Archive for August, 2008

The task he undertakes

Is numbering sands and drinking oceans dry.

William Shakespeare Richard II

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I see all the tasks I need to get done lined up before me. The knitting work alone can seem daunting: the baby sweater, the baby blanket, the pumpkin patch socks for girls, the scarf for my friend. All are ideas running around in my head, some are partially written down patterns, some are on the needles, all need to be completed. (For the sake of feeling less pressure, I’m not going to include the “nasty second sock”  that still needs to be finished but is sitting partially frogged and in a time out for being bad.)

The pilgrimage for baby sweater sleeve knowledge that I went on has thrown off my sense of forward progress on my projects. The line-up that seemed manageable doesn’t feel that way now. Somewhere during my baby sweater sleeve pilgrimage my mind decided that the baby blanket, which is a third complete, must be totally frogged; and I only have a sense of where I want to go with it.

The baby sweater is coming along. I am now in a dither over the shaping for the back of the neck. On one hand, I’d like to have a square neckline front and back. On the other hand, a simple scoop neckline with a decorative panel insert on the front of the sweater seems interesting. The decisions regarding the front of the sweater need to be made before the back of the neck can be shaped. In fact the knitting is almost to the point where the back of the neck shaping occurs. The good news: I decided to go with dropped sleeves, not the indented ones, nor the shaped ones.

I must remember it is one step at a time.

Hope everyone has a happy, safe, holiday weekend

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We’ve got some very good things to do without screwing around with sleeves.

Lt. Gen Walter F. Ulmer, US Army

(Telling officers to disregard regulation that fatigue uniform sleeves should be rolled up outside in so that solid-colored lining wouldn’t spoil camouflage effect.)

I’ve been researching sleeves since last night, thanks to my new best friend Designing Knitwear by Deborah Newton and my being mathematically challenged.

There are something like 25 sleeve designs.  I am interested in only two.  Of these two, there are 6 variations. It was after 3 a.m. when I realized the most important thing, the most solid I-get-it-now thing, that I learned from my research: even the simplest of sleeves can be royally botched up. Bottom line: If you’re prone to migraines there’s almost no way to avoid them when knitting and sewing in sleeves. At 4 a.m. I seriously considered changing the sweater to a vest—-sleeveless vest. At 5 a.m. I became tearful because the ruffle edging wouldn’t work as a sleeveless vest element and I really do like the edging.

The problem started when I decided to go with the dropped shoulder shape indented sleeve. The sentence in Designing Knitwear that stopped me dead in my tracks read: “… decreasing stitches… until the desired cross-front measurement is reached.”  Cross-front measurement? What?  Obviously something across the front of the body but where? How do I get a cross-front measurement if I don’t have a baby handy to measure? And off I spun, down the rabbit hole of research to identify and conquer the cross-front measurement.

Of course the answer was in my new best friend; a few pages before the dropped shoulder shape indented sleeve. But I was already whirling like a dervish in all directions to think of glancing back through the book. Afterall, I read every page prior to the dropped shoulder shape indented sleeve and I didn’t recall any grouping of words that sounded like cross-front measurement.

But it was there, on page 45 under it’s own subheading “Cross Shoulder Width”…. (Sigh).

I think I’ll take a nap.

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God is in the details.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

On restraint in design

NY Herald Tribune 28 June 1959

I was recently asked if I was as crazy as I appeared to be regarding the details of the hem and transition stitches for the baby sweater. If wanting to get it right from a design standpoint is crazy, then I’m crazy. Why would I want a sweater, or any other knitted project, to start out poorly? Should I spend all that time knitting only to hope it comes out well in the end? Now that would drive me nuts.

Knitting is about details. It’s about the stitch; putting one at a time together to create a design.  I like the idea of restraint in design, especially in knitwear. Some of the designs of today’s knitwear are busy, busy, busy. Lots of big cables, lace, bobbles and variegated yarn combined in one project makes for a very busy design.  The eye cannot see the whole because it is distracted by the parts. Is it a sweater? A wrap? Or just a sampler of big cables, lace, boobles and variegated yarn.

