It is accomplished

Where Oh Where have I been?

“It is accomplished” – a Death

On the 24th June last I got some devastating news. A dear friend of mine died suddenly while he was on his holidays in Lanzerote. I’ve been wondering about how to blog about this for ages. I wanted to be able to give you all a feeling of what this man was like and how much he meant to me. But words fail me. I don’t have the eloquence to convey his brilliance. 

He was a shining light snuffed out too soon and I’m still foundering in the dark. 

Once I realised that I’m never going to be able to give an adequate impression of him or what his loss has meant for me I realised I just have to blog-on regardless. 

Why Oh Why am I back?

“It is accomplished” – an FO!

It would have to be a biggie that would get me back to my blog again after such a hiatus, wouldn’t it? Yoouuu betcha! 

One happy customer!

“It is accomplished” – an Achievement!

The completion of this cardigan signifies the huge journey that I have made in my knitting knowledge and ability. A journey that started over three years ago. 

When I knit this cardigan the first time I spent two months knitting; slavishly following the Glenvar pattern as written. The pattern itself posed no challenge: knitting on-the-flat using cables, increases and decreases was very familiar to me. So I spiced things up by learning a few new techniques: 

  • As I came close towards the end of all the knitting I learned about spit-splicing from Lisa in TIK – very effective in the 100% wool Kilcarra I was using.
  • When I had all the pieces ready for sewing, I discovered, through the power of d’Interneh (Knitty’s coffeeshop mainly) a concept I had never come across before: blocking. I did this fastidiously, measuring out all the pieces according to the schematic and waited days for them to dry.
  • When it came to sewing-up all the pieces, I researched widely, bought “Knitting for Dummies” and became adept at invisible seams. I was very impressed with all my attention to detail: you couldn’t tell where the seams were and the sleeve caps melded beautifully in to the armholes.
  • Then when it came to the zip I bought “Domiknitrix – whip your knitting into shape” by Jennifer Stafford and followed her instructions to the letter. Steam it? Check. Pin it? Check. Fit it on again as a double-check? Ah… disaster.

The Behemoth of Epic Proportions

I learned the harsh reality that many a knitter learns only the hard-way: pieces knit to the correct dimensions does not guarantee a well-fitting garment. Later I learned why it is that so many patterns are written in pieces rather than maximizing the benefit of construction through knitting: editors of ladies magazines, where patterns were published, had more understanding of sewing-based construction for garments. Hence all the pieces were knit into the fabric shapes rather than the knit stitches being manipulated to mould the fabric.

Enter: Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara G Walker into my life and my knitting. Enter: radical new ideas such as knitting-from-the-top, calculating gauge, charting my own design, customizing my knit to fit. Oh! and with a few short-rows thrown-in – always with the short-rows! 

The subtle benefit of Short-rows

This project has tested me at every turn. I have documented before how much more it and my knitting conspired to teach me – whether I wanted to learn or not. Even at the very end, when all the knitting was done and all that was left was the zip, I was very nearly thwarted: the original zips went AWOL and a special trip into Dublin City Centre was made to buy a long-enough zip.

And I’m still learning. Even now, as DH is giving the cardigan its first outing in public tomorrow, I’m still thinking I might re-do the cast-off on the cuffs because I’ve just learned Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast-off  (JSSBO) from my latest Cat Bordhi book. However, Bootie (the Ever-wise) pointed out the more likely explanation is that – after three years – I’m not yet ready “to break-up with the cardigan”. 

But, let’s face it: The Behemoth has been vanquished. Debbie Bliss’s Glenvar pattern has been conquered. And what’s more: 

I did it MYYYYYYY Waaaaaaay!

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The WIPs get whupp’d

Knitting up a Whirlwind

So “knitting like the clappers” = “very limited blogging time”. This is just a sneak preview to show that I’m happy with my decision from yesterday’s choice.

I’ve put in the spare yarn for the thumb-trick at this stage, but I’m sceptical about whether it’s going to work with the stitch pattern. I’ve learned – the hard way – that you can’t just pick-up and knit in the opposite direction when you’re in ribbing. I’ve a feeling, since I’m working with a single travelling stitch, that the wrong-side might not seem so much like ribbing and I might just get away with it. At the very least, I’m going to learn something – the hard way – again!

