June 01, 2006


I know I'm behind - I owe emails and posts and comments and all kinds of other things to all kinds of people. I've been crashing on some work deadlines; tragically, when the choice is between blogging and, well, eating, my hand is forced to indulge the flesh first.

Anyway -

Slowly but surely, it's coming together. I'm quite pleased with it; the only thing I don't feel good about is the inability to match the pattern across sleeve cap and body. I don't sew, so I don't know how that kind of thing is generally handled, but I just don't see any way to get a large-scale pattern with a large, clear diagonal to match between a straight edge (armscye) and a bell-curved one (sleeve cap). Would it look better with a line of gold at the join, as at the base of the collar? Or should I just get over it already, so I can be done with this project, this albatross, this millstone?

A fun suprise later today - cross my heart, hope to die, needle in my eye, etc etc.

Edit: looking at the photo, I realize that I pinned the sleeve to the wrong side for the shoot. The slit should fall at the outside wrist, not inside - where is my brain lately?

May 28, 2006


I don't proclaim myself a fearless knitter. To me, anyway, that seems kind of self-indulgent - what's there to fear? It's a hobby, not so precious that trying something new is sacrilege or an act of heroism. Cutting a steek is not like, say, needing to perform gravely risky surgery on the only astrophysicist left on Earth, with failure meaning the whole planet falls into the sun. Perspective, perspective in all things.

That is, I thought so until Friday, when the sleeves of the Nowegian Jacket reduced me to dizzy, squeaking hyperventilation. I'd outlined a cuff treatment I felt pretty good about - it involved a deeply-slit cuff, finished on either side with a turned-back edging. This was to be accomplished by working a narrow four-stitch steek, binding off and cutting when the notch was deep enough, working the edgings, then picking up along their top edges and continuing with the sleeve. Easy to dream up, easy to describe, and as it turns out, absolutely terrifying to execute.

The steek, cut, and looking quite docile and obedient. The unraveled half-stitch of gold at the bottom edge was to be expected; the blue steek stitch and gold border stitch appeared to be holding together just fine. I didn't reinforce in any way in order to minimize bulk at the edge - those stitches needed to go inside the hem, and thus needed to be kept clean and unencumbered. Besides - faith in Shetland wool was easy, glib nonchalance easier.

The reverse of the stitches picked up all along the gold border stitch. Notice that there's NO STEEK LEFT - it's unraveled completely. I say again, THE ONLY THING HOLDING IT TOGETHER ARE THE PICK-UP LOOPS. I didn't believe there was such a thing as scary knitting until I saw adjoining stitches, one by one, working free and coming undone as I picked up, totally helpless to stop it.

The picked-up edging knitted up, the loose steek strands waving and bristling and trying to escape with every tiny flex and twist of the needles.

Picking up the reverse-side loops for casting off together with the live stitches of the edging to make a folded hem. I say again, PICKING UP THE LOOPS THAT FORM THE ONLY BARRIER AGAINST COMPLETE RUIN. Even with a teeny needle, the mere act of picking them up loosened them dangerously, opening up their already-tenuous hold on those very short cut ends.

I didn't take pictures of the three-needle bindoff. It was horrible - stitches on both needles are stressed more than usual to knit them together. The cut ends were only 3/8 inch long or so - stretching the loops to put the third needle through freed them completely a couple times. The blindness caused by beads of sweat in my eyes (also: bloody, bitter tears) was not helpful in mustering the concentration necessary to keep fitful, spastic jerking and jarring at a minimum.

Was it worth it?

Because those ends are actually tightly encased inside the hem, they're held securely now. They'll start to felt with the first wash, but the whole shebang is already remarkably solid and stable. Lesson? Fragile relationships with sanity are best preserved by avoiding stupid mistakes - even Shetland wool won't hold if coning oil isn't washed off before cutting. Duh.

Even given all that, I might eat the yarn before I'll do it a second time. Please, someone tell me asymmetric looks are in this year?

May 25, 2006

To catch a sleeve

One little sleeve, barely begun.

I have been anxious about this, the look and the details and the mechanics thereof, debating and dragging and second-guessing and tapdancing before starting. It seems, though, that no amount of acrobatics can get around the need to eventually cast on and knit - I'm told it's a step rather necessary in making a long-sleeve sweater - so I have.

And I really like it.

I think.

