Swatches Are Lying Bastards

They may look innocent, but do not believe their lies.

I don’t swatch as much as I should. I know this. Most of what I knit is lace, where you don’t really need to swatch unless you’re worried about running out of yarn. I swatch for socks, but knitting a whole 4-inch swatch always seems a little crazy for something so small, especially since it takes so many damn stitches to come up with 4 inches in sock yarn, so I usually make mini 2-inch swatches, and this usually works fine (in part, I’m sure, because sock patterns are generally designed to be stretchy, so gauge isn’t critical as long as it’s in the right ballpark). But when the yarn arrived for Carol Fellers’ Leitmotif Cardigan, I decided I was going to be uncharacteristically virtuous — I wanted to ensure that this sweater would fit well, so I was not only going to knit full 4-inch swatches, but I was going to wash and block them just like you are supposed to.

Now, I realize that the above are still not as large as swatches are supposed to be. I know that you are supposed to knit a few stitches wider than the number of stitches that is supposed to give you four inches, and I know that you are supposed to knit them all the way square. But I felt so damn virtuous from my plans to wash and block that I figured I didn’t really need to knit them quite that big. And in fact, I’m not convinced that doing so would have averted the sorrow I experienced.

The recommended needle size was 8, so I started there (the swatch with the orange marker). It rapidly became clear to me that the gauge was way too tight, so I cast off and tried size 9 needles (the unmarked swatch). The gauge was still too tight, so I tried 10s (the swatch with the green marker). Bingo. I dutifully took notes on the measurements of these swatches, put them in to soak, and lay them out to dry. While they were drying, I wrote a Wise And Experienced comment on Izznit‘s blog easing her fears about swatch-blocking, assuring her that as long as she treated her swatch the same way she planned to treat her garment, its gauge ought to be accurate.

A few hours later, I checked on my swatches and noted that their measurements didn’t change much in blocking, but I was still a little hesitant to actually knit the sweater on size 10 needles. I thought, I am a Wise And Experienced Knitter, and I know that the gauge will actually open up a little bit under the garment’s own weight, so I will knit the sweater on size 9 needles. You can’t trick me, swatches!

Then came about two hours of struggling with the damn cast-on. The pattern calls for an invisible provisional cast-on, which I’d never done before — and the diagrams looked confusing, so I thought I’d outsmart the pattern and use Judy’s magic cast-on, which I learned for my Lady Green Shrug and am now totally in love with. So I cast on all 111 stitches this way, only to discover that Judy’s magic cast-on requires you to start on a right-side row, and the pattern wanted me to start on a wrong-side row — and I am not clever enough to figure out how to adjust for that, given that there are cables and such to contend with. Damn. So I ripped it out, and then spent about an hour failing to comprehend all the diagrams and videos on the entire internet for the invisible provisional cast on. This is the video that I finally managed to learn it from, and only after rewatching it six or seven times and pausing it at crucial moments so I could examine exactly what was happening. I successfully cast on all 111 stitches at last, and knit away happily while Pat and I watched Gigi, which is a surprisingly awful movie for something that is allegedly a classic musical and that won a million academy awards.

The next morning, I measured the gauge on the cardigan so far, and found that it was way too f*&#cking big. What the hell? I knit swatches! I blocked those swatches! I even anticipated that the swatches might lie to me and I tried to correct for it, but apparently I did not correct far enough. Apparently the damn size 8 needles were the right choice after all, despite the fact that the swatch I knit with them came out a whole inch too small. Why should I ever swatch again? WHY?

So I ripped that whole night’s work out, and started over on size 8 needles, and now it’s coming along fine. Here’s a shot of cabley goodness:

Sigh, I love cables. I basically never get to do cabled knits here in southern California because the fabric they create is too dense for the warm climate. But these are more for decoration than warmth, and they’re paired with these lacy ladders between them, so I think this should work out fine. And can we talk about how gorgeous this yarn is?

This is Madelinetosh Vintage in the “Ink” colorway. Dark blue is basically my favorite color (though green is a close second), so it’s a little weird that I don’t have more dark blue knits. But that is changing…. now.

