Everything Gold Must Stay

When lockdown started, it was still cool enough to wear sweaters. I alternated between wearing my tartan pajama pants with a fitted v-neck sweater and wearing leggings with a tunic. A frequent entry in my work-from-home loungewear rotation was a store-bought oversized sweater in pine green with a statement cable down the front; double moss stitch on the sides, back, and three-quarter sleeves; and a deep cowl neck. If it has any faults, it’s that it’s a loosely knit cotton with wrist-baring sleeves, so it’s not suited to particularly chilly days. I wanted a sweater with a similarly relaxed fit, but in wool with full-length sleeves.

Initially I was drawn to the idea of a sweatshirt sweater, and I even downloaded, swatched for, and started knitting Alicia Plummer’s Ease. After several attempts to achieve gauge—super important on a top-down raglan in the round—I prevailed and went on to knit most of the body before trying it on and HATING the way it looked on me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the pattern,  nor can I say with certainty that it’s a bad silhouette for my personal fit preferences. I suspect the Malabrigo Rios wasn’t the ideal yarn choice: the 100% wool worsted yarn is a little too thick and a little too structured for the relaxed but not frumpy look I was going for, and it managed to skim too closely in front while bagging out too much in the back. To the frog pond it went.

For my second attempt, I turned to CustomFit, specifically the Catboat design. This was my first time picking a drop-shoulder instead of a set-in sleeve, and I agonized about getting the body and sleeve widths correct. After comparing the measurements on my only two drop-shoulder sweaters, I settled on an average (rather than relaxed) fit, a sleeve cast on of 8 inches, and a bicep width of 13.25 inches.

The central cable panel was borrowed from the #02 Cable-Panel Turtleneck design in Knit Simple Magazine’s Winter 2012/13 issue. Thanks go to my sister for giving me the magazine as a gift several years ago; I’m glad I could finally put it to good use!

I opted to add a purl row between the ribbing and the stockinette on the body and sleeves. This same detail shows up on my inspiration sweater, and I like how it define the separate sections, particularly since the cables don’t flow neatly out of the ribbing.

Overall I’m very happy with the fit of the sleeves, but I do wish the body had turned out longer, and I can’t help but feel like the back is a wee bit baggier than it really needs to be. I still don’t feel like I’ve exactly nailed my preferred fit with CustomFit, but I do feel like I’m getting closer each time, and in this case the length issue comes down to how the swatch was blocked (aggressively) versus how the sweater was blocked (much more gently).

I’m also on the fence about the neck. To be clear, I like a deep, snuggly cowl, but I’m annoyed that the instructions result in one that doesn’t fold at least in half. Despite multiple attempts, my picked up edge at the neckline isn’t as tidy as I’d like, and I’d prefer if the cowl gracefully concealed these sins. I have enough yarn leftover that I could un-pick the whole thing and try again, but I’m not sure I have it in me.

That said, this sweater is wonderfully warm and cozy—so much so that by the time I finished it I only got to wear it twice before it was too toasty for comfort. These photos were taken early in the morning in June, and it was a mad dash to snap as many as we could before my face melted off. It’s no secret that I hate summer and love autumn, and I’m already counting down to cooler weather.

P.S. I thought I’d try dressing like a crayon for this shoot. The look didn’t turn out half as chic as I’d imagined. Oh well.

 

A Trip to London, and Souvenir Knitting

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary. We aren’t able to travel anywhere or do any of things we’d normally choose to celebrate, like checking out a new coffee shop or visiting an old house, so I’ve been thinking back on our trip to London last year. It was our first overseas trip together, and one we’d been looking forward to taking for several years.

We stayed at The Blackbird in Earl’s Court, an ale-and-pie house and boutique hotel run by a 175-year-old pub company. The room was gorgeous and comfortable, the staff was wonderfully accommodating of our need to stash our luggage before check-in, and our stay included a full English breakfast each morning.

The view from our window

The Blackbird is also a short walk to the Earl’s Court tube station, and a longer but no less pleasant walk to Shaukat, famed home of affordable Liberty London prints. I treated myself to two three-meter cuts of Tana lawn in coordinating colorways to make matching button-up shirts for me and Justin. I’m waiting for cooler weather to embark on the process of fitting shirts before I cut into this precious meterage.

