Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Perfect Swing Not-Bathrobe Cardigan

This is why I keep knitting garments. I have accidentally knit the exact cardigan I have always wanted. This is one of those life-altering pieces of clothing; do you have those too? I once had a (fake) fur trimmed suede jacket, covered in embroidery for which I paid more than I could really afford at the time, and which wearing made me feel exactly like the saucy and stylish girl I totally felt like I was inside. The kids called it my "wookie-fur coat" which brought things back down to earth a little bit, but adding a pair of boots with a stacked heel to that jacket was like lighting a dessert covered in brandy. I just felt like all was as it should be, with a lot of pizzazz on top. It feels good to know yourself, and to know what you want, and then to know how to make it happen. Friends, I made this cardigan like a boss.

I always begin with high hopes for every project, and there is almost always a lot of doubt in the middle of things. These sleeves look too big! This color doesn't go with anything! The classic: I'm going to run out of yarn! (They aren't. It does. I didn't.) I wanted a long cardigan with a relaxed fit and wide sleeves, but that didn't fit like a bathrobe. Usually this means I end up with a bathrobe. Not this time--score!

This is the yarn I bought in Saratoga last fall, an indeterminate amount of fingering-weight 100% merino from Adirondack Fiber Company in "clay". I realized as I wound it that this yarn had probably already been knit into something else, unraveled, re-skeined, and then sold to me as new, because one huge skein (tied with Silky Wool, you can't fool me) was intact, and the other came off the winder in eight different pieces, and also the label was handwritten in ballpoint pen, all of which might have been actionable had it not been on sale. I was a little mad, but not mad enough. Anyway, it was still lovely, even if I had no damn idea how much yarn was really there and so many more ends to weave in at the end than the four I was expecting. 

This color matches my pajamas, and also the pink velvet chairs I thrifted last fall. It is one of my personal colors, dusky and nebulous, gray/pink/brown. Mushroomy. 

Also, once again, I have to testify to the almighty power of blocking. On the needles, this thing was stumpy and dumb. The hem landed just below my waist and swung there like an inner tube, and the sleeves were just about 3/4 length, but wide and baggy. It was sad and weird, and it took months to get through the sleeves, because it was really hard to have faith, but I love blocking and I believe in it. Blocking transforms. 

I wore this yesterday, and never once did I tug on any part of it that didn't fit quite right, because every single thing on it is absolutely perfect, I think it's one of the best things I've ever made. 

Here's what I did, and what you can do too:

1. I measured around my neck at the place where I wanted a relaxed neckline to be, underneath the ribbing. (Call this number A)

2. I chose my needle (US 4 circular) and my yarn (fingering weight) and made a swatch. You cannot avoid this step, I'm so sorry. I know swatching is nothing but misery, but it's your only hope. Wash and block it if you can bear the agony. 

3. I accurately measured the number of stitches per inch in my swatch (call this B) and multiplied A x B to get C=the number of stitches to cast on at the neckline. (I would love to share with you that exact number but I started this in September and I forgot.)

4. Use your favorite formula (here's the one I use) to figure out where your raglan seams should be. Mark them and start working stockinette stitch back and forth, increasing twice at each raglan seam on every right side row, and also at the front edge every inch or inch and a half.  Do this for a long time. At some point, take a break and measure your own self again, this time from the front end of your collarbone to the middle of your armpit on the same side--that is, where your raglan seam is going to be. This magic number is your "raglan length", and it is what determines whether your garment will be tight, neat-fitting, relaxed, or bathrobe-ish. Imagine the garment is on you as you measure, or measure a garment you already have that fits the way you'd like this to fit. 

5. Knit until your raglan seam is the length you want it. It'll take awhile. Use this time to learn Swahili, or get caught up on Breaking Bad. When you get there, put all the stitches for the sleeves on waste yarn, cast on two or four stitches at each armpit and keep going. Be thinking as you work about where you might want to add some increases at the sides. This depends on your own shape--I am pear-shaped, so I know I'm going to need more stitches in the body of this thing as I creep toward the derrierre. You can probably try it on as you proceed. Keep checking your gauge, and counting stitches, and doing the math to make sure you're on track. Remember about blocking, too--at the gauge I got, on the needles and yarn I used, blocking was going to add significant length, and I was counting on it. Remember that the looser your gauge, the more it's going to grow when you get it wet. 

6. Keep knitting down the body, increasing if you need to at the sides to accommodate your body type, and increasing at the front edges every eight to ten rows, or every inch, or every inch and half, whatever you feel like. This gave the cardigan fronts a nice swinginess, and also ensured that it would wrap all the way around me with some overlap. 

7. Continue increasing every inch or inch and a half or whatever at the sides and at both front edges all the way to the bottom. Then add an edging--I used a non-pulling ribbed edge of my own devising--I worked *6 rows of k2, p2 ribbing, then four rows of garter stitch, repeated from * two times more, then bound off. 

8. I picked up umpty-zillion stitches around the whole front edge and worked the same rib pattern for four repeats, and then bound off. This took forever. I probably went a little nuts. 

