In which I channel Elsa

Over the past few weeks I've spent some time cleaning up my office/studio/general dumping ground for all things woolly. It's been a very good thing - I've found yarn I thought had gone missing, uncovered a couple of design swatches I'd forgotten about, and exposed a number of WIPs in dire need of five minutes before they are FOs.

I've also found some things that I've sadly decided need to take a trip to the big frog pond in the sky. First up on the hit list is a sweater that I was really, really super excited about when I started it - Automne by Ruth Garcia-Alcantud, the cover sweater for Knit Edge Issue 4 way back in 2013.

Photo (c) 2013 Alisha Irish

Photo (c) 2013 Alisha Irish

This sweater is gorgeous. Knit in a chunky weight yarn, it's nice and long, has a cool cabled waist detail, and a gorgeous wide lace collar. It's even got pockets! I immediately ordered yarn, discovered it wasn't going to work, ordered more yarn, and cast on in February of 2014. I knit most of the body over the half-term holiday that month, and then the sleeves and even managed to get everything blocked and the body sewn up and the collar knit and blocked.

Mostly finished sweater

Mostly finished sweater

Collar and waist detail

Collar and waist detail

And then I tried it on. And realised three things: 1) my well-intentioned modifications to make sure the armholes were deep enough had resulted in sleeve caps that weren't going to fit in the armscyes; 2) that lovely cable waist detail was about four inches lower then my actual waist; and 3) most critically, a long bulky-weight sweater that ends at the midpoint of my thighs is REALLY NOT a good look for me. In reality, it probably looks ok, but I've spent far too much of my life unhappy with my shape to be happy wearing something that doesn't make me feel fabulous.

So, yesterday I heeded the advice of my extremely talented college classmate and Let It Go. I got out the ball winder and reduced my 90% finished gorgeous sweater into a whopping pile of potential.

That is about 600 grams (or just over 900 yds) of lovely red tweedy Elann Highland Chunky (sadly discontinued), which has now been reskeined, given a bath, and is drying over the kitchen radiator as we speak. I've already got plans for this yarn - another sweater, but more or less the polar opposite of Automne in a design sense. And I'm looking forward to casting on. Maybe it will be done in time for next week's predicted ridiculous winter weather? Here's hoping!

When yarn choice matters

Some days we can grab a skein of yarn, print off a pattern, and be off to the races on a new project, thoroughly caught up in the excitement of casting on. But sometimes, matching yarn and project takes a bit more thought. As I recently found out with my current sweater project, Dark and Stormy by Thea Colman.

Dark and Stormy is a top-down, raglan cardigan with a shawl collar and a large cable down the  back. There are two smaller cables alongside each front edge, but the rest of the sweater is in stockinette. I have a sweater lot of Berrocco Ultra Alpaca in a dark, foresty green that has been hanging out in my stash for a while now, and I thought it ould be perfect for this project. In a fit of enthusiam, I cast on and started knitting away merrily.

After getting about half way through the yoke, I took a look at the cable on the back and thought to myself "Self, that cable is kind of getting lost..."

While I was loving the colour, the halo from the alpaca content was not really pushing my buttons as far as the texture went. I went to Knit Night and took a wee poll of the assembled multitudes: the overwhelmin consensus was that this was perhaps not the best yarn for this pattern. Allison pointed out that I have a sweater lot of SweetGeorgia Superwash Worsted (also in green) that might work better, because it is a much more tightly plied 100% wool yarn. So I went home, and cast on with the new yarn.

Hopefully you can see easily how much clearer the stitch definition is, and how much better the cable looks. Heck, you can actually see the cable, which is definitely a step in the right direction!

This is a very good example of why some patterns need a particular type of yarn. A design that depends on a texture pattern for full impact, like Dark and Stormy, is best suited to a multi-plied yarn with a fairly high twist so that the stitches pop. The Ultra Alpaca, with it's 50% wool/50% alpaca fibre content, is a lovely yarn, but the lack of crimp in the alpaca makes for a much softer and blurred stitch definition. Not great for this design. It's also not as round and tightly plied as the Superwash Worsted, another reason why the stitch definition isn't what I wanted for the cables.

Other yarn-pattern combinations that won't work so well? Socks in merino singles or pure silk yarn; mittens in softly spun anything; a fitted and shaped sweater in 100% cotton. Singles yarns or softly spun and plied yarns are terrible for anything that needs to be hard wearing, while silk and cotton have almost zero elasticity, and won't hold their shape. Sometimes this mismatches can be compensated for by stitch pattern (like ribbing to add elasticity), but I think I'd rather start with materials that are suited to the item I'm making!

That's not to say you have to knit every design in the exact same yarn the designer used, but take a moment and think about why they chose the yarn that's used for the sample. Sometimes it is as simple as that was the yarn that was available, either in their stash or in yarn support. But hopefully the designer spent some time with that yarn trying to figure out how it would work best. If you take a few minutes to think about the yarn you're choosing for your project, your chances of ending up with a disappointing FO go down.

I'm happy to say that the Superwash Worsted is the perfect yarn for this sweater, and it is moving right along! Body is done, and one sleeve is underway. Whether or not it's finished by Christmas remains to be seen....

Shop Update and #todayshandknit

First off: there will be a shop update tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 10:00 am - preview photos will be up by this evening for your perusal.

Second: Now that the weather has gotten a bit more seasonal (hooray!), I've been wearing a lot more of my handknits. I've been posting some Instagram pictures of what I'm wearing over the past few weeks, and have noticed a couple of things:

  1. I'm posting to Instagram more regularly, and
  2. I'm wearing a lot more of my handknits.

I think a lot of us probably have vast piles of handknitted objects to hand but don't actually wear all that many of them. Or we end up wearing just a small subset of our collection. Or maybe, it's just me! In any event, the #todayshandknit hashtag has inspired me to break out more of my woolly bits and wear them. The result is that I'm warmer and things that have been neglected are getting worn. Result!

