Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL Day 1: Preliminaries

Hello from my front doorstep. I'm here because the light is reasonably good for closeups. Here's what I can see.
Young woman in 1840s dress accompanying the "In the Steps of Sir John A." tour (for my non-Canadian readers, Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada's first prime minister).

The house across the street seen from my arched front doorway.
Purple fountain grass in the pot beside me on the steps.
Really, I'd love to have a front porch, but our house is designated as a heritage property because of its architectural significance, so we're not allowed to mess with it (right down to the original windows). Still, the steps are not a bad place to sit and knit.
Today's post is mostly about stuff to do before you start knitting, and only a little bit about actually knitting.

Yarn selection
Start by reading my post about yarn options for this project. There are a couple of important things to consider that will impact how you proceed. First, is your yarn superwash? Second, have you chosen a hand- or kettle-dyed yarn as opposed to a solid colour one? With regard to the first issue, I hope you've chosen a non-superwash yarn because not only will your jacket be warmer, but also your end result is more likely to end up being the intended size. Many, but not all, superwash yarns grow tremendously when wet, which forces you to throw them in the dryer for a bit to bring them back to size before they finish drying flat on a towel. The end result can be unpredictable, the final fabric is often limp and without body (OK for a shawl, not OK for a jacket), and it's hard to shape corners and edges as nicely as you can with a non-superwash yarn. The only superwash yarn I've had good results with is Lanett Babyull; for some reason it doesn't behave like most other superwash wools I've tried. If you've fallen in love with some superwash, do yourself a favour and knit a largish swatch, wet it thoroughly, then squeeze it out, and dry it flat before you start the main project. If this is your first time knitting a sweater, do yourself an even bigger favour and go with a non-superwash wool. You will have removed a major risk factor from the entire endeavour.
If you've chosen a yarn with colour variation, such as the Briar Rose Sonoma that I'm using, you'll need to plan ahead for using more than one skein at a time to avoid colour pooling and demarcation lines between skeins. More about that below.

Winding skeins
If your wool is in balls (like the Elann Peruvian Highland Chunky I used for the pattern photos), then all you need do is find the yarn end in the centre of the ball and start knitting. If your wool is in skeins, then you need to make your own centre-pull balls. Why centre-pull? The answer, of course, is so that your ball won't go rolling all over the place while you're working from it. I'm always surprised at the number of knitters who work outside-in rather than inside-out. Give it a try, if you've never experienced the difference.
How do you wind a centre-pull ball? You can do it quickly with a wool winder, or you can do it by hand. Here's how:

Start by opening the hank and, if you don't have a swift or a friendly family member, spread it around the back of a chair. Begin by winding it around your fingers, with 4 to 6 inches dangling at the bottom (see above). After a while, switch to winding the wool horizontally around the strands in your hand, inserting your thumb while doing so (to keep things loose) and leaving the end dangling down through your palm. Never wind tightly. Leave the wool in its naturally elastic state.

Continue to wind around and around, angling the strands as you rotate the growing ball. The end is still hanging down at the bottom of the photo.

Soon you'll have a ball like this.

The original handful, with its loose end is now sticking out of the top. Just pull on the end and away you go. No yarn bowl necessary! The other advantage of a centre-pull ball becomes obvious; when wound this way, you can easily see where the colour changes are headed.

As stated in the pattern, I simply used the first few inches of the sleeve as a swatch. Since you'll be knitting much of the jacket in the round, this makes a lot of sense. Turns out, I was wrong in my intial guess at needle size. I thought I'd need to use a US #8 / 5 mm to get the correct gauge with Sonoma. I ended up frogging my cuff and starting over with the next size up. If this happens to you, don't be put off by having to re-start. It's worth it!

Casting on
My patterns always specify which type of cast on to use. The one used here, and the most useful to know, is the longtail cast on. It's tidy, but flexible. If you don't know how to do it, go here.

Knots are naughty; learn how to start without one.
Cast on the required number of stitches with one dpn,

then divide the stitches onto three dpns. Note how I stick the end of the first needle into the skein of wool to anchor it while I get ready to transfer stitches to the second needle.

Join into a round, without twisting. This is the finicky part. To make garter stitch in the round, you will purl one round, then knit one round, over and over. A lot of knitters find it awkward to start working in purl on a dpn. Here's what I do. I like to hold my dpns underhand, as you would hold a pencil. Check out the position of my right hand. There are many ways to hold your needles, and no one method is correct; I'm just showing you what works for me.

I start by inserting the working needle in my right hand ABOVE the previously worked needle. I hope you can see how I'm doing this. This allows me to snug the last stitch on the old right-hand needle up to the first stitch on the new right-hand needle. 

For the joining round, I work the first purl stitch with both the working strand and the strand from the casting on. After I complete that first stitch, I take the cast-on end behind the needle and down through the centre of the triangle of needles. I give it a little tug to make the join firm, then I continue on with my purling with the working end of yarn. When I get to this "double" stitch on the second round, I make sure to knit it as one stitch, not two.

