Let’s talk about this Amanda knitalong

Let's talk about this Amanda knitalong

I’m thrilled that so many people responded positively to my suggestion that maybe you might want to knit the Amanda cardigan along with Anna and me this fall. I’m also a little nervous because I don’t really know anything about hosting a formal knitalong, having only barely hosted very, very informal ones in the past. So I’d love your input on this. Here are some questions I have:

1) Shall we all knit Amanda, or shall I declare it a Fisherman Knitalong and suggest some other patterns as candidates? (Both cardigans and pullovers.) It would be nice to all be knitting the same thing, so we can compare notes and strategies on very specific aspects. On the other hand, Amanda is available only in a book (albeit a very good book, with lots of appealing patterns) and is written for just four sizes (33, 35, 38, 40). So I can see the benefits of going either way with this. I can also imagine a Fisherman Knitalong becoming an annual (biennial? triennial?) event.

2) How formal or structured do we want this to be? Knitting to a deadline tends to make me dislike knitting, and I don’t have the bandwidth to create and monitor a Ravelry group or anything like that. But I also feel like a total lack of structure will not help any of us accomplish our sweaters. What if we set a fairly loose deadline for each stage of the sweater. I can do a kickoff post for each part, discussing things to consider before casting on, etc, and then we can have ongoing discussion of that component in the comments on that post. Everyone can post progress shots on Ravelry, their blog, Instagram, whatever publicly accessible web-based location they prefer, and link out to those from comments. Does that work? (Scheduling it out according to parts/pieces is an argument in favor of us all knitting the same sweater, or at least sweaters with the same basic construction method. Amanda is bottom-up pieces, joined at the underarm, then knitted upwards from there in one piece. Plenty of other sweaters take that approach.)

3) Can we start on September 15th? (Or maybe swatching starts on the 1st?) I need some more time with my Channel before shifting gears, plus I don’t have yarn for swatching Amanda yet, much less a decision and a sweater’s worth. I imagine many others will also need time to pick yarn and swatch. Swatching will be very, very important for a heavily cabled sweater, my lovely friends — you really want to be sure it’s going to match the pattern measurements and come out to the size you want! (We’ll talk about how to adjust for gauge, etc., no worries.)

4) How much time do we all think is reasonable for the various parts? Swatch, back (hem to underarms), left front (ditto), right front (ditto; and some people will no doubt opt to knit the body as one piece instead of three), sleeve 1, sleeve 2, yoke, button bands, neck, and seams if you’re doing them.

I don’t expect we’ll have unanimity on any of this, but let’s talk it over and then I’ll post a follow-up with details, yarn recommendations and some other thoughts before we get started. Yes?

Yarn is magic

Yarn is magic

It’s late Thursday night as I’m typing this, and I’m supposed to be putting together a big, juicy Elsewhere list for you, but I spent the majority of the day up to my bloodshot eyeballs in spreadsheets, filing my sales tax return, and my brain is DONE. So instead I’m showing you a pretty picture of my Channel Cardigan in progress. Ooooohhhh.

I swear there were about seven hours during the spreadsheet ordeal where I had my teeth clenched and forgot to exhale. But then before I left the studio, I went upstairs to where this beautiful floor is and pulled everything out of my bento bag and took this picture — and in the five minutes I was with the yarn (not even knitting it!) a bunch of the stress just slid right off me. Yarn is magic.

Have a beautiful weekend, lovely people. Tell me what you’re working on!

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p.s. That ridiculously great pouch up there will be in the shop as soon as I can get it shot and listed, along with its friends. Sorry to tease you! But I latched onto it the moment it arrived.

Best. Swatch. Ever.

Best. Swatch. Ever.

You all know I’ve had Channel on the brain (and the approved knitting list!) since trying it on back in March, but my fever escalated around the time of Squam. I was packing for that trip, knowing it would be cool nights and mornings, and was shocked to have nothing suitable: no sweatshirt and only super wooly sweaters that I could not bring myself to put into a suitcase in June. What I wanted and needed was my Channel cardigan — the one I’m planning to knit in this fantastic O-Wool Balance, which is an organic, washable, cotton-wool blend that knits up into a light, airy, not-too-warm fabric. I.e., the perfect all-seasons cardigan. I have two more trips this summer that all but require this sweater, except of course the sweater does not yet exist. But behold my swatch! The best swatch of all time.