As enthusiastic museum-goers, we were spoilt for choice, but I ruled that the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum were our must-sees for this visit. I’d had my heart set on seeing the Elgin Marbles since I’d first read Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and I was not disappointed—in fact, I was not at all prepared for the scale of the stonework, despite knowing full well these carvings adorned the pediments and other high places of the Parthenon and were intended to be seen from dozens of feet away at minimum.

I acknowledge that my ability to witness and enjoy the (more aptly named) Parthenon Marbles with relative ease, in an English-speaking country with customs and cultural expectations not dissimilar from my own, is a privilege predicated on an unresolved, and to a certain degree unacknowledged, crime. I wholeheartedly believe the Marbles are the rightful legal, historical, and cultural property of Greece and its people, and that they should be returned to Greece to be reunited with the remaining marbles.

I admit that my discomfort about the British Museum’s continued possession of the Marbles was outweighed by my desire to experience art of exceptional significance, to stand where Keats once stood and to maybe feel what he felt looking at them. Seeing the Marbles has reinforced for me in a more tangible way that they ought to be returned, and I can at least say that we opted not to financially support the British Museum while we visited. Was I wrong? Perhaps. I can only say that I’m trying my best, and I hope one day to view the Marbles again when they’ve been restored to their rightful home.

Right, enough of that—on to less weighty things!

We splurged on two stage shows while we were there: Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre…

…and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from the latter show, and I can’t tell you how much I wish I did, because it was wild. The aesthetic was a mash-up of Mexican-inspired pinatas and early 90s neon streetwear. The cast was visibly diverse, the pop culture asides were hilarious, and my new favorite stage gag of all time is watching a man throw down an inflatable mattress as a form of protest, and then later looking on as a woman who feels spurned by him kicks open the pressure valve, causing him to sink to the floor as the mattress slowly, sadly deflates. Pure gold.

Other highlights for us included:

Taking in the view from the London Eye

Walking through Westminster Abbey (though we could only snap photos of the exterior) and pausing at the memorial stones of C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, the Brontë sisters, Lord Tennyson, and my beloved Romantic poets Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Clare, among many others.

Touring the Tower of London and traversing Tower Bridge

Stopping outside St. Paul’s Cathedral to honor another of my favorite poets, John Donne

Spending several hours at Strawberry Hill House, home of Horace Walpole, the father of Gothic literature and arguably the first person to use Gothic architectural elements in a private dwelling (in a manner later dubbed neo-Gothic)

I could probably devote another entire post to the all of the excellent food we ate during our five-day trip, but I’ve indulged in enough non-craft content already. Instead, let’s chat about a little hobby tourism!

In addition to Shaukat, we visited Liberty London, which I was surprised and delighted to find is also a Rowan Yarns flagship store. I ended up passing on both fabric yardage and yarn there, but did pick up a fine cotton floral bandana/handkerchief.

But for a proper fabric and yarn crawl—planned using these handy maps from The Fold Line—we headed out to Islington. We slipped into Sew Over It shortly before they closed, securing a couple of their house patterns, a peachy dotted chiffon for a future blouse, a mug, and some chocolate bars. Then we went to Ray Stitch, where I dithered over fabric, talked myself out of buying more patterns, and settled on a tiny cache of buttons and enamel pins.

Our last stop was Loop, and we were warned when we came in the door that they were also closing soon. I had just enough time to do a lap of their first and second floors before the lovely, long-suffering shop folk put the screws to me to make a decision. I hadn’t come with a particular plan in mind, but I was determined to leave with something of uniquely U.K. provenance.

After scanning a few labels and hefting a few yarns, I chose this teal-y blue Hayton 4ply from Eden Cottage Yarns. It’s a merino cashmere nylon blend with a semi-solid appearance, slightly fuzzy halo, and next-to-skin softness.

It turned out to be an excellent match for the Luna Viridis pattern from Hilary Smith Callis. I’d previously purchased the pattern to use up a skein of Cascade Heritage Silk reclaimed from a failed scarf, but the smooth, solid-colored yarn didn’t wow me. The Hayton, however, is just right.

If I needed further proof that it was a perfect match, the pattern is named for the moon, and the yarn’s colorway is “Tide.”

I made one deliberate change to the pattern, lengthening it to use all but a few yards of the yarn, and one accidental change, which was to misread which motif was supposed to be used as a spacer between larger pattern sections. If you’re curious, you can read more about that in my notes on Ravelry.

