Category Archives: Retro patterns

Not-so-controlled chaos: my Noro mitts

Elizabeth Zimmerman's mitered mitts in Noro Kureyon 326

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s mitered mitts in Noro Kureyon 326

Regular readers may have noticed that I took some time of knitting and blogging at the end of the summer, and as things geared up in September.  However, the colder weather here turned my mind back to cozy warm knits.  These mittens felt like the perfect project to get my knitting groove back with.  I love this pattern from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s classic Almanac.  It’s beautiful and simple, and with Kathryn Ivy’s excellent modifications, it can be completed without steeking.

This yarn, a new colourway from Noro, called to me the moment I saw. I have a bad habit of accumulating beautiful yarn, without a specific project in mind, but this yarn basically screamed, “Make mitered mitts out of me!”  After completing the first mitt (on the left), I felt like a yarn genius; the yarn and pattern seemed like a perfect fit.  However, when I picked up the second ball, I noticed something, this ball was nothing like the other: the blue, which was barely present in the first ball took up most of the second.  When I finished, my second mitt was blue and brown, while my first was pink and purple.  While I ordinarily love the controlled chaos of Noro colourways, this was too much, they looked like a completely mismatched pair.  (and the blue and brown, with a hint of orange was pretty awful to be absolutely truthful.) Fortunately, I had a fair amount of purple and pink in the scraps, so I cut off the tip of the right hand mitt (ironically, I had used Kathryn Ivy’s directions to avoid cutting into a finished project, but no matter).

While messing with a Noro colourway feels a bit like cheating, I’m very happy with the finished look.  They look great on my growing pile of Christmas gifts.  My only concern? I have two more balls of manlier coloured Noro Kureyon waiting to be made into mitered mitts for my husband…

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My favourite knitting books

Now that we’ve got a little more space, my knitting books and patterns have a space all of their own.  While the paper patterns need some love (they’re currently just shoved haphazardly into a binder), I love seeing my books organized and accessible.  Which got me thinking about my favourite knitting books.  Not all books are created equal, there are some I regret buying, and others whose cracked spines bear witness to how much I love them (and how useful they are).  So here’s a round-up of my favourite titles (so far!)

My knitting reference shelf

My knitting reference shelf

Mitered mittens in Noro Taiyo 11

Mitered mittens in Noro Taiyo 11

Favourite classic: Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac.  There is a reason that Zimmerman’s name is synonymous with knitting for many people.  This book is full of fantastic patterns (mitered mittens and baby sweater on two needles are two of my all time favourite patterns!). But what seperated the Almanac from her other titles is that it’s a great read on its own.  Zimmerman shares her thoughts and life as a knitter. Her directions are by her own admission “pithy,” but for me that just highlights the history of knitting as something shared (often orally) through families and amongst a community.  A must read for any enthusiastic knitters.

Favourite sock books: I’m going to cheat here and name two Wendy Johnson’s Socks From the  Toe-Up and Cookie A’s knit.sock.love. Socks From the

Gusset heel toe up socks (from Wendy Johnson's book)

Gusset heel toe up socks (from Wendy Johnson’s book)

Toe-Up was one of the first books I bought. It is a fantastic beginners book – she explains every necessary technique clearly and concisely, and there are enough variations to keep any knitter busy for years. I still return to this book when I want something to knit in the car or while travelling (the type of project you can knit without consulting the pattern very frequently.)  I have knit nine of the 23 patterns in this book, several of them many times, and I keep coming back.

Monkey socks from knit.sock.love (pattern also available free on knitty)

Monkey socks from knit.sock.love (pattern also available free on knitty)

When I started to outgrow Toe-Up, I began looking around for a more challenging toe-up book, since by that point I was convinced that toe-up was the only way to do it.  When the owner of my LYS suggested knit.sock.love, I was skeptical, since all the patterns are cuffdown. However, one look at this beautiful book changed my mind.  Gorgeous enough to be a coffee table book, knit.sock.love is a book that inspires ardent admiration.  There are regular knit-alongs for this book on ravelry, and a surprising number of people have conquered all 19 patterns, including the cabled knee highs (there are 2!) and intricate diagonals.  I see knitting through this book in the way that many view reading all of War & Peace (which I have done!) or running the Boston Marathon (which my knees will never agree to!). It’s a big project requiring patience, perserverance and time (hopefully one day I’ll have enough of all three).  I have made my way through HederaWedgeMonkey, and Mona, and they are so beautiful; it’s no surprise that so many people love this book.

