Knit On

I’m watching something unfold. I’m watching something odd and mysterious slip from my needles. It started out looking like this.

Baby Surprise Jacket - beginning

The shape is sort of taking form. Or at least I think it is but then just as I imagine I’ve worked it out what I’m doing, I spread the fabric out in front of me and realise I know nothing.

Baby Surprise Jacket

Not for nothing is this pattern called the Baby Surprise Jacket. It’s completely surprising! It could easily have been called something like ‘Totally Mystifying Shapeless Thing Becomes a Jacket’ or some such. I’ve never made anything like it. I feel as if I’m one of the few remaining knitters in the world to knit this, at least among those who know of Elizabeth Zimmermann. So many have done it and so many have done amazing things with the stripes. I’m hoping mine look as good as lots of the examples I’ve seen. I’m using up some now ancient Bendigo Woollen Mills Colonial.

I just love knitting that’s an absolute act of faith. The instructions for the jacket even urge you not to rip it out if you think it looks nothing like a baby jacket. Just knit on. All will be revealed.

It’s fair to say the baby boy I’m making this for, a boy who is merely days old, isn’t desperate for this right now, but I’m desperate to see how it comes into being.

Just keep on knitting. That’s what I have to do.

Bells

Knotty Gloves

Like many knitters, I thought, for a long time, that full fingered gloves were too hard or too fiddly. Early on, they seemed like a mysterious item that were impossible to make. Well, not impossible as such, since somebody out there obviously made them, but all those fingers? How was it even done?

I’m here to report, like others before me, that it’s entirely possible and not at all tricky. Maybe a tiny bit fiddly. But altogether satisfying and fun! Here are my Knotty Gloves.

Single Knotty Glove

They are designed by the very clever Julia Meuller who has a lot of amazingly designed gloves to her name and this will not be my last pair.

Knotty Gloves

I did these instead of a pair of socks, as part of the Super Special Six Pattern Sock Club, which totally makes sense right? Socks? Gloves? They are all similar in concept and designed to warm up the extremeties. Only difference is that as far as a replacement for a sock pattern goes, these use a lot less yarn. One skein of Lorna’s Laces sock yarn went into these socks (it was a gift from Drk) so I have a whole skein left over.

Knotty Gloves

Gloves are really fast. The only thing that slowed these ones down was the cable. It wasn’t hard, just required attention. And I had to knit it twice on the first glove because I got so carried away I forgot to include the start of the thumb. So really, I knitted this cable three times in total. I was very comfortable with it by the time I reached the second glove.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t go for a variegated yarn with such an intricate cable but I felt confident the variegation in this yarn (colourway is Aslan) was light enough to let the cable shine through. And I think it works. I’m not thrilled with how the colours become more blocky in the top of the hand – it’s the one thing that would put me off doing a glove again in anything other than a solid colour but light definitely works best with these I think.

glove detail

And the fingers? Everyone seems to assume that this is the worst part of gloves but seriously, it’s not that bad. There are on average about 20 stitches on each finger – so five on each needle which means they go really, really fast. This week I basically knitted one each day on the bus.

Knotty Gloves in progress

The concept is simple. When the hand is the right length, put all the stitches on waste yarn and for each finger, pick up the right number from the front and back, knit a small tube. Absolutely not fiddly or difficult at all. And so fast. How long does it take to knit a small tube? No time at all. If you’ve got any reservations about gloves being painful or difficult, lose it. So straight forward.

They got their first out today at a protest rally. Canberra is well and truly cold enough for gloves now and I know these are going to get loads of wear.

I have to make more because these are far from perfect. Like a first pair of socks, these were a learning experience and I would change the fingers on some of them, making them a tiny bit longer in some instances, and a bit narrower in others.

And honestly, the designer has some seriously impressive looking variations. I’m itching to try more.

