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.
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.
When Justin and I were dating, I bought him a pair of red mittens for Christmas. After we’d gotten married but before I’d started knitting, I crocheted him a hat to match. It was made from Caron Simply Soft, it was solid red, and it was subtly textured, alternating two rounds of single crochet with a round of double (or was it half-double?) crochet. He wore it for a winter or two before he lost it, and it was another winter or two before I plucked up the enthusiasm to make a replacement.
By that time I’d started knitting, but only just, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to knit in the round. I didn’t want lack of muscle memory to slow me down or uneven tension to spoil the result, so I stuck to the crochet I was familiar with. I also went back to the same yarn and pattern. But because I made the replacement during an interstate drive and didn’t have Justin’s head handy for reference, I ended up increasing a few too many times, and the finished hat was too big around and much too long, even for his larger-than-average 24″ head. He wears it anyway, but with a sizable cuff at the bottom to keep it in place and out of his eyes.
Now, with more than a few successful knit hats in my collection, I felt the time had come to make Justin the better-fitting—and warmer!—hat he needed and deserved. Needed, because the red hat obviously no longer passes muster in this more experienced maker’s opinion, and the 3″ difference in our head sizes means we can’t share hats even if wanted to. Deserved, because he’s a reservoir of patience and support when it comes to my hobbies and a gracious recipient of anything I make—including less-than-stellar dinners and off-beat jokes—and therefore knitworthy (the lost hat notwithstanding).
The hat is designed to fit a 21″ head circumference, which is pretty typical for adult hats and thus too small for Justin. To compensate, I added a repeat of the cable pattern but went down a needle size from the recommendation, finding the sweet spot that yielded a hat exactly 24″ around. For more technical details, check out my project page on Ravelry.
Like all hats, I found this one satisfying to knit because it practically flew off my needles—even after casting on, knitting through the first few rounds of the body, and then frogging and re-starting to get the right size, it only took me two weeks from start to finish. The cables were a little different than ones I’d knit before, because there are places where one crosses under another and then vanishes instead of continuing to travel away, but this kept things interesting for me. And because every cross was two-over-two, they were easy to accomplish without a cable needle and easy to fix if I made a mistake.
Justin’s been wearing the hat practically every day since it was finished, and he gets compliments on it any time we go out. He loves to tell people that I made it, and I love him for that. Knitworthy, indeed.
While I’m continuing to make slow progress on the striped sweater I started on New Year’s Eve, the fingering weight yarn and the frequent pauses to change colors mean that even if I knit for an hour or two at a time it doesn’t feel like I’m gaining much ground. I’m trying to keep pace with Amy Herzog’s Deep Winter Knit-A-Long (note to self: actually join the KAL thread on Ravelry instead of just lurking), which means that I have until the end of March to finish up. In the meantime, I desperately needed a little quick gratification so as not to completely stall out, so I turned to my Ravelry favorites and my little pile of leftover yarn. And wouldn’t you know, I managed a hat out of it!
The pattern, Glenna C’s Union Station Beret, has been in my favorites for ages, along with both of her Urban Collection bundles and a handful of standalone patterns. Glenna’s penchant for cables comes through in many of her designs, and when you’re looking to increase your cache of warm winter hats you can’t go wrong with squooshy wool cables. The yarn I used is the remnant from my Courant sweater. I can’t decide if I’ll wear the two together or not—as much as I like matching, that seems like it would be a bit much.
My version ended up a beanie rather than a beret by accident: I cast on with the correct size needle, but when I went up two needle sizes, I referred to the US size rather than the metric size. The 0.5 mm difference combined with a lighter-than-called-for yarn and a firm gauge resulted in a hat with no extra room for slouch.
I was a bit bummed at first, and I considered re-knitting it since I still had yarn left. But I ultimately decided that I wanted a hat more than I wanted a beret specifically, and ripping out the entire thing sort of defeated the purpose of an easy, motivation-boosting project anyway. Wearing it out proved that I made the right choice, and I’m glad to have another hat in rotation for the remaining cold days of winter.
In the spirit of playing around with pattern names, I’ve dubbed this Cary Depot after the train station in our town. We can hear the trains trundling along and sounding their horns from our house. I know some people dislike the idea of living anywhere they can hear traffic noise, but I’ve always lived near transportation hubs—a commercial airport for my childhood home, and train tracks for both my college and first post-college apartments—so I find it comfortingly familiar.
Plus, who can resist an opportunity to play around with a bronze conductor statue?