Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Seeing Red

Biked over to Queen's University this morning to cheer for the Yarn Harlot's team in the Friends for Life Bike Rally. The cyclists trickled in one by one or in small groups, wearing their signature red dresses. It felt a little like the end of the cross country races James used to compete in back in high school, with applause for the competitors as they reached the end of the course. I worked on my new waistcoat while I watched from the shade under a nearby tree. The local news media were there to catch the action.

 Shyness didn't seem to be a problem for this crowd.  

I hope this cyclist was wearing sunscreen, and I don't want to think about the pain involved in peeling off the tape.

At last, Stephanie and her team turned the corner and glided to a stop, looking surprisingly fresh.

Go Yarn Harlot, go knitpower!

Sunday, July 29, 2012


How long do you expect your knits to last? Some knitters love to make small projects for gifts and thus don't necessarily see how their knits are faring years after their creation. However, for knits that stay in the family, what steps can you take to ensure that they'll be worn and loved for many years to come? Here are some ideas:
1. Use good quality yarn. That doesn't always mean the softest yarn. Very softly spun yarns unfortunately often don't wear well.
2. I always keep some leftover yarn for repairs (see below). In fact, when making gloves or mitts, I try to keep enough extra to make a third in case one goes missing (alas, bitter experience has taught me this lesson).
3. Maintain the garment properly. That means using a lint shaver to clean up pills as needed (often frequently in the early days of wear), washing by hand and drying the garment flat. A garment that goes in the dryer won't look beautiful for long. I like to use Eucalan for washing, although sometimes I use a mild dish soap or shampoo, especially if I want to get rid of an excess of lanolin or a woolly smell. I use my old top-loading washing machine for soaking and spin drying only. Repair snags promptly, before they have time to get worse.
4. Store your clean knits in ziplock bags off season. I put a bar of Dr. Bronner's lavender soap in the bag with the knits. Avoid cramming knits into dark drawers where moths lurk.

Just how long will your knits last? If you're careful, they'll last for decades into the future. Isabel is still wearing an Icelandic yoke sweater I made for her 10 years ago. I made it large on purpose and she rolled up the sleeves as a petite 10-year-old. Now, as a petite 20-year-old she wears it stylishly close fitting. I might even be able to hand it down to the next generation, assuming there is one (with 20-somethings still living at home, that seems a stretch!).
Wouldn't it be nice if all our knits ended up like Elizabeth Zimmermann's aran sweater (worn in her "Knitting Workshop" series) with knitted heart patches on the elbows?

We've been watching the start of the Olympics. None of us is interested in the team sports; we have a preference for cycling, track and field, the triathlon...you get the picture. How wonderful that Simon Whitfield, a Kingston native who has won gold and silver medals in past Olympic triathlons, was chosen as the Canadian flagbearer. It's easy to see why this sport is so popular here.While out for my (exceedingly tame) evening cycle along the shore,

I only needed to look to my left to catch glimpses of activities on the water (this was in fact the site of the sailing competitions in the 1976 Games).

The alterations to the chunky tweedy jacket are done, and I'm 'sailing' up the body of the second Buttonbox waistcoat. And thinking about my upcoming trip to Lake Placid (yet another Olympic venue).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Backtracking (and Grumpy)

Ever since I cast off the tweedy, chunky, moss and cable jacket (called Murney for now, but that's only a placeholder name), I've been meaning to go back and remove the short rows I put in at the base of the cowl neck. The problem is, I knew all along that it wasn't going to be fun because it would involve:
1. removing at least 2 buttons and their woven-in ends,
2. undoing the I-cord (with its woven-in ends) from one side and all around the neck,
3. ripping back to the shoulders, and
4. figuring out where in all the short rows and wraps I was.
And, oh yeah,
5. Re-doing the cowl neck with cables, the I-cord, and the buttons.
I've been procrastinating, until this morning when I found myself sort of between projects. With the latest "Buttonbox" frogged and yarn for the new version not yet here, I resolved to get on with it. So, I tackled it after breakfast.
First, here's a view of the neck with the short rows making a kind of back-of-the-neck bump. Good if there wasn't going to be a cowl neck, not so good with one in place.

I made lots of raspberry-coloured spaghetti.

Luckily, I bought this yarn on sale (for about $3 per ball) and have lots of extra yardage, so I didn't even bother to wash and re-block the frogged yarn.
BTW, Kathmandu is my favourite chunky, tweedy yarn, a blend of merino, cashmere, and silk (not superwash!) with terrific yardage. It's being discontinued and is currently on sale (though not as low as $3) at WEBS. I ordered a couple of bags yesterday before it disappears.
I picked up all the live stitches I could find and looked at everything carefully to sort out where I was in the shoulder shaping. I worked a couple of rows. There were some strange holes-- I'd forgotten to do some wraps. After some more frogging and re-knitting everything seemed to be proceeding fairly smoothly. My mood was definitely getting better.

After lunch, I walked the couple of blocks to the post office and picked up something that's going to keep me going until I get this job done.

BT's Shelter in "Almanac". It's calling to me, but I'll be good. Work before play, right?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I knew it was a gamble...

When I cast on for a second "Buttonbox" in Madelinetosh DK, I knew I was taking a risk. I'm always leery of superwash-treated wools, because of the way they don't behave nicely when wet, lose body and crispness, and generally don't have the properties that make me love wool. (It's why so many designers, like Jared Flood, Jo Sharp, and Veronik Avery have chosen not to sell superwash wool). I knew all this when I cast on, but I was in love with the colour, mesmerized by the jewel-like blues and greens. Remember, I'd had a good experience not that long ago with Lanett, a supposedly superwash-treated merino when I made this.

