The Almost Perfect Sweater (Handspun Laurie)

This summer, I had a brief lull between major events in the life of my family. That lull neatly corresponded with Tour de Fleece, so I spun and spun and spun, ending up with more finished yarn than during any previous Tour.

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I was especially excited about the pound of Hello Yarn “Gobbler” on Cheviot. A wooly wool similar to Shetland, this was a delight to spin.

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I spun it with a sweater in mind, thinking these colors would be absolutely perfect for fall.

I cast on during my family’s staycation in mid-August. The following week, I knit my little heart out in the waiting area while my husband had surgery.

In June, my husband was diagnosed with moderately aggressive prostate cancer. The diagnosis was scary and the surgery to remove it was major, but everything went very well and his prognosis is excellent. The pathology report indicated that the cancer was confined to the prostate and that the surgery got it all.

But before we got to that point, the summer was fraught with worry. My knitting was a good companion during the time of waiting; this sweater has a lot of hope stitched into it.

I wanted a sweater pattern that was simple, slouchy, and textured. The Laurie pattern looked like it would fit the bill, and mostly, it did. I love the wide neck, and the intriguing sweater construction. After the neck, the knitting is just round and round, with the tiniest bit of texture to keep things interesting.

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One of the things that drew me to the pattern was its shape – a little slouchy, a little boxy. But that’s also what kept it from being totally perfect. Because once I finished and put it on, it looked too boxy. There’s a whole bunch of weird extra fabric in the back (almost like wings), and no way to fix that by taking in the sides because it’s seamless.

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At first, I thought the problem was with my execution – perhaps I picked a size too large, or maybe it was the fact that I was knitting with a heavier weight of yarn (worsted as opposed to DK, with my stitch count adjusted for my gauge). But the more I studied the pattern photos and pictures other people have posted of their sweater, the more I realized that, no, it’s a feature of the sweater. Everyone seems to pose their way around it – with arms crossed, or hands on hips holding the sweater in closer, for instance – but if you look more closely, you will see the extra fabric in the back on some pictures.

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If I pose like this, you can’t see the extra back fabric, right? (ironic duck face distracts the eye even more)

At first I was pretty disappointed. It was a lot of knitting (not to mention spinning) to end up looking like a blob.

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Blobbiness emphasized by horizontal stripes!

But my husband has convinced me that it looks better than I thought, and that not everything has to be the most flattering things I’ve ever worn.

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I can always rip back to the armpits and decrease several stitches at the bust, to see if that helps. But for now, I’m going to keep wearing it as is.

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Because it is so comfortable, and so cozy, and the colors are so yummy.

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I wore it to Rhinebeck, so it also reminds me of super-happy times with a sisterhood of knitters.

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It’s not everything I wanted it to be, but it’s almost everything. And it’s basically almost perfect. And for now, that’s good enough.

 

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Once in a Blue Moon (Handspun Rosa Sweater)

Once in a blue moon, I write a post exactly when I intended to write it. This is not that time. I’ve been trying to write this post for three months.

I’ve written a little about the difficult summer my family went through this year, which culminated devastatingly in the sudden, unexpected death of my mother 10 weeks ago. As horrible as losing her has been, things actually could have been even worse. Because a little more than a month before my mom died, my father almost died.

It’s a long and unusual story that I don’t have the emotional energy (or hand dexterity) to tell now. But the upshot is that, on the evening of July 29, I found myself speeding up the road from the panhandle of Florida (where I had been vacationing with my husband, kids, and husband’s kids) to Atlanta, where my dad was being rushed (from a hospital two hours away) for emergency surgery for an aortic dissection that had gone undetected for 10 days. I made it to his bedside literally five minutes before he was wheeled away (at 12:45am), and my brother and I spent a fretful night alone in the waiting room, calling our mom with updates (my mom, a paraplegic, was unable to travel to be there herself). At 6:30 the next morning, the surgeon came to tell us that not only had the surgery been successful, but it looked like my dad might regain kidney function (he had been in kidney failure for several days at that point and, going into the surgery, we thought the best outcome was that they would save his life and he would be on life-long dialysis). To get to see my dad awake, alert, and okay following the harrowing events of the previous several days was one of the happiest experiences of my life.

After spending several more relief-filled hours in Atlanta, I drove back to my parents’ house to spend an unexpected evening with my mom. It was a wonderful evening together, as we celebrated my dad’s remarkable survival. We went to bed with such relief. The next day, I drove back to the beach to spend a final night with my family there before packing up to leave there the next morning. When I had left them two nights earlier to head to Atlanta, we had never expected that I would make it back to the beach. But I did, and that night, we had a picnic down by the water, and we saw this:

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A blue moon, that happened to be orange.

It felt to me like a harbinger of hope. My heart felt exactly like that moon – big and luminous. We went back to the beach house and, later that night, I cast on for something out of some handspun I had finished a week earlier. It was the first I’d been able to knit in days, and I did it out of such a sense of joy and relief.

