Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

Recently, I wrote a paper (for my MBA studies) about digital marketing and the yarn industry.  While writing the paper, I looked at the range of producers in the sector, in particular new entrants.  I also researched how people buy yarn, for example, what kinds of things influence when and how we buy yarn.  This made me think about my own patterns of buying yarn.  I don’t have a record of all the yarn that I buy and where and when I buy it; some people use Ravelry’s Stash function to keep track of this, but I am not that organized.  However, I do have records of all of the projects that I have knit since joining Ravelry in late 2007, and of which yarns I used for each project.  I looked at 2008, the first full year that I was on Ravelry, and discovered to my amazement that every single project I finished knitting in that year was made with Rowan yarn!  I had only just moved to England in August of 2006 and was still very thrilled to be able to walk into my local John Lewis store and buy Rowan.  That seemed the height of luxury at the time to my yarn-buying self.

I then compared 2008 with last year, 2014, and a very different picture emerged, as you can see from the below:

blog my yarn use

I must point out that these charts show the percentage of projects made with each yarn and NOT the amount of yarn bought; nonetheless, they show a pretty compelling trend. To me, the most interesting thing about the 2014 distribution is that with the exception of Rowan and Noro, which is a Japanese yarn company founded over 40 years ago, each of the other yarn companies I have used in 2014 is a new company: Madelinetosh started in 2006 and Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co and The Uncommon Thread all started in 2010.  More than 80% of the projects I knit last year were made with yarn from companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  New entrants into the sector are rapidly changing the market, at least for premium yarns.

I didn’t show pie charts for 2009-2013, but I am a pretty eclectic yarn user.  During these years, in addition to lots of Rowan and the companies above, I knit projects using Debbie Bliss, Cascade, Studio Donegal, Hanne Falkenberg, Blue Sky Alpaca, Malabrigo, Mirasol, the Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fibre Arts, BC Garn and Wollmeise.

Though my Rowan projects have fallen from their 2008 pinnacle, I still find it a great product.  In particular, I am totally in love with Kidsilk Haze, Felted Tweed DK and Fine Tweed.  As long as Rowan keeps producing these (and maintaining quality), I will keep buying them.  This year, I have so far made four projects, and two of them – the spectacular Soumak Wrap and my Gossamer pullover – used Rowan yarn.  When I lived in Australia and Germany, I considered Rowan a luxury product; now that I’m in England, it is more like the standard for me – I use it as a benchmark to compare yarn prices and qualities.

I realize that my yarn-buying profile reflects the fact that I am willing to spend a lot for yarn.  In my mind, both yarn and books fall into my entertainment budget.  Let’s say that the yarn for a new sweater costs 100£.  Well, if that sweater will take 100 hours to knit, then I am spending 1£/hour on entertainment.  A bargain!  (Compare to a cinema ticket!)  A cashmere cowl that costs 120£ but takes only 10 hours to knit is very luxurious but still costs 12£/hour for knitting enjoyment.   While I might splurge now and then, my general idea is that if the yarn costs less to knit per hour than a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then it’s a good deal.  This kind of thinking (where I consider the yarn as entertainment rather than part of my clothing, or gift,  budget) is perhaps reflective of the fact that I am still more of a process knitter than a product knitter.  On the other hand, for the past few years I have made fewer impulse yarn buys.  I tend to buy yarn for a specific purpose and this seems to be more in line with a product knitter.

I think that part of my willingness to buy expensive yarn reflects the fact that I am knitting less these days.  When I am knitting more, then I am conscious of cost and try to use more yarns that are good quality but affordable, like Cascade 220 for instance.  I seem to be edging now into a more active knitting phase and I find that this is accompanied by a wish to search out some new affordable yarns (Quince & Co, while very high quality, is pretty affordable; it is moving up fast in my go-to list.)   Having two daughters in university is another compelling reason to seek out more affordable yarns, or at least to knit fewer luxury projects.  It is good to have a selection of yarns to knit with, and some of them should always be outrageously luxurious to the senses, because knitting, like cooking, is a sensual art.  How about you?  Are your yarn buying habits changing?  Are you buying more, or less, luxury yarns?  Do you calculate cost per hour of knitting (surely I’m not the only one)?  Do you plan every purchase or are you an impulse buyer?  Do you only buy local, or organic, or machine-washable?  Inquiring minds want to know…….

