Christmas Traditions

I’ve been spending time on Spoonflower lately, looking at all the amazing fabrics, and also uploading a few designs of my own to use. You can print your own fabrics here, which is exciting and if you aren’t careful you can spend a truckload of money very quickly. They also have a lot of tutorials, which I was browsing one day and saw one about making your own tea towels with your own family recipes printed on them. What a great idea! I wanted to make one with one of my Grandma’s recipes on it. She was a great writer-downer of recipes.

When I was growing up, my most exciting Christmas tradition was helping my grandma make Christmas candy. She had a set of recipes that she used every year, rarely, if ever, deviating from her tried and true candies. The hardest one to make, the one that sometimes had to be thrown out because it failed, was divinity. It wasn’t one of my favorites since it didn’t have any chocolate in it. And it wasn’t one that my sister and I were allowed to help with. Too tricky. But if you look at the recipe it seems so easy, so innocuous.

When I was visiting my mom in September I looked through a big box of Grandma’s recipes, trying to find the candy recipes. Not in the box. My sister had the divinity recipe card, which she had laminated (seemed like a good idea at the time) and I asked her to scan it and send to me. I got this…

And cleaned it up in Photoshop to this….

I then uploaded it to Spoonflower and ordered 1 meter (1 yard) of Linen Cotton Canvas fabric, which had 4 recipes printed on it. Here is a link to my recipe fabric on Spoonflower.

You can see where the printing ends and the background fabric is, and I cut along those lines. And also in between each recipe print. I ended up with 4 pieces ready to have the edges finished.

When I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago I looked in a fabric shop for some nice Christmasy fabric to make a border but I didn’t find anything at all. So back to Spoonflower I went. And besides I could order border fabric in the same Linen Cotton fabric. I found this holly berry fabric and candy cane fabric. The candy cane fabric brought back another Christmas tradition memory. My grandparents always had a silver artificial Christmas tree and an electric color wheel that turned and sent colored light onto the tree. They had blue balls of different sizes hung on the tree. And lastly, big red and white candy canes, one for each of the grandkids, hung on the tree. On Christmas Eve we could take down our candy canes and eat them – or start to eat them because they were big and would last a long time. So candy canes for the border of this tea towel would be perfect.

hanging loops, ready to use

I had ordered just a fat quarter of the holly berry fabric, so I cut that into strips and made hanging loops with it. I then cut out strips of candy cane fabric, 6 canes wide, and did my best to sew on a border strip. I sewed each edge separately. Hmmm. Not very beautiful. I went to the internet and looked up how to sew on a border and saw how quilters do it. Much better. So I gave that a try. Better, but still not great.

top one is the first try, bottom one, second try

I did make my border strips like quilters do, by making a diagonal seam to make long strips.

You can see in the above photos that I had moved on to EIGHT candy canes wide. I thought this would be prettier and also easier to manipulate. Sometimes more is more.

On the third try I did pretty well.

However, you can see that I sewed on the hanging loop onto the back which looks bad. I removed this loop and sewed it onto the border. Also ugly. Why not sew that into the border seam? Which is what I did on try number FOUR.

Here is a photo of turning the corner, something I got pretty good at after so many corners.

Here they are, stacked up, from 1st try to last final version that I’m happy with.

The final version, front and back. I didn’t bother to leave any of the border on the back side. All of that candy cane goodness should be on the front where you can see it. And, besides, this is just how I sewed it and I wasn’t going to try yet another method!

I want to give one of these to my mom, my sister, my aunts and cousins. Maybe they will use them as tea towels, maybe they will hang them up as decoration. They can decide. All of them will immediately recognize the handwriting and the recipe. And the candy cane reference. Good thing I bought enough fabric. Only 12 more to make!

ready to iron the rest….

Canal Poncho in Amsterdam

At Stephen & Penelope in Amsterdam, standing in front of the Corrie Worsted wall

This past Sunday I finished my Canal Poncho and today I visited Nancy in Amsterdam and we took some photos. I really (not just saying it) love this poncho. The design is so unique and clever and the yarn is wonderful to knit with and is very warm and cozy. And just look at these colors! Nancy and I have really different color palettes for our ponchos and they both look great (if I do say so myself).

I talked about this poncho in a previous post and I gave some tips about knitting it. I have some tips about finishing it too.

