The Hardest Part of Stay Soft

This post is looooong overdue. It’s the third instalment in a series of posts about ‘Stay Soft’, a shawl design by Veera Välimäki. I’d intended to write a step-by-step description of my knitting process way back in June, but… On the one hand, I got caught up in all kinds of new projects. And on the other, I felt unsure. Would people really be interested in reading about my knitting projects in so much detail?

But then two members of my knitting group asked: ‘How is your shawl coming along? You know, the one we helped you choose the pattern for?’ And I also started getting questions from readers, along the lines of: ‘Please explain how you knit the last part of Stay Soft, because I’m stuck.’ Apparently people do want to read about it, so here we go. (There’s a list of useful links at the bottom of this post).

The previous instalment ended after the third part, called ‘Coral Part’ in the pattern. This is what the shawl looked like at that point:

These first 3 parts are fairly straightforward. Now we get to the hardest part of Stay Soft, the part starting with the heading ‘Yellow Speckled Part’. Although there aren’t any mistakes in the pattern, and all the information is there, I still had some trouble figuring out exactly what to do.

First a note about the colours, though. To avoid confusion, these are the colours used by the designer and the ones I used:

  • Pattern: MC white speckled; CC1 coral-pink; CC2 yellow speckled
  • My version: MC yellow; CC1 orange; CC2 grey

After the first three sections (called ‘Main Color Part’, ‘Stripes’ and ‘Coral Part’ in the pattern), stitches need to be picked up in the second contrast colour (CC2). The pattern says: ‘Use the same needle and CC2’, but I used a different needle, as suggested later on in the pattern. To my mind, this makes it so much easier.

I used interchangeable circular needles. This means that I unscrewed the tips from the cables, screwed them onto another cable, and screwed end stoppers (the rectangular white things in the picture below) on the cable with my orange live stitches. At this point I cut CC1.

Then the pattern says: ‘pick up and knit 5 stitches starting from the cast-on corner of the shawl.’ And here it gets tricky. Where and how do we pick up these stitches?

After taking a good look I found out where to start picking up stitches. It’s at the tip the knitting needle below is pointing at – the very first stitches knit in the first colour (MC). And the stitches should be picked up on the right-hand side.

So, with CC2 and another needle the same size, and with the right side (RS) of the shawl facing, I picked up and knit 5 stitches, starting from the point indicated above. After a few tries, I picked up a stitch EVERY row (not in every ridge, which would be every other row), because otherwise the corner pulled and curled up.

For the next row (WS), the pattern says. ‘Knit the first two stitches, and slide the remaining 3 stitches onto right-hand needle as if to purl’. This made me scratch my head again – should the yarn be held in front or in back? As it turns out, the yarn should be held in front. So: After picking up 5 stitches, turn your work, knit the first 2 stitches, bring yarn to the front, and slip the next 3 stitches purlwise (as if you were going to purl them, but without actually purling them) with the yarn held in front of your work. Then turn your work and knit rows 11 – 18.

Slipping the last 3 stitches with the yarn held in front gives a sort of I-cord edge. When you’re just starting this edge it doesn’t look very nice or neat, as you can see in the picture below. But it will get better as you continue.

After that, rows 13 – 18 are repeated until the corner is reached, where the live stitches of the ‘coral part’ are waiting.

In this section, 1 stitch is increased in all right side (RS) rows by knitting 1fb, but this is neutralized by knitting 2 sts together in the same row. Only in row 17 it says k1fbf (instead of k1fb), so only in this row 1 stitch is increased. It is important to keep track of this, but I found it impossible to see where I had increased a stitch. To keep track of the increases, I placed a locking stitch marker immediately after I’d knit a ‘row 17’. And as soon as I came to the next increase row, I moved the stitch marker there.

Knitting on like this, a knitted on I-cord edge is formed on the ‘outside’, and a row of holes along the body of the shawl. At first it doesn’t look very attractive, but after a while the edge becomes really neat, and it becomes visible how the part in CC2 brings everything nicely together.

The next picture shows where exactly I picked up the stitches in the RS rows – just below the ‘curve’ or ‘bridge’ of the last knit stitch.

After knitting everything described on page 4 of the pattern, the shawl looks like this:

The needle in the grey part meets the end stopper on the cable in the orange part:

Time to start the I-cord bind-off along the end of the grey section. After about 10 cm/4 inches I noticed that this I-cord was much tighter than the knitted-on I-cord along the side of the grey section. I unraveled it carefully and started again with a thicker needle tip (5.0 mm instead of the 4.0 mm needle I used so far). Yes! Now both I-cords were similar.

Upon arriving at the orange section, I changed the end stopper for a thicker needle tip (in my case 5.0 mm) and continued the I-cord bind-off.

The knitted-on I-cord is just a small detail, but just look at it. It changes Stay Soft from an OK shawl into a fabulous shawl, don’t you think?

After the knitting is completed, it’s time to block the shawl. I think blocking is essential – it makes all the difference. After soaking the shawl in a non-rinse wool detergent (I used Soak, but Eucalan or any other brand works just as well) I spread it out on blocking mats. I threaded blocking wires through the knitted fabric along the edges.

