Friday, January 27, 2017

Through Thick and Thin: Spinning a Good Yarn

Last week I spent a couple of days spinning. It's the only activity I know that is more Zen than knitting. When you really, really want to go into that deep meditative zone, nothing works like spinning, either with a spindle or a wheel. I was using my wheel because I wanted to get a lot done in a short time, and also because I wanted my yarn to be "woollen spun". For non-spinners out there, that means I wanted the twist to enter the wool DURING the drafting process, not after, as happens when yarn is "worsted spun". Although I was using combed top (plain vanilla Corriedale, to be precise), I used the long draw method to draft and spin, resulting in an airy, squishy wool. And because I wanted the effect of a thick and thin yarn, I worked a bit to achieve that result. Yes, that's right, I had to work to produce a thick and thin wool. The thing is, when you are a novice spinner, your aim is to make everything as even as possible. Once you've accomplished that goal, it's actually hard to let go and simply allow the spinning to happen a bit more haphazardly. If you can manage to do that, it's incredibly liberating. Here's what I ended up with:

The wool is somewhere between a DK and worsted weight. It could be knitted at a sweater gauge as a DK, but because there's so much loft in it, it's lovelier knitted a little loosely at a worsted gauge on a 4.5mm needle. I know I earlier described the fibre as "plain vanilla Corriedale", but in truth it's more like vanilla scraped directly from the vanilla pod to flavour a luscious French custard. I adore Corriedale, especially the special way it blooms after washing. I used it for my handspun Zora, and I've loved it ever since.
As for what I intend to do with this, just catch a glimpse of the blue book underneath the wool. Yup, it's good 'ol Barbara Walker. The first and still the best source for inspiration.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Here I am back at my computer after a brief interlude for a hysterectomy (in for surgery last Friday, home on Saturday). No need for anxiety--it was merely for the nuisance condition of prolapse. Appropriately enough, I arrived home on the day of the Women's March on Washington. Now, I'm pretty much back to normal. Laparoscopy is marvelous! And so is our health care system. All I did was show up with my health card. The surgery was performed at a teaching hospital three blocks from my house. No paperwork, no back and forth with insurance companies, no worrying about what aspects of my hospital stay would not be covered. I write this having spent 16 years in the Washington, DC area, during which time I was fortunate to be covered by relatively deluxe health insurance, courtesy of the IMF and World Bank. Nevertheless, the amount of time, energy, and money I devoted to dealing with the US healthcare system was staggering. Good luck, Mr. Trump with your attempts at improvement.
Before I gave up my lady parts, I worked rather frantically to get all the numbers crunched on the Fusion cardigan. I still don't have photos that I love, but there's time to solve that over the next little while. In the meantime, while it's grey and sleeting outside, here are some pics featuring the colour purple. Boy, do we need a shot of colour in this limestone city in the dead of winter!

The lavender barns at Closson Vineyards in nearby Prince Edward County.

Lower border of Fusion cardigan.
Underside of cuff, showing "seam" line.

A more subdued dose of purple in this version.

Better pics to come. Meanwhile proofreading in progress...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


It's important to get the neckline right when knitting a sweater. After all, the neckline frames the face. I try to keep this in mind both when I choose ready-to-wear pieces, and when I design my own handknits. Let's have some examples:

Shawl Collars           
Harriet's Jacket in Peace Fleece's "Siberian Midnight"
Zora in my handspun Corriedale, with the Fibonacci Neckerchief filling in the neckline.

Buttonbox in my spindle-spun BFL, showing its shallow, slightly more graceful (in my opinion) collar.
Cossack Collars

Petrova with its slouchy, feminine collar.
A collar should look as good going as coming,

open or closed.
Petrova all buttoned up for the dead of winter (year of the Polar Vortex).
You might not have realized that Glenora has the same collar (minus the buttons and I-cord) as its cousin Petrova--exceptionally face framing!

Here, Cheryl of Little Church Knits exudes the relaxed attitude of this sweater, knitted in Cascade's Eco+.
 Surplice Collars
A surplice collar (just like a kimono) is a favourite way to show off a beautiful border
and/or shawl pin, as in Wheatsheaves.
It works on all ages. Here I am wearing Frostfern in Hikoo's Kenzie with its soft halo of angora.
The High Collar
The Modern Gansey (feminine version) adds length and height to the body with a tall collar.

