Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shoulder Straps

One of the features of the traditional designs that intrigued me most when I first launched my Great Guernsey Adventure was the idea of shoulder straps: narrow patterned bands that run horizontally across the shoulders and often down the sleeves as well, taking the place of shoulder seams, because they are knitted to live stitches at the top edges of the front and back yokes by a technique very similar to the one used to attach an edging to a lace shawl. The resulting detail is not only visually striking but also ingenious in its construction, and appeals therefore on two levels, both technical and aesthetic.

At any rate, today's big news is that I have now finished the shoulder straps on my husband's Stornoway!! It took me a few minutes to puzzle out the left-right dynamics of casting on, although oddly enough on this occasion I had only to follow the pattern as written to get the correct results. The trick for once, in other words, was to do nothing special, despite knitting left-handed. And once I got started, the actual knitting went very fast. Each strap is just 20 stitches across, after all, using a simple cable motif that is also featured throughout the body of the sweater. So this step in the pattern was literally a matter of hours rather than days or weeks.

If truth be told, a *minor* challenge did arise when some gaps appeared in the fabric due to excessive looseness in the stitches of the final row across the top of the shoulders, just before the join. In the photo at left, start just below the spot where the stitches on the needle are farthest apart and work downwards to see the loops in question (and of course, as always, click on the thumbnail to take a closer look). The last step in the pattern for both the front and back yokes, in preparation for attaching the shoulder straps, calls for a row of k2tog decreases on the RS, and if I had it all to do over again, I would probably use a smaller needle size just for that decrease row. But as it was, I found that I could easily remove the gaps by gently pulling up the slack from the decrease stitches and invisibly securing the strands on the wrong side.

In the end, apart from that little bit of fussiness (which was efficiently handled), the shoulder straps came out BEAUTIFULLY. Here are several photos: first one completed strap and then the other, and then two different views of both together, seen in the context of the sweater as a whole. As always, click on any of these images to get a closer look.

And now on to the neckband and then the sleeves... I must say that this is a wonderfully pleasant and satisfying sweater to knit, especially without a deadline. I am truly savoring the process as well as the product. Hooray for the Great Guernsey Adventure!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

P.S. re Previous Post

OK, so I guess if I really wanted to knit the minutes, I would *NOT* actually have to devise a code à la Mme. Defarge, because someone has already done it. A marvelous thing is the Internet!!

Mme. Defarge Turns Stenographer

Last June, when I first launched this blog, I was really pleased with the moniker that I came up with for it. The title seemed to capture something about my persona as a professor-who-knits, and since then quite a number of people have told me that they like it too. But now, alas, I fear that it has become a bit of a misnomer, at least temporarily. For I have been asked to serve this term as "Secretary to the Faculty", which means that I will be sitting up front with a laptop during the monthly faculty meetings, taking the minutes, rather than in the back row with my yarn & needles.

I considered devising a code that would allow me to record notes IN MY KNITTING, so that I could do both things at once — very much à la Mme. Defarge — but despite its sinister appeal, that idea was rejected in the name of efficiency and professionalism. As a simple attendee in a meeting, knitting really does help me pay attention, but when it comes to keeping an official transcript of what was said, I type faster than I knit, and using the computer allows me to skip the step of transcribing written notes. Or knitted ones, for that matter. Besides, all wicked comments aside (although academics are famous for their wicked comments, especially in the back row of faculty meetings), I really *don't* need any shrouds, which is what la chère Madame claimed she was knitting. How grimly appropriate, n'est-ce pas? Given that she was sending the Enemies of the Revolution to the guillotine. But I digress...

Secretary to the Faculty or not, I have no intention of renaming the blog. For one thing, my new role applies only to the monthly meetings of the entire college faculty. I can still knit at other professorial gatherings (lectures, workshops, smaller sessions, etc.). Nor is this a permanent assignment. Someone else will take over eventually, although I can probably keep doing it for as long as I like, because there's never an over-abundance of volunteers, human nature being what it is. Right now it's my turn to take the minutes, and I will do so to the best of my ability. Yet I will also remain the Faculty Meeting Knitter, with every intention of reclaiming my seat in the back row when the time comes. Allons enfants de la Patrie...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back to Stornoway

It has been a while since the last time I had any news about Stornoway, but the Great Guernsey Adventure was never meant to be anything except a long-term project. So I have been working away at it quietly but steadily in the background, and today I am proud to report that the back yoke is finally done. *Yipee*!!