Bells

A Stripey Jacket

I knew this winter a priority in my knitting was to make something substantial for my nephew, Willem. Over the years I’ve made small things for him – socks, hats a vest or two but I hadn’t ever made a proper winter garment for him. By proper I meant a jumper or cardigan, something significant, with sleeves. A few months ago RoseRed made a jacket for her son (a test knit) and she told me the pattern would go up to size 8. I snapped it up and knew it was the one. The pattern is the Alex Jacket and I gave it to Willem on the weekend after a fairly intense few weeks to get it done.

He happily modelled it for me.

Willem's Jacket

I loved knitting this for him. I started knitting properly around the time he was born and so he’s grown up watching me do it. He just knows that it’s what Aunty Bells does and he’s always been a responsive and loving recipient of my efforts. It makes for a very gratifying knitting experience.

Willem's Jacket

The yarn is Cascade 220 and the colours were chosen for me by RoseRed who picked it up for me when she was in Berry a couple of months ago. I’d asked her to look out for what they had and she called me and suggested the chocolate and blue and what a great combination it is. I love it. It suits my blonde haired boy so well.

The pattern is a great one. It’s knitted in one piece, starting with the hood and then down from there. Couldn’t be simpler.

Designer Celia Ng has provided a lengthy document with several options (you can knit it with or without stripes, with or without cables, hooded or hoodless and with a variety of finishes). She also provides suggested striping options – I chose one of the reverse fibonacci stripe patterns and my sister Adele suggested making the chocolate the dominant colour because, as mums of boys well know, it’s likely to last longer between washes if it’s a darker colour!

In all the photos we took of him with the hood down, he is holding his neck and it was only afterwards I figured out why.

Willem's Jacket

He said the wool is a bit scratchy. I must have sounded very disappointed because he put his arm around me and said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll still wear it.’ What a trooper. I thought it over and well, yes, cascade 220 can be a little scratchy I think and it does soften on subsequent washes but I think the weight of the hood must make the neck drag a little at his throat. I think when he’s got the hood down he’ll be ok if she opens the top button. It should help. But honestly, hearing those words ‘it’s a bit scratchy’ is just horrible for a knitter isn’t it? It’s the last thing we want to hear!

I modified it a little at the sleeves – in the pattern the sleeves are very loose at the wrist and though I think it looks great, I just wonder at the practicality of it. I could just see Willem dragging loose sleeves through just about everything and so I opted to make the wrist cuffs more fitted.

And here is the obligatory ‘crazy’ shot that kids are so fond of doing.

Willem's Jacket

Willem just got glasses for the first time last week. I believe these are the first photos of him wearing them. So very handsome.

So in summary, the nearly three weeks I took to make this were a joy. The hood taught me a few lessons in working short rows (a perennially loathed knitting technique of mine) and I think it turned out pretty well. A lot of wool goes into that hood – a whole skein of Cascade 220! It has panels of rib down the side (couldn’t get a decent photo of that) which allows room for growth which is a great idea!

I know this is a pattern I’ll return to again. Willem will be too big for the pattern in a couple of years but I know it’ll get dragged out for newborns and toddlers alike in years to come, boys and girls, because it’s so very versatile. Can’t ask for much more than that from a kids’ pattern can you?

From the leftover yarn, I made a cardigan for Alice – photos of that to come!

Bells

Featherweight Cardigan in 4ply

After several days of being in gardening clothes or pyjamas, I got up and got dressed properly yesterday, determined to get proper photos of my finally finished (second) Featherweight Cardigan. We drove out through country roads to Bungendore, had tea and coffee in a cafe and then wandered around town looking for a backdrop. Sean found this big old tree and I posed.

So, here it is. Begun on 24 December 2010 as something to knit while driving to our Christmas day destination, it’s finally done. I put it down far too often in the last few months, otherwise it would have been finished earlier.  But I set a deadline for Easter and I finished it on Good Friday!

Featherweight Cardigan

If you know the Featherweight pattern you’ll know it’s quite different. I made this in 4ply for a start, not laceweight. It wasn’t at all hard to modify it from laceweight to 4ply. It’s knit top down so I basically just cast on as written and then increased until it fitted around my shoulders and arms as I wanted it to, sectioned off the arm stitches, kept knitting until it was the right length, added some feather and fan rows at the bottom. Many thanks to MicheleLB from PDXKnitterati for that suggestion!