Considerations for hand-dyed yarns
You will need a plan to avoid colour pooling and demarcations between skeins. I started with three HUGE skeins of Sonoma. I want to work the first three rounds (purl, knit, purl) from the first skein, then switch to knitting one round and purling one round from a second skein. Remember, it takes two rounds to make one garter stitch ridge. I'll alternate, switching from the first skein to the second every two rounds for the entire sleeve. When it comes time to increase for the bodice, I'll probably use skeins number two and three. To make all of this easier, I've wound my three skeins into 6 less bulky balls, and labelled them 1A, 1B, etc.

I used my kitchen scale to help in sizing the balls evenly. (OK, it's really my wool room scale; I hardly ever weigh anything in the kitchen).

I start to work the cuff, changing skeins as planned, and always bringing the new yarn up from underneath the old at the changes. It makes a little line up the inside of the cuff like this.

And if all of this seems overwhelming...
There's an easier way. If you don't feel up to working the cuff in the round, then by all means work it flat--just be sure to slip the first stitch KNITWISE on every row AND leave an end about 24" long to do the "seaming". You'll end up with a neat little line of bumps at each edge. Before you start the first row of the sleeve above the cuff on dpns, thread that long yarn end onto a blunt needle and go through those bumps from bottom to top, alternating from one side of the cuff to the other. The bumps will magically interlock. I hesitate to call it sewing, it is so effortless.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What Would Beatrice Wear?

Recently, I've become hooked on watching episodes of "The House of Eliott, an early 90s BBC TV series about 2 sisters who set up a fashion house in 1920s London. Where was I when this came out? How did I miss it? (OK, I was in Washington, DC managing an infant and a toddler in a foreign country with no support network while Bill was travelling the globe.) This 3-season series shows the BBC costume people doing their very best. The hats! The coats! I guess I identify with the elder sister, Beatrice, because she is more mature (she is supposed to be 12 years older than Evie.) She so often appears in adventurous outfits (as in when she tailors her deceased father's clothes to fit herself) that somehow retain an elegant, restrained style.

         That's Beatrice on the left, in all photos.  



Even in her "work uniform", she always looks beautiful and the essence of good taste. 

So, in the process of thinking this week about what to make next, I've found myself asking, "What would Beatrice wear?"

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Gas (or Is That a Garlic?) Emergency

The renovation next door continues. Temporarily, our two basements are not as well sealed off as they eventually will be, so some noises and cooking smells pass through. Last week, I decided to make a lentil salad. This involved cooking up a quantity of lentils along with quite a bit of garlic. While the onions, lentils, and garlic cooled, I went out to take care of a few errands. Maybe the garlic scent transformed itself into something more sinister on its passage through the basement wall, but somehow, the workmen next door thought they smelled a gas leak!!! They called the gas company, which in short order sent out someone to take readings. Surprise--no gas. What they should have had was a garlic-o-meter. Consider it revenge (unplanned) for the shattered artwork.
While I'm waiting to begin the Harriet's Jacket KAL next week, I'm working on some proofreading of a pattern for an upcoming fall issue of an online magazine and auditioning some yarns for a version of Zora for myself. I found these at my LYS yesterday and brought home one ball of each to play with.

Sublime's Cashmere Merino Silk Aran
Grignasco's Loden

I'm told that Grignasco is going out of business, so there won't be any more of this lovely stuff--as if I need an excuse to stock up. I knitted up a little swatch before breakfast this morning, gave it a dunk in a bowl of water, and laid it by the front window to dry.

You're right if you think that this doesn't have the "swirliness" of the Zora double wave cables. In the process of switching from one yarn to the other, I forgot to work the two straight rows in the middle of the piece, thus ending up with a diamond rather than an oval. I think I'm going to go with the tweedy look. The Grignasco has better yardage too. What do you think?
We're in high summer mode here in Kingston with a slew of perfect low humidity days in the mid-20s C (mid-70s F). The grape vines in our garden are producing like crazy,

the downtown is swamped with tourists,

 the boatslips are full,

and the gardens are in full bloom.

Looks like it's going to be a great weekend, barring further gas garlic emergencies. 
P.S. Would I be an evil person if I decided to make curry tonight?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Harriet's Jacket KAL

Today I'm announcing a Knit Along for Harriet's Jacket, beginning on August 1. This should give interested knitters time to gather their materials, read the pattern, etc. before the action begins. I'll be using Briar Rose Fibers Sonoma, and Chris, the dyer, will be sending out information about the KAL in her newsletter. I ran into her at Rhinebeck last October and fell in love with her yarns right away.

You can use the same yarn or other yarn of your choosing. The KAL will work this way: I'll post photos and instructions for Harriet's Jacket as I knit (yet another) one for myself. There'll be lots of photos and details as I go. We'll use the comments section of this blog for questions, answers, remarks, etc. I hope followers will post photos of their work-in-progress to the projects section of Ravelry. Here's some inspiration.

Version in Elann's Peruvian Highland Chunky in garnet.

Peruvian Highland Chunky in tranquil lagoon.

