The gauge swatch lies!

A few days ago, I started a new pullover.  I am using Shibui Linen in the gorgeous colour, Bordeaux.

IMG_1302

Before beginning, I diligently knit a gauge swatch.  I washed it, towel dried it, patted it into place, and let it dry.  I carefully measured it both before and after washing.  I measured it many times; seriously, you would think I was crazy with the number of times I measured it.

I then cast on for the pullover which is knit in the round, bottom-up.  While I was knitting, I took the time to measure the gauge occasionally to make sure that I was still on target.  I had knit the swatch back and forth and the garment was knit in the round.  I am aware that gauges can frequently vary when knit in the round (presumably due to the lack of purling every other row) and wanted to keep an eye on this.   I took measurements over four inches any number of times, and I was consistently hitting the pattern gauge (and my swatch gauge) of 25.  But soon, I began to feel that something was wrong.  I transferred all of the stitches  to a very long needle so that I could try on the garment and take a more accurate gauge.  This is what happened:

IMG_1334

This is not caused by a slight difference in gauge.  What is the problem here?  I am knitting this as a test knit, so maybe the pattern numbers are wrong?  No, I have done the math (as has the designer, who is quite accomplished.)   I think it has something to do with the yarn, which is 100% linen and has a chain construction, combined perhaps with my knitting style (I am a “thrower”) and perhaps with a hundred other unaccounted-for variables. (Another test knitter, using the same yarn commented that “my piece is growing in width just by looking at it”!  However, other testers seem to be doing just fine with this yarn.  Clearly knitting is both art and science, with some mystery thrown in for good measure.)

I’m not giving up; I think both yarn and pullover will be great.  I just have to go back to the drawing board – this time I will trust my gut instead of the swatch.

Yesterday, when I tried it on, I was astonished and annoyed.  How can the yarn DO that?  Today, however, looking at these photos, I must admit to finding it pretty funny.  There are two morals to this story.  Moral number one: you are never so expert a knitter that you can’t make spectacular screw-ups.  Moral number two:  the gauge swatch lies!

Sleeves and a test knit

I usually hate knitting sleeves, especially when I’m knitting in the round.  For some unknown reason, I powered through the sleeves for my Laelia cardigan.  Here it is without sleeves two weeks ago:

IMG_1274

And here are the sleeves:

IMG_1314

The pattern calls for lace on the sleeves as well, but I decided that I preferred them plain.  I am very happy to have finished the sleeves, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  This is quite a long cardi, and as you knit down, the lace pattern continually expands around the back.  I find that I cannot knit this particular lace pattern with my mind disengaged, and that limits when I can knit it.  I have about ten more inches to go, I think.

IMG_1325

That ten inches might take even longer, however, because in the meantime, I agreed to do a test knit for Claudia Eisenkolb.  The test is for a lovely tee made out of linen.  I have seen a lot of patterns for linen tees lately, but this one drew me in because it struck me as very elegant and perfect for work.  (No pattern photos while the tee is in test mode.)  I am using the stunning Shibui Linen in the colour Bordeaux.

IMG_1302

I love the way the yarn picks up the light.  It is so rich and luminous.  The yarn has an unusual chained structure, which you can hopefully see in this photo:

IMG_1304

I am so far finding it a little rough to knit with – the linen is quite stiff – but I very much like the crispness of the fabric.  I think that once washed a few times, it should be perfect.

IMG_1331

I am spending quite a bit of time on the train this month, and this is a much better project for train knitting that the Laelia, which has grown a bit awkward.  To demonstrate, here I am trying to untie knots in the yarn while Doug patiently waits to take photos.  (The knots, by the way, are not in the skein, but result from having too many live threads going at once and getting it all in a tangle.)

IMG_1310

Have a lovely Sunday!

Too lazy for words

Today I find myself in a rather strange position: I am too lazy for words.  I would like to tell you all about my slow but steady progress on the lovely Laelia cardigan, designed by Hanna Maciejewska.  I would like to wax lyrical about the magical qualities of the Merino Silk Fingering yarn  by The  Uncommon Thread.  I would love to describe in glowing detail the luminosity of this particular shade of orange.  But today I am lazy.  I want to knit, and drink my coffee, and empty my mind.  So today, dear readers, you must be satisfied with photos.  As luck would have it, Emma is home, and she kindly snapped some shots for you.

IMG_1297

IMG_1285

IMG_1289IMG_1292

IMG_1287IMG_1282Enjoy your Sunday!

Stupidity strikes again!

My life has been crazy lately.  I have been dealing with a quadruple super whammy of stressful events.

