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Arctic Air

LBHandknits

Some time over the winter I envisioned a light and airy sweater to tide me over those long, brilliantly-hued but frigid months that constitute Spring in the north west of Ireland. Spring is a beautiful season here. Gone is the oppressive grayness and that bone-penetrating humidity that hovers just above zero all through the winter months. In its place come explosions of colour and crystal clear skies. But with this clarity and dazzle enters also a dry, almost icy chill. The glider pilots at the local airfield wait for it with longing, and announce immediately its arrival: 'Here comes the arctic air.' On the day I finished this sweater, that description felt quite apt!

It was the first day of spring, and it had snowed overnight in the mountains. The wind was blowing 25mph. And the air was so chilly, I could only stand it without my coat for so long. Which is just as well, as I'll need to block this sweater before taking proper photos anyway. But it's done, and it's lovely to wear, and I can already tell it will get lots of use this spring. And best of all the pattern is ready also.

The sweater, which was meant to be very basic, veered slightly away from that initial goal before I even got started. I had planned to knit it in fingering weight Alpaca, and because of the fine gauge, to keep the design as simple as possible for a quick knit. But then I noticed that the manufacturer of the yarn I was using (I went with the accessibly priced Norwegian company Drops here), also offered a bouclé version of their alpaca line in matching colours. Suddenly I had the idea, to use bouclé for the funnel neck and the sleeve cuffs, adding a bit of coziness and textural interest to the sweater.

Admittedly, bouclé yarn can be finicky to work with. The needles get stuck int he loopy bits, and it's difficult to see the shape of the stitches through all the fuzziness. Dropped stitches can go unnoticed too, if you aren't careful. But despite the extra care and vigilance it required, I did get used to it after a few rounds and adapted to the bouclé's characteristics.

Looking at, and wearing, the finished knit, I think the bouclé is successful here. The sweater is still very simple overall, but the fluffy oversized cuffs and neck create interesting proportions and add warmth.

The other noteworthy detail in this sweater is the contiguous sleeve construction (which, by the way, is very simple - easier than raglan, I find). The contiguous sleeves are subtle, especially with the heathered dark charcoal colour I chose. But they give the shoulders and sleeve caps a structured look that sort of 'grounds' the sweater, and makes for a nice contrast with its overall floatieness 

As most of my designs, this sweater is knit seamlessly, from the top down. It is very easy to knit, easy to source yarn for, and easy to wear - even if getting dressed in the dark, as it is back-front reversible! 

The pattern is mostly ready, so that by the time I block and photograph the sweater properly, I should be able to publish it. Luckily, the arctic air will be here for the next couple of months!  

 

 

 

If You Knit In a Forest...

LBHandknits

I do not normally knit outdoors, if only because my outdoor time tends to be pretty active ...and I have not, as of yet, figured out how to knit while cycling, hillwalking, or taking photos! 

The other day, however, I was taking a little photo walk though the forest. And when at some point I stopped to change lenses, I noticed that I had my knitting tucked into my camera bag. As it happened, I was kind of tired at this point. So I thought - why not? I sat down under a tree and knit for a bit.

Now, prior to this point, I had been walking for over an hour and had encountered no one. Not a single person. But not 5 minutes after I picked up my needles, I heard footsteps rustling in the dried leaves behind me. I was sitting a few metres away from the trail, hidden - I thought - behind some trees. But the woman now walking toward me with an amused smile on her face must have spotted me. She asked about the knitting, told me she used to knit herself years ago, and we talked for a bit before she was on her way again.

Funny, I thought, the one person I meet in the forest all day is also a knitter. I then picked up my needles again. And honest to goodness, I hardly got through a full row of the cardigan I am working on, before I heard rustling again. This time it was a couple, with a young daughter and a boisterous dog, and they too were heading straight toward me - with the girl pointing and shouting 'Mummy, mummy, is she a witch or a fairy? Is she a witch or a fairy Mummy?!!' and the dog making a beeline for my camera bag. While gently holding back the dog, I chatted with them as well, as the woman wanted to know whether I could recommend a local crafting workshop that would be suitable for children. 

Long story short, it soon became a very busy forest! I met an elderly man who told me all about his grandmother. And a teenage girl who was thinking of studying fashion design. Others too! I have no idea where all the people came from and how it was that they noticed my hiding spot and the fact I was knitting. But at length I realised it was probably best to put my needles and yarn away and stick with the photo walk ...during the remainder of which, I of course met nobody else. 