Life is overly busy and complicated. I don’t want my knitwear to be the same way. I want it to be calm like a deep breath. I want it to be simple in design like a zen garden. I want the design elements to come together and reinforce the whole.

In order to keep my design on track I create “story boards” of pictures taken from everywhere and of everything that fits in with the feeling I want my project to create.

Words.  My story boards are filled with words. The pictures reinforce the words. For the baby sweater I used the words simple and feminine. I collected colors, textures, stitch designs that I thought were good examples of these words. I swatched a lot to see how the stitches related to each other and to the whole I am trying to create.

As promised here is a picture of the beginning of the baby sweater.

Last night, while I was working on this a friend asked me to knit him a scarf in purple and yellow. I am having fun collecting a story board for the scarf project.

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The beginning is the chiefest part of any work.


The knitting has begun.  The back of the baby sweater is on the needles.  The edging / hem is 1 inch (2.5 cm) just as I wanted it to be.  I also got a chance today to tackle the math for the sleeve edging. The numbers seem to work. Three days of a killer migraine, but the numbers seem to work. I am cautiously excited.

The  back of the baby sweater is going to be done in stockinette stitch. I’m still toying with a knit/purl design for the front. Both front and back will be 11 by 11 inches (27.9 by 27.9 cm). I should have a progress picture for you tomorrow.

My new best friend is Designing Knitwear by Deborah Newton. The book and I are spending a lot of time together. Necklines, sleeves, armscye are the hot topics. From what I’ve read so far, I am on target. Things seem promising, at the moment. Designing Knitwear is a very good book. The information is clear and concise, the pictures and diagrams are excellent. I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks he/she might want to design a knitted piece of his/her own.

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Mathematics…would certainly have not come into existence if one had known from the beginning that there was in nature no exactly straight line, no actual circle, no absolute magnitude.

Fredrich Nietzsche

Human, All Too Human

I have admitted I am no mathematician. I believe my math teachers in middle school and high school passed me only because they felt sorry for me. No matter how much after-school help they gave, my brain blew a fuse the minute it saw xyz = a(c + b) find x. I didn’t fair much better with word problems either. Who cares what time a train leaving Chicago at noon and traveling 65 mph passes a train leaving Boston at 10 am traveling 50 mph?

But these are the types of things that come back to haunt me many, many, many years later in the form of a knitted baby sweater. I finally get what they were trying to teach: reasoning—logical reasoning. The how to methodically go about finding an answer and making sure it is the correct one in a world that, (speaking only for myself here), doesn’t seem to cherish the precise.

For example, baby sweater measurements.

It depends on where you look. For a 12 month old the width of the front of the sweater can vary from 10 inches / 25.4 cm to 11.5 inches / 29.2 cm. I know what you’re thinking: “Of course it varies depending on the sweater style.”  Wrong, my gentle snowflakes.  The sweater style was a constant, the numbers were the variables.

I thought about applying the same mathematical reasoning the Olympics used in scoring diving: Throw out the highest and lowest numbers and average what’s left. Not comfortable with this decision, I searched for standard baby sizes at various baby ages only to find that my basic thinking was misguided. There really is no “standard” size.  A range of sizes? Yes.  Standard, one size, one number, don’t-worry-this-one-will-work size doesn’t exist.  The standard size range for the chest of a 12 month old is 20 inches / 50.8 cm to 22 inches / 55.9 cm.

It took most of Saturday to come up with that range.  Saturday evening I reclined with a cool compress on my forehead in a darkened room in an attempt to lessen my migraine.

On Sunday I foolishly felt confident and decided to figure out and knit up the final swatch for the ruffle hem and transition area.  I had chosen to make the width of the sweater 22 inches / 55.9 cm total. The front part would be 11 inches / 27.9 cm wide, seaming would probably bring it down to a finished size of 10 inches / 25.4 cm or so. My gauge is 7 stitches per inch / 2.5 cm. All said and done I was looking at a cast on of 77 stitches for 11 inches / 27.9 cm.