I threaded the blocking wires through the stitches inside the I-cord edges:

While I was knitting I was a bit worried about the row of holes between the body of the shawl and the knitted-on part. They looked terribly irregular. Fortunately that was solved by blocking, too.

What a difference!

Before blocking
After blocking

And that’s it – the shawl’s all done!

I used a thinner yarn than indicated in the pattern (fine fingering instead of ordinary fingering), which gives a nice and airy shawl. When the light falls through it, it looks slightly transparent.

But wrapped around the neck, it is really cosy. Below you can see how the I-cord in a contrasting colour gives a nice crisp edge.

Details of my shawl:

  • Yarn used: Isager Alpaca 2 (MC 23 grs; CC1 50 grs; CC2 28 grs)
  • Needles: 4 mm/US 6 and 5 mm/US 8 (the thicker needle only for last stretch of I-cord)
  • Finished size after blocking: Wingspan 213 cm/84 in; Middle to tip: 57 cm/22.5 in

I think it’s a very wearable, good size shawl from just over 100 grams of yarn. For me, Stay Soft was a really, really enjoyable pattern to knit, in spite of (or perhaps rather because of) all the frogging and puzzling out how to get it right.

Phew! This may very well be my longest blog post to date. At least it was the most complicated one to compile. Thank you dear knitting friends and readers for giving me the motivation to do it.

I hope everything makes sense. If there’s anything that isn’t clear, or if you have any other questions, please leave a comment. I’ll try to answer as best as I can.

High time for a break and a big mug of tea!

Links:

Sweet Peas and Summer Knitting

Before launching into a discourse on summer knitting yarns and projects, I just have to show you our sweet peas first. They are doing so well. In just a few weeks they grew from tiny little seedlings to tall flowering plants.

I expected lots of different pastel shades, but almost all of our sweet pea flowers are the same – a velvety dark purple combined with a deep burgundy. In reality the colours are even darker than in the pictures. Very different from what I expected, but lovely nevertheless.

Among the dark flowers, there are a few pale pink ones:

We have to keep picking them if we want the plants to keep producing flowers throughout the summer months. So, from now on there will be posies of sweet peas on our table, perfuming the room with their heavenly scent. Simply luxurious!

That’s one thing I like about summer – sweet peas. They’ll go on my list.

List? What list? Well, summer is my least favourite season. I know this may sound weird, as most people seem to love it, but the truth is that I don’t feel at my best during the summer months. For years I’ve tried to ignore it and told myself to stop moaning. But this year I’m trying to find out exactly what makes me feel this way, so that I can do something about it. Plus I’m making a list of things that I do like about summer, and sweet peas definitely deserve a place on it.

One of the things I’ve found out so far, is that I miss my knitting. When temperatures rise, I tend to put my knitting aside, because the yarn is too warm in my hands and on my lap. I find other things to do instead, like reading and crochet. But that’s not quite enough for me. I still miss my knitting!

So what would make knitting possible on hot days? After giving it some thought I came up with two simple criteria:

  1. Yarn for summer knitting should be either cool and crisp or fine (and have zero mohair content), so that it doesn’t stick to clammy palms
    AND/OR
  2. Projects for summer knitting should be small, so that they don’t feel like a warm blanket on one’s lap

Pretty obvious, really. With these two criteria in mind, I first looked at what I had in my stash and came up with some leftover yarns that I could use for small projects. This is some yarn left over from a shawl I once knit:

It’s Tosh Merino Light in five matching shades. I’m using these little balls for another Tellina cowl. This yarn doesn’t fall into the category ‘cool and crisp’, but it’s smooth and fairly fine, so OK for small projects even on warm days.

The yarn I used for the original version was a fine fingering-weight. Now I want to try the pattern out in some heavier fingering-weight yarns, like the Tosh Merino Light you see here.

After finishing the purpley one, I am also going to make one from some average, ordinary fingering-weight sock yarn:

By knitting several versions, I’m testing out how many stitches and how many rows are needed to get approximately the same size cowl with various yarns. I think it’ll be a great little project for all kinds of leftovers.

As I didn’t have any yarn worth speaking of in the category ‘cool and crisp’, I browsed around on the internet and in a brick-and-mortar yarn shop. Usually I don’t give the ‘cotton corner’ a glance, but this time I specifically headed for it. And although I think I will always prefer wool, I must say that I found some beautiful non-wool yarns, too. There are so many summery yarns available now! Not just all kinds of cotton, but also linen, hemp, viscose, yarn spun from recycled jeans and much more.

In the end I chose a mixture of cotton and linen in plain white:

It’s going to be a plain white Tee. Do you remember that band, The Plain White T’s? With their sweet song ‘Hey There Delilah’? That’s the song that I’ll be humming when I’m knitting this oversized summery T-shirt.

Another idea for summer knitting that ticks all the boxes comes from a comment on a recent blog post left by Marieke. She recommends a booklet by Helle Benedikte Neigaard:

It’s a charming, inexpensive booklet that’s widely available, and I bought it straightaway. Thank you for the tip Marieke! In English it’s entitled Easy Knit Dishcloths. (When adding the link, I discovered that it’s not all that inexpensive in English – Sorry.)

