Tag Archives: knitting

Fixing the fit: my cable back shell

Cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby (Ruby River)

Cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby (Ruby River)

I’ve been knitting more sweaters and tops than usual lately, but have often found myself a little disappointed with the finished product.  This is most often an issue of fit, so I’m really happy to show off my latest finished top: the Purl Bee’s Cable Back Shell.

I was reluctant to shell out (no pun intended) for the recommended cashmere, but fortunately, I had this lovely Dream in Color Baby from a long frogged pullover.  I like the yarn even better for this top, since the slight varigation in the colour works really well given how basic the front is.  What drew me to this top was the cabled back, that almost looks like a spine and gives a very subtle, almost sexy tension to the back.

The simple but interesting cable back

The simple but interesting cable back

A top like this needs to fit perfectly, so I was really happy to try on the sample at Purl Soho in August.  Like the other Laura’s Loop pattern I knit, this one fits a bit short and boxy.  To add to the confusion, the pattern calls for 2 inches of positive ease (it should be 2 inches bigger than your body), but the photo clearly shows a sweater with negative ease. It’s a perfect illustraion of how even with careful gauge and measuring, fit can be an issue  To achieve the look I wanted, I knit the extra small (about 0.5 inches negative ease) and added 2 repeats (or 5 inches) to the length.

I didn’t pick up and cast off at the armholes (yet).  Doing so will stop the armholes from stretching and rolling, but I’m still considering adding elbow length sleeves, so I’ll hold onto a little scrap, while I wear it a couple of times and consider my options…. What do you think, would it look better with little sleeves?


Learning to parent with patience, one stitch at a time

The only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. In nearly three years, my son has never touched my knitting, until last night. Around bedtime last night, I walked into the living room to see my son, in his pajamas, with two empty needles in one hand and a very long strand of lace weight yarn being pulled on in the other.

I’m not proud of my reaction, but all I could utter was a a single no, equal parts exasperated and mournful.  In his little hands, I saw hours of careful work, dissolving into a mess of tangled, pink yarn.

He took one look at the expression on my face and began to cry.

My husband, obviously approaching sainthood with each passing day, assessed the situation swiftly and scooped him up for a calm, quiet chat in his room. Silently and resentfully, I tried to rescue as much of my knitting as I could. I looked at the back of my cable back shell, scanning for dropped stitches and trying to figure out where the cable belonged, and on which row. I started to despair at being able to save any of it.  Then I heard the tiny voice upstairs, “I wanted to make a sweater for Mommy so she could wear it right away. I was helping.”

My resurrected cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby

My resurrected cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby in Ruby River

I took a deep breath and considered things anew. Knitting, like parenting, is the accumulation of countless tiny actions, frequently repetitive, sometimes requiring extreme patience, almost always accomplished for love.  I went upstairs, and gave my son a hug, and told him that I love him.  Later, I began to pick through the mess, and resolved that the next time, I wouldn’t need a swooping partner or a poignant word from my son. With a little patience, I rescued about half of my work.  Today, with a little patience, I was a better parent.

I’m not the parent I want to be yet, but I’m working on it. And next time he gets into my knitting, I’ll be more patient, or maybe I’ll just start leaving it out of reach.

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?

3 surprisingly simple sweater solutions

Recently, I’ve been knitting more sweaters, and as with all knitting projects, sweaters can present a few irriating little problems.  Fortunately, there are some brilliant knitters working on solving these problems.  These three really simple techniques are among my favourite recent discoveries:

A hoodie for my son - you can see the underarm marker and  faux seam (in garter stitch) in the centre

A hoodie for my son – you can see the underarm marker and faux seam (in garter stitch) in the centre

1. The faux seam. (from Ann Budd’s Top Down Sweaters)  I love knitting sweaters in one piece. You avoid so much hassle, since there is no seaming and usually less purling.  In general, I think sweaters constructed using this method look much neater and are easier for beginners.  However, seams can stabalize a garment and keep it from twisting and torquing.   Fortunately, Ann Budd included this little tip in the introduction of her reference book on top down sweaters: construct a fake seam under the arms by using a different stitch pattern for a single stitch under the arm.  For example, slip a stitch or purl a stitch every second round to create a slip-stitch or garter stitch faux seam, as you can see photographed here.

