Did I fall into a hole? Yes. It’s been crazy around here.
Several fall-release titles from several publishing companies have been landing on and being launched back off my to-do list, my desk, my computer. On some, I’m the writer; on some, the editor; on some, the production department, marketing department, and publisher. Because these projects are associated with a variety of companies and topics, their schedules are not even remotely coordinated.
Since I last checked in here, I have also traveled to Salida, Colorado, up in the mountains, for a Sunday afternoon library program that Donna Druchunas and I presented. She talked about writing books and I talked about publishing them.
I got to visit with Susan Tweit, one of my favorite writers, and her husband, Richard, who (among many other activities) makes sinks out of granite. These water basins are really sculptures that juxtapose natural rock surfaces with smooth, polished shaping. When you turn the water on, there’s also that wonderful, subtle smell of wet stone. I’ve missed that. His artwork sure makes a living space feel nurturing in ways I’m not accustomed to finding indoors.
Donna and I took a quick side trip to Serendipity Yarn in Buena Vista, where Donna had taught a workshop on Saturday. It’s a wonderful and dangerous place. I came away with three eight-ounce skeins of hand-dyed alpaca that were on clearance.
I stayed over an extra day to visit three high-school English classes and talk a bit about writing and editing and publishing. High school’s changed a lot since I attended. Students can wear more comfortable clothes and the classes are smaller and more relaxed. I met lots of interesting kids (and was amazed at how few knew what a blog is) and a terrific teacher.
And while all this has been going on, I have been slowly, but persistently, moving the Norsk Strikkedesign-inspired sweater toward completion. The photos are funky because I’ve been snapping them quickly under less-than-ideal circumstances.
When I last posted (where do the days go?), I’d designed but not yet knitted the front bands. Well, they now feel like ancient history! I knitted them as planned, set up to be doubled back to form a self-facing.
At this point in a knitting project, I get antsy to dunk the fabric in water. That’s because I usually work with natural fibers and water relaxes the yarn into its new life as a textile. The whole finishing process, but especially the water treatment, is like finally getting a picture to come into focus.
But before I could run a basin full of comfortably warm water and drop the sweater into it, I still needed to finish a number of details, including the neckline.
I decided to follow the lead of the sweater that inspired this project and make a neckband of twisted 1/1 ribbing in black with a narrow edging of contrasting color.
Before I started to pick up stitches for the neckline, I marked off two-inch segments around the neck opening with open-ring stitch markers, starting my measurements on each side at the juncture of the body and the front band. The two-inch segments didn’t come out exactly even at the back neck, but they didn’t have to. I used these markers as rough guidelines for the spacing of the stitches, which I picked up with a crochet hook. I also put a stitch marker on the needle after every ten stitches, but I used the fine rubber rings for this because they don’t get in the way of the new stitches as much as the plastic split-ring kind. The two-inch segments and the ten-stitch groups didn’t coincide, but the combination kept my process sort of organized.
When I had picked up stitches all around the neckline, I counted the number in each half (from front edge to center back). There were six more stitches on the first side than on the second. Usually I would slide the needle halfway out and pick up the second half again, but this time I did something lazy that’s easier to accomplish than describe, although doing it with black yarn isn’t the greatest idea—it’s too hard to see what’s happening. I used my crochet hook to loosen the yarn along the half that was short a few stitches, easing in more length from the ball end, and pulled up the additional stitches, spacing them out where they might be least obvious. Whatever works. . . .
In a perfect world, the width of the ribbed neckband would correspond to the purl ridge that’s the fold-over line for the front band—plus maybe a couple of rows to fill out the angle at which the neckband would attach to the front band. The arrows show the points that will ultimately match (the photo also shows how much black yarn I had left to finish the sweater . . . of course, there is more at the store).
However, I wanted my neckband to be as wide as possible. Wider than the perfect join might permit. I figured I could probably work a few extra rows and ease them in as I stitched the bottom edges of the neckband to the tops of the front bands. If it didn’t work, I could always rip and try something else.
I knitted the neckband and finished it off with one ribbed row and one bind-off row in the darker green.
