Sunday, February 28, 2010

Safely across the finish line (and with time to spare)

I finished Coraline last night and I have to say that I am really pleased with the result. I've been wearing it around all day - the DH and I even took it to go see the Modern Wing at the Art Institute this afternoon as a bit of a "coming out" party - and I absolutely love it.

Pattern: Coraline by Ysolda Teague
Yarn: my handspun! A 2-ply dk-weight (14 wraps per inch, according to my iSpin Toolkit app) worsted spun yarn from 13.1 oz of BFL fiber dyed by Chris at Briar Rose. I can't say enough good things about this yarn or the fiber that it came from.
Needles: size 4 (3.5 mm) Addi lace needle for everything but the turned hem and a size 2 (3.00 mm) needle for the inner part of the hem.
Gauge: 5.5 spi and 8 rpi
Started: 9:30pm on Friday, February 12
Finished: 9:05pm on Saturday, Februrary 27

Mods: Well, the obvious change is that I shortened the sleeves. The pattern calls for long, bloused sleeves and at first I planned on shortening them because I was worried about having too little yarn. But as I progressed through the pattern, I realized that, even though I probably had enough yarn for long sleeves, I much preferred the look of a just-below-the elbow sleeve. This would also save me the trouble of pushing the sleeves up to my elbow like I normally do.

The modified sleeve has no shaping other than the blousing just above the i-cord edge.

Because I was worried about having enough yarn, I also made a much larger modification and changed how the sweater was constructed. When I was browsing through finished Coralines on ravelry, I thought the pattern was worked top-down. That seemed like the most natural construction for a sweater of this sort and I was expecting to have a lot of flexibility in how and where I shaped the piece. Sadly, that was not to be and had I actually looked at the pattern before the opening ceremonies, I could have saved myself several moments of panic. 

The pattern calls for working the body and sleeves up to the armholes and then joining everything together to work the yoke. That is fine when you're not concerned with running out of yarn but it inspires sheer terror at the thought of running out two-thirds of the way up the yoke. I like a wide scoop neck as much as the next person, but I like it to be intentional.

So I decided to work the body up to the underarms and then provisionally cast on stitches where the arms should be. This let me work the yoke without worrying about yardage. Once the yoke was completed, I picked up the stitches from the provisional cast on and worked the sleeves top down. I switched the pattern increases to decreases and then worked an i-cord bind off.

One last little mod: since my row gauge was a bit off from what the designer used, I added an extra 2 rows to each section of the smocking pattern and worked an extra set of short rows at the top of the yoke. This just brings the proportions a little closer to what the designer intended.

I think this is a great pattern for handspun yarn. The endless rows of stockinette on the body and sleeves really let the yarn speak for itself while the patterning on the yoke provides just enough interest to keep the knitter from getting bored, without taking any attention away from the yarn.

This was my first experience with the Knitting Olympics and at the finish line I have mixed feelings about the experiences. First, let me say that the excitement of the whole thing was a lot of fine. I truly enjoyed picking a project that was going to be a challenge (and this one turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought it would be) and then pushing through obstacles (like big work projects) to complete the piece before the close of the olympics. I also adore this sweater - my first knit out of my own handspun yarn. All that said, knitting to a deadline was a bit more stress than I really wanted in this experience. Perhaps if I'd been a bit more on-the-ball with my Christmas knitting this past year I wouldn't have minded quite so much. 

Ultimately, I don't think knitting monogamy is for me. Sometimes you just don't want to spend the night with stockinette and that new cabled pattern or intriguing little sock is a bit too enticing. What can I say? In my knitting life, I'd rather play the field.

But monogamy isn't all bad. It gave me this:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Off to a slow start

Coraline is turning out to be much more of a challenge than I had initially thought. First, the issues with gauge (it always starts with gauge, doesn't it?). I knit a swatch and got stitch gauge (6 spi) on size 4 needles so I decided to go ahead with the 34" size as written in the pattern. Not having to tinker with the pattern sounded great.

Off I went and after knitting the inside portion of the hem facing, I decided to alternate skeins every two rows. As you can see, the skeins have a fair amount of variation in them and I thought it would be a good idea to try and even things out.