When I did the modifications for the front neckline, I kept very careful written notes, and those calculations came very much in handy for ensuring that the back would match. By following the slightly altered instructions, it was easy to do exactly the same number of rows above the armhole for both the front and the back and to end up with the same number of stitches on hold for the shoulders and neckline. Everything lines up beautifully.

Here is the obligatory pair of photos. As always, click on either one of them (or the closeup above) to see a larger view.

Since a big part of the appeal for me in this traditional guernsey design is its authenticity, down to the tiniest details, I am really looking forward to the process of knitting the shoulder-straps and beginning the sleeves. There should be an opportunity for some marvelous WIP photos along the way. So the Great Guernsey Adventure continues...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nutcracker Snow Queen

Readers who have been following my projects for a while will remember that I finished my Queen of the Night cowl on Hallowe'en. Inspired by Mozart opera and based on Rosemary Hill's magnificent Ice Queen design (Knitty, Winter 2007), it immediately became a staple of my wardrobe, because it is not only snazzy & stylish but amazingly warm too, and it goes with just about everything. I wear it *a lot* in this blustery winter weather.

Just look at all that sparkle!! (And click for a larger view). More or less by accident, I ended up placing beads every 4 rows, rather than every 8 (as the pattern suggests), and I added the maximum number of beads every time as well, rather than alternating between more and fewer. Who says professors always read the fine print?!!

But you can't have too much bling, right?

In point of fact, I really love the glamour of the silver-lined crystal beads in all their profusion, especially because they contrast so dramatically with the inky blackness of the mohair/silk fabric. The designer said it herself: "Wearing it makes you feel like a movie star!" This cowl gets attention, especially when I wear it outside, pulled up around my face and over my hair. But when I come in and let it hang down around my neck and throat, it stretches out a good deal under the weight of all those beads, growing larger in diameter and shallower from top to bottom. After a while, I actually have trouble pulling it up to cover my head again. Mind you, it quickly returns to its original shape if I take it off and shake it out and/or let it hang vertically for a bit, but I have come to the conclusion that it works best as a warm and luxurious neck-piece rather than strictly as a head covering.

Fortunately, I happened to have another skein of the same delicious Silk Cloud yarn in the pale gray color known as Mist, as well as a container of 6/0 silver-lined beads with the AB (aurora borealis) coating...

And so I proudly present my second Ice Queen, which I decided to name after the magical pas-de-deux from the end of the 1st act of the Nutcracker Suite. As a child enrolled in ballet classes, I had the good fortune to join in a local Nutcracker production for a number of years. I fell in LOVE with the snow scene and would watch it from the wings every chance that I got. I remember that the choreography of the pas-de-deux came to a glorious climax as the Snow Queen ran to her King and he hoisted her effortlessly onto his shoulder and held her there aloft. I have never seen anything more quintessentially Romantic in the deepest, richest, truest sense. The soaring strains of Tchaikovsky's magnficent music still give me goose bumps to this very day.

Unlike its dark sister, this silvery cowl is specifically meant to be worn outdoors as a head covering in winter weather. So to ensure that it would fit easily over my decidedly fluffy hair while continuing to drape over my shoulders, I added 2-3 inches to its length. I was also *very* careful to get the bead placement exactly right this time around, so that a single container of beads would suffice and the fabric would not be weighed down too much. Indeed despite the risk of over-taxing the mohair, I even decided to go back and redo a sizable portion of the cowl when I discovered a mistake that I had made early on. Fortunately, with gentle handling the fibers proved very resilient and bounced back remarkably well, so that you would never know I had resorted to such measures.

I am *thrilled* with the results. Click on the photo above to take a closer look. The beads have an airy, ethereal quality that suits the yarn to *perfection*.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


This will be brief. It is just that I was finally able to persuade my dear spouse to take a few pictures of my Susie's Reading Mitts on the hand, as they were properly meant to be seen. Here are the best of the lot. Enjoy!! (Click on either of these images to view it on a larger scale).

Pushing the Lace Envelope

Anyone who knows my knitting reasonably well or has read much of this blog has probably heard of my love affair with the 2/56 NM Gossamer CashSilk from Heirloom Knitting in the UK, which I have used for three of Sharon Miller's designs so far (the Wedding Ring Shawl, the Princess Shawl, and the Unst Stole). Well, I recently acquired two new fine-gauge yarns from the same source: 2/32 NM Gossamer Silk and 2/90 NM Gossamer Cashmere.

