I can’t remember when I first discovered Venezia. I didn’t yet subscribe to Interweave Knits in 2006, but I did fall HARD for Eunny Jang’s designs that winter, when I was living in Russia and knitting to keep sane, so we’ll imagine it was sometime that year, or maybe in my first year of grad school. I added it to my Ravelry queue in August 2008, so maybe it was then. In any case, when I saw this sweater, in its stranded, blue-green glory, I knew it had to be mine.
I eventually bought the pattern, and as I set down to look at the chart, I noticed something interesting, nay, disturbing. The pattern had 9 colors – 5 background shades, but also 4 different “white”s.
That’s sort of crazy, I thought. Couldn’t this just be done with one white, and a nice range of background colors? Maybe with contrasting edging? So I set to work recoloring the chart, in a more reasonable number of hues. Photoshop is my friend for situations like this:
Armed with this new chart, and yardage estimates, I went to WEBS in pursuit of 2-ply Shetland (this is now December 2010). They had cones of Shetland, but not the 50-gram skeins I was hoping to find. They did have Reynold’s Whiskey, however, which came in close-enough colors to my chart. So, I picked up my colors (I had to order the white online), all 16 skeins of it, and then…sat on it for 2 years.
If you’re a knitter, you’ll understand. First, I needed the right needles, and then, when they arrived, I was in the middle of other projects. And then I was busy, and then it was the summer, and who wants to start a big sweater project in the summer. And then, and then…
Part of it, too, was that I was a little scared. This sweater had a lot of knitting in it. And steeks. And the sizing had to be right. And then I probably would want to tweak things. And really, in 2010, I’d only knitted one or two sweaters, despite having made lots of other pretty things. Sweaters sort of fill their own category. So I waited until the time was right. And apparently, the time was right when I had a squirmy baby in the house and was burnt out on lots of other things in my life. The Venezia was reborn.
By then (August 2012), Reynold’s Whiskey had been discontinued, so I had to cross my fingers that I had enough yarn. Word to the wise, overbuy your yarn. Really, just do it. Luckily, I had plenty of everything, and now have extra enough for a little vest or a sweater for JL, but I’d be so sad if I hadn’t.
The modifications to this sweater were many. First, I lengthened the torso of the sweater, and even then it rides a little short, so I ended up ripping out the original turned hem and adding a long ribbing to bring the edge lower. I mix-and-matched sizes, to make a 38″ hip and a 36″ bust, and changed the increase/decrease rate to go with the new length. It was smooth sailing through the sweater body, and the sleeves too, although I did wait about 6 months between the body and (two-at-a-time magic loop, stranded) sleeves, because it was summer and I was tired of all that colorwork.
Then was the fun part. I decided that there were issues with the construction of the original Venezia – the sleeves were too boxy, and I wouldn’t like a boatneck in scratchy shetland wool, all the way up to my collarbone. So, I wanted to substitute in set-in-sleeves, preferably worked in the round with the body seamlessly to avoid issues lining up the colors in seaming, and to make a V- or scoop-neck. Here’s what I came up with:
So, it’s a little messy, but what you see on the right is the shape of the sleeve cap, in the middle are the armscye decreases, and on the left is the V-neck shaping in black, with the scoop neck shaping and the back-of-neck shaping superimposed in blue. I used some sleeve calculators and a pinch of experience/common sense to figure this out, and then stuck to it pretty faithfully in the knitting. Here’s how it knitted up:
You’ll see that the top of the sleeve cap doesn’t reach as high as the body does – at a certain point, you need to bind off the top of the sleeves, and continue with a little steek for the top of the armscye. There is also a steek for the neck in the front, and also a tiny steek for the back neck.
I then did a strange modified incremental three-needle bind-off over the tops of the shoulders. Here’s what it looked like when I finished knitting, before scissors were introduced:
This is the least like a sweater that it looked, but soon (the next morning), the scissors came out. I crocheted all the steeks, and soon this happened:
Sweater! (see the scissors in the second photo there?) I have to give some credit to my friend Mira, the first person who ever cut a steek in my presence, for making this moment possible.