I’m hoping to be sufficiently advanced, by tomorrow, to be able to give you a guided tour of what I did to make these mittens by adapting Wooly Wormhead’s pattern for the Elsica Hat. Perhaps even a “how-to” for knitting two-at-a-time. For now though, it’s all talk; and if I don’t get back to the knitting that’s all it’ll ever be.

Stash on Saturday

Donations for Le Grá, Fingal

Le Grá, Fingal

One of my work colleagues came up with the idea that we could have a Sale-of-Work of items all Hand-made and donated by staff of the Council I work for. 100% of the proceeds would go towards the Crumlin Medical Research Fund, which is attached to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin – the same charity I ran the Mini-Marathon for in June. She called the venture “Le Grá Fingal” which means “With Love, Fingal” in Irish.   

It was astonishing to see the volume and the quality of the work that poured in. In our department alone, two of my colleagues do lino-cut and drypoint printing and sell their work through Etsy. Another makes homeopathic balms and essences. Yet another made cards using photographs she’d made and another made chutneys and preserves with produce from her allotment. From the other departments, there was hand-made jewelery; framed water-colours and photographs, hand-knitted and crocheted scarves and baby clothes; a carpenter in the depot made bird-boxes; someone else’s mother made candle-holders from hole-y limestone pieces.   

This was the reason behind making the Advent Wreaths that I said I’d explain later. I also donated “Mole”, some Christmas Fiddle-Faddle from Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Almanac; and my Wine Bottle Gift Bag. I made the gift bag two Christmases ago and gave it to DH, but he agreed he didn’t really want or need and would be happy to donate it.   

Tree from EZ's Almanac

Who needs a Wine Cozy, it's a Gift Bag

The Sale took place last Tuesday, 15th December, and the original idea was that they would be selling to staff only. By 10:30 they had already made €1,000. When they’d whittled down the number of items to one small table’s worth they moved the display to the reception atrium and managed to clear everything by the end of lunch-time.   

In total they raised €2,083. This includes ticket sales for a Raffle, which was drawn by the County Architect on Thursday. One of the prizes in the raffle was a fabulous knitted crib. It was made by two talented knitters in the Planning Department that I’ve been lucky to get to know recently, through the Nimble Fingers Crafting Club that one of them set up.  

Star from EZ's Almanac

I’m delighted to know that Mole has finally found a new home – he was bought to be given to a baby who’s due in January. Two of my closest friends in work bought two wreaths each. I didn’t hear who bought the gift bag but I hope they enjoyed the bottle of Mulled Berry Punch, that I bought in The Hopsack last Saturday. I bought back the Fiddle-Faddle myself and put it into my Secret Swap Parcel. [Aside: I like to include a little bit of hand-knitting in my Secret Pal Parcel for the Irish Knitters Swap. In 2007, I made some wash-cloths for Sue (SusyMcQ) and last year Heather (Nearlythere) got a Moebius Cowl. It’s very conceited of me, really; but this year’s theme was The Seven Deadly Sins so “Pride” it’s totally allowed. Anyway, I can report that Mairead (Fourboys) received her package yesterday and was genuinely thrilled with its contents. Yeay! + Phew!]

In the Charity Sale-of-Work I also bought:   

  • a jumper for DS#1, knit by a member of the Nimble Fingers Crafting Club;
  • a hand-pulled lino-cut print of Bosbok Strand in South Africa, made by a colleague in our Department;
  • a jar of Green Tomato Chutney – made by another colleague of mine;
  • a jar of mincemeat, made with plums and Calvados by a friend of the organiser;
  • four cards made by three different colleagues – three of which I’ve already sent off;
  • a combination pack of lavender barrier cream and clove oil balm – made by the organiser.
  • two decorated gingerbread biscuits
  • a sachet of “Magic Reindeer Dust” – basically porridge oats mixed with glitter and edible confetti. You leave it out for Rudolf to eat – the glitter is the magic dust that helps him fly.

So the stash I’m letting you know about today is not yarn but lots of hand-made goodies, made by talented members of staff in my place of work. 

Goodies Le Grá

Baby Surprise!

I bet you’re thinking only really big news could bring me back to my blog after such a long hiatus.

You’d be right!

So… I have some big, baby-related news for you, dear Reader. But first, I guess I ought to quit the messing and clarify that I’m not expecting! It’s even an even bigger, better baby-surprise than that.

