Sweater hospital

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What’s going on here? Matching ears to wear with a cardigan? Guess again. The edges of those funny little pieces look almost…cut, don’t they? Welcome to Sweater Hospital. Get a glass of water and have a seat if you’re squeamish about surgery. Patient #1, featured here, is Deco. She’s a Kate Davies cardigan I just couldn’t resist, knit in a yarn I love madly. But her journey into being was a troubled one. Nothing about the knitting experience was comfortable. I was plagued by fears of running out of yarn (I did; my Deco has 3/4-length sleeves to show for it) and those fears, plus a desire to finish the thing and wear it, prompted some decisions I knew weren’t very sound.

It seems to me that most designers—quite understandably—like to make what looks good on them. Kate Davies and I don’t share a body type, although at a glance we’re both slender and can wear similar shapes. I’ve learned to tread carefully in approaching designs by women who are quite a lot smaller or have different proportions than mine. I have a long torso, so I almost always need to add length, and there’s quite a difference between my hip and waist measurements, so it’s important to get the waist shaping in the right place. I didn’t achieve that with Deco. The dense fabric Kate favors means the sweater will wear very well, which I appreciate, and I’m not afraid of small needles. But this fabric is so stable that it also won’t grow lengthwise, even with aggressive blocking. I think I realized this, but I didn’t want to accept it, given how short of yarn I was. Also, this design uses the classic approach of placing all the shaping at the side “seam,” so there’s no hiding it if you misjudge the rate of decrease. I ended up with unattractive pooches of fabric intended to accommodate my hips riding up at my natural waist. Ugh. I also had gapping at the bust between the snaps. (Yes, there are buttons in that photo, but they’re just for show. There are snaps sewn to a ribbon on the facing underneath.) Poor Deco was languishing in the closet.

So what to do? This cardigan is finished within an inch of its life at the fronts. No way could I take it apart and start from scratch without hours and hours of labor just in the deconstruction phase. There is no way to cut it and add length and graft it back together once the button band is on. (Plus there’s no more yarn.) The only other way to salvage it, I decided was to cut out the troublesome darts. I’d end up with a seam from the waist down to the hem, but that seemed preferable to never wearing it at all, and I decided the sweater probably wouldn’t fall apart if I reinforced that seam properly.

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Oh, did I reinforce. First I mattress stitched together the two columns of stitches that needed to meet to create the fold of fabric I was going to cut off. Then I blanket stitched them together again one stitch up the fold itself, on the theory that the blanket stitch would help protect the raw edge. I took special care to secure the top and bottom of the seam. All this I did with doubled polyester sewing thread in a matching color so it would be strong and invisible. Only then did I cut just above my blanket stitching. Here’s how it looks from the outside:

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As you can see, the seam is all but invisible in the stockinet portion of the body. It wasn’t possible to be quite so discrete through the slipped-stitch rib, but it’s not half bad. And now I’ve got a cardigan that looks intentionally cropped, which is what I should have created in the first place. I should have just cast on the number of stitches I needed at the smallest portion of my waist, allowing for the ribbing to stretch a bit over the swell of my high hip. It’s the perfect shape to wear with a high waisted skirt, which seem to be proliferating in my closet anyway.

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(We’re going to pretend this shot is some kind of intentional vintage film effect, although the truth is that Mr. G didn’t check the settings and I honestly think the camera just lost all composure in the face of retina-searing coral red against luscious spring greenery. Anyway, be thankful I desaturated this photo in post-production.)

Deco was not the only patient in Sweater Hospital of late. After my son stretched out the neck in his quest for, um, unrestricted access to his favorite terrain, Moroccan Nights was badly in need of a quick repair job. This one was much easier: a simple crochet chain worked into every stitch just beneath the cast-on edge, tidy and barely noticeable once I got the tension just right. Now she doesn’t plunge off both my shoulders and I can wear her again.

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And, with that, the patients are ready to go back to the closet and out into the world! Surgery a complete success. It’s very satisfying to bring handknits back to useful life. It’s such a shame when you’ve spent all those happy, anticipatory hours in the fabrication only to end with a garment that makes you glum.

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Still to do: stabilize the shoulders and neckline on Blue Thistle and re-knit the back neck of Brigitte to see if I can solve her many problems. Work for another day. And of course there’s the basket of children’s clothes in need of mending…


Boardwalk (4 of 4)

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This may be my favorite handknit yet. The design—Boardwalk, by Heidi Kirrmaier for Wool People 3—is perfection. It’s got just enough intriguing detail while still being understated enough to work with any outfit. I finished it in time to wear it at Madrona with a short gathered skirt, colored tights, and a pair of girly Oxfords, but it’s equally good with jeans. I knit the 36 1/2″ size, but added two and a half inches to the torso before dividing for the arms because I’m 5’11” and I wanted the hem to hit just at my hipbone. (That was a lot of stockinet on #3 needles, I won’t lie. But I am building stamina for my Wild Apple Bohus kit, so really it was like running a 5K in training for a marathon. This one doesn’t even have sleeves, after all.)

