Category Archives: Knitting

A small foray into alpaca

Since posting about the alpaca sample from Cathy, I’ve been given a new bunch of alpaca samples from kindly fiber folk. (I haven’t had much fiber time recently – too much work, mostly – but the generosity of friends will not be wasted!)

In the meantime, I did spin up the white alpaca.

It’s about heavy fingering weight or light sport weight. I liked spinning it so much (and this was before the samples were sent to me), I dug ’round the stash for the Henry’s Attic superfine alpaca yarn that I knew I’d purchased (mumble) years before.

Ah, yes. I cast on for a 2×2 ribbed scarf and have worked on it only while reading (or in the car, passenger) because I can knit 2×2 without looking. I can probably knit 2×2 in my sleep. The scarf is a little under 4 feet long and super springy. I think it will block into something wider and flatter.

The yarn feels really soft in the hand… but when I put it on my neck, it prickles. (Superfine alpaca prickles?! I seriously have Princess-and-Pea skin.) This may go into the gift pile if it doesn’t soften more after washing. I’ll have to find a man-recipient with less sensitive skin. Maybe it would help if he had a hairy neck and shoulders.

Stash expansion

I received a gorgeous hank of Beaverslide mule-spun yarn recently. It’s from Acornbud (go wish her a happy first blogiversary!), who had a bit left over after making her gansey and thought that I’d like to check it out. From Montana to Hawaii to Minnesota – it’s had quite a journey. Thank you, Barb!

This is quite a hefty hank of yarn – feels very substantial. As far as I understand the process, mule-spun yarns are made by a repeating sequence of drafting under tension and winding by releasing tension, similar to what we handspinners do. (Other commercial spinners keep constant tension on the yarn throughout the process.) Unlike many commercial finewool yarns, the singles were spun tightly (yes!) and the plies appear to be balanced! Woo!

The yarn felt kind of hard at first. I washed the spinning oils out of it (I prefer to wash yarn as the very first step), and the yarn bloomed and got much softer. I keep thinking of fingerless mitts when I look at the hank… Maybe, maybe…

Update on Matt’s sweater

This is my knitting project for the commute home. I’m pretty brain-fried by that time of day, and I find that I make interesting mistakes when I knit-sleep. Still, I’m pleased with the progress. (All identified mistakes have been picked out and corrected.) For reference, I’ve laid it on the model pullover.

It’s coming along. The ribbing on the side pulls in slightly, but the difference is less than 2″ on a 26″-wide piece, I think it will block out easily.

Please leave a comment if you’re interested in a .pdf of the 2 cable patterns that I designed (free download). It’ll motivate me to get them online if I have even 1 request!

I made pretties

A woman I work with (a knitter and crocheter) gave me a little bag of handmade beads as a Christmas gift last year. They are glass, wood, cord-wrapped wood, or polymer clay. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, and they rolled around the back of my head for several months.

Looking at them again last weekend, it suddenly dawned on me that they might make pretty stitch markers. I bought odds-and-ends beads (mostly 10¢ pieces), silver rings, and silver head pins from a local shop. I used a starter kit with 5 different pliers to bend the pins (didn’t use all 5). I used instructions from wormspit to assemble them.

I shattered 2 glass beads (hence the naked bead in the lower left), but otherwise, it was a pretty uneventful assembly. I probably spent about an hour putting them together.


I’ve never used such large stitch markers before. They take some getting used to because you need to flip them around when moving from needle to needle (they tend to fall behind the work). But they’re pretty and dangly, like knitting jewelry. I like them!

Casting on

Over the weekend, I finished designing Matt’s pullover and cast on! Woo ha! Will he get a sweater for Christmas this year? Stay tuned!

Here’s my vision – saddle shoulders, modified drop sleeves, minimal ribbing on the cast-on edges to stop the curl, knit flat, and seamed. Matt OK-ed a fleece pullover as a model garment (Eddie Bauer has an “XLT” size that fits him pretty well). It’s sufficiently wide and long in the body and sleeve, but the style is more of a set-in sleeve than drop shoulder. Eh, it’s close enough. I muddled with a tape measure, design software, and Ann Budd’s book to come up with the exact silhouette.

