Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Little Blue Sweater.

I was a preschooler when I first heard about this sweater. One early winter evening, when the snow lying in the yard shone into the windows of our apartment, my mother told me about a little sweater that her dear late mother made. It was so blue it seemed like a piece of sky in her hands; my mother would sit and watch her mother and wait for it to be finished. The knitting needles clicked away; light flashed off their metal tips as the forget-me-not blue yarn sped through the needles and fingers. My mother could not wait for it to be ready! She was getting such a lovely thing! And finally it was ready and she had it and she wore it at last. She loved it.

The memory of that little sweater glowed in the kitchen of our 6os apartment and etched itself into my mind. My mother’s vivid recollection of watching her own mother – who died just two years after she made this sweater – fired up my imagination. The wool must have been the brightest and the bluest, the yarn made from the softest fluff little fingers ever touched.

Forty years later I found two photos of my mother's wearing the sweater – she appears to be about four years old. In one she is alone, grinning impishly sideways at whomever is taking the photo, in her hands a small ball. In the other she is serious; she is standing next to her mother, an old tree trunk behind them; my mother’s whole little body leans toward her mother’s lean frame swathed in a too large, light-colored trench coat .

The amateur photo is not in focus, lower left corner is overexposed. It is difficult to make out the knitting pattern. The sweater has oval or rectangular bumps lined up in perfect columns and rows, not staggered. May be they are little purl bricks with single rows of knits and single columns of knits separating them. May be it is the dishcloth patterns with knits leaping down a few rows to make the vertical lines. May be it is some other knit-purl combination. I searched for this pattern in the Barbara Walker’s treasuries, and in other stitch dictionaries; a few seemed a possiblility. I will swatch them, and then I will scrunch up my eyes to blur them to see if they resemble the pattern in the out of focus photo.

The wool I imagine to be a three-ply sport weight yarn. Wool, because there were no synthetics at that time. Sport weight, because of the fine pattern that is just visible in the photo.
The color will be the easiest to chose – I will take my mother to a yarn store and ask her to pick the closest shade to what she remembers.
The sweater itself is a simple little sweater slightly bloused over a 5-6 cm ribbing at the waist and shorter ribbing at the cuffs of the elbow-length sleeves. The sleeves are set in the regular armholes. There appears to be a single pompom at the neck – more likely there were two, attached with a twisted cord for neck ties, but the photos blurred them into one. There is a small stand up or folded over collar.

Don't ask me why, but I will make it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Take What You've Got.

May be I learned it in my past. There was precious little wool or any other yarn available, knitting needles were prized possessions - losing one was a tragedy, patterns were circulated according to the best underground traditions. Supplies were limited in the state-run stores; if there was yarn, it would be the wrong weight, or the wrong colour, or not enough of it. You bought it anyway. Women frogged old sweaters to make ones in the latest styles. And yet, even in this universe of scarcity, miracles appeared - big, smooshy ski hats with huge pom-poms, Nordic ski sweaters, belted cardigans form thick Tatra mountain sheepswool.

After a week of lousy results and one big disaster I shake myself. I will go and fix things. I will lengthen the sleeves of the Cranberry that shrunk in the wash, and finally loosen up the turtleneck, so that I can wear it comfortably. I will take out, frog and shorten the sleeves for the Lace for Me, so that they do not dip in the soup I am making. I will probably not change the Moebius (second iteration does not look much better that the first). And I will give the Big Blue Ice (now HUUUUUUGE Blue Ice) to Nadia who is taller and loves it. And I will make myself a new Big Blue Ice because I love it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moebius Magic.

I tried my hand at Cat Bordhi's Moebius this week. It really makes me wonder how her mind works! How did she come up with this incredible idea? I started to make it without much difficulty, cast on some (it turned out way too many) stitches and started knitting. And then I noticed that the other end is in purl, and there is a ridge in the middle, and that as I continue knitting, the purls increase on the other side with, and it keeps going. I know now how to make it, but I will not pretend that I understand how it works!
The knitted fabric increases between the two loops of the wire needle, separating them as it increases - magic. You cast off and go twice around and have only one edge - magic. You add a color on one row and suddenly it is all around the whole piece of work - magic.

The fact that I decided to be stupid and did not count the number of stitches - not magic, just normal. It ended up too skinny, anorexic actually, and way too long. Frogged and will start again today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Hat Trick.

This was going to be a riff about the beauty and wonder of a properly executed mattress stitch, but instead it will be a grouch session.
My Big Blue sweater would be gorgeous (with the phenomenal raglan sleeves and side seams in yes! mattress stitch), if I had not slip stitched the front edges so that now they curl outward. Considered stitching grossgrain ribbons to keep them flat, considered dropping the edge stitch from the end of the collar all the way down to the hem and reknitting it with proper edging, even - gasp! frogging the whole thing. I have having to fiddle with something that should just be done. And it is just so gorgeous, but it flaps!!!
My Winter Watermelon skirt is too wide and no amount of stitching and elastic will make it nice. The hemming also did not work, got frogged and is now halfway done in ribbing that will problably also not work.
The Grande Side Cloche in Lipstic Lava looks great, but the side cables are not looking at all like the photos. A wrong yarn for the wrong job will do that.
The only things that worked out are the three hats. According to my men this is what the Maple Leafs need - something called a hat trick.

I am off to learn a Moebius in some yarn that - you guessed! did not work out for the Anhinga by Norah Gaughan.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Humble Purl.

I love the purl stitch. And I love to purl. My favorite pattern, both for knitting and for wearing, is stockinette. Nothing can be more elegant in its simplicity. Nothing allows to showcase the beauty of yarn, its drape and its sheen. Nothing can be more versatile – sweaters, coats, scarves, socks! - why do you think it is called stockinette? It is the reverse, the purl side, that makes it possible. No ridges, just perfectly fitting knits and purls.

Without the purl we would not have the most beautiful and complex patterns. It is the ‘rest row’ of purl stitches on the back that adds the depth and dimension to the most intricate lace patterns. Without the purl to separate them, the cables and honeycombs of Aran knitting would fade into the background. And of course the guernseys would just cease to exist both in the round and in flat. What about ribbing? I will just leave you here to ponder the universe without ribbing …… not possible? Exactly – the knitting world would stop if there were no purl. Imagine those floppy sleeves allowing gusts of wind to blow up to the armpits, those elephantine neck holes flapping in the wind. No turtlenecks, no snug cuffs on mittens. The world without ribbing would be a sad place.

So why the antipathy of the purl? Since I came onto the knitting scene in North America I have read multiple peans about the beauty and ease of knitting garter stitch or knitting in the round, with an equal, if not greater amount of hate mail to the purl stitch. The eminent and brilliant Elizabeth Zimmermann bears a great deal of responsibility for that. I have nothing against EZ – I love her irreverence, I admire her knitting and writing talent, I share her love for the craft and I envy her panache with patterns and color, but lay off the purl stitch, OK? After all, she practically invented knitting sweaters in the round to avoid purling! She called the purl her “bête noire”! Poor little purl.

Why, I ask, why belittle the little stitch? Even linguistically the purl is abused – it is often called the “wrong stitch”. In Polish the purl is called “the left stitch” (lewe oczko), while the knit – of course – is “the right stitch” (prawe oczko). In Polish the “left side” refers not only to the left side of the garment, but to the reverse side of a pattern, as well. Similarly in French: knit is « tricoter à l’endroit » (knit on the right side) or « tricoter à l’envers » (knit on wrong side).

I have not gone as far as knitting garter stitch using only purl stitches, but I may just do that to prove that the purl is just as lovely as the knit stitch.