On Second Thought (And a Question)

I probably shouldn’t post the tam pattern because it might violate copyright, even though it bears little resemblance to the original at this point, but I’ll definitely have pics up by the weekend. And I’ll see if I can track down the author to ask permission. I did start a second tam out of Cache, in the “Serengeti” coloway, so I’ll have two versions to photograph this weekend.

One-Skein Wonders (source of the original, sport-weight tam pattern) is a great book, and I highly recommend it. I love leafing through it with a skein from my stash in hand and thinking about what I might want to try.

The only comparable book I’ve found is One Skein, which is nice, but which I think comes in second to One-Skein Wonders because a) it has fewer patterns (63 counting generously v. 101), b) more of the patterns are for odd little knick-knacks I know I’ll never knit (a knit cupcake, for example), and c) it calls for some exceptionally large skeins of yarn, which is sort of a sneaky way around the one-skein rule.

Still, I did like One Skein enough to buy it, the photos are lovely, and pretty much everyone will find something to try in it.

Question: Yesterday, while I was in my LYS picking up a circular 16″ size 6 Addi Turbo that I needed, I found a skein of yarn that I also “needed”: KidLin Worsted in the “Tropical Mango” colorway. It’s 53% kid mohair, 24% linen, 23% nylon, comes 120 yards to a skein, and is a marl made of four strands twisted together—three mohair in spring green, orange, and purple, one linen in orange. Have any of you worked with this yarn? Do you have any genius ideas for what I might want to knit out of it? It would make a gorgeous shwl, but I’m not sure I want to sink the money into buying several more skeins. (Of course, if I did get more, I could use it to play with the copy of Jane Sowerby’s Victorian Lace Today that I got for Christmas. The used book buyer just stopped by my office and paid me $25 for two old texts—maybe it’s a sign.)

Tam (Pics and Pattern to Follow)

Last night, I finished up my bulky-weight reworking of the basic tam pattern in One-Skein Wonders. I’d left the book up at Melissa‘s apartment and she was very patient about dropping what she was doing to read various bits of it to me. (We had variations on, “It’s a tam. The pattern is after the photo section in the middle of the book.” “Is it X [insert name of the wrong pattern here]?” “No.” “Is it XX?” “No.” Once Melissa located the pattern, we moved on to things like, “Just before it says ‘decreases’ does it say how many inches are knit?” Bless her a thousand times over for her generosity of spirit.)

Of course, I wasn’t actually following the pattern, per se, but I was using it to help with my “guestimations.” I used Moda Dea Cache, which I’d found on sale for $2 a ball—can’t resist a bargain! I’m snowed under at work just now, but in the next few days, I’ll post the pattern and the “formula” I’m planning to play with to continue trying this pattern in other yarns.

I’d worked with Cache once before on a scarf and had mixed feelings about it then. There didn’t seen to be any real pattern to the color changes and the yarn itself is rather coarse: essentially two strands of roving with a metallic thread thrown in. (Again, pictures of yarn, hat, etc. to follow.) The tam pattern was much better for this yarn: I got nice, narrow stripes around the hat of variegated peacock and rose, with wider bands of the main color, moss.

I also picked this yarn up in two other colorways—one pinks and yellows, the other silvers and beiges. Although I’d be risking another round of same-hat despondency, I’m tempted to knit these up into tams, too, so I can look at them side by side.

BTW—Melissa sent me a mock-up of the postcard with the hat pattern. It’s going to be great! I’ll put that up here too once it’s ready. I am so stoked that I’ll have something to share with the folks I meet at Stitches West.

Also BTW—Our kitten Spartacus (Sparky) has nominated himself to be a guest yarn reviewer for this blog. He feels I’m leaving out all sorts of important things, like kick-ability and bite-ability and how many laps you have to run around the house to use up an entire skein.

One more BTW—I just figured out that I have to approve comments before they appear on this blog (oh, brave new world!). So if you commented and felt tragically excluded from the conversation because your contribution never showed up, that situation has been remedied.