My youngest niece and her Project Linus blankie

My niece and her Project Linus blankie

Favourite beginner book: Betty Christiansen’s Knitting for Peace. This was actually my first knitting book, and it’s one I highly reccommend for beginners ready to branch out from their first hats, scarves and mitts.  The book contains great, simple projects for blankets, shawls, hats, toys, sweaters and socks.  The basic patterns don’t require special or expensive yarn to look good, so it’s also great if you’re still at the stage where you’re reluctant to drop significant money on yarn, or your hometown doesn’t offer more than the selection at Michael’s and Wal-Mart.  It’s full of information on how to use your knitting to make the world a better place. Inspirational, simple, useful.

Narragansett sweater by Thea Coleman. I can’t wait to make this!

Favourite imaginary book: Thea Coleman’s Baby Cocktails.  Ok, this one doesn’t exist (yet?), but it should, my ravelry queue is filled with her patterns, and Vodka Lemonade is on my needles now.  Her directions are clear, concise and accurate.  Each design shows a clear attention to how they will fit on a woman’s body, and each pattern has a wider variety of sizes than you are likely to find at the mall (I’m guessing sizes 0-20).  I love that her patterns are simple and plain enough to be wearable and fashionable.  Each one has simple embellishments or details that make it special and different, without making it fussy or dowdy. Somebody in publishing please offer this woman a book deal!

 

I’d love to know what books you think are missing from my shelf – What are your must-own pattern books?

Sunshine in mitten form

Mitred mittens in Noro Taiyo 11

“Of course you knit those in February.  It’s like you tried to make sunshine in mitten form,” was my husband’s response upon seeing these mitred mittens, from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac. He is definitely on to something.  Winter still has us in its icy grips, but I am ready to bid adieu to slippery sidewalks, grey skies and slushy streets.  Fortunately this Noro Taiyo (#11) was leftover from my Paintbox Blanket, and it looks like spring.

_AWN2208I loved the way the Noro worked out on my previous experience with mitered knits (Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise jacket), so this pattern and the leftover yarn seemed like a perfect combo.  As I’ve written before her patterns are timeless, but often inscrutable.  These instructions are described by Zimmerman as “pithy,” and they certainly are.  The pattern also includes the nerve wracking instruction to cut a hole in the mitts, unravel a few stitches and knit the thumb.  I don’t have the nerve to take scissors to an otherwise completed piece of work. I was sure this was going to result in an unraveled sloppy mess.

Elizabeth Zimmerman's mitred mitts in Noro Taiyo 11

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s mitred mitts in Noro Taiyo 11

Fortunately, it was ravelry to the rescue, many knitters had used Kathryn Ivy’s excellent set of instructions for a gusseted thumb to make these mitts.  The instructions are clear, and they result in a perfectly fit thumb, without any scissors.  The reccommended needle size (US 6) was way too big for me though, these were made on US 5.  The needle size is a little small for this yarn, but that’s perfect for mittens since the finished product is really quite dense, and I used nearly every yard! Now, until spring, I’ll have warm hands, that remind me sunny days are just around the corner…

Knitting like it’s 1974

Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Sweater on Two Needles in Berocco Vintage

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles in Berocco Vintage

I just finished this shower gift for a friend who’s expecting in April, and I think this one’s about to become a staple.  I’ve previously expressed my love for and fascination with seventies knitting patterns, and our recent Freaks and Geeks  Netflix binge has just reignited my love of seventies knitwear.  This time, I used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles (Practically Seamless) from the February chapter of Knitter’s Almanac.

Much like Zimmerman’s other patterns this one bares a significant resemblance to stream of consciousness.  She does not lay out a needle size and her thoughts on gauge and measurement in general are pretty vague, since as she points out, babies come in all different sizes. I don’t know if this is indicative of Zimmerman’s individual style or if it simply reflects that the pattern is nearly forty years old. Either way, the instructions are a bit inscrutable and show a clear relationship to the oral tradition of sharing knitting patterns and skills.  When reading Zimmerman’s books, with their long asides and vague directions, you feel as though you are in conversation with the knitting guru herself. On one level, it’s appealing, but it’s nice to have some guidance before you set out:

1. Zimmerman doesn’t mention the button holes until after she describes the yoke.  You need to put button holes in while you are constructing the yoke, so read through the entire pattern carefully before you start. You can choose how many button holes to make.  I looked at the 7500 (!) projects on ravelry and decided to create a swing cardigan with three buttons.