Do you remember the awful story I told you here about my friend’s terrible disappointment over a year ago, when her son was born at only 23 weeks and survived just 9 hours? Would you believe she gave birth to a baby girl last September? As you can imagine everyone was on tenterhooks during the pregnancy, especially since they were never given an explanation for why she went into labour so early last time. In the end – and she went to full term – everything went smoothly. Mother and baby are doing well since – she’s beginning to sleep through the night.

Naturally, to celebrate impending arrival I had to make a Baby-Surprise Jacket. I used Wendy Happy – 100% Bamboo sock yarn – so it’s absolutely tiny. I believe it fitted her for her first week. However, I’ve loads of it left so I’m planning on making a larger one with the remaining yarn double-stranded and using bigger needles.

The colour-way is Virgo – of course, considering her due-date. It came out so “Strawberry Shortcake” that I had to track down some matching buttons.

Demented

Come all ye and gather to hear my sad tale:
Of the pattern that thwarts me and taunts me to fail;
Of the cables that twist and the ribs that won’t rip;
Of the short rows that sever’d my mental grip.

You may recall me banging on about mentioning my disasterous first attempt at knitting a cardigan for DH’s 40th Birthday (coughcough in August ’07cough). Oh yes, who could forget that epic: the two-months of knitting; the episodes of running short of wool; the frequent trips to buy yet more; the kilometers of yarn; the production of something big enough for a Sumo Wrestler? I dubbed it “The Behemoth” with all the affection that name inspires! 

Rawrh!

Rawrh!

This would be Bliss!

This would be Bliss!

The Back of Behemoth
The Back of Behemoth

Why is it, when I make mistakes, they can’t be small, intimate affairs? They have to be bombastic productions with stratospheric repercussions. They say you learn from your mistakes. Perhaps my subconscious feels the need to SHOUT LOUD to get my attention. Learning from your mistake would involve doing the same thing, the same way – only better, because of all you’ve learned. Right? Of course not. This knitter has to do the same thing a completely different way and learn a whole new set of mistakes.

 I was inspired by my knitting hero, Elizabeth Zimmermann, to give it another go. Barbara Walker helped point the way: down-wards! and Aileen gave me the knowledge. With that knowledge came courage. I charted, I calculated and I measured my swatch (i.e. The Behemoth – at least it was good for something). I cast-on – provisionally – and started my top-down version of Debbie Bliss’ Glenvar pattern. Mistake #1 of my whole new batch. I call my second attempt “GlenvAargh!!!”, with almost as much affection.

Learn from my mistakes (a.k.a. share the pain)

Follow that line!

Follow that line!

Mistake #1: You can’t knit up and down from a provisional cast-on in ribbing. At least, not without something “hookey” happening to the rib. I was aware of this but decided to lash on, regardless. The result is intriguing but I’m guessing no one’s going to notice.

Mistake #2: Short-row shaping (for the sholders) and cables is not a great combination; it may wreck your head! I got through it and was happy with the result, mainly because I survived it.

Mistake #3: This one is hard to explain – basically my calculations gave me 210sts around; the stitch pattern is based on 10sts; I planned to centre one repeat on the back and work the remaining 200 around. This meant the pattern repeat was not centred on the side seams. I decided this was fine and charted my way all around. According to my charts the front cables & ribs didn’t line up with the back. I didn’t realise that my charting was completely useless until I reached the underarms. Of course, the way the sholders were set up, the front and back cables and ribs have to line up. If I wanted to keep to the pattern I needed a stitch count of 200 or 220.

Mistake #4: My first response on realising Mistake #3 was to opt for a stitch count of 200 and I rushed at joining under the arm-holes. Only then did I realise the impact this would have on the length of the armholes. Similarly, a stitch count of 220 would make them too long. GlenvAargh!!! went on time-out for a long time while I stewed over the repercussions. I couldn’t bear the thought of ripping again.

The other day, a light went on. It was possibly inspired by fellow Knit-Knight (we meet in Swords, you see) Clare (a.k.a. Clarabel on Rav). She’s been knitting Mirage Pullover from More Big Girl Knits. I was very taken with how the lace pattern travels up the side seams and the underarm of the sleeves. I realised I could make a new chart for the side seams, based on 15 sts. Sigh of Relief: Aaaah!

