Friday, July 7, 2017

K1P1 Ribbing Quest: The Big Knit Stitch Question

My quest continues! If you are just joining me, this post is number three in a series about k1p1 ribbing-- the investigation started with a comparison of attractive (and elusive) k1p1 ribbing and ugly k1p1 ribbing (which seems to be the only kind I can produce). In my second post I looked closely at the characteristics of knitted fabric and how it behaves, and I left off with this picture:

And a question: why are the knit stitches in k1p1 ribbing so much bigger and more untidy than those in stockinette, keeping yarn, knitting technique, and needle size the same? When the knits and purls alternate with each row, or when they alternate both vertically and horizontally as in seed stitch, the stitches remain neat and orderly. But line the knits up vertically between two columns of purl stitches and all hell breaks loose. Why?

My first thought looking at the two swatches side by side is that surely there must me more yarn in those bigger stitches-- seems logical, right? This is easy to test. I knit each swatch with the same number of stitches and rows, I even carefully clipped the yarn tails to equal lengths, so if one swatch used more yarn, it should weigh more. Well I threw each one on my digital scale and they weigh exactly the same. Meaning that there is the SAME amount of yarn in each swatch! So much for that idea.

If there isn't more yarn in those bigger stitches, what accounts for the size difference? What's going on in the fabric? While I was thinking about this I held each swatch up in a sunny window so that I could better see the spaces in and around the stitches. I immediately observed something very striking-- take a look at each swatch in silhouette:

Notice the difference? The spaces between and inside the stitches of the ribbed fabric are much bigger than those in the stockinette fabric. Not only that but the yarn plies in the ribbing stitches look looser and airier-- the ribbed swatch is overall less opaque. The same effect happens in stockinette when I use a MUCH larger needle-- I have been using a size US 5/3.75mm, here's the same yarn knit on a size US 10/6.0mm:

So much more air space! And see how the plies look more open in the bigger stitches? The same thing is happening in the knit stitches of the ribbing sample-- there is more space for the yarn to expand and for the plies to separate in the stitches. There isn't more yarn in those big stitches-- there's more air! But why?

I have sort of a hypothesis-- otherwise I probably wouldn't be wasting my time and yours with this business! Stockinette fabric has less air because the stitches hold each other together better. It has more structural integrity. Each stitch supports the others next to it, the plies of the yarn are held together more firmly and the stitches sit closer to their neighbors. Stockinette can be made to look airier and looser when knit on very large needles, but when knit at a normal gauge it is much denser than ribbing. Garter stitch and seed stitch are also denser, so there can be some alternation of knits and purls without compromising the integrity of the fabric-- it is only when the knits and purls are lined up vertically into columns that the fabric starts to become unstable. Ribbed fabric has more elasticity, but it lacks the structure and cohesiveness to hold the stitches tightly, so the stitches appear larger and looser though they have same amount of yarn per stitch as stockinette.

What causes this instability? Bear with me here because it's about to get even nerdier. This problem of enlarged stitches happens in other ribbed fabrics-- many knitters find that the left knit column in any type of ribbing turns out loose and uneven. You can see it here in k2p2 ribbing:

It is the same on both sides of the fabric-- so both the second knit stitch and the first purl stitch in a k2p2 sequence are loose. Here's what's going on between the stitches:

There are two columns of large holes and two columns of small ones-- the first knit and the second purl in the k2p2 sequence behave just like stitches in stockinette fabric! These stitches are held tightly while the others are loose and airy. It doesn't seem to matter if a stitch is knitted or purled but the transition between them does. The enlarged stitches are on either side of a knit-to-purl transition. The stitches on either side of the purl-to-knit transition are "normal." Why?

While I was pondering this I thought about mirror knitting, where a knitter moves stitches from the right needle to the left as they works across the row-- many left-handed knitters find it more natural to work this way than the more common left-to-right stitching direction. Thus mirror knitters approach the knit-to-purl transition in k2p2 ribbing from the right, rather than the left. If it is in fact the knit-to-purl transition that is destabilizing the fabric in ribbing, mirror knitters might have a different problem-- enlarged right knit columns. I had a friend who knit this way, and I wish she was still around to ask-- in the spirit of dauntless scientific inquiry (which I think she would appreciate) I resorted to stalking the project pages of other mirror knitters on Ravelry, looking for k2p2 ribbing (creepy, right?). Sure enough, some of these knitters have enlarged right knit columns in their k2p2 ribbing!