It took some experimenting to be happy with the hems and neckline, but eventually, it was done, with a nice corrugated ribbing on the sleeves and neck, inspired by Eunny’s Autumn Rose.
All those color changes meant a whole heck of a lot of loose ends on the inside:
I decided that instead of weaving all those ends in, I’d french braid them down the sides. Brilliant! Next time, though, I’ll spit-splice them and not worry about the side seams being a little off, because it’d be pretty near invisible anyway.
And it was done in time for Rhinebeck! Last year it was too hot for fancy knits, and the year before I was all self-conscious in my Sylvi, but this, this was a Rhinebeck sweater. Perfect.
Last week, Dudley House (Harvard’s Grad Student Center) held a Hitchcock/Kubrick movie night, showing The Lady Vanishes, followed by Doctor Strangelove. I was a bit bummed out to be 300 miles away, and I suggested to Jonathan that we have our own Kubrick night. We popped on our VPN and flipped through Netflix’s offerings (as the days tick down on my free trial), but didn’t find much. What we did find, however, was Room 237, a documentary about different interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. As someone who has taught courses on interpreting art, it was a fascinating, if sometimes mindboggling/face-palming experience, and I recommend it highly to anyone who liked The Shining, and who likes crackpot film analysis. It might be too much to take, however, if you’re currently teaching analysis/interpretation to undergrads, so beware. That aside, the film reminded me that I never got around to writing a blog post about an amazing sweater, inspired by The Shining, so here goes…
A year ago, at knitting group, I met Jess. Jess was on a mission. She had never knitted a stitch before, but that was not going to get in the way of her determination to knit her boyfriend a sweater. And not just any sweater, no. This sweater:
In case you don’t recognize it, this is Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater, from Kubrick’s The Shining. She told me how, even though it was totally goofy, she knew her boyfriend would love it. She just needed some help knitting it. She even had a pattern, although it wasn’t quite right for what she wanted.
Now, if you are a knitter, this story is probably setting off any number of red flags.
#1 – An adult sweater is a big knitting project for anyone, not just a beginner knitter.
#2 – New knitters often have a learning curve, and it usually takes a while before a knitter can produce fabric with an even texture and tension throughout, especially over the amount of knitting required for a man’s sweater.
#3 – This particular sweater is not just a vanilla project – it has seaming, color changes, and embroidery, on top of the more basic ribbing, sizing, and stockinette knitting.
#4 – Haven’t you heard of the “Sweater Curse”? Where giving your boyfriend a handknitted sweater will cause the relationship to self-destruct? Yeah, that.
#5 – The pattern in question was a hand-drawn chart, made for a worsted-weight (relatively fine-knit) sweater. Which is ok, but not quite the chunky sweater Danny is wearing in the picture. I’m pretty sure the pattern she had was this one, where you can see what the end result is. It’s an ok sweater, but it’s not quite right.
And that’s just the beginning. But I listened to Jess’ story, and frankly thought that it was an awesome project. Maybe I’m a sap, but I totally think that goofy sweaters for boyfriends, given with no expectation that they actually get worn, totally defy the drama of the sweater curse. Besides, as I came to discover, Jess is a very methodical person, and her approach to knitting reminded me a lot of my husband’s – slow, steady, determined and perfectionist. I’ve seen this kind of knitter-scientist take on technically challenging projects with great success, even with very minimal experience. So I told Jess I’d help her, and gave her some yarn and needles.
Jess got yarn, found a hat pattern, and started working on learning how to knit. I poked around online, found a basic free chunky raglan sweater pattern, and got to work in Excel to sketch out a chart for the Apollo shuttle that better matched Danny’s sweater, at the gauge of the chunky sweater. Jess did some reconnaissance, took many measurements, and set to work figuring out what size to knit the sweater. Lots of math was done. Lots of swatches made. Jess demanded certainty – that the color be perfect, that the sizing be exact. I offered experience – that one stitch or row’s difference here or there wouldn’t make or break things.
Over the next semester, the knitting group fell apart. Some people graduated, others were busy trying to graduate. I had an infant who didn’t really like hanging out until 10pm at the student cafe. But Jess had a sweater to knit, and was determined, so we kept meeting, and the sweater started to come to life. Sleeves were knit. A back was made. Colors were introduced.
