Time to Knit

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)

A time to run,

A time to sit,

A time to sew,

A time to knit…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sorry; I couldn’t resist.

But this Saturday, October 1st, I suddenly felt like Knitting Season had opened.

I don’t know whether it was because the temperature was cooler, here in southwest Virginia, or because the calendar said, “It’s October now: time to get serious about winter coming on.” I suspect it was because the light has changed so much. Living in the woods, I am acutely aware of the angle of the sun, now that it never quite clears the treetops, and the yard is full of shadows all day long. In summer, the sun is fully overhead, and the yard never gets a break from full sun from dawn to dusk. As I write this, it’s 11:AM, and I’m looking out my window onto shadows which just two months ago would have been there just after sunrise, and completely gone before 8:AM.

So, on Saturday, I got out my Saxon Braid project and we got reacquainted. I looked over all my notes, and found where I was and what I’d been up to. I worked a few rows and checked my progress. It all looked good, but something was off.

I am starting this thing at the shoulder seams. I’ve read that higher-quality blouses usually have their seams slightly forward, because it’s a more attractive look, or something. I forget why. Maybe it was because they make the shirt fit better. Whatever it was, when I read that, I decided that this sweater would have its seams slightly forward, too.

I have an old hand-me-down robe that, I was surprised to discover, has forward-looking shoulder seams. So I put it onto my dress form, and have been using it to determine how to do the shaping of the sweater Fronts. I held my little growing sections up to the seams, and decided how many stitches to increase as they work their way toward each other.

It all seemed to be going well when I stopped in July. But when I picked it up again in October, I discovered that it wasn’t going as well as I’d thought. In June & July, I positioned a piece on the robe’s shoulder seam, then focused on how well the section toward the center was expanding in that direction. In the beginning, the section near the arm was right up against its seam, and all was right with the world.

This Saturday, I held the knitting up to the robe, and couldn’t figure out how to position it. If I held it up straight, so the outer edge lined up with the armhole seam, and the cable looked like this | |, then the center shaping was way off. If I aligned the cast-on edge to the shoulder seam, as I knew I had been doing, then the shaping was pretty good, but the cable looked like this  \ \   (or  this  / /, depending on which piece I was looking at). Oops.

Everything looked fine and lined up nicely for the first inch or so, which is why I hadn’t noticed it earlier. But now that the pieces are getting longer, my mistake is becoming more obvious.

There’s a reason why sweaters worked from the bottom up usually bind off their shoulder seams step-wise. It’s to take the slope of the shoulder into account. But it’s been about thirty years since I knitted a sweater by following someone else’s pattern, and I forgot that (ahem) little detail.

If I’d ever designed a bottom-up sweater, I’d have known to take it into consideration. But all my previous sweaters have been top-down, following Barbara G. Walker’s methods in Knitting from the Top. Actually, my first design was an adult raglan based on the baby raglan in Maggie Righetti’s book, Knitting in Plain English. (She went on in great length in the book about the benefits of knitting top-down, but then provided only one top-down pattern in the book. I adapted this baby sweater into a full-size one for my husband. It didn’t turn out TOO badly, but it fit me better than it did him. I still wear it occasionally.)

So I got out my trusty Fishermen’s Wool* and spent the rest of the day making swatches for various ways of casting on sloped shoulders. I do know why professional knitting designers almost always work from the bottom up. The hassle of writing a top-down pattern is just too bad to bother with. But I really, really want to do this sweater this way, so am struggling through the hard part, knowing how happy I’ll be with it later. But for now, I have to re-invent the wheel just to get started. I will persevere, but it looks like I’ll be wearing the craft-show sweater for a while longer.  : – (

Maybe I should put this one on hold and start the Cestari sweater, which I’ve been considering working from the bottom up. OTOH, since I’ve never designed a bottom-up sweater before, I’m sure to run into snags with that one, too, and will probably end this winter shivering, with frostbite and two UFOs.

—————

* Good news about this! I’d written (here) that I hoped Lion Brand would provide more natural-fiber yarns, since I don’t like the look or feel of acrylic yarns. (They’re fine if you like wearing plastic bags, I guess.) Recently, Franklin Habit posted something on Instagram about Lion Brand Organic Wool. Yippee!! (Not only mentions it, but praises it.) I haven’t been in the yarn section of a store where Lion Brand is sold in a very long time, due to the still-huge size of my stash, so I hadn’t seen this, but will have to give it a try! This move of theirs in the right direction must be encouraged. And not just wool, but organic wool! I can’t wait to see it.

And I highly recommend reading Franklin’s blogs and attending his classes, if you are so lucky as to get that chance. I could write an entire post about him, but this one is already too long; maybe another time.

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Let the Fun Begin!