To bring it all back home: the transition from knit to purl-- no matter which direction you are working-- seems to lead to enlarged stitches on either side of it. And in k1p1 this transition is happening every other stitch! Why does this transition alter the stability of the fabric? And can anything be done about it? At this point in the inquiry I'm not sure but I will take a stab at it in my next post!

I hope if you are reading and enjoying this series you will leave me a comment-- What do you think about my hypothesis so far? Have you tried to improve your ribbing? What has worked for you?

Monday, June 26, 2017

New content coming soon!

I'm just popping my head up to say that I am alive and well and still planning to write more posts! I have been distracted lately by: 1) a sample knitting job, 2) my fifteen year college reunion, and 3) a full blown obsession with curly hair care.

I'm not remotely joking when I say that #3 is threatening to suck up all of my free time. For many years I tamed my thick, heavy, wavy/curly hair with a pixie cut, which was adorable and very low maintenance. But then I started longing for hair again and after a lengthy awkward growing-out phase, I got my wish-- and the natural texture is reasserting its control over my life. Fortunately (for my hair and self-esteem, not my knitting or blog productivity) there is a wealth of information and advice available now that I SO wish I'd had access to as a frizzy-haired teen and twenty-something.

Anyway. This blog is a fulfilling but not compulsory activity and it tends to get neglected when other things catch my interest-- but new content is on its way! I also finally took the time to update my second K1P1 quest post with new and much improved pictures, which I hope provide better illustration to my talking points! More soon!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Goldilocks Sweater

I finally finished my green Bartlett sweater a few weeks ago. It's perfect. Before I talk more about it, I have a confession to make. I have been putting off this post because I wanted to get some pictures of ME... wearing the sweater. And I hate taking pictures of myself, even for the purposes of showing off something awesome that I made and love wearing. Maybe I am vain and hate seeing pictures of myself-- maybe I just hate trying to be a model-- maybe I'm just shy. It's probably a bit of all three and who knows what else. I have always hated having my picture taken! I know I'm not alone in this. I should try to get over it. But I couldn't wait to talk about this sweater long enough for me to get over it!

So here it is:

I started knitting this in September 2016! It took me so long but it is perfect-- exactly what I wanted without knowing exactly how I was going to get there. From analyzing my sweater failures I knew I wanted a basic raglan pullover with long sleeves and a crew neck. Also I knew what I wanted in the finishes and details: a fold-over k1p1 ribbed collar, wide borders, tubular edges. I wanted to use the same style of increases I used on my improvised orange raglan sweater of long ago:

And I wanted it to fit perfectly: comfortable but not sloppy, with a silhouette somewhere between boyish and boyfriend-ish. But I didn't know what this meant in terms of measurements!

Fit is a tricky thing-- I spent a couple of years answering email questions for a knitting designer, and the most frequent question was "Which size should I make?" I always told knitters to measure a sweater they already owned-- and loved-- to help them decide. The trouble for me is that I don't own a lot of clothes that I really like! I didn't have a model to follow!

So from the beginning I decided to think of this sweater as an experiment and that was tremendously freeing. I wasn't knitting a sweater-- I was knitting a prototype! I gave myself permission to start over as many times as I wanted to and to figure out what I liked-- and I gave myself no deadlines. Surely I would have blown them all.

I started my experiment with the back-neck and yoke depth measurements of a factory-knit raglan I owned, guessing that those would work pretty well for the sweater I wanted-- I decided what bust and upper arm circumference I was going to aim for, how many stitches I needed to end up with, and then reverse calculated how many stitches I needed to cast on. And of course how to space the increases. Whew!