The sleeves were done fairly intuitively. Randomly I just decided to decrease at a rate of two stitches every sixth row, kept going til i was happy with it and then added feather and fan around the cuffs.

Featherweight cuff

On reflection I might have narrowed the cuffs a little more but I’m not sufficiently bothered by it to undo them, even though as top down sleeves it would be pretty simple. I can live with them.

I kept the stocking stitch band as written and knew I’d be fastening it with a silver brooch which was a gift from RoseRed a couple of years ago. It’s a shawl pin but I think it works equally well as a cardigan clasp.

Featherweight Cardigan

All in all I’m really happy with it. I wanted a simple pale blue cardigan to replace an ageing shop bought one that is nearing the end of its life. I got what I wanted. The yarn is so very soft. It’s a light, soft and yet still warm piece.

I bought the yarn in a big unmarked bag last April at Wangaratta Woollen mills. At the time I thought it was probably Patons Feathersoft, which is 100% baby wool. The first time I came to doing a spit splice, the yarn wouldn’t splice! Uh oh! I worried immediately I’d bought something nasty (despite how soft it was). I did a burn test and it behaved sort of life wool, sort of like nylon – a bit melty. I did some research and decided the unmarked bag had in fact contained a heap of Cocoon, which is 30% nylon. I didn’t mind at all really, even though I prefer all natural fibres. It should help with durability and it’s kept its shape nicely post-washing and blocking.

Featherweight - back

This process showed me that a basic top down pattern is highly versatile and can be modified easily. Well, I knew that already but actually doing it was confidence boosting.

Want to know what I’m obsessively knitting now? A jacket. It’s for my lovely nephew Willem who is seven and is long overdue a knitted garment. It’s called the Alex Jacket and my Teddy Bear posed in it for me this morning.

alex jacket

It’s really nice to be knitting something in worsted weight – it’s growing so much more quickly than the 4ply featherweight! I hope very much to have this off the needles in record time!

Bells

Roller Derby

I don’t play sport, much less watch it. As previously explained, going to sport events isn’t really my thing. The sporting lexicon really isn’t mine. I kinda thought that if I went along a few times I’d start to get it but I don’t. Which is to say, I get the way a crowd feels. I feel that swell of enthusiasm and excitement, but it’s the finer points I don’t get. That night I went to the rubgy, I heard my friend Dean when he explained the rules to me, and it kind of made sense but when I tried to translate that understanding to making sense of what was going on on the field I was all at sea.

The same thing happens with Roller Derby. Do you know what Roller Derby is? Popular opinion has it as a game where girls get violent on skates but that’s just a misconception. Actually it’s a game where a bunch of energetic women go around and around in circles and score points because of their skill and determination. There isn’t much in the way of violence. It’s just clever and sassy.

About a year or so ago we started going along to Roller Derby games in Canberra, largely because I’d been telling Sean that my friend Kylie of KGirlKnits was talking a lot about it and it caught his interest enough that when he saw tickets advertised, he thought what the hell, let’s go.

Roller derby

And it’s been fun. Really.  We go every 6 weeks or so and for an evening I get to hang out with other enthusiasts and enjoy a Saturday night at a sporting venue. Honestly for me it feels a bit like a social experiment. I never really feel like I belong there but it doesn’t really matter. Going to the rugby wearing a borrowed jersey for the team helped me feel like I fitted in there. I didn’t expect that. Perhaps dressing up for derby would help?

I know that knitting at a sports event probably doesn’t help with that whole sense of feeling different, but it’s just what I do and really it’s a good thing because at the derby you get a sense that lots of people there are not quite mainstream. In the toilets at half time you get up close to some pretty awesome outfits and you get a sense that maybe it’s a place where you can just be yourself.

Me Knitting @ Roller Derby

I buy a beer, some chips, knit something mindless and watch girls in funky outfits skate around in circles a lot. At some point it becomes clear there’s a real battle for points going on and I start to cheer along with everyone else, but mostly I’m just knitting and getting in the zone, watching the girls go around and around and wondering just how they gain points. I’ve read the rules, I just don’t get it. I know there’s a structure to how it happens but I can’t make my brain take it in.