Happiness is orange yarn

My orange yarn finally decided what it wanted to be when it grew up.

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I bought five skeins of this beautiful silk blend from The Uncommon Thread back in February.  As I wrote in this post, the yarn has a mind of its own and I had to wait for it to come to its own conclusions.  We finally decided on Laelia, a lovely, lacey cardigan designed by Hanna Maciejewska, of Hada Knits.  (Thank you, Laril, for sending me a link to your beautiful Laelia; it definitely helped us decide.)  I’ve had my eye on Hanna’s designs for a while; she’s got a really great style.

This cardigan has a cool construction technique.  You start with a provisional cast on at the back center neck, and knit the lace for a bit; then, you unravel the cast-on, put the live stitches back on the needle, and knit some more lace in the other direction.  Now you have a rectangle with live stitches at both ends.  You pick up along the long edge, and – voilà – you get this:

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Isn’t it clever?  I love it!  Then, you start knitting, incorporating raglan increases as you go.  This is where it stands as of this morning:

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As you can see, the lace pattern runs down the front edges of the cardigan, while the back and the sleeves are in stockinette stitch. The best part about the design is that there is almost no finishing involved.

Here it is, molded into the actual cardigan shape (as much as is possible given the limitations of the needle length):

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In the photo below, I’ve held it up so that you could get an idea of the shaping at the front edge and shoulder, and also so that you can see the lace pattern better.  (Ignore the pesky hose that wanted to be in the photo.)

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I love everything about this one so far.  Happy pattern!  Happy yarn!  Happy knitting!

The Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles – Part 2

It’s finished!

IMG_1178In my last post, I chronicled my first attempts to modify the collar of the Escher Cardigan.  This lovely design, by Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed, has a very interesting and fun structure.  I knit most of this cardigan exactly to pattern.  I made two very simple modifications, and one slightly more complicated one.

The first modification was merely technical: I decided to knit the upper and lower edgings separately and then sew them together.  In the pattern, you knit the lower edging first, and then knit the upper edging, while joining it to the lower edging stitch by stitch at the ends of each row using short row construction.  I found this a bit fussy (though I am sure it gives a neater edge) so I knit the upper edging back and forth.  Here you can see how it looked before I sewed the edges together:

IMG_1155The second modification was a very tiny one: I used I-cord bind-off instead of a rolled garter stitch edge around the entire edging.  To do this, I put the lower edging on a long needle to hold the stitches live while I knit the upper edging.  Then, I sewed the two seams, and knit the I-cord around the entire joined edging.  (This edging had almost 600 stitches, and took me four days to finish!)  Here is how I did the I-cord:

*K3, sl 1 k-wise, k1, psso, sl all 4 sts back on left needle; rep from * until all sts have been worked. Four I-cord sts remain on needle. K4tog, break yarn and draw yarn through final st.

The I-cord looks great and very professional on both sides – this is important because the collar rolls back so both sides are visible.  Here is a good photo that shows the I-cord:

IMG_1202For those of you who carefully read the last post, you can see in the above photo that I carried through on my threat to rip out the upper edging and start again – the shoulder decreases now line up with the triangle.  If you recall, the issues I had with the upper edging were that the shoulder decreases in the pattern were too close together and that I needed more stitches on the needle to accomodate my gauge and to put a bit of extra “give” into the shawl collar.  Due to all of the extra fabric between the shoulder decreases, I couldn’t get the back neck to narrow anything like it does in the pattern.

Alexis WInslow has a great photo of the back collar and shoulders on her blog post about Escher.  It is the third photo from the top.  Let me make this clear:  I think this looks great.  I love the pattern and that’s why I wanted to make this cardigan.  But, it was clear that I couldn’t get the collar and shoulders of my Escher to mimic hers. This is due in part to my row gauge, which is always long, and meant that the edges of the triangle on my back were significantly wider (though they did line up with my shoulders).  It is also due to having wide shoulders and wanting the shoulder decreases to shape the collar AT my shoulders rather than at the shoulder blades.  I tried a number of things to fix this in my first attempt, which you can read about in my last post.  Ultimately, I ripped out that attempt (about 5 inches worth) and started again.

IMG_1174The biggest problem with my first attempt was that I went way overboard with adding more stitches.  I didn’t count, just picked up so it “felt” right.  I ended up with 258 stitches picked up for the upper edging, compared with 186 specidied in the pattern for my size.  This time, I was more modest with 218 (57 on each end and 104 across the back) – an increase of 32 over the pattern.  I moved the shoulder decreases out to line up with the edges of the triangle, thus having the width between the shoulder decreases at least five inches wider than the pattern.