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The yarn is Catskill Saxon Merino Fingering from Eugene Wyatt’s farm in New York. That’s a link to his blog, which you should absolutely go read—brew yourself a steaming mug of coffee and settle in for a good while, because Eugene has rare gifts. He brings his yarn and his sausage down to the Greenmarket in Union Square on Saturdays. As a vegetarian I can’t comment on the sausage, but hot diggity dog, that is SOME YARN. I always try to visit the Catskill Merino booth if I’m in New York City on a Saturday, and when I was there last June I spent nearly an hour mesmerized by the beautiful colors they achieve with natural dyes, trying to choose one for my Boardwalk. And in the end I walked away with simple, undyed, merino white, and it’s utterly perfect. The fingering weight is incredible to knit, bouncier than anything else I’ve worked with, downright playful on the needles. It makes a soft, light fabric with a very dry hand and just a hint of rustic character. I love it madly. I’ll be in New York in a couple of weeks and I swear I can’t be held responsible for what might come home with me.

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Thanks to my friend Daniel for these photos. In addition to being good with a camera, Daniel can build bicycles, play ultimate at the pro level, and teach math and decency to ten-year-olds, so he is pretty much a rock star.


I sent my three-year-old off to her first day of preschool this morning. “I feel hard to leave my old school,” she said plaintively as we kissed her brother goodbye and continued on our journey to her new place. She’s an old hand and a natural at this schooling business, having taken to nursery-level Montessori like a pig to slops at the age of 11 months. Today she climbed straight into the little loft when we arrived and required that I read to her through the railing. I got only the briefest kiss goodbye as she hurried off to help feed Jeremiah the hamster. I knew she’d be fine. But she’s the littlest for the first time and I wondered and hoped for her all morning, as mamas do.

I distracted myself with work, and then I thought I’d get back to this blog’s roots and post about knitting for once. New on the needles and quickly snapped with le cameraphone in repose on the handsome big granite slabs outside the SeaTac airport:



This is Echo Beach. Like the famed Clapotis, this scarf is all delayed gratification… one could drop those stitches down earlier to glimpse the final glory, but psychologists have shown that those of us who can, as four-year-olds, resist the temptation to gobble up one marshmallow rightnow on the promise of two marshmallows later will be more successful when we grow up. I was the child who froze her Halloween candy and made it last all winter. An Everlasting Gobstobber warranted occasional brief licking and then wrapping in paper for storage in the drawer of my bedside table for so long that I can’t be sure I didn’t forget all about it in the end… it may yet turn up when my parents move house. So you won’t catch me dropping stitches until it’s time to bind off. And that might not be very soon, because this is a no-pressure knit—just something small enough to be good for travel and easy to pick up after neglect. Although the yarn provides a significant lure to knit on; I can scarcely believe it’s going to be hot cantaloupe orange before I reach the other end! I was pretty thrilled to make the first transition out of stolid burgundy, enlivened though it is with tweedy flecks of seafoam green, into deep magenta.

But for pure pleasure between the fingers, I’m loving this:



When I visited New York in June, I treated myself to a visit to the Greenmarket and Eugene Wyatt’s Catskill Merino booth. I knew I wanted wool for a vest—Heidi Kirrmaier’s Boardwalk, specifically. I think I dithered for half an hour over the beautiful natural dyes. February Green? Van Gogh Gray? And finally I walked away with four hanks of plain merino white. It’ll go with everything. Nothing will distract from the simple, sheepy beauty of the wool and the clean architecture of the design. I freed up my DyakCraft Heavy Metal needles for this one. They hold the stitches firmly but tenderly and whisper to each other as they work. The vest would go faster on my slick Addis, but I don’t think I want it to.

Full disclosure: I haven’t finished the children’s knitting. Ada’s little Boreal is into the yoke and I’m biting my nails about starting the decreases immediately after the sleeve join, but can’t see a way to avoid it without messing up the trees and snowflakes. Jolly’s Pomander still wants its short sleeves and its buttons; must find correct dpns. And I’m slogging along the first sleeve of Ada’s Minni… still. You wouldn’t think such short arms could require such endless knitting, but 2mm needles and garter ridges are the enemies of visible progress. Worse still, I expect I’ll have to lengthen those sleeves and count on superwash to do its droopy business for the torso length if she’s going to wear the thing at all. It’s too beautiful not to finish. Still, the siren song of new yarn sweeps me onto the rocks every time. Let us not speak of the luscious silky wonder I just received in the mail from Duck Duck Wool; I’m not sure there are needles enough even in my ample collection to cast on anything more at present.

Confess: What have you cast on for the new season, against your better judgment?