 

 

 

Stitch Marker Heaven

LBHandknits

sm3.jpg

I wanted to design my own stitch markers pretty much as soon as I began using them. The standard safetypin style markers did the job just fine, but I always found them lacking in ...presence, for want of a better word! My fingers, as well as my eyes, wanted something a bit more substantial, more engaging. But not bulky! Or weighty. Or overly dangly, or cluttered. As much choice as there was out there for stitch markers, store-bought and handmade, none were quite what I had in mind. 

Then two things happened, in close succession: Fist, I fell in love with Bohemian glass beads. After using some as buttons on a cardigan last year, I pretty much wanted Bohemian-glass everything (see them also on my first tweed jacket attempt). The tiny beads are smooth and warm to the touch; they are intricately formed, and the colours are simply gorgeous. It occurred to me they could make ideal stitch markers. I even contemplated making some myself. Luckily, instead I met a fabulous jewelry maker - Suzie, of What Suzie Made Next - who is also a fledgling knitter. I shared my stitch marker dreams with her, and she was game to turn them into reality. 

Our first course of action was to experiment with hardware. My main criterion was, that the markers be removable. However, I did not like the idea of clasps or closures. There is an awkwardness to them, as well as the potential to catch. An evening of knitting with some prototypes confirmed this.

It also confirmed that I did not want anything long or dangly. One bead felt just right sliding between my fingers and resting against the yarn. Multiple beads felt distracting and draggy, and introduced additional potential for catching. 

We then experimented with several single-bead, removable, clasp-free designs, which all worked fairly well - but some better than others. On the finalised design, we got the balance just right, and ensured that yarn doesn't catch on any part of the hardware. 

We also tried beads with different weights and shapes. And I kept coming back to the same two: a smaller bell-flower bead seemed to work best with finer yarns, and a larger flat flower bead with bulkier yarns. 

So in the end, I will probably offer two styles of stitch markers. I have now finalised their hardware designs and have almost finalised the bead choice. Been knitting with the prototypes for a couple of days and I'm in heaven. The weight, the feel are just right. And they are ever so beautiful. 

Of course stitch marker preferences are such a personal thing. These will not be for everyone. But hopefully the small batch coming soon to the shop will make some folks as happy as these have made me. 

If you fancy a pre-order, drop me a line. Otherwise stay tuned and I hope to have these up in a couple of weeks. 

 

Mixing Gray

LBHandknits

One of the things that most attracts me to Donegal Tweed yarn, is the way its colourful flecks add depth and interest to the main colour.  The flecks, small and whimsically strewn, are mesmerising to look at and can completely transform the overall look of the colour you think you have. A seemingly dull sage green comes alive with bursts of turquoise and pink. A shocking coral-red is tamed with splatters of green and lilac. 

Now, what about gray? 

When I was first choosing a gray from my supplier, this task took me over an hour. The mills in Killcar have what must be close to a dozen stock 'grays'. Warm grays and cool grays, light grays and dark grays. Grays that resemble charcoal and grays that resemble slate.

Finally, I selected a medium heathery gray. Studied up close, this particular yarn positively explodes with brightly coloured flecks, yet from a distance it takes on a surprisingly neutral appearance.

It seemed an ideal choice for people who love colour, but do not like dressing colorfully, if that makes sense. 

I have tried other grays in Donegal tweed over the past two years, but this one remains my favourite. It is also the colour that gets requested the most when I get custom orders. 

Sometimes, when I send a customer photos of the finished knit in this yarn, I almost worry they will find it too colourful - so I include a note to explain that the flecks are not noticeable from a distance. If anything, this particular gray looks nearly too neutral from afar. 

And, examining my latest knit in this yarn, I finally realised why that is. 

While the flecks here come in several colours - including light blue, white, and yellow - the dominant colours are olive and pink. And of course when mixed, olive and pink- like green and red - make gray! It makes perfect sense that this colourful yarn looks so utterly neutral from a distance. The eye blends the complementary flecks together.

It's a neat effect. And it allows for an almost painterly appreciation of colour. One of the joys of Donegal Tweed. 