The underarm gap on yellow scrap yarn: a bottom-up lifesaver!

The underarm gap on yellow scrap yarn: a bottom-up lifesaver!

2. The bottom up gap. (from Alana Dakos’ Watermelon pattern) Many knitters will complain about bottom up sweaters, because of one major irritation: how difficult it is to knit the first few rounds after joining the sleeves.  When knitting a bottom up sweater, you knit the torso, and sleeves seperately, and then join the sleeves to the torso on a single circular needle.  The added stitches make the first few rounds tight and frustrating.  Fortunately, when I encountered the directions for joining the sleeves on the watermelon cardigan this week, I actually gasped. How had I never encountered this before? Why doesn’t every bottom up sweater pattern contain this direction? The simple solution: Set about 20% of the arm stitches on scrap yarn. Put a corresponding number of underarm stitches on scrap yarn.  This creates a little gap at the underarm and makes knitting the first few rounds so much easier.  The gaps are easily closed at finishing time, using kitchener stitch. Brilliant.

3. The flat cardigan edge. (from Thea Coleman’s Vodka Lemonade pattern)  Most cardigans call for a button band or zipper that flattens and squares off the vertical edges of the sweater.  However, when a simple cardigan calls only for a single button loop, like the Watermelon cardigan, or is meant to be worn open, like the Vodka Lemonade cardigan, the edge can look unfinished.  Fortunately, this pattern has a simple solution for a beautiful squared edge.  While it requires a little bit of attention, it’s well worth the work: the first and last stitches of each row are slipped on one row, and knit through the back loop on the other.  As you can see, it does a spectacular job making the edges of the cardigan neat and tidy.

A nice flat edge, no blocking or finishing required

A nice flat edge, no blocking or finishing required (Vodka Lemonade in Cascade Ultra Pima)

I took at finishing class! (and finished something)

A few weeks ago, I took a finishing class at a not-so-local yarn store.  I am self taught for most finishing skills (seams, picking up stitches, weaving in ends). Since, I’m pretty good at following youtube videos and making things look tidy, I never knew what I didn’t know.  It took a suggestion from knittingsarah, to send me to the internet to find a yarn store offering a finishing class. It turns out there was a lot that I was doing wrong(ish).  It was really instructive to sit down with a real expert and correct all of my bad habits.  After a few hours with some swatches, I was ready and willing to tackle some seaming.

My cap sleeve lattice top in Cascade Ultra Pima

My cap sleeve lattice top in Cascade Ultra Pima

I was drawn to the Cap Sleeve Lattice Top from the moment I saw it, but had originally planned to knit it in the round, and then graft the shoulders together using kitchener stitch. If you scroll down from the pattern post, you will find lots of discussion on this in the comment section. However, after the class, it seemed like a great, unintimidating place to practice my new skills.  So I knit it flat and then folded it and used mattress stitch along the gray sections, just as the pattern calls for. I could not be happier with the results! It was a little time consuming, but I’m finally finishing garments up to my standards.

I’m smitten with both the pattern and the yarn (Cascade Ultra Pima) – they’re a perfect fit.  If only the top was a perfect fit for me.  I have a long torso, and thought I adjusted the length enough to accomodate, but it still hits a little above my hip.  I cast on the medium (I’m about a size 6), and so this fits in a loose, effortless way that I think is appropriate for a casual summer top. If I make this again as an all season layering piece, I will use the same yarn, but definitely make it longer and smaller. What colours would you use for an all season layering lattice?

Hexipuff-date Part 3

My hexipuffs!

My hexipuffs!

This week, I completed my sixtieth hexipuff (still a very long way from a finished bedspread for our guest room).  I love the controlled chaos of the colours, as I continue to add new balls of scrap (like the Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock from my most recent socks, and some baby pink bamboo leftover from a long ago shower gift).  Generally speaking, controlled chaos is my favourite aesthetic; although that may just be a survival strategy for a middle school teacher/mother of a young child.