In conclusion, swatches are lying bastards and knitting sometimes makes me swear like a sailor, but I guess it’s all part of the learning process. You don’t get to be a Wise And Experienced anything without making a few thousand mistakes.

Lady Green

I’ve finished my Lady Grey Lace Shrug, and it is awesome. It’s everything I ever wanted in a fingering-weight shrug: a pretty lace pattern that’s not too difficult to work, 3/4 length belled sleeves with a fancy lace cuff, and a perfect match for the Alchemy Juniper yarn that’s been languishing in my stash basket for over a year. It’s warming my shoulders right now as I type to you on this chilly October afternoon.

I used exactly two skeins of Alchemy Juniper in the “Good Earth” colorway, down to the last inch — I had just enough at the end to weave in, and that was all. (I have another whole skein left over, though, and I was grateful to not have to break into it and wind it up just for the last couple of yards!) I knit the size small, and I left off the last half a pattern repeat on each arm because of my stumpy appendages. And the fit is perfect!

The designer, Rachel Erin,was super helpful throughout the process. I had a question about the gauge when I was starting out, and much later I had trouble understanding how the lace cuff was supposed to be knitted on, and both times she responded to my questions quickly — and in the latter case, I think she even updated her website with an instructional video.

Okay, enough with the demure poses. I will leave you with a shot from when Pat asked me to channel the “Top That” rap sequence from Teen Witch, the much-worse female version of Michael J. Fox’s Teen Wolf:

Warning: do not attempt to actually watch Teen Witch. The video linked above is approximately 100 times more awesome than the rest of the movie put together. Oh, and another public service announcement: starting with my last post (but I forgot to tell you then), it is now possible to click through these pictures to see slightly-larger versions of them. I figure I may as well show off my new megapixels, after all.

Guys, I Totally Made Yarn

Look at this yarn that I totally made! It totally looks like yarn and not like deranged clown dreadlocks (unlike my first few attempts at spinning). I am so excited! It’s a fingering weight that I have named “Brickhouse” because the color is much more like brick red in real life than like the sort of glazed-carrot color you see here. It’s been very cloudy for the last few days here, so it’s been tough to take accurate pictures. But check out my macro-mode styling — the front is all popping out at you in focus and the back is all fading mysteriously into fuzziness. BAM:

That’s the yarn wrapped around the niddy-noddy prior to skeining; I thought it would be a good opportunity for some macrosploitation and I was not wrong. This is actually my second skein of this yarn– it’s 180 yards, which was about all I could handle on my spindle. My first skein was a puny 56 yards; I was impatient to get it off the spindle and see what it looked like, but I didn’t get around to taking any pictures until now. I’m only about halfway through my Louet Corriedale fiber, but I decided to switch it up and turn to this Mountain Colors Targhee top:

I’m excited about the multi-coloredness of it. This is the “Indian Corn” colorway. My master plan is to stripe the yarn I make from this with the “Brickhouse” yarn above in something like Kirsten Kapur’s Andrea’s Shawl or one of Stephen West’s many stripey designs. Yessssss.

I also have a new project to show you, one that I am madly in love with:

This is Gaia Lace from The Sanguine Gryphon, an indie dyeing studio that you may have noticed I am kind of head-over-heels for. I’ve knit a few things now with their Bugga! sock yarn, and I’d been meaning to try Gaia Lace for awhile now — it’s 40% Mongolian cashmere and 60% silk, which means it’s both shiny and fuzzy, and it’s got a lovely heavy drape. I wasn’t in love with any of their summer colorways for it, though, so I resolved that I’d wait to buy some until they came out with a nice rich dark red. As if they’d read my mind, the SG ladies came out with just such a colorway in their fall collection: Haemophobia, which you see above.

Then there was the question of what to knit with it. I wanted something unusual — none of the lace scarf patterns in my queue were really crying out to be knit with this yarn — and something that didn’t need much more than 400 yards, because this yarn is pretty expensive so I’d only bought one skein. So I went on a safari through Ravelry’s search engine, and eventually came across the perfect thing: Jackie E-S’s Shallow Sideways Tri Shawl — it’s got cables and lace, and lovely sinuous lines, and it can act as either a shawl or a scarf, and I am in looooove.