After my experience knitting Magical Realism, I was dubious of another in-the-round circular shawl construction. But this one begins like a triangular shawl before being joined in the round, and I found it a pleasure to knit. In fact, I think I might like to make more like this one, since I enjoy one-skein projects but don’t love having to fuss with loose ends that come free. (In my experience, not all bandana-style scarves come unwrapped, but if they come undone once, they’ll keep coming undone every 15 minutes for the rest of the day.)

Indulging in hobby tourism is one of the things I love about traveling with Justin, although I’m ashamed to admit I have souvenir skeins from earlier trips that are languishing in my stash, waiting for the right project. I suppose if I can’t visit any new yarn stores, I might just have to “revisit” yarn stores of days past via those patient skeins.

This Post Is Not About A Hat

In January, Justin and I booked a beach house with several other couples to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and the start of a new year. It was the first time we’d taken a vacation with anyone besides each other or our families, and it was quite unlike any trip we’d taken before. Rather than scheduling out the five-day weekend, the guest of honor outlined a few activities that were important to him, and then left the rest of the time open for us to do as we pleased.

As a rather creative bunch with a tendency toward introversion, it was the perfect opportunity to read, draw, and knit, surrounded by kindred spirits, but without an obligation to be social, to be on the entire time. If you wanted to reflect and set intentions for the upcoming year, you took your journal out on one of the balconies to write in peace. If you opened up a laptop to watch a comedy special, you might be joined by others who were interested, but you didn’t worry if someone had wandered out for a walk, or was still sleeping in. We cooked for each other, we cleaned up together, we drifted in and out of each other’s orbits as our individual energy levels—our needs for various sorts of companionship—waxed and waned.

It put me in mind of the artists of the past who would spend a month at the seaside, or holed up in a little cottage in woods, puttering away at their art and taking walks and having time every afternoon to read and drink tea. When I’m feeling discouraged about my job or have a project I can’t find the time to get properly stuck into, I envy the freedom they had to structure their lives around making and doing things, to simply pack up and go somewhere else to live their lives for a while.

For my part, I brought more to do than I could have possibly accomplished if I’d spent five days alone doing nothing but my own hand-picked activities. I packed several skeins of yarn and all of my circular needles in case inspiration struck, but as it happened there was only one project I really wanted to work on: this hat.

The pattern is Tin Can Knits’ Apple Pie, and the yarn is more Malabrigo Rios in Natural, because I enjoyed using it on my mom’s hat so much that I wanted some for myself. Whereas the original hat pattern conjures the image of a pie fresh from the oven, mine is reminiscent of nothing so much as unbaked pie crust.

Knitting this hat might possibly be the first time I’ve twisted my cast-on while setting up knitting in the round. Usually the long-tail method makes it easy to avoid that particular foible, but I suppose I wasn’t giving it as much attention as I could while enjoying the opportunity to sit by the ocean in 70-degree weather in January. After not one but two false starts, I was able to complete the doubled brim portion, which is wonderfully squishy and warm and which will no doubt become a feature of future knit hats for me, before we returned home.

Looking back on that time now, I’m struck by how the less-than-idyllic moments of the trip have not been eclipsed by the current situation of a global pandemic, as one might assume, but instead seem to have foreshadowed it in peculiar ways. For instance, there were moments when we all came together to do something fun that had the effect of being intensely alienating for me. Ostensibly we were creating new memories together, but there were all these existing relationships and shared histories and in-jokes too, and though in theory I was being given access to them through this new experience, since I hadn’t been there from the beginning, I could only sort of understand the depth of the humor and revelry, and I felt I couldn’t fully participate.

These same friends and I are now experiencing a common struggle to find ways to create and socialize while limiting our physical contact. This shared experience, which by rights ought to cause us to cleave closer together, has instead left us all adrift in our own personal bubbles of loneliness and quietude. We keep reaching out, trying to connect and relate in meaningful ways, and yet can’t. It should be easier when we’ve all been served up a portion from the same plate of misery, and yet isn’t.

One of my secret desires during the trip was to have one-on-one time with a few of my friends in an effort to get to understand them on a deeper level. As a group we had several thoughtful, provocative, and at times vulnerable conversations, but I never quite found my opening for those more intimate interactions. There were only a few opportunities, but when they did present themselves, I could never quite step off the ledge. Would I ask something too personal? Would I unwittingly offend? Could we have the deeply personal conversations I craved, or would it just be awkward?

