Deco on camera

Published on Wednesday April 10th, 2013

And sadly, I really mean “on camera phone.” The logistics of a proper shoot for a deserving handknit aren’t really that staggering, but the alignment of husband-photographer + decent weather + compliant wee kiddos hasn’t really presented itself. And since I’d like to prove that I finished something for myself to wear before next autumn, out came the phone.


This is Kate Davies’s Deco, and I mostly love it. Neither of these photos reveals its chief flaw, which is that my hips are either not where I think they are or they aren’t shaped the way I imagine or both. And as a result I’ve got a hip-shaped pooch of fabric several inches above my actual hips. This is despite having lengthened the body of the cardigan by a couple of inches, anticipating that I have a long torso and wanting coverage to the tops of the jeans I usually wear. And it’s happened to me before… my much-loved-anyway Amanda cardigan has the same problem. What I should be doing for a cardigan this length, apparently, is either to cast on fewer stitches so I don’t have to decrease more than a couple of times to reach the narrowest circumference or to begin the decreases immediately and just space them farther apart. Lesson learned. (Maybe.) I could also use a couple of hook-and-eyes at the bust, but I’m waiting until my post-nursing days to see if that’s still necessary.

But I am in mad hot love with the design, this color, and the yarn itself, which I snatched up at the Madrona Retreat in 2012. It’s from a little shop in Port Gamble, Washington called The Artful Ewe. Heidi Dascher owns the shop and dyes on a number of lovely and unusual bases. Her batches are small… I think I bought all there was of this color, and as you can see by the shortened sleeves, I could have done with a sixth skein. Artful Ewe doesn’t have a web presence for sales, so you pretty much need to visit in person or find them at a show, but this is a base yarn called Argentina, a blend of Polwarth wool and silk. I could knit it every day for the rest of my life. And worked at the tight gauge Davies calls for in this pattern, it should wear very well.


Deco was done in time to wear to Madrona this year—I sewed the vintage glass buttons (from the awesome selection at Happy Knits) on the train to Tacoma—and has been in steady wardrobe rotation. (It’s surprising how many colors hot coral red goes with.) If I knit it again, I think I’ll do a standard button band with button holes. I won’t deny the flash of bright ribbon facing is fun, but sewing that sucker so that both sides came out even was a bear. I did one side three times to get the rib to match reasonably well without bunching in places, no matter how well I thought I’d pinned it. Elizabeth Zimmermann was opposed to ribbon facings on the grounds that they won’t stretch with the knit fabric, and although I can see a way to use this to one’s advantage—to stabilize the back of the neck and shoulders, for instance…my Blue Thistle could use a dose of this treatment—I think I stand with her (as on so many other points). And stitching on all those snaps as well as the buttons…it’s a good thing I had a hard deadline and a lot of motivation to finish for Madrona, or Deco might languish yet in the work basket, all but done.

For the hard-core knitter looking for details on the experience of working from this pattern, I’ll refer you to my Ravelry notes. I’m really happy with my defeat of the slipped-stitch rib’s tendency to row out, and I did encounter an oddity in the sleeve-cap shaping, both of which I discussed in my notes.

Hasty portraits

Published on Sunday March 18th, 2012

In the midst of another afternoon of work, laundry, nose-blowing, and tea-swigging, I noticed some pretty light in our bedroom. I threw on a skirt, bundled my scraggly hair into an arrangement that could sort of bear passing scrutiny from one angle, swept all the magazines off the top of the dog crate, prodded my husband out of bed, and thrust the camera at him. Because a gal’s got to take a chance to shoot a new sweater when she can. We didn’t even get to a pose that would show you the back before Mr. G had to croak his way through a business call and I had to pick up our daughter from school, so you won’t have seen the last of this cardigan, but for now… it’s something, anyway.

This is the Mitered Cardigan from Knit One Knit All, the new compilation of previously unpublished Elizabeth Zimmermann designs in garter stitch. The yarn is Fleece Artist Merino 2/6 in a grey that makes me think of gulls. It came accidentally to the knitting shop where I used to work and the owner let me have it at cost rather than paying to ship it back; it’s been resting in my stash ever since. It was lovely to knit and I’ve still got several skeins left to play with.