Since I had enough yarn and no deadline, I ended up starting a new version when my first try seemed like it might fit closer than I wanted. Then I started a third version when I realized the second version's neckline was smaller than the first. I found all this knitting quite enjoyable and (mostly) didn't get impatient with myself to make a decision between the closer and the roomier version. I just waited-- and I reknit the collar about a hundred times trying to perfect my k1p1 ribbing.  Eventually the qualities of the yarn helped decide it. Bartlett is thick, sheepy, and rustic and I felt that the thickness of the fabric demanded a bit more ease in the fit. I ended up going with version 3, which has about two inches of positive ease at my full bust. The fit is slouchy-- I love how the extra material drapes in the back-- but not oversized. It fits neatly at my neck and shoulders and around my arms. I can layer under it and over it without any uncomfortable bunching. It has the perfect amount of detail and texture-- not too little, not too much. Just right, as Goldilocks would say.

I love it. It's still pretty damn cold here in Maine-- funny I was saying the same thing just about a year ago-- and I have worn it about a dozen times so far. I may actually wear it out before I stop loving it, and then I will mend it! Sweater success at last.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mending by the sea

The weather has been sunny and a bit blustery and I spent part of yesterday outdoors by the sea, doing a bit of mending:

That is the sweater I knit for my husband shortly after we got married in 2009. He has worn it 100+ times per year since then and it has taken some serious abuse-- this is the fourth or fifth time I've repaired it! I recently re-knit the collar, which was looking very bedraggled, and I noticed then that the sleeve near one of the cuffs had worn very thin, almost translucent, probably from dragging across his desk as he uses his mouse at work. I warned him not to wear it until I had a chance to reinforce the area, but he didn't listen, hence the hole. I'm now duplicate-stitching-- also known as Swiss darning-- over the entire area and I have built a small scaffolding of cotton twine to support the stitches I will make over the hole. This is slow, methodical work and I'm quite pleased by the results so far!

I'm also doing a bit of repair work to my last post-- I was not entirely pleased with my swatch photos and I did a re-shoot today with the help of my afore-mentioned husband! The things we do for love. This was also slow and methodical work, and I managed to learn a lot in the process in spite of my best efforts to ignore my husband's instruction. Anyway, I think these new photos will more clearly illustrate the differences between swatches as I make further progress in my Great K1P1 Quest-- more on that front soon!

P.S. Here's a great tutorial on different methods for mending knits!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The what and why of ribbing

Back in January I promised more posts on k1p1 ribbing and I'm finally getting around to it! Yay! This started as a side quest/distraction from my green sweater odyssey-- to recap: I became obsessed with getting the folded neckband of my sweater to look just right, and after about eight attempts I decided there must be something special/diabolical about k1p1 ribbing. So the side quest became a kind of exorcism! 😈  I have been knitting many swatches and learning a ton and finding new little threads of inquiry to follow all the time. I'm not sure it's possible to tie this all "research" together into a neat package, but I want to share what I have so far!

The first question I want to tackle: what is ribbing and why is it... what it is? I really never thought about this until I started trying to make my k1p1 ribbing LOOK better-- when I learned to knit, I just made stitches, and then began following patterns. Knitted fabric wasn't really a mystery to me until I started asking questions about it!

Down to basics: all knitted fabric starts with knit and purl stitches, of course, and when you look closely you see that knits and purls are just different faces of the same stitch! (Do you remember the moment when you first realized this? Mind blowing.) I am enthralled by the variety that arises from just this one stitch, by a loop pulled through another loop. The fundamental knitting choice is the direction the loop is pulled from-- back to front for a knit, front to back for a purl-- and from there we build an almost infinite number of stitch patterns with different characteristics and behavior!

Take, for example these four swatches:

They all have the same number of stitches, and three out of the four were made with the same number of knits and purls. But they all act very differently!

So what makes ribbing ribbing?

It is composed of knits and purls alternating horizontally but stratified vertically. I'm mainly interested in k1p1 fabric, but ribbing can have any multiple of knits and purls in these vertical columns as long as they are strictly separated-- k2p2, k3p2, k1p3 and so on... Any intrusion of knits into the purl columns or vice versa changes the fabric's nature, which is elastic-- like any knitted fabric in can stretch, but ribbing can grip and cling and gather. This is because it actually contracts in the horizontal dimension when it is relaxed. You can see that it is much narrower than the stockinette swatch with the same number of stitches:

But what makes ribbing elastic? Different knitted fabrics behave in characteristic ways, but why? When you stretch a piece of ribbed fabric horizontally, it will snap back when released (how readily it does this varies depending on other factors, but that is another thread of inquiry!) There seems to be energy in the fabric-- maybe from the twist in the fibers making up the yarn? maybe from the path the yarn takes as it moves through the stitches across the row? maybe both?-- and the placement of the knits and purls in relation to each other determines how this energy will make the fabric look and act.