First row

Midway through the first row

I prefer to do my cast on with a dp (double-pointed needle), then knit the first row onto my circulars. It’s just easier that way for me to keep the cast-on stitches in a straight, untwisted line.

Ever since I discovered the Tubular Cast-On for Single Rib¹, this has become my go-to cast on, even when I won’t be knitting ribbing. It’s as fast as the provisional cast on² but is permanent, and gives a nice-looking edge. I always used to hate casting on, but this method is much more pleasant, and I think it looks better, too.

The first rep of Saxon Braid

The first rep of Saxon Braid

It doesn’t look like much, but each rep of the Saxon Braid takes me about an hour. (Making it with Cestari yarn takes a bit longer, because of the extra work involved in knitting rope.) I can put in only about an hour a day, because I’m not a professional designer, and have other things that require my time, and also because I don’t want to reactivate my carpal-tunnel problems. Some days, I’ve gone ahead and worked longer than one hour, but in general, if I can knit one hour each day, I’ll be doing well.

I’ve been working on this so long already! Is it a sweater yet??

1  (Stanley, Montse, Knitter’s Handbook, Reader’s Digest, 1993, p. 78)

2 ibid, p. 77 (called Looping Provisional Cast-On)

2 also, Walker, Barbara G., Knitting from the Top, Schoolhouse Press, 1996, p. 72

What’s in a Name?

There seems to be a great variation between what different yarn companies classify as “Worsted” or “Bulky” these days.

The Cascade 220 seems a little skimpy compared to other worsteds in my stash, such as Plymouth Galway. Now, the Wool of the Andes Bulky (WOTA) seems to be just barely thicker than the Cascade 220. While the Cestari seems gigantic (super bulky), the WOTA doesn’t seem bulky at all — more like worsted or heavy worsted.

Cascade 220, Galway, WOTA Bulky, Cestari Bulky.

Cascade 220, Galway, WOTA Bulky, Cestari Bulky.

I want this sweater to be somewhat sturdy. That was why I rejected the Cascade 220, which had a lovely soft, pliant feel which might be perfect for an indoor sweater, but didn’t seem thick or tough enough for outerwear.

Now, I’m going with the WOTA Bulky, but it doesn’t feel bulky or tough enough, either.

In the picture, the Cestari doesn’t look much bigger than the WOTA. The difference is in the density. There’s a lot of wool in the Cestari, while there’s a lot of air in the WOTA. The Cestari is as thick & dense as a tree trunk, while the WOTA is just feathers.

 A few years ago, I acquired a healthy-sized stash when three yarn stores in my area closed, so I haven’t been buying yarn. Nothing in my stash suits this project, though, so I’m forced to buy yarn. I’ve discovered that several of my favorite online sources are gone, and my lys* doesn’t carry some of the yarns they used to. So, my choices have narrowed considerably, and I seem to be limited to the three already mentioned.

* lys = local yarn shop

Cascade 220, WOTA & Cestari

Cascade 220, WOTA & Cestari

The difference can be seen more plainly in this picture. The thick-looking strands of the WOTA were compressed a lot by the braid pattern, while the dense strands of the Cestari couldn’t be compressed by anything less than a steamroller. When I make a sweater with Cestari, it will be as dense and protective as any coat I own. But I want the sweater I’m currently making to be a little less dense, while retaining some strength.

Several years ago, I made Meg Swansen’s Shawl-Collared Vest.**  Cash was tight, so I made it with Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool, which looked as nice as a lot of more-expensive natural wools. But, like the WOTA, it seems to have a lot of air in it. It looks ok, but it’s flimsy, and not nearly as warm as it could be. I never wear it.

I am concerned that I’ve now made another bad decision, and will put a lot of work into a sweater which won’t be worth the effort.

**  Swansen, Meg, Handknitting with Meg Swansen, Schoolhouse Press, 1997-ish

I can’t lay hands on the book right now (for the same reason I didn’t have access to Myrna Stahman’s shawl book in 2014 (1st Project: The Rail Yard Shawl) ), and can’t find the publishing info on their website. Will update this when I can.

Test Swatch Trio

Re: Photo of the three test swatches: At the time I took the photo, I’d misplaced the label, but the one on the left is the Cascade 220. I could PhotoShop the label in, but I cannot re-take the picture, since after I took it, I ripped out the WOTA swatch so I could start my sweater with it. The other two swatches still exist, in case I need them later.

Buttercup + swatches

Feline help

Buttercup thought the swatches looked lonely. Notice how artfully she obscures the Cestari label.

\

Editor’s Note

I’ve inadvertently gotten these posts on a time-delay.

I write them first on my computer, then copy-and-paste them into WordPress. The idea for this sweater started coming to me some time in January, I think, and I was intrigued, but didn’t take action right away. It was only after I started thinking that maybe I should revive the blog and use it to chart this sweater’s progress that I seriously considered getting back into knitting.