In other news, I received something exciting in the mail this week:

A few weeks ago, my friend Iz (who you may remember as that student of mine who had knit my dog sweater pattern by random chance a few weeks before our class started) posted to her knitting blog about her struggles with winding center-pull balls on toilet paper rolls. So I decided to send her my nostepinne, which I used all of once before Pat got me a ball winder, and had been languishing in my drawer for over a year. She is already using it with much more expertise than I ever could, and she sent me this lovely reusable grocery bag in return! The whole thing folds up to fit in its own front pocket, which is pretty amazing. You can buy one of your own at her Etsy shop, where she has a bunch of other sewn goodies for sale! Personally, I’ve decided that it’s too nice for groceries — so I’ve officially designated it as my spinning bag. Check it out:

Here it is, holding all the fiber from my current spinning project (both the red Corriedale and the multicolored Targhee), plus my spindle, with tons of room to spare. Yay! Thanks, Iz!

New & Improved

I took my Aestlight shawl off the blocking wires on Monday of last week, which you may remember as “The Hottest Day In The Recorded History Of Los Angeles, No Really Check It Out,” a day when I was not going to venture outside of my apartment for love or money, and certainly not in order to model some woolen knitwear. Pat and I waited a few days for the temperatures to cool down to a balmy 90-something degrees, but when we went out to take the pictures, my camera promptly broke. It was pretty old (from about 2005), and I’d been planning to replace it after Christmas if my parents failed to get the hints I was going to drop in the weeks leading up to said holiday, so I decided to bite the bullet and replace it now. Pat’s digital camera dates from approximately 300 B.C. (seriously, it’s the size of a small brick), so it wasn’t really an option as a stopgap — though his iPhone does, shamefully, have way more megapixels than my recently-defunct camera did.

I don’t exactly know what megapixels are, but they sound awesome. I mean, “mega” is right there in the name. And I knew I wanted more of them. Fortunately, I already knew exactly which camera I wanted — a few weeks earlier, I thought my camera was broken forever and so I polled my photography-oriented friends on Facebook. They agreed that this Canon Powershot was a good choice for somebody who says things like “‘mega’ is right there in the name!” and who didn’t want to spend more than $200. What I didn’t tell those friends was that shortly after they shared their wisdom with me, Pat figured out that my camera was not in fact broken forever; I’d just knocked some button with my hand that I usually don’t touch and things had gotten weird.

This time, though, my camera was broken for real. It was broken so hard that my internet search about how to fix it uncovered a whole website devoted to this particular way a Canon camera can become broken forever. None of the tips on that website worked for me, and repairs were clearly going to cost way more than the camera itself was worth. So I declared it “totaled,” and bought that new Powershot off of my own Amazon wishlist.

Now, I am a smart person. I am going to have my Ph.D. within a year unless I have a mental breakdown (not impossible), I sort of know what megapixels are, and I did consider getting a fancy DSLR camera. But I am also a poor person, this knit blog is not a source of revenue, and I don’t have the spare time to learn how to use a fancy DSLR camera. I do, however, plan to try to learn how to use this new camera to its full potential, including finally figuring out how to take decent macro shots. Look for some poor attempts at this next week! The shots you see in this post were taken by Pat in the automatic mode, and they came out pretty great, though the grass is strangely neon in some of them.

I suppose I ought to say something about the shawl. It’s awesome! Gudrun Johnson’s designs continue to rock my world. The garter triangle flew along, the birds-eye lace was fun and not too difficult, and the edging was a little bit of a pain but very doable. Pat says he likes this shawl a lot because “there are different parts to it,” and I agree. I like its simplicity and its boldness; it’s more casual than some of the fancier, more delicate shawls I have knit. And it came out much bigger than I was expecting it to — this is the smaller size! I made it with a single skein of Sanguine Gryphon Bugga! in the limited-edition “Reakirt’s Blue” colorway. The color in these photos is pretty accurate; it’s a striking purplish blue. Some people on Ravelry reported running out of yarn when trying to knit this with a single skein of Bugga!, but I had no problem — I even have a little bit left over.

So I’m sorry for the unintentional hiatus, but now we are back and better than ever! Keep an eye out for “adventures in macro mode” — coming soon to a knit blog near you.