Two quick additions to my last two postings:

• I got a great “what if?” question about the Louisa Harding Fauve yarn. What if, instead of being frustrated about the way it contracts into a very small, very stretchy fabric, I used this to my advantage? I’m imagining it would make snug, but elastic cuffs on a sweater, for instance, or a nice waist inset to shape a sweater.

• That wonderful/evil Soft Delight Extremes acrylic yarn? I knitted a nice little double moss stitch hat out of it, using the same skein I’d used for the wrist warmers. Not bad: wrist warmers and a hat (both of which could be mistaken for Noro at a distance) for just under $4.

5 Yarns, 5 Hats

I’m working on what I hope will be an eye-catching postcard to publicize whatifknits, like the postcards artists send out before a show. The front will have pictures of a hat I’ve designed, knit up in a variety of yarns. The back will have the pattern and information on this web site. Melissa and I spent part of yesterday morning photographing the hats in various urban settings, drawing inquiries and encouragement from passing drivers. (And, sinice it was Saturday, avoiding questions from security personnel who might mistake a couple of knitting loons for a terrorist threat.)

Knitting these hats in rapid succession has been a real test of my stamina as a knitter. The changes in yarn helped, but two weeks solid of the same pattern had me a bit desperate. I like asking my “what if?” questions as I knit, planning the next project while one is still on the needles, so it got rather disheartening when the “what if?” question was reduced to “what if I do the same damn thing over and over again?” (The answer to that questions is: I get crabby and despondent.)

But now the hats are done and the *FREE* pattern will be going to press in a week or so (I’ll also post it here) ready for me to pass out at Stitches West and other knitting venues. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my observations about the yarns I used.

5 different versions of the Point Lobos hat
Yarns (clockwise from top): Quatro by Cascade Yarns; Iris by Bertagna Filati; Fauve by Louisa Harding Yarns; Manos Cotton Stria by Manos del Uruguay;Merino Frappe by Crystal Palace Yarns.

Quatro by Cascade Yarns
Label Information: 100% Peruvian highland wool, 100 grams/3.5 oz, 220 yards, needle size 7-8 U.S., 4.5-5 stitches per 1″.
Approximate Price: $7 per skein.
Yummy, yummy wool marl. This yarn was a pleasure to work with: rich in color, bouncy enough to make the k2togs easy. I love marls—all the richness of a variegated yarn, without any worries about color pooling. Many of you have no doubt used this yarn already, but if you haven’t, its reasonable price and high quality make it well worth trying out.

Iris by Bertagna Filati
Label Information: 60% cotton, 40% nylon, 50 grams, 90 meters, needle size 5-6mm, 18 stitches and 24 rows per 10 cm.
Approximate price: $7 per ball.
This is a yarn I found in the “Four Buck Bucket” at my favorite local yarn shop, The Swift Stitch. I was seduced by the contrast between the matte cotton strand (reminding me of the days when we tied up packages to mail in cotton string) and the shiny variegated rayon. This yarn is substantial enough to use on a project that will get regular wear, but light enough that you’ll keep using the garment well into the spring, perhaps even on cooler summer days. Unlike some double-stranded yarns I’ve worked with, this one has very even tensioning, so you don’t find one of the two strands bunching up around the other. The yarn has a surprising amount of give to it, so repeated k2togs didn’t result in the hand cramps they sometimes produce. Besides working well for hats, this yarn would make beautiful cardigans or knit t-tops.

