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Make do and mend

Yesterday, a woman came into the yarn shop clutching a grey shawl to her bosom, asking about repairing moth holes. Knitwear repair is one of my sidelines, so I nodded enthusiastically and asked to take a look.

The shawl was a charcoal grey swath of fine-gauge stockinette, in a cashmere that had been lightly felted from years of loving wear, probably one yard wide by four yards long, and had been absolutely ravished by clothes moths. Moths happen to fancy cashmere quite a lot, in all its buttery sumptuousness, and eat it right up. The shawl had a half-dozen large holes, the size of a silver dollar with the fabric completely gone, a dozen or more moderate holes where a line of stitching had been eaten away (almost always vertical or diagonal, wouldn’t you know, which is harder to fix as more live threads are cut), and twenty or more pinholes, where just a few threads had been nibbled on, but live stitches were exposed.

Insert a sad sigh here.

The shawl’s owner had been to a different repair person on the North Shore, who had reknit some of the holes in this customer’s sweaters (as the infestation of moths hadn’t been restricted to just the shawl, oh, no), and who had told her that the cost to do the same for this shawl would simply be astronomical. I’m not sure what response she was expecting to get from me, having already been told as much, but the reply she got was worse.

I refused to take the job, for any price.

In fact, I refused to quote a price. I sized up the project quickly, and realized that it would be sheer misery to fix this shawl. The trifecta of a painful repair was here – fine gauge stitches (hard to see, hard to replicate), dark color, and huge, numerous holes. I explained that we were easily looking at 15-20 hours of work, and that I could do it, but that with my life as it is (full-time graduate student, 1-year-old at home), there was no way I would do it. After she left, I thought to myself, well, maybe I should have offered to do it for $2000, and I’d plan on a 6-month turnaround time, because I could probably stand to spend 1 hour a week on it, for a very protracted number of weeks. But even then…

What I did was explain what would do if it had been my scarf, which is to chop up the undamaged pieces and sew them into something – a little neck cozy, a cushion cover, a teddy bear. Or, chop up the pieces and sew them together into a skinny patchwork tube scarf. She was unconvinced.

Then, she asked how, if one were to repair this, one might do such a thing. I have no secrets, so I explained. You’d take a sewing needle, and you’d thread a matching yarn through the fabric and stitches in a manner like duplicate stitch, “reknitting” as you go, but anchoring the new yarn to the existing stitches on the side. I directed her toward an instructional book that helped me learn how to do knitwear repair, Flawless Knit Repair by Rena Crockett. And I assured her that, yes, the repair was possible. But would be tedious. And that I simply could not take the job on, nor did I know anyone in the area who I could direct her to.

And you know what? It’s been haunting me. Not that I want to do the job, or that I need the money (although, let’s be honest, I’d be happy with extra pin money), or that I was interested in working on this shawl. It boils down to an ideological issue, and one that I’ve been on the other side of before, with Felix Shoe Repair, the guy who just won’t fix my shoes. The issue is that I think good things deserve to be repaired, and should not be thrown away. At least three times now, I’ve brought a pair of shoes to Felix in Harvard Square, and each time, he looks at my (admittedly cheap and run-down) shoes, and says that he won’t repair them. It’s not worth it, and the repair won’t be a good one, even if he spends a lot of time on it. Every time I’m incensed, because I know that the repair is possible, I just don’t have the tools and materials to do it. He does! And I know that it’d cost the same to buy a new pair of shoes, maybe even less. But these shoes are still good, and have life left in them, and isn’t this part of the problem of today’s society where everything is so disposable, that we’re not attached to anything, that we just waste and waste, and don’t worry, we can just buy another cheap plastic…

…ahem.

And so here I was, on the other side of the counter. This woman was saying the words I know so well, “But I’d hate to just throw it out.” “I can pay, it’s not that.” “How many hours do you think it’d take?” “Well, if you won’t fix it, how would you recommend I do it myself?” “Sure, I understand. No, I know, I understand. Thank you.”