Then, when I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep, I found myself writing the first few blog posts. After this went on long enough, I decided I’d better get it all down before I forgot everything. (I was really reluctant to start this; I hadn’t knitted in so long, wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep it up if my wrists gave out again, and also wasn’t sure I could keep up with the blog-writing.)

I eventually gave in, and started writing and taking pictures.

But I couldn’t post them! I live in the woods, and our internet service is terrible. My old computer is refusing to load complex pages, so I can’t check my email with it, and I haven’t been able to get on Facebook in months. I tried using the WP app on my phone, but a lot of the time, my phone chokes, too.

Then, one day, when I was trying to deal with the app, I saw something about a WP app for the computer. I immediately downloaded it. Salvation! I still have occasional lock-ups, but for the most part I’ve been able to post whenever I want.

Only trouble is: the technical difficulties delayed my posts. I am now about a month behind. To keep the integrity of the story in the blog, I decided not to skip over posts. And I couldn’t bear the thought of all the rewriting I’d have to do, so I kept them as they were written, and figured nobody would notice or care if they were posted later than when they were written.

But I care! So I tried to keep the days accurate in the last flurry of posts, to maintain continuity with real life. (I did get the Knit Picks order on Tuesday, after placing the order on Saturday, for example.)* But the following post, Uh…… Make that…, really happened over a week later. In my hurry to get the posts a little caught up to real life, I posted this one the next day. But as I did, I noticed the discrepancy between when the post was made (the next day after It’s Here!) and time references in the post itself (“I went online … and told them what had happened. Then I waited. And waited.”)

The discerning reader might pick up on this and wonder how justified I am in complaining that I never heard back from them, when it’s been less than 24 hours since I received the order. In reality, I waited a couple of days before even contacting them (which was difficult enough to be a story in itself), then waited over a week to hear from them before writing the Uh…… Make that… post.

And now, the discerning reader’s questions have been answered. The more casual reader will never have bothered to read to the end of this over-long entry, and is untroubled by the anomalies in my narrative anyway. ;-D  But I have succeeded in shaving about a week off my posting delay. I’ll see what I can do about the rest.

Edit: *No, my memory was faulty. According to the dates of the posts as I wrote them, I ordered the wool on a Wednesday, not Saturday. I did buy the Cestari that Sunday, and receive the Knit Picks order the following Tuesday, though. So the rest of it is accurate.

It’s an Acquired Taste

Each repeat of Saxon Braid takes me about an hour to complete. By the time I’d knitted the second one, I expected my hands to be falling off, but they were fine. I have been doing hand-strengthening exercises; I guess that’s paying off.

During the manufacturing process, the yarn is scoured in such a way as to leave some natural oils in the wool, so my skin got ever-so-lightly lubricated as I worked. Not enough to make my hands feel greasy (I am sensitive to that). I didn’t even notice it at first, but did later, as the oil built up over time. I have tried other yarns which made me feel like I needed to wash my hands every twenty minutes, but this wasn’t like that. I could get used to this. Too bad the oils are distributed to my palms, though, when it’s the backs of my hands that could use them. I wonder if I could incorporate an extra movement in my knitting, something which strokes the yarn with the back of my hand after every stitch…

The Wool of the Andes order still hasn’t come. I tried to wait, but I couldn’t bear to not be knitting, so I did another repeat. It’s getting easier, and I really like the way it looks. Not for the top-down sweater I’m dreaming about, but for another, bulkier version, probably done from the bottom up, much as it pains me to do that. That’s just the way this wool seems to need to be worked, at least for the sweater I’m seeing when I look at this swatch.

Cestari Yarn swatch

Cestari Yarn swatch

In addition to all the grey skeins, I bought a lone beige to test out. I’m glad I chose the grey, but the beige looks nice, too. My test swatch was done on the beige, of course.

Cestari Yarn

I just heard that my lys* was hosting a trunk show for Cestari Yarn, a local (-ish) small business that I’d never heard of before. So I ran right down there and scarfed up all they had of the lightest shade of grey in bulky weight.

Pile of Cestari

Pile of Cestari

And I set to work.

My goodness, this yarn is STIFF. It feels like I’m knitting rope!

I had it in my head that I needed bulky-weight yarn, but I probably would have done better with their worsted-weight, which is still considerably thicker than Cascade 220 or any other worsted I’ve ever seen.

Complaining bitterly the whole time, I persevered through an entire repeat of the Saxon Braid pattern, then had a look at it. And liked what I saw. So I continued on through another repeat of the pattern. My hands are definitely getting a workout. If I’m careful not to strain my carpal tunnels, I could increase my hand strength with this stuff.

* lys = local yarn shop