2. There are few instructions about needle size and gauge.  I used size 5 needles and followed the directions regarding length exactly.  The end product is a little larger than a Baby Gap 3-6 months.

Waste yarn (brown) holds the sleeve as I finish the body

Waste yarn (brown) holds the sleeve as I finish the body

3. The sleeve directions are strange.  When I got to the sleeve row, I put the 28 sleeve stitches on waste yarn, cast on 14 across each gap, and then finished the body.  Afterwards, I returned to the sleeve, cast on 14 and knit in the round (no purling!) and then seamed the armpits.

The end result is really lovely. When I make gifts before a baby is born, I am a little anxious about when they will fit the baby.  You can never be sure if the recipient will give birth to a dainty 5 lbs baby or a 10 lbs baby that haunts the dreams of pregnant women everywhere.  A thick sweater that baby grows into and out of over the summer months is pretty useless.  The lace pattern in this sweater added to it’s appeal, since it has an all-season usefulness. I can imagine this baby wearing it on cool summer nights over a little dress or under a jacket in the spring or fall.

This pattern has confirmed my love affair with Zimmerman’s timeless designs.  I’m so pleasantly surprised that her books are still in print and so widely available. Has anyone discovered any other gems from the 70’s? I’d love to try them out….

Toddler Surprise Jacket

Toddler surprise jacket 2.0, in various scraps of Noro Taiyo

The print on my maxi wrap dress

Walking past all of the midtown stores, on our way home from Argo, last date night, I realized something: the 70’s are having a moment.  I couldn’t be happier; I love the long hair, the cords, the wrap dresses, the maxi wrap dresses, the intentionally ugly colours…

Inspired by the movie and the 70’s inspired fashions in Yorkville, I turned to one of the few 60’s and 70’s pattern designers whose books are still widely available: Elizabeth Zimmerman.  My first experiment with retro patterns was her 1968 Baby Surprise Jacket.  Named “surprise” because it is knit in one bizarre piece, then miraculously folds into a sweater for your baby or toddler.

The differences between contemporary patterns and Elizabeth Zimmerman’s go way beyond the groovy style.  The surprise jacket is not at all technically challenging, it is mostly just knit in garter stitch with a few simple increases and decreases.  It is however, mystifying from a reading comprehension perspective.  Zimmerman’s writing style approaches stream of consciousness.  She writes long paragraphs and asides and switches vocabulary midway through the pattern (switching from “rows” to “ridges” to “decreases”).  If like me, you usually rush headlong into patterns: STOP!  You need to read the whole pattern, and count out the rows before it is too late.  For example, when she writes “At 114 sts,” it’s good to know that means 12 more rows.  I found doing the math before hand, and annotating my pattern to be much less time consuming than counting stitches.

The Surprise Jacket, some assembly required

She is also quite vague about gauge and sizes.  She doesn’t suggest a size of needles or give any specific yardage.  The pattern simply offers that a gauge of 6 sts to the inch will yield a present for a newborn and that 5 sts to the inch will be right for a “1-year-old or older.”  There are, however, thousands of projects on ravelry that can offer some suggestions in that direction. As someone who is trying to find new challenges as a knitter, I really enjoyed her open ended style.  I felt like I was sitting down with someone’s fantastically talented grandma for a little chat about knitting, and that she figured I knew enough to put my own stamp on things.  However, I imagine that her style might be frustrating for a beginner.

Helpful in deciphering this pattern was this wonderful YouTube series:

Experienced knitters won’t need to watch every episode in its entirety, but it helped me make sense of some of the more inscrutable directions (her pattern literally includes the phrase “Hope you’re still with me”).

I originally made this sweater for my two year old niece on size 5.5 mm needles in Noro Taiyo.  I was sooooo pleased with the funky, psychedelic result that I made a second from my stash of

Toddler Surprise Jacket 1.0

Noro. Both sweaters remind me of girl’s sweaters I spotted at Benetton and the Baby Gap this fall. I think the purple colourways (I had lots of tiny scraps, and just used anything purple-ish) turned out even better; it’s not quite the bold statement the original was.

I’m definitely looking forward to my next adventure with retro patterns Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles from the Knitter’s Almanac for my sister-in-law (due in 3 weeks, we can’t wait to meet our new neice!).  I’ll keep you posted as the baby and the sweater arrive…