Monthly Archives: July 2009

Pardon me, I couldn’t hear you over how awesome my sweater is

Legendary, folks. Legendary. It is done, it fits like a dream, and it is going to kick all kinds of ass when I wear it at Rhinebeck this fall. This is Autumn Rose.

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Pattern: Autumn Rose, by Eunny Jang (published in Jamieson’s ‘Simply Shetland 4′)
Yarn: Palette fingering weight, from Knit Picks
Needles: 3.25mm Addi Turbos
Cast on: April 25, 2009
Bind off: July 23, 2009 (then a couple more days for washing/blocking)
Modifications: Many.

Oh, where do I start with the modifications. The most obvious one was the colour scheme. I went with Knit Picks’ Palette because I own quite a lot of it, and I quite like the colour selection now that they have been expanding the heathers line. I hope they will continue to expand further, as it can only make the yarn more versatile as a colur-work tool. The original Autumn Rose colours in the pattern are gorgeous, but just not a good fit for my own colour preferences. I tend more towards reds and purples and jewel tones and the original scheme reads more on the rustier – or, well, ‘autumn’ side of the spectrum. After much swatching and indecision, I settled on the one you see here.

In place of golds, I made use of the new green shades Knit Picks added to their Palette collection recently. The main one is clover (in place of old gold), and the others from darkest to lightest are spearmint, edamame, celadon, and green tea heather. In place of the oranges and blues used in the original, I used purples and reds. The main one is garnet heather (seen next to clover in the ribbing sections), and the others from darkest to lightest are merlot heather, bark, clematis heather, huckleberry heather, and lilac heather. (Aside: if Knit Picks ever discontinues the garnet heather shade, I may not survive. It is my absolute favourite).

Also, let it be known that swatching is WORTH IT. The only thing keeping me on the ledge while I fretted over whether it was coming out too small was knowing that my swatch did indeed block out to gauge after I washed it (when knitting sweaters remember to both knit and wash your swatches, friends, much tragedy could be saved.)

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Another key area in which I made modifications is in the length and sizing. Essentially, if I had knitted this pattern purely according to the written instructions and not put any thought into it, it would have been several inches shorter, the waistline would not have fit me, and the shoulders would have been far too snug. This alone does not make this a bad pattern – it is extremely gorgeous, make no mistake. It simply means that this pattern is designed for a person several inches shorter than me. This is also a pretty common thing for me, the only difference is that with a fair isle patter like this, you can’t exactly rip out a few inches and start over as easily as with a plain single colour project.

I think that anyone making this sweater would be smart to begin by drawing their own pattern schematic based on their own body and the desired measurements you want, then ensure that once you have begun and established the chart, your knitting follows the length measurements you need and the stitch counts you need for width based on gauge.

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Never forget that when you are knitting a sweater, whoever designed it is never going to be exactly as smart as you. That pattern was not designed for your body, and your job – which you are entirely qualified for – is to know your body well enough to adjust whatever it is you are knitting to fit yourself. This concept generally gets emphasized in the context of knitting plus-sized sweaters (and rightly so), but I’m here to tell you that as a tall woman, never once have I encountered a sweater pattern that hasn’t required some modification. I’ve added length to sleeves and hems, and re-placed waistlines so often now that it’s become second nature, and I generally need to add at least an inch or more between the waist and armholes in order to ensure the waist actually sits where my waist is. The moral of the story is, if you want your sweaters to fit – know thyself! Measure your body, know your gauge, and know how much ease you want to achieve, and make it so.

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The original Autumn Rose pattern calls for an extremely low neckline, so much the better to accommodate negative ease around the bust and provide a very modern look. I did, however, raise the neckline about 2 inches, which I have seen from Ravelry is a pretty common modification. I am pretty happy with this decision and am comfortable with how this would look over a tee or camisole from my own wardrobe. Essentially, I set the neckline to begin at about the same time as the armhole decreases. Additionally, I lengthened the shoulders by spacing out the last several decreases a little more than what the pattern specifies. I have broad shoulders, so this was a good decision for me.

You wanted to see the inside, right? Right, I thought you did, that’s why I took pictures of it. There’s the white crocheted edge of the cut steek, now tucked away neatly inside the neckline. You can also see all the ends of the yarns from all of the colour changes, which were woven in as I worked each new pair of colours.

