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.

For jauntiness, on or off a bicycle

Published on Sunday July 3rd, 2011

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know what July means: the Tour de France and its celebratory knit-along! I already know I’m going to fail at completing this year’s epic project (on which more later), so I thought I’d at least kick things off with a little bonbon… after all, it’s been a while since there was a new free pattern up here, ne c’est pas?

Vilaine (1 of 4)

How about a simple pair of fingerless gloves inspired by cycling wear, with just a few classy details? I’m calling these the Vilaine Gloves in honor of the river the peloton will cross on their way into the finish town of Redon tomorrow. I knit them using far less than one skein of The Fibre Company’s Savannah DK, a summery blend of wool, cotton, linen and soy, but the pattern is written with length and percentage measurements so that you can use a yarn of any weight from your stash.

If you’d like to have at it, the pattern is here: VilaineGloves

More pictures? Glad to oblige.

Vilaine (2 of 4)

I used one of my favorite thumb gussets, placing the increases only on the palm side. This treatment is most useful if there’s patterning on the back of the hand you don’t want to disturb, but I like the way it looks in general.

Vilaine (3 of 4)

Final point of polish: a professorial leather button to close the wrist band. One needn’t, of course, wear these gloves for actual cycling, so you can choose as dressy a button as you wish.

Vilaine (4 of 4)

As always, please contact me right away if you find errors or tricky bits in this pattern. Full disclosure: I knit and wrote this sucker in the space of two days. During the first, the yahoos up the hill who can’t wait until 4 July to light their illegal fireworks panicked my poor dog, who jumped or squeezed under the fence and went on the lam for a night and a day, causing anxiety and heartbreak in all quarters. (Thanks to all that is good in the universe, she was not run over on Sandy Boulevard and kind souls Jean and Tim coaxed her into their home and reported her so I could retrieve her the next afternoon. She is terribly footsore but safely home.) Then last night the baby decided to conduct a one-girl circus in our bed for several hours. All this is by way of saying there are probably errors, so knit with sense and trust your judgment, mes amis.

Warm hands, warm hearts

Published on Thursday October 7th, 2010

Betsymittens2 (1 of 1)

Norwegian Wedding Mittens, adapted by Jen and moi the better to suit our Betsy and her Jonathan (Jen’s handsome pair for Jonathan are here)

Mods: Braided cast on (thanks, Nancy Bush, and thanks, clever Estonian knitters), thumbs moved to the sides, palm motifs altered to add an anchor (Jonathan builds boats), a dog and a cat (Jen charted nice ones, but I forgot to copy her charts and made up my own, so our dogs and cats are similar but not identical), shortened the back motif to accommodate my extra-large row gauge. Duplicate stitched red for the central hearts. Added a ribbed cuff liner for extra coziness and a better fit.

Wool: The natural white is an alpaca/wool blend from Imperial Stock Ranch; all else is Hifa 3 from my stash.

Betsymittens3 (1 of 1)

Betsymittens4 (1 of 1)

Betsymittens1 (1 of 1)

And now I’m going to take advantage of Baby Nap Time!!! and go prepare for a conference presentation. Would I rather be knitting more colorwork? What a silly question.

Sunday noon

Published on Sunday December 6th, 2009



This looks like the height of luxury, doesn’t it? But I think we’d earned it by singing for three hours in English, Latin, and Italian. I’ve managed a lot of knitting on my Pas de Valse cardigan during the 10am services (and other occasions impractical for lugging about a basket of yarn and accoutrements for stranded or intarsia colorwork).


I’m interested to see how this piece will look after blocking. It’s knit with a fingering-weight 2-ply Bluefaced Leicester wool on US #6 needles, which gives a rather pebbly stockinet fabric. I’m giving it entirely too much of my knitting time, but I’m so looking forward to having this airy, floaty cardigan ready for the very first spring weather.