I’ve started to play with texture in my hexipuffs.  I was inspired by some of the gorgeous hexipuffs on Pinterest and raverly. Creative knitters have used texture, colour and even embellishment to make their individual hexipuffs special.  One of my favourites on raverly even put the recipient’s name on a baby blanket sized beekeeper’s quilt.

Some beautiful textures (from Pinterest)

Cannot believe how gorgeous this hexipuff is (from ravelry)

Glam up Your Hexipuff – Hollyhock is available as a free ravelry download

Adorable owl puff (spotted on Pinterest)

My owl hexipuff and one I with the cable pattern from the Dean Street hat

Some of my own experiements: owl hexipuff and the cable pattern from the Dean Street hat

The first experiments were with cables and gansey. I love this little pink one, which borrows its cable pattern from the Dean Street hat, and my tiny gray owl (shamelessly copied from a creative raveler). Hexipuffs are a great, low commitment place to play with texture that you’d like to practice, or are considering for another pattern.Hexipuff in Dream in Color Smooshy with marriage lines

Hexipuff in Dream in Color Smooshy with marriage lines

For example, this week, I’ve been charting out a pair of socks that I’d like to give my husband for our upcoming anniversary.  I read about marriage lines, which were a special texture in fisherman’s sweaters, made only for married men, by their wives.  I love the idea of reviving them on a pair of anniversary socks for my husband. So, I decided to use a hexipuff as an oppurtunity to play with the texture.  I made a blank hexipuff chart (below) and simply translated the pattern to a new canvas.  What are you doing with your hexipuffs?  Feel free to use the chart – I’d love to see what you come up with.

A blank hexipuff chart. Make of it what you will!

A blank hexipuff chart. Make of it what you will!

I lost my knitting mojo.

Last week, I lost my knitting mojo.  I’m not sure if it’s because I was sick all week, or because I’ve been a little stressed at work. I’m usually pretty dauntless when it comes to trying new things, but the challenges I had with my Overby sweater,  and argyle socks left my confidence as a knitter a little dented.

Usually when I finish I project, I know exactly what I want to make.  Inevitably, there is something I just can’t wait to make.  Most of the time, the only challenge is narrowing all of my ideas down.  This week, however, I made three half hearted runs at Skew socks, but ended up frogging them. (I’ll try again this summer, when I have the stamina to concentrate on all those directional increases, which are currently my knitting kryptonite). After giving up, I couldn’t think of a single thing to cast-on.

I looked through my ravelry queue, browsed all of the knitting blogs I follow, and pawed through my stash, but remained uninispired.  And then I found this:

My very first knitting project, knit two decades ago on my grandma's couch

My very first knitting project, knit two decades ago on my grandma’s couch

my first ever knitting project, cast-on on my grandmother’s couch two decades ago. It’s just a rectangle of garter stitch in scrap yarn, cast-on for no particular reason, other than to knit it.  To engage in the process. To let my fingers repeat and master a simple movement. To spend some time with my grandma.

The simple joys of knitting: socks in Sweet Georgia Tough Sock in Summer Dusk

The simple joys of knitting: socks in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Summer Dusk

So I did something unusual. I cast on a pair of simple garter stitch socks. It’s a pattern I’ve made countless times, and frankly a little boring.  I usually knit because I want to wear or give the project.  I mostly choose projects, because they will challenge me to pick up or develop a new skill, but these socks couldn’t be easier, and I have no recipient in mind for them.  I’m just really enjoying the process.  The reassuring repetition has calmed my unquiet mind.  My frustrated fingers are finding their confidence again in this familiar task, and I’m being reminded of knitting’s most significant gift: peace of mind.

Completed toe-up slip stitch heel socks by Wendy Johnson in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Summer Dusk

Completed toe-up slip stitch heel socks by Wendy Johnson in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Summer Dusk