Not so fast.

The ruffle hem I selected needed modification (more math). The size of the ruffles or bells had to be smaller in size to fit the scale of the sweater. My second migraine of the weekend began when I realized that no matter how I readjusted the size of the ruffles/bells (more math more math more math) I was racking up some pretty large cast on numbers that I didn’t feel comfortable with.

The ruffle/bell design is a “decreasing design”. Decreasing design is my term. The design is created by decreasing x number of stitches every other row to form the bell shape.

It took all of Sunday and Sunday night. My migraine still lingers. I know I came up with an acceptable cast on number, but for the life of me , I can’t find where I jotted it down. I hope to track it down before the end of today. In the meanwhile, here is a picture of the small hem swatch I worked last night with the transition rows. I am want to make another swatch today if I can find my figures from last night because I want to try out a different stitch for the transition rows.

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Measure not the work until the day’s out and the labour done,

Then bring your gauges.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Aurora Leigh

I have completed the baby hat.

The circumference is 16 inches / 40.5 cm. It’s made to fit babies 6 to 12 months old.  The roll brim is done in garter stitch. I enjoyed coming up with the design. No need to worry about color jogs as I designed the colorwork so there are no jogs.

This hat was made in Jaeger Matchmaker Merino 4 ply but can be made in any fingering weight yarn.  One skein of 200 yds / 183 m of each color will complete the hat and the socks. The hat was knit on US 6 / 4mm 16 inch circular needles and one set of five double-pointed needles in the same size.

Skill level would be intermediate. Two-color stranded knitting as well as knitting in the round skills are needed. The pattern includes both a chart and written directions for those who don’t like charts.

The hat, can be purchased here. It comes in pdf form. If you would like the pattern for the socks that go with the hat, that’s a free pattern here.

The socks are sized for babies 6 to 12 months old.

For interest, try using a handpainted yarn in a complementary color from the main color yarn for the hearts and such. For example if I were using blue, I’d look for a handpainted yarn in yellows and oranges. A complementary color is the color opposite a color on the color wheel. The picture below shows what I’m talking about.

The background is a solid color in deep blue. I chose a hand painted yarn that had sage green, yellows, oranges and a very light orchid in it. I like the look of the handpainted yarns in color work. Experiment and enjoy!

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;

Brown paper packages tied up with strings;

These are a few of my favorite things.

Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers “My Favorite Things”

For some reason I have had that song stuck in my head most of the day. While I researched baby measurements for the baby sweater I hummed it.  When I sketched some designs for the baby sweater I sung it.

As I looked over the sketches I realized there are certain shapes and stitch patterns I tend to gravitate towards. I like shapes that have a roundness to them: circles, ovals, hearts. The only exception to this is the diamond shape, which I really like too.  In fact it was while fooling around with the diamond shape that I hit upon a wonderful adult sweater design.

I also like certain stitch patterns. The purl stitch is a favorite of mine. It can be used in a knit design so many ways; from an accent to being the texture for the whole garment.  The Seed Stitch, the Moss Stitch are always favorites of mine as is the Sand Stitch and Roman Stitch.

I tend to like stitch patterns that don’t require knitting gymnastics. You know, the kind where the instruction for completing one stitch runs for half a page.  Often the look of the finished stitch doesn’t equate with the amount of contortion that went into creating it. The amount of effort should equal the amount of wow factor.

I like knitting most lace and eyelet designs.  Cables, I feel, are best used judiciously. I don’t tend to like big, bulky yarns or the big sized needles that go with them. I really don’t like using a needle size above a US 7 / 4.5 mm. I avoid patterns that call for bulky yarn / large needle sizes.  At the opposite end, I have worked on needles as small as US 1 / 2.25 mm.  Small knitting needles / fine yarns don’t seem to bother me.