So, I got out my graph paper, pencil, rubber and stuck my tongue into the corner of my mouth as I charted my new territory; focused me. Then I ripped back the two rows to unjoin the fronts and back; fearless me. Then I realised that I’d messed up in my increases for the armholes, previously, so I ripped back another inch; determined me. I used a smaller needle to pick up the stitches as a life-line before I ripped; clever me. Something a little odd happened as I was ripping the back. I figured it out as best I could and knit on; brave me.

Mistake #5 (yup, I’m not done learnin’ any time soon…) Pay more attention when something strange happens, even when you’re ripping. I’ve ripped out a short-row on the back and botched it up beyond all recognition. My short-rows are so good, even I can’t find them. All I know is the cable pattern is out of kilter – the first two repeats don’t need a cable twist for another two rows but the rest of the row is on the cable-twist row. GlenvAargh!!! is on time-out, for a third time, until I figure this one out.

Oh! and while I’m at it: Mistake #101 – you can’t frog ribbing from the bottom up (as the wise lady says – ask me how I know…) The Behemoth bites me even as I slay it.

EZ as Pi

So I finished it – my Yokey-thingy (or Yoke Vest by Teva Durham from Loop-d-loop, to give it its official title). And of course, as it’s something I’ve knit and especially because it’s for me, I’m not happy with it. Yes, I probably should have gone one size up – DH describes it as body-hugging, and he doesn’t mean it as a compliment, me thinks. I “suffer” from an over-positive body-image, in that I still think I have the figure I had nine years and three pregnancies ago. Only rarely, with tops like these, does the stark reality make an impression on my rose-tinted mind.

 However, I’m stubbornly going to remain in denial about needing a bit less negative-ease and focus instead on the thing I don’t like most about it: how it rolls at the bottom and whereit sits – on my hips. Lest I be accosted by Trinny and Suzanna for wearing something that draws the eye to exactly where I don’t want the eye drawn I’ve decided on an Elizabeth Zimmerman- inspired remedy: add a garter stitch hem, but horizontally, a la Pi Shawl border. Why? Eh… why not!
  
What you’re looking at here is the cast-on I used at the bottom of the original top – a thumb-loop cast-on. So I picked up stitches by inserting the needle into each of these loops – the stitches look like a series of yarn overs. (If I were going to knit down in stocking stitch, rather than knit accross in garter stitch, it would be better to pick up the stitches from the row beneath the cast-on loops and pick out the cast-on. But I’m not, so it doesn’t matter.) My new Denise interchangeable needles came in very handy here as I could set up with a smaller sized needle on the cord initially, then fit the correct needle size onto whichever end you want to start with.


Set yourself up as follows: in your left hand: a circular needle (of correct size for guage) through all the body stitches and with right side facing. You will need a second needle of the same size to knit with – this can be a straight needle. But first, a provisional cast-on…

  

I use a version of the crochet cast-on that I learned from Aileen at her “Top-down, set-in sleeves” class. Basically, you’re making a chain of single crochet stitches but, rather than go back and pick up the bumps of each stitch afterwards, you crochet around a knitting needle so you’re picking up as you go – very clever. My alteration is that I hold the crochet hook and yarn in my right -hand, as though I were knitting rather than the yarn in my left-hand which I would do if I were crochet-ing. I find it easier to get the yarn under the needle for each stitch. So, make a few chain stitches then place the needle (in your LH) over the yarn (in your RH) and place the crochet hook over the needle – from the top: crochet hook (RH), needle (LH), yarn (RH). Throw the yarn (I’m a thrower, not a picker) from under on the right and over the crochet hook and back to right, then pull the yarn through the loop on the hook – the needle has a stitch cast-on to it (see the loop, with a crochet chain stitch underneath). Return the yarn to be under the needle, which is in turn under the hook and continue on until you’ve cast-on enough stitches. When you’ve cast-on enough make a few single chains again to finish off and pull yarn end through the last loop to fasten off.

Okay, so I admit it – my first attempt was… a learning experience. I learned that I’d cast-on too many stiches, making the band too deep – that eye getting drawn down there again, aaahh! I tried out a few different methods for knitting the two stitches together: slip the body stitch knitwise or purlwise; with yarn in front or back etc and what the effect was on the join between the hem and body. Most importantly, I learned what guage I have in garter stitch and thereby how many rows I need to get round my hips. Guage (slightly stretched): 4″ = 18 rows; hip dimension (ahem) 36″. Therefore number of rows needed: (36/4) * 18 = 162. However, there’s only 86 stitches on the body so for each stitch I would have to make 162/86 = 1.88 rows of garter stitch – let’s say two rows per stitch.