I always agonize a little when designing because no one’s ideal sweater really matches a standard schematic. Matt is long in the torso, he’s got a tummy, and his arms go from here to WAY WAY OUT THERE. (We compared appendages long ago and found that his arm is longer than my leg! ) Just for fun, I put 1 of my sweaters over his model garment.

Ha. Ha ha. Single ladies, think about what you’re signing up for when you marry big-n-tall. Especially if he likes handknit clothing.

I took measurements from the mondo swatch – I noted the width of each stitch pattern and the width of the spacers (2 purl stitches between motifs), arranged the motifs to my liking, and calculated how wide it would be with just the motifs. It turned out to be ~8 inches narrower than the target dimension, so I determined the number of filler stitches required to bring it up to the correct width.

It was just the maths. No sweat. I was more worried about measuring inaccurately.

Nothing left to do but cast on – held my breath, dove in. I knit 4 rows of mostly 2×2 rib and began the pattern knitting. Some random notes in list form because WE LOVE LISTS:

1) Binding hems bother me, and I always try different cast on techniques to get around that problem. This time, I opted for a crochet cast on (exactly the same as the unzipping provisional cast on that you do directly onto the needle) and used a hook that was 1.5 mm larger than the needle size. In hindsight, I think I should have used the same size hook, but we’re talking galloping horse precision here, I think it’s not worth it to rip and redo.

2) I’m not sure if I like the look of mini-rib at the bottom of the sweater. Maybe an applied I-cord would have been better. Again, not going to go back.

3) Although I knit the entire mondo swatch without a cable needle, I think I was pushing the limits with the 7-st crossings. I’m sacrificing principle for pragmatism and am using the needle for the less stable crosses.

4) It takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to do 2 rows, depending on the complexity of the row.

5) I cannot memorize a 28-row cable.

Preliminary results – looks like I measured correctly.

We have swatch!

I finished the mondo gauge swatch for Matt’s sweater.

Nice texture, huh? Isn’t it mad how a worsted spun 4-ply yarn shows cables?

Anyone who has knit Alice Starmore’s “Mystic” sweater (the one made with Rowan Denim, has the anchors on it) will recognize the brick pattern on the left and the 7-stitch twisted cable on the right. The giant argyle-ish motif is adapted from traditional patterns, and the narrower interlocking diamond and ring thing is my own unvention.

Wish I’d had the forethought to include something in the photo for scale, but (from memory) it’s about 8 or 9″ tall and well over a foot wide. I dressed the swatch by wetting it, lathering up with Dawn dish detergent, rinsing, and drying flat. I didn’t press, steam, pin, or even measure the swatch to make sure I had square corners – hence the slight crookedness of the twisted-stitch cable… And looking closely, I think the swatch is a little wider on the right side than the left.

I was nearly ready to publish the cable charts, but I started having problems with the charting program last week (namely, crashing every 30 sec, grrr…). I’ve been emailing with the software author, and I haven’t tried her suggestions yet – so no charts today!

Plummer cable II

I mentioned in my last post that when crossing cables, you may have to change the angle of your approach. Here’s another image from AS’s Aran Knitting – it exmplifies the change between the slope of the diamond leg and the diamond cross.


The changes in the left-over-right crosses are particularly noticeable. I wanted to minimize the visual jarring in my cable; legs that are only 2 stitches wide make the effect more subtle – and when I showed Matt my swatches, he didn’t even notice the changes until I pointed them out.

So. The next cable that I’m designing for Matt’s sweater is based on the stonework outside of the bronze doors of the Plummer Building. The pillars have crisscrossed ribbons and motifs nestled within the ribbons.

Mouseover to see the motif that started it all.

The ribbon part was pretty easy because the width and height of the component diamonds are easily adjusted to fit the size of the internal motif. As long as the motif is roughly proportional to the space within the diamond, it will look rather nice. Now I already talked about trying to carve a fleur-de-lis out of cables. (Flashback: Riiiiiiip!) Of the attempts, I saved only 1 fleur swatch; this shows an outline of the fleur using twisted stitches. It is lopsided because I was experimenting with different angles in the outer petals.