In the case of yarns, I prefer organic yarns. If a yarn is not organic then it needs to be 100% natural fiber. Acrylic, nylon, anything man-made I don’t use. I don’t even allow nylon in my sock yarns. I tend to do research on the yarn companies. I buy yarn from yarn companies who have environmentally friendly practices.

These are just some of my favorite things.

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When you are waiting for a train, don’t keep perpetually looking to see if it is coming…. It will not come any sooner for all your nervous glances and your impatient pacing, and you will save strength if you will keep quiet.

Anna C. Brackett

The Technique of Rest

I am as “impatient as the wind”. The personification is from William Wordsworth and it perfectly describes me today. Knitting on the baby blanket goes on when I would rather be knitting on the baby sweater.  I tell myself  I still have a bit to do before I can start knitting the sweater but it doesn’t seem to help.  What needs to be done before I knit:

1) Recalculate sleeves and everything else just to be sure;

2) Decide on a neckline and its design;

3) Nail down the info on the sleeves regarding cap, armscye, length, width, etc.;

4) Fool around with a seed stitch design I would like to incorporate;

5) And yes, make sure the ruffle edge is really the edge I want.

6) Estimate amount of yarn needed.

I worked on writing part of the blanket pattern today.  I’d like to get the first 6 rows knit before I sneak in a picture of it here. I even have a tentative edging in mind for the blanket. I’ve made progress.  Still, I’m as “impatient as the wind.”

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The problem is that we attempt to solve the simplest questions cleverly, thereby rendering them unusually complex. One should seek the simple solution.

Anton Pavlovich Chekohov


Yes, I have finally found solutions to my most pressing knitting dilemmas.

First up the baby sweater. The problem was finding an edging that would work both at the sleeves and bottom edge of the sweater. I wanted an edging that was clearly feminine, would not require knitting gymnastics, or be overly frilly.

ruffle edge

ruffle edge

The ruffle edge minus the eyelets and worked on a smaller scale goes nicely with the yarn and my gauge. The adjustments I made make it dainty enough to look good as a sleeve edging too. I have 2 patterns in mind for the transition from edge to sweater body stitch. I will have to see which works best. Both are very simple to knit yet visually interesting.

Before I cast on, though, I need to rework some of the numbers in the schematic.  Sleeve cap and armscye need to be recalculated.  I want to go with a fit-in sleeve so I need to redo the armhole depth, etc.  Do I feel a migraine coming on? You betcha! I am not fond of math and math is not fond of me. Put that truth together with this is my first time ever designing an armhole and sleeve cap and it’s an equation for trouble. But let me not project.

The second knitting dilemma concerned the mitered square baby blanket. It pretty much solved itself. I was debating on how to fit the squares together to create a nice color pattern.  I put the blanket squares aside to take the dogs for a walk. When I went to pick them up again I noticed the color pattern they were making. A little tweaking here and there and the issue was resolved. It is a simple but nice pattern.

These two dilemmas really kind of worked themselves out. But first I had to release my strangle hold on the problems.  I had to let go. A friend told me a long time ago that the way you work a knot out of your yarn is not by pulling it tight but by relaxing and loosening it. She said figuring out problems worked the same way. Relax and let go. The answer will appear.

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Knitting Decisions

Our most important decisions are made while we are thinking about something else.

Mason Cooley

I find that decisions, mostly creative types, are best left to simmer and resolve themselves. That is what I am going to do regarding the baby sweater hem. One minute I’m thinking small ruffle, the next something else. I can’t seem to make a decision so I am going to turn my attention to my other wpis: one second sock and a mitered square baby blanket design.

The second sock has vexed me now for weeks. The first sock was knit without a problem, its a simple pattern, but this second one is proving to be the devil itself.  I think its in it fourth or fifth time-out for being a bad sock.

The mitered square baby blanket design is almost at the point where I have to make a design decision.

Hmmm, that word “decision.”

Maybe I stick with the nasty little sock.

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