This weekend, I decided that I just didn’t care anymore that I couldn’t follow the rules. It’s exciting to be in the middle of a cheering crowd, to be knitting, having a drink and feeling the swell of a supportive crowd.

Knitting at roller derby

It’s a great opportunity to get some easy knitting done. I’m up to the sleeves of my featherweight cardigan and I’ve decided to get them done in ten days. Wish me luck. There’s a lot of plain knitting to get done in a short space of time.

Bells

On Deadline Knitting

Lately I feel like my knitting is all a bit on top of me. From the stash to the projects. There’s too much of it. Some people I know love having a heap of projects on the go but I describe myself as an obsessive finisher. I need to finish things regularly or else I feel like it’s all a bit out of control and pointless.

Does that sound like I over think it? I’m sure it does. It’s only knitting after all, right? It shouldn’t be a chore, and it isn’t, but I need a certain amount of momentum in my creative life, a certain amount of feeling like I’m being productive, otherwise tedium sets in. I suppose it’s a Protestant Work Ethic meets Creative Living kind of problem. It’s why I respond so well to deadlines. Give me a point not too far away on the horizon and suddenly the wheels start turning a lot faster, or, in this case, the needles start working faster.

Deadline knitting is easy to sort out when you’ve got a birthday gift to finish or a baby’s imminent arrival to strive for, but what about when it’s just for yourself? How do you apply deadlines to that?

For me, I just pick a point and stick to it. For instance, in just over four weeks, I start my first ever period of Long Service Leave. It blows me away that I’ve been working for the Government long enough to have accrued Long Service Leave. How on earth did that happen? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But it is what it is and I do my best to just get on with it.

In four weeks, I’ll have five weeks’ leave to do with more or less as I please. There are some big jobs lined up (kitchen cupboards! A cluttered garage! Garden beds!) but there are also going to be long stretches of good stuff. So that’s my deadline. Knitting projects that are weighing me down with the utter endlessness of it all will be finished so that I can plan some great projects to begin. Two of the projects weighing me down are serious long haul projects. One of them I’ve never shown before.

First, the Featherweight cardigan in baby blue Patons Dreamtime 4ply. This is baby wool but after I procured a huge bag of it from Wangaratta Woollen Mills last year I knew it was going to be a Featherweight. I have a much loved pale blue lightweight cardigan I’ve been wearing for years and I saw my chance to replicate it. But oh how I’m bored.

featherweight

It wasn’t until I tried it on this morning that I realised how far I’ve come. It’s much longer than I realised, thanks in part to being too tired to knit anything else at night and a day trip to Sydney on the weekend where I worked in it for about six hours straight, there and back.

The only thing that’s keeping me going with this is knowing that it’ll be a lovely, soft, everyday kind of cardigan when it’s done and I know I’ll love it. But someone throttle me next time I say I want to make another one?

A note on boring knitting: in truth I actually love a good solid run of plain knitting. It’s great for car knitting, for working on when watching TV shows that require attention or for just plain tiredness when you want your hands to be busy but your brain isn’t engaged. It’s just the thing. But the problem occurs when you don’t actually work on it. Boring knitting is only useful when it comes out of the bag you stuffed it into in a fit of boredom one day, otherwise, it’s just an albatross.

Here’s my other slightly less boring but generally tedious project. I’m up to the border on the Shetland Tea Shawl. Don’t get me wrong. It’s lovely and I think the border is stunning but good grief could it be any slower?

border

For me, it’s not an easy to memorise chart, even though it’s only 17 stitches across. It’s frustratingly challenging. Just irregular enough to mean I have to watch it constantly and there are nearly 600 stitches in the last row. It’s painful but I’m determined to get it off the needles by Easter.