9. I put the held stitches of one sleeve on some dpns, picked up and knit the cast on stitches at the armpit, and continued merrily in stockinette stitch, going around and around for a lot of old movies on Netflix. I threw in three decrease rounds (k1, k2tog, k to last three sts, ssk, k1) spaced out along the length of the sleeve, only because I was beginning to worry about the width, not that decreasing by six stitches made much difference. When the sleeve was somewhere between my elbow and wrist, I switched to the rib pattern and worked five repeats. (Remember, this is where all your data about your gauge will help you. It's how to know when your sleeve is long enough. How many rows do I get per inch? How many inches is this sleeve already?) Try it on as you go. Remember about blocking--it will grow in length. After five rib repeats, I bound off, then made the other sleeve the same way. 

10. Soak the finished garment in tepid water. Roll the garment in a big towel to remove a bunch of water. Spread it out flat and shape it to your measurements. Get these measurements by measuring yourself. Wait patiently for it to dry. That's hard. You can do it. 

See? Easy. Try it. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Quilt top and dog

Scrap quilts never fail me. I get such a kick out of so many things about them--the economy of using the smallest pieces of fabric I can, and the way the colors blend together as you step back, then reassert themselves as you peer closely. The re-appearance of leftover scraps from earlier projects; hey, I remember that skirt/those curtains/that dress. This is the finished top, still un-sandwiched and unquilted, and hanging in the kitchen doorway with the light glowing through it. It pleases me so much, how that looks. There are a million two-inch strips leftover, too, so another quilt is probably hot on the heels of this one, maybe one with even less of a plan than this. Alicia has begun work on one that inspires. I'm in search now of a wool batting and a good, soft backing fabric. The backing never used to be a big deal--I think I just used the cheapest available muslin on my first twenty or so quilts (even if the top was mainly dark, which gives me the yarghs now) because, you know, it's the back. Who's going to see it, right? Well, I am. So now the search for the back fabric is a thing, and it has to be soft, too, I suppose because I'm getting to be a princess and everything has to be just so. Anyway, the back of a quilt is a huge canvas, just like the front, so it deserves some attention. Sometimes I piece the back a little bit, too, just to make things interesting, but it has to be sooooft. I have so many demands. I can't wait to start quilting this, using my usual huge utility stitches. Maybe sitting outside, with my little dog beside my chair, sleeping in the grass. This dog, honestly. She is so great, I can't even believe it. She's walking me half to death, which I obviously need after a long miserable winter of sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself, and she naps and plays and works and cocks one ear at me. She took two squeaky toys completely apart in twenty minutes yesterday. She sneaks onto the furniture ve-e-e-r-r-y slo-o-o-wly, just in case that will work. She gave the Sad Eyes treatment to the barista at Starbucks on Saturday and earned herself a free cup of whipped cream. We're all in love.
Look at those lips. Kisskisskiss.

Friday, March 20, 2015

My Marilyn

This all began when Marilyn went to the dentist. I resolve not to bore you with any more of my frustrations. This innocent little project has been such an undeserving magnet for them, and my whining bubbles right to the surface with every roadblock I encounter--and I'm still encountering them, even though this pullover has been finished for a week, and worn with much success and approbation. There is a photo of me wearing it, but I can't...there's a Ravelry page for this project, but it won't...this is my version of my good friend Deb's reverse-engineered Marilyn's Cabled Pullover. The short version of the story is this: Marilyn, a tiny little lady with a lot of style wore a practically child-size pullover like this to her dental appointment, where Deb, the dental assistant, went into swoons of admiration over the detailed cable and eyelet stitch pattern that criss-crossed the whole entire store-bought thing. Marilyn later loaned Deb the garment, and Deb went over it with the thorough coverage of a forensic scientist, photographing it from every angle and making copious notes. She swatched until her fingers fell off. She measured. She tried a bunch of different yarns, figured out how to make a chart (or nine) and then carried the project back and forth with her everywhere, working on it in public and in our weekly needlework group meeting (where I work on things like garter stitch blanket squares and plain socks and lately also the eternal seed stitch wrap, which makes no discernible headway whatsoever) and meanwhile, Deb was there with her millions of charts and papers and markers spread around her, and she still managed to keep up her end of the conversation, all the while knitting and ripping back and re-knitting and by god figuring it out. She spent six months doing that, and then she strolled in one day, wearing the dang thing. I am in awe of the skills it takes to look at an object this intricate and decode it, and then not only to do that but to write it all down coherently enough for a dolt like me to follow it. I did my best. Hers is way better. You should look it up in Ravelry--she's DKattheCove. I wish I could link that for you, but it won't...
You might like to know that the yarn we both used is Lion Brand Wool-Ease--mine is Blush Heather. The color of that is pretty much perfect.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Quilt squares and distraction