The Gossamer Silk comes wound on cones of 100g (= 3500 yards). It used to be available only in white or ivory, but they have recently added royal blue, coral pink, and silver to their inventory. I had been promising myself for a while to order a single cone after the start of the new year, probably in white, so that I could experiment with some of Herbert Niebling's lace designs, which have been on my growing "To Do list" ever since the first book of patterns arrived here over the summer, courtesy of Lacis. One look at the shimmery silver silk was enough to convince me that the time had arrived to make the much-anticipated purchase. So here it is. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger .

I don't know how long it will be before I actually embark upon my first Niebling project, but it feels good to have the yarn on hand, because now I can act immediately whenever the inspiration hits. My oh-so-talented knitting pal Anita (a.k.a. The Fiber Artist) ordered a similar cone for herself at the same time too, so maybe we will eventually do our own little Niebling KAL. At any rate, click on the thumbnail (upper left) o get a closer look at this gorgeous fiber, which has all the delicious sheen one would expect from 100% silk. In some ways it looks even more like actual mithril than the platinum CashSilk that I am using for my Unst Stole, despite what I said at the time when I first launched that project.

The Gossamer Cashmere, meanwhile, is a brand new addition to the Heirloom Knitting line, available only in a creamy soft white color (see right). On the web-site Sharon Miller bills it as "almost certainly the finest natural yarn available for lace knitters today," and I knew right away when I saw the write-up that I simply HAD to experience this stuff in person. *WOW*!!! It is truly a remarkable thing to encounter a knitting yarn so unbelievably fine-gauged and yet obviously so strong as well, with all the dreamy softness and bloom of 100% cashmere. The mind truly boggles...

I ordered only a single skein to start, on the assumption that I will have to spend a good bit of time with practice swatches before committing myself to a full-scale project. Besides, the neat little 25g skein contains a staggering 1230 yards!! That should be plenty to be getting on with, as the saying goes. I honestly don't know what to expect about needle sizes, since I already use 1.5 mm (US size 000) needles (i.e. the smallest Addi Turbos available) to work with the CashSilk, which is 2/56 NM, almost *twice* as thick as this new material. Just take a good look at this picture with the dime and click for a closer view: you might not believe your eyes. Clearly there are some FUN TIMES ahead as my lace-knitting adventure continues...

In the Glow of the Hearthfire

Remember Serendipity Strikes? It was mid-December and *love at first sight*, when I first placed the Gracie's Lace Cranberry Crush (70% merino wool, 15% silk, 15% cashmere) next to the silver-lined dark topaz AB beads (see photo at left). Sivia Harding's Harbour Lights Shawl seemed like the ideal pattern to showcase all those rich, warm, yummy colors. Naturally, once we got through the excitement of Christmas Day and its aftermath, I couldn't wait to get started knitting. Hehe. I think my fingers were literally itching with anticipation...

This is my first foray into the intriguing world of triangle shawls, but I am enjoying myself so much that I sincerely doubt it will be my last. Worked from the top down, it starts out tiny, with only 5 stitches across, but then quickly starts to expand in several directions at once. So after the initial setup, I eagerly began on the main pattern for the body of the shawl. The design consists of a vertical center band flanked by two triangular side panels, each of which has a smaller central band of its own. SO MUCH visual interest and symmetry. A veritable feast for the eyes and the mind!!

Because of the warm, cozy feeling that it gives me and the candlelight shapes that are a basic element of the design, I have christened this my Hearthfire Shawl. It is such a *pleasure* to knit.

Since the start I have managed to devote at least a few minutes to this project every day or two, and the work is coming along nicely. I have completed 6 pattern repeats so far, and according to the scale I have used up 30 g from the 100g skein. I originally projected that I would end up with 9 pattern repeats plus the edging, but we'll see when we get there how the measurements turn out. At least I am no longer much concerned about running out of yarn. Maybe there will even be enough left over for a pair of matching wrist-warmers. That would certainly be fabulous!!

And without further ado, here are some pictures taken at various stages of its development. The first in the series (upper left) was from day one of knitting, and the fourth (lower right) is less than 24 hours old. As always, click on any of them to get a closer look.