You can never go wrong with the lengthening properties of a V-neck, in all its forms--collared, as in the Wolfe Island Gansey,

which also illustrates the importance of a collar sitting beautifully across the shoulders,
or not collared, as in this 100% alpaca version of Brookline,
and the Perth Cardi shown here in the same (now discontinued) alpaca yarn.
A V-neck can have a flattering echo in the back, like the Ridgefield Wrap.
A U-neck has the same lengthening properties as a V-neck.
I hope this retrospective look at necklines in my designs highlights their significance. The right one can make a look. So, pay attention!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Steeking Made Easy: the Front Bands

Seemingly endless closeups of cardigan front bands might not turn your crank as a knitter, but I happen to know a lot of knitters out there looking for a bit of courage guidance in this whole area of cutting into knitted fabric. If you're one of them, here's the next step after the BIG CUT.
After knitting up and finishing the neck border, I knitted up stitches for the Left Front border. Why the left first? Because that's the button border. It's easier to do the buttonhole border second. While I usually pick up front borders at a ratio of 3 stitches for every 4 rows, for this particular cardigan I found that a ratio of 2 stitches for 3 rows worked better. The picot border has more stretch than a typical border, so fewer stitches are better. For more details on how I knit up stitches, go here. In this case, I am knitting into the half of the "border stitch" closest to the body of the cardi, the "border stitch" being the outermost stitch of my steek. (A steek has two border stitches, one at each end.)

Above, you can see the machine stitching from yesterday's post just above the knitted up buttonband stitches. The steek naturally folds itself to the inside, as you can see below.

You can also see the extent to which the machine stitching (at the top of the folded over steek, below) melts into the stocking stitch side of the work. It's pretty much invisible here. That's why in yesterday's post I used contrasting thread and cut from the wrong side.

Another shot of the folded over steek, looking a bit scraggly in the colourwork section. No problem--this will get tidied up after blocking.

Now it's time to tackle the Right Front. I use locking stitch markers to show where my buttonholes will be. They get placed BETWEEN 2 stitches, because I plan to make this buttonhole.

So simple, so effective.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Steeking Made Easy: Preparing and Cutting a Sewn Steek

On Thursday I got my act together and cut open my purple Fusion cardi.

Step 1: I prepared the field of cutting by weaving in the cast-on end at the centre of the steek at the neck, and then simply taping all the other ends in the direction of the knitting. Before taping, I made sure that the tension of the stitches leading to the ends was even. I used regular invisible tape. I've found that masking tape tends to adhere a little too much.

Step 2: Next, I loosely basted down the middle of the two stitches at the centre of the 8-stitch steek, to aid in their identification during the sewing.

Step 3: Upon uncovering my Bernina, I discovered that it was loaded with thread almost the same colour as the wool. Not good. To make the cutting easy, I need a high degree of contrast between the wool and the thread (the stitching, especially on the right side, sinks into the knitted stitches, almost disappearing).


Therefore, before proceeding any further, I loaded up my machine with the above light-coloured thread.

Step 4: Using a small stitch, from the right side I sewed down the centre of the marked stitches, sliding the basting out ahead of the machine sewing. I was careful to overstitch the beginning and the end of the stitching to secure both the upper and lower edges. I was also careful not to catch any other parts of the garment unintentionally, nor to stretch the fabric. My mantra was, "HANDLE WITH CARE". You will notice that the stitches disappear into the right side of the knitted fabric. However, from the wrong side all is well, because the machine stitching is perfectly visible there.

Step 5: With small, pointed, very sharp scissors, from the wrong side I cut open the steek.

Ta da!
 P.S. Don't worry. The thread will be completely invisible when the steek is folded back and finished. That's why it makes sense to take advantage of the visibility afforded by the contrasting colour. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Stripes: Now in Pattern Format

Six years ago, my son, James, asked for a scarf for his New Year's Day birthday. I wanted to knit him a simple yet handsome scarf and, after sifting through my stash for suitable colours, I came up with this one, which he still wears most winter days. The instructions barely merit writing down, but because knitters keep asking, here they are...

Even though this is a garter stitch piece, it has a certain manly sophistication, both in appearance and in the construction with its crochet cast on and stretchy bind off. It looks good on the reverse side too.

When the knitting and blocking was complete, I hustled James out the door for pics on what turned out to be the first real snowfall of the year.

Happy knitting, and Happy New Year!