Meh. It almost looks like an insect.

After griping and moaning about how this was kicking my cabling ass, I learned that Matt was not particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of flowers on his sweater, no matter how stylized. I (gratefully) let the idea go. Still, I did want to put something inside some of the lattice diamonds. I’ve a fondness for miniatures – why not put the same motif within a diamond?

Yeah! We like!

The argyle flavor gives it some class, and it works as a sweater cable because it is tidy, not too wide, and the repeat isn’t too long. I played around with how to start and finish the traveling lines of the inner motif. Here’s a closeup:


A and B: twisted stitches to form the lines started on the wrong side
C and D: twisted stitches to form the lines ended on the right side
A and C: border is “below” the lines that form the X
B and D: border is “above” the lines that form the X

D satisfied me the most. I’ve got the pattern charted and am test-knitting it this weekend.

Alice Starmore makes a wrong cable crossing

I’m designing a pseudo–diamond lattice cable and will have photos of the new swatch to share in a few days (I hope!). My cable “legs” are 2 stitches wide, and they move left or right in 1-stitch-every-other-row increments. During the process of graphing and swatching, it took me a ridiculously long time to suss out the following: when the 2 legs meet, no matter what slope they were moving at before, they must cross in a 2×2 maneuver. Well, duh. More on that in a later post.

Just to make sure there wasn’t some sneaky clever increase/decrease method to maintain the angle of movement, I consulted with an expert (Alice Starmore’s Aran Knitting). She has an almost identical cable in her book (her legs are 3 st wide but still move 1 st over at a time), and I looked up the graph to see how she dealt with the transition. Answer – there is no sneaky way. You have to break the angle for the transition. And then I saw it:

Mouseover to see the error

Oops! Now, I’m not mad that there’s a mistake (the chart is correct, btw), I just laughed when I found it. Actually, I don’t know why I’m so tickled to stumble across an error (and that photo is used 2x in the book, too). I guess it’s like finding a typo in the New York Times. She has such a reputation for perfectionism and is godlike in her ability to design Fair Isle colorways, it’s almost a relief to see signs of her humanity. (Even if it was a test knitter’s goof, surely AS examined the swatch before it was photographed and published.) FWIW, I freely admit to having a tee hee giggle when VK some years ago had a pink purplish Debbie Bliss number on the cover with a grossly obvious missed cable crossing.

Edited to add:

I found a photo of the VK cover:

(Since I misremembered the color, am I also wrong about the pattern author?)

Swatching letdown

I’ve hit a roadblock on my second cable design. I’ve been working on it for 2 weeks now, and it’s time to put the idea to rest. I was trying to chart a cabled fleur-de-lis, but after 5 ripped swatches, I’m concluding that it has too much horizontal movement to work properly. (If you’re mixing cable crossings, you can only put in so many 2×3 maneuvers – like 1 or 2, actually – before the fabric crumples in a bad way.) It’s funny, I looked through my stitch dictionaries (and believe you me, I have many stitch dictionaries) and couldn’t find anything even remotely adaptable. Suspect I know why, now. I tried outlining it in a twisted stitch pattern, too. No go.

Although I hate ripping, I did unravel nearly all of my unsuccessful swatches to be frugal. I’ve already gone through ~200 g of yarn, more or less, but it’s the same 50 g skein being repeatedly knit and ripped. Heilo (from Dale – pronounced DOLL-ah, btw – of Norway) is holding up very well. You’d never know I’d abused it so much.

In other observations, I feel like there’s a certain level of fetid discontent coursing through the fiber ‘blogosphere lately. People are unhappy about stuff – the weather, their spouses, clutter, work, health, etc – and it’s coming through in the daily chat. Seems like I’m reading more grumbling about swatches, pattern mistakes, and running out of yarn than I usually do, too. Are we overwhelmed? For the northern hemisphere types, is it the winter blues?