Monday, September 30, 2013

Highland heather coat


I am an American, so my people originally came from pretty much everywhere, including here.  I could do a whole discourse on our yearning for a collective culture, and how, from that, we got professional football, but that’s a topic for your freshman sociology essay, so I’ll leave it there. 


My husband decided recently to figure out where his people came from, and when he discovered he is an authentic Mayflower descendant, I got super jealous and asked him to dig around in my family tree, too, because of course I figured he’d find out I’m 36th in line for the British throne or something.  (Alas, I’m not).  It turned up a surprising amount of tribalism.  There was a debate about how long ago two cousins marrying each other was or wasn’t a big deal.  We learned that pretty much everyone alive is related to one King Louis or another.  We got into a big thing about who was “more Scottish” than the other, and he found his family tartan, but I would totally eat haggis, so we called it a tie. 


I don’t know why all that came to mind, but it might have been all the lovely heathers in this knitted coat.  I’m a little proud of it.  I could hardly wait to show you, but our weather has been way too relentlessly nice.  I had to wait for some clouds to come along.  This sweater just seemed to want that, what can I say. 


This is the Fair Isle Coat by Yoko Hatta, from the Fall 2013 Vogue Knitting, knit by me in a mad, monogamous frenzy.  I modified the pattern to knit in the round up to the armholes, then back and forth from there to the top, and I can tell you right now that if I’d had to knit this whole thing back and forth, I never would have done it.  I think that last little bit took just as long as the whole rest of the body.  Anyway, the sleeves are worked in reverse stockinette with the same color sequencing as the fair isle sections, and I worked those both at the same time, which is another thing I don’t love doing—I hate sitting there in the middle of a spiderweb of increasingly twisted yarn strings—but I decided it would be less trouble in the end than having to try to make the second sleeve match the first.  I wet-blocked the stranded body piece, and when it was dry, I reinforced and then (yikes!) cut the steek.  This is getting less scary the more I do it; what a great technique.  My old great-great-great granny sitting beside her stove in a stone cottage in the Scottish Highlands must have thought so, too.  I might never stop worrying that the whole thing will come apart as I wear it, but the truth is, it probably won’t.  The button bands and neck edge are worked last. 


The yarns I used are Cascade 220 heathers in 2422, 9601, 2452, 9567, and 8408, Berroco Vintage in 51168, 5188, and 5167, and Patons Classic Wool in Natural Mix. 


One great side effect of two-color stranded knitting is that your garment is kind of double-thick, and though I don’t think this will be impervious to weather or anything, it will be, because of that, extra warm, and it might felt down a little bit on the inside with wearing, which can only help. 


I was right, too—it turned out a little big.  I made it a couple sizes larger than my usual, because who wants to end up with a tiny coat?  I’m very glad I made that decision, because it is so utterly (you knew I was going to say this) cozy.  Another sweater would fit underneath it, and that really would be weatherproof.  Bring it on, winter. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

When Mom Goes to Free People and Gets an Idea


Thing one:  This sweater I thrifted on the cheap is originally from J.Jill.  Check.  Thing two:  it is a beautiful grayed turquoise-ish sky blue.  Check.  Thing three:  it is silk and cashmere.  Check and CHECK.  Only, it is also both boxy (oh no) and cropped (argh).  You know how you sometimes find something at the thrift shop, and you grab it greedily and clutch it to your sweaty bosom, and you can’t even buy it fast enough, and the whole time you’re thinking, why is this amazing [fill in the blank] in the thrift shop?  and ohmigod, I am so good at spotting these bargains, can you believe it? and you buy it without trying it on because [see Things one through three, above] but then when you get it home, you find out it is both boxy and cropped?  Okay, fine, that’s what happened.DSCF3511

The sweater is so soft.  It is also so short and cropped that my armpits hang out the bottom, so after a long scrounge through Pinterest, I decided it might work to add a crocheted peplum to the hem.  I scavenged an assortment of bluish-greenish cotton crochet threads from the stash, and couldn’t pick a favorite, so I settled on three.  Why not?  Be more colorful, is what I remember somebody saying somewhere.  And anyway, there wasn’t enough of any one thing to do a whole big crocheted edging, so I had to get creative.  Also, I figured this would take me all of five minutes, so I could always redo it if it didn’t work.  Crochet Goggles.  That’s when you are so full of your own wild idea that you think you can somehow bend the time/space continuum.  Anyhoo.