Ready to go? Leaving a long tail (for grafting later), knit into your provisionally cast-on stitches – these become (what I’m calling) your border stitches. Move the yarn to the front, slip the next stitch (a body stitch) purlwise onto RH needle and turn your work (wrong side now facing). Now, K2tog (the border stitch and the first stitch from the body), knit to end. After that continue as follows: every RS row – sl1 knitwise, k all border stitches, sl body st pwyf, turn; every WS row – k2tog, k to end. Continue all the way around finishing with a WS row – ready to graft.

Remove waste yarn from CO edge and place resulting live sts on needle, beginning from the body so that tip of needle is at outer edge. With WS facing, hold needles parallel, with needle with working yarn attached held to the front, with needle tips pointing to the right. Graft seam as follows:

Step 1: Insert needle into first stitch on front needle from back to front, as if to purl.
Step 2: Insert needle into first stitch on back needle from front to back, as if to knit. Drop first stitch from back needle.
Step 3: Insert needle into first stitch on back needle from back to front, as if to purl.
Step 4: Insert needle into first stitch on front needle from front to back, as if to knit. Drop first stitch from front needle.
Repeat Steps 1-4 until all sts have been grafted.

  

As I was doing this I realised why EZ often refers to grafting as weaving – the action of the bodkin going from right to left between the front and back needle is similar to the shuttle going through the threads on a loom. Thinking this helped get my head around what I was doing.

An improvement, I think you’ll agree. Now, to rip the body and knit it one size up… I’m kidding – for now…

The Behemoth

Reading The Knitter’s Almanac is such an inspiration! Really!! I actually want to unravel 1.68 kilometers (!!!) of yarn and start again – from scratch! And I’m excited to do it. I can’t wait…

How has this woman got under my skin and into my psyche so bad? Is it the way she talks to you? She has this no-nonsense tone that tells you “you can do it but only if you want to enough” Is it the way she makes you feel you’re back facing your favourite teacher, the one you always sought approval from, the one you tried to do better for. And she’s not going to tolerate you slacking off and messing! Get on with it or get out! And that’s enough exclamation marks from you, miss…

So here’s the plan Mrs EeeZee (easy! easy!) has helped me to concoct: I will do my own version of the Almanac and start with an Aran in January. But not just any Aran, oh-no! Only THE Aran, the one that broke my heart last August. It began life as 15 balls of Kilcarra in purple last May. Very quickly, I realised an error in my measuring – I used a favourite jumper of DH’s prior to purchase and then measured his chest prior to casting on – and a 16th ball had to purchased.

Seven balls travelled with us on holidays in Germany, where the back was almost entirely completed in two weeks. Then, of course, I realised that the balls of substitute yarn I was using had only 80m, whereas I had bought 16 of them thinking they had 88. 16 x 8 = 128, so I was a further 2 balls short. These were quickly purchased.

Then, starting to wise up, I did one of the sleeves before doing the second front, to better gauge whether or not yet more wool was needed. Sure enough, I was soon up to 20 balls of wool. Would you believe this 2oth ball ran out, just as I was completing the collar? Yup, you guessed it… yet another ball was needed just to sew it all up.

So two months of knitting, and 21 balls of 80m yarn (i.e. 1.68km) later, and already one week late for the 40th birthday present it was meant to be, I pinned in the zip and DH tried it on. When…

Dehn!

 Dehn!

DeyhNNnnn!!!

Disaster struck – it was a LOUSY fit…

 Note the “extra Ease” at the chest – we’re talking at least two sizes too big! And the not-so-great way it hangs on the back? Men have weird shapes, yes?

So, now that you have the back-story, cheer me on as I rip this back, take a shower with the hanks, ball them up and cast-on again. This time (ala EZ) I will cast-on based on my gauge (who needs a gauge hat when I’ve got a whole cardigan eh?) to give a good fit around the hip and proceed in-the-round, adding short rows to accommodate the strange way men are built in the back. Then, scariest of scaries, I will use steeks for the arms and for the zip. I think…

Yes, maybe I’m mad but I really can’t wait …

For January…