Now that I come to think about it, this project engages all of the senses to an unusual degree. I mean, it doesn't actually have an aroma or a flavor (although I do periodically find myself thinking about the mulled cider from Ellen's original description on the Earthfaire website), but the colors exercise a real allure as they subtly change from one to the other. These are rich, dark, saturated hues. Each one makes a statement individually, and yet they all blend together too in the most harmonious way. Then there is the iridescent glow of the beads, reflecting back all the different colors of the yarn. The bead placement is exquisitely designed to show off each individual bead like a little gemstone. They remind me of fire opals or Madeira citrines. I am really glad that I went with the larger 6/0 size, because they stand out without overwhelming. And of course the fabric itself feels velvety soft to the touch (cashmere, ah, cashmere...). The end result promises to be something quite remarkable, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2 days = 2 mitts = HAPPY warm hands

Wow. Two weeks into the new semester already. Time is a'wasting, and I really need to get caught up on my Christmas knitting before the end of January. OK. Just two more projects to go...

Right before the end of the break, while I still had a little bit of time left to sit and knit, I decided to make a pair of fuzzy fingerless gloves. There is a bit of a draft from the window in my office, which can make it terribly chilly at times during the winter months, and I wanted something that would keep my hands warm and yet still allow me to type and turn pages easily...

I chose a delightfully simple and satisfying pattern: Susie's Reading Mitts, by Susie Rogers and Janelle Masters and available as a free download from Dancing Ewe Yarns. Based on the name and the photography in the pattern leaflet (which includes some lovely hardcover books and a warm cup of some soothing beverage), I could not help imagining that these mitts might have originally been meant for a humanities graduate student, to help ward off the chill of sitting and reading in ill-heated spaces for hours on end. Perfect for the professor!!

For my rendition, I dug out some 20-year-old jet black mohair from my stash. The label is long-gone, but it may well have been Pingouin brand, because I remember buying some in various colors back in the 1980's. I used 3.75 mm (US size 5) double-pointed needles (a great way to practice my dpn skills), and embellished the edges at top, bottom, and thumb with some shiny 6/0 silver-lined crystal beads from Earthfaire. I knew from my beloved Queen of the Night cowl (which these mitts were meant to compliment, since I wear it so often) just how magically the silver beads would glisten and twinkle like stars or snowflakes against the inky background. As always, click on this photo or any of the others to get a closer look.

However, the best part of this story is that I was able to finish each glove in ONE SITTING, so that after just two days I had the pair complete. It was an amazing feeling. I have *very* small hands, so the fit is not quite as snug as I might ideally have wished. I suppose, if I had it all to do again, that I would probably use needles one size smaller, but I am still very pleased with the end results. I have already worn them quite a lot.

Here are two pictures, one of the WIP and one of the finished pair. Sometime soon I will get my husband to take another one of what they look like when worn. Experienced knitters develop their manual dexterity to an amazing degree, but even I cannot manage the contortions necessary to photograph gloves I am wearing!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Possibly the cutest thing *EVER*, Part II

Remember the adorable little bunny stitch markers that I got this summer?

Well... I have recently acquired another set from the same source: pelicans!! Two white and two brown. Click on the image to take a closer look.

It turns out that the friendly lady at Wee Ones on Etsy (whose name is Jillian, by the way; check out her story here) takes special orders. Because of my maiden name — Pelikan, with a "k" — I grew up surrounded by artistic representations of these majestic (but admittedly rather silly) water birds in various media. Photographs, paintings, prints, a mosaic, sculptures small and large in wood, glass, crystal, ceramics, and various metals.... I even met Petros, the famous mascot of the Greek island of Mykonos on my travels. So when I learned that Jillian would be willing to tackle the challenge of reproducing these birds in miniature, to accompany my knitting, I simply could not resist putting her up to it. We went back & forth a bit as she worked out the design to my specifications, and the Final Four here arrived just in time for Christmas. I think she did a FANTASTIC job. They are wonderfully round and companionable critters!!

And of course there's always the poem by Ogden Nash, which seems like a good way to achieve closure, after a fashion:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his beli-can.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for the week;
But I'm damned if I see how the heli-can.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Putting the Ostrich to Bed

I should probably apologize for the rather preposterous subject heading, but when the phrase suddenly popped into my head (unbidden), it seemed so delightfully absurd and frivolous that I simply couldn't resist...