I embroidered a chain stitch all the way across the bottom hem and used that as my foundation row, and was off to a great start when, six rows in, I could not kid myself anymore; that it was ruffling like a tutu, so I ripped it all out, back to the foundation row and started again with fewer stitches.  It looked so good, and I was thrilled.  I steam-blocked it to get maximum length on the crochet, and then I tried it on.   I think I thought I was going to look like Taylor Swift. 


Nope.  I looked like I was wearing something Taylor Swift gave away because it was too boxy and cropped.  The sweater is so sooooffftt!  It’s such a pretty color!  But it’s still cropped and boxy, though, and now it has a big lace hem, too.  Yeah, I dunno. 


It does look better on me than on the mannequin, which never happens. 


Either I’ll wear it all the time, or never ever.  I can’t tell which yet.  I’ll let you know.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Quickie Beaded Crochet Bracelet


There isn’t any way around having to wet-block two-stranded knitting, so while I’m waiting for that to dry, I made this little bracelet.  Blair made something similar a few weeks ago, but the technique she used involves having to plan ahead and string the beads onto the cord ahead of time, but I am a lazybones and since I would rather have my teeth drilled than plan something ahead of time, I decided to try and figure out another way.   There are two techniques I know of for adding beads to a knitted object—in one, you string them ahead of time (planning!  ugh!) and in the other, you use a crochet hook to slip the bead over the stitch, and I didn’t see why that wouldn’t work here, too, in crochet.  It worked great, and I made this bracelet in about ten minutes.  Here’s a quickie tutorial for you, in case you want to make one, too:


I started with one skein of #5 perle cotton, a bunch of cube-shaped metal beads with large-ish holes, and one of those scary-tiny steel crochet hooks our grandmas used to make the lace trim for their petticoats. 


You’ll want to use a hook large enough to grab the thread but with a small enough hook end to fit through the holes in your beads.  I used a size 5.

Make a slip knot, and chain 7.  In the next chain, add a bead by putting the hook through the hole, then work the stitch as usual—just grab the thread and hook it through both the bead and the loop.  Like this:




It might be a little fiddly at first, but not too bad.  Chain 7 again, and add another bead.  Keep going until the chain is long enough to wrap around your wrist three or four times, or however long you want it, and join the ends together with a slip stitch.  Cut the end and weave it in.  That’s it.  The cotton is stretchy enough that you should be able to just wrap it around your wrist without having to do any sort of clasp, but if you want one anyway, you could add a loop at one end and a small, lightweight button at the other. 



This technique works better for me than having to figure out ahead of time how long I want the chain to be and stringing the right number of beads onto the thread in the beginning.  I am a wing-it kind of girl, what can I say.  You are limited by having to choose a bead with a big enough hole for the hook to fit through, but there are more beads in the world than there are blackberries in the bramble, so no big deal.  Happy crafting! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013



I feel like I am right up in the designer’s head on this sweater, like I have somehow temporarily gained access to what was going through Yoko Hatta’s mind as she reached this point in her process.  She’d just been through the war zone that is working stranded colorwork back and forth on three huge body pieces, which is no end of fiddly, and dang if that shoulder shaping, with all its accompanying AT THE SAME TIME instructions, while purling across the wrong side with four separate balls of yarn wasn’t kind of a thrill.  She felt victorious, and brilliant, and yet, also exhausted. 


The unblocked body pieces looked like an old bathmat, and bristled with ends.  The sleeves loomed.  She thought for a long moment about the sleeves.  She took a hard look at the possibility of working sleeves in this stranded design and realized it would be unspeakable agony more visually appealing to simplify the sleeve patterning.  She considered just doing the sleeves in one color, in nice, plain, easy stockinette stitch, and was all set to cast on, but then saw that she still had this:


Which is a lot of leftovers.  And she sighed deeply.  Deeeeply. 