Two to three inches later, I decided that I really didn't like the look of alternating skeins but that I did like the gradations that appeared on the inner side of the hem facing. Not wanting to rip everything, I decided to cut the second skein and proceed with only one skein at a time. Cutting your own handspun is horrible, just horrible, so I strongly recommend frogging in order to avoid it. About 20 stitches into the next row, I decided that I couldn't live with the stripes and frogged back to the turning row of the hem. 

Fast forward several inches of plain, boring stockinette (but with beautiful color shifts in the handspun) and I start to think that maybe the piece is a bit wider than 34 inches. Lo and behold, my gauge had loosened up to 5.5 spi and now I was knitting a size 36. That's ok, I thought, I'll just add waist shaping to nip things in. I dutifully did the math and progressed another several inches with the newly added shaping. Then I tried the piece on.

It looked terrible. The shaping was too curvy for what is ultimately a swing jacket. And no amount of blocking was going to fix things (despite what I tried to tell myself). 

Lovely, no? Well, this was reduced to a pile of spaghetti when I ripped it all out this morning. As I was trying on my first attempt at Coraline, I realized that the shape that I really wanted was not a shaped garment but rather a swingy piece with a lot of drape - a lot like a lovely little linen cardi I had picked up from JCrew last summer. So several days later than I should have, I actually measured the linen cardi and found, much to my surprise, that it is a 32 bust with no shaping at all. That's not a number I'm used to using.

At least now that I am progressing forward again with the new size 32 numbers (I'm actually following the size 30 numbers to account for my slightly larger stitch gauge), the rows are a lot shorter!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh shoot, that one's not for me

I was knitting along on my Aestlight shawl last night when it hit me: this isn't for me. Yes, I know I bought the yarn and chose the pattern fully intending to make this shawl for a friend of mine. But look at this -

Wouldn't you want this, too? The color really is that rich. 

But you know what I can keep? This - 

That's 1050 yards of light worsted weight 2-ply BFL spun from roving dyed by Briar Rose Fibers. I know this is a bit heavier than what Coraline is designed for so I'm going to have to tweak things once I figure out a gauge that I like. Looks like it's time to swatch.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Roads not taken (yet)

I don't know about the rest of you, but the Knitting Olympics have been on my mind lately. To be sure, we're only talking about a tiny little spot at the back of my mind, which is pretty cluttered with thoughts of a teaching engagement  starting  later this week, a big work project due next week, and all of the other goings on of my non-knitting life. Naturally, when I started thinking about what I wanted to do during the Knitting Olympics, I ignored all of that and had a far too ambitious project in mind.

Briar Rose Legend

This is a lovely sport/dk weight merino that I picked up at Rhinebeck two years ago. No matter what I have in the stash, I can't seem to resist Chris's offerings at the Briar Rose booth.

I knew I wanted some sort of cable pattern and I kept sketching designs involving interlocking circles. After many drafts, I had a great chart ready to swatch - it looked perfect on paper. The original plan involved a large motif on the back and smaller, related motifs flanking the center button band in the front.

It's a good thing I tried swatching the smaller motif first. That's the first attempt on the left. What looked nice and round on regular graph paper ends up looking like a smooshed diamond when translated into knitting. Several iterations later, I came up with this:

We have a winner. The fronts are going to have a chain of these bubbles running up the center edge. I've played with reworking the larger motif with these proportions but haven't been able to make it work so I think I'm going to do a panel of three bubble columns instead.

The sides of the body, as well as the sleeves, will be worked in linen stitch like this:

I might be able to make this sweater for the Knitting Olympics, but that would require a less complicated non-knitting life over the next few weeks. So I picked Coraline instead.

At first I thought it wouldn't be much of a challenge to knit a sweater that is mostly stockinette, but then I realized that I'm still nowhere near finishing Buttercup, especially since I ripped out most of the body earlier today.

I finished spinning the yarn for Coraline over the weekend and now it's hanging up to dry after a little bath to set the twist. It looks like I'm ready to go.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Eye Candy Friday

A couple of weeks ago, I had the sort of visit to my LYS that most knitters dream of: I went in, picked out a rather large selection of lovely yarns, and was able to take them home without making much of a dent in my bank account. How did I do this? With the generosity of some wonderful friends.

Shortly after the holidays, my husband and I cat-sit for some friends of ours who were out of town. When they got back, they offered yarn as a thank-you gift. I gave the only possible response: a gracious acceptance (and a quick apology to the DH that I got yarn out of this while he got litter box duty - he was really very nice about all of it).