I like the texture of the twisted ribbing with the sweater’s patterning. Twisted ribbing also has more body and pulls in a bit more tightly than a regular, untwisted ribbing.
Here’s the neckband, just finished. I haven’t stitched its lower edges in place yet and the front bands are curling out because they won’t be finished off until later. At this point, though, I knew I liked the shape and width of the neckband—it was filling the neckline nicely. I also liked the darker green on the edge. I thought about using each of the other colors—lighter green, blue, red—and settled on this one.
Here’s the whole sweater at the same point.
I split some of the black yarn from four plies down to two and worked buttonhole stitch around the buttonholes to hold their front-side and back-side edges together and make them more durable. When I did this, the buttonholes flared out, which made me mutter, but I figured I could line them back up when I got the sweater wet later on. If they still flared out after that, I’d pick out the stitching and replace it with something even less bulky.
Then I stitched the neckband ends to the top layers of the front bands, and then the upper edges of the bottom layers of the front bands to the inside of the sweater. I tacked down the long edges of the front bands on the inside of the sweater.
Sounds boring. It is. I’d rather be playing with pattern or texture. But it’s all necessary.
This is the point where I pay a lot of attention to transitions between sweater parts on the inside. I’ve usually already tended to them on the outside. I want everything to lie as flat as possible and to stay in position when the garment’s worn. At the lower edges of the front bands, I threaded my yarn needle with a single strand of the black yarn to join the layers together: I wiggled the needle between the layers, moving it up and down so it caught the backs of stitches in the layers alternately, holding them together with short transits of yarn. I went back and forth across the band three or four times in a small space.
In a way, I consider this cheating. But I’ll cheat to get a crisp lower edge on a front band.
Then I stripped down more yarn to two plies and worked a not-too-close herringbone stitch over the cut edges of the steeks. I made sure to slightly shift the needle-insertion point plus or minus a half-stitch each time I made a new stitch and to keep the yarn loose so the stitching wouldn’t distort the front side of the sweater.
I keep talking about stripping the four-ply yarn to its components. I do a lot of that for finishing, because I don’t like the bulk a full strand adds. On this yarn, stripping was not as easy as it should have been because sometimes the strands were slightly felted together. The separating worked best with about 12-inch lengths, which is on the short side. I would have preferred 18-inch sections.
Finally, with all edges finished and all ends secured, it was time to wash the sweater!
Nope, I haven’t sewed on the buttons yet.
I’m always fascinated by the ability of wool to absorb water. I filled our big soup pot, which was almost big enough, and doused the sweater in it. The wool soaked up all but about a pint of the water.
I treated the fabric to two sloshes in water with dishwashing liquid and then shifted to the kitchen sink to rinse, because the soup pot really wasn’t big enough. I rinsed more than usual, until the water ran almost clear. I gave up before it became completely clear. I think most of what I washed out was spinning oil and the leftovers of mechanical fiber processing. It wasn’t dye. It was just murk.
I squeezed out as much water as I could, pressing the sweater against the side of the sink, and then plopped it back in the soup kettle to carry it downstairs where I would run it through the spin-only cycle of the washing machine. The water-logged wool was heavy enough that I needed to arrange the soggy fabric around the agitator so it wouldn’t unbalance the machine and cause it to stop in mid-spin.
Yes, I always panic slightly when I start the spin-only process. There’s always a risk that I’ll get the setting wrong and the machine will dump hot water on the new sweater and then start agitating. If I want felt, I plan for felt.
I stick around while the machine spins.
All was well.
So I layered old comforters and old towels on the bed, arranged the sweater on top of the pile, patted it into shape, and pinned the front bands so they’d dry well aligned and to the correct length. I placed the pins carefully so they wouldn’t push the edges of the bands into funny scallops.
I left the sweater there for a day, then gently flipped it over (front-band pins still in place) to finish drying with its back open to the air.
That’s where it is now. Just about ready for buttons.
Meanwhile, I’ve been knitting on a pair of socks, with time so broken up that I’m knitting a double-pointed needle’s worth of stitches at a time, instead of a full round. I’m still making progress.