Three and One

Published on Tuesday January 19th, 2010

When my mother asked for a new sweater to replace one she’d lost, this wasn’t what either of us imagined. The sweater that went missing was a patchwork of pictorial intarsia and textural panels in earthy colors. I wasn’t going to try to recreate that, but it was difficult to work out an alternative that suited my vision and my mother’s. She’d mention a feature of one or another of my sweaters that she liked, but bringing them together was a challenge. So I did what any sensible knitter would do: I spread out my Elizabeth Zimmermann library and together we pored over the many wonderful designs involving colorwork. Three & One caught her fancy, and I could see ways to add the waist shaping and shawl collar Mum had requested, so we were off to the races. We chose the yarn: Cascade Eco Wool for the base and Cascade Rustic for the accent colors. Ten months later, the sweater is finished.


At some point (well into the knitting, mind you) it occurred to me that I was trying to make a fitted cardigan by stranding a bulky wool with an Aran-weight wool/linen blend. How was this sweater not going to be Michelin-Man bulky and far too warm? But my parents are active folk; when they are not working on their new house they are usually to be found outside doing all the chores that come with living in the woods. And the chilly damp of the Pacific Northwest guarantees this sweater can stand in for a jacket in fall and spring as well as winter.

I thought I’d give it a test run yesterday just to make sure. I had a little vacation in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the weather was unexpectedly fair, so we took the dog for a special outing to the Sandy River delta, where she can run full tilt for as long as her mighty heart and skinny legs desire (which is a very long time… owners of other energetic dogs always thank us for bringing “the rabbit”). There is often strong wind at the delta, and yesterday was no exception. My fingers were quickly raw and I wished I’d worn a warmer hat, but the Three & One was perfectly cozy. (It was even cozier after the walk when we retired to Bakery Bar for coffee and fried egg sandwiches on homemade biscuits. The day was warm enough for sitting outside in the sun, and there was no wind in town.)



It wasn’t until I saw these photos that I realized all was not quite right. Look again… I’ll bet you can spot it, if you haven’t already.


Yeah. I don’t know how I did it, but I sewed all the buttons on half an inch low, and as a result the pattern doesn’t match up across the fronts. I’m sure Mum would wear the sweater and love it anyway, the way Dad wears his gansey with the too-tight hem (my first bout with the tubular cast on wasn’t a resounding victory), but this is not something I can live with. Snip, snip, snip. Off came the buttons and their backing buttons, and up they all moved. Problem solved.


Knavish knitting

Published on Tuesday October 27th, 2009

Three pricks to the conscience in twenty-four hours can’t be ignored. First an off-hand comment from my husband: “Gosh, sweetie, you haven’t updated your blog in a while.” Then a heartfelt note of admiration from a reader on the other side of the world, of which I hardly felt worthy. And finally a call from my father, who checks Blue Garter almost every day for news of his eldest and was beginning to be concerned that I might be sick or sunk in a blue mood.

The truth is I’m just fine. I started a miscellaneous post and lost interest in it before it was done. The post I was excited to write a week ago was about something old-but-new I was trying with my mother’s Three and One sweater. This sweater is in Aran-weight wool, and I was concerned about the bulk of a regular steeked edge at the neckline and armholes. Then I read about Norwegian pseudo-steeks: cutting open your knitting with no steek allowance stitches added in. And there’s this brilliant method of picking up stitches with a larger needle, working a couple of rounds, then going back with a smaller needle, picking up the backs of the stitch heads from the inside and working a couple of rounds on those stitches, then joining the two lines to wrap the cut edge, tidily sealing it up for good and leaving a beautiful finished edge. Of course now I can’t remember where I read about that last part—someone’s going to remind me in the Comments and then I’ll add an update, which is what’s tops about the internet—but I was preparing a nice little photo tutorial for you as I went along.

Then it all went awry. The knitting turned on me, friends.