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When I learned to knit fair isle, the first project I made was a Philosopher’s Wool sweater. On their website the Philosopher’s wool folks have a video about knitting two-handed for colour-work, and this along with a personal tutorial from my friend Dee was essentially all the instruction I had on two-handed technique. I use the same general approach not just for knitting but for weaving in new colours a few stitches before the change-over (you can see where all the ends are sticking out there just before the side seam, on either side). This essentially means that you are weaving in ends as you go, which saves you from having to weep the tears of a thousand rivers weave in all the ends after you are finished the whole sweater. All that’s left is a bit of trimming, sew in the ends at the bind-off and cast-on edges, and you’re done.

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On my last post a few days ago when I was cutting the steek on this sweater, a lot of you commented on what an act of courage it must be to do this, or how brave I must be to be working steeks or colour-work. And you know, that absolutely tickles me because the fact of the matter is, ‘brave’ is probably the last adjective in the world I would use to describe myself. If I made you a list of all the things I’ve shied away from doing because of being too chicken, well…it wouldn’t be a very pretty list. But after knitting a sweater like this (and this may be easy to guess based on how many other possible ways there are to stress out about a project like this, as described above), the actual cutting of the steek becomes sort of beside the point. In the process, I’d forgotten that steeking is something that really does call for a bit of moxy. So, if making this sweater makes me in any way brave…I’ll take it.

And Elspeth? Since we are supposedly both knitting this sweater to wear for Rhinebeck 2009…If you don’t find a way to make this sweater yourself, even though I know you’re sweating bullets over getting gauge…I’m comin’ for you. That’s right, YOU.

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And YOU TOO, if you don’t get out there and knit yourself some fair isle. Grab your favourite colours, grab a stranded pattern, any pattern, no matter how simple or how difficult, and DO IT. You’ll never look at knitting the same way again.

(Also, thank you all for the birthday wishes/spinning congrats yesterday, they were fantastic.)

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Filed under fair isle, finished object: sweater

Happy Birthday to me

Can it be?

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Why yes, it is!

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It took me a couple of years to ponder whether or not I wanted to take the plunge, but I’m glad now that I did. A spinning wheel is mine! New worlds of obsession fiber crafting await. I’ve only done a little bit of spinning on it so far – I suspect it may have to wait until my Sock Summit prep and Sock Summit itself is passed – but I’m very pleased to welcome my new Little Gem into my crafting life.

And since it’s my birthday, I’m going to play with my yarn now. I hope you get to do that too today.

But tomorrow – I promise – there will be an Autumn Rose finished sweater post. And just you wait and see it’s going to be LEGEN-

(wait for it…)

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Filed under spinning

Book Review: Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Some of you may be waiting on an Autumn Rose FO post…and one will come, just as soon as I weave in those last couple ends I should have already done by now find a photographer. But in the mean time, I have a book review that’s been waiting in the wings – and it ain’t even a knitting book!

I think most of you know where I stand on cupcakes. (I am on the side of cupcakes). During the last year of finishing my PhD dissertation, I baked them a lot. Baking things gives me the same great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that I get from knitting, only a lot faster and with frosting on top. Delicious, delicious, procrastination. This, I feel, is a good thing. And because I know my way around a cupcake pan, I was very curious to have a look at this new offering in the baking world: Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes.

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When it comes to Martha Stewart, I am admittedly ambiguous. On the one hand, I often find that her cooking recipes ask a few ingredients too many and are a little bit fussy, and I steer clear of the home decor stuff entirely. (Why would I give up the precious knitting time?) On the other hand, a lot of her recipes are quite simple and her techniques often make a lot of sense, and I think the complicated, overly precise and finicky projects of Martha’s often overshadow the ones that are in fact very do-able, very practical, and – in this case – very tasty. Not everything needs five million steps, and I’m glad that Martha (or possibly her staff) realize this.

And lo, this cupcakes book does not disappoint. If you are a fan of baking, if you could potentially become a fan of baking, or you know someone who can tell their all-purpose and cake & pastry flours apart, then you just might need this book. It is worth it. It has a good supply of standard recipes – vanilla buttermilk, devil’s fudge, blueberry, carrot, one-bowl chocolate, marbled swirl – on up to filled, glazed, and carefully decorated ones. If you want to get out the pastry bag and decorating tips, well, Martha is here for you. If you want to just bake some plain old cupcakes and slap some plain old icing on them, this book will do that too.

