Friday, November 30, 2007

Warmth in the Dark Days

I have never knit an afghan before. Afghans contain a huge number of stitches. They're large and heavy and not something you can stick in your knitting bag and carry along to piano lessons. Their rows are interminable.

I imagined that I might knit an afghan, someday, when the children are grown and I have plenty of time to knit and no one in particular to knit for. I'd have plenty of time to work on the long rows and contemplate the meaning of eternity.

Some years ago, my parents brought us a blanket from the Lake Country in England. It lives in our living room. In the winter months, it's in constant use. You can drape it over your lap and knit or read cozily. You can lie in front of the fire and wrap yourself in it. You can wrap it around your body and walk around the house when it's freezing outside.

We have only one such blanket for a family of 6.

A couple of months ago, I noticed that our blanket, the perfect winter blanket, is becoming a little worn. It still has a few good years left, but, at some point, it will wear out. What will we do then?

A fire was lit beneath my feet.

I started thinking about knitting a replacement blanket. I had 8 skeins of Peace Fleece worsted in Tundra, a color that reminded me of the blanket. I sifted through pattern stitch books for a suitable pattern. I measured the existing blanket.

I cast on 276 stitches and began knitting in my favorite Moss Diamond pattern.

After working one skein, I realized I needed twice as much yarn as I had. Amazingly, Peace Fleece still had the same dye lot. I also ordered some Glasnost Gold for the fringe.

The pictures were taken after knitting one full pattern repeat and just over 2 skeins of yarn.

The fringe makes me think a lot about weaving in ends, but that's another post.

Intarsia versus Duplicate Stitch

When I last posted to this blog, I was feverishly knitting the last part of a pair of Cherry Hill socks for my 15-year-old daughter's birthday. I finished the socks and presented them to her on her birthday, along with my pair of Sidewinders. She's a child who truly appreciates hand-knit items, and she rubbed them against her cheek in ecstasy before putting them on her feet.

Socks done, I was able to return to the cat pullover for my son.

My older daughter and older son usually request some kind of intarsia design for their sweaters.

I don't love intarsia. For one thing, I like to knit in the round, and the convolutions required to knit intarsia in the round are labyrinthine. For another thing, I'm not wild about floats. I once had a knitting machine that double-knit the floats into a reversible fabric. That seems a neat way to handle color patterns. Floats are clearly an inferior solution and yet I'm not quite up to double-knitting jacquard patterns by hand.

My son and I came up with the idea of a band of cats alternating with purple flowers for this sweater. I charted the design based on a cross-stitch pattern and resolved to use duplicate stitch and backstitching for the motifs.

I like it. The knitting went quickly. The duplicate stitch did not go quickly, but it's a pleasant enough process. The results are clearly superior to intarsia, both from the right side of the fabric and also from the wrong side. There's no gaps or pulling, no heavy floats distorting the fabric.

The duplicate stitch also adds a nice texture element, a depth to the motifs that you don't get in intarsia.

The cats will have bead eyes and noses, but I haven't put them in yet.

This sweater has a round yoke. I love knitting round-yoke sweaters. I especially like laying the yoke out in a circle.

Monday, November 5, 2007

24 grams to go

Yesterday, I was out and about doing social and healthy things instead of sitting on my rear knitting my fingers off. Once I got home, I had to fold a week's worth of laundry and start dinner before I could sit down to knit. I didn't manage to get my hands on my knitting needles until 6:30pm.

Over the course of the evening, however, I managed to knit up a respectable 14 grams of sock yarn. Only 24 grams to go, plus the top ribbing. I definitely think I can do it.

My younger daughter sidled up to me as soon as I started knitting on the socks and said, "Those would look better on me." Since she says that about everything I knit, I announced to the room at large, "Ignore your sister."

My older daughter gave me a penetrating look. "I read your knitting blog today."

"Then you know all my secrets." I said calmly.

My younger daughter's ears perked up. "I want to read your knitting blog, too! What's the url?"

"I'll send it to you," I said, mouthing the words "on Saturday" to her sister.

I think she suspects something. She managed to snag my Sidewinders yesterday by complaining that she was sock-less. She commented about how beautiful they are and how well they fit her.

I've been weighing my remaining yarn late at night, while she's doing her evening ablutions. How could the mere fact that I've switched solely to these socks give her the idea that I'm planning to give them to her for her birthday?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

20 grams a day

My younger daughter, who covets everything I knit, will turn 15 on Friday. My husband asked her today what she wants for her birthday.

"Socks," she said, her eyes fixed on the Sidewinders on my feet, "nice, warm, cozy, colorful, substantial, long socks."

I thought immediately of the socks on my needles right now, Cherry Hill socks in blues, grays, purples, and aquas with solid blue heels and toes. She'd love those, for sure.

My inner knitter sighed. I've been making great progress on the round-yoked Cat sweater for my older son. I've knit most of the yoke and done some of the duplicate stitch for the yoke pattern. I was just getting into the swing of things, knitting six rounds and then doing some duplicate stitch. A little more knitting, a little more duplicate stitch.

Instead, I picked up the socks. The blue heels and toes, along with blue ribbing at the top of the sock, are meant to stretch this skein of sock yarn to make extra long socks. I figured I'd used about half the yarn, maybe a bit more.

I picked up the socks and started knitting. I knit between exercise sets. I knit in odd moments during the afternoon. I knit while my children listened to Teaching Company calculus and science lectures. I knit after dinner, listening to Says You on the radio. I knit as we watched the latest installment of the BBC Planet Earth mini series.

Early in the day, I weighed the two balls I was using to knit the socks. Before I packed them away for the night, I weighed them again. Each ball was 10 grams lighter.
I have about 20 grams per sock to go, plus the top ribbing in blue.

If I do nothing but knit, I should have the socks done by Wednesday. Even if I live my life along the way, I should still be able to finish the socks for Ms. Sock Magnet's birthday.

Friday, November 2, 2007

From the Top: Rolled Ribbing Necks

I like to start classic crew-necked sweaters with a rolled ribbing neck. The doubled ribbing is cozy, warm, and stretchy. When finished, there's no tight cast-on edge to restrict movement over the head.

To start, I use invisible cast-on over a second circular needle. I then join in a round and knit several inches of double ribbing.

Next comes a single round of purl to make a fold line for the ribbing. This gives a crisper edge to the ribbing. If I wanted a more rounded edge, I would omit it.

Next, and this is the detail that makes rolled ribbing work really well, I switch the double rib pattern so that I purl where the lower section has knits and knit where the lower section has purls. When the ribbing is folded, each rib will nest in a purl valley and line up with the rib that will lie above it.

So, if I worked my initial round of ribbing * k2, p2 *, I work this second section * p2, k2 *.

I then work the second section until it's the same length as the first.

Next, I fold the ribbing on the round of purl so that the first section I knitted is on the inside. I line up the invisible cast-on stitches with the working stitches:

And knit the invisible cast-on stitches together with the working stitches.

I then continue knitting the yoke of the sweater (in this case, a round yoke):

I'll add some short rows after the colorwork in the yoke to make the back neck higher than the front neck.

I could use the same process to make a fold-over ribbed neck, like for a turtleneck. If I was doing that, I'd start with a standard cast-on and change the row of purl to a row of knit so that the the cast-on portion would fold over instead of under. I also might start with more stitches and decrease along the way to flare the fold-over portion.

There are always options in knitting.