Dear woman, I wish I had unlimited hours in my life to fix your shawl. I wish that I had a summer vacation where all my needs were met, and all I needed to do in a day was roll out of bed, stroll out onto my veranda by the sea, and work on restitching what the moths so violently and thoughtlessly effaced. I wish that for this work I’d do for you, I’d be paid handsomely in gold and silks and champagne and strawberries, and in dividends paid into a 401K so I could live comfortably into old age without worrying about how the bills will get paid. While we’re at it, I wish that the shawl were actually a different shawl, more interesting and less felted, maybe in a light cream color. Because even in this fantasyland of fixing your shawl, we’re talking a lot of hours of tedious work, on a boring project, and really, I’d rather be going for a walk or reading Mother Goose with my little guy.

How do you put a price tag on that?

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March 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm Leave a comment

Heck yeah, socks!

So, I like socks. I like knitting them, wearing them, buying them, fondling sock yarn, the little itty bitty sock needles, all of it. And I love teaching other people how to knit socks, too. The problem is, knitting a sock can take a while. Sure, there are some people who crank out a knitted sock a week (ahem, Yarn Harlot), but the sheer number of stitches on tiny needles can be daunting for a new sock knitter.

For my beginner sock classes, I like to have students work with worsted-weight wool and larger needles, so they can knit up a finished product faster and see their stitches easier, too. Despite the fact that this is a pretty basic project, I wasn’t totally satisfied with the patterns available to me or my students, so I set about writing my own.

This pattern comes in 6 sizes, from a woman’s small through a men’s large (that should fit through a size 13+ shoe, if you’re brave enough to knit socks that big!), and the sizes are color-coded throughout to help you keep track of your project numbers. All the instructions are spelled out with particular clarity in the notes, so even a very beginner knitter can feel comfortable taking on his or her first pair of socks. You should be able to knit and purl and join in the round in order to knit these.

The pattern is for sale on Ravelry for $4 (click “buy now” below), and I hope you check it out! Soon, maybe you’ll be as crazy about knitting socks as I am!

-Katie

March 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

Dabbling with Brioche

…the knit stitch, not the bread. Oh, I wish I were baking brioche today!

Mmmm, brioche in cashmere…

Yesterday, I set out to knit a cowl (neck cozy, dicky, tubular-man-scarf, cache-cou, what have you) for baby Jean-Luc. I’d made one for him in the early winter, because his jacket (a size 2T, that we’re getting all the mileage we can out of) left a large gap around his wee neck, letting all the cold air in.

My original design was to be something like an old-man dicky. A turtleneck collar, that then increased to cover the shoulders with raglan shaping, and extended down the front and back a bit to cover a V-neck or some such. It was a good idea in theory, but poorly-executed. The neck, which I’d intentionally kept short to stay out of his mouth, was too short, and the ribbing too wide. The front and back curled, as stockinette is wont to do, and even the few rows of garter at the edging were no match for the curl.

Back to the drawing board it was. But with several projects on the needles (Venezia, Glovelies, and a recently-started pair of socks), it took me a while to muster up the energy to start something new. What we needed was a snowstorm.

And then, the Blizzard of 2013 hit (remember this day, my sons!), and I suddenly had nowhere to go on a Saturday, a skein of cashmere calling my name, and a vague recollection of a Ravelry forum post where one knitter was advising another to knit something in the brioche stitch to make it more versatile and super-stretchy.

So, I cast on. I hadn’t successfully knit anything in the brioche stitch before. I had tried, once, just after Sock Summit, to experiment with the 2-color cable brioche knits illustrated in Interweave Knits Weekend 2011:

Impressive looking, right?