Handknit dishcloths seem to be a Scandinavian thing – I’ve come across them in Norwegian and Danish books and magazines before. This booklet is also by a Danish author. And I recently heard about a Danish designer who built up an entire yarn emporium around these humble cloths. What’s the attraction? I’m going to find out!

Finally, I’ve bought a big yarn cake in a colour gradient:

It’s cotton, and I’m going to use it for a new design I’m working on. I’ve already knit it twice, but want to try it out in at least one other yarn before I publish it.

Uhm, exactly how many weeks does a summer have again? Together with the cooler weather knits still on my needles and the shawl with a crochet border I wrote about last week, I now have so many plans for summer projects that it’s beginning to look slightly unrealistic that I’ll actually finish them all. Well, we’ll see. At least I feel good about using up some leftover yarn, and I’m very happy to have so much to look forward to.

All around us, people are busy packing for their holidays. We aren’t, because we’ve decided to stay home this year. We will be taking some time off, though, for a ‘staycation’. That may mean that I’ll be blogging less frequently or on different days of the week, or write shorter blog posts. Or maybe I’ll continue as usual. I just don’t know yet. So if things are different, or you’re not hearing from me for a while, don’t worry. I’m just sitting in the garden, knitting, reading, enjoying the flowers and the birds, and gathering fresh inspiration.

Whether you’re going away or staying at home, I wish you a happy and relaxing summer!

An Afternoon in the Garden

After several rather busy days, I spent an entire Sunday afternoon in the garden. Just sitting, knitting, drinking tea and looking around with my camera at hand. Everything is growing so fast, I can hardly keep up.

Above, you can see my utterly comfortable chair. It was a present for my 50th Birthday, which seems like yesterday, but is in fact so long ago that the fabric has become quite faded in places.

Behind my chair, you can see a part of our small wildflower meadow. It took a while to get going, but now it’s absolutely glorious, with many different plant species and always something new to discover. And one of the best things about it, is that it attracts lots of butterflies, bees and other insects. Here, on an oxeye daisy, is a large tortoiseshell:

We were thrilled to see it, for it is a rare butterfly that was almost extinct in our country until a couple of years ago. Now it seems to be making a come-back. I’m really glad to be the bringer of this good news amidst all the bad news we hear and read about the terrible decline in biodiversity.

Just like the oxeye daisies, the foxgloves are flowering prodigiously this year.

We didn’t plant or sow these foxgloves. They just arrived out of the blue. The first couple of years there were just a few plants, but look at them now!

Bumble bees are buzzing in and out of their bell-like flowers. I really love their shades from purple to pale pink to white. And they have beautiful burgundy spots inside:

There are more plants in our garden that sprang up of their own accord, and we heartily welcome them (at least some of them). But we also have some that we’ve deliberately planted, like these sweet peas.

They’re growing incredibly fast. Since I took this picture they’ve grown quite a bit, and I can already see some tiny flower buds. I’m so looking forward to the fluttery flowers with their lovely scent.

Apart from plants, butterflies and insects, there is also a lot of bird activity in the garden.

There are many, many young sparrows around, flapping their wings begging for food. Two of our nest boxes are filled with cheeping great tits. And the house martins are flying to and fro to feed their young. After the eggs hatched, the birds threw the empty shells out of the nests. I found them on the ground underneath the nests over several mornings:

The speckled shells are papery thin. So fragile that I could hardly pick them up without crushing them. And so small that it’s hard to imagine a complete chick can come out of them. I’ve photographed the egg shells next to one of our own small, white hen’s eggs to give you some idea of their size:

I found the egg shells a little over two weeks ago. I read that it takes house martins five weeks to fledge, so the adults still have an exhausting few weeks ahead of them.

A good friend of mine, the blackbird, is always around too:

For weeks on end, it was hurrying around, collecting worms and other edibles for its young. I think it has had two consecutive nests. Sadly, it seems that this year just one chick survived. But that chick looks strong and healthy, and can now almost fend for itself:

Two large, noisy families of magpies, by contrast, have done very well. Maybe they’ve raised their young on blackbird eggs or chicks, who knows?. They’re notorious nest raiders. They’ve even been known to steal some of our hen’s eggs, which we briefly left unattended between collecting them from the laying nest and putting them away indoors.

I can almost hear the magpie thinking: ‘Well, how was I to know that you didn’t put them out there especially for us? You leave peanuts, seeds and mealworms out for other birds, too, don’t you?’

In between watching the birds and looking at the flowers around me, I also did some knitting. I started two new projects – both in soft shades of pink. One is a striped cardigan in a combination of yarns in different weights:

And the other is a simple shawl in two different lace-weight yarns held together:

They’re both lovely, relaxing knits. I’ll show you more when I’m a little further along.

The day I sat knitting and taking pictures in the garden, was before the onset of some Very Hot weather. For the past few days, it’s been absolutely sweltering. I’ve had to put these knitting projects on hold. The soft, hairy yarn is sticking to my hands, and both the cardi and the shawl in progress are way too hot to have on my lap.

I’m now spending my spare time reading instead, but I need to find something else to do with my hands soon. Something suitable for tropical temperatures.