If you align all the knits on one side of the fabric and all the purls on the other side, you get stockinette fabric, which (famously, maddeningly) curls vertically toward the purl side and horizontally toward the knit side:

The energy in the fabric is unbalanced somehow, hence the curling. Other fabrics lay flat-- think of garter stitch, which is generally made by knitting all the stitches back and forth.

When viewed from one face of the fabric garter stitch alternates one row of knit stitches with one row of purl stitches-- this can be hard to see until you stretch the fabric vertically:

The same number of rows of stockinette stitch makes a much longer fabric:

Yet garter stitch is wider-- I wonder why?

Garter stitch lays flat but contracts vertically-- the purl bumps come forward and the knits recede. This also happens when you make a single row of purl across the knit face of a stockinette fabric-- the fabric makes a kind of horizontal fold at the line of the purl stitches. But the opposite of happens when you make a vertical column of purl stitches in stockinette-- the purls recede into the fabric rather than coming forward. Weird!

In seed stitch and its variations (moss stitch, double moss stitch, etc), the knits and purls alternate both horizontally and vertically, and the fabric is both flat and relatively expansive-- it has more rows per inch than stockinette, but fewer than garter stitch.

These stitch patterns are more efficient in terms of fabric dimension than garter stitch or ribbing and more balanced than stockinette-- but they don't have as much elasticity as ribbing or garter stitch.

In ribbing, the knits and purls line up in columns. Ribbed fabric lies flat but contracts horizontally. Just as garter stitch forms horizontal folds where the purl bumps come forward, k1p1 ribbing forms vertical folds where the purl columns recede between the knit columns, like the bellows of an accordion. And just as garter stitch can be stretched vertically to reveal the knit stitches, ribbing can be stretched horizontally to reveal the purls, and the energy of the fabric causes it to return to its contracted state. Elasticity!

We take advantage of this property of ribbing to make our garments more fitted and resilient at their borders-- but something becomes very obvious about ribbing when it is right next to stockinette stitch:

The knit stitches in the k1p1 ribbing are MUCH bigger than the knit stitches in stockinette-- both of these swatches were made on the same size needle. The knits also look very different-- loose but also flattened and squarish:

Why is that? Are these two phenomena-- the larger stitch size and the unsightly, ladder-y stitch appearance-- related? More on this and other questions soon!

Friday, March 31, 2017

I heart mattress stitch

March is going out with a bang, aka another winter storm bearing down on Southern Maine. As luck would have it, I'm prepared to spend some quality time indoors with one of my favorite things: several feet of mattress stitch 😍

That's right! I am just about finished with my green sweater! I have been anticipating this glorious moment for a LONG time, and I intend to savor it.  I don't know why I love seaming so much-- it is supposed to be such terrible drudgery, to be avoided at all costs. It just pleases me to bring two pieces of knitting together so neatly and discreetly.

It helps to build in selvedge stitches-- for me this almost always means one column of plain stockinette at each edge-- and to place shaping at least two stitches away from edges. Planning ahead in this way makes for more enjoyable joinery!

This time I also built in faux seams-- one column of purl stitches, seen here from the wrong side-- at each side of the body of my sweater. I will stitch over these as well. This is meant to add more structure to sweaters knit in the round... but it is also a excellent way to sneak in more mattress stitch. 😊

I am also working away on the Great K1P1 Ribbing Quest-- I have a few more swatches to knit and I should have the next installment finished sometime next week!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nearly done!

When I last checked in, I was on my third version of the green sweater, splitting hairs over neckline fit. Well I'm pleased to announce that a front-runner (sweater #3!) emerged (somehow!) from the pack, and I am now nearing the finish line:

It has sleeves! Given all the other waffling and indecisiveness that has characterized this project, I was amazed by how quickly I settled on sleeve shaping. The sleeves are knitted flat from the top down, per Karen's suggestion and my own intuition that this would be much easier to knit. I also happen to enjoy mattress stitch!