I wanted to practice the charted stitch pattern, and particularly the English Rib portion, which is a little conflictingly described in the pattern. The chart includes the two ribbed sections and the chevrons in between, and I added five stitches of moss stitch on each end, since that’s what happens in the sweater. However, gauge for the sweater is actually given over moss stitch, not the charted stitches, so after knitting a few repeats of the chart, I switched to moss for a couple of inches, which gave me the necessary four vertical inches of moss to measure my gauge. The swatch has since been machine washed (it came out practically dry! damn, I love this yarn) and measured, and I appear to be spot on pattern gauge. And the fabric couldn’t be better for what I’m wanting. I had a blast knitting this, so I’m as eager as can be to cast on.

Of those two upcoming trips I really want this sweater for, one of them is next week. And though it’s not an opportunity to wear it, I hope to do a meaningful amount of knitting on it. I’m traveling with my entire family (in celebration of my parents’ 50th anniversary) to a retreat place somewhere in the mountains of NC, where I’m told reception is spotty, at best. I’ve got blog posts queued up for you, but:

IMPORTANT SHOP NOTE: I’ll be packing orders this weekend and will drop them at the PO Monday morning on our way out of town. The rest of the orders from Sunday through Friday will ship during a special session on Saturday the 26th. So if you’ve got something you know you need next week, get your order in today!

Togue Stripes

Togue Stripes

Verdict on this tank sweater: BIG LOVE. So quick (actual combined knitting time), so simple, so useful here in the land of 90-something-degree days. Dress it up, dress it down. And it’s forever entwined in my memory with Squam — this yarn and the green needles and porch floor and weathered decking were just the most soothing and pleasing visual combination. I love love loved it.

Togue Stripes

As you know, I wanted a cross between Pam Allen’s two recent tank sweater patterns. I wanted the weight and gauge of Togue Pond with the look of Saco Stripes — specifically the A-line shape, plain lower edge, stripes (obviously) and wider “straps.” So here’s what I did:

— Knitted it in the Kestrel yarn (in Pebble and Senza) using the Togue Pond pattern (second size).

— Omitted the waist ribbing and short-row shaping — I simply did one purl round after the cast-on and then worked straight in stockinette.

— Cast on with US10 needles and worked the first couple of inches, then switched to US9’s, then to US8’s after the top stripe. When I do it again, I’ll just start on US9’s; it’s already getting to be a little more flouncy at the waist than I’d like.

— Anticipating that it would grow with blocking and over time, I knitted it shorter than I wanted it. Unfortunately, I didn’t write it down, but I think it was 13 or 13.5 inches before dividing for front and back. After blocking and a couple of wears, it’s now 15 inches (not including the ribbing).

— I worked the first stripe 3 inches (I think) from the cast-on edge. The Senza stripes are 2 rows each, with 6 rows of Pebble in between.

— I staggered my waist decreases a little differently (just keeping them in the grey), and did fewer of them. When it came time to divide for front and back and work the armhole shaping, I had eight more stitches than the pattern called for, which gave me two extra stitches in each “strap.”

— I did the 3-needle bind-off for the shoulders with wrong sides together, so the seam is exposed. I also have a bad habit of forgetting to bind-off when doing a 3-needle bind-off — I just do all the k2tog’s and wind up with a row of live stitches. So then I go back and pass the stitches over each other to bind them off. Which actually makes a nice substantial looking exposed seam.

— I had seen comments on Ravelry that people were picking up fewer stitches for the neck/arms than the pattern called for. I picked up 96 for the neck and the same number as the pattern for the armholes.

— To counteract the growth tendency, I deliberately did my bind-offs a little on the tight side.

— I did not do jogless stripes, and I did not carry the Senza yarn up the sides either, because I knew it would show through, given the loose-ish gauge and high contrast. So when weaving in each of those Senza ends, I did one duplicate stitch from the right side of the fabric to even out the jog, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

Our first evening in Nashville, we were over at our friend Jo’s for BLTs. I wove in the last of the ends on her deck and she threw it in her washing machine while we ate, then laid it out to air dry. I’m already in love with the fabric and know it will just get softer over time, so definitely put me down as a linen convert.