Of course, there was another issue. I was moving away in July. So, as Jess knit away in secret, afraid to tell anyone lest the word get out to her boyfriend accidentally, she was also working against the calendar, trying to learn everything she needed to before her knitting teacher quit town. I last saw Jess in June, right before our moving day, when we went over seaming with the mattress stitch, and doing the final embroidery in black.
And then, in September, I got the photos of the sweater – it lives!
the happy recipient
So, I might be more invested in this sweater than I ought to be, but I’m super proud of Jess, who went from non-knitter to awesome sweater knitter in about a year’s time. May your sweater blast big, rocket-shaped holes in the sweater curse forevermore.
Moving to Montreal was stressful for me, and the ways that stress manifested itself surprised me. For example, I became extremely concerned about the moment of border crossing, when I’d be coming to Canada as a “visitor,” bringing with my all my worldly possessions. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but on a 6-month visitor visa, you’re not supposed to be coming to settle permanently. That’s what permanent residency is for. Which I’ve applied for, and am waiting on. Meanwhile, I’m “visiting.” Visiting for 8 weeks at a time, as I keep heading back to Cambridge to get prescription refills and meet with my advisor. Indefinitely “visiting.”
In any case, this was stressful enough to figure out a way to cross the border with Jean-Luc separately from the moving van, so it would look less strange to say I was “visiting.” A friend drove us up the day before, and we went through with her carload of things, while Jonathan and his family stayed another night in Cambridge to finish packing up the truck, and to leave at the crack of dawn for the long haul.
This was also stressful enough to make me worry about bringing contraband across the border. Alcohol is strictly limited to 1.14 liters per person, so I gave away all of my booze to my knit night (you’re welcome, guys). Soil is forbidden, so I threw away my bag of potting soil. Unless you get an expensive phytosanitary certificate from the government, the only plants allowed are cut flowers not intended for propagation, so I gave away my houseplants, even the one made from cutting of my great-grandmother’s christmas cactus.
And what I’m about to say is entirely hypothetical, and does not have any bearing on me…
…but if one were particularly attached to your houseplants, one might be able to bring cuttings in a small bag in one’s backpack, and start rooting them in a different country.
And if one were to do such a thing, and if the plants were particularly hardy and eager to grow, they might take root in this new country with striking speed and ease, making their owner, feeling a bit uprooted herself, both envious and optimistic.
I guess you just need to want to grow.
An ode to Stitch House:
the toast I didn’t read at Friday night knitting, for fear that I’d turn into a big puddle of tears
by Katie Rose
In about 33 hours, my best friend Jeni will be picking up Jean-Luc and me, shoving everything we can into her car, and driving northward so that I can begin a new chapter of my life in Montreal, with Jonathan and his parents sticking around to pick up the pieces, load them into the UHaul, and follow us up on Monday morning. It’s a great adventure, with a lot to look forward to, and I’m genuinely stoked about the prospects (not so much about the next 33 hours of packing…).
But while celebrating new beginnings, I can’t help think about the chapter that’s ending, my Cambridge/Boston years, my time in residence at Harvard, and the main topic of this blog post, my last 6 years at Stitch House.
Six years ago, almost to the day, I flew home from a year in Russia, and resigned myself to bumming around in my mother’s house in the ‘burbs for the summer until the fall semester at Harvard, where I’d start my PhD in Russian Lit. No car, no job, so during the day I was reading Solzhenytsin’s Gulag Archipelago, knitting cabled knee socks, and going to lots of yoga classes, while at night I’d poke around on Craigslist. And it was a great summer for Craigslist. I found an apartment, cheap furniture, some fun dates with cute boys, and best of all, a job listing for a brand new yarn and fabric shop in Boston, looking for knitting instructors. Score! I emailed immediately, and after a quick back-and-forth, I had an interview in Dorchester with Annissa at the soon-to-be Stitch House.