Fauve by Louisa Harding Yarns
Label Information: 100% nylon, 50 grams, 127 yards/116 meters, needle size US 6/7 UK, 5.5 stitches per 1″.
Approximate Price: $9.50 per ball.
I love this yarn, but I’m also frustrated by it. I bought it after trying it out at a yarn tasting at Article Pract because it felt so good in my hands: very bouncy and supple, almost suede-like. The labelling’s a bit confusing, however. The strands we got at the yarn tasting were from a ball that recommended size 10.5 US needles, but the balls on the shelves mostly had labels recommending size 6 US needles. The bit I knit up at the tasting (I used US 11 needles) came out quite nicely, flat, smooth, and sleek. When I knit the hat, I used US 7 needles (as I did for all the hats) and the yarn really scrunched up, resulting in a very thick, stretchy fabric that had a much tighter guage than the label suggested it would. My hat pattern requires about 100 yards of yarn in pretty much every yarn I’ve used for it, but I ran out of Fauve near the end of the project, even though the balls are 127 yards. (I did manage to finish the hat by unravelling my swatch from the yarn tasting and reusing it on the crown of the hat.) Final assessment: you’ll love the feel of this yarn as you work with it, but be very, very careful about gauge—and buy substantially more than logic tells you you’ll need to finish your project.

Manos Cotton Stria by Manos del Uruguay
Label Information:100% Peruvian cotton, 1.75 oz/50 grams, 116 yards/106 meters, needle size 4-6 US/3.5-4 mm, 18-20 stitches and 24 rows per 4″/10cm.
Approximate Price: $9 per skein.
I bought this yarn from Patternworks a few years ago because I couldn’t resist the color. Since I didn’t have any specific ideas about what I’d knit with it, I just ordered a single skein, and it’s been calling to me teasingly from my stash since then, while I wondered what to do with 116 yards of cotton. Since this is a slightly finer yarn that some of the ones I worked with on this project, I was worried that the hat would come out small and even considered moving up to US 8 needles, but I’m glad I stuck with the size 7 (still one size larger than the range recommended on the label). If I hadn’t the hat would probably have come out big enough to use as a toaster cover. Not surprisingly, the hat wound up a bit loosely knit, so it doesn’t have as much stretch as the other versions, but it fits comfortably. Of the five yarns I used, Stria had the least give. It wasn’t uncomfortable to use on the larger needles, but I think it would feel rather stiff on the recommended size US 4. The texture of the yarn (not exactly a boucle, but more of a ripple) is retained in the finished piece, making it interesting without distorting the pattern stitch too much. I’m not sure how well it will wear, so I’d work with it again on a small project, but don’t think I’d want to use it for anything substantial.

Merino Frappe by Crystal Palace Yarns
Label Information: 80% merino wool, 20% polyamide, 50 grams, 140 yards, needle size 7-9 US, 3.5-4 stitches per 1″.
Approximate Price: $8 per ball.
The first time I bought this yarn, I picked it for its color (a rich purple). I’d enjoyed working with it, so thought it would make a good hat yarn, but I was forced to buy a different color because there wasn’t purple on the shelf. The black binder didn’t show on the purple yarn. On the mustard-colored yarn it does show through, giving the yarn a certain haziness. Merino Frappe knits up very comfortably, and the 140 yard skeins seem to go a long way: I always have more yarn left than I expect after finishing a project. The only drawback to this yarn is that its texture makes it difficult to unravel, so it’s not a good candidate for experimental knitting or particularly complicated patterns. On the other hand, since it has a furry texture, even if you do unravel a lot the yarn won’t wind up looking particularly shopworn.

Would I work with these yarns again? Yes for all of them. The Quatro and the Merino Frappe would be my first choices, just for their vesatility and reliability (does it make sesne to call a yarn reliable?). I’m sure I’ll also pick up more of the Iris if I can find it, though I suspect it’s being discontinued, which would explain its being marked down. I don’t know that I’ll get more Stria, but it may turn out to be exactly the right thing for a warm-weather project someday. I have one more ball of Fauve at home, but doubt I’ll buy more. I love, love, love to touch it it, but I don’t trust it in terms of guage or total yardage called for.

What If?

With my first few rows of garter stitch, I discovered that the question “what if?” lies at the heart of knitting. At first, I was pretty much limited to two questions: 1) What if I cast on more stitches? (Actually it was “What if I ask the friend who’s getting me started to cast on more stitches for me?”) and 2) What if I use a different yarn? After two scarves, I had a few more questions: What if I use a different needle size than the label on the ball calls for? What if I knit with three yarns at once? (By then I’d realized people sometimes knit with two yarns at once, but I didn’t know if there was some sort of rule against three yarns. Never underestimate the number of things a “good girl” can worry about.)