I’m not much of a summer knitter, really. I often switch over to crochet when temperatures rise. But I’d like to have something summery on my knitting needles, too. Hmmm, I’ll see what I can find. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Frogging

I’ve been knitting for over fifty years and I knit almost every single day, so I think I can safely say that I’m an experienced knitter. I can’t say that everything always goes swimmingly, though. After all those years, I still run into obstacles, and I still often have to frog things.

For a long time, I was baffled by the verb ‘to frog’ for unravelling knitting. It wasn’t in any of my dictionaries in this sense of the word. I just didn’t get why people called it frogging. Until Adrienne Martini explained it to me, on page 50 of her hilarious book Sweater Quest: My year of knitting dangerously:

‘Frogging, which doesn’t involve amphibians, means pulling out large swaths of knitting at one go. You rip it. If you don’t get the association, say it out loud.’

Rip it, rip it. Ah, I finally got it! Well, I’m a frequent frogger. Take a seemingly simple shawl like Stay Soft.

I started out cheerfully, casting on a small number of stitches, gradually increasing along one edge of the garter stitch rows. Everything was plain and clear in the pattern. No need to frog anything this time, right? Wrong.

Because I had a finer yarn and less yardage than the amount specified in the pattern, I’d decided to use a smaller needle size to be on the safe side. But when I’d finished both the yellow and the striped section (i.e. after knitting about one third of the entire shawl)…

… I had an awful lot of the first yarn colour left over – almost two-thirds of the total amount. It would be a shame to waste all that yarn. Besides, the fabric didn’t feel quite right, and it looked as if the final shawl would end up rather small if I went on like this.

So, I frogged everything I’d knit so far and started afresh with the needle size specified in the pattern.

The second time around the fabric looked and felt better. I quickly re-knit the yellow and the striped sections. On the orange section I ran out of yarn after I’d knit 16 rows less than the pattern indicated, but I wasn’t really worried by that.

By that time the shawl already had quite a good size (but rather a strange shape):

Now it was time to pick up stitches for the third colour. I read through the instructions: ‘pick up and knit 5 stitches starting from the cast-on corner of the shawl.’ Hmmm, where exactly? And how?

This pattern has been knit by many people before, so I thought I’d take a look at other projects on Ravelry, to see how they had done it. I read that others had scratched their heads, too, at this point. Many of them somehow found the solution, and some people even made notes of what they’d done, but I was still a bit confused.

So I tried something, frogged it, tried again, frogged again, until I was happy with the result:

And then I thought: why don’t I write a blog post showing exactly what I’m doing, so that others won’t have to frog as much as did? So that’s what I’m working on now: knitting the rest of the shawl while taking photographs and making notes. If it works out, I’ll show you the results soon.

Note: The frog in the photo at the top of this post is a moor frog that hopped across our path during one of our recent walks. During the mating season the males turn blue for a few days. The frog may look quite big in the photograph, but it was only 5 centimeters (2 inches) long at most.

Shades of Green

A while ago, I decided to mend my ways and finish things immediately after the actual knitting, instead of leaving them lying around half-finished. With my green mohair and silk scarf that was easy. I only needed to darn in two tails (at the beginning and end of the scarf, because I’d knit in the others at the colour changes), give it a soak and allow it to dry.

The pattern told me to roll up the scarf in dry towels, after soaking it, and gently squeeze out the moisture. That’s the advice that’s generally given for delicate yarns, to prevent them from breaking. But I just put my scarf in the spin dryer. (No! Really? Shock! Horror!). Yes, really! I know from experience that this yarn doesn’t come to any harm, as long as it stays in for just a short time. (I have a separate spin dryer, and haven’t tried the spin cycle of the washing machine, though.)  The yarn is thin, but it is stronger than it looks, especially when two strands are knit together.

After spin drying, I just spread it out to dry on the floor at first. But on second thoughts I decided to block it on my foam mats, with blocking wires along the insides of the border. And I must say, that was worth the effort. It dried up nice and straight along the sides, and the fabric became loftier and more even than it would otherwise have been. It ended up really, really soft and fluffy, as you can see:

The pattern I used is the Color Play Mohair Scarf by Churchmouse, a yarn and tea shop on Bainbridge Island on the west coast of the US, near Seattle. I love their simple and stylish patterns. The CPMS is very easy to knit. Basically it is nothing but a stocking stitch rectangle with a seed stitch border. I could have knit it without a pattern, but I bought the pattern anyway. Why?

Because the pattern tells me exactly how much yarn I need (for this scarf as well as for a bigger wrap version), which needles to use, how many stitches to cast on, and when to switch colours. It is nice when somebody else does the thinking for me now and then. Besides, it has gorgeous colour photos and useful tips.

The scarf is knit in four shades of green, with two strands of yarn held together. This gives such a lovely effect:

Several years ago, I knit the same scarf in a red/orange/pink colour combo, and it’s still one of my favourites. If I had a limitless yarn budget, I’d knit ten of these, all in different colours.

The only thing is, I’ll have to wait for a few months before I can wear it, because it’s much too warm now. I often seem to finish things in the wrong season. At least, the wrong season from a temperature point of view. Colourwise it is exactly the right season!

The month of May has been like an explosion of green. Part of our local wood has a green (and white) carpet of Lily of the Valley.

I knelt down to take some photographs from closer up. And to breathe in the heavenly scent of the flowers, of course.