In the comments to this post, there were ten squintillion excellent suggestions on how to handle the sleeves, all of them enormously appealing and many of them things I'm planning to shamelessly gank for future projects. The main variables:

  • Belled forearms in pattern - this was my first instinct. I kept thinking about the austerely graceful sleeves of the Union Square pullover, thinking about how pretty and feminine and clean they looked. But then, I started thinking about the combination of ornate fabric and exaggerated shape, and started having nightmares of looking like a drunk Renaissance Festival attendee, flower garland askew and loudly telling everyone that my costume is "medieval, or baroque, or whatever." Nix.

  • Ditto an undersleeve of oatmeal under a generous patterned cuff.

  • Ditto belled forearms in oatmeal, with the added non-bonus of visual amputation.

  • Tapered, close-fitting cuffed sleeves - I almost went with this one, too; I really liked the idea of a shirt cuff closed with a button or even cufflinks, maybe with the sleeve patterned and the cuff in solid oatmeal. But that would have put me squarely into "shirtwaist" territory, and while as I type I'm thinking that would be a fun thing to interpret in knitting, this is not that project. Also: there are lots of triangles in the pattern, and while I don't generally think of myself as superstitious, that just seems kind of wrong.

So here's what I've got:

It'll be an almost completely straight sleeve, only an inch of difference between underarm and hem, the way jacket sleeves are cut. There's the key - this is such a firm fabric, constructed in such a structured way, suiting lines and seamstress details belong to it, not soft drape and movement. There will be a simple deep notch without overlap, edged at the opening with narrow turned-under hems of the camel color, which will also hem the sleeve itself. Depending on my mood during finishing, I might install hook-and-eyes in the slits to close them, or maybe just let them lie open. All this will echo the finishing for the colorwork portion of the body - the front bands in the colorwork section will be camel-colored (oatmeal in the welt) - and the slit is being planned for in the same way, with a narrow 4-stitch steek to be cut and then enclosed in the casing formed by the hem. Like I said, I like it.

I think.

May 19, 2006


That cabled bind-off is easy as pie:

All it is is a fat i-cord bindoff, with a cable twist and a purled edge stitch to provide the necessary recess for the cable to pop. It has a little bit of a tendency to curl forward, but only enough for the twist of the cable to show properly. Because of this, it won't add much length, but it does fall nicely in line with the body of the work.

To my eye, a six stitch round cable looks more or less equivalent to a four stitch flat cable. Be aware, too, that the difference between row gauge and stitch gauge will create a softly gathered effect along the cable, unless you compensate with a larger needle for the bindoff, or by attaching only three out of four rows (or whatever works). Or just block it out. Or plan to use it in a way that takes advantage of the slight ruching.

If, like me, you're going to pick up stitches and keep working vertically, just pick up the never-quite-perfectly-tight strands where the yarn was brought around to close the i-cord. Knit from those, twisting each strand as you work to tighten them up and force the cable to straddle the two sections of knitting evenly. For some reason, it's enormously satisfying to me that the neat, tidy back of the work hardly hints at all at what's going on in front:

I can think of lots and lots and lots of ways to use this - as an edging along lapels and hems (use a provisional cast-on and work this bind-off later), lying in heavy bracelets around a cuff, combined with short rows to spiral up a sleeve, as an edge for a structured, felted baguette...endless! (In all this, I guess I'll be pretty embarassed if this is already in, like, Knitting on the Edge or something. For the record, though the idea's probably not new, I did think through this version myself).

Unraveling will be up over the weekend. I have some really interesting questions, and am totally absorbed in writing my answer - a treatise on How To Personalize Knitting, with notes on choosing a pattern, making sure it will fit, adjusting for gauge, choosing a yarn, all kinds of interesting things. It's taking longer than I expected, though (I want to do the subject matter justice), and besides, there is a ballgame beckoning me. See you tomorrow!

May 17, 2006

Nature's first green is gold

Her hardest hue to hold.

If you're willing to tolerate the terrible disservice I'm doing to Mr. Frost, hear me now: gold really is the hardest hue to hold, for my Olympus, anyway. The perpetually grey light we've been having lately - a run of rotten weather - isn't helping, either. In person, the pattern is subtle but clearly visible, creating a richly ornate, parlor carpet-like effect; in pixels, it looks like a muddy mess.

At any rate, I'm almost done with the body of this jacket; only a couple more rows until the neck shaping starts. Then, we'll just have sleeves and finishing to go. Can I ask your opinion on something?

My first sketch had sleeves patterned all the way to a close-fitting wrist, finished with a cuff covered in the same small dice patterning the collar. I've been thinking, though, that maybe the colorwork should end below the elbow, and continue into a lower arm of plain oatmeal, echoing the body welt. What do you think? Then, there's the issue of shape - should it be a tapering, fitted sleeve with a narrow hem, or a slightly belled sleeve with a narrow hem, or a fitted sleeve with a wide turned-back cuff? Decisions, decisions.