So, I launched in and resolved that before I got too far I'd put everything on a length of waste yarn, wet it, and lay it out to see how it behaved. Well, I did that last night, and guess what? Disaster, of course, meaning a vest of elephantine proportions. Why didn't I test knit a small swatch? Impatience to get on with it, I suppose. Why don't I ever learn? Does anyone want a few skeins of Madelinetosh DK in "worn denim"?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Midsummer Colour

I know that technically "midsummer" refers to the solstice in June, but now is when the season actually feels like the middle of summer. We're having one of those perfect days--temperature in the mid-70sF (mid-20sC), low humidity, sunshine. In other words, apart from the drought, which seems to be widespread, beautiful. While my new waistcoat is drying in the warm sunshine (yes, I'm ready to reveal that the DSK project has turned into a waistcoat), I'm already casting on for two more of the same. The first in a rich damson purple for Isabel,

Cascade 220 in colour # 8885.

and the second in some Madelinetosh I picked up at the Knitters' Frolic in Toronto last spring.

Madelinetosh DK in "worn denim".
The waistcoat is super easy, with a charted pattern that involves nothing more than plain knitting for 5 of its 8 rows. There's some interesting waist shaping, a bit of nice textural detail on the pockets and on the back between the shoulders, and a lovely, feminine shawl collar. Photos soon, I promise.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Of Buttons and Buttonholes

On Saturday I'm off to the Thousand Islands Art Center in Clayton, New York to take an all-day workshop with Carolyn Barnett on the art of making buttons with polymer clay. Carolyn lives here in Kingston and she's giving me a drive. Check out her amazing buttons (and sweaters) here.
The reason I haven't explored making these buttons before is that I've always tried to find buttons made from "natural" materials, like wood, shell, deer antler, pewter,... However, even though I try to pick up nice buttons whenever I find them (often at sheep and wool festivals), it can be hard to find just the right buttons for a project. That's why I want to learn more about making customized buttons.
And on the topic of buttons, the DSK project is now complete, except for them, but you'll have to wait a few more days for photos while I see what I can come up with at the workshop. In the meantime, here's how to make an easy buttonhole--it's the method I used for the project and I love the result.

Knit to 2 sts before where you want the buttonhole, k2tog, YO, k2tog. On the return row, k1, p1 into the YO. That's it! How did I miss this until now?

For modified instructions to insert this into k2, p2 ribbing, see here

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Just about everyone benefits from a bit of waist shaping. Even if you don't actually have a noticeable waist, and perhaps ESPECIALLY if you don't have one, you'll generally look better if your garment has at least some hint of a waist. From the design standpoint, that's where it gets interesting, because there are so many ways of achieving torso shaping. Here are some of the ways I've used.
The simplest method of all is to add some ribbing, which is what I've done in my most recent design (not written up yet, or posted to Ravelry).
A variation of this, which I haven't yet used, is to use cables at the waist to draw everything in, a method even more effective than mere ribbing, since the latter inevitably has a tendency to stretch out over time.
Waist shaping can be subtle, meant to hide discreetly, without interruption of a colour pattern, as in Trellis.

You have no idea how much time I spent figuring out how to place the shaping so that it wouldn't interrupt the fair isle designs in any noticeable way. At times like that, I definitely feel the inadequacy of my brain!
Shaping can also hide discreetly at the side seams in plain old stocking stitch as in Valentine, my first published design.


There's no rule that shaping has to occur on the right side of the work. In my Downton jacket, I wanted to have a purled seamline on the right side, so I used double decreases worked in a line of knit stitches on the wrong side (except in the sleeves which were worked in the round and forced me to learn about the purled double decrease!)

In Wakefield, the waist shaping occurs discreetly, but in four points in the front and back, not at the sides. In Aran designs it's easy to work shaping into the background stitches surrounding cable work.

See how the panels get narrower as they move up the body?
Finally, shaping can occur right in your face as a design feature. That's what I'm working on now in my DSK project, but I'm not ready to show it off.
BTW, I only noticed yesterday, after reading some other blogs (Natalie Servant's and the Yarn Harlot's) that I'm working on this at the same time as other spinners are participating in the Tour de Fleece. Good timing, even if accidental!
The last point I want to make has to do with where to place the shaping; this is of particular interest to anyone whose height (or lack thereof) means that they might have to alter the length of a garment. Waist shaping generally looks best when it's centred slightly ABOVE your natural waist.

Hence, the reason slightly high-waisted sweaters, like Brookline, look so attractive on a variety of figures, both young and old(er).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Under Attack

It's been two hundred years since we were attacked by the Americans in the War of 1812, the war which our Conservative government has decided was a defining moment for our country. To celebrate the anniversary of the war (can one really "celebrate" such a thing?) the flight of the Royal George was re-enacted on Canada Day (July 1) on our doorstep.

The British navy fires its cannons.
The Americans fire back.
Time out while the Wolfe Island ferry passes between the ships.
The Americans fire on Fort Henry. (This never actually happened, but why waste a good opportunity?)
All in all, a fun day. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera earlier in the day when I happened on a couple decked out in Regency dress. The woman's delightful white muslin gown and straw bonnet were fetching. I think I was envious.
Moving the time clock along to the 1840s, I biked over to Bellevue House, the home of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister, for my annual Canada Day visit, made more enjoyable this year by the fact that our son, James, is working there for the summer. I adore this place, with its peaceful setting, tall trees, cool breezes off the lake, and romantic Italian villa-style architecture.

The house, decked out with bunting.
The gardens.

A red oak, dated to 1815.
What a lovely place to spend the summer and get paid for doing it!
P.S. I've begun the knitting part of my DSK project, even though there's more spinning to do. See?

Hard to describe the pleasure of working with pure BFL spun by one's own hands.