During the past few months, the CPMS was my take-along project. It accompanied me on visits to friends and relatives. And also on an outing to Münster, Germany, where we spent a rainy morning at the Botanical Gardens. Speaking of green…

We didn’t really mind the rain. It made everything smell nice and fresh. And look how beautiful the raindrops gathered on the leaves of the Lady’s Mantle (this is a small alpine variety):

The Botanical Gardens had a big pond, with a weeping willow with bright green young leaves in the centre. It looked more like a lawn than a pond, though, with its surface covered entirely by duckweed.

A Mallard and several ducklings were swimming around in it. The beak of the little duckling in the picture is covered in duckweed, which made me wonder if they actually eat it. I looked it up and – yes, in addition to insect larvae, snails and so on, they also eat duckweed.

(Looking this up, I also found out that scientists are investigating duckweed as a possible food source for us, humans. And why not? I can see duckweed soup, duckweed smoothies and duckweed pesto in my future.)

And then suddenly, in between all that green, a spot of red! A squirrel with a bushy tail, nibbling a nut.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my shades of green. Many of us in the Netherlands have a long weekend ahead of us. I’m going to immerse myself in as much green as I can and I hope you have the opportunity to do so, too. Have a great time!

May Miscellany

In May…

…all birds their eggs do lay, or so an old Dutch saying goes. But that’s not the only nice thing about the month of May. It’s also the month the vendors at our nearest Farmer’s Market put up their stalls again after their winter break. Visiting this market is a real treat.

The singer who is always there with her guitar, welcomes us with Dolly Parton’s ‘Play a song for me, Apple Jack, Apple Jack’, and other old favourites. The music creates a great atmosphere around the twenty or so stalls.

We always buy a punnet of strawberries. These are so much tastier than the ones from the supermarket. And sometimes we buy some delicious handmade goat’s cheese, too.

New to the market this year is a lady with felt objects, like hats and scarves, as well as handspun yarns. I wouldn’t immediately know what to do with her riotously colourful skeins, as I usually choose quieter yarns (maybe combine them with a matching solid colour?), but they’re a joy to look at.

I love chatting with other crafters about the things they make, about what moves and inspires them, the techniques they use, and so on. So I asked the new lady about the ‘fleece’ hanging at the back of her stall. I’ve seen fleeces like this before, felted onto a woollen background, but always made from the wool of just one sheep.

This crafter, however, combined wool from different sheep breeds to create the fleece in the photo below. She mentioned at least six breeds. (But I don’t remember a single one. Sorry, my brain was also having some time off.) It shows beautifully how greatly sheep’s wool can vary.

Apart from the colours, ranging from white through grey and russet to almost black, the structure of the wool varies too. There are some long straight locks, some fluffy, wavy bits of wool, and some very tight curls.

Birds

Now on to those birds laying their eggs in May. Our nest boxes are often used by blue and great tits (picture below), but I’m not sure who is using which nest box this year. We don’t want to disturb the birds, so we don’t open the boxes to look what’s inside. I’ll just have to spend more time in the garden watching flight movements.

In our beech hedge there’s a blackbird’s nest – or perhaps even two. And just above our bedroom window there are two house martin’s nests. These were first occupied by squatters – two families of cheeky sparrows, whose chicks have already fledged. I’ve seen the parents feeding small pieces of peanut from our feeder to their young.

After the sparrow chicks fledged, the house martins returned from the south. They set about cleaning out and repairing their nests straightaway. I can’t look inside to see whether there are any eggs in them, but I’m pretty sure both nests are back in use.

And the winner is…

I started the month of May with a blog post about a gift of yarn from a friend. In it, I asked for your help in choosing between two patterns I had in mind, called ‘Stripe Study’ and ‘Stay Soft’. I have now counted the votes, and Stay Soft came out on top. It got an overwhelming majority of the votes: 70% for Stay Soft against 30% for Stripe Study.

Now you may think, ‘Huh, but there was only one person who left a comment, voting for Stay Soft! How did you arrive at these percentages?’ Well, many people seem to be hesitant about leaving a comment on a blog. I quite understand. I often read blogs without commenting, too. That’s absolutely fine. What I got instead were phone calls, emails and face-to-face reactions.

So, Stay Soft it is going to be. I’ve already made a start.

A funny thing that struck me, was that most knitters voted for Stay Soft, while most non-knitters voted for Stripe Study. Why would that be? We talked about this in the knitting group I belong to, and one of the members said: ‘It looks like non-knitters focus more on the end product, and knitters more on the knitting process.’ Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Thank you to all of you who helped me decide.

A Lovely Surprise

Last November, I found a parcel in our letterbox. It wasn’t my Birthday. I wasn’t expecting any parcels. Had I ordered something that I’d forgotten about? I didn’t think so.

I hurried inside to open it, and I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I saw the contents. It was the red bag in the photo at the top of this post, but even better. It was covered in colourful tape: yellow tape measure tape and cheerful flowery tape. I should have taken a photo straight away, but didn’t think of it at the time. I was too curious what was inside.

I ripped the tape off and found this:

Three beautiful skeins of soft, squishy yarn (and a postcard). A present from a dear friend I’ve known for over 40 years, to thank me for a shawl I’d knit for her. Totally unnecessary, of course, because knitting that shawl was such a pleasure, but what a lovely surprise!