Overall, I’m glad to have tried out this book and I think it is a great collection of recipes. A must-have for the cupcake baker.

Don’t worry about complicated. Your cupcakes do not need ganache filling or candied walnut sprinkles or complexly piped icing. If you want to put all of these things on, people will gobble them up happily, but I have never seen anybody refuse a well-made plain vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting. They are just as delicious.

I have made three recipes from this book: Vanilla Buttermilk cupcakes with Swiss Buttercream Frosting, Devil’s Food Cake (chocolate cake) with Chocolate Ganache Frosting (these may be the ones on the cover of the book), and Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes. They were all fantastic, and I regret very much that I do not have pictures of these endeavours.

Although I think this book is a great resource overall, I do have a couple of gripes with Martha. For one, despite incredibly clear written and photographic instructions on all the recipes, this book assumes that you are baking with the aid of a stand mixer (a la the ubiquitous Kitchen Aid one, or similar). While I have recently been able to have the use of my mother’s stand mixer (and it is, in the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “so choice”), I am here to tell you that you do not need to own a stand mixer in order to bake cupcakes. The vast majority of baking that I have done in my lifetime thus far, has been with regular mixing bowls and hand mixers. It can be done, and I do wish Martha would acknowledge this more often.

Second, I think anyone using this book would do well to skip past Martha’s written introduction and just use the recipes. She paints a picture of cupcakes as incredibly indulgent, cosmopolitan affairs that belong in trendy upscale bakeries and complex adult dinner parties. This is surely the image that cupcakes have taken on recently, thanks to trendy NYC cupcakeries and similar spots, but let’s not forget what cupcakes are: they are small cakes, they are yummy, and they are meant to be eaten. They are for people of all ages, and they belong in your cluttered kitchen, eaten with your fingers while leaning over the sink, just as much as at a fancy party.

Third, the quantities in this book are large. Many of the recipes make three dozen cupcakes, which means some recipe adjustment is probably in order much of the time.

Finally, if you’re new to baking cupcakes allow me to impart a bit of experiential wisdom from the dozens of batches I have made. If I can save you a bit of turmoil, please let me. When baking cupcakes:

1. Do allow your cupcakes to cool completely before frosting them. There is nothing worse than successfully applying a beautiful swirled mountain of frosting with a piping bag before watching it all melt out into a splat.

2. After you’ve made your batch of cupcakes and you discover you have far more than one household needs, I highly recommend sharing them with a group. (Don’t you have a knit night to go to?)

3. One of the best gadgets you can get if you are going to bake on a regular basis is an ice-cream scoop with a release mechanism. It is about the perfect amount of batter that needs to go into a waiting cupcake liner.

4. Do the little things that seem finicky and stupid. DO pre-heat the oven. DO make sure your baking racks are set as close to the middle of the oven as possible. DO combine your flour and baking powder/soda/salt before mixing. DO let your ingredients come to room temperature before using them (not just the butter). It’s things like this that can make the difference between cupcakes that look fluffy and perfect and ones that come out half-burned or uneven and tragic.

5. Finally, if you are going to go to the effort of dirtying up your kitchen and then eating the indulgences that result from those efforts, make the best you can. Bake from scratch whenever possible. Use real ingredients. Mixes are easy, but they will never match the taste of real cake. Remind yourself and your loved ones what cake was meant to taste like.

It’s my birthday this week and I’m sure there will be more cupcakes later…the only question is which kind?

Catch you again soon…next time with knitting content, I promise.

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Filed under book review

Dear Blog

Today, I cut up my knitting.

I laid in a crochet reinforcement

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And then I cut that steek, that single, beautiful steek.

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And then my sweater had a neckline.

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And lo, it was good.

So, dear blog, all that’s left to do now is the ribbing on the neckline and a teensy bit of finishing, and then the blocking. And blog, even though I know it’ll probably be OK and the gauge swatch I made said it would be OK, and I even went ahead and l taunted Elspeth like that…

I really really really hope it fits.

Finger-crossingly yours,
Me.

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Filed under fair isle, fearless knitting, sweaters

Only one way to go from here

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Stay tuned.