I started with this:

Into the Whirled, "Death," on Superwash Merino

Into the Whirled, “Death,” on Superwash Merino

And though it was only four ounces, I decided to attempt something I thought might be impossible – an adult-sized top. I just cast on and went for it. We went from the beach back to Georgia, where I enjoyed more time with my mom (while my dad continued to recover in the hospital). There is so much conversation with my mom knit into these stitches. And the knitting just breezed by – I finished in three days. It was my last completed project that my mom got to see.

Once in a blue moon, fiber goes from bag to wheel to needles to body in a flash.

And then, the day after I took the modeled shots, I got to drive back to Atlanta and pick my father up. He was discharged and sent home, not only having survived the aortic dissection and emergency surgery, but having unexpectedly recovered full kidney function.

Once in a blue moon, the impossible thing becomes possible, and life happens where death was meant to be, and celebration and relief take the place of fear and grief.

When I tried on this piece, I was disappointed, as I often am. I had to finish knitting before i wanted it to be done, because I only had so much yarn. So it’s shorter than I’d prefer. And the stress of this summer took its toll on me. so I’m also heavier than I’d prefer. Even so, I put the thing on and went out in the Georgia heat to take pictures.

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The pattern is called the Rosa Cardi (I don’t know why, because there’s no cardiganized version). As originally written, it has points on both sides of the hem, but many people have knit it with just one point, which is obviously what I did, too.

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I really like this fast and easy pattern a lot, even though it may not currently be the most flattering piece I own. It is really fun to knit, and I think it’s cute in handspun.

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But I’m very unlikely to wear it without something underneath it (and in fact, I think it’s intended as a layering piece).

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So after these photos, I put it away for awhile. Then my life slid sideways and I kind of forgot about it altogether. Then a few weeks ago, I saw it in my closet, and I felt a lot of pain, remembering how happy my mom and I were during the time I made this sweater, and how hopeful. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever feel like wearing it.

But this week, I did. The day I had to go to the orthopedist about my hand, I suddenly felt an unexpected and very strong desire to wear the sweater. So I put it on, over a long-sleeved t-shirt, and I wore it to the doctor’s office.

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taking a picture in the doctor’s office bathroom, as one does

And despite the look on my face, I was really pleased to be wearing it, and actually got multiple compliments.

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I like it a lot better as a layering piece, and I already have plans for making another.

When I got out of the doctor’s office with my new splint, my very first impulse was to call my mom. Which is not much different from every other day, honestly. So that was hard. But there’s something about wearing this sweater – and I know this sounds woo-woo or mystical or maudlin or whatever – but … I mean, there’s a piece of her in it. Her happiness, as we celebrated my dad’s remarkable survival; her companionship, as we watched baseball and true crime; her encouragement, as she saw me model it; her love, which stills wraps me up, and covers me.

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Once in a blue moon, something that was too painful to do (like wearing this sweater) becomes an unexpected door to some kind of solace (like feeling her love when I wear it), and the difficult becomes good, and the stitches become some kind of healing.

raveled

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.

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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

 

Happy Thanksgiving! (and a trifle) (and a sweater)

Just a quick note to say Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear readers. I’m grateful for you!

I’m also grateful to report that, after blocking, my sweater fits perfectly! Full modeled shots soon, but here’s a peek:

Reis + Trifle

Reis + Trifle

I’m beyond thrilled with it!

And I’m super-excited to be digging into this trifle later today. This is the second year I’ve made it. It’s the Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle from the Browneyed Baker. Trust me: it is very, very worth it to make everything from scratch. The gingerbread is so dark and rich and molasses-y. And of course real whipped cream is the only thing that should ever go into a trifle, in my ever-so-humble opinion. (This isn’t Paleo, obviously!)

To my American friends, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving! To my friends elsewhere, I hope you have a great Thursday!

What I Have to Show for Today

Spoiler alert: it’s not very much.

I woke up sick this morning. I didn’t know I was sick when I first got up – I thought I was just having extra trouble waking because I was tired. But two things happened almost immediately that alerted my groggy brain to the fact that I was indeed sick: I couldn’t knit and I couldn’t manage to drink my coffee. Ugh! I always know I’m sick when I don’t have the strength or energy or presence of mind to knit. To find myself unable to drink coffee, too, well that’s just adding insult to injury!

At any rate, I went back to bed and slept half the day away, which is not really the way I prefer to spend a Friday (my day off), but it was all I could do. When I got up midday, my husband made me his specialty, Toads in the Hole (fried eggs in the middle of fried toast), which is what I always want when I’m sick. It really does help. By late afternoon, I was feeling a little less punky, and managed to start doing some of the things that had to be done.

Now the end of the day is here, and I seem to have little to show for it (can you tell I’m a very impatient patient?). But I did do this:

ends! woven in!

ends! woven in!

I had been dragging my feet all week about finishing up my sweater. I just haven’t had a lot of knitting time, and what little I did have, I wanted to spend actually knitting not weaving in ends. I did get most of the weaving done a couple of days ago, but there was still the niggling matter of grafting the underarms. That’s what I did today. And then I wove in the ends for the arms and the underarms, and now, at last, I am really, truly done with the sweater. Well, except for the blocking.

sweater innards

sweater innards

I love the inside of the sweater almost as much as the outside.