When I started this poncho I wound up my bobbins with 6 arm lengths of yarn on each bobbin. I had no idea how far that would get me. Nancy had said that 3 arm lengths would be good to start with but you might run out and have to start another length of yarn before you get to the end. Three arm lengths would be the MAX I would recommend if you are NOT using bobbins because otherwise you’ll end up with a very tangled mess after every 2 rows. I had big enough bobbins that I could easily fit more yarn so I went for longer lengths hoping that I would have enough to get through the entire piece with just that. And I did! I had about 6″ (15cm) of dark blue and orange left at the end of the longest cables – just enough! My advice is to wind as much as you can on the bobbins and then you only have to deal with 2 ends – beginning and end – per color.

I think it is just as important to have beautiful insides of garments as well as outsides, so in full disclosure style, here is the inside of my poncho. You can see, at the very beginning of the cable section, a little “oops” bit of orange yarn carried over. By the time I saw that mistake I was so far along that I couldn’t bring myself to rip back and fix it. So I sewed it down a little while at the same time weaving in the beginning of the orange yarn tail and left it there. It is a testament to being human after all. And then I paid really close attention after every row to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake in where I left the yarns. There were 2 more times when I saw that I had laid them incorrectly. To fix that I unwound my bobbin, pulled the yarn out from where it was and stuck it back in where it should be. One time I had to drop the cable stitches, tink those back 2 rows, fix the yarn end, and knit the cable back up. It’s hard to explain in text but if you’re knitting this pattern you’ll know what I mean. It was frustrating and took time to fix but looking at the clean inside of this garment is very satisfying. Well worth the effort.

I steam blocked the poncho pieces before sewing them together. I found that my knitting was a little skewed and the pieces were not straight rectangles but some steaming took care of that quickly and easily. Steaming also relaxed the stitches so that the cable stitches look neater and more even.

When I had finished the knitting, and had sewn the shoulder seams, I left all the ends of yarn hanging. I picked up the stitches around the neck and knit the neckband. THEN I wove in the ends of yarn from the cable section, weaving them into the seam of picked up stitches from the neckband. In this way you have no bulk from weaving ends into the front poncho knitting. After all the ends were woven in I sewed down the neck band loosely on the inside. It makes for a very neat edge.

I also steamed the neckband when all was done. I held my super steam iron above the knitting, hit it with blasts of steam, and then just patted it down a little with my hand.

This poncho took me 2 1/2 months from start to finish, but of course it wasn’t my only project and I was also traveling during that time. It is a project that takes dedication in attention, time and space. I worked on the front piece upstairs on my craft work table where it stayed put. Moving all those bobbins and cakes of yarn around was just not a reasonable thing to do and working on it on a table is by far the easiest way to go. I’m lucky to have a dedicated space for that. I also had a schedule – at least 4 rows and preferably 6, per day. That kept it enjoyable and kept me on track to finish before the book is available.

You can find this pattern, and more beautiful garments using La Bien Aimée Corrie Worsted, in the book “Worsted”, available on her website here. The Canal Poncho can be seen also on Ravelry here. My project page is here.

Top Down in the Round

This past June I spun this yarn from BFL (Blue Faced Leicester) fiber that I had dyed myself. I had a couple of braids of bright fuchsia and a few different reds. I split them apart and randomly spun the colors together and then 3-plied the singles. The last little bit of red on the right was left over on a bobbin that I chain plied. I had been wanting to spin this for a long time and since I wasn’t knitting very much (bad shoulder, remember?) I had time to spin. It ended up being somewhere between DK and Sport weight, 438 grams.

I decided to knit a plain sweater with this yarn, without any fancy stitches because the yarn is bright enough and I wanted the yarn to be the star of the show. I am still hoping that I have enough! But what type of construction should it be?

I looked through Ravelry. I looked through my knitting library of books. In an effort to keep things simple, I decided on top down, in the round, raglan. Raglan sweaters fit me fine and it’s easy TV knitting to make increases in specific places every other round. BUT, which pattern to choose?

I really don’t like (“don’t like” is a polite way to say that I really hate) rectangular necklines and wide boat necks. Why are all the most popular designers creating these necklines, that don’t fit necks? I suspect because it’s easy to design this way. Fewer calculations. Easier directions. But not a great fit. I looked around until I fount this pattern – #265 Neck Down Mid Weight Pullover on the web site “Knitting Pure and Simple” and that is a very apt description. So many basic patterns that do just what you want them to do – fit and flatter. You can also find the pattern and more info on Ravelry here. And my sweater on Ravelry is here. What I especially like about this pattern is that the neckline is cast on for the back and shoulders and knit back and forth, increasing for raglan shaping, and after about an inch you begin shaping the front neck, eventually casting on for the lower front neckline and begin knitting in the round. Great neckline shaping without short rows. After you knit the sweater you go back and pick up stitches for the ribbing around the neck, which also adds some stability and strength to the neck (as opposed to starting with the ribbing and just knitting down from there).

