Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Magic Carpet Tapestry Cowl

It is so hot here right now that even talking about this double-thick, multi-colored, stranded-knitting cowl I made seems ridiculous.



The thing is, though, that if I want things like this to be ready and waiting when it does get cold (and it will get cold, hoo boy, and soon too, ack) I have to make them now, while it's nice and sweltering outside. You all know I don't even mean that ironically. It really is nice and sweltering. I do well in the heat, wow, I am so out of place here in the North, but even when it's so hot my eyelids are sweating, the hot and the humid is good for me. I am happy when it's sultry, and I know that in this, I am all alone. There are only about two really warm weather months here in my neighborhood in New York, and soon enough there will be a nip in the air and everyone but me will be rejoicing.

This was the weirdest knitwear photo shoot ever, and that's saying something, because I once appeared here in my pajamas.



I know, this is goofy. What, was I going to wait until it snows to show you this? I am nowhere near as patient as that. You can almost see what it might be like one day, right? When the blizzards are upon us and the land is forbidding and frozen, and the sky is leaden and ominous and the winds batter against the door? I'll be so glad to pull this up around my ears before heading out into the storm. (Ugh, it hardly bears thinking about...bring me a Corona, stat...)


Particulars: for the colorwork exterior, I used (part of) one skein each KnitPicks Palette in Mineral Heather, Cream, Sea Grass, Wallaby, Green Tea, Garnet Heather and Oregon Coast Heather, and Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift in Mist and Navy. All those yarns are beautiful and everything, but they're also pretty itchy for wearing at the neck, so for the lining I used one skein Malabrigo Lace in Pearl.

There's no pattern for this, because I made it up myself. Here's my process; feel free to use this yourself if you like.

How to Make a Knit Cowl in Stranded Colorwork

1. Pull your palette together. Choose yarns--wool, please--that are all the same weight, in anywhere from two colors to whatever crazy number of colors you think you can handle. Take care to ensure that you have contrasting values in your palette--darks and lights. I used nine different colors. Let your whims guide you. My feeling is that if you like all the colors you chose and you think they look good together, and you've taken care to make sure there are contrasting values, you can't fail at this.

2. Select a stitch pattern. There are a great many wonderful resources out there (I used Alice Starmore's Charts for Color Knitting) or you can get out your graph paper and figure out your own pattern. I'm sure there's an easy, computer-y way to design knitting charts, too, and if you know of a good one, I'd love to hear about it.

3. Count the stitches in each repeat of your chosen stitch pattern. The one I used had a pattern repeat of 49 stitches. Now, using your chosen yarn and an appropriately-sized needle (I used a US 2 16" circular) make a swatch. I'm so sorry, I know swatching is a huge drag, but it's the only way you're going to have any idea what size your finished project will be. Measure the number of stitches per inch in your swatch.

4. Now figure out how big around you want your cowl to be. Ask yourself whether you want it to hug your neck a lot or a little; how much ease do you want it to have? Use a measuring tape to measure around your neck to give you this number. I decided I wanted my cowl to be 22" around.

5. Do some math. 22 (desired finished size in inches) x 9 (stitches per inch in swatch) = 198 (number of stitches to--theoretically--cast on). Wait a minute! Hang on. My chosen stitch pattern chart has 49 stitches in one repeat, and 49 (stitches in pattern repeat) x 4 (repeats of chart) = 196. That's pretty darn close, and good enough.

6. Now figure out how you want to arrange your colors in the pattern. The temptation here is to overthink this until you finally stuff all the yarn into a bag and give up, but this is a lot simpler than it looks. I divided my palette into four sets of one dark and one light yarn that looked good together, and I called the pairs A, B, C, and D. For example, pair B was Mineral Heather (the dark) and Mist (the light). Then I almost arbitrarily divided the 48 rows of the repeat in my chart into symmetrical sections, working more or less from dark to light toward the center of the motif, using the cream yarn as the light value for the very center row in the motif, and then light back to dark. How you do this is entirely a matter of personal choice. You can have a light foreground and a dark background (which is how I did it) and if it's confusing, think of it this way: make stripes in a symmetrical pattern with the darks, and meanwhile work the chart design on top of it using the light value colors. Of course you can do the reverse, as well, using a striping pattern of light values as your background, knitting the charted stitches in dark value colors.

See how the background is striped, with the lighter colors kind of "on top"? Breaking down the design process like that makes it easy to come up with a color strategy.

7. Cast on and start knitting, and because the color work part is so utterly compelling, you'll want to dive right in with row 1 of the chart and your first color pair, but I suggest you do what I forgot to do, and use a provisional cast on to work a bunch of rows of the lining first; this will pay off later when you're all done. Knit your way through the chart, changing colors as needed. Carry the yarn along at the back whenever you can. Work as many pattern row repeats as you need for your cowl to be tall enough--my chart had 48 rows per repeat, and I worked two full repeats. Change yarns and knit the lining in something soft and gorgeous. If you started by working part of the lining first, you can finish the lining and graft the two ends with Kitchener stitch for a flawless finish. If you started with the color work, like I did, knit the whole lining (work the same number of rows--or inches--as you worked for the exterior) and then bind off and seam the lining to the cast on edge using mattress stitch.

8. Block the finished cowl, wait for cold weather--or not--and wear with pride, comfort, and joy.