Our interview was held across the street at the Sugar Bowl, and, used to walking all around Moscow, I decided I’d take the Commuter Rail from the ‘burbs into the city, and then walk to the shop from South Station. Ahem. So, on a hot July afternoon, I found myself on a super-scenic tour of Dot Ave, and arrived at the Sugar Bowl red-faced, covered in sweat and a fine layer of urban grime. I guess I didn’t make a horrible first impression, because Annissa hired me to cover weekends and teach knitting starting in September.
My favorite part of being at Stitch House has always been teaching classes. Teaching knitting was tricky at first, but I loved it, and got better at it over time. Finding different ways to describe what my hands knew so well; learning techniques I’d heard of but hadn’t had reason before to try. And then there were the mistakes — other people’s mistakes. People would come in with problems in their knitting, and would need help getting straightened out. I’d wager that more than 75% of the actual teaching I do ends up being troubleshooting and mistake-fixing, and it was scary those first few times when a customer placed their beloved project in my hands and said, “it’s ok, try your best!” Would I make a huge mess of it? Would it take forever to fix? Would they be angry? Luckily, no one was ever angry, and very seldom would it be a real disaster.
At Stitch House I’ve made some fantastic friends, lifelong friends. Friends who I went dancing with, friends I met for coffee and conversation elsewhere, and slews of friends that I’d see at the shop and knit with. We’d talk about yarn, the latest knitting gadgets and the upcoming fiber festivals, but also about life, about happy things and sad things. Important things and trivial things. Everything and nothing. And we’d knit, knit, knit.
It seems like I can measure my life in knitting sometimes. The socks from when I couldn’t commit to larger projects, the big projects when I had something to prove to myself. The wedding shawl, the baby sweaters. It’s all there, stitch by stitch, and Stitch House is intertwined in every single stitch. It’s in each of the fibers. Not just the shop, but each and every one of you who makes the shop more than just an edifice, but a community, an institution. You’re all knitted up in my life so tightly that I worry that by leaving, all my projects might just unravel on me, leaving me with no socks and no scarves and no sweaters. In chilly Canada! The horror!
But of course they won’t. No, instead, like it or not, a little bit of each of you is packed up in a suitcase full of handknits ready to make its way to Montreal in a little more than a day.
And of course, there are yarn stores in Montreal. There are always other yarn stores. But here’s the secret, one that I’m sure all of you already know – it’s not about the yarn. I mean, sure, the yarn is a lovely, sumptuous pretext, and knitting up good yarn is vital to my mental health, and really, none of us would have a job, and Annissa wouldn’t be able to pay the bills without the yarn, but really? It’s not the yarn. It’s you guys. It’s the magical community that forms around wonderful people doing cool things and sharing parts of themselves in the process.
And so I want to thank you. Thank you Annissa, for giving me a job to fuel my yarn habit, a place to escape the ivory tower across the river every week, and a family and fan club rolled into one. You’ve been a great boss, and a great friend. Thanks to Claire, Bill, Eliza, Jeanne, Valaree, Heather, Bridget, Cassidy, Jen, Moo, Elizabeth, and everyone else whose hard work has made this shop so vibrant, such a hot spot, so much fun to be in.
And thanks to all of you, the customers and friends and family of Stitch House. You’ve taught me so much, given me so much, shared so much. I will never be able to repay all that I’ve gained from you, but I hope to try. I hope that we keep in touch, and that this is just the beginning of an amazing cross-continent friendship that keeps growing stronger over time. I really mean it, I owe so much to my Stitch House peeps; you’re my Boston family.
So let this not be goodbye, but just “see you next time”. Come find me on Ravelry (gnochistickate), on my blog (spinspinspin.wordpress.com), and on Facebook (facebook.com/katiemaerose). Let’s see each other at Rhinebeck this fall. Look me up when you’re in Montreal. And I’ll do what I can to stop in on a Friday night when I’m in town. Because knitters (and crocheters and sewers too!) are awesome people, and you’re the very best of the best.
We’re moving in 2 weeks, so what better time to take a week-long vacation?
We all flew out to Seattle on Saturday night, and have been soaking in the unexpectedly beautiful weather and sheer bliss of a blank agenda. Why, I think I’ll knit until lunch while the baby naps.