Of course, I’m just guessing, but that’s what I would’ve done. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Many colors


This absurdly massive stranded colorwork coat project is making me swoon with joy.  I am, for maybe the very first time ever, completely confident in my color choices.  Each time I join a new color, I think oooooh, that’s pretty!  There’s value contrast, and warm/cool is in balance, and there’s plenty of yarn so I don’t have to worry about running out.  The individual pattern bands are made up of four or five two-color rows and two plain rows, which turns out to be perfect because each one lasts exactly as long as my patience for it.  Just when I can’t take any more two-handed knitting, I get two plain rows for a little bit of a breather.  Then the colors change and everything feels fresh again, and it all keeps happening every six or seven rows.  That goes a long way toward keeping this knitter interested.  The other thing that helps—I’m giving a secret away here—is that binge-watching series television on Netflix will distract sufficiently that even a complicated-looking thing like this huge multi-colored knitted coat will appear to knit itself while you are off doing something else.  I swear this is true.  I can’t believe how much of this project is done already.  It’s almost to the armholes!  When did that happen? 


But of course, I wouldn’t be me if there weren’t some doubt.  For one thing, I am deviating from the pattern as written and knitting this in the round, which is great because the colorwork is all done on the right side and also that the whole body is almost done, but it also means there will be (eek!) a steek.  If you’re new to knitting, a steek is an extra section worked in a garment knit in the round that will later be cut open to make a front opening or armholes or whatever.  Cut.  With scissors.  [As an aside, my theory is they decided to call it a “steek” because that’s kind of the sound that involuntarily issues forth from the knitter as she executes this terrifying maneuver.] Anyway, the thing about steeking is that there is no going back.  No doing what I often do and deciding at the end that your knitted garment is not what you hoped and then unraveling it all again to reuse the yarn.  Once you have steeked a garment, it stays steeked.  It’s a permanent situation, and a done deal.  So it’s always super-scary, and there’s no way around that, at least not for me.  

Also, when I do get to the armholes (just three televison sitcom episodes away, I’m guessing) I will have to either figure out how to steek those too, and and then suss out the shaping (oh my aching brain) or else start working this two-color stranded business back and forth, which is extremely onerous, so terrifically tedious that because of it, well, somebody invented the steek. 

Also, I sense that the finished garment is going to be huge.  This could be that wearable blanket I’m always talking about.

Focusing on the pretty colors.  Pretty! 


Friday, September 13, 2013

Quilt and the woods


When your old granny and mine were rocking beside the stove patching quilts from scraps in the workbasket, they went about making a quilt like this by cutting out squares and then arranging them in a pleasing manner and then stitching them together, one at a time.  You might make one quilt a year at that rate, which, while it has the appeal of being a Big Project, is no way to get anything done.  Then somebody along the way figured out strip-piecing, and hoo!  Magic.  Now this takes two days, instead of two hundred, depending of course on the state of your sewing machine.  (Miss K is feeling great!  Hooray!)  I have come across this technique in books over the years and it never quite made sense until I saw this, which led to this pattern, when it clicked. 


I don’t have a design wall, so as I worked on the squares, I pinned them to the cupboard, and it was so exciting to watch the design come together. With just a little bit of careful measuring and cutting, I got a quilt that looks like I spent a year arranging tiny two-inch squares.  Seriously, that’s fantastic.  I hand quilted it in big stitches with #5 perle cotton and a crewel needle, working across every other row of squares in both directions.  The palette is somewhat subdued, so I finished it with a fuchsia binding, just to keep it interesting.  The finished quilt is 60” x 60”, which is too small for a bed, but which is perfect for napping and picnics. 


It appears here in what must be a quilt’s natural habitat—a cozy cabin in the woods.


Doesn’t it look right at home there? I felt right at home there, myself, I can tell you.

A word about camping.  I hate it.  Camping means mosquitoes, and dirt, and sleeping on the ground, and washing dishes in a bucket, and eating a cold sandwich in the rain, and figuring out where to pee in the dead of night, and I am a princess and I like nice hotels. 


Or you can do it this way.  Leave the sleeping bags at home, and bring soft sheets, quilts and blankets, real dishes, lanterns and fairy lights.  Which has kind of changed my mind about camping.  I started trying to figure out ways to stay forever.  It rained.  I didn’t care.  My man hung up those fairy lights using a tack he found in the woods.  He did that while I was up the hill at the shower, and when I came back it looked like this.  He said, “Now you can see to knit.”  Oh man.  He totally gets me. 



I brought two pairs of shoes to the woods.  Hiking boots and ballet flats, one of which is pretty inappropriate camping footwear, but you know what?  I like them. 