I never did find out, and I don’t know if I will. Between January and the start of lockdown in March, we spent more time together, embarked on an ever-widening array of adventures, but never quite gotten close to that place again. Even when we’ve had one-on-one time, there’s this reticence to be completely open. And the pandemic has made it worse. No one wants to admit how sad, or angry, or demoralized they are, because what would be the point? There’s not much any of us can do beyond what we’re already doing. It would just be empty complaining, right? So I don’t really know how my friend who is a nurse is coping, and whenever I ask how my friend who is (was) single is feeling, they always brush off their own negative feelings by saying they’re trying to keep an optimistic outlook and focus on solo pursuits.

I’m reminded of a passage in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. The protagonist, Shevek, is leaving a regional academic institute to study at a larger, more central one, and his friends throw him a going away party. As the night wears on, only a few people stay up, and they start talking about big ideas, about science and philosophy and “…whether their childhoods had been happy. They talked about what happiness was.” Shevek asserts that suffering is a misunderstanding. That it exists, that it is real, and that we all recognize it when we experience it, but that we misunderstand its purpose. His friends think that pain is merely a warning against physical danger and harm, but serves no psychological or social purpose; Shevek disagrees.

He recounts a time when he witnessed a man who survived an explosion but was horribly burned, burned so badly that he died of his injuries a few hours later. Shevek describes sitting with the man, wanting to provide comfort but having nothing to give—no anesthetic, no doctor, not even touch, which causes the man terrible pain.

“There was no aid to give. Maybe he knew we were there, I don’t know. It didn’t do him any good. You couldn’t do anything for him. Then I saw…you see…I saw that you can’t do anything for anybody. We can’t save each other. Or ourselves.”

“What have you left, then? Isolation and despair! You’re denying brotherhood, Shevek!” the tall girl cried.

“No—no, I’m not. I’m trying to say what I think brotherhood really is. It begins—it begins in shared pain.”

Shevek wonders whether pain is not a thing to fear, but a thing that cannot be entirely avoided, and therefore a thing to get through, to go beyond. He clings to the idea that brotherhood does not exist to alleviate suffering—it can’t—but instead arises out of it.

I think about this passage a lot, particularly when I’m feeling isolated and lonely, when things are especially rough and I worry that I’m not giving my friends what they need or getting what I need in return. We’re all doing our best. Sometimes our best isn’t good enough. But that’s okay. It isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.

Doppelgänger

While I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I had the experience of witnessing a time-worn idiom come to life, when my mom approached me with hat in hand to ask for my knitting expertise. The very literal hat in question was a light grey, slouchy, slightly fuzzy beanie with alternating bands of plain and textured knitting, the crown of which had started to come undone. She had picked up the hat to wear when walking the dog, and she admitted that though it was nothing particularly special, she would nevertheless be sad to lose it to unraveling. She asked if I would be willing to take it home and try to repair it, which I readily agreed to do.

Fortunately for the hat (and my nerves), once I carefully unpicked the tangle of loops at the top of the hat, I discovered the situation was not as dire as I feared. The crown had not been cinched shut with the tail of the working yarn, but had instead been secured with a separate strand of yarn, and it was this strand only that had broken. None of the yarn used in the knitting itself was damaged—no snags or severed plies to fuss with—which meant it was a relatively simple task to latch up the few dropped stitches and then close the top of the hat with a strand of stash yarn in a similar weight and color.

Since I knew I’d see my parents again at Christmastime, I had the hat in my possession for a couple of weeks, during which time it occurred to me that I had the power to do more than simply keep a humble accessory from meeting an untimely demise: I could, in fact, template the cherished item and ensure that it lived on through an infinite number of iterations, should the owner so desire. Or, at the very least, I could create a copy, doubling my mom’s sartorial choices and prolonging the life of the original hat. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a close second behind hat-based immortality.

To make my copy, I started by taking some flat measurements of the height from brim to crown, the height of the ribbing, and the height of a pattern repeat. The stockinette and reverse stockinette portions were easy to identify, but I had a slightly harder time with the other texture, which sort of resembles ribbing if the knits were squatter and more pronounced and there were no purls between them. After some searching and comparison, I came to the conclusion that it was probably fisherman’s rib. Whereas the original hat had been worked flat and then seamed, I think seamless hats are one of the ways handknitting distinguishes itself as superior to machine knitting, so I found instructions for knitting fisherman’s rib in the round and was off.