My friend wrote that she’d been to Amsterdam for work, and had taken the time in between two meetings to visit one of my favourite yarn shops to buy some yarn for me. Wasn’t that a wonderfully thoughtful thing to do? She is not a knitter herself. She must have learnt to knit as a child (we all did), but I’ve never seen her knitting.

So how does a non-knitter choose from all those beautiful yarns on display? On the postcard she wrote: ‘For me the shop was a jumble of yarns and wool, but I just had to choose these three autumn colours.’ She may not be a knitter, but she is an art-lover with a good eye for colour.

She chose three skeins of Isager ‘Alpaca 2’, a 50/50 blend of alpaca and wool. It’s a yarn I’ve never knit with, but have been wanting to.

And look how carefully the postcard that she sent was chosen to match the colours of the yarn:

The combination is a thing of beauty in itself. The yarn has been lying around for a while. First in a basket, just to be admired and petted, and later wound onto balls. I don’t know if you can see the colours properly on your screen, so I’ll try to describe them.

There’s a mustardy yellow, a warm marmalade orange, and a blueish or greenish (depending on the light) dark grey. It looks like part of the fibre was from a grey or brown animal, which makes the colours muted and slightly heathered.

Really autumnal, woodland colours. It’s springtime now, but I’m not going to wait for autumn to come around again. I want to make something with this yarn now. But what?

A shawl, I think. Something modern and geometrical. It’s 150 grams altogether, so it won’t be huge, but it should make a good-sized one if I choose the right shape.

What would be a good pattern for this yarn?

Ravelry

The best place to look for an answer is Ravelry, so that’s where I went. Most of you will be familiar with it, but for those of you who aren’t: Ravelry is a online knitting and crochet community, with currently around 8 million members. It is a great place to meet knitters from all walks of life and all over the world. It is also a database with tons of patterns to choose from. This is the log-in screen:

Entering search criteria for project category and approximate yarn weight I got about 24.000 options to choose from. I refined my search criteria some more, some more again, and then some more, and finally got a manageable number of choices.

One of the patterns that came up was Earth and Sky (Ravelry link) by Stephen West, co-owner of the shop where the yarn was bought. It is a great design, and very suitable for 3 colours.

But then I scrolled on and came across Finnish designer Veera Välimäki and thought: Yes, of course! Veera is famous for her geometrical designs. Several of her shawl patterns fit the bill, and I finally whittled them down to two: ‘Stripe Study’ and ‘Stay Soft’.

Stripe Study

Stripe Study is an asymmetrical triangle knit from the top down, with the stripes closer together at one end than at the other. A great pattern, but… Stripe Study is designed for 2 colours. The challenge is: how to divide my 3 colours over the shawl to get a pleasing effect and use all of them up as much as possible?

Stay soft

Stay Soft is a shallow, slightly curvy triangle designed specifically for 3 colours. It is knit in 2 sections from one point to the other, with the top section in colours 1 and 2, and a wide border in colour 3. This is a great pattern too, but… My colours have much more contrast than the ones in the example. Would they still form a pleasing whole, or would the contrast be too strong?

I couldn’t find a better picture of Stay Soft, so I’ve taken photos of the diagrams of both shawls to show their constructions more clearly (click on images to enlarge):

Which one is it going to be? I don’t know – there’s something to be said for both. What do you think? Stripe Study, with its bold, straight lines, or Stay Soft, with its softer, curvy shape? Will you help me choose?

Finishing Granite

Finishing – weaving in ends, sewing seams – is my least favourite part of knitting. I’d rather start something new. So, while some people have skeletons in their cupboards, I have UFO’s (UnFinished Objects). Like a sweater with one sleeve, cardigans with just the buttons or pockets to sew on, a colourful scarf with a thousand ends to weave in, that sort of thing. Most UFO’s become FO’s in the end, but for some it takes a long, long time.

Now I’d like to mend my ways. I didn’t want to leave our daughter waiting for her new Granite cardigan for ages, so as soon as I finished knitting all of the pieces, I blocked them. Usually I don’t do this with garments, but only with lace shawls and other things that need opening up.

I gave the pieces a good soak, spun them lightly in the spin-dryer, and laid them out flat on my blocking mats – with blocking wires along the longest sides – and pinned them into place. I didn’t stretch them hard at all (as I would a lace shawl) but just to the size indicated in the schematics.

The pattern (Granite from Kim Hargreaves’ book Grey) said ‘Press all pieces with a warm iron over a damp cloth’. I gave it a try, but it soon became clear that that wasn’t going to work. As I wrote in another post, the combination of yarn and stitch pattern made the knitted fabric bunch up terribly. I could stretch it out in every direction, but it sprang back as soon as I let go.

I took some pictures of the knitted fabric before and after blocking, to show what the blocking did:

The fabric underwent a transformation. Dry it was elastic and springy. Wet it was limp (I have no other word to describe it). I tried to block the pieces very carefully to correspond with the sizes in the diagrams. Widthwise this was no problem, but lengthwise it was. They were much longer! The back and fronts were longer, the sleeves were longer, the armholes were wider. Yikes! Well, there was nothing I could do about it at this stage.