Like so many of the wild and wooly ideas born of EZ’s fertile brain, this cardigan is unique. One knits a long strip of garter stitch, turning corners according to the instructions, to construct a sort of cardigan frame. Then one fills in the torso and adds sleeves. It’s not for beginners, those who fear math, or those who shun gauge swatches. As experienced as a knitter as I am, and as careful as I thought my calculations were, my sweater wound up about two inches shorter than I’d expected because I didn’t take the time to make a swatch that really mirrored the construction of the sweater. If you want to make this yourself, I encourage you to first knit an actual mitered corner in garter stitch, pick up stitches along one interior edge of it, and then work stockinet back and forth, saddling those stitches to the vertical edge of the garter strip. Only by measuring the resulting compression of the garter stitch will you be able to get the fronts of your cardigan the length you want them. And it’s all or nothing with this sweater — there’s no way of employing your usual tricks to solve fit problems after the fact. You’ll pretty much have to rip the whole thing if you don’t get it right the first time, or at least be willing to chop it into pieces and graft them back together with fabric added or removed as necessary.

When I started knitting last summer, I had my own bright ideas about improving the fit that weren’t entirely well advised. I added too much waist shaping, for one. Well, I added my usual amount of waist shaping, but my gauge was tighter than what I’d swatched; the result was too snug a fit at the waist. And then I went and grew a pregnant tummy, so it will be six or seven more months before I’ll know whether I can actually button my cardigan all the way down. I also thought I’d get a little fancy with some extra fabric at the bust and then a pleat to gather it back in. The extra fabric was a good idea; I’m not crazy about the pleat, which isn’t really big enough to look like more than a pucker. I’ll do that differently next time. I love everything about the fit of the sleeves, though.

The sweater looks pretty much identical in all the pictures we took, so it wasn’t a very successful effort as a documentary of things knitted. (It also hasn’t been blocked. Oops. I promise the fabric will be smoother next time you see it.) But just after we staged this impromptu shoot, my friend Kristen began writing a series on the male gaze in knitwear photography, and from that perspective I find scrolling through our pictures rather intriguing. The post I’ve linked is about the spouse as photographer — apropos for me because hardly anyone else takes pictures of me. The top photograph is a view of myself I never see. But my husband must see it all the time as I’m concentrating on a set of complicated stitches, reading a book, working at the computer, interacting with our small child… I suspect I spend a great deal of my time gazing downward. Is my brow usually more furrowed? Do I look less tranquil? Very likely. The next snap is one I wouldn’t post unless I were thinking about what the camera captures, but it’s the girl I see in the mirror these days: two months of illness and two trimesters’ worth of weariness in the shadowed eyes, a weak smile that doesn’t reach beyond the lips. Her face isn’t even quite in focus, although the sweater is — truth inadvertently revealed by a fixed-length lens. This girl is spread thin and not living fully into herself. I’d like to see the back of her as soon as possible.

In the presence of a camera held my someone other than my husband, I imagine I’d have been artificially perky, more conscious of the self I was presenting, more eager to please the viewer.

This is the one I’d choose as the most flattering presentation of myself — letting the light make the best of my cheeks, my brow, my mouth, the downcast gaze hiding those ugly shadows and puffy lids and projecting poise and serenity too often absent in my life as a young mother. And then there’s this one, which is my favorite…

… because there’s more of me in it. It was taken before the two where I’m looking down but after the tighter, tireder shot. I’m about to say something tart to my husband, who’s just told me my belly looks distracting and I need to cover it with my hands and also put my shoulders back, which I’m going to do because he’s right even if he isn’t always tactful. The flare in my nostrils and the tightening of my lips and jaw rather spoil me as any sort of inviting picture of womanhood, but they’re true. And because my husband-photographer loves me in spite of my broad saucy streak, he gets to capture that.

And it’s probably not inappropriate to wear a saucy expression while modeling an Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater… I like to imagine that great lady could answer back with the best of them when the occasion required. No one who wasn’t a little bit flippant could have turned the knitting world on its head as she did. Mitered Cardigan being an accurate but unpoetic name, I’m calling mine Heart Elizabeth. Because I do. In sickness and in health.

Some women crave doughnuts…

Published on Sunday March 11th, 2012

… but I, apparently, just want a shot of pure color.

I went to the Madrona retreat last month with the goal of finding a non-Merino DK wool for Kate Davies’s Deco cardigan. Browsing the websites of vendors in advance, I cast my eye on Sweetgrass Wool’s Mountain Silk, a Targhee/silk blend that looked promising. I first gravitated to the lichen and straw shades — a bright leaf-colored cardigan would be just the thing for the season. But I found myself unable to ignore a warm pinky orange, which is not in my usual palette at all. I’m not even sure it’s a color I could wear, but I thought I’d check it out at the marketplace and make a decision there. Sadly, it turned out to be much more pink than orange, and I was surprised to find I really had my heart set on a hot orangey red. I actually walked clear ’round the market afterward thinking maybe I just wouldn’t buy anything this year. (Go ahead, laugh.) Then I saw them: loose hanging skeins of the most vivid coral red, a flash of scarlet peeping out from a forest of muted earth tones, like cardinals in the conifers. They were an order of magnitude brighter than anything I’d pictured adding to my stash or to my closet. They were a color my grandmother would have chosen. They were perfect. “They’re probably Merino,” I sighed to myself. They weren’t. They are Polwarth wool with a bit of silk, and home they came with me from the Artful Ewe booth. (I’d link their website, but there’s no yarn to be seen there. Visit if you find yourself in Port Gamble, Washington some weekend, though. I mean to.)  The Polwarth sheep is, to be fair, three-quarters Saxon Merino in its ancestry, but includes Lincoln genes to add stoutness and luster. This yarn, called Argentina, is soft and svelte and springy, but whispers of a sturdier character as you knit. Particularly at the tight gauge Kate dictates in this pattern, I expect it to wear very nicely.