I have an idea for a spring sweater with cables on the bias, but first I need to teach myself how to do this. Can you help?


You're planning to knit the body straight up and down, crossed with diagonal cables as a design element, yes? If so, it's easy-peasy to make rope cables slant however you like:

All you need to do is create a section of biased fabric enclosing the cable, with decreases on one side and increases on the other. For the cable above, the chart would look like this:

The cable will slant towards the side with decreases, and away from the side with increases. As you can see, adding shaping on every row creates a fairly steep decrease. You could shape only every right-side row, or even less often than that, for a subtler slope.

Be aware that making a bias fabric in this way will cause the bottom edge of the fabric to scallop, and the entire piece to slope a little (unless you have a mirror-image slopes balancing each other). Both issues can be corrected in blocking - or they can become design elements.

If you mean a cable that runs truly horizontal, your best choice is to knit a cable panel first, and then pick up stitches along the sides and work perpendicularly from it. Check out this tasty pattern to see this at work.

When blocking Branching Out in Kid Merino, do you recommend the soak, spritz, or steam method? (I'm thinking soak, but I'd love your opinion.)

Many thanks!


I almost always recommend the soaking method for lace, but it depends on the finished effect you'd like. For a very flat fabric with nice drape, soak and pin aggressively. For a cushier, cozier piece, spritz it and just gently pull it into shape with your fingers.

I generally feel that lace worked in mohair or mohair-blend yarns really benefits from a very thorough blocking - opening up the yarnovers lets the pattern shine, and has the added benefit of showing off that gorgeous halo against lots of negative space. I'd recommend soaking the scarf in lukewarm water with a dribble of wool wash or shampoo, rinsing carefully in water of the same temperature, and rolling it up in a thirsty towel to get almost all the water out. Pin the four corners out first - use a big T-square to check your angles - to your target measurements. Then, place a pin bisecting each side. Place eight more pins, dividing each new "section" in half - and again, and again, until the whole thing has been satisfactorily pinned out.

If scalloping edges are a concern (as it is for me - I usually block lace so tightly it rises off the blocking surface as it dries and shrinks, like a drumskin), you might try running a very long length of sturdy cotton yarn all around the perimeter of the scarf before washing, making a running stitch close to the edge that catches every other row. Leave a loop at each corner. Pin it out as usual - you will find that drawing the string taut will help you create very straight edges without blocking wires.

I have been working up some different ideas for doing some colour/Norwegian/Fair Isle knitting (the obsession can be viewed on my blog), and I have a question about materials.

I live in the SF Bay area and do not necessarily want a heavy wool pullover as it's never quite cold enough for one, but would like to make one of the range of Alice Starmore/Poetry in Stitches/etc pullies in cotton or a silk blend. The book "More Sweaters" by Lise Kolstad and Tone Takle talks briefly about using fibers other than wool, but not in any great detail.

My question is regarding the steeking and fibers other than wool. I have never gotten up the nerve to do a steek, so I have a lack of knowledge there, but all the things I have read on others blogs and some books talk about the wool "sticking to itself", and thus it would be hard for it to come apart.

If I knit a sweater in cotton that requires a steek in it, do you think it would hold together once cut? Obviously I have a lack of knowledge about the steeking, but thought I would ask before
attempting, what are your thoughts are on knitting a colourwork sweater with non-wool fibers? What are the drawbacks? Would it even work?


Bravo on you for thinking outside the box! It's so easy to order a kit and whip out a (gorgeous) McFairIsle; I'm glad you're looking to put some personality into patterns, thinking about how to make them work better for you. A few thoughts:

The first thing I would encourage you to consider is the reason why stranded colorwork in wool works so well.


The luminous, painterly shifting of colors in a well-planned pattern owes a lot to the properties of the yarn itself. Shetland wool is quite fuzzy, with a halo of hairs sticking out of the knitted fabric - he resulting fabric traps light, and the patterns have an organic depth. The contrast between light pattern and dark background (or vice-versa) becomes the knitted equivalent of chiaroscuro, hinting at countours with shadow and light.

A completely smooth yarn, as most cottons are, would create a flatter, more graphic effect (though the feathered lines created by knit stitch Vs blur the lines a little) - imagine a pieced quilt, or a cut-out. This in itself is not a bad thing (I hear some guy named Matisse made some cut-outs that were pretty good), but it's something to think about.

Then, make sure that the materials you'll want to use actually exist. Wools meant for colorwork - jumperweight Shetland and some nice Icelandic and Norwegian wools - come in dizzyingly expansive palettes of colors, but most other yarn lines have much smaller ranges. It will be difficult to get a, say, Starmore-style effect if the yarn you're using only has two shades of blue.