So I gave it a try. The designer, Lily Chin, is known for her awesome skill at cables, and it looks tough. But I was feeling smug, and tried it out. And failed. Wrap this? Slip that? Colors all over the place, and then cable forward…ergh. Now, to save face, I’d like it to be known that it wasn’t my knitting skills that failed. It was coming together. A few rows in, and I understood what was supposed to happen. But my patience? Fried. There’s no wonder that of the 4 projects you can view on Ravelry for this pattern, one is titled “super-tricky,” another “a challenge,” which calls the pattern “a beast,” and the third is hibernating. The fourth knitter, who has been knitting for 46 years and produced this as a shop model for an LYS, calls it “great fun once you get used to it.” Yeah. Enough talking about a pattern I haven’t even knit.

But actually, I want to show you another example or two of lovely two-color brioche patterns that I may knit someday:

Both are by designer Nancy Marchant, the owner of briochestitch.com, which incidentally is where I learned how to brioche knit yesterday. It’s a lovely, interesting effect, and I think with a good sense of color, some really nice things can be done with this stitch.

But I wasn’t up for a two-color challenge yesterday. I wanted plain-jane, but warm. So I grabbed a few things from my stash: a skein of Handmaiden Cashmere, a skein of Cascade 220, and a set of US #7 DPNs (I’d tried casting on Friday night on a circ for magic loop, and it got too twisty, so I decided to go low-tech for this one).

I followed Nancy’s recommendation on briochestitch.com and tried the Italian Cast-on, which might just be my new favorite k1p1 cast on. It looks store-bought – there’s no excess, no decorative frill; the knitting springs straight up from the edge, without any crazy tubular nonsense. Likewise, when I hit the other end, I bound off with a sewn kitchener (also called Italian) bind off, for the same effect. Why was I using EZ’s sewn bind-off all these years, when this one is more invisible? I need to research the differences more, but I’m now skeptical.

Is this the CO or BO? Can’t tell? Boo-yah, perfection!

To make it cling in the center more (and to facilitate a fold-over), I switched to a size 6 needle for the middle inch or so. The result is a nice hourglass shape.

But why brioche? What’s so cool about this stitch? Why is it worth the hassle of all those wraps and stuff, rather than just working a k1p1 rib?

Brioche is thick and sculptural, in a way that regular knitting is not. With k1p1, you end up with a fabric that has some thickness, but when you stretch it out, each stitch is just one thickness of yarn. With brioche, your stitches are thicker, because they incorporate the wrap of the previous row. It’s sort of like knitting fair-isle or double-knitting; those strands, the “floats” add extra thickness to your fabric. Likewise, brioche wraps add extra thickness to the knits. But, unlike fair-isle where those floats are limiting factors to your stretchiness, here in brioche, the wraps add extra elasticity, extra material for the knits to use to stretch out, so the brioche rib is both thicker and loftier than k1p1,but also wider and stretchier than k1p1 over the same number of stitches (oh why did I rip out my swatch before photographing it?!?).

Like everything, it has its place and time. I’m not going to turn into a Nancy Marchant and start knitting everything brioche just because I can. But it is cool, and now I think I’ve got the patience (and the muscle-memory built) to tackle that Hosta scarf. And in the meantime, baby’s got a neckwarmer!

cutie pie in cashmere

February 10, 2013 at 11:52 am 1 comment

2012 in review: knitting

It’s been a surprisingly good year for knitting.

knitcollage2012
It started with finishing up, at the last minute, a toy octopus(!!!) and the homecoming outfit for J-L – hat, sweater, and legwarmers. And, in the hospital postpartum unit, I was working on a pair of shop model socks for SH. I made a couple of pairs of baby socks out of sock yarn remnants I’d had, with the intent that Jean-Luc would have a new pair of wool socks per month of his first year, showing the size of his little baby feet. A cute idea, but for the first two pairs, even though I’d measured and measured, the socks were too small by the time I’d kitchenered up the toes! He’d outgrown them faster than I could knit…so I gave up the project. (note – the actual reason they were always too small was because stitches, even tiny sock-yarn-on-size-1s stitches have thickness, which means that the inside of a garment is always going to be smaller than the outside. For an adult garment, this difference is negligible. For the baby sock, I’d mistakenly made them so that the outside was the right size, and those few millimeters meant enough that they weren’t comfortably wearable.)