The yarn is Malabrigo Rios; the colorway is Natural. The recipe for this hat can be found on my Ravelry project page. Contrary to the care note I sent my mom (hi Mom!), it is, in fact, machine washable, so long as it’s placed in a garment bag on a cold, gentle cycle. It still has to be laid flat to dry, but being wool, it doesn’t need to be washed all that often. I enjoyed working with the yarn so much that I used it again for another hat and also a sweater—more on them soon.

I wish I’d had the common sense to take a photo of the original so I could show you both hats side-by-side and you could be impressed by what a good match they are, but I think we all know by now that that kind of forethought isn’t my specialty. Just picture the hat above in light grey and a little fuzzier. Pretty similar, eh?

Magical Realism

On the opposite end of the spectrum from my Pumpkin Pie sweater is this monster, which did not so much inspire introspection into the nature of craft as it did provoke spates of cursing and self-condemnation.

The pattern in question is Casapinka’s Magical Thinking, the Local Yarn Shawl of 2019. As in 2018, I found it difficult to resist the lure of a “free” pattern in support of my beloved LYS Warm ‘n Fuzzy. I’ve put “free” in quotation marks because you receive a download code for the shawl only when you purchase suitable yarn for the project on Local Yarn Store Day (the last Saturday in April).

That’s where the trouble began.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t begrudge my LYS one cent of the money I’ve paid for yarn, needles, notions, or knitting swag over the years. But I have no shortage of sock yarn shawls already, and within the framework of having no particular need for another sock yarn shawl, I definitely spent more money than I should have. Whereas my 2018 Local Yarn Shawl required two skeins of fingering weight, this year’s offering demanded three—three! As you might imagine, these hand-dyed beauties—a semi-solid, a tonal, and a speckle—came with a premium price tag. I do very much love the colors, though, both individually and together. That’s how they get you.

Everything would have been peachy if all I’d needed to do was assuage a bit of guilt for indulging in luxury yarn (a trivial inconvenience for the veteran knitter). At some point, no doubt around the time I had an armload of yarns I was auditioning for my next neck accessory, it dawned on me that I had, in fact, been suckered into yet another striped project. (If you’re wondering why three out of the four links lead to apparently solid-colored knits, it’s because I had to alternate skeins to manage dye lots/color transitions, which works the same as knitting contrasting color stripes).

“It’s fine,” I told myself. “It’s knit in the round. I can carry the unused yarn inside the work.”

This is…not really the case. There are a handful of places where you can carry the yarn, true, but it’s not possible to carry all three yarns all the way through from beginning to end. My sense of betrayal and disappointment (mostly with myself, to be clear) when I realized there were actually going to be a lot of ends to weave in did not contribute to an auspicious start to the knitting portion of this endeavor.

The pattern instructions were, quite frankly, not my favorite. For starters, there seems to be no consistent logic to when the first stitch of the round is slipped. It’s supposed to prevent a jog in the stripes, but slipping the first stitch isn’t indicated for every color change, nor is it omitted when the color stays the same. There’s probably some esoteric bit of stripe-knitting theory I’ve failed to grasp here, and that’s hardly the designer’s fault. Regardless, I struggled with the transition between the end of one round and the beginning of the next looking like a gappy, jagged mess the whole time I was knitting, even with the slipped stitches.

Then, there’s the explanation of the increase rounds. In theory economical but in presentation inelegant, the increase rounds caused more than a few minutes of puzzling on my end. “Do them as you do the first increase round” it says in bold, and “Note that increase rounds are defined in bold, above” it says, but then doesn’t specify whether it means the first increase round in each section (nope) or in the whole piece (yep, it’s this one). The stitch instructions for this foundational increase round are not themselves bolded for convenience, which is baffling when you consider they’re referenced throughout the remaining 6 pages of the pattern.

Eventually the entire thing became so big and unwieldy that not even novel changes in the texture held my interest; eventually “one more round” was not the breathless whisper of anticipation but the ragged mantra of someone who just wants the thing to end.

And, wonder of wonders, it finally did. The issues I had with the beginning of round transition disappeared with blocking, and, as is so often the case, the memory of my agitation during the making-up has dulled with time. I may not have loved a single minute of the process, but I’m pretty fond of the finished product—fond enough that I wore this exact outfit for my birthday party, back on a bitterly cold night in November. (I was supposed to wear a dress I’d made myself, but that’s a story for another day…)