My beginnings have grown far past the attractive slip-stitch hem you see here. Non-knitters may now tune out if they haven’t already: I’m about to get really geeky and technical. A note on working this stitch motif, if you’re thinking about making this cardigan yourself: I found I was having trouble with “rowing out” in my reverse stockinet stitches immediately left of the slipped columns. The strand behind the slipped stitch doesn’t provide enough tension on the first of the purl stitches to hold it in shape, so it loosens up and crowds its upstairs neighbor, and your knitting appears to divide itself into bands of two rows. This is a not a sweater I mean to wear to the dog park, if you know what I mean. I want it to look its absolute best so it can class up my wardrobe. So the rowing out was bugging me when I swatched. But I found I could solve it entirely by wrapping the yarn clockwise for the first of the purl stitches. This maneuver uses less yarn, so it winds up adding the necessary tension to even out that stitch. It also twists the mount of the stitch, so you must knit it through the back leg on the return row, but that’s no extra effort. The near cousin of this problem came to visit once I was out of the hem section; for the body of the cardigan the slipped column is flanked to the left by a knit stitch. You don’t see the bands as you do on the purl side; instead you get an uneven column of V’s BIGsmallBIGsmall up the work. It’s just as unsightly and detracts from the clean line of the slipped stitch. I’m not sure if the wrong-way wrap trick would solve it for a knit stitch — it might well — but it’s a more awkward maneuver for a thrower like me and would also involve purling through the back on the return row, which I don’t believe is anyone’s favorite. My solution is to slip and knit as usual on the front side of the work, but then on the purl side to lift the strand onto the left needle and work it together with the slipped stitch. There, now, that’s far more than you wanted to know. But maybe it will help some frustrated perfectionist out there…

I’m adding a wee bit of length to this cardigan because 12.5″ from hem to underarm sounds really, really short for my long torso, but I’m worried about running out of yarn, so I’m going to let it be a more cropped style than I usually wear. That’s an excuse to look for some cute, high-waisted, vintage dresses like the ones Kate seems to have in her closet, right? Oh, and apparently this poppy red is some kind of Color of the Year, which I totally didn’t know when I chose it. I feel so trendy in spite of myself.

Double indulgence

Published on Tuesday October 25th, 2011

I’m down with crud. And I don’t mean “down with” in the slang sense of being willing to do something or endorsing the idea of it. I mean “down with” as in “feebly prone on the sofa barely energetic enough to knit more often than not for the past nine days.” But I drafted what was supposed to be a quickie post two weeks ago, and you might as well have it until I can muster the vigor for something better! Stay healthy, everyone.

IdlewoodCocoa (2 of 2)

No, this isn’t a tiny espresso cup. It’s just a really big needle. The biggest I own, in fact. In my opinion, knitting with a #11 is a lot like eating a bowl of ice cream with a ladle. Yes, it goes quickly, but it’s terribly awkward and then it’s gone so soon. But I can’t get within a country mile of gauge for Idlewood on the recommended #10.

IdlewoodCocoa (1 of 2)

This yarn, though? Every bit as velvety delicious as the hot chocolate in my mug. Well worth the money even at Cascade’s new higher prices — at least that’s my opinion upon swatching it. I haven’t had a chance to test its durability yet, but the cabled construction of the buttery 70% merino – 30% baby alpaca blend ought to help it last. Eco Cloud only comes in undyed colors (this one is Otter), but there seems to be a new dyed version called Cloud available, too (not to be confused with Cascade’s Cloud 9… choosing such similar names seems a baffling decision from the Cascade marketing team, but then so is giving more prominent placement on one’s website to news of lawsuits against one’s rivals than to one’s own products, in my opinion).

Anyone care to lay odds on my not relinquishing this to Katrin at Christmas time?

Update: I felt like Goldilocks trying to find needles that would put me in the neighborhood of the right gauge, but it was accomplished at last and I’m off and running on that luscious big cowl. Still loving the yarn.