A New Slow Sweater, What it Says, and the Idea of Knitting “And”

  

MMHenley 3

  

You know how sometimes you see someone, a stranger, and without meaning to, you imagine that whatever they’re wearing and whatever car they drive are the things they have chosen out of all possible options, that these things say something meaningful about their personality and their life? And then you look at yourself, your car, and maybe your clothes, and realize how many other circumstances played a part? I feel like we who make our own wardrobes move slowly (slowly, please cut yourself some slack, it’s going to be a process) towards the point where at least for what we wear it’s true: our clothes say exactly what we want them too. (My car is another story, I don’t know about yours. It does say that I would rather duct tape the mirror back on and buy better food than other possible options …)

This sweater feels like a step towards what I want to say with my knitting. It’s made with Mountain Meadow Wool (they’re a woman-owned company using US wool from the West, committed to eco-friendly practices) in a sheep-grown color (“natural dark gray”) which I love. I feel like the message that real wool is beautiful and good comes through, even if you saw me and assumed I bought this sweater (although if you saw my car you’d know I couldn’t afford it). You can also see that I love texture and value detail, and hate being cold.

  

MMHenley 1

  

I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be my One Year, One Outfit project for 2016. I started planning it in late 2015, started knitting as spring came around, and brought it with me on the road last summer, but it took until this spring to finish. This was a long knit for a whole lot of reasons. The textured stitch patterns just take longer; there was more stopping and checking and thinking than with plain stockinette or one pattern all over. Sweaters are big, and pretty soon I wouldn’t necessarily take this one everywhere I went. Making something only loosely “inspired by” a pattern (the Cotswold Henley by Meghan Babin) takes a lot of thinking, and measuring, and planning, and sometimes ripping out and knitting again. All totally worth it, but time consuming, and sometimes I ended up not knitting because planning the knitting was daunting and I was too tired or overwhelmed.

When we got home in the fall, I really wanted to keep making progress on it, so at first I decided I would work on the sweater before bed, instead of spinning, until the sweater was done. I love spinning before bed, and it has to be said that I did not love knitting the sweater during that time as much. Sometimes I would just skip it. After a while I realized that, although I’m not the kind who likes having a bunch of projects in progress, this was a false choice—it’s actually healthy for me to have a little knitting and a little spinning going on at the same time. I also realized something about how I like to work that I kind of already knew; knitting is an “and” activity for me. I love knitting while traveling, knitting while hanging out with friends, and knitting at meetings, but I really don’t love sitting quietly by myself and knitting. I’d rather do something else with that time. So I went the other way; I started spinning at night again, and hauling an extra tote bag full of sweater-in-progress with me to social events and anywhere else I could see that I might have some down time. That worked much better, and before long the sweater was actually done!

  

MMHenley 2

  

I believe that it’s done and that I knit it, but I’m having trouble believing that I get to keep it, if that makes any sense. In other words, I got pretty much exactly what I wanted. Of course there are a few things I’ll change in the next version, but there always are. I’ve decided that just shows that I’m still on a journey.

I started wearing it as soon as the last seam was sewn, and it went on quite a few outings this May, and into June in our variable mountain weather. The yarn has pilled some, but I’m hoping that how brilliantly it held up to being ripped out and re-knit (ahem) multiple times in certain sections means that the pills will be temporary and not terminal. I drafted Bryan to take the photos of it on me on the last cool day we’re likely to have until fall, and then carefully packed it away. Getting it out when the weather turns again is going to be such a treat!

  

MMHenley 4

There are two different stitch patterns, but they’re hard to see unless you’re really looking. I possibly should have gone with something bolder/more contrast, but then again subtle is my jam …

  

A few knitting notes: I wanted this to fit over my thickest winter shirt/sub-sweater (I hate being cold). I used Karen Templer’s idea of in-the-round “seams”. This is seriously brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Knitting seems so perfectly adapted to be made in the round, to be shaped organically, to be seamless, and I’ve never been willing to give all that up for the structure that seams can add. Now I just might get both! I made a pretty detailed/extensive chart of measurements for various sections of the sweater when I was planning where the “seams” would go and how big the whole thing should be, based on trying on an old sweater and marking it with pins. I’m really looking forward to having that chart and this sweater for planning future sweaters. I’ll be able to look at them and compare pattern measurements and know how big I want the sleeves, or how wide across the shoulders, etc.

  

MMHenley 5

Guts: Picked up stitches around the neck/placket, and where the sleeve joins the body. “Seams” closed with mattress stitch between the two stitch patterns vertically in the body, and horizontally near the bottom of the sleeves.

  

For now, I’m enjoying knitting socks in spare moments. Compared to this sweater, they seem to appear instantaneously! I have a pair almost done already. I think the speed is mostly due to the “and” factor; socks are really suited to occupying my hands while other things are going on. They’re small enough for me to keep the whole project in the bag I usually carry, and I purposefully kept the stitch patterns simple enough that I can keep track without needing to refer to a pattern most of the time—which also means I don’t have to stop much for deep thinking. I could really use some new socks, so I may just make a few pairs before settling down to anything big and complicated again.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you want to share about big versus small projects, or crafts you like to do on your own in a quiet space versus things that are good for groups and busy times, or where you are in your journey of what you’d like your wardrobe to say …

  

MMHenley 6

 

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Making Jeny’s Stretchy Slip Knot Cast On with Lumpy Yarns

Or, how to make it easier in any yarn.