Last, some technical issues. You're absolutely right; cotton, silk, and other non-felting yarns aren't great for traditional steeks, which rely on the natural tendency of wool fibers to grab onto each other to keep from falling apart (for further reading on what will and won't work for different types of yarn, check out this series about steeks from the archives). With cotton yarn, you pretty much have two choices: machine-sew the steek before cutting (boo! hiss! In my opinion, machine sewing and hand knitting are never good for each other, though lots of people feel differently), or work a wound steek. You can either wrap the yarn several times around the needle at each steek, drop the loops on the previous row, wind some more on, and cut up the center of the ladders when you're done, or knit a steek all the way up the side and then ladder the stitches before or after cutting. Either way, you'll end up with a bush of ends (two for every row) that need to be woven in, braided, or otherwise dealt with:

and that's a royal pain. It's almost worth just knitting flat, in pieces, instead.

Cotton is also a lot less forgiving of imperfect execution than wool - almost any inconsistency in stranded knitting will block out with a good washing and pinning in wool yarns, but cotton stitches will more or less hold the shapes they were made in. Take care as you work to make sure everything already looks good on the needle.

The last thing: cotton is heavy. Remember that stranded knitting produces a double-thick fabric at a fairly dense gauge. Walking around in two layers of fingering weight cotton may not be too warm, but it might be exhausting!

All that said, I encourage you to swatch away. Colorwork in cotton and silk can look fresh and modern and very lovely - just take a second to think about how you'll handle those issues before you begin.

unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to Your question may be edited for style and space.

April 25, 2006

It is herself

Yar, well, that's she:

The bust increases are almost done, and I'm only a couple inches away from starting the armscyes. Guess I ought to start figuring out the numbers for those, eh?

I'll show the princess shaping in detail once the pattern is re-established above the shaping, since that helps give a sense of how the shaping works. For now, though, you can see it, a little bit, in the left half of the jacket - because I wanted to keep the decreases and increases going down the centerline of a diamond, the shaping lines are a little off-center, more towards the edge than the middle. It's a bit of a compromise, but it preserves the integrity of the colorwork better than putting the line smack-dab in the middle would. The shaping is fairly severe - about 40 stitches, or 5.5 inches, difference between bust and waist - but the pattern remains (almost) intact.

My gauge has gone up from 9 stitches/inch to 7 stitches/inch - I reswatched on Friday, and found that the oily coned yarn blooms much more nicely at 7 stitches. At 9 stitches, the unwashed fabric was already fairly compact, and washing fluffed the stitches considerably but gave them nowhere to go. Right now, at 7 stitches, the fabric (particularly in the 1-color portion) is open, almost mesh-y, but blocking will fill everything in and make for a structured, smooth piece. A good thing, too - the knitting is woefully uneven right now, even in the plain band. I suspect the yarn - I've never worked with a coned yarn before, and the oily, peculiarly papery feeling of it is a new thing to me. The stuff is almost stiff as it comes off the cone, more like knitting with twine than with wool, hard to keep even and difficult to knit with for long periods.

You can see the bumpiness of the work here, in the front steek:

The steek is quite narrow, only four stitches flanked by border stitches to either side. The narrowness is a little nerve-wracking, but it serves a purpose - I'm planning a front band fitted with closely spaced hook-and-eyes, and I want the clean look of a hem-style band folded in half and turned under. The cut steek stitches will end up inside the hem - hence the extreme skimpiness, the desire to avoid any kind of bulk. This wool, Harrisville New England Shetland, is wonderfully sticky and felt-y, so I don't think any kind of securing will be needed before theory, encasing the cut ends inside the front band will promote rapid felting and stay-put-ness. In theory.

From the comments

E to the M asked, " you pick or throw?

For this project, both :) I knit continental-style for one-color projects, but do most colorwork with the two-hand method. I'll occasionally tension both colors in my left hand, since that's the easiest way for me to weave every stitch - I find the movements of two-handed colorwork to be much more elegant and economical, though, so I save all-picking for when I really need to avoid floats: the toes of socks, baby garments, and gloves/mittens.

April 24, 2006


Knees a-tremble? Check. Heart a-thumping? Check. Head a-swooning? Check.

All the way through the plain waist and into the colorwork, increasing slowly towards the bust. The hem is rolling quite stubbornly right now - I think, though, that a good wash will tame it.