1. House renovations.  Yes, the dreaded renovations – lovely when they’re done, hell while they’re happening.  We’ve had all the windows in the house replaced, and then the kitchen was gutted and rebuilt.  Plus, various other things – fences torn down and put up again, the garage redone, etc.

2. The beautiful 22-year old daughter decides to backpack by herself through Eastern Europe syndrome.  Emma had a ball; she visited 16 cities in 9 countries in 5 weeks.  She had a huge variety of adventures, many of which she probably should not have mentioned to her parents until long after the fact.  She had 5 weeks of fun; I had 5 weeks of fretting.

3. Trying to write a master’s thesis while working full time.  Enough said.

4. Making a major change in life direction, while fretting at every opportunity.  (More on this in a future post.)

We all know that knitting is good for stress, right?

IMG_1270

During the renovations, we were offered the use of some friends’ house.  We packed up a suitcase and moved in, and right in the midst of all of these other stressful things, we lived for three weeks out of suitcase in someone else’s house.  I took one knitting project with me: the beautiful Laelia cardigan which I am knitting in fingering weight yarn.  This cardigan has lace panels.  These lace panels require concentration.  It turns out that knitting may be good for stress, but, in my case at least, knitting lace is not.

A while back, I wrote a post called “How to be stupid at knitting” in which I told the sorry tale of an incredibly stupid knitting adventure.  Stupidity strikes again!  I knit two rows and realized that I had made a mistake in the lace.  I painstakingly tinked two rows, a stitch at a time.  I knit two more rows; again with the tinking.  I finally decided that it was crazy to attempt to knit this beautiful lace cardigan in the state I was in.  I wished so hard that I had a simple stockinette or garter project on the needles; something that went round and round, mindlessly.  Every day, I glanced longingly at my knitting and thought, if only I could do some mindless knitting, but all I have with me is this cardigan with lace panels, and I can’t knit lace right now.

IMG_1267

So, I spent three weeks without knitting a stitch.  Yesterday, days after moving back home, I had one of those Eureka moments:  I COULD HAVE JUST KNIT THE SLEEVES!  There are few things as mindless as knitting sleeves, in the round, in fingering weight.  I could have totally done that, even in a state of stress.

These photos show what the sweater looked like a month ago.  Unfortunately, they also show what it looks like today.

IMG_1271

Pattern Radar July 2015

It’s been a while since my last Pattern Radar post.  These are semi-regular posts in which I highlight patterns which have caught my attention.  Normally, when I write one of these, my “favorites” box is overfilling with new and interesting patterns; this time not so much.   In any case, here are the ones that have lately caught my eye.

I really love the geometry in this cabled pullover called Allium by Nick Atkinson for Yarn Stories:

© Nick Atkinson

© Nick Atkinson

Combined with the lovely green (I am a sucker for green), this one definitely sparked my interest.  I think this would look fabulous on a very shapely person, and would also impart a beautiful silhouette to a slim, willowy person.

I like the drape and swinginess (is that a word?) of this lovely pullover by Maria Chiba:

© Fairmount Fibers

© Fairmount Fibers

I like the ease of it, and can imagine wearing it in a pale shimmery silky grey, on a breezy summer evening, while sipping prosecco.  Called Oxidar, you can find it here.

I adore Shifter by Julia Gunther:

© Julia Günther

© Julia Günther

I must be really attracted to this kind of shaping with ribbing; you can see it in the lovely Audrey which I knit for my daughter Emma, and also in the shapings of the ribbing for my Escher cardigan.  I think this example is very sophisticated but also casual and fun at the same time.  I would even overcome my zipper trepidation to knit this pullover.

I have a fondness for classics, and this one really does it for me:

© Knitscene/Harper Point

© Knitscene/Harper Point

This is the Hyannis Port Pullover by Cecily Glowik MacDonald from Knitscene Fall 2015.  I think it is beautifully designed and proportioned; I would wear this all the time if I had it.  I also love the styling and the photo shoot.  (We should ask: Why aren’t there more women of colour in knitting pattern releases?  Designers and pattern producers seem to be labouring under the impression that we want all sweaters displayed on young, slim, white women.)  Here is another fabulous photo from this shoot:

© Knitscene/Harper Point

© Knitscene/Harper Point

I don’t think of myself as a poncho person (I remember vividly too many hideous ponchos from the 70s), but I must admit that I find this one kind of cute:

© Anders Schønnemann

© Anders Schønnemann

It really has a casual chic vibe to it.  It is called Ella, and is designed by Lene Holme Samsøe and published in Perfectly Feminine Knits.

