Saturday, March 21, 2009

George's Sweater

I've talked a bit about George's sweater. I've been working on it for some time, although, in fairness, I have not concentrated all my efforts on it while also knitting a couple of wraps, my smokering and a pair of socks, and attending Madrona. Last year I was on a frantic search for the vintage Rowan DK Marl yarn in the Buttercream colorway to knit Rebecca's Sock Monkey Sweater for myself. When I found my yarn, the same seller had 15 skeins of the Fudge colorway, so I bought it to knit a sweater for George. I didn't realize his would come before mine...

Knowing I would be using Karen Alfke's Unpattern with raglan sleeves, I measured George's favorite Pendleton sweater as the example, and measured some parts of him because of the sweater's extra long arms and body length (he buys XL in order to fit body builder shoulders and arms). My swatch provided the gauge for back and forth knitting on US5 down to the front center until I switched to knitting in the round, then the sweater became a swatch (in other words, a period of knitting and re-knitting) until I identified that I had to go up two needle sizes to US7 in order to have the same gauge.

The neckline was the big unknown because he doesn't like his neck to feel confined in any way. I had always planned a shawl collar of some sort, and wasn't clear in my mind about the look I wanted. I was absolutely clear that I didn't want the standard pick up around the neck and knit out with a rib stitch. I didn't want that horizontal look for this sweater. (George said he didn't care, he just wanted it finished.)

I considered a shawl collar squared like a wide henley in the center front, or in a V, then ultimately decided on a combination with a 16 stitch bridge across the bottom of the V. That enabled me to finish the body of the sweater and think about the collar later. I looked at books, patterns, photos, and finally saw what I wanted in my own wardrobe - a sweatshirt from Target had the collar idea I was after! I also saw the look I wanted in several of Elsebeth Lavold's designs at the Nordic Heritage Museum, and as luck would have it, in a book I have of her designs. Next was how to do it. I enlisted guidance from skilled friends; showing them my dilemma and hearing something about short rows.

I was focused on wanting to pick up the neckline as I knit the collar, and hadn't really taken the issue of fullness around the neck into account. I finally picked up the first 16 stitches and began to knit. I tried a couple of different stitches and settled quickly on the 2x2 rib to echo the purl darts at the bottom edge. Picking up the neckline 1 for 1 gave the look I wanted but was v-e-r-y s-l-o-w and tedious, so I decided to pick up the 16 stitches then knit the entire collar separately to sew in afterwards. Experiments (I knit and tore out the collar beginning at least a dozen times) with how often to increase led me to settle on 1 stitch every other row, a make-one two stitches in from the neckline. After having an "aha" moment of realization about how shortrows could be used (I, and everyone who talked with me about them, didn't realize how vague my understanding of shortrows was), then getting a look at a diagram of how to plan shortrow fullness in Principles of Knitting, I finally used some graph paper and inserted a long and short shortrow every 8 rows. I like the finished collar even better than I had planned, and George is thrilled.

Although I still have the finishing to do: the final 12 inches of collar to knit, sewing it in, the grafting to do in the center back, and the blocking, I'm already mentally reviewing the entire project. My afterthoughts on this sweater are that I clearly have some design impulses, and my inclination is not to draw things out. I balk at documenting the steps I've taken with this sweater, yet this is a collar design I believe I will want to use again. Since my memory can be limited about some things, it's worth changing my habits. The good news is that I have not settled for less, and have stubbornly waited (trying George's patience terribly) until the look and construction are what I envisioned. Especially good is that I have the resources, not only in print, but in talented, creative and exacting friends who are patient enough to nudge me through new-to-me steps of the design process.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Last month was the second time I attended the Madrona Fiber fest - on the 10th anniversary of the event - and I'm still enjoying the aftereffects of new confidence and inspiration. Hearing Suzanne and Cornie reminisce and get misty about the early days was a treat and I felt somehow included by hearing the stories, even though I missed the first eight years when I wasn't knitting much. I can imagine the struggle to keep the size of the retreat manageable even while they strive to include as many knitters as want to be there, and am thankful that it is such an accessible feast of talent, fiber, meeting places, and old and new friends. I know I'm lucky to have been there!

There are several keys to the maximum enjoyment for me, the first, being able to spend as much time as possible with my knitting circle of friends, second, taking the entire weekend, from Wednesday evening to Sunday to bask in every aspect of knitting, and third to just be with so many intrepid souls who take the time and put in the effort to learn and try new things in the fiber world.

Naomi thought to ask for the two rooms with seven people (Naomi, Ellen, Jen and Amy with Melinda, Joni O and me next door) to adjoin, so the knitting energy filled the air even after classes, shopping and the evening events. We ate some wonderful food and the restaurants welcomed the knitters. It was fun to see spinning wheels, knitting bags and market purchases going up and down the elevators. Here are Naomi and Amy, sort of letting me photograph them knitting, and Jen in her own cardigan design knit with Kauni yarn.

My favorite elevator moment was when I was in an elevator with Vivian Hoxbro and another woman entered and said to Vivian "Oh, is that a Vivian Hoxbro sweater?" Vivian graciously answered that it was and the woman suddenly looked at her face and said "Of course it is - I didn't even see who you were because I was looking at the wonderful sweater!" And we all had a laugh because that's how it is! Many of us were looking at the sweaters before seeing the wearer. And what sweaters there were! I don't know every design (yet!), but admired many February Lady sweaters in all variations of detail and yarns, Kaunis, several of the Solveig Wild Apples and all manner of socks, shawls, scarves, bags... well, you get the idea.
Once again, sitting outside the Marketplace to knit brought opportunities to talk with folks. Rebecca came down on Saturday with her spinning wheel, and two Village Build Your Skills class members (Charlie and Randi) stopped in to shop. I went to Janine's Fair Isle reunion and was inspired by ideas and swatches from more of her color analysis students to start another stranded project. Naomi helped me get started on the lace border of a smokering knit from the beautiful qiviut-merino yarn she gifted me - I didn't really talk much while I concentrated on the lace pattern.

I was fortunate to take Borders and Buttonholes from Sally Melville, Express Knitting from Stephanie McPhee, and Mittens from Ruth Sorenson. As with last year, while I didn't apply the knowledge immediately, I have now had occasion to apply ideas and techniques to what I'm working on. Rebecca took me to talk with Karen Alfke and ultimately show her the progress on the Un-pattern top-down sweater I'm knitting for George, and to discuss my challenge with the type of shawl collar I want to design. She graciously offered to assist, and I felt the delicious generosity of being around knitters.

And, speaking of Ruth, I was thrilled to host her last night in the US on this trip when she had an overnight layover from New Mexico before returning to Denmark. We watched Mama Mia! while knitting, then saw the Elsebeth Lavold exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum and stopped at Uwajimaya before heading out to the airport. She's a joy to spend time with - I loved hearing her speak Danish to Maverick, and he understood every word!

Although I really don't want to rush winter on this first day of spring, next year's Madrona Fiber Fest can't arrive soon enough!