Items from top left to bottom middle: Handspun Garter Yoke Cardi and Windmill Bay Stole in Drops Alpaca; handspun Clapotis and Angostura vest in Cornish Tin; handspun Aestlight Shawl and Paris Beret in Classic Elite Lush; handspun Groovy, Oxford hat in baa ram ewe Titus, Butterfingers in Botany Lace; handspun vaniilla socks; Ravensprings Cowl in Noro Obi; Juniper in Campolmi Roberto Filati Baby (and Groovey); another handspun Clapotis with the Angostura vest and my current WIP, Dark & Stormy in SweetGeorgia superwash worsted.

These are things worn in the last couple weeks of November, and I'm looking forward to a December collection soon. Want to join in? Use #todayshandknit and tag me (@porpoise_fur) on Instagram to play along.

Lemons, as far as the eye can see

Every so often, my knitting takes a wrong turn and I end up in the not-so-enviable position of having to figure out how to fix it. When this does happen, it is almost invariably due to knitter-error, rather then a mistake in the pattern. To whit, my current knitting dilemma:

There is nothing sadder than a too-big colorwork sweater body...

There is nothing sadder than a too-big colorwork sweater body...

This is the finished body of my Insight Pullover, designed by Kate Heppell. The pattern is fabulous, and I've been enjoying the colorwork pattern immensely. However, unlike Alli's Gauge Goggles, which we discussed on a recent podcast, clearly I have been investing in a stunning pair of Realistic Body Shape Googles, through which I am far more curvaceous and shapely then in reality. The problem is this: the pattern is written for someone whose bust and hip measurements are both larger then their waist measurements. Not too surprisingly, actually, as this is a pattern written for a women's sweater, and women, as a general group, tend to be shaped that way. 

Tend being the operative word in that previous sentence. And while I have a waist that is smaller then my bust and hips, it's not all that different then my bust. So a sweater with an outline like this:

does not work so well with a body shaped like this (i.e. mine):

There is way too much fabric around my bust on this sweater. Waaaaay to much. I knit the size that would fit my full bust measurement, but upon reflection, I should really have gone with one size down, which would be closer to my upper bust measurement.

This brings up a tricky point in garment sizing: when looking at a pattern and deciding what size to make, how do you know where is the right place to measure to get the proper fit from your finished sweater? Lots of things come in to play here - ease, fabric, shape of the armholes and sleeves. For this sweater, which is meant to be very close fitting, I decided to do the slightly larger size, thinking that the stranded colorwork would be a bit less stretchy then a fabric worked in a single color. It is less elastic, but as I am not exactly amply supplied in boobage, it turns out I don't really need that extra stretch. It also turns out that my gauge is very slightly larger then that given for the pattern: I'm getting 22.5 sts/10 cm instead of 23 sts. I haven't blocked the body yet, so my gauge might end up being spot on, but over the body of the sweater, that extra 0.5 stitch means I've got an extra 2.5 cm around the chest. 

In any event, my dilemma is thus: what do I do?

Choice A: rip out the entire thing and start over again one size smaller.

Choice B: rip out back to the waist increases and increase up the number of stitches for the smaller size, which should fit me better around the bust, but would still leave room in the areas where I am more amply supplied with heft (i.e. the back forty, as the Knitmore Girls like to call it).

What do you say? I was initially leaning towards B, if only because the thought of starting over makes me want to cry hot tears of woe and despair. Even though I am loving the colorwork. Although now that I've tried it on again, I am thinking that maybe it's a bit too loose through the hips too?

Aaaargh! And sadly, this is only the first of two sweaters I have to MacGyver into fitting. Woe, misery and woe.


The yarn I'm using for the Endpaper Mitts is reclaimed from two sweaters I picked up for cheap at Goodwill. I've now found another source for recycled yarn: previously knit sweaters.

Mountain Mohair cardi

This is my Mountain Mohair sweater - Moriah's Wildflower Cardigan. It's a beautiful sweater, and I wear it whenever it's cold enough (which is not as often as I would like). The yarn is beautiful soft and slightly fuzzy, and it's held up pretty well over the last 5 years or so. But on my way home yesterday, I looked down and noticed this:

Mountain Mohair cardi

Since the yarn is basically a softly spun single, not a plied yarn, it's not terribly strong. I must have caught the edging on something and it broke the yarn. Now, in and of itself, this is not enough of a reason to frog the sweater. But I've been thinking about knitting something else from this for a while. First of all, there's no shaping to the sweater. It's straight up and down and basically just hangs there when I'm wearing it. And it doesn't do a lot for my body honestly - I'm not exactly svelte, and I think that it would look better on me with a bit more shaping.

I also am not a fan of the seed stitch bands - they are a bit loose and floppy, and don't feel substantial enough. I've decided to frog the sweater and use the yarn for something else. Initially, I was thinking about a top down V neck with set in slightly belled sleeves. But after last night's Mr. Redjeans fiasco (finished ribbing, bound off, tried on and realized that A) clearly the designer did not have my figure in mind when she had us switch to size 7 needles for the ribbing*, but I really don't need to display that much of my tummy, B) it was going to be too short in any event, and C) clearly in my mind I am still in my pre-pregnancy, half-Ironman body, not my post-two kids-still-lactating body - I'm going to have to go up a size), I'm thinking that I may soon be working on Mr. Bluejeans, while Mr. Redjeans gets to wear a set of concrete galoshes.

* this is nicer then saying she was smoking crack because really, the ribbing was going to pull in anyway with the cables. Why have it pull in more with smaller needles?