Here is another one from Yarn Stories; it is called Sloop and designed by Amada Crawford:

© Amanda Crawford

© Amanda Crawford

I have some very pretty grey silk merino blend yarn in my stash that would work really well for this.  I am considering knitting up a swatch and seeing if Emma is interested.  This is another example of casual chic, with good details and classic lines.

I am usually not a fan of triangular shawls, but this one is really striking.  I also completely love the photo, which is pretty much perfect:

© Justyna Lorkowska

© Justyna Lorkowska

The pattern is called Seiklus Shawlette and it is designed by Justyna Lorkowska.  It is pretty irresistable in this grey and would also be lovely in black (though it would take a brave knitter – or one with much younger eyes – to knit this in black).

I love the designs of Tin Can Knits, the designing duo otherwise known as Alexa Ludeman and Emily Wessel.  They recently both gave birth to baby boys and released a pattern collection of adorable baby knits.  I can usually resist baby knits, but this pattern really stands out.  I would invent a baby to knit Peanut:

© Tin Can Knits

© Tin Can Knits

And while we are on the topic of kids, Kate Davies and Jen Arnall-Culliford recently released some down-sized versions of their adult sweaters, Bluebells and Bruton.  Called Wee Bluebells and Wee Bruton, they can be found in Cross Country Knitting, Volume Two.

© Cross Country Knitting

© Cross Country Knitting

For some wonderful photos, and close-ups of the sweaters themselves, I recommend you read Kate’s post (actually, I recommend you read all of Kate’s posts – I never miss one).

That’s it for this edition of Pattern Radar.  Happy knitting, everyone!

Textile experiences: Three for London

I’ve been into London quite a bit the last few weeks, both for business and pleasure.  While there, I have had three textile experiences.  The first was quite unexpected.  I had a few hours between meetings and decided to spend them working in the British Library.  While there I chanced upon the artwork Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker.  The accompanying text says in part:

Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is a major new artwork by the acclaimed British artist Cornelia Parker that celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015.  Fabricated by many hands, it replicates in stitch the entire Wikipedia article on Magna Carta as it appeared on the document’s 799th anniversary. […] Cornelia Parker captured the Wikipedia article on Magna Carta on 15 June 2014 and output it as a printed pattern on fabric.  The fabric was then divided into 87 sections and sent around the country to be stitched by more than 200 people.  The sections were subsequently reunited and sewn together by the Royal School of Needlework, the international centre of excellence for the art of hand embroidery.  The finished piece is almost 13 metres long.

It is an arresting piece of needlework with beautiful craftsmanship, which manages to impart a fresh and modern outlook to the Magna Carta.  It was lovely to watch its impact on people, many of whom seemed to come upon it by chance as I did and then become captivated by it.   Its size makes it nearly impossible to photograph, but you should definitely read the press release put out by the British Library which has many detailed photos, background on the artist and the process, and snippets on many of the people who contributed to the work.

One of the days in which I was working in London was a Thursday, and as I was debating whether to take the train straight home at the end of the day or to hang around in London for a few hours, inspiration hit: Thursday night is Knit Night at Loop in London.  I really love Loop, its a great knitting shop with a cool and relaxing atmosphere.  I frequently stop there when I am in town but I had never made it to a Knit Night before.  It turns out (surprise, surprise) that Knit Nights are fun, and are filled with people who know what you are talking about!  It has been a long time since I have chatted with a bunch of knitters and I enjoyed it immensely.

Interestingly, shortly after I arrived, the chair next to me was taken, and I looked up to see someone whose face I know from Ravelry, but had never met.  I said “Are you Kate?”  and she said “Hello Kelly, I loved what you did with Escher.”  So funny.  It is the first time that I have run into someone who reads my blog.  Funnier still, Kate normally resides in Australia and had just arrived in London, so it really was a chance meeting of two expat knitters from different sides of the globe who knew each other from Ravelry.  Isn’t the knitting world great?  (Hi, Kate!)

I’ve saved the best London textile experience for last.  I went to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum!  I was absolutely blown away by this event.  It was truly remarkable.  I don’t usually pay all that much attention to the catwalk, and wouldn’t have called myself a fan, but this exhibit was astonishing.  I can see why McQueen was controversial, but there is no denying the absolute genius and craftsmanship in his work.  The exhibit is spectacularly curated: it is more a piece of theatre than a museum exhibit.  The exhibit is closing on August 2nd.  I have just read that the museum will be open around the clock on the final weekend because of the demand for tickets.  If you have any chance of getting to see this, don’t miss it!

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…….