type of shoulders if you look closely. Obviously, I didn't look closely - too much in a hurry.

My version doesn't have pockets - again!

The paradox of my existence is that I own so much yarn yet am constantly running out of yarn. Like everyone else, I am very much risk averse. When it looks like I won't have enough yarn to finish my knit, I start panicking. And making an intarsia project you deal with many balls that are smaller than the initial ones, plus in this case I was using the yarn doubled. After the back was finished my brown balls didn't look too promising, so I decided to get rid of the pockets. Now I can tell you that it was a wrong decision. I would have had enough yarn for pockets. Big sigh!

I made more buttonholes and my buttons are different. My cardigan is less fluffy and less oversized.

And I had to embroider the colored strips that criss-cross the losanges unlike in the original cardigan which is machine knit and the strips are done simultaneously with everything else.

Embroidering was the most difficult part while working on this cardigan. The actual knitting went pretty quickly. The pattern is geometric, regular, and easy to remember. I was using 3.5 mm needles, not 2 mm and 2.5 mm like in my Tropical jacket. And there were only 3 colors. 

I spent the whole day figuring out the embroidery technique that would work better for this piece. Normally for embroidery you would use yarn that has either the same thickness or even is thicker than the main yarn. My crocheted strips with alpaca/mohair mix looked terribly handmade and sloppy. Any other kind of embroidery looked the same since I wasn't really skillful in it, and no matter how much I practiced it would not get better. Eventually, I went back to crocheting, but used only Rowan kidsilk mohair for it, omitting Drops alpaca.

I had to crochet as loosely as possible to avoid tightening and gathering around the strips. It took a while (and many unravelings) to find the right tension. On the bright side (always look at the bright side...) this cardigan will keep its form and won't stretch no matter what - the thin crochet strips keep it in place nicely.
And this a short account of how I suddenly became obsessed with intarsia. Now I am working on another project from an old French magazine with intarsia and fair isle together. Who needs a therapist when you can just knit intarsia instead, right?