So, that’s what I got done, knitwise, today. And I wound the yarn for the rest of my shawl, so there’s that.

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.

Knitting as a reward for knitting

I am fully obsessed with working on my handspun pi shawl, which is a problem, since I really, really want to finish up my sweater. Solution? I’ve made a reward system out of it. Knit a round of my sweater yoke, spend a few (okay, several) minutes on the shawl. (exception: I don’t have to earn time knitting on the shawl while out-and-about – the shawl makes much better on-the-go knitting than the sweater does).

Reis yoke

Reis yoke

Is it sad that I have to make these kinds of deals with myself? Perhaps. But whatever works, right? Plus, knitting as a reward for knitting? YES, PLEASE.

A Sweater Intended for Autumn

Once upon a time, I could bang out a sweater in a matter of weeks. Or even days – I was shocked to discover that five years ago, I knit my Owls sweater in nine days! Now it seems to take me months to finish a single pullover. Of course, I suppose that’s what I get for choosing to knit a colorwork sweater out of sock yarn.

This summer, I became completely obsessed with a pattern based on a single blog post. Check out this amazing sweater on February Twelve. But be warned – you might fall in love with it, too, and decide you have to knit one. Right. This. Minute.

That’s what happened to me. Her version completely captivated me and I knew I couldn’t rest till I cast on. So I gathered up a mighty collection of stash yarn, and went to work. I got a few inches in and realized it was coming out bigger than expected and I was knitting it with the variegated yarn dominant rather than the solid, which is what I meant. So I ripped it out and started again, while in Georgia on vacation, towards the end of July.

The pattern, Reis by Stephen West, is a really fun approach to colorwork. It involves slipping stitches (i.e., no carrying multiple colors on one round) for the body and then switches to very modest strandwork in the yoke.

But y’all. It is taking me FOREVER.

It started out fine. Three weeks in, I was mostly done with the body:
Reis, in progress

I really expected/hoped to be done by the beginning of September, when I had planned to begin a different fall sweater. By Labor Day, though, I had only partly completed one arm:
Reis, arm in progress #wip #knitting #stephenwest #reis

Then some other things took my focus (namely, my Crackerjack, plus a pile of spinning).

And now I am here:

Autumn Reis

Autumn Reis

Just because it looks close to done doesn’t mean it’s close to done. Because I think this yoke is going to take me forever:

Reis yoke

Reis yoke

I am trying to forget all my other knitting plans for now and just focus on getting this done and enjoying the process. Because it has been a beautiful process. It is mostly Plucky Knitter yarn, which is just a joy to knit. And the colors are perfectly in sync with autumn and with my love for autumn. Perhaps I will even finish it in time to wear it before autumn is done?

raveled

Just another tween sweater :: The Deuce, the second

 

The Deuce, #2

The Deuce, #2

After all the talking I’ve done about this sweater, actually finishing it and showing you pictures seems a bit anti-climactic. Especially since I didn’t finish it in time for winter wear. As I mentioned last fall, I set a goal of knitting both my kids sweaters in one season – an idea I’ve found challenging in the past because kids have that pesky habit of growing. It’s been difficult to start and finish sweaters for both kids before one or both outgrows whatever I’m making.

This time, I wanted to make coordinated colorwork sweaters for the two of them, and I was going to design them myself. That was my first problem, because trial-and-error ended up slowing me down. Then some other knitting got in the way, and the next thing I knew, it was February before I was finally finishing up Tiny Dancer’s sweater.

After watching me take so long finishing his brother’s sweater, Little Buddha asked me if I would please not work on anything else until I finished his sweater. I obliged, and it took me a little more than three weeks to make – much better than the nearly five months it took me to finish his brother’s.

garter stripes

garter stripes

Like his brother’s, this sweater has garter stripes at the waist and the cuffs. I was going for a pretty low-key look, and I think I got it. I wanted to use up some of the tweed in my stash, which I bought years ago in sweater quantities for the whole family. Unfortunately, I had no lime green, which was the color Little Buddha really wanted (his favorite color). I found this Cascade Tweed in the right shade. It has the tweedy look, but not the tweedy feel, which was a disappointment to me – I really enjoy knitting with rustic yarns.

striped cuffs

striped cuffs

The stripes in his sweater coordinate with his brother’s sweater and with yarn I have in my stash for sweaters I have planned for My Old Man and me. Of course by the time I get around to knitting those, I’m sure the boys will have long outgrown their pullovers.

Even with maintaining project monogamy and finishing this knit in less than a month, I still didn’t manage to get it done in time for cold weather. I mean, it did snow once after I finished knitting (on April 15, because this is Michigan and the weather doesn’t have good manners), but it didn’t stick around.

Little Buddha

Little Buddha

By the time he can wear this sweater for real, I’m sure the sleeves and body will be too short. But that’s the good thing about knitting, right? I can go back and redo it, and make it right. So in the fall, I will be able to start the season with two basically brand-new sweaters for both boys, and that sort of counts as reaching my goal, right?

 raveled