I think I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Bells

The Colour Purple

I said recently that I was planning some Aussie Bloggers Conference-appropriate knitting. For some time I’ve had it in mind that a whole day of sitting and listening/talking would be ideal for making good headway on a work in progress. What would it be? What would be perfect? The obvious answer was a pair of plain socks, all that round and around knitting would be just the thing to keep my fingers busy while taking in the information and a useful buffer if I felt like looking busy and not much like interacting at any point in the day.

But you know what? Plain socks? Over them. For now at least. I do have a long-suffering pair on the go and they will come in my bag with me but I think I’ll be bored by them. I need something simple but thrilling. Enter, Glenora Alpaca/Silk.

Glenora Alpaca/silk

This beauty has been in my stash for quite some time and has popped into my mind often. When I think of it, it’s spoken to me of one thing only. Icarus. I made the Icarus shawl 18 months ago and since then it’s been my most cherished shawl, the one I wear almost more than any other. I think as shawls go, it’s perfection. Need a reminder?

Icarus wing span
The size is so wearable, the beautiful Helen’s Lace (chortle) is beautiful in so many ways. When I’ve fondled the Glenora Alpaca/Silk, it’s often reminded me of my Icarus. So, as the saying goes, ‘you can’t stop at one.’

I’ve done a few repeat projects, be it socks or shawls. When a pattern works and is a pleasure to knit, why not repeat it? So I’ll have a purple Icarus before too long – and those lovely straight rows are perfect (mostly) mindless knitting. But there was a snag today. A terrible, upsetting snag.

I took my baby Icarus on the bus. It might sound risky to take lace knitting on the bus but as I’m still on the easy part, I thought it would be fine. I was, until my bus driver pulled up sharp at a stop and my hands slammed into the seat in front of me. Curse him! Stitches fell off. I may have sworn. A commute-knitting incident of the most distressing kind.

I will save Icarus. I’ll have a few rows to rip back but at least it’s plain knitting. It’s not too devastating. Things will be fine by the time I get to the conference. I’ll be well and truly underway. So far, she looks like this (note: photo taken pre-incident).

purple icarus

Small, simple, pretty. Early days, but I’m excited to have a Purple Icarus.

While we’re on a purple theme, if I needed more evidence than the dropping temperatures and misty mornings that Canberra is sliding into autumn, it’s here, in my Autumn Crocuses. I only discovered they’d arrived yesterday and they made me smile.

autumn crocuses2

Each year when they come up, I take them as a true and fabulous sign that summer is behind us and Canberra is changing.

autumn crocuses3

I can feel cardigans, red wine and winter cooking in the air when the autumn crocuses show up. They are giant, purple cups heralding the arrival of my favourite weather!

autumn crocuses

I should also add the commentary on my post about the Aussie Bloggers Conference was both welcome and interesting. In no way did I intend to cause offence to the Mummy Bloggers attending the conference – my thoughts were all about my own place among a group and the fundamental differences in approach we might have. Breaking into a well established group which has a whole language of its own can be a bit daunting. I do feel a bit anxious about fitting in. I do worry that there will be awkward moments, challenges and moment I wish I hadn’t come and not just because it’s a room full of mothers. But I’ll deal with it and there’s plenty to look forward to.

The comments about labels were also interesting. I actually don’t mind a label – I give myself the label of knit-blogger because it keeps me focused on what I most want to write about, with the caveat that I stretch outside that boundary sometimes. I’ve always maintained a focused blog because that keeps me engaged.

Anyway, it should be an interesting weekend and I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new people and hopefully having loads of fun and informative discussion at both the sessions and the dinner.

And I’m especially looking forward to knitting my Icarus shawl for a whole day at once.

Bells

(Over) 198yds of Heaven

I’ve had a week of finishing things off and it’s been lovely. This is a sweet little shawl (we don’t call them shawlettes, do we Knitabulous?) called 198yds. of Heaven and I made it in a little over 200yds of pure silk.

Two years ago I bought two pricey skeins of Colinette Tao silk in Ginger Cinnabar for myself as a birthday gift and for two years I’ve looked at it on a dish on my coffee table and wondered when I’d get around to using it.

Well, here it is. I finally used it. It’s as soft and squishy and luxurious as pure silk sounds and looks!