I made a little woolen soaker for JL’s cloth diapers in the spring, but we never really got the hang of wool – PUL covers are so light and easy to care for, it’s hard for wool to compare to. So, neglected it remains. I haven’t even taken a picture of it, and somehow it has a hole in it. I suspect we have carpet beetles. Ugh.

Knitting slowed down as Jean-Luc became more interested in the outside world (and what I was working on), so it took me until May to finish the (awesome) baby blanket I’d started months before. Part of the delay was the tedium of the pattern, all in garter stitch. And part of the problem was that it turned out more like a bedspread than a baby blanket, covering a full-sized bed rather comfortably.  [here’s the post I wrote about it] I really recommend Woolly Thoughts’ patterns if you like math-inspired knitting – they’re beautiful and make you think, just the way I like it.

A triumph of the summer was putting together a pattern for sale – A Sip Of Bubbly Shawlette, using BeSweet’s bubble ball yarn, a single-ply merino strung with felt bobbles. It was fun to write a pattern especially for this yarn, and I may try that approach in the future, particularly for interesting yarns like this one. [here’s my post about it]

Another triumph was finishing the spinning on my first full skein of handspun yarn! It’s a light grey llama that I bought 2 years ago at the Mass Sheep and Woolcraft festival, and I’ve been chugging along at it steadily. Now, to figure out what to knit with it!

Then came the Clapotis I’d had the yarn for years, since the 2011 Great Rhody Yarn Crawl. It’s knit from SWTC Bamboo, in a beautiful golden yellow, just like the one dear Chelsea had made for Stitch House. That’s a bittersweet thought, as Chelsea passed away this year, and has left a huge hole in the hearts of many people who knew her. We miss you, Chelsea!

I cranked out a pair of Skew socks in the fall. It was my second pair of this pattern, which is frankly brilliant and beautiful. The only disadvantage is that the heel is naturally weak, with a row of slightly less-dense increases sitting right at the top of the heel, a place that shoes tend to rub. My first pair sprung a hole not long ago, and because of the novel construction, it’s not a straightforward repair. Boo.

When the seasons changed, Jean-Luc needed a hat. And mittens. And a dicky. It was nice to use up some stash scraps!

I swatched and started (but haven’t yet finished) another long-planned project: Eunny Jang’s Venezia sweater. It’s slow going; the color work requires constant attention, which isn’t so much my style. So, while working on that, I knit up a sweater for Jean-Luc, which I just put the buttons on. (I’m planning on a small blog series on improvising your own pattern, based on my experience with this sweater!) On Small Business Saturday, I used my AmEx credit to get the luscious supplies to make a Shibui Gradient Cowl -4 skeins of Silk Haze in navy, teal, graphite and silver. It made its way onto the 2012 collage, even though I finished it in early January 2013. Shhh…

And at the last minute, I knitted up a little star to top our Christmas tree (pattern forthcoming).

It’s been a quiet year in yarn acquisition, too, with the exception of a birthday blitz on a sweater’s worth of MadelineTosh Vintage in plummy pink and blue-grey. Probably a tea leaves cardigan with some color work added in, or something similar. That and the Shibui, and a few treasures purchased on vacation in Canada (oh Canadian yarns…). Not too bad. Now, to find more time to knit!

So, looking back, more than 12 things in 2012, even with a baby at home. It gives me hope that I’ll be able to claim 13 in 2013!

January 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

A new year!

Happy New Year, everyone, from snowy Canada!


