Published on Monday December 31st, 2012

The lost and found cowl made it to New York in time for Christmas. I snapped a few camera phone pictures before it went, I’m proud to say. (Proud that I remembered before I taped up the box, not proud of the quality of my photography.) And it is an extremely cozy cowl. It was a little bit hard to send it away (I do own matching gloves, after all!) but Marika needed the cozy more than I did.

It is, more or less, Tiny Owl Knits’s ships & seaside cowl. I went my own way with the stripe sequence, though, changing background colors at random and throwing in little bundles of stripes, some narrower and some wider, wherever I pleased. All the yarn is from the stash. The lavender is some Rowan Kid Classic that’s been in the stash since time immemorial; the neutral is Kimmet Croft Fairy Hare (oh my, this is scrumptious stuff) I got the year I went to Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp in Wisconsin held together with an even more ancient ball of Kidsilk Haze. The purple and fox red stripes are Felted Tweed. And since this cowl is a tube cast on provisionally and then grafted closed (yes, that was a loooong graft), it is very warm indeed. The wind can really bite on the west side of Manhattan, I have cause to know. I hope this double layer of wool and angora and mohair will keep my dear sister-in-law all toasty as she commutes to the hospital. And since this project had attained some seniority in the workbasket, it feels good to send it out into the world at last!

Saving Christmas

Published on Wednesday December 12th, 2012

I had this plan about Christmas crafting this year. I was pretty pleased with it. The plan was rather revolutionary, really: Take it easy. Admit you have a not-quite-six-month-old and a not-quite-two-and-a-half-year-old, one of whom has had a tummy bug for the past ten days, and also a job. No full-size sweaters. (Well, except for the Annual Christmas Exchange Sweater, which is the Rocky Coast Cardigan this year… but that’s on US10.5 needles, so it hardly counts.) No fine-gauge colorwork jumpers with intricate dressmaker’s details. A couple of pairs of trousers sewn for the kids were my main goal. (Progress: about 35%. I’d make more headway if the sewing machine and the baby didn’t sleep in the same room.) Finish the sleeve of Mum’s Eala Bhan and maybe even start the second one. (Progress: negatory. I am chagrined to say that I ripped out a perfectly good sleeve cap, thinking I’d made an error I hadn’t. I swear I have learned this lesson before: don’t rip anything after 9pm! If it still looks wrong in the morning, rip it then.) Also, there’s a cowl that got within a few inches of completion before last Christmas. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of evenings to finish that… if I can find it. Is it possible that my house has eaten more than half a meter of fluffy dense wool fabric?  So yes, I’m feeling extremely laid back about the crafting this year.

Then a lovely knitter named Janet emailed me. She, being more ambitious, is trying to knit a pair of opera gloves I designed about five years ago. They’re supposed to be a Christmas gift. She is a lifelong knitter who knows her way around the craft blindfolded, but the gloves are black wool and the stitches are very tiny and the sadistic designer concocted this unnecessarily difficult stitch motif (my words; Janet is far too genteel to say any such thing, however true) and then asked her to keep the pattern correct between paired decreases, and she simply cannot see what she is knitting well enough to comply. I never even thought of that difficulty, callow twenty-something that I was when I dreamed these monsters up. Instead of doing what many of us would do, which is to curse said designer and said black wool and said 2mm needles and chuck the whole thing in favor of some cozy and quick-knitting worsted mitts, Janet politely called for aid. And aid she shall have, by gum.