Log cabin quilt squares are so much fun to make. I just cut all the fabrics I want to use into 2" strips, cut out as many center blocks as my plan requires, and start sewing. I know it's time to stop making log cabin blocks when the cut out center squares are all used up--without that cue, I could just keep on going all day and night and into the next day without getting tired or bored, because they are really fun. I sort the strips into piles of light-ish and dark-ish, which, as you know, I find challenging. There are always those fabrics that fall in the middle and seem to me like they could be either light or dark, and of course you know I can't really see that distinction very well without a black and white filter, but this is a scrap quilt, so I don't really care about it that much in this case. I just think a scrap quilt looks good no matter what you do. Then I just start sewing the strips to the center block, working clockwise, and cutting off the extra length as each strip is added. It goes so fast, you could easily get this done in a day if you weren't distracted by life. (I know, good luck with that.)
Actually, I'm a little distracted about this quilt (and other projects, too) at the moment, because:


There's a new friend here in the cozy things cottage. This is GoGo. Oh my goodness, that new dog smell. She smells like clean laundry and new mown hay and sunbeams. Her pink lips! Her transparent ears! She fell asleep underneath the table and I almost finished the quilt squares, but then there was a wet nose against my foot and that was just it. She is utterly delectable.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Process, quilt for spring

I feel like making a quilt. It seems like it's time for a new one. I'm just going to cut this all up into 2" strips and spend a day making log cabin blocks, listening to Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson on Pandora and the March wind outside batter and rattle the windows.
These looked like spring when I laid them out, but now I see all the russets and plums and grays. I think I'll add some green, more pink. The fabric audition is such an important part of this process, it seems like I spend more time on that than I do on any of the sewing, but it's so much fun, too. Standing in front of the cupboard and hauling out possibilities, stacking them on the table, walking around them in different light, adding and subtracting things; I don't know, I just really like that.


Friday, March 13, 2015


It's been a moody week. I ripped things out, started things over. I worked on a few squares for the never-ending sock yarn leftovers blanket, because they are easy and brainless and they make me feel like I'm getting someplace. I'm reading every book that crosses my path, all at the same time. I'm going to hang up some shutters, which I have resisted because I really want unfettered windows and also I hate to dust them, but then I think about Key Largo (both the movie and the place) and remember again that I love shutters. They feel tropical. I'd hang a rattan ceiling fan, too, and it would turn slooooowly and lazily, except the ceilings around here are so low we'd all get capped. I love that shadowy southern thing, though; the lazy fans, the deep slanting sunshine, the fluttering white gauzy curtains, the plantation-style shutters keeping the heat at bay. You can tell where my head is these days. The [finally! melting!] snow has filled the creek and also broken a valve on the sump pump, resulting in a very un-cozy basement flood, but also in one of those lovely neighbor things where people keep their heads while you're freaking out, and remind you not to wade into the swampy ice water in case you get electrocuted, and bring over extra trash bags and offer to call the fire department for you and stuff. That's why I live in a small town, right there. My neighbors are great. The doc got all the pilot lights re-lit, and I spent the morning mopping floors and re-washing all my laundry. The sun is shining, and I finally had that feeling that we have made it through; the flood, the long winter, the dark. Somewhere under those rotting drifts of gray snow, there are daffodils.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Getting it right

I joked about making a spreadsheet for keeping track of my too-many projects, but then I did it and now I feel better. It's actually just a list, but somehow doing that made everything seem more collected and orderly and made me feel like I might get around to all of it eventually. Also, it reminded me about this hand-pieced quilt that's been in progress since last summer and which I kind of forgot about. I could have been keeping the winter heebies at bay with this. Forehead slap.
It also suddenly seems possible to finish this pink cabled thing, although I'm totally winging it at this point and the result could fall anywhere on a wide spectrum ranging from awesome to disaster. Taking a break from it was a fine thing, because I feel like I can see a clear path to the finish, but you never know.
The sun is shining right now, but not before it did this earlier:
That drift is eight feet high. Focusing on the good stuff--I went out last night with friends and there was Guinness and coziness and a pair of guitar players with sleeve tattoos and beard stubble, who played "Blackbird" and that Jason Mraz song that seems so impossible. It was shoulder to shoulder in the tiny pub, and we had to essentially make out with people just to get to the bathroom, but spending a couple hours six inches away from your friends, yelling the choruses to Blues Traveler songs and wallowing in 90's nostalgia while a Christmas-like snowfall blankets the streetlights is not bad for a Saturday.
I just heard a big chunk of melting ice slide off the roof. Progress.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Crafting in place

I'm making small, no-fail things, just for the sense of accomplishment. A quilted zip bag, a lined tablet case, pom poms. A pair of plain socks. I made chocolate chip cookie dough and didn't even bake the cookies, I just ate the dough with a spoon, because baking them is where it always goes wrong and honestly, I like them oven-free just as well. Maybe better. I cleaned my closet and donated about twenty purses to the Goodwill, then I made a purse. I made a skirt from last year's pattern and it didn't fit [see "cookie dough", above] so I donated that, too. Wheels are spinning here in every possible sense--fleece becomes yarn on my Ashford Kiwi, my mind whirls with crafty ideas, and as more snow continues to fall, we get the car stuck in our own driveway every other day. I compose letters in my head: Dear Siberia, Please stop coming over the North Pole and dropping Canada on me. Thank you.