I wore the boots on the serious hikes, but I wore the ballet flats to shinny down that cliff to the river.  Yes, I did. 



Worth it. 






The woods at night are dark and deep.  You see nothing, and unless you make some light, there isn’t any, not from anywhere.  If there is a moon, you don’t know it.  Lantern light casts a small circle.  We could hear nothing but the river, rushing and churning below, constant and busy against its rocks, and a little bit of distant thunder.  Cozy, cozy, cozy.  We slept until 10:00.  Why not? 


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Paint-By-Number Love


There are so many nail holes in my walls.  There’s more spackle than wall, I think, since I keep rearranging things and patching holes and then adding more things and then moving what’s there to make more room. The house looks like a college dorm room funky art gallery, and anyway, every time I try to pare it all down and try to live with a bare wall to see what it’s like, I discover I don’t like bare walls and out comes the hammer again.  Having my walls smothered in framed art feels cozy, and anyway, I can’t ever pick just one thing. 

Dean and I walked down the road to our neighbor’s yard sale last weekend, and they had a[completely excellent!] set of four framed seasonally-themed paint-by-number paintings leaning against their porch, spattered with bird poo, and, well, I was all over it.  I’m desperately trying not to start a collection of paint-by-number paintings, but if three sets is a collection, it’s already too late. 


That’s the summer one.  It’s a kid, fishing!  I know, right?  He’s got his Huck Finn hat, and his can of worms.  He’s got all day, with nothing to do but sit there in the sunshine, dunking his feet in the creek.  I just love it.  They looked like they’d been in the neighbor’s barn for quite awhile, so I unframed them, washed them with oil soap, and then steam-ironed them from the back (scary!  Dean said, “What if the paint melts?”) to flatten the warped edges.  It worked, but yikes.  Now they look perfect. 


I am a child of the 1970s, and I grew up in a world of string art and macrame owls, so these are lovely to me. They are wonderful in the way a granny square blanket is wonderful: they’re colorful, they’re nostalgic, and even though they’re dead easy to do, they make such a great impression. They’re art! They cost a dollar! I don’t have any more bare walls, and that’s the way I want it. The cozy things cottage is packed to the rafters with stuff I love.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Quilt and sweater


I am as predictable as a sunrise.  The moment there is the slightest feel of autumn in the air, I am casting on a sweater.  Whoops, it’s 60 degrees F?  I’m headfirst in the yarn cupboard, pawing through the wool.  You can set your watch by me.  The same thing will happen with mittens as soon as I see a snowflake, which let us fervently hope doesn’t happen for quite awhile, though it has been a strange year for weather.  And how I love to choose a palette, wind everything into center-pull cakes, and tuck it all neatly into a pretty basket.  It doesn’t stay pretty for long, but I do love it.  The pattern I’m using is this one; you can see I’ve chosen my own colors.  These are all Cascade 220, Patons Classic, and Berocco Vintage.  It will (I know, I say this every time) probably take quite awhile—that’s a coat in stranded colorwork; my knuckles ache just thinking about it—but I can’t wait.  I look at the basket of yarn the way an eight-year old looks at her birthday presents.  Lemme at it!  I just dance inside.  Yarn, and color.  Thank you, yarn, for being so great.  I can’t promise I won’t cast on yet another sweater, for when I need a break from all the fussing of colorwork, and for when I also need a break from the endless and mind-erasing laceweight seed stitch wrap.  (Seriously, knitting that thing puts me into a trance.)  Well, it is September.  I just want snuggly, soft, cabled cardigans. 

In other happy news, my gorgeous vintage Singer 600 Slant-o-Matic, the beautiful Miss Kastner, lives.  Thanks be for competent repairmen.  (This guy says he can even fix my poor, dilapidated, half-destroyed Bernina, which I had essentially given up for dead, can you believe that?  If he fixes the Bernina, I will adopt him and make him come to Thanksgiving dinner.)


This quilt is basted now, and all I need is one long, empty day.  I’ll make coffee (iced or hot, depending on the weather), tune the radio to that station that keeps playing Philadelphia Freedom and Night Fever, and finish it up.  I’ll take breaks to stir the soup, move the laundry, take the dog for a walk, knit a few rows.  Git ‘er done.