I happen to have cast on a glove in this pattern myself after finishing the samples. It has languished in the wool cabinet for at least four years. Long ago I pirated its needles for something more pressing. But unlike that !@#$ing cowl, the glove presented itself immediately. It was worked to within half a round of the very point I needed to examine. It docilely clambered back onto the 2mm dpns. I set out to make Janet a chart. I have now made Janet SIX charts, because I keep screwing up some little element here or there. I love working from charts and can’t really comprehend why some knitters flee them in terror, but they are surprisingly tough little boogers to make when they involve changing stitch counts and moving stitches. I think I have wrestled that decrease chart to the ground and tied its legs together at last. But there is a bigger and badder chart I need to make to show what happens on the back of the hand. I’m trying not to bog down in self-flagellation as I work back through my original notes and find all the things I should have done better in writing this pattern. Not to mention the things I now want to change in the design itself. It struck me somewhere between Chart Iterations 4 and 5 that what this motif actually wanted to be was colorwork, not texture. This made me rather excited, imagining the new and superior gloves I might knit in two colors. They will be glorious! Might I knit them with something rather fluffy to give them a beautiful halo? Oooh, there’s angora blend in some promising colors in the stash… maybe an ice blue with a hot red? Or that cinnamon brown? Will I opt for intarsia at the end or add some kind of all-over design on the palms? But no, I must focus! Janet needs her charts and I don’t even know how fast she knits!

So family, if you don’t get anything handmade this season, it isn’t because I’ve stopped loving you. It’s because I had Wrongs to Right. I am saving another knitter’s Christmas program. I am rising to a technical challenge and using a part of my brain that’s gotten really soft. I am calling a do-over on work I’m not happy with. It feels good. And if one of you gets a pair of long gloves, you’d better thank Janet.

Elizabeth does it again

Published on Friday December 7th, 2012

Surplice (not Surplus) Baby Jacket!

I cast on this little cache-coeur for Jolyon last summer during the Olympics, without bothering to swatch or guess how large it would be, and it’s a perfect fit now. I set aside the Vogue Knitting from Spring/Summer 2007… well, back in 2007, knowing that I could leave no Elizabeth Zimmermann baby sweater unknit—put it right on the shelf amongst the sock yarn where it wouldn’t get lost in a box. And then at the first Sock Summit in 2009 I picked up this skein of what’s since become mystery wool, having lost its extraordinarily unassuming label—it was no larger than a tea bag’s label and printed on much less sturdy stuff. It was an American yarn maker… name started with a D, I think… an upper midwest or eastern mill… they had a very modest display of nice heathered wool in quiet colors. (If you bought some and kept better track, let me know!) It has a bit of crunch to it, but is soft enough (in my opinion and, I’m sure, in EZ’s) for a baby. I tucked it alongside the magazine, and the yarn and the pattern waited patiently together for the next three years. Turns out they were waiting for this baby, this big blue-eyed boy, whom they suit exactly.

There’s a lot of leeway in the pattern (which is also in Knit One Knit All and available separately from Schoolhouse Press), as in so many of Elizabeth’s designs; I followed the Vogue directions pretty closely, if I remember correctly, but lengthened the sleeves. I chose not to fuss with stripes and just let the pleasant heathered wool do its stuff—this blue is blended with both red and yellow and is hard to pair with other colors anyway. I used some Rowan Felted Tweed remnants for the edging to give it a bit of dash, and although it might look like i-cord at first glance, it isn’t. I just picked up stitches all around, knit a handful of rows of stockinet, and let it curl up. I wanted something more elastic than i-cord so the garter stitch could be allowed to grow with the baby for a while, as it so obligingly tends to.

The shaping may not be what you’re used to in garments for little boys… it’s quite cropped on an infant the size of my strapping five-and-a-half-month-old. But we’re finding it very useful as an outer layer, especially over his woolen footed overalls. The wide neckline is practical on a baby of slobbering age—so often I’m picking little soggy bits of wool lint from between his chins, but that’s not a problem with this sweater. And he’s finding those leather buttons irresistible for teething. (I sewed them on well, Infant Care Police!)

If you’re just here for the baby footage, these were all taken on his five-month birthday. It still surprises me that we haven’t had him for much longer. This boy. This bright and beautiful boy. At the end of the longest, most trying day (and we’ve had a few of them lately), he can give me a grin and a chortle as I bundle him into his pajamas and all’s right with the world.