Malabrigo sock yarn in colorway Tiziano Red

I just cast on with this last night for Gudrun Johnston's Aestlight Shawl. This was a bit of an emergency cast-on since the scarflet is almost done and I needed another reading project to knit while I work on an ongoing research project today.

Malabrigo laceweight in colorway Paris Night

I think this one will look lovely in the Haruni shawl pattern that has been making the rounds of ravelry lately.

The next yarns have an even better story (certainly more glamorous than cleaning litter boxes). A while ago I joined a fantastic group on ravelry called "Finish It or Frog It." Jennifer has done a great job organizing everything and keeping me motivated to re-evaluate the state of me knitting basket on a regular basis. On her suggestion, I added my Bear Claw Blanket to the "Epic FO" thread, which showcased truly epic projects that took eons to finish (or at least seemed to). Fast forward several months and I was delighted to learn that my little blanket had won the Epic FO Grand Prize: a generous gift certificate to my LYS.  The next yarns, plus a nice long Addi Lace needle that I needed for the ribbing on Forecast's sleeves, are the result. Thanks to everyone who said that they like the blanket! I was really touched.

Dream in Color Smooshy in colorway Gothic Rose

This yarn has already been wound into balls (yes, there was a knot - very frustrating) and is transforming into a pair of Marlene socks by Cookie A. I tried this pattern a couple of months ago with some Mountain Colors Barefoot but wasn't thrilled with how the mohair halo was obscuring the pattern. I've stolen the needle away from that project but haven't ripped yet. I rationalize this by telling myself that I'm waiting to find another pattern for the yarn but the truth is that I really don't like ripping unless I absolutely have to.  

Dream in Color Classy in colorway Grey Tabby

There's something really wonderful about this color. It's hard to see in the picture but the subtle color shits are absolutely beautiful. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that I've been daydreaming about getting a grey tabby companion for Nayyir. What will the yarn become? A hat for the husband of the recipient of the Aestlight shawl. I'm thinking Koolhaas but haven't quite decided yet. Any other suggestions?

Elspeth Lavold Silky Wool in colorway Spruce

Last but certainly not least, these lovely skeins are waiting to become Audrey in Unst. I am so looking forward to knitting this but unfortunately it's three sweaters away in the queue. First I have to finish Forecast and Buttercup and then Coraline, which I haven't even started.

I think that means I need to spend some quality time with the wheel this weekend to finish up the yarn in time to cast on for the Knitting Olympics. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Progress shots

This blog often makes it look like I finish projects right and left, like knitting just flies off the needles. Boy, do I wish that were so. The truth is that I have so many projects going on at once (some of which I acknowledge as WIPs on ravelry and others that lurk in the bowels of my knitting basket) that I usually finish something often enough to stick with FOs for blog fodder. Today I've decided to change things up a bit and show you some project shots.

Here's a peek at the second scarflet, made with Dream in Color smooshy in the Strange Harvest colorway. 

The color snapshot on the Dream in Color website looks orange but my skein is more gold with shots of orange and brown. It's a beautiful color and a welcome splash of sunlight on grey winter days.

I just love this garter stitch. Yes, it's mindless but that's perfect for a project that I work on while reading. Even the lace bit at the edging is easy enough to knit without looking away from the pages.

Now I just have to keep knitting and see how much lace edging I can get out of this skein. Buttercup looks like it's almost done too, with just one more sleeve to go. 

Unfortunately, I'm going to rip back the body to that blue paperclip and reknit with some waist shaping. The straight shape of the body seems to add 10 pounds when I put the sweater on. I've been reading Barbara Walker again so I thought I'd take her advice for planning waist shaping on a top down garment. While wearing the sweater, I used paperclips to mark where I wanted the decreases and increases to start and stop (there's a green paperclip near the bottom that you can't quite see in this picture). But first, I'm going to knit the second sleeve so that I'll be done once I reknit the body.

The body is done on Forecast; it just needs sleeves. Well, it's got 2/3 of a sleeve already. I knit the first sleeve down to the transition between the garter/cable section and the ribbing and then paused to work  on the second sleeve. Hopefully this will make it easier to keep the sleeves the same length.

No, my waist is not that tiny. And yes, the ribbing does stretch. A lot.