Probably my all-time favorite thing to knit is socks. I love their portability, their practicality, and the way that no matter how outrageous your sock yarn is, you can make a very wearable garment from them. Case in point:
Yum, socks. Yum, sock yarn.
But knitting with great yarn is only part of the equation. The needles are a big deal too, and the point of this post is to talk a little bit about my preferences and experience with a variety of sock needles. Hopefully some of you can find this helpful in your own knitting ventures! A note: I’m not affiliated with any of the companies or products I’m about to mention, and anything I own I’ve purchased out of my own interest with my own money.
Here’s my (long) roundup of sock needles!
When I first started knitting socks in 2003 (goodness, that long ago?), I did it with big-ish needles and heavy yarn, because it was less intimidating that way. My LYS, A Stitch Above in Providence (long-gone), turned me on to Brittany needles, which were beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, and so my early socks were knit on size 4 Brittany DPNs.
These needles hold a special place in my memory, and are very functional and aesthetically pleasing. The tips are not too sharp but not too blunt, and the surface is just a tiny bit waxy, which gives a nice resistance to a slippery yarn (although possibly annoying if you’re a tight knitter. I’m not).
So, when I wanted to make “real” socks, I turned again to Brittany DPNs, this time in a size 2. And wouldn’t you know it, very soon in, my DPNs started to break. This is how I learned something fundamental about the composition of knitting needles – grain matters. The Brittany needles are made out of a sustainably-harvested birch, chosen for its tensile strength and stability. But, at a small diameter, the fact that it’s a hardwood with a grain means that it has inherent fault lines and is prone to breakage, particularly in conditions of heat and moisture causing swelling/distortion, and applied pressure. Oops, that sounds quite a bit like my knitting experience. Brittany was amazing about sending a replacement free of charge as soon as I contacted them, and these days they include a 6th needle automatically, because they’re not surprised that they break. For me, I decided there had to be a better option. (For the record, this is also the main reason why I don’t recommend people snag the very affordable KnitPicks sock needle set. I have other beef with KP too, but in this case, it’s a simple problem with small diameter wooden needles, and I suggest you avoid the hassle.)
On a trip to Russia, I picked up some random 2.75mm DPNs, which I used to make my Clessidra socks. They’re possibly Pony or Inox, or something like that, a painted aluminum, and about 7.5″ long. Uncomfortable, but they let me make a hat and some socks, so they served their purpose.
My next sock needles were Susan Bates aluminum needles. I was in a big craft store one summer break, and saw that the set ranged from 000-1, and was pretty cheap. To be fair, they’re not bad needles. They bend, as aluminum does, and the smaller gauge needles seem too flimsy for the job, but they work. My biggest complaint was actually the length. They’re 7″ long, which just feels unwieldy in my hands with an average sock on them. They also sort of hurt my hands Fun (gross) fact – one of the size 1s punctured my calf during a car crash in 2009, while I was knitting these Interlocking Leaves socks on a trip to Quebec! Fun times!
I didn’t really like the Susan Bates needles so much, and by that time, I was working part-time at Stitch House, so I had access, and discount, to other varieties of needles. My next choice were the Clover Takumi DPNs, which came in an appealing 5″ length. These became my go-to, and still are in many ways. They are made out of bamboo, which don’t have the same grainline problems that the Brittanys had, but are still warm to the touch and have a nice friction unlike the metal needles. The length fits perfectly in my hands, long enough for the palm of my hand to have some power, but not too long to be awkward. The slight bend they take is nice, although they can indeed break from time to time. Still, much less often than the wooden ones. I now have the Clovers in size 0-2, and tend to reach for these first for socks.
On a whim, I picked up a set of Lantern Moon Sox Stix, which are beautiful. Sadly, one broke (wood! grain!), but customer service was awesome and sent a new one pronto. They are made of rosewood, and are just a delight to work with. Sharp tips, smooth finish, nice feel, and gorgeous to look at. If I were made of money I’d have lots of these, but probably no smaller than a US 2, because of breakage. And I so seldom knit socks on anything larger than a 2. Alas.
