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.

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!

Festive I-Cord and Winter Tea

For us, Christmas is not about presents. Our big gift-giving moment is on December 5th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. For us, this time of the year is about celebrating togetherness, darkness and light, and good food. And for me, it is also a time to reflect, rest, read and knit.

Still, there is always someone who could do with a small present – a host, someone who has moved house, or ‘just’ a dear friend. For such occasions I have made some warming Winter Tea, with orange zest and spices. I’ve written the recipe down and included it further on in this blog post.

Making the tea is really nice, cutting and drying the zingy orange zest, crushing the spices, and mixing the fragrant blend. But what is even nicer, is knitting the cords to decorate the jars. It would be much quicker to use string, raffia or ribbon, of course. But knitting this cord is so much fun and brings a quirky, personal touch.

I-cord

This type of knitted cord is usually called I-cord. Why? Something to do with iPhones and iPads perhaps? No, as it turns out, the ‘I’ stands for ‘idiot’. This cord is so easy to knit that every idiot can make it. I-cord was made famous by the innovative knitting teacher Elizabeth Zimmermann, and can be used in many different ways – along the edges of knitted fabrics or separately, like I used it here.

For a cord like this you’ll need some scraps of fingering-weight (sock) yarn in two colours and two double-pointed knitting needles (I used 2.5 mm).

Knitting the I-cord:

  1. Cast on 1 stitch
  2. Knit into the front, the back and the front of the stitch (= 3 stitches)
  3. DO NOT TURN! Move the needle from your right to your left hand and slide the stitches to the right tip of the needle.
  4. Knit the 3 stitches, pulling the yarn firmly (but not too tight) at the first stitch.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 to the desired length. (I knit to about 70 cm/28 inches).

To cast off slip the first stitch, knit the next two stitches together, pass the slipped stitch over this stitch, cut the thread and pull it through the last stitch. Weave in ends.

For the cord on the left in the photo above I knit 2 rows red and 2 rows natural white. For the cord on the right I alternated 3 rows natural white with 1 row red.

And then I played some more with the yarn:

It’s amazing what you can do with just 3 stitches and 2 colours of yarn. The hardest thing about I-cord is keeping an even tension. Don’t worry too much about that, though. Nobody will notice. As you can see from the photo above, my tension is not all that even. But do you notice that looking at the I-cords on the jars? Not really.

Winter Tea Recipe

You’ll need:

  • Dried zest of 1 orange (see below)
  • 100 grs black tea (e.g. Ceylon)
  • 8 cloves
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (depending on size)
  • 15 cardamom pods
  • 10 black pepper corns
  • 2 teaspoons dried ginger

To dry the orange zest, preheat the oven to 100 °C / 210° F / 90 °C fan. Peel the orange thinly using a potato peeler. Cut the zest into tiny strips. Spread the strips of zest out on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 1 hour, until completely dried out and brittle. Leave to cool.

Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces. Crush the spices (not the orange zest!) using a pestle and mortar. Use some force, but not too much. The spices should still be recognizable and not pounded to a powder.

Mix the spices with the tea and the dried orange zest and fill into jars. (This quantity is enough to fill two 240 ml jars.)

Make a nice gift tag and fasten it with your I-cord.

The tea is even better served with a slice of fresh orange.

Last but not least

Remember to take some time to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down, sip and relax.

I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday season and look forward to seeing you again (in real life or here) in the New Year!