I am still playing with the body length. I originally planned for a high-hip end point, but now I want to see if I like it better a bit longer-- I think this will have more wardrobe versatility. It has come down to my last bit of un-knitted yarn and I broke out my scale to see exactly how many more rows I can afford to add before I need to start unravelling sweaters #1 & #2.

I'm happy I took the time to work out my technical/aesthetic issues with k1p1 ribbing-- the cuffs and body ribbing are looking mighty fine. Which reminds me that I need to start in on that series I promised! I opted for a grafted bind-off on the cuffs to complement the folded neckband. The knitting appears to wrap around the edge and disappear-- kinda spooky.

It's time-consuming to work and difficult to undo, though. I think I will do a more conventional bind-off on the body stitches, at least until I have worn the sweater a few times and feel confident about the length.

I'm really looking forward to wearing this! I wet-blocked it when I had the body and one sleeve finished and the fabric is everything I could wish for. Pre-blocking it was a bit stiff and crunchy-- now it still has a hearty texture but is much softer and more yielding. I love the surface density of woolen-spun yarns as well as their surprising lightness, and the way the resulting garment envelopes one in a pocket of warmth without weight. I think this may be the beginning of a long-term relationship with Bartlett!

Like much of the North East, we are experiencing (what I hope is) the last blast of winter-- sure wish this was finished. I can envision wearing it cool spring days and maybe cool summer nights, but it would be ever so cozy right now.

Monday, March 6, 2017


The Women's March was over a month ago and I still haven't figured out what to say about it. The day was intense and extreme-- so many people, so much catharsis-- but also fairly tame, apart from a few scary minutes in a crush of people pushing and chanting "March! March!" My emotions were extreme: panic-level anxiety, elation, exhaustion. As I turn over the sights and sounds and feelings of that day in my mind, trying to find a way to hold all the contradictions together, I keep returning to look at the aerial pictures of all the Marches. Were those huge crowds the message of the day, the astonishing undeniable mobilization of the resistance? Being there in the streets in D.C. felt like being an ant or a bee, just a body in motion and a voice raised to join with other bodies and voices for the purpose of showing our numbers, our energy, our solidarity. This depersonalization was unsettling-- truly, I have not settled down and I don't know if I can or even want to. My priorities have been reorganized. I have been rallying, protesting, calling Congress, attending meetings and hearings. And reading with urgency. There are so many (embarrassing, inexcusable) gaps in my knowledge of feminism, intersectionality, systemic racism, and white supremacy-- not to mention basic civics and organizing and activism. I still feel like an ant or a bee in the wider resistance hive/hill, showing up wherever and whenever I can, letting the momentum of the March carry me forward until I find my bearings, my specific place in all this. That's why I haven't popped up to say hello until now.

And what became of the Pussyhat I was knitting last time I checked in? I finished it on the way to D.C. and wore it in the streets that day, but as soon as I got back to the bus that night I took it off and I haven't worn it since. Maybe that was my first act of trying to return to myself-- I will probably unravel it and use the yarn in another project. I have always felt a bit wary of "craftivism" (and collective/viral activities in general) and I have been tuning in with interest to the various critiques of the Pussyhats, some of them condescending and dismissive, some more incisive and illuminating. That said, I don't want to conflate my own uneasiness with moral condemnation. I was prepared for the Pussyhats to be visible, but I was blown away by their abundance. The success of the project, I think, was in demonstrating to the wider world the persistence of hand crafts as a mass medium of expression-- which as a knitter and textile fiend I find tremendously validating!

I continue to work away on personal projects, usually while listening to current-events podcasts, watching documentaries, or gabbing with new friends/allies. Knitting is an excellent companion to these activities, but I am also trying to reclaim space for knitting and sewing and spinning and mending as purposeful creative pursuits, worthy of my time in their own right. I will continue to build my handmade wardrobe and to share what I learn in the process-- this has new (or renewed) meaning and urgency for me now. This moment clarifies the ethical purpose of making: it is an act of resistance to the life-denying, community-shredding forces of global capitalism. The pleasure of working with fibers and yarn and fabric is also a sort of refuge from the fuckery of the world. This is the energy I want to channel into my hands as I work, this is how textiles fit into my upside-down life right now.