EZ Wishbone Sweater, Upturned

LBHandknits

One of the things I made over this past winter, was this iconic wishbone sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman's The Knitter's Almanac. Alternately called the 'December Sweater', and the 'Hurry Up! Last Minute Sweater,' this popular design knits up quickly and easily in a chunky wool and makes for a fun, satisfying project. Having long admired the unique look of this sweater's wishbone construction, I finally decided to knit one of my own. Only... instead of following dear Ms. Zimmermann's instructions, I did something completely different. Can you tell what it is? 

One more hint in this photo! Can you see what's happening here?

ez3.jpg

Okay. So as fans of Elizabeth Zimmermann know, most of her designs - including this one - call for knitting seamlessly, in the round, from the bottom up. With this method, you first knit the sweater body as a tube, up to the sleeves, then each sleeve separately, and finally, you connect the 3 pieces and decrease up the yoke.

My preferred method of seamless construction, however, is to knit top-down: To start at the neck, increase as I work my way down the yoke, leave the sleeve stitches on scrap yarn, continue down the body all the way to the hem, then finish by picking up the sleeve stitches and knitting each of those.

As you have probably noticed by now, I knit the wishbone sweater using this latter method. As with most of my knits, I did it initially without thinking. It was really just an impulse. As I much prefer to knit top-down than bottom-up, I thought "why not!", made myself a strong cup of tea, and cast on. 

{playing with a contrasting edge here, but when I tried the sweater on it didn't look right}

{playing with a contrasting edge here, but when I tried the sweater on it didn't look right}

To begin with, I estimated how many stitches I'd need for the neck, then simply reversed EZ's yoke-making instructions - increasing both at the 'wishbone' bits in the center of the front and back, and additionally at the tops of the shoulders, in place of where she indicates to decrease. The result, as you can see, looks identical, even though it was arrived at in the exact opposite manner from the original instructions.

Naturally, I did not write any of this down. I did not see a point, as I wouldn't be making this sweater again. But after I posted a snapshot of my work-in-progress on instagram, a few people emailed me to ask whether I could make this available as a pattern. Turns out I am not the only EZ fan who prefers top-down knitting!

So I had a think, retraced my steps, and wrote everything down. In the process I also realised that I made one other modification to the original Knitter's Almanac instructions: In the original, the author warns that the wishbone design only works with chunky wool. She has tried to vary the gauge, she writes, but ended up unraveling every time. As you've probably noticed in my pictures, I did not use chunky wool for my sweater (the yarn here is a Kerry aran, knitted on size 4 needles), yet it worked out perfectly fine. I did not realise this until I went back to write down my steps, but it seems that I unthinkingly made some modifications to make this possible. While I still remembered what they were, I made a note of them. 

It was only at this stage that I paused to think: "So I've written down the pattern. Now what?" Because suddenly it dawned on me, that I would probably need permission to share it. After all, the original design is copyrighted as part of The Knitter's Almanac. And an extensive online search makes it clear that knitters have been very careful not to share it - or any patterns derived from it - illegally, out of respect for the late author. I was not about to break that tradition. 

So I emailed Schoolhouse Press (which was founded by Elizabeth Zimmermann and today is run by her daughter and grandson). To my delight, I received a friendly reply. But unfortunately, the rights to The Knitter's Almanac and all its contents are not with them but with a certain Big Publisher. I would need to get in touch with that publisher directly.

And this I did. Or at least, I tried. I won't go into the details for fear of putting you to sleep. But long story short, it has been over a month now and I have not received a clear reply from the Big Publisher. And until I do, I'm afraid I cannot (and the Schoolhouse Press confirms this) legally share my pattern.

It's a ludicrous situation, but there it is! It would be one thing if my method involved a mod to the original instructions. In that case I could write, follow the pattern in The Knitter's Almanac, except do the following differently. This way, the reader would still need to own the original pattern to end up with the sweater. However, as my pattern essentially involves a complete rewrite and reversal (conversal?) of the original, there is no way to publish the modifications in isolation.

But in any case! This is all my longwinded way of saying that:

1. I have figured out how to knit  Elizabeth Zimmermann's wishbone/ December/ Hurry Up! Last Minute sweater, top-down. And that

2. Unfortunately I cannot at this time share my pattern. 

I do hope the situation changes in future, and I will keep you updated on how this story turns out. I will also write a separate post showing the finished sweater (which ended up looking a little differently than what you see here) and talking a little bit about this nice Kerry wool. Stay tuned. 

And if anybody else out there has attempted to 'upturn' this sweater (surely I can't be the only one?), I would love to see your results.