With the turn of the calendar pages (a relic of a different age, almost) comes a certain sense of reflection on the year past and the year to come. 2012 was a monumental year in our lives, with the birth of Jean-Luc and the adventure of being new parents. It’s been a happy, sleepless year, full of awkwardly juggling needs and wants, necessities and luxuries (like hot showers, hot meals, etc.), and dropping the ball a few times. But it’s been a fun ride.

I went through and catalogued all the knitting of the year, and it’s a bit less than usual, but I still met the benchmark of 12 finished objects in 2012. And that’s not even counting both of a pair of things – socks, mittens, leg warmers, sleeves….

But, rather than give you a post full of words and missing the juicy photos, I’ve put it on ice until I can get home and make good on the post’s full potential. So, check back in a few days for the full knitting review of 2012!

Location:Quebec, Canada

January 1, 2013 at 10:24 am Leave a comment

a Sip of Bubbly

A new pattern to tantalize you – a featherweight shawlette with effervescent felted bobbles scattered throughout, courtesy of a charming yarn.

A Sip of Bubbly Shawlette

The pattern’s up for sale on Ravelry, so check it out!

Ravelry Pattern Page

My project and notes

August 2, 2012 at 11:46 am 1 comment

1969 yards of garter stitch

When I first started knitting, I was really eager to try all the techniques I could. I couldn’t fathom knitting the same pattern twice, because once you’ve done it once, I thought, you’ve learned what it was trying to teach you, you’ve produced the finished product, and you’re ready to move on. If you had told me back then that I’d get really devoted to knitting, get pretty good at it, too, and then find myself knitting garter-stitch blankets, I’m not sure what I’d have made of that information. And yet, here we have my latest finished project:

The project is the Curve of Pursuit Afghan from Woolly Thoughts, and I was drawn to it because of the great Op-Art styling. Then the designers hooked me in by explaining that the pattern was based on a mathematical principle (that fact alone may have convinced me to pay for the pattern instead of trying to hack it myself). So I bought the PDF, and read through, and then realized exactly how much garter stitch lay ahead of me.

Okay, maybe I didn’t quite realize, because I bought 4 skeins of yarn and set off, thinking that would be enough. I also didn’t quite have the scope in mind; how big did I want it to be? But in any case, the basic construction of this afghan is short-rows in garter stitch. Most of you might say, a blanket in garter stitch? How dreadful! And indeed, there were moments toward the end when I might be tempted to agree, with the tedium bearing heavily upon me. But in general, this was a delight to knit, sitting on the couch through the fall and winter, through the last months of pregnancy and into the first months of motherhood, knitting along mindlessly while my husband and I watched episodes of Star Trek: the Original Series, or Fred Astaire films.

Knitting can be quite meditative, but it’s hard to feel the peace of it when you’re fighting with stubborn cables or ripping back rows of a lace pattern that you miscounted due to a momentary lapse of attention. And while one of my favorite pastimes is reading while knitting, it’s quite a challenge to do so when you have to give so much brain power to counting stitches or looking at what you’re doing.

And honestly, the knit stitch, that plain simple stitch, is beautiful. A twist of fiber into a strand of yarn, a loop emerging from another loop, each stitch stacking evenly upon its predecessor (as Cat Bordhi terms it, mother stitches giving way to daughters…perhaps a bit “woo,” but a nice image nonetheless). Garter stitch has a lovely stretch, a vertical bounce, and an even, reversible face, which makes it really lovely in a blanket. No curling, no “wrong side.”

I’ll admit it, being the mother of an infant has appreciably shortened my attention span, and has taken away much of my knitting time. A pair of socks that I cast on almost a month ago sit barely started on my needles, while my Ravelry queue grows longer. My other “active” project, that will take over the role of “mindless couch knitting” is, amazingly, a pattern I’ve even knit before, Clapotis, this time in a slinky bamboo that I bought specially for the project. The knitting goes slowly as the days go quickly by. Knitting styles change, and at least for now, simplicity is to be cherished.

May 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm 2 comments

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