198yds. of Heaven

Although this shawl was easy, so very easy, there were some hurdles. I had 252yds of silk and it was expensive so I didn’t want to waste any. I could have made the shawl as written and used just a little over 1skein but that was no good. So in trying to work out the number of repeats I should do (2.5 in the end) and how much I needed for the border, I had to rip this out several times.

198yds. of Heaven

A shawl that should have taken me a week at most took me nearly three weeks and was complicated by an early battle with tangled silk – I knew the stories about centre pull balls and silk and how never the twain shall meet but do you think I listened? No. I will from now on. Never again will I pull silk from the middle! Learn from my mistake!

Thankfully, my friend Elly took on the challenge of untangling the bit I had to cut off. Much appreciated Elly!

198yds. of Heaven

The benefit of knitting it a couple of times over was that the second time around, I knew I disliked the garter stitch border. It just looked heavy and jarred with the rest of the pattern. So I did a stocking stitch border instead and I’m much happier with it.

198yds of heaven

For a small shawl, it’s actually turned out a pretty good size. The extra repeat and a half takes it from kerchief size to a small-mid sized shawl. I can imagine, done as written, I’d have been more inclined to wrap it around my head.

198yds. of Heaven

As it is, I think it’s highly wearable. And the orange, which was a radical experiment for me, is lovely. Very autumnal.

A note on these photos. This morning we drove out to a small town 40mins out of Canberra called Bungendore. It’s a small village with lots of farms around (we went to buy chicken feed). We’ve gone there a lot lately and felt very at home in some lovely cafes. We scouted around for ideal photo locations and chose the local police station and a large tree over the road.

When I was a teenager, our family used to go for Sunday drives to Bungendore and I recall finding the whole thing incredibly dull. Now, we go there regularly to get out of town and do something different. My teenage self would be horrified to know that actually I want to move there. How things change!

Bells

A bit of luxury

Two birthdays ago I splurged and bought myself some Colinette Tao in a stunning colour called Ginger Cinnabar. It was pretty expensive and a treat and at first, I thought I’d make a hat with it.

Nearly two years later and I still haven’t made that hat. But it sits in a dish on my coffee table and I think about it often. This weekend, I knew the time had come to finally address what to do with those two small skeins of pure silk.

The colour is a sun soaked concentration of orange. Look at that sheen! It feels as soft and wonderful as it looks.

tao3

Orange was never  colour I was overly fond of so buying this silk was quite an experiment. I was wanting to test it so buying something small and luxurious that might make a striking accessory seemed better than launching into say a bright orange cardigan.

But for nearly two years I just wasn’t sure. I’d looked at Ravelry to see what others made out of it and it seemed everyone made pretty plain scarves. Yawn. I felt uninspired. And when I sat down to consider starting a beret  yesterday, I discussed with my Brains Trust the virtues of silk as a hat that would need to keep its shape. All in all, it seemed risky. A silk blend would be better – something with some merino to give it that capacity to bounce and not sag or flop.

The yardage with this stuff isn’t huge. I needed something small, pretty and interesting – that is, not a scarf. I found and started a little triangular shawl pattern called 198yds. of heaven. I’ve got 252yds so maybe I can go a bit over. We’ll see. I don’t want to waste a skerrick of silk!

tao2

It’s full of pretty leaves. Who doesn’t love a leaf motif in lace? And I’ve knit the first 22 rows twice because I made a foolish error last night and began it over breakfast again this morning. Voila! I imagine this will be incredibly fast.

The silk is beautiful to work with. It was so humid here last night and it ran through my fingers like cool water. Bliss.

tao1

Lest anyone should think I’m going through a bout of randomly starting new stuff and not finishing anything, my Kei Mei socks are done but can’t be revealed until they are given to the intended recipient. Finishing them yesterday, I knew I was going to permit myself to start something new, small and thrilling using something beautiful from the stash, rather than buying something new.

This shawl fits the bill. It’ll give me nearly instant gratification in so many ways.

Are you sitting on some luxurious yarn you’re saving for ‘one day’? I dare you – go ahead and make something with it today!

Bells