It turns out that one line of machine-sewn stitches, even if they’re teensy, is not enough to secure a steek edge if you’re not using fine and sticky yarn. I picked up as described and encased my steek edge, but I knew I couldn’t trust it… It looked pretty but felt dodgy, like Mr. Wickham. And when I gingerly gave it a few experimental tugs, the cut floats started to work free. No good. It pains me to imagine my mother’s distress if she were to wear her sweater and the sleeves started to come loose and unravel. I had a few panicky moments where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to salvage the top half of the sweater at all. But I carefully pulled out my work and skedaddled back to my trusty sewing machine. I went over the first line again from the back side, tucking in those wayward float ends. Then I sewed a second line beside it.

Now I had an edge that felt really sturdy, and it naturally wanted to fold to the inside, docile and waiting politely to be tacked down with overcast stitches. So I didn’t fight it. I picked up stitches around the armhole in the usual way and proceeded with my sleeve. Ah well. At least the sweater is saved and still on track to be done for Christmas.

Yes, it’s time to be thinking seriously about holiday gift knitting. I’m not sure quite what became of October, but it’s nearly gone. So Katrin and I finally made a decision about this year’s KAL/exchange. We each had stash yarn that would work for Eunny Jang’s Ivy League Vest, so that’s what we picked. I couldn’t resist casting on right away, and I’m already into the first large band. We both wanted to lengthen the torso of this cropped design, so I’ve started with a size larger than Katrin needs to accommodate shaping over the hips, and I’ll just keep decreasing until I’m down to the correct stitch count for her waist size. I love the browns, teals, and bright pop of new-leaf green she’s chosen.

This pattern means steeks again, though. I’m going to be well practiced indeed, working the Three and One and the Ivy League at once! Anyone need any knitting cut open? I’ll be your girl. Those steeks won’t get the better of me again.

Looking up

Published on Wednesday April 22nd, 2009

It feels like a long time since there’s been a finished piece of knitting to show off here, and I’m afraid today is not the day we’re breaking the pattern. The Emily sweater has been warmly received in New York, and I’ve made my brother swear to photograph his lovely wife attired in it for the blog, but they are busy people and I don’t know when I’ll see these pictures. I’ve been cruising on some other projects that haven’t gotten much exposure here yet, though. Let’s look at the Three and One progress, shall we?

This one continues to be easy to knit without much concentration, so during last night’s Portland v. Houston basketball throw-down I finished the 3×1 ribbed waist and went back up to my size 8 needles to continue up the torso. Shaping accomplished, I hope. I also thought to sprinkle in a dash of color during the ribs; I started to wonder if it would look funny to have a big expanse of neutral in the middle if Mum wanted to wear it without a belt, and then it occurred to me that I might as well just knit in the appearance of a belt and maybe skip the belt knitting altogether. The fifth-color red is going to appear at the shoulder and sleeve joins and possibly in the button bands but not in the main motifs, so I thought it might balance the whole garment a bit to use it at the waist. My mother doesn’t need it, but I deployed the strong red and the brown at the natural waist also for a slimming effect. (This works in my head, anyway—we’ll see about real life later on.)

Alas, beyond the chair in this picture you can just glimpse the season’s first garden carnage. Oh, fie. Oh, spite. This is not what I needed to discover on a day that has already been tedious and trying. Here you may spy the culprit who has thoroughly trampled and beheaded every one of my tulips just before they were ready to bloom:

This did not happen on my watch. Regrettably, other members of the family think it is “cute” when the dog gambols through the flower beds snapping at invisible flying insects. Said members felt my wrath when this was allowed to happen last year and seem to have totally forgotten the experience. Surely it is only fair if those who choose not to monitor and contain the canine exuberance are assigned procurement duties for fencing materials? Unless they would rather we paved the back yard and had nothing growing at all?

Meanwhile, I shall take a deep breath and look up.