Friday, January 20, 2017

My March

Tonight I'm getting on a bus to D.C. for the Women's March. I've never done anything like this-- I'm going with one of my best and oldest friends who has also never done anything like this. But when she asked me to go with her a week after the election I had no hesitation saying yes. Preparing for this has given me much needed focus the past two-and-a-half months. Now that the day has arrived I'm feeling lost and overwhelmed-- excited, terrified. I don't know what to expect.

My instinct in situations of great uncertainty and fear is to retreat-- I know that's probably true for a lot of people. Get it the bunker, ride it out-- if you can. I am feeling the pull of that right now and trying to fight it. In many ways it's a privilege to hide, and my fears are mostly hypothetical and projected. It's also a privilege to march, to feel safe expressing your dissent. I am trying to remember the women (and men) to whom this incoming president poses a more existential threat. I want to stand with them. Still I feel profoundly disoriented.

It has helped, is helping, that preparing for the March connects to my fiber pursuits-- I know I said I would probably not bring up politics again here, but for this reason I have allowed, required myself to do it, even though it's uncomfortable and I feel unqualified as a writer to talk about it. Anyway. Pink is emphatically NOT my favorite color but when I heard about the Pussyhat Project I had no hesitation saying yes. I decided to go all in and spin the yarn-- I scooped up pink wool top in cotton candy, neon, magenta. I spun in a kind of fugue, swift and possessed, until my shoulders ached. Pink wool became big, thick, loud, proud pink yarn:

Which has-- so far-- become two pointy-eared hats:

One of those is for my friend's daughter, who will be marching in Boston. The other I plan to give to a marcher in D.C. A third hat is in progress:

Yes, this obnoxious neon pink/blaze orange/Pepto Bismol concoction is what I hope to be wearing tomorrow. I have a ton nervous energy to expend over the course of the day so I'm feeling optimistic it will be done-- and it's good to feel optimistic about something.

I'm delighted but not surprised that so many knitters have taken up this project we're creating a shortage of pink yarn. I am surprised (and delighted) that so many non-knitters know about the Pussyhats and what they stand for, are asking for them and wearing them and celebrating them. Now that the day has come I'm feeling the power of this connection, alongside all the fear and worry. I'm not sure what the March will "accomplish"-- how I hate hearing those sneering, cynical, defensive words "But it's not going to accomplish anything! It's not going to change anything!" whether spoken by others or in my own internal voice. I have to believe in the power of being present, that there is a kind of magic in so many women (and men) showing up for justice.

My instinct is to fend for myself, to stay hidden and isolated. This no longer seems possible. If nothing else, I want to be there tomorrow to change myself.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The great K1P1 ribbing quest

For my green sweater, I decided I wanted a folded-over k1p1 rib neckband-- it's a neat, cozy sort of edge that looks good to my eye right now. Trouble is I am never happy with the look of MY k1p1 ribbing, to the point that I usually avoid the stitch altogether because it's just demoralizing. Other knitters seem to produce crisp, even ribbing--  I have produced it, in fact my very first knitting project (circa 1999!) was a scarf done entirely in k1p1 ribbing and it looks great:

Compare that to my first neckband attempt on the green sweater:

I am mystified by my inability to reproduce as an expert knitter what my own naive, beginner hands once made without thinking about it! But I am also stubborn and unwilling to admit defeat-- and tinkering with my neckband has given me an excuse to procrastinate further on fit decisions. I have knitted, ripped, and re-knitted the neckband of the sweater... quite a few times. Five I think. I am closer to the look I want but I have also committed to what feels like a bigger quest of sorts: to find some answers-- through research & swatching-- to this problem of k1p1 ribbing. I don't think I'm alone in my struggles, so for the Greater Good of knitters, this is going to be the first in a series of posts about k1p1 ribbing. Get excited!

