Archive for January 2010

Here’s the well-known double helix

January 31, 2010

Pattern: Unbiased by Jody Pirello
Yarn: Plymouth Yarns Mushishi (95% wool, 5% silk), colorway 03
Needles: U.S. 8 Signature Needle Arts straights for scarf body, Zephyr acrylic Options 24″ circular for edgings

Every knitter who has become serious enough — or obsessive enough — about the craft will recognize this scarf. Not because you’ve knit it, but because you’re knitting something like it right now. You see, it’s been my Anywhere Project for the past two months.

The Anywhere Project is the one you keep in a bag and grab whenever you’re heading out the door. It’s a project that’s so easily memorized that you can pick it up and put it down at a moment’s notice without ever losing your place. It’s a project that is large enough to reliably need plenty of work any time you have a spare second to knit, but not one that is so large it’s difficult to tote. Small, light, easy, endless.

The body of this scarf is a four-row pattern that produces striking diagonal lines. It’s perfect for this subtly striped, rustic yarn, producing airy impressions of shifting color rather than bold blocks. There’s lace on every row. God help you if you have to fix a mistake — ripping is not an option when both right side and wrong side rows feature yarn-overs. I tinked back a row or two several times, eight or nine rows a few times. But you want it to be endless. That’s why it’s an Anywhere Project. Anything that makes it longer just postpones the moment you have to find a new Anywhere Project.

Is there a better yarn for an Anywhere Project than one that comes in hanks of 491 yards? Only one ball of yarn to take with you; only four ends to weave in (provisional cast on, bind-off on other end, starting the edging at the cast-on edge, bind-off on the cast-on end). I stopped when I had about as much yarn left as a fist covered by my other hand — no more than 150 yards, I reckoned, probably closer to 100. When I couldn’t make sense of the directions for the ninety-degree turn required to start the knitted-on perpendicular lace edging, I shot Jody Pirello (savannahchik on Ravelry) a PM. She set me straight, and I was off to the races. Ended to my surprise with 25 yards still left.

That’s nine feet of scarf in length, ten inches wide. It’s an extravagant wrap, the kind an operatic diva might sport while sweeping in the stage door. But it’s not the finished object I value most. It’s the two months of Anytime, Anywhere Knitting — digging in my bag, pulling out my gorgeous precision needles, reeling off a row or a repeat or even an hour or two of knitting, without diminishing by any appreciable amount what was left to do. My Anywhere Project has become an Any Day Scarf, as rare as a black-tie ball, as exotic as a celebrity sighting, as ordinary as a breezy walk to work. Luckily a new Anywhere Project is already in progress, with hours upon hours of pleasure and productivity still to come.

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It’s been no bed of roses

January 29, 2010

Pattern: Heather Hoodie Vest by Debbie O’Neill
Yarn: Cascade Eco+ (100% wool), colorway 8447
Needles: U.S. 10 Harmony wood Options 60″ circular (knit flat)

Sometimes the stars align. Sometimes it’s love at first sight. Sometimes all the hard work and the little difficulties along the way get smoothed out by the effortless perfection of the result.

Like thousands of knitters, I was struck by the wearable, youthful, chunky style of the Heather Hoodie Vest in the Fall 2009 issue of Knitscene. When Kathleen Cubley, editor of Knitting Daily, announced that the pattern would be her next knit-along, I took it as a sign and began scouring my stash for an appropriate yarn.

Swatched: January 4. Cast-on: January 5. Finished knitting approximately 837 yards of yarn: January 17. Wet-blocked, buttons added, and worn for the first time: January 24.

Love.

What was the reason I became so single-minded about this cabled vest? Was it the big needles and relatively quick progress? Was it the lofty, wooly yarn in a brilliant red? Was it the sheer usefulness and currency of the item — a warm wrap for the torso, an insulating hood for the head?

I don’t know. All I know is that the more I knit it, the more I wanted it to be finished. I had a hunch that it was going to be something really special. I worked hard at converting it to be knit in one piece from the bottom ribbing to the armholes, and to adjust the number of picked-up stitches for the hood and the button band. There were no guarantees that this would suit me — I’ve never had any similar items in my wardrobe — yet I couldn’t wait to put it on.