I love this cast on*; how easily it stretches and bounces back right along with the knitting, how invisible it is (it’s like whatever pattern you’re knitting just appears fully formed, without a visually different edge), and the bonus that since it only uses one end, you don’t have to worry about starting with a long enough tail.

But it’s notoriously difficult to do with uneven or thick-and-thin yarns, since the yarn has to be able to slide easily past itself to make the required shape.  Or does it …  My knitting students were having a hard time with this cast-on, even in a relatively smooth yarn, which got me wondering if I could figure out a trick that would help keep the yarn moving.  I decided to try it with my first handspun project (a thick and thin yarn if there ever was one).  And I did figure it out!  It may have helped that I was stuck on an airplane at the time without too much else to do …  It turns out that there’s one place that the yarn gets hung up on itself, and if you can get past that, you can do this cast on in a lumpy yarn too!  I’ll show you how below.

First, a quick review of what makes a slip knot, since that’s the structure this whole cast on is based on—you’ll essentially make one slip knot after another.  First of all, you need a loop.

 

slipknot cast on 1I’m going to show you using a bit smoother yarn—otherwise it would be hard to see what’s going on.  This is “Sheridan” from Mountain Meadow Wool—yummy!

 

Next you need another loop, and to put that second loop through the first one.  Remember that the ends must cross each other for the loops to stay in place.  So, you can either make a second loop in the bottom strand of the first loop and bring it through the top, or make a loop in the top strand and push it up through the bottom, which is what I’ve done below.

 

slipknot cast on 2

 

Tighten it up by pulling the second loop through until the first loop closes around it.  If you’ve made a successful slip knot, it will go away if you pull on both ends of the yarn.

 

slipknot cast on 3

 

Put this first knot on a needle, and you’re ready for the cast on.  I like to put the working end of the yarn (not the short tail) around my thumb, and hold the end with the last two fingers of my hand, as shown below.  (There are other hand positions and motions that work perfectly well to make this cast on, these are the ones I use.)

 

slipknot cast on 4

 

To make the first loop, I use the needle to scoop up the strand nearest me around the thumb, moving from the bottom up.

 

slipknot cast on 5

 

Leaving this first loop on the thumb, I use the rest of my hand to bring a second strand of yarn over the needle, making the second loop.

I used to think that looping this strand one direction vs. the other over the needle might make it easier to pull the yarn through in the last step.  That might be true, but it also (of course, silly me) determines which way your first round of stitches sit on the needle.  Chances are you want them as shown below, so wrap the yarn starting at the front and moving to the back.  If you’re a “combination” knitter or you learned in a tradition that knits through the back of the stitch, you’ll find your stitches ready to go if you wrap the yarn the other way, starting at the back and moving to the front.

 

slipknot cast on 6

 

In either case, now we have two loops on the needle.  We want to move the first loop over the second one, so that it makes a collar around the base of the second loop, just like in the first slip knot we made without the needle.  To do this, I use my thumb to lift the first loop up and over the tip of needle, and then let it go.

 

slipknot cast on 7

 

In the instructions I’ve seen before, the next step is to hold the new loop against the top of the needle, and pull on the end of the yarn so the collar around it tightens up.  Sometimes this works great, but if your yarn has any resistance to sliding along itself, it will probably get caught up, stop short, and cause you to curse, tug on all the ends available, and try again.

The reason the yarn gets caught easily is that there’s one place in its path where it has to loop quickly around itself, making almost like a little knot (indicated by the arrow below).

 

slipknot cast on 8

 

What I found was that if I pull the yarn through this tight place first, I can then pull on the end and the stitch will tighten up smoothly, even in my lumpy handspun!

I take hold of the outside of that little loop-de-loop, and pull it out, so that the collar starts to form around the bottom of the new loop on the needle.

 

slipknot cast on 9

 

I’ve found that it works best if I get the new loop pretty snug, right up against the stitch before it on the needle, and the collar almost snug as well.  Then with it set up, I hold the new loop against the needle and pull on the yarn end to finish the new stitch.

 

slipknot cast on 10

 

Although this undoubtedly adds a step, to me it’s totally worth it, since I can now use a whole lot more yarns with one of my favorite cast ons.  And I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a slightly more complex but smooth process, rather than cursing and tugging on the yarn every few stitches because it keeps getting stuck.

 

slipknot cast on 11

 

*One of the many bonuses of going to a workshop with Cat Bordhi in person, is that she tells you all kinds of cool little tricks, and that’s where I first learned about this cast on.  The original post about it on Jeny’s blog is here, she links both to her own video of the steps, and to another one which uses different motions.  If you’d prefer not to hold the yarn around your thumb, there’s also a variation using two needles demonstrated by Tillybuddy on YouTube here.

 

Happy knitting!