Sing joyfully*

Published on Monday April 13th, 2009

For Easter has arrived and with it a respite from the Holy Week choral marathon! After singing five services in four days and being stuffed with Easter dinner at the in-laws’, I was good for very little last evening. Rain was coming down in torrents, so it was time to get cozy indoors. I swapped my lacy tights and heels for a comfy pair of handknit wool socks and my dressy Easter clothes for yoga pants and a sweatshirt, pulled my favorite Welsh wool blanket (a wedding present from my cousins in Maine) out of the bureau drawer and snuggled up on the couch with my cat, some knitting, and the third season of All Creatures Great and Small. I thought about working on this:

But it requires too much brain power. That’s the beginning of my Cocoon-Stitch Half-Circle shawl in the Toots LeBlanc angora/merino, and I’m pleased as punch with how it looks and how it feels… softer and deliciously softer as the yarn passes through my fingers and the angora halo blooms. But the pattern is written out line by line and I haven’t memorized what happens between the “cocoons” and the increases yet.

So I picked up my newest project: the Three in One cardigan for my mother, which I cast on Wednesday (which feels like a month ago) at the Close Knit knitting night. I put on my 184 stitches and got started, then remembered I was planning to work continuous garter-stitch hem/button bands with mitered corners for a nice, finished look after I steek… a nice, finished look that was going to require the forethought of a provisional cast-on. Oops. Tracy lent me her crochet hook and reminded me how easy it is to do a provisional cast-on using the hook to draw loops over your needle. I am the world’s clumsiest person with a crochet hook. (As Tracy tactfully put it, “Hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone carry the yarn in the right hand for crochet.”) I can steam away with two needles at lace, cables, travelling stitches, short rows, you name it… but Galapagos finches can manipulate their insect-extracting twigs with considerably more dexterity than I can muster in wielding a crochet hook. But after a while I developed a sort of left-handed throw that was more or less efficient, and the advantage of the crochet-hook method is that I think I’ll be able to remember how to do it next time, whereas I always have to look up video tutorials of the methods I’ve tried before.

The Three and One turns out to be blissfully brainless colorwork, premium for watching Little Dorrit on Masterpiece Theatre. (I haven’t read this particular Dickens and it’s seriously stretching my attention to figure out what is going on with the truly creepy French guy and some of the other murky fringe characters who are obviously tied into the Dorrits’ and Clenhams’ murky history in some murky, confusing way. I think murky may in fact be the definitive adjective for a Dickens plot. But boy am I looking forward to the romantic payoff when Amy and Arthur finally get together. End tangent.) I’m doing the “Pheasant’s Plumage” version with the purl stitches. The major design dilemma is this: Mom wants some waist shaping. I can’t add it by decreasing without disrupting the three-and-one pattern. (Well, I could–there’s an occasional single-color plain round that would allow for subtracting multiples of four invisibly–but the vertical alignment of the motifs would be thrown off OR, if I bunched the decreases, I’d have potentially unflattering stair-steps at the side “seam.”) If it were for me, I’d throw in an extra design element: a band of about 4″ of ribbing to draw the sweater in at the natural waist in the oatmealy background color. This would echo the shawl collar I’m already planning to add (Mum and I both have slender necks that make the rest of us cold if left exposed) and the ribbed cuffs and might, with the addition of a tie-on belt using some of the contrast colors, give the sweater kind of a rad Starsky and Hutch vibe. But I don’t think my mother owns any belted cardigans, and if the belt of her bathrobe is anything to judge by, I might just be knitting puppy bait. Because apparently

fabric belt : Labrador


thumb : toddler


Coors Light : my brother-in-law.

All’s just right with the world when the two meet at the lips, you know? And also I’m fairly sure my mother has never seen Starsky and Hutch, original or remake.

So I’m delaying the decision until I can put the question to Mum, and meanwhile I’m angling in for some subtle shaping by going down a needle size now that I’m about 3″ in. (Mum, if you read this post before I see you next weekend, leave your preference in the Comments, okay?) Any advice for me, wise readers? Solutions I haven’t thought of? What do you like to do with colorwork patterns and decreases?

*Post title courtesy of William Byrd’s delightful but tricky setting of this psalm:

Sing joyfully to God our strength; sing loud unto the God of Jacob!
Take the song, bring forth the timbrel, the pleasant harp, and the viol.
Blow the trumpet in the new moon, even in the time appointed, and at our feast day.
For this is a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

I like the bit with the trumpet and the new moon.