I decreased for four inches, and then knit four rows as set, and then started increasing.  I put the increases at the same place as the decreases, except that I reversed the sides, so that the wrong side became the right side (since the collar would “fold over” when worn).  Here you can see the shapings from the right side:

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IMG_1242I continued increasing right out to the very edge, and this gave the collar enough “give” so that the shawl collar lies beautifully:

IMG_1219The problem with knitting something in this shape (like any shrug-type garment) is that until you’ve finished and blocked it, the final fit is a bit of a crap shoot.  But when you get it right, it’s pretty cool:

IMG_1231I left out the button hole because I was modifying the collar significantly enough that I wasn’t sure how to get it placed right.  I have a lovely twig-shaped pewter shawl pin (a Christmas gift from Emma) that works perfectly:

IMG_1204I think it looks great both closed and opened.  It is also quite cozy and warm and surprisingly easy to wear.

IMG_1215I had a few comments from people regarding my perseverance with this pattern; I don’t see it that way.  I did do some ripping and put an awful lot of thought into how to modify the collar properly so that it fit me.  And I did have conceptual problems with the upper edging instructions.  However, the pattern is mostly crystal clear, and very clever; I really liked knitting this.  Alexis Winslow’s blog post was extremely helpful (especially her photos of blocking it – not intuitive by any means without being able to see it).  And Brooklyn Tweed has superior customer support.  I also had wonderful help from Ravellers, particulalry Alice (Ellisj on Rav) – thanks Alice!  It worked!

IMG_1201Emma is still around, so I had both Doug and Emma to make sure we got some decent photos:

IMG_1199As usual, when they are in charge, I spend most of the photo shoot laughing:

IMG_1234And that’s all the news that’s fit to print!  Good knitting!

The Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles – Part 1

In my last post about Escher, I called the construction of this cardigan “genius”.  I was working on the bottom edging at the time and the cardigan suddenly came into being, so to speak; it took form and I could see what the designer was after.  Alas, the time came to start the upper edging and I hit a few roadblocks.

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I read, and re-read, the instructions.  I read them many times in fact but still could not get my head around them.  I then spent hours (four of them, in fact) looking critically at every photo of Escher that I could find.  I looked at each of the Escher projects on Ravelry, reading every word and comment by their knitters.  I looked at Alexis Winslow’s blog post on Escher, which included some great photos not found elsewhere.  (Note to readers: she has a lovely blog, which talks a lot about the design process.)  I wrote to Brooklyn Tweed, and their pattern support was excellent and quick.  I asked them for photographs of the neck and upper edging so that I could interpret the pattern, and they took the garment they had on hand and photographed it carefully for me, sending me shots of every angle.

Eventually, I figured out how the upper edging is supposed to be constructed (at least I hope so).  However, there remained some serious issues: most of the projects that have been documented do not fit properly.  These fit issues mostly have to do with the shoulders and upper edging.  I don’t really want to knit all of that ribbing more than once, so I determined to figure out the fit issues before picking up the stitches.

In this endeavor, I was helped greatly by the lovely Alice (Ellisj on Ravelry).  Alice had posted on this blog when I first began Escher and pointed me to her very good notes on the project on Ravelry.   As I struggled to come to grips with the upper edging, I wrote to Alice with a number of questions.  She responded with a very thoughtful and lengthy letter, which was written while she was on an international trip with two toddlers, and these toddlers were taking a nap!  Having traveled around the world a number of times with two toddlers, I can tell you that Alice deserves sainthood for this!  I am constantly touched by the support of the knitting community, who reach out with such kindness to people they’ve never met.

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From Alice’s notes and her letters to me, as well as from insightful comments by other knitters on Ravelry, I came to some conclusions.

First, the simple things.  A number of people mentioned that there was an awful lot of fiddliness in the pattern to ensure that the upper and lower edgings were knitted together, rather than seamed.  I am perfectly willing to sew a seam, however, so didn’t see the advantage of the fiddling.  My first modification, I decided, would be to knit the upper edging back and forth without the short rows that join it to the bottom edging. (In the pattern, each edge stitch on the upper edging is knit together with a held stitch from the picked up edge of the lower edging – see, it is even complicated to describe!)   Second, I liked the way in which Alice had finished her project with an I-cord edge rather than the rows of reverse stockinette stitch that the pattern calls for.  I have never been a fan of rolled edging.  So, I put the live stitches from the bottom edging on a spare cable, and plan to put one long I-cord edge around the combined upper and lower edging when I get to that point.