Togue Stripes

Cross-country knitting

Cross-country knitting

True confession: I had a meltdown on Monday morning. All I’m gonna say is our move did not go as planned — thanks, U-Haul! — and the long packing/loading/cleaning nightmare that should have ended on Sunday evening was nowhere near over. I woke up Monday in the guest room at my cousins’ house totally overcome with exhaustion and anxiety about the day ahead and gave my husband the impression that he might need to check me into a loony bin somewhere. Thankfully, I’m an ox (moments of weakness aside) and we have amazing friends and neighbors, and by Monday evening we were finally — finally! — out of our loft and into our car, pointed east. I told you a couple weeks ago that I had been managing to sneak in a few rows of knitting here and there to save my sanity, but it turns out that had ended shortly before that post. By the time we got into the car, I hadn’t knitted a stitch in thirteen days, and you’ll all understand when I say that was a contributing factor.

ANYWAY, among the many beautiful things about being in the car is that I can finally knit again. Hallelujah. But here’s the thing: I barely have! Between Tahoe and Salt Lake City on Tuesday I finished the upper part of the front of this tank. And between SLC and Denver on Wednesday, all I did was pick up and knit the neck. The landscape is so relentlessly stunning I didn’t want to take my eyes off it for even a second, but the combination of staring out the window (not packing!) and knitting a little bit here and there has been wildly therapeutic. And the happiest thing I have to report is that, despite previous misgivings, it fits perfectly. It should be done by Kansas City.

Have a fun-filled 4th of July weekend, y’all!

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On this sweater and my sanity

On this sweater and my sanity

In between work and the neverending packing, I am managing to knit a few rows here and there. My Togue PondSaco Stripes hybrid is coming along nicely, I think — to my great relief. It’s gone from testing my sanity to keeping me sane.

There was an evening in the big cabin at Squam, surrounded by professional knitters, where collective concern was expressed for the size of the thing. I had knitted five or six inches, and it did seem enormous. I kept counting my stitches and doing the math, and it seemed like it should be fine, except it didn’t look fine. So I put it away and moped, and nice people gave me yarn to try to keep me occupied. Squam was a major swatch-fest for me: Gudrun Johnston’s excellent short-rows class was a day-long series of tiny swatches, followed by Kate and Courtney’s highly recommended vest class which, of course, began with a swatch. So for my Friday free time between the two, the last thing I wanted to do was stop and swatch this sweater I was already knitting. (Not that there’s anything wrong with swatching! It’s wonderful and important and an awesome learning tool and all of that. But I’d had no time to knit for weeks, and here I was on a knitting break and I wanted to be knitting. On a dock.) In short: I was distressed.

Friday evening, after a mosquito-plagued but head-clearing walk, I sat down with the sweater in the dining hall — by then empty of all but me and Anna — and measured and counted again. I had come to the conclusion that swatching would do me no good in this case anyway. This is aran-weight linen, which is a rather mysterious creature. The finished sweater is going to drape and grow and change in ways that a swatch would not likely predict with any accuracy, no matter how many clotheslines I hung it from. So I decided to just have faith and keep knitting. And by Saturday afternoon I was knitting it on that dock, feet in the water, just as happy as a knitter could be.

I won’t know for certain until the shoulders are seamed together and I can put it on for real, but I think — I hope — it’s just right. So thank god I didn’t frog it in a panic and move on to something else.

If it works out, I promise to share my mods. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend. To those of you who came to the sale last Saturday, it was marvelous to meet you and I apologize again for my appearance! I’d love to hear what you’re all working on —

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Make, Knit, Mend

Make, Knit, Mend

Something happened to me on Sunday — an almost imperceptible shift in attitude, and yet significant at the same time.