During the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl in 2009 I bought a set of 4″ HiyaHiya steel DPNs in size 0. They were so cute! Unfortunately, I realized that 4″ is just too short for the way I knit with DPNs, and the back end of the needle pokes me in the flesh of my palm. I’ve kept them around for glove fingers, but that’s all they’re good for right now it my book, which is too bad, because they’re adorable and nice needles with a good feeling otherwise.
Then, there was Sock Summit, in 2011, and I got a chance to see and try out some needles I’d only heard about – the Signature stilettos, and the Blackthorn Carbon Fiber needles. Swoon. I really loved the Signatures - the feel, the sharp tip, the warm fuzzies you get from a small American company…but I just could not justify the price tag. At $47 for a set of DPNs, I had to pass. The Blackthorns were interesting, though. Carbon fiber meant lightweight, unbreakable, and still warm to the touch unlike metal. Like a high-tech bamboo. I caved in, and when I got home ordered a set of 5″ size 1s, for $35. I wanted to love these needles, and yet… Two issues. First, there was the squeak factor. Knitting with these needles felt unmistakably like writing on a chalkboard, with the way the needle tips rubbed against each other. Not so nice. And also, I’d often get the uncanny feeling that a sliver of carbon fiber had gotten stuck in my hand. It wasn’t visible, but I’d get these red irritated spots and it felt just like a tiny splinter. So, I moved these along to a new home.
I was delighted, then, to discover the new Knitters’ Pride Karbonz needles – carbon fiber, with nickel tips. I’m really happy with them – they’re tough, and light, and pretty. The only thing that bothers me is that they absolutely don’t flex – which isn’t a fault, but more a realization about what I like in a needle. The rigid straightness of the Karbonz is part of what makes them so tough, but I think that my hands prefer a gentle bend after all. So I may be more of a bamboo lover after all. However, if I ever need to knit cables or anything where I’m applying pressure to the needles, the Karbonz are going to be great. And, they were pretty affordable at only $14 for the set.
So that’s a lot about DPNs, but what about Magic Loop? you may ask. Yes, I magic loop, and although I haven’t sought as far and wide for the perfect circular needles, I have some thoughts.
My go-to? Addi lace. For socks, I’ll use a 32″, and I like the Addis because they are sharp and the cords are very flexible. The brassy finish tends to tarnish in my hands a bit, which is a disappointment, but in the interchangeable set (which only goes to size 4, unfortunately), they’ve swapped out a nickel finish.
I don’t particularly like the joins and cords on the Clover circular needles, so I’ve stayed away from them for socks. I find the cables are too rigid and thick for my liking. I have stayed away from small hardwood circulars, like the KnitPicks, because I’m pretty certain they’d break. And KnitPicks and I are in a fight anyway.
After hearing great things about Chiaogoo, I bought a fixed circular (red lace), and honestly didn’t like it as much as I was hoping. The cord is a plastic-coated braided steel, and is more rigid than I’d expected. The whole set is just a bit heavy, although the joins are great and the red cord is very pretty. I got to play around with a Chiaogoo interchangeable set, and I was impressed by the swivel joins, which I imagine are necessary with the rigid cords. I think these would be fun to work with, but probably not the best for magic loop.
I’ve had my eyes on the Dyakcraft Heavy Metals, and am waiting to try them out. They come in sizes 0-3, and are a steel tip with a flexible cord. At $155 for the set, I’m probably not going to get them, considering how much I prefer DPNs for socks, but you never know! I do love that they’re handmade in the US, but to be honest, I’m sure I have all those sizes of circulars somewhere in my house. Maybe someday.
And that’s my roundup of sock needles – for now! Do you have a favorite sock needle to talk about? Something I should really try? Leave a comment!
In my last post, I wrote about an overlap of my academic research and my fiber obsession. This post is another synthesis, and is a rough-hewn idea I’ve been working through.
I’m in the process of putting together a pair of workshops that wed yoga and knitting as they deserve to be, highlighting the mindful meditative qualities of the handicraft and bringing some reflection and release to knitters who want to zen-out even more in the process, and to give a new set of creative skills to yogis who want to learn the basics of knitting.
One workshop of yoga for knitters, one workshop of knitting for yogis. Making mindfully. Coming to an LYS or yoga studio near you soon? Definitely more details to come.