January is for Mittens

Scrolling through my Instagram feed in early November, a pair of handknit mittens caught my eye. They were colorwork mittens, with a contrast hem, and a tree motif – swoon – designed and knit by the inimitable Kirsten Kapur. I was totally captivated and immediately obsessed. Turned out, it was a soon-to-be-released design, and Kirsten was looking for test knitters. I was thrilled to get to test this pattern.

I had some green handspun in my stash (I believe I spun it up three, maybe four, years ago) that was just begging to become trees in this mitten pattern. And who am I to stand in the way of yarn fulfilling its destiny?

Handspun Metasequoia Mittens. LOVE these mittens. Another @throughtheloops winner! #handspun #handknit #mittens

This was a truly delightful knit, from beginning to end. Watching the trees grow out of the cuff, especially in the subtle shades of this handspun, was nothing but joy.

Metasequoia Mittens

Metasequoia Mittens

I also learned how to be more mindful with my colorwork. I had tension issues early on, which resulted in my having to knit back an entire half mitten and try again.

These beauties were worth it.

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The pattern is well-written, clear, and easy to follow, as is always the case with Kirsten’s patterns. If you are new to colorwork, this would be a perfect first colorwork design for you to try.

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The end result is totally cozy and completely charming. The contrast hem inside the cuff is a sweet little detail (I didn’t manage to get good pictures of mine, but it’s done in a rich brown). (The non-handspun yarns I used for the white background and the brown hem were both Stonehedge Fiber Mills Shepherd’s Worsted – have I mentioned it’s made in Michigan?).

But I do have one problem.
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I love these mittens so much that I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually wear them. They are just too precious and I’m afraid of ruining them!

But mittens are made to be worn, so I will wear them, I promise, once I get done admiring them.

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Thanks, Kirsten, for another perfect pattern!

The rest of you need to knit these. You won’t be sorry! You can get your own copy of the pattern here.

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But Sometimes a Sweater Happens Like This (Autumn Reis)

Sometimes, you plan a sweater for a long time. You figure out what you need, you buy the yarn, you make the plan, you finish up other projects, and then, at the right time, you cast on.

But sometimes, a sweater happens like this: you see a picture, you get obsessed, you drop everything, and you just start making it.

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Sometimes, you spend a lot of time and money acquiring the yarn you need for a particular project. You stalk updates for your favorite indie dyer, you make your PayPal cry, you try to be home to intercept yarn deliveries.

But sometimes a sweater happens like this: all the yarn you want is already in your stash, and you are just now realizing it wants needs to be this sweater.

reis 1

Sometimes, you swatch and block, swatch and block, until you get the gauge exactly right. Because you know that with a sweater, this is really important. And you know that, with colorwork, your tension is going to be different than it is with plain knitting. And you know that, when you’re using your precious Plucky Knitter yarn, you really need the project to come out right.

But sometimes a sweater happens like this: you pseudo-swatch and skip the blocking. Your gauge never once matches the gauge of the pattern. You do some calculations and make your own numbers. You knit by intuition.

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Sometimes, you knit with confidence, knowing that you’ve chosen the right colors, the right style, and the fit is going to be perfect. You have no worries about how things will turn out, because you’ve laid all the groundwork with your swatting and blocking. You have no concerns about whether the style of the sweater is suitable for you.

But sometimes a sweater happens like this: you second-guess yourself the whole time, you worry that the sweater will grow to an unwearable size in blocking, you aren’t certain that, even if it fits, it will be flattering on you. And then you try it on and you cannot believe how much you love it.

reis 2

 

Sometimes a sweater is well within your skill set – a mindless knit, something not unlike the dozens of other projects you’ve made. You enjoy the knit because it’s an escape from everything else on your mind, and it doesn’t challenge you to think too much.

But sometimes a sweater happens like this: you push beyond your comfort zone, you play with color, you learn new things about your tension and your technique. You don’t even know what color you are going to put where until you do it. You surprise yourself. You learn from yourself. You learn from your craft.
Sweater yoke in progress, blogged. #knitting #reis #westknits

 

Sometimes (but not usually) you get the sweater done exactly when you meant to, or close to it.

But sometimes, a sweater happens like this: other things get in the way, everything takes longer than you think it will, you question why you chose to knit a fingering-weight colorwork sweater, you despair of ever finishing. And then one day, four months after you began and two months after you meant to be done, you finish.

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And it is everything you’d hoped it would be.