And now I never want to take it off. It’s my early Valentine to myself. There’s love in every cozy, flattering, perfectly calculated stitch.

Maybe then your blues will fade away

January 9, 2010

Pattern: Mr. Greenjeans by Amy Swenson
Yarn: Patons Classic Merino (100% wool), colorway Sage
Needles: U.S. 7 and 6 Zephyr acrylic Options 60″ circular needles

Everybody has a favorite sweater. The one you throw on Saturdays for raking leaves, the one that’s perfect for the walk in the woods or the trip to the grocery store. The one that’s perfectly casual, perfectly cosy, and makes you look in the mirror exactly how you feel inside.

This is my favorite sweater.

Thank you, Patons Classic Merino, for being consistent, lightweight, dirt cheap, and easily blockable to open up the cable and rib pattern of this sweater. Thank you, Amy Swenson, for somehow knowing the exactly sweater that I yearned for before I ever even considered knitting a sweater. Thank you, Knitty, for making it free and available. Thank you, Grumperina, for making cabling without a needle second nature and lightning fast. Thank you, Christmas knitting list, for giving me a craving to make something that would take longer than a week and that I could keep for myself.

Words cannot express how much I love this sweater. This sweater — classic, easy, timeless, handmade. I never could have guessed in all its pleasurable hours of knitting that it would be so utterly perfect.

That’s when my love comes tumblin’ down

January 3, 2010

Pattern: An Unoriginal Hat by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Yarn: Wisdom Yarns Poems (100% wool), colorway 571
Needles: U.S. 10 1/2 Harmony wood Options 32″ circular (magic-loop style)

Big yarn. Big needles. Bulky cables. It’s the same impulse that led to my scarf in Tweedle Dee for Mrs. Bennett. And on November 29 of last year, it led me to search out a chunky hat that would match the sorority-girl fashion sense of my beautiful, stylish teaching assistant Lauren.

I held this shaded-stripes worsted-weight yarn double, and it might have actually been a little better with size 11 needles; the fabric was just a smidge on the stiff side. Tried to match the color repeats up, but ended up with them staggered a bit. No matter. I love these grays, dark to light, and the rough-hewn sensibility of the yarn made the knitting rugged and wintry.

The knitting took all of two hours from cast-on to weave-in. After soaking and aggressive blocking around a mixing bowl, it was a perfect fit. And when I gave it to Lauren, it looked beautiful atop her head. She’s one to appreciate the handmade, as an avid crocheter and sewer herself. It was exactly as I envisioned it: big, warm, yet for all that, a subtle pleasure.

In the sea from you to me

January 2, 2010

Pattern: One-Row Handspun Scarf by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Yarn: Knit Picks Decadence (100% alpaca, discontinued), colorway Tide
Needles: U.S. 9 Signature Needle Arts straights

I admit that I have been on a scarf kick this winter. The advantages to scarf knitting were compelling: Knittable on my beautiful straight needles, portable and easily memorized patterns, one size fits all.

When I unpacked this yarn from my stash, the pattern I had included with it was a pair of felted slippers. But this is luxury yarn. It seemed a shame to use it without patterning, without curb appeal, without pizzaz. So I went looking for scarves that would work with 240 yards of pure alpaca goodness.

It was Teresa — needlenhook on Ravelry — who inspired me. She knit the ultra-simple, insanely rewarding One-Row Handspun Scarf (4000 projects and counting) with this yarn on a nice big needle and then blocked the heck out of it. Suddenly a simple scarf became embracing, luxuriously lacey, almost a stole. When I saw her photos of the scarf draped dramatically around a dress form, I knew I had found what this yarn wanted to be.

My sister-in-law Sherri was the lucky recipient of this glorious knit. I’m sorry to see it leave my needles, my stash, and my gift bin. But I know it will warm and soothe her as much in the wearing as it did me in the knitting. And isn’t that what handknit gifts are all about?