Now to the tricky stuff.   As I see it, the top of the “triangle” should form a stright line across the top of the shoulder blades, and should reach from shoulder to shoulder.  There is a huge variation in the width of the triangle in the knitted projects, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with the width of the wearer’s shoulders.  This could result from choosing the wrong size but more likely results from the row gauge; as the back of the jacket is knit from side-to-side, it is the row gauge, rather than the stitch gauge, that determines where the shoulders sit.  TIP:  if you are knitting this, check to make sure that the top edge of the traingle is the right width for your shoulders before carrying on. (I think mine is a wee bit too wide.)

The main issues that most people have had can be divided into three areas of concern:

  1. the positioning of the shoulders
  2. the shawl collar being too tight
  3. drooping or bunching at the centre back

I will discuss these in turn.  First, the shoulders are formed by decreases in the ribbing that slant the ribs toward the centre back neck, and in doing so, create a three-dimensional “pocket” for the shoulders:

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I am knitting the third size, 41.5″.  For this size, the shoulder decreases are off-set 6.75″ from the centre, meaning the shoulder width of the garment is 13.5″.  This is too narrow for my shoulders.  The strongest piece of advice I received from Alice is to off-set the shoulder decreases more so that the width of the shoulders more accurately reflects my shoulder width (sensible, no?)

Second, many people note that the upper edging is stretched very tightly and that this makes the shawl collar pull.  The suggestion is to add more stitches to the upper edging at the start.  I had added 12 extra stitches to the bottom edging, because I was worried about this very fact, so adding more stitches to the upper edging makes sense to me.

Third, when you look at the photos of many projects, you can clearly see that the top line of the cardigan “droops”, sometimes quite far down the back, or alternatively, there is a “bunch” or “roll” of fabric at the neck.  I was determined to solve this problem through creative modifications.

So, how did I deal with these three issues?  First, I placed the stitch markers for the shoulder decreases at 8″ from the centre back, thus giving me an extra 2.5″ across the shoulders.  My next step was to pick up stitches without looking at the numbers in the pattern.  I picked up stitches at what I deemed to be sensible and regular intervals, only checking that the number on both sides was equal and that the number for both sides was divisible by 4, and the number for the centre section was divisble by 4 +2.    So far, so good, yes?  Well, the answer was no, actually.  It turns out that my number of picked-up stitches was dramatically more than the pattern called for (about 70 extra stitches across the entire upper edging).  All of these extra stitches combined with the wider shoulders meant that the rate of shoulder decreasing would not bring the neck in far enough.  This would definitely exacerbate the tendency for “bunching” at the centre back neck.  Also, because of the very large increase in the number of picked up stitches, and thus different gauge, the slope of the decreases is less, and the “pocket” it forms for the shoulder is shallower.

I came up with what I thought was a clever plan for this as well: I would start a set of double decreases around the centre K2 column on the back neck.  This would serve two purposes: it would decrease all of the extra bulk at the back neck, while at the same time allowing the side decreasing to do its job properly and narrow the neck while shaping the shoulders.

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I am now nearly 4 inches into this, and am starting to have some major doubts.  FIrst, I am struggling with whether to widen the shoulders even further.  In this photo, you can see the centre stitch is marked with a red marker.  The green marker indicates where the pattern calls for the shoulder decreases to start, the yellow marker indicates where my shoulder decreases start, and the purple marker indicates where I am considering moving them.

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Emma feels strongly that, esthetically, the decreases should be at the purple marker, so that they are at the very edges of the triangle.  However, Emma agrees that good fit should always trump everything else.  Doug, Emma and I spent a good 40 minutes on the weekend, arguing over the shoulder placement.  This is a really tricky call, because it is not clear until you have knitted it exactly how the shoulder shaping will fall.  I also think that the decreases at the neck, while intended to eliminate bunching in the neck, might actually lead to bunching of the top of the triangle, as hinted at in the photo below.  These centre neck decreases were intended to be paried with increases at the same spot, in order to ease the “pulling” of the shawl collar.  I have only just realized, however, that it is the reverse side which will show when the collar is turned over, and the reverse side is not nearly so pretty.