While the pieces were drying, I went looking for buttons. Now that is a part of the finishing process that I do like! I visited a great little haberdashery shop, with an impressive wall of buttons:

I zoomed in on the blue-green section and found several buttons that looked suitable. I spread the cardigan front out on the counter and placed some on the button band.

Now which one to choose?

The top button: too blingy
The second button: hmmm, maybe
The third button: too small
The fourth button: too dull
The fifth button: yes, I think this is perfect!

And then the two shop ladies (both several decades younger than me) had their say: It’s for your daughter, isn’t it? I wouldn’t choose the fifth button – that’s the granny option. (Ouch!) Take the second one. Much better!

Taking another look, I knew they were right. So, the second button from the top it was. Thanks for your help girls!

When they were dry, I didn’t sew the pieces together. I just pinned them, because I expected I’d have to rip them back and shorten them. But magically the cardigan fit!

The sleeves were the right length and the armholes were just right. The body was slightly longer than planned, but that was fine.

Now I could set about sewing everything together. How could I make that unpleasant task more pleasant? Well, I collected everything I needed in a basket, put on a nice bit of music, lighted a scented candle and treated myself to a special cup of tea.

I also promised myself that I didn’t have to do it all in one sitting. Half an hour here, 45 minutes there, and before I knew it, it was finished.

During a lightning visit from our daughter, we did a quick photo shoot:

I joined most of the seams with an ordinary back stitch (on the wrong side), but for the band at the back of the neck I used a mattress stitch on the right side of the fabric. That way I was better able to see what I was doing, and got a flatter seam. I’m very happy with how this worked out:

Taking beautiful photographs is a skill/art I need to practice a lot more. As you can see in this post alone, the colour of the yarn looks different all the time. In reality it is a medium dark teal (blue-green). The yarn I used is Rowan ‘Super Fine Merino 4-ply’:

As the name suggests, the yarn consists of 4 plies. Each one of these plies consists of 2 plies again, as you can see in the picture on the right. This construction makes the yarn very elastic, which caused some of the troubles I experienced.

I wouldn’t recommend this yarn to a beginning knitter, because it is very hard to get the measurements of the knit right, and also because it is easy to stick one’s needle into the yarn and miss one or more of the plies while knitting.

But all in all I’m really, really happy with it. After washing and blocking, the fabric is beautifully soft and smooth, with a subtle gleam, and a wonderful drape.

Here’s one last photo, which shows up the pretty decreases along the neckline very well.

Thank you for reading. I know I’ve gone rather more into technical detail than I’ve done so far. I hope it was interesting nevertheless. If you’re a Ravelry member and would like even more details (yarn quantities, needle sizes etc.) you can find them here on the project page.

Now on to something new!

April Allsorts

It almost hurts the eyes, doesn’t it? That blue, blue sky with those bright white flowers of the June berry. I was taking a spin on my bicycle when I took this photograph. Something was bothering me, and I thought a bit of exercise and fresh air might help clear my mind. The air was certainly fresh, not to say icy. I was glad I was wearing my woollen gloves. But what a glorious afternoon!

There were lots of lambs in the fields:

You’d expect the air to be filled with the sound of bleating, but it wasn’t. The sheep and their lambs were quietly dozing or grazing – or following their grazing mums around – and watching each other.

We all know that ewes and their lambs can recognize each other’s voices. But we don’t know (or at least I don’t) if they have other ways of communicating. One ewe and her lamb, lying with their heads close together, made me wonder about that. Do they communicate with other sounds besides bleating? They don’t seem to have many different facial expressions. But what about eye contact? Or perhaps they communicate in ways that we humans have no idea of.

What a wonderful bicycle ride! It was no more than 45 minutes, but I’d seen so many lovely things. And although I hadn’t consciously been trying to solve the problem bothering me, just cycling along had solved it for me – I knew what I had to do when I got home.

Apart from some cold and bright days like these, April has given us all sorts of weather. We even had an afternoon of snow and hailstorms! I don’t know if you can see it on your screen, but the leaves of these dwarf lilies in our garden are filled with hailstones.

Last Sunday, the day after these wintry showers, was a little more spring-like. Not as warm yet as it is now, but really nice weather for a woodland stroll.

I was wearing my new socks. Maybe you remember them from a previous post – the ones with the wide stripes:

I tried to get the stripes matching on both socks. I’ve tried to do that before, with varying success. In theory, it should work if you find a clear place in the stripe pattern, note down where you are starting on the first sock, and start at the same place in the stripe sequence on the second sock.

The emphasis here lies on ‘in theory’, because sometimes there is a knot in the yarn (*#@!), or the stripe pattern suddenly skips a section for no clear reason (*#@!!!). This time it worked, though:

I give lots of socks away, being fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who want to wear them. But I’m keeping these.

The yarn I used is Regia 4-ply in a colourway called ‘Nissedal’. This stripe pattern was designed by Arne and Carlos, the sympathetic Norwegian guys (or is one of them Swedish?) who gained world fame with their knitted julekuler (Christmas baubles). They’ve designed lots of other knits since then and have a YouTube channel with some 60.000 subscribers. I must admit that I’ve never watched any of their videos myself, but that’s not Arne and Carlos’ fault. It’s just that I’m not much of a video watcher in general.