At any rate, what it means is that I have finally finished my Parisian Ostrich!! Remember that this is a beaded rendition of Anne Hanson's lovely Ostrich Plumes stole design in a special hand-painted yarn from the Yarnmarket Impressionist Collection.

After blocking (see image at left and click for a larger view), the piece measures 60" long x 19" wide. That is a foot shorter than the original pattern specs (~72"), even with the two extra pattern repeats that I completed (11 vs. 9). My gauge was accurate. I believe that the discrepancy can be accounted for by the fact that all the beads were slip-stitched rather than knitted before or after. I could probably have stretched the shawl further, but I wanted to preserve some of the softness and give in the fabric, so I applied only as much tension in the blocking as was necessary to bring out the lace pattern, and no more. I also wanted there to be curves rather than points along the edges, as per the designer's instructions, so I did not pull it as tightly as I might have done.

Here is the usual photo gallery of the finished object. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look...

I am extremely pleased with the end result. It drapes beautifully, and can really be worn as either a scarf or a stole. The 100% merino wool (Twisted Sisters Impressionist Zazu) is buttery soft and feels wonderfully warm and cozy around the neck or shoulders. The colors look especially delicate in the airier fabric now that the piece has been blocked, and the beads really are a *perfect* match with their pale green sparkling crystal. The 6/0 rounds with the AB finish (visible along the sides and in the vertical rows throughout the shawl) are currently still available, but Earthfaire has sold out of the long magatamas that I used for the edging, although Ellen was kind enough to send me a few dozen extras when I realized that I was going to run a bit short. It was a genuine God-send. :-)

I posted a photo on the Anne Hanson forum on Ravelry and received some wonderful compliments. The best moment came when Deborah (the lady from YarnMarket) spotted my work. She was happy to see what I had done with one of their exclusive yarns, and promised to pass the news along to the Twisted Sisters as well. Quite a delightful exchange of emails ensued, and I have been promised some coverage in an upcoming entry in Deborah's blog. Hooray for Ravelry (as always)!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas Hats 2009

The blog seems to have taken a break for the holidays right along with me, but now there is much to report, since the vacation from school has given me a chance to do some serious knitting. In the interests of efficiency, I think I will break it down into several installments between now and next Monday (when classes start), rather than trying to cram everything into one enormous post...

I ended up making three different hats as Christmas gifts for 2009. One had been planned for several months. It was a repeat for my elderly mother of the Stained Glass Beret that I made for myself over the summer. I used Madeline Langan's lovely pattern again and dipped into the very same bag of leftover Brown Sheep wool, so the two hats are virtual twins. Here are pre-felting pictures of both the outside and the inside of my mother's hat, plus one of the outside in its finished form. As always, click on any of these images to get a closer look.

Mom was absolutely *delighted* with her present!! The vibrant colors (all her favorites) strongly appealed to her, just as I knew they would, and when she put the hat on her head, she discovered to her immense satisfaction that it fits perfectly and is extremely warm. The felting actually makes it wind-proof, which is a Godsend in the midst of a New England winter. We visited with her several times after Christmas, and she was never without her new favorite headgear. Chalk this one up as a BIG WIN.

The other two hats were much more impromptu affairs, inspired by my brother's suggestion that we give his two sons Barnes & Noble gift certificates, allowing them to choose what they wanted for themselves. As he spoke, I suddenly got the idea of making a hat for each nephew so that I could label the gift card as follows: "For your head and what's inside it..."

After casting about on Ravelry for the appropriate pattern, I lit upon Thorpe by Kirsten Kapur. This popular design features earflaps and tassled ties. The pattern was extremely easy to follow and adapt from bulky to worsted weight yarn. I chose two different bright colors of 100% wool from my stash, both with white trim, and improvised a striped pattern for the brim that would set off the jewel tones to good advantage. A clever suggestion from Kathryn Ivy's blog allowed me to make the stripes without an unsightly jog at the start of each round. Click on either image for a larger view.

The blue hat was for the 8-year-old, and I was able to finish it in time for Christmas. The red one, for his teenage brother, took a bit longer, so he got yarn & needles (a.k.a. the knitter's promissory note) under the tree & the finished hat a day or two later. Both brothers loved their new headgear. The younger one did not want to take his off!! I am still waiting for photographic evidence from their father, to document the end result, but I think it is safe to chalk up two more BIG WINS for Christmas 2009.