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Where does this lead me?  At the moment to a stand-off.  I am thinking about it way more than I should be given all of the other demands on my time.  I am now debating ripping out the upper edging, and starting it over.  This time I would pick up fewer stitches (although still more than the pattern calls for) and move the shoulders out to the very edges of the triangle.  I will probably also forego the centre decreases, or maybe just make fewer of them, decreasing 8 stitches instead of 24.  On the other hand, I have great faith in the miracle of blocking – and looking at these photos I think maybe I am being too picky.

I am determined to get this to work, partly out of sheer stubborness, and partly because I think the design is beautiful and would complement my wardrobe.  Stay tuned for further episodes of the Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

The girls are home from university this week.  As usual, this results in fun times, great conversations, good food, and general silliness.  Today, in honor of Mother’s Day (the US version), what I wanted was to re-create a family photo.

Here we are –  Doug, Emma, Leah and Kelly in 1995:

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And here we are today:

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And here, because I like you, I bring you the blooper reel:

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Escher in progress

Now that I am no longer distracted by the lovely golden Gossamer pullover, I have gone back to knitting Escher.

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I had stopped midway across the back centerpiece of this cardigan jacket, which is essentially a long rectangle with curved edges, and a triangle in the center shaped from short rows.  (Yes, it’s kind of hard to describe.)  This is close to where I stopped before:

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And this is what it looks like today:

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I have to say – I have no idea what this will end up looking like on and whether or not it will fit, but I am completely blown away by its construction!  It is a piece of knitting genius!  (Hopefully, I will still think this when I have finished it and tried it on.)  This is one of those designs where you can read the pattern many times, yet it doesn’t make a lick of sense until you are doing it, and then it suddenly emerges from confusion.

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The cardigan was designed by the ultra-talented Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed and published in Wool People 8.  I try to envision how she designed it; I imagine her cutting up pattern paper and folding and twisting it like origami.  For those who’ve forgotten, or are new to these pages, this is what the finished piece is supposed to look like:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I would not recommend this for a beginning knitter due to the complicated (but did I say genius?) construction.   It will also put off anyone who doesn’t want to knit miles and miles of ribbing in fingering weight wool.  Believe me – this cardi is 70% ribbing.

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Regardless of how it eventually turns out, it is a learning experience, and miles of ribbing notwithstanding, a joy to knit.

Gossamer modelled

Today, I can finally bring you some modelled shots of my Gossamer pullover.

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I wrote in an earlier post that a discussion thread on Ravelry about the beautiful yarn Rowan Kidsilk Haze Eclipse, which was being discontinued, led to an impulse purchase of a dozen balls in the gorgeous golden shade called Virgo.

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Because the yarn can be rather bling in certain lights, I wanted to keep the design very simple and stark.  Instead of trying to find a pattern to suit the thoughts in my head, I designed it myself as I knit. I think it is rather like a 1950s Sweater Girl pullover.  I call it Gossamer because it is as light as air.

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The fabric is extremely sheer and I shopped around for an appropriate tank to wear under it.  Just as I was finishing the pullover, I found a new Hanro tank design, in a creamy ivory lace that I thought would work perfectly.  (And which gave me the perfect excuse to splurge on Hanro.)  You can see what I mean in this shot:

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The lace tank gives just the right amount of cover without being intrusive and distracting the eye from the beautiful yarn.

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I knit this in pieces and seamed it together.  I think that with a fabric this delicate, the seam helps to give the pullover some structure and hopefully will help it to maintain its shape.  I didn’t use any fancy seaming technique for this – I just stitched it up rather quickly in mattress stitch.  The halo of the mohair means that the seam is soft and so is rather forgiving.  I think it looks great:

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Here you can see the set-in shoulders.  Again, I didn’t do anything fancy, just mattress-stitched the shoulder into place.

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I have been trying to decide whether to write this pattern up and make it available.  Even though the Kidsilk Haze Eclipse has been discontinued, this would work perfectly in Kidsilk Haze, which comes in so many beautiful colours.  What do you think?  Is it worth the effort?

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The thing I like best about this pullover is that it is so light – it weighs in at less that 125 grams.  It is the perfect travel sweater.  It won’t take up any weight in a suitcase, won’t show any wrinkles, and can add a bit of “Wow!” to a travel wardrobe.

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