Now, lots of people believe that the incredible life changing benefit of top down sweaters is that you can try them on for size as you knit – as if you CAN’T do that with bottom up, which as you can tell from my tone of voice, I think is nonsense. You can certainly try on a bottom up sweater just as well. In my mind the advantage of top down is that if you aren’t sure if you have enough yarn to make a sweater you can decide as you go along to shorten the length of the body or sleeves or both in order to have a finished garment with the amount of yarn you have. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t see what the big advantage is. One DISadvantage to knitting top down is that you are swinging around a lot of sweater when knitting the sleeves, which is kind of annoying.

Anyway, I had made my decision so off I went. My gauge was a little bit off, so I am knitting the 3rd size (42″) to end up with a 38″ sweater, on size 5 US (3.75mm) needles.

I got to the part of the instructions where you should slip the sleeve stitches to waste yarn while you continue knitting the body in the round. Here is where you really REALLY need to check the size to be sure you should do this step, or knit further to make it bigger, or rip back to make it smaller. So I tried it on.

Well, unless you have someone to help you by holding the knitting down, making sure it’s laying on your body right, etc., I don’t see where this helps a lot. Sure, it fits around my body, but is this the correct length to take the next step? Beats me. So I decided the better check would be to compare it with sweaters that fit me well.

First I compared it to this fingering weight top down circular yoke sweater.

At first glance my knitting looked a little short compared with this sweater. The fit should be pretty much the same.

But after laying it out more carefully, matching the top of the shoulders, the points of sleeve hold were the same. So far so good! Let’s compare another sweater.

This is a DK weight sweater with a rather rectangular neckline, that I’m not so fond of, and you can see how the shoulders slope dramatically down. The sweater actually doesn’t fit all that great, but it’s cozy and I do wear it a lot.

Compared to this sweater the point of separation is a little short, but honestly, this blue sweater is long in the armpits so I’m happy that the new red sweater is not as long.

In summary, I think it is more useful to compare your knitting with a sweater, or sweatshirt, that fits you well to see if you are on the right track with sizing.

Yesterday I put my sleeves on hold and started knitting down the body in the round. I’m thinking that I might put this on hold after an inch or two and knit the sleeves. At least I won’t have all the body weighing me down when I’m knitting the sleeves in the round. Here is my progress so far, pinned down on my ironing board. The color is pretty accurate. This is such easy knitting that I expect to be finished well before Christmas. It looks like a PRETTY Christmas sweater to me!

Tender Ears Hat

Side One

A few weeks ago I talked about this hat and yesterday I finished it. Just in time for cold hard winds. I have very tender ears! Cold wind against and blowing into my ears really hurts and can easily lead to a headache, so I wanted a hat that would block out the wind. I think I have finally made one.

This hat is knit double – and I’m sorry to say that I was so quick to finish it that I didn’t get a photo of it all stretched out before I doubled it (slipped one end inside the other) and tacked the crowns together at the top. Whenever I finish something by pulling a few stitches together at the end I have to think of my friend Andy who hates a “cat butt” finish. Me too. So I made a little flower.

The pattern is Musselburgh by Ysolda Teague. The multicolored speckle yarn is Merino 17 Light in color “Cake” by Western Sky Knits. The “17” means that each fiber is 17 microns in diameter, which is very VERY small and so incredibly soft. I could happily wear this type of Merino next to my skin all day long. I had to add in some yarn I had in stash for the second side because I was running out. The pink stripes are Madelinetosh Tosh Sock.

Side Two

The pattern gives you a lot of gauge options for knitting the hat, from 4.5 to 7 stitches per inch. I wanted something knit very tightly so I went down to 8.5 stitches per inch on size 2.5mm needles. I had to estimate how many stitches I would need to fit my head. I have to say, I got it just right! I ended up with 38 total stitches in each of the 4 sections. The final hat measures 20″ in diameter and 10.5″ from crown to bottom edge.

By the time you double the knitted fabric, and double it AGAIN by folding up the brim, I’ve got 4 layers of tightly knit fabric against my tender ears. I wore it last night when we walked to the movie theater, in North Sea coastal wind, and felt warm and cozy in my new hat. I’m now ready for winter, which we all know is coming.