Sonoma in # 12370
Peace Fleece in Siberian Midnight.
Don't forget to think about buttons--they're so important to the final look! Briar Rose Fibers has some lovely ones.
P.S. For Canadian readers: Briar Rose will ship to Canada, but you will need to write or call to make arrangements; the online form won't accept international orders.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Graft Underarms

Lots of seamless sweater styles leave you with unsightly underarm gaps to close. There is more than one way to do this, but the best method I've come across is the one presented in Jacqueline Fee's "Sweater Workshop". It's so efficient that almost no gaps are left over to snug up. You'll need these tools.

Scissors, and both a blunt and a sharp needle.
So, here's what I started with.

What you see is the sleeve at the bottom and the upper body at the top, with 10 sts on waste yarn at each side of the opening, or perhaps I should call it "the wound", since this feels a bit like plastic surgery for sweaters.

Step 1: Get all the stitches onto 2 dpns.

Step Two: This is the really crucial step, the one that makes all the difference. At the end of each dpn, slide the needle tip into the next stitch in the row (it will be part of the knitted stitches). Make sure that you slide the tip into the part of the knitted stitch that will maintain the same stitch orientation as all the others. 

It's pretty straightforward to do this on the left-hand end of the needle, but be careful when you pick up the stitch at the right-hand end--you'll have to skip over the left side of the stitch and pick up the right side to maintain orientation. See?

Now I have 12 stitches on each needle. 

Step 3: Using a completely new length of yarn (this is where I differ from Ms. Fee) on a tapestry needle, bring one end up through the first stitch on the top dpn as if to knit.

Step 4: Now everything is in place to do your usual grafting routine. You know, "front needle: knit off, purl through; back needle: purl off, knit through", etc. I'm sure you have your own little mantra.

Step 5: When you have only one stitch left on each needle, slip the yarn through the front stitch as if to knit and take it off the needle, then slip the yarn through the back stitch as if to purl and take it off.

Step 6: Working from the centre out, adjust the tension of the grafted stitches to make them blend in perfectly. I still need to do a little more work here.

Step 7: Take the ends through to the back and gently run them around the very slight remaining opening to snug it up.

Step 8: Using the sharp needle, weave the ends into the sweater on a diagonal, splitting the stitches with the sharp tip so that you catch only part of each stitch, and making sure to go in two different directions before snipping off the end carefully.
Addendum dated August, 2019: There are times when grafting underarms isn't the best closure technique, specifically when a pattern stitch is involved. See here for my solution to that problem.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Finishing Details, Part 2: Around I Go

I love finishing--not the tedious blocking with pins, sewing up sort of finishing (although I appreciate that there are plenty of knitters who are into that sort of thing), but the coming together of an organic, one-piece design. So, yesterday I couldn't resist taking photos of the winding up of my horseshoe cable/saddle shoulder jacket. A good chunk of the afternoon was devoted to working I-cord all the way around the front opening and neck, incorporating some nice invisible buttonholes.

The corners of the asymmetrical neck closure suddenly have a neat, finished look to them.

Before wet-blocking, I laid the jacket out on the sofa to get an overall impression of how the finished measurements worked out.

This morning I wove in a couple of stray ends, then gave the whole thing a soaking and a spinning in the washer with some Eucalan before laying it flat to dry in the library. Ta da! The measurements are PERFECTLY ON TARGET.

No buttons, you ask? That's because I had to ask my LYS owner to order a ninth button for me, and I don't want to risk sewing on the eight I already have until I'm sure I can get the ninth. Next time: a tutorial in grafting underarms. See you then. Stay cool.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Finishing Details

I'm in the process of finishing up my horseshoe cable jacket. The pocket stitches are back onto dpns preparatory to binding off.

The really nice thing about this sort of built-in double knitted pocket is that there aren't any yarn ends to weave in or holes at top corners to snug up. See how tidy the back is even before finishing?

I've marked where I want the buttonholes to be so that when I work the I-cord edging, the buttonholes will be built-in too. The beauty of working buttonholes at the end is that you don't have to decide where to place them until after you've tried on the jacket. Turns out I'll need nine! Rather an unusual number, but there it is. These are the buttons I've chosen.

They're a larger version of the ones I used for Zora. Apart from their loveliness, their weight, or lack thereof, was a major factor in the decision. Nine buttons might really weigh down the front border, but these ones are hollow and light as a feather. Worth every penny.
While I had my camera out, I took this shot of the saddle shoulder.

What you see is the arm at the bottom and a bird's eye view of the the shoulder with the neck at the top. This smooth joining is all accomplished with a neat perpendicular join. No sewing required! 
Finally, the yarn I used for this,'s Peruvian Highland Chunky, is a softly spun, non-superwash 2-ply, which unfortunately comes in small 50g balls. To avoid having to spend an eternity weaving in ends, I spit-spliced as much as possible. 

This dimly-lit shot shows the ends in place on my knee just before being felted together through the action of moisture (saliva) and friction (rubbing between my palms). Note how the ends are torn, not cut, to make the end result as smooth as possible. Nothing like adding a bit of one's DNA to the project!