One of their latest ventures is a collection of cushion patterns for yarn brand Rowan, which is presented in Rowan’s latest Spring/Summer Magazine (number 65):

Some cushions have geometrical designs, others have intarsia flower patterns, and all of them have ‘Scandinavian knitting design’ printed all over, don’t you think?

Word of Warning: Don’t buy this magazine just for the cushions, because the patterns are not included. I don’t regret buying it, as it is filled with lovely spring and summer knits, including four designs for garments and accessories by Arne and Carlos. Everything is beautifully photographed, the patterns for all the other items are included, and I love leafing through it for inspiration. But the cushion patterns need to be bought and downloaded separately from the Rowan website.

I’ve almost come to the end of what I wanted to show and tell you today. There’s just one more thing. I’ve finished knitting Granite, the cardigan for our daughter. I struggled with the right way to measure the stretchy knitted fabric, and was worried that I’d get it wrong. So I didn’t sew the pieces together yet, but just pinned them.

During our visit on Sunday she tried it on and…

… it fits! Yay! Can you see the pins sticking out at the armhole? Now there’s just the ends to weave in, the seams to join and the buttons to sew on.

Well, that’s all for now. I wish you a lovely weekend. And if the weather is as spring-like in your part of the world as it is here, I hope you have plenty of time to enjoy it.

Simple Knits

Right now, life around us looks a bit like relay race. As soon as one person recovers from the flu the next one takes over the baton, and starts coughing and feeling headachy. And then the next one. For those of you who are reading this with watery eyes and a box of tissues close to hand: I wish you a speedy recovery!

I’m more or less back to normal, so I thought I’d give you the knitting update that I promised last week. It’s all about simple knits right now, nothing spectacular (is knitting ever spectacular?). I’m glad that I have several things in this category on my needles.

Granite

First of all there is ‘Granite’, the cardigan that I’m making for our daughter. Although I don’t feel like I’m spending huge amounts of time knitting, it is progressing much faster than I’d expected. I’d hoped to have it finished before the autumn, but if it goes on like this, she may even be able to wear it later this spring. The back, both fronts and one sleeve are done. There’s just one more sleeve to knit.

The combination of yarn and stitch pattern make for a really, really elastic fabric. As a consequence all of the pieces look very long and narrow. I mean, look at this sleeve:

Does it look like something that is going to fit? Not really. I trust that it’s going to be all right in the end, because I have knit my swatches and have complete faith in the designer, but still…

Measuring problems

Measuring the length of the pieces is quite hard, as they stretch enormously in every direction. I’ve measured the first sleeve again and again, and the tape measure indicates a different length every time.

I’ve also counted the number of rows I knit and compared them to my swatch. For the sleeve, for instance, I need to knit 40 centimeters from cuff to start of sleeve cap. In theory that is four times the number of rows of my 10 cm swatch. But in reality that looks way shorter than it should be, and that’s what my tape measure tells me too.

Well, I’ve done my best and hope that back and front, and especially the sleeves are going to be the right length.

Button bands

The button bands are knit onto the cardigan and have tiny, one stitch button holes:

I usually buy the buttons first and then adapt the button holes to them. But because I was unable to go out, I’m doing it the other way round this time. I’m knitting the buttonholes as indicated in the pattern and hope that I’ll be able to find matching buttons.

(While I was taking these pictures, there were some heavy rain showers, with sunny spells in between. The sun suddenly came out when I took the buttonhole picture, which is why it looks such a different colour. On my screen, the picture of the sleeve is truest to the actual yarn colour.)

Socks

The second project on my needles is a pair of socks. Not terribly exciting, but always nice to do. Usually I don’t mind if the two socks end up slightly different. I think it’s no problem at all in the pair below that I knit a while ago. As you can see, the sock on the right has a darker cuff and toe, and a bright pink heel, while the colours are distributed differently in the sock on the left. But overall, the effect is similar:

But the pair I’m knitting now has very prominent stripes:

In this case I do want both socks to be alike. Nowadays some of these yarns have a special starter thread that helps create two identical socks, but my yarn doesn’t. So what I’ve done is I’ve chosen a clearly recognizable part in the stripe pattern (the narrow blue stripe bordering the part with the turquoise in the middle) and started with that. I hope I can replicate that on the second sock.

Take-along project

I have a confession to make. My scarf in four colours of mohair and silk was meant to be my take-along project. The idea was that I would knit the memories of places I’d been to into it. But I’ve cheated and also knit a bit at home. I wasn’t going anywhere for weeks on end, and I just couldn’t keep my hands off it.

Apart from that, it has accompanied me on an outing with our daughter, a visit to friends in the south of the country and to my knitting group on Wednesday, where I added in the next colour, the bright turquoise on the right (I took the photo beforehand).

In this scarf, two colours are knit together in every ‘block’. This means that the scarf as a whole will be less bright than the yarn on the ball, and that the colours blend nicely together from one block to the next.

Swatches

And last but not least, I’ve been knitting some swatches in an absolutely BEAU-TI-FUL yarn.

This fairly thin yarn is soft, has a slight gleam and comes in a range of lovely colours. I hope to tell you more about it soon.