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Posts Tagged ‘handcrafting’

Sweaterbabe to the rescue

I’ve been an addicted knitter for some years now, and have steadily developed my skills in that area.  I spent hundreds of dollars on yarn for various projects I had in mind several years ago, but have been stalled on most of them because I’ve lost interest in the projects themselves.  One of the hardest things I’m discovering about knitting is matching up a gorgeous, favorite yarn with a project worthy of the stuff.

For example, I have some heather green 100% wool yarn for which I haven’t found a good sweater pattern.  I thought I would use it to knit Kate Gilbert’s “Arwen” sweater,

but after knitting up a few inches of it, I got bored. I loved the hood, but for me there was not enough texture or interest, and I hated the hem and sleeves.  But what else could I knit that would look good with my genuine Lothlorien leaf brooch?  Nothing in my Jo Sharp books appealed (too boxy and conventional).  My Viking knitting pattern book had some cool stuff, as did my Alice Starmore fisherman’s sweater books, but I can’t knit a really warm sweater and expect to be able to wear it much in Israel, even in Efrat.  I thought about creating an original Shimshonit-designed sweater using the techniques I learned from Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson’s Knitting In the Old Way, but I couldn’t think of anything original.

I had despaired of finding anything before the moths find the wool, until I was looking today for a knitting pattern to use some pink mohair I’d  bought for my daughters for a poncho or cape or shawl or something.  I didn’t come across anything interesting for the mohair, but I did come across the Sweaterbabe website which has so many beautiful, creative, interesting knitting patterns, I found at least three or four projects that would work beautifully for my heather green, plus some for my lovely nut brown color wool DK and a dozen other yarns hanging around with nothing to do.  Not only are the sweaters, hats, scarves, cowls, and vests wonderful looking, but customers who have knitted her patterns say they are extremely well-written and easy to do, even as first-ever knitting projects.  I also liked the finished projects gallery where she posts photos from happy customers proudly wearing their beautifully-knit projects.  (I’m especially impressed with how neat and well-knit they look, even on the novice knitters.  Photoshop jobs?  I hope not.)  The site is intended both for knitters and crocheters, and includes advice and tips for both types of crafts.  There is also a blog, an email list with monthly free patterns, and an “Ask Sweaterbabe” page to post your specific questions to Sweaterbabe Herself.

I have traditionally been a cable fan, knitting standard-shaped sweaters and avoiding openwork.  But I’m getting more interested in lacework in my middle age, and Sweaterbabe’s many sweaters with lace combined with cables and unusual shapes have me intrigued.  In the end, I have decided to knit either this lacy drape-front cardigan (which I can close with either my Lothlorien pin or the lovely silver scarf pin my friend Heather gave me) :

or this dramatic wrap cardigan:

And with all of Sweaterbabe’s dozens of other projects, I think I’ll be busy throughout the winter.

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Knitting revolution

Caution: The following post may be esoteric and tedious to non-knitters.

When I first learned to knit, I acquired skills slowly.  First knitting, then purling.  Then casting on (in the inelastic knitting-into-the-same-stitch mode) and binding off.  I never learned seaming or picking up stitches, or anything more complicated than simple cables.

Then I set it aside for a couple of decades.

Since I’ve come back to it, I have endeavored to learn multiple casting-on and binding-off methods as well as fancier things like running stitches, bobbles, complicated braided cables, lacy patterns, the works.  I can seam, increase, decrease, and am on the brink of doing some colorwork.  I’ve purchased several books with intricate patterns and methods (basic, Celtic, Viking, Fair Isle, among others).  I own a reliable reference book for basic techniques from knitting and purling to finishing techniques.

But one thing has always bothered me: I’ve been a slave to knitting patterns.

When I was first learning to knit, I couldn’t read a pattern.  (What Dumbledore sees in them in the sixth Harry Potter book is beyond me.)  My mother interpreted them for me when I was younger, and over time I’ve learned to decipher them, but I’ve still not been satisfied.  Just because I can read a pattern does not mean (to me, anyway) that I am a really good knitter.  Like cooking, there is a difference between someone who must follow a recipe and someone who can alter a recipe to taste (or to what is in the larder) or create something entirely new.

A couple of years ago, the Cap’n and I took the kids to the States.  While we were there, I visited a large knitting store (WEBS in Northampton, Mass.) where I shlepped my new knitting books around and tried to find yarn to suit the sweaters I wanted to knit.  I asked a store salesperson for help, and she guided me to yarns for each project.  I made my selections, dropped a small fortune at the cash register, and boxed my things to bring back to Israel

On that same trip to the States, my friend Heather gave me a copy of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting Workshop.  It’s a small volume filled with wisdom and techniques for making a few basic sweaters for any sized person—without a pattern.  I loved Zimmerman’s opinionated views on knitting (including her hatred of seaming) and devoured the book.  I also ordered a similar book called Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, which is a more in-depth exploration of the history of the knitted sweater and how to design a sweater, including shape, fit, and color or textural design, all without a pattern.

But at the time, I was still too inexperienced and too timid a knitter to embark on a serious study of this oh-so-independent discipline.  I had my yarn and my patterns, and was set with projects for a few years.

But during the intervening time, I have discovered two things: 1) despite the salesperson’s assistance, many of the yarns I purchased are inappropriate for the projects I had in mind, and 2) over the last couple of years, I’ve fallen out of love with some of the projects I had planned on knitting.  What am I to do with all this yarn I have if I don’t have patterns that suit it?  I’ve tried to find new sweater patterns I could knit with what I have, but there is little in my books that suits.  So last week I spent hours on the Internet looking at patterns, with little success.  (Nearly all of the projects were unsuitable to my taste, climate, and basic sense of modesty.  I mean really, what woman in her 40’s wants to walk around in a dishtowel with a couple of shoulder straps?  Even with a shirt underneath…)

In the end, faced with a stock of really nice yarn with no certain future, I’ve gone back to those books and read them more carefully.

After really absorbing their message this time, I feel as though I’ve had a conversionary experience.  I learned how to knit in the first place so I could make exactly what I want in a sweater rather than relying on whatever the stores stocked—and pattern books are the equivalent of stores, in my opinion.  It’s not cheaper to handknit—not when you add up the cost of materials, knitting equipment (needles aren’t cheap) and time spent knitting (which is time not spent working, doing laundry or dishes, or driving the kids somewhere, though I do find it easy to knit while I help a kid with homework), but it is pleasurable and rewarding.  And with a handmade sweater, I should be able to choose the materials, the design, the exact fit, and the finished product should look better on me and be better made than anything I can buy retail.  When I rely on patterns, I give up a large measure of that independence.

This does not mean I’m finished with patterns.  There are some really wonderful designers out there (I really like Jo Sharp, Alice Starmore, and Ann McCauley) who design some smashing-looking sweaters.  What it does mean is that if I want to knit a pullover in the round, a cardigan in one piece, or steek a sweater I’m supposed to knit in 5 flat pieces, there are resources I can use to help me figure out how to do it.  If Jo Sharp’s sweaters are too boxy or shapeless for me (or my kids), I can alter them to make them more fitted.  If Ann McCauley designed a gorgeous knitted pattern but I don’t have the right yarn to make the exact project she designed, perhaps I can adapt her pattern to an entirely different sweater.  Knitting has always been enjoyable for me, but from now on, it will never be the same—in a really good way.

It’s a bit like the experience of discovering Orthodox Judaism, where the traditional has come to look revolutionary in the modern world.  Lehavdil.

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