First I should define what "good" k1p1 ribbing should look like and how my k1p1 ribbing deviates from that ideal. That first scarf is the only sample I have on hand of what I would call "good" k1p1 ribbing, so let's take a closer look:



The knit columns are tight, fairly even and very well defined-- they stand up prominently like the ridges of corrugated cardboard. I think of those knit and purl stitches like partners in a contra dance, linking arms alternately in perfect balanced opposition-- the energy of that opposition is felt in the springy, sprightly elasticity of the fabric. It stretches easily but snaps back with spirit, and when the fabric is relaxed, the purl stitches vanish. A sliver of vertical shadow between the knit columns and a slightly rounded appearance to the knit stitches shows that it is not stockinette, but it is nearly as neat and cohesive. I notice a very slight back-and-forth wobble to the knits, as if they are being pulled to the left or right, but it is subtle and regular enough that it seems like a characteristic of the fabric rather than a mistake. That is good k1p1 ribbing-- or at least the best I have ever made.

The neckband of my green sweater shows what my present-day k1p1 ribbing typically looks like-- quite a contrast! The knit columns are wide and look stretched out-- like ladders, but in the middle of the stitches rather than between them. The fabric has little elasticity-- the purl stitches are still clearly visible in the relaxed state. I would describe it as both stiff and lethargic. Yet it has this twisting energy, as if the knit stitches are being yanked upwards by their left arms-- this is more visible in profile, but in the picture above you can see that the left sides of the knit columns appear slightly higher and more prominent. As a result the whole neckband seems to bias to the left. Maybe if I didn't have that first scarf for comparison I wouldn't be so aware of the flaws in my present-day k1p1 ribbing-- or maybe I would just think that k1p1 ribbing was an ugly-ass stitch that I never, never want to use in my knitting. What I do know is I can't accept it as-is.

There are some big differences between these two samples in terms of construction, yarn, knitting technique-- what I want to know is which factors exactly lead to the huge differences I see in the appearance of the fabric. Are there fundamental characteristics of the k1p1 fabric that lead to the problems I'm seeing? And how do I go about correcting these problems? What role does technique and tension play in this? What about construction and yarn? These and other questions I hope to explore in my upcoming posts on this topic-- with lots of swatches to illustrate! I will say that what I've learned so far in my quest has led to noticeable improvements in the look of my sweater neckband-- here is the most recent version:

Much better right? More about how and why soon!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

And then there were three...

Last time I checked in on my green sweater it had become two green sweaters. If you paid attention to the title of the post (or read my last one), you probably know where I'm going with this.

Yep. A third sweater. My knitting group is worried about me. I am just amazed that I two skeins of still-untouched yarn-- way to go, Bartlett yardage! So I don't see the multiple sweaters-in-progress as a problem... yet.

How I got to this point is mildly interesting if you're a top-down raglan sweater fan. The first sweater I had knitted to about waist length when I started to doubt if I was going to like the fit. When I started the second sweater, I wanted to keep the same yoke depth, neck shaping, and sleeve circumference but end up with more body stitches-- to do this I cast on fewer stitches for the sleeves and changed my rate of increasing for the body and sleeves. I failed to account for how this would change the fit of the neckline, and I didn't figure it out until I had re-knitted the neck ribbing on the second sweater for the fifth (or sixth, I lost count) time. I was trying to get my 1x1 ribbing to look better-- and in this pursuit I fell down a knitting rabbit-hole that I will probably have to write more about in a future post-- and when I finally got something close to what I wanted it still didn't fit the same because I had fewer stitches around the neck than I did for the first sweater.

Still following? God bless/help you. At this point I could have unravelled that second yoke and started over with the same number of neck stitches as the first, with different rates of increasing for the sleeves and body. BUT-- I wasn't sure that I wanted extra room in the neck, and I had enough yarn, AND I was already in an empirical mindset. A third yoke with the EXACT same neckline as the first, but with the same number of body stitches as the second, was inevitable. Sometimes I have to let the "what if?" part of my brain take the rest of me along for the ride.