I’m not sure how best to describe it, but let’s say I feel like I crossed some invisible line I’ve been moving toward for decades — first at a saunter and lately at a faster and faster clip. May has been a big, meaning-filled month for me. My closet clean-out has turned into a whole house clean-out. I’ve been packing my already choked calendar with all kinds of opportunities to learn new skills or improve on existing ones. There’s the steady stream of Me Made May pics from all over the hemisphere in my Instagram feed. The other day, I finally made it to The Possible, a sort of exhibit-in-progress (now closed) at the Berkeley Art Museum, which was so moving. Rather than filling the space (the most amazing space) with objects, they filled it with makers — weavers, dyers, printmakers, potters. At the front of the space was a rag rug that had expanded slowly outward for four months as a crew of approved tie-ers pulled from the artful piles of rags at one side (a pile of blues, a pile of reds, etc) and tied and tied and tied. A giant — I mean giant — woven piece had just been hung on a wall above and behind the rug, pieced together from large panels of weaving done on a nearby loom over the course of the exhibition. When my friends and I arrived, there was an Indian man perched on a plywood box in the middle of the rug playing a sort of accordion that sat next to his right ankle and singing in that strange and beautiful Indian style, the space filled with the sound of him and the sunlight. Kristine and Adrienne, from A Verb for Keeping Warm, were part of the dye studio and were at one of the tables tying indigo-dipped strips of fabric around little clay stones for all of the participating artists. (250 of them.) But what interested me most wasn’t the actual stuff that had been made, it was all the evidence and detritus of the making: the looms, the indigo vat, the ironing board, the drawings and photos and swatches tacked up everywhere. I want to live there, in that frame of mind.*

Then on Sunday I went to a workshop at Ogaard called “Boro and Embroidermending.” I love that term! Boro and Sashiko both fascinate me but, while I know them when I see them, I don’t really know anything about them, historically speaking. I’m intrigued by all of the really amazing embroidery floating around these days, but am especially taken with the Visible Mending movement, which of course goes hand in hand with the Slow Fashion movement and the “make do and mend” mentality that came alive again during the economic collapse a few years ago. So I was interested to learn about this Japanese patchwork technique. The workshop teacher, Cory Gunter Brown, had covered the long table in a lovely sackcloth, placed clay bowls of crackers and apricots in the center, along with sprigs of rosemary for our water glasses, and put an indigo furoshiki bundle of supplies at each place at the table. For the next four hours, she talked about the history of boro, read to us, showed us some of her own “embroidermending,” and taught us the basics of sashiko stitching plus one really killer knot. Katrina Rodabaugh was also there as a participant and talked a tiny bit about about the birth of her Make Thrift Mend project. It was a really perfect blend of skills and context being taught and discussed together. And while the actual skills taught were fairly minimal, by the end of class we were all happily stitching away on something of our own that we had brought along.

Somehow all of these things — Me Made May, The Possible, my closet, the boro — gelled in my brain. And by Monday morning, I realized, like I said, something in me had shifted.

Nothing about Lean Closet thinking or conscious consumerism is new to me — far from it. I’ve been a conflicted consumer for decades, and it was really driven home for me a about fifteen years ago when I read Your Money or Your Life for the first time. But while I’ve always found store-bought furniture to be frigid, preferring pieces that already haves stories to tell, and believe in adopting pets from the pound and driving the same car for as long as it will run, it’s always been difficult for me to apply the same philosophy to my closet. I always say I don’t want to eat any hamburger a restaurant can afford to sell me for a dollar, and I do feel the same way about $5 t-shirts and $19 merino sweaters, so I broke the disposable-fashion habit (for the most part) several years ago. But as anyone who’s given this stuff much thought at all realizes, it’s a difficult equation of questionably produced cheap fashion, better-crafted clothes with traceable origins that aren’t in most of our budgets, or sewing everything yourself. And even then, where does the fabric come from and was it responsibly made? It’s tricky business.

The garment I was mending in that class on Sunday was my favorite pair of jeans. I got them off the clearance rack at the J.Crew outlet in Napa when we were living there, so they’re at least ten or eleven years old — from the bygone days when “boyfriend jeans” were just called “jeans.” They’re made of good quality denim (so hard to find anymore — at least for under $200) and fit me better than any pair of jeans I’ve ever owned. And they’re full of holes — some of which they came with, but which have expanded over the years. I believe in continuing to own them and wear them, and it makes me feel really good to apply a little boro to them — following an ancient Japanese tradition of making do and mending. I understand my relationship to those jeans, and I realize it’s become much like my relationship to any sweater I’ve knitted for myself: I’m woven into the fabric. As I was sitting there communing with the jeans, I finally understood something about how to better apply those principles to my wardrobe. I am going to re-learn everything I’ve forgotten about sewing, and am committed to making more of my own clothes — along with knitting a fair chunk of them, obviously. But it’s not realistic for me to think I can make all of them. What is realistic, though, is deciding to only invest in clothes I intend to form a long-term relationship with. Clothes I care enough about to commission, modify, personalize, or simply sit down and mend when they need me.

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*If you’re on Instagram, definitely take a stroll through #thepossible and also #mmmay14.