I'm pleased with myself, too, for figuring out what I think is a pretty handy way of dealing with a back pleat - at first, I was going to do a vent, but realized that the logistics of finishing the vent edges would be awkward: cut the opening? Or work the bottom in pieces? Then, I was going to do a box pleat, but realized that having a hem throughout would create a six-layer fabric at the folds. No good. Here's the solution, spread out:

The hems were worked in two seperate pieces, each spanning from one edge of the back pleat to one front edge. At the turning row, they were joined in a circle, with stitches for the pleat cast on between the back edges and stitches for the front steek cast on between the front edges. A few rows of moss stitch to stabilize the bottom edge of the pleat,and everything seems to be fine. You can see the fold lines, sort of, in the photo - mountain folds are done with a column of stitches slipped with the yarn in back, while valley folds are done with the yarn in front.

This will benefit from a thorough washing and dressing as well - hopefully, I'll be able to get a very crisp edge on the folds.

I can't wait till I have a little more to show you guys - the shaping plans are working out really well, though it's hard to see how the pattern changes when there are only 12 rows done. Then, too, I have all kinds of plans for the collar and for how to do the front bands...I think this is what I love most, tweaking and refining and seeing the project evolve into a thing with a personality I had no hand in.


Thanks for the nice comments on the site redesign! Glad you guys approve :)

Also, if you've emailed me or asked a question in the comments re: knitting in the last couple weeks, and I haven't responded, please don't be mad at me! I've been insanely busy with all sorts of things - please feel free to re-send, and I'll get back to you.

From the comments

The brocade jacket is still going to happen, but it's on hold for a little while to make way for this cardigan. My brocade pattern needs a *lot* of messing around with before I'll be happy with it...and this project is so "ready" to be made. Laziness rules the day around here.

Tina wanted to know, "When you swatch fari-isle, do you knit in the round, or knit from right to left, leave the strands behind the work, and then knit from rihgt to left again : ie, only knit (not purl)? I thought I saw an edge that looked like it had been cut, and I just wonder what the best way of swatching fair-isle is?"

I swatch Fair Isle that's going to be knit in the round on DPNs, and cut it up the back. I tend to make pretty generous swatches - I like to see as many repeats of the pattern I can - so I just cut with abandon at the end-of-round, not even bothering to set a steek or anything.

I feel like this gives me the most accurate measurements, the closest to knitting on a circular needle.

April 21, 2006

A Deficit of Attention

Do you ever get an idea in your head, an idea that must come out, season or propriety or priorities be damned? It's curious, the things that make our synapses fire and click and set things itching.

It started when I was flipping through the incomparable Sheila McGregor's Traditional Scandinavian Knitting, and came across this historical sample in the section on Norwegian jumpers:

The graphic punch of the white waist against that tapestry-rich upper pattern was exciting, sure, but what really suprised me was the tight shaping. Oh, possibilities!

I swatched the pattern in some 2-ply Shetland I had lying around, and fell wholly in love. The pattern, for all its intricate appearance, has a wonderfully sensible math behind it, a sequence of 5s and 3s that mirror and match predictably, satisfyingly, from row to row.

Unfortunately, it was enormous. One repeat spans 48 stitches - even at 9 stitches to the inch on US2 (2.75mm) needles, one repeat covers more than five inches. At this scale, I'd hardly get three stars across the back, and the pattern would be lost completely in the planned princess shaping. So, I set about downsizing it, and came up with this:

It's a compromise, for sure - the pattern only saves an inch-and-a-half or so per repeat, and a lot of the richness in the diagonal bands is lost by replacing the die-like squares with simple crosses. The numbers work out well, though, with the size I'm planning, and there's a satisfying sort of simplicity in the negative/positive/negative crosses echoed from band to band - I can live with it.

A little unwashed, coned Harrisville New England Shetland, in an oatmeal color for the plain band and a pretty camel/Wedgewood combination for the pattern:

The effect is very subtle - the pattern doesn't read perfectly, but there is a faded, antique feeling about it I really like. I may swatch again, switching yarns, but I like this pretty well already.

Here's what I'm planning: a tightly fitted jacket/cardigan that hits at the hip, shaped at the waist along princess seam lines and closed up the front with lots of hook-and-eyes. There will be a hem at the waist, with cuffs and stand-up Mandarin collar (patterned with a smaller diagonal grid pattern) done in the manner of very wide hems. The front band, too, will be done like a hem - oatmeal yarn picked up all the way up the front to the tip of the collar, knitted straight for a bit, turned under and cast off into the pickup loops for a very narrow, firm band. A wide ribbon facing will be in order, I think, at the collar - I don't care if it's blazing, stifling summer when I finish this, it's getting started right this second.