In retrospect, these aren’t really earth-shaking questions, but the fact that I was asking questions so early on surprised me. With embroidery and more traditional sewing, I’d been content to follow patterns. I’d find a picture of a sampler or a skirt I liked, I’d purchase the pattern, follow the directions, and after a while I’d have my own copy of the original. Knitting was much less structured.

Discovering stitch dictionaries increased my “what if?” questions exponentially. Never mind that I couldn’t tell the difference between a knit and a purl stitch on my own needles. I focused on scarves to minimize complications and plunged right in. My mother was wise enough to recommend a bit of garter stitch along the edges of my scarves, and I just started choosing pictures of stitches I liked, casting on the appropriate multiples (plus six for the garters), and going for it. Even though I couldn’t see which stitch was which, patterns did emerge as the scarf started to lengthen. If I realized I’d made a mistake, I sort of held my breath, slid my knitting off the needle, grabbed the yarn and unraveled until a) I was past the mistake and b) I thought I could guess what row of the pattern I was on (though I wasn’t always right). There was absolutely no finesse involved.

To this day, I’ve followed exactly two garment patterns—one for a basic tam from One-Skein Wonders and one for a cabled hat from Cables Untangled—and my choice of both patterns stemmed from questions I was already asking myself. I chose the tam pattern because I figured it would offer a quick way to learn the proportions/stitch ratios for similar projects. I followed the cabled hat pattern because I wanted to see how Melissa Leapman handled the decreases. (Decreases will no doubt come up repeatedly here. The biggest limit to my stitch choices is usually whether I can figure out ways to maintain the pattern while decreasing/increasing.)

Other than those projects, knitting has been pure improvisation—which is what makes it so delightful. I love asking “what if?” and then knitting until I have an answer. I love the way that each project creates new questions and leads to new projects. I’m never turning back.

Casting On!

I’m absolutely amazed to think that within the next week there will be a blog here. My Blog—in fact. As my amazement makes clear, while I am writing this blog, I am not the technical wizard behind it—that would be my partner Melissa: artist, graphic designer, webmaster, and person who is sensible enough to know that when your partner is a knitter you’ve just got to go with it. Not only is she willing to listen to me going on and on and on about stitches/designs/fibers. In fact, she’s actually willing to expose herself to extended doses of such topics so that I can go on and on and on to the world at large.

A few quick facts about me with more to follow. I came to knitting relatively late, but honestly. Late, in that I’ve just been knitting for a few years after many years of embroidery and quilt-making. Honestly, in that I come from a long line of hard-core knitters on my mother’s side, so this knitting thing was pretty much inevitable even though I went through any number of years of utter confusion during which I found yarn itchy and uappealing. I pay my bills by teaching writing to university students, which can be rather labor-intensive (200 or so pages of essays to read every weekend), but also immensely satisfying. In fact, my students are the ones who got me knitting. They’d pull out their own projects when they got to class early, and I found myself torn between longing because I wanted to be knitting too and indignity because I didn’t know how to do it.

When I’m not teaching or knitting (which actually does happen), I’m often reading (non-fiction—I’m sure some of my non-knitting-related posts will wander off into the topics of some of these books). Between the two of us, Melissa and I are mothers to six very spoiled cats, so you can expect all sorts of stories about their adventures—particularly their eagerness to help with my knitting projects.

Next time—I’ll explain the origin of “What If Knits.” I imagine most of you are already bonafide what-if knitters whether you know it or not. I’m planning to post updates on current projects, reviews of books and fibers, original patterns—and my observations about the ecstasies and agonies that are our shared obsession—knitting.

Please let me know what you do and don’t enjoy about this site. I’d like this to be a fun place for us to gather together.