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Filed under fair isle, sweaters

Jogging along

On my last post several of you inquired about how I am dealing with the ‘jogs’ on the striping (jogs = that little row blip that makes it look like the stripe doesn’t line up properly at the beginning and end of the round). And, well, I feel rather sheepish admitting this, but the answer is: I am not dealing with the jogs at all. I am knitting blythely along without any care in the world about the jogs.

The reason is because I am changing colours at the middle of the back of the leg and the middle of the bottom of the foot. This creates a sort of ‘seam’ effect running up the back of the sock, and I work the decreases for the calf shaping on either side of this seam. I rather like the resulting look that it creates on the sock, and when I change colours I try to pull the first and last stitches of the round a little more snug to minimize any loose gaps between different yarns.

What you saw in my previous post was the front of the leg (and really, this makes sense – when was the last time you tried to photograph the back of your own leg?), and so there were no visible jogs/seams at all in that picture. Here is what you would have seen if I’d given you the whole idea:

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You can see there the ‘seam’ line where the colour changes create a bit of a shift on each round, and where the calf shaping begins and ends. The key to making comfortably fitted knee socks is negative ease (2-3 ins at upper calf is good), and to shape the socks to fit the shape of your leg. I am working straight for 4-5 ins or so, then decreasing 2 sts every 4th round until I get to the circumference I need for the ankle, then working even until it’s time to start the heel. As you might imagine, it is well nigh impossible to create a ‘one-size fits all’ knee sock pattern. But really, all you need in order to do this yourself is your leg, a measuring tape, and the known gauge that you are working with.

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As far as how I am handling the colour changes, I am simply carrying up the yarn along the inside of the sock as I go. I could also snip the yarn at each colour change and weave in ends as I go, (and I have done enough fingering-weight fair isle and done enough weaving-in-ends-as-I-go that I would be quite comfortable doing this) but I chose to just carry up each strand a) because I am feeling a bit lazy, and b) because this preserves the yarn in case I realize the size is off and I need to rip it out and start over. I’d rather not get to the end of the leg and realize I need to start over and then be left with a bunch of little short bits of yarn.

It is a lot easier to use this method when you only have 2 or 3 colours to work with, mind you, which is why when I commit to a fair isle project with eleventy-million colours, I do weave in ends as I go. The only trick with carrying yarn up the inside of your work like this is to make sure that you don’t actually pull it tight – this would bunch up the whole works and that’s not the effect you’re looking for.

So there you have it folks, the inner sanctum of striped knee socks. Don’t you just want to make some? How about now? Why aren’t you making your own pair TODAY? Your tape measure and your sock yarn are compelling you. Or you could at least start with a pair of regular socks. I realize the striped knee-highs might be my own personal brand of crazy.

Happy knitting this fine Sunday!

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Filed under fearless knitting, socks

Stripe that sucker

The striped knee-high socks are coming along beautifully. I love them. Betcha can’t knit just one stripe…Or even just two or three…

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This yarn, as many of you have inquired, is the Sweet Sheep‘s own line of sock yarn. The green is ‘shamrock’, and has been in my stash for almost two years, from a sock club shipment, and the purple is ‘joker’, which came from my purchases at her booth at the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter’s Fair last September. The black is Malabrigo Sock (in ‘black’), and is truly one of the few black sock yarns I was able to track down.

These stripes have been in my head for quite a while. Ever since I got the ‘shamrock’ green I knew it would be a challenge for me. Discounting yellow, this is probably the colour I am least likely to ever knit with, and I struggled with what to do with it. Michelle even (extremely kindly) offered to over-dye it for me, but in the end when I saw her purple ‘joker’ shade I knew the green had found its destiny: stripes.

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Stripes truly are magical, they are the simplest possible way to combine colours and bring visual appeal to your knitting. Plus, they are a little bit addictive. It’s the same sort of ‘just one more row’ syndrome that you often get from fair isle knitting, only without the stranded work. For quite a while I avoided stripes, assuming that they would be boring or too horizontal to ever look good, but I have concluded that, as with many other techniques, it is just a matter of finding the right way to use them. The 4-2-4-2 repeat of the green-black-purple-black really soothes out the electric green shade and makes it look pretty darned cool.

I can’t wait to have the finished pair. Which is good, because my brain is still filling up with all manner of things I want to knit, and I still only have one pair of hands. If anyone finds a way around that problem, be sure t let me know.

Have a great weekend, and keep the knitting close by!

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