If I had it to do over, there are things I might do slightly differently – mostly, I might arrange some of the colors in the yoke in a slightly different order. I would also try to find a brown from The Plucky Knitter instead of the Lorna’s Laces “Chocolate” I used. All the other yarns except the variegated in the body are TPK, and I can tell a difference between the rich, saturated, semisolids of TPK and the less-nuanced chocolate brown.

But really, who cares? Because I am thrilled with this sweater. I loved making it and I love wearing it. The fit is fantastic. The feel is perfect (my first fingering-weight sweater). The colors are so rich and luscious.  This was my first Westknits design, and it was such a fun and inventive knit. It was also a very freeing experience to just follow my muse when it came to color. Given how long it took me to make this sweater, would you believe I could actually see myself knitting the same pattern again? I love it that much.

Autumn Reis

Autumn Reis

But you can’t blame me, right?

raveled – Reis, by the inimitable Stephen West

 

Sometimes I Have to Rip

For those of you who don’t knit, we call this “frogging,” because you have to rip it, rip it. We knitters are hilarious, wouldn’t you agree? When the situation is less extreme, and doesn’t require actually ripping back, then all we have to do is tink, which is “knit” spelled backwards. To tink back a little bit hurts the heart less than frogging, I can assure you. But there are times when the ripping is unavoidable.

After knitting merrily along on my handspun colorwork mittens, and getting roughly halfway done with the first one, I had to come to grips with a reality I had been trying my best to deny: my colorwork was puckering, an indicator that my tension was off, despite my best efforts.

I let the mitten sit for a couple of days, then I took a deep breath, and then I ripped:

handspun mitten cuff

handspun mitten cuff

It’s emotionally difficult to rip. Knitters, am I overstating things? Those stitches represent time and energy, so it feels like a loss to undo it all. That’s why it’s so hard to do sometimes, even when you can tell you have made a mistake in your knitting. This ability to rip back, though, is a benefit of knitting that we don’t always have in life: the clean slate, the chance to get things just right. I’ll take it! So now I’m ready to try again. As I pay renewed attention to my colorwork tension, I am happy to hear any tips you might have!

sneak peek :: Autumn Reis pullover

At last, on the cusp of winter, I have finished knitting my autumn sweater. As I mentioned, I kind of knit the yoke intuitively, using the pattern more as a suggestion than as actual instructions. Others who have knit this sweater mentioned that they didn’t care for the fit of the neck as written, so I knew I was going to modify that part. But I also ended up modifying the height of each strip band of color. Also, my gauge was somewhat different than the pattern gauge, so all my numbers for the stitches in this sweater were different than the pattern called for. I managed to not keep a single note about that, though, so by the time I got to the yoke, I didn’t really know what my numbers should be anymore. So that’s why I just let my intuition guide me. Actually, I suppose I could’ve gone back and counted up the stitches of the body and arms, to see what I had come up with when I cast on, way back in July, and then make some calculations to see what I needed to do. But I was in such a good zen-like flow with this sweater, that I preferred to just do what felt right.

Autumn Reis yoke

Autumn Reis yoke

The fit of this sweater currently is so perfect as it is that I’m a little worried about blocking it. The last time I blocked a perfectly fitting sweater, it never did fit quite right again.

Autumn Reis, pre-blocking

Autumn Reis, pre-blocking

Not blocking it isn’t an option though. As you can see, it needs the finishing that only blocking can provide. Do you think a spritz blocking would do? Meaning, if I spritz block, would that give it a good finish without risking making it bigger than intended?

Big plans for a Saturday night

It has been a long, long day of work today, but at 10:00pm, I am finally done. Now I have a date with this guy:

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(And also with James Spader) (The Blacklist)

I think I am about 3-5 rounds from being done (I’ve been winging the yoke, so it’s hard to say for sure).

I think I can be a monogamous knitter for that long.

tension v. tangling :: a colorwork conundrum

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The Deuce boy’s sweater, in progress

So the thing about colorwork is that, with the way I knit, I basically have a choice between wonky tension or tangled yarn.

If I knit with one color in each hand, which I like doing, my tension ends up on the tight side. Much tighter than the non-colorwork section. But if I hold both yarns in my left hand (I knit continental), the yarns get all tangled. I’ve tried one of those strickfingerhut things and had no real success with it.

For now I’m going to keep muddling along with two colors in one hand, stopping every few rounds to untangle. But it would sure be great to come up with a more efficient style. What are your tips for working with two colors or more?