Now I can choose between neckline #2 or neckline #3 (which is the same as #1) and then decide whether I want more or less room in the chest. Given my decision-making track record I might have this one done in time for next winter!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I had this slightly mad-- completely bonkers, actually-- idea that I would get all of my unfinished projects done by midnight December 31st. Isn't there something alluring about a clean slate for the New Year? Then I remembered I started two-- TWO-- new textile pursuits in 2016 (sewing and spinning on the wheel), leading to exponential growth in UFO potential. This is good-- exciting! I'm not planning to give up any of my creative obsessions any time soon so why should it be somehow auspicious to start the new year with nothing in progress? But I am not entirely of the belief that "New Year" is a meaningless construct and I like to observe it in some ways-- drinking champagne, passing out on the couch before midnight, and taking down the Christmas tree are my usual rituals. And I thought instead of finishing all my projects-- which was not ever going to happen-- it would be good to start the year with a recap of the finished and unfinished of 2016.

Knitting-- Finished

Baby sweater trifecta:

I got my colorwork on and made good use of some hand-me-down yarn for these wee delights-- more here on # 2 & 3. I finished the first one before I dove back into blogging so I don't have any close-up shots-- you probably can't see but the buttons are tiny purple elephants!

Hermione's Everyday Socks:

Which would be MY everyday socks if I thought they could endure more abuse than they already take. These are comfortable and perfect and just the right amount of fancy.

Ribbed Hat:

My current go-to started as emergency knitting and got me over the fear of knitting with my handspun. I love the interaction of the chunky, irregular yarn and the organized structure of the ribbing, and the shape of the hat is a tiny bit pointy which makes me feel like a tasteful elf who digs earth tones. My husband steals this from me whenever I'm not looking, I should probably make him one of his own-- next time I'm in need of emergency knitting!

Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang:

My absolute favorite project of the year! The yarn deserves a shout-out too:

I started with hand-dyed Polwarth top from Mad Color Fiber Arts and I spun a fractal-- I split the whole braid in half lengthwise, spun one half end to end for one single and the other half I stripped down into three lengthwise sections which I spun sequentially for the second single. I plied them together for a two-ply self-striping yarn with blended color transitions! I chose a pattern that would use up every last little bit of it and I loved every minute of knitting it. It belongs to someone special now, though I was very much tempted to keep it for myself!

I find it a little bit hard to believe that I only finished seven knitting projects in 2016-- I feel like I must me missing something? Probably all the time I spent frogging and re-knitting, because I knit almost every day!

Spinning-- Finished

Look at all that gorgeous yarn!! From left to right: hand-dyed BFL (spun on my drop spindle ages ago-- I used it to practice chain-plying on the wheel), hand-dyed Polwarth from PortFiber, undyed BFL, hand-dyed BFL/silk, and commercially dyed Romney. I ended 2016 with empty bobbins, which I promptly filled and emptied again on January 1st. I am so in love with spinning right now! I'm starting to be able to control my spinning to get the yarn I want and that allows me to think about what kind of yarn I want for a particular project. Knitting with my handspun and planning out projects from the fiber stage is so satisfying-- but I am also in love with the process and with the yarn.

Sewing-- Finished

Many months after officially starting, I still only have one finished sewing project under my belt-- the hemmed rectangles:

Sewing-- Unfinished

BUT, my kimono/robe is pretty close to the finish line:

Hanging it up to take pictures gave me a little burst of pride which I hope will translate into a big burst of finishing it, for God's sake! I definitely want to do more sewing this year-- I have started sketching out ideas and plans for my fabric stash... yeah, I have one of those already.

Knitting-- Unfinished

There's this thing, which is supposed to be a cowl:

and one of these days I'm going to whip it, and the pattern I am writing (!) into shape

And my Bartlett top-down raglan pullover:

Which sprouted a second version:

And now a third:

The perpetual indecision follies continue-- some things never change I guess. I'll post more on this one soon!

This is the first time in a while that I've taken a good look back at a year of making, and I like what I see-- my creative, restless mind and hands continually at work, maybe with not as many finished things to show for my efforts as in years past, but my process has become slower, more thoughtful and engaged, more open-ended. I am excited about my unfinished projects-- making is a continuous thread woven through my life, not something with a beginning and end, and I don't think I will ever be done with it, not as long as there is so much left to explore.

Here's to another year!