Silver Threads

a knitting blog with occasional side trips

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Plaid victory

If you’ve been reading this blog remotely recently—like in the past two years or so—it’s totally understandable if you think I only make shawlettes and shawls, interrupted by the occasional bit of jewelry. But in my knitting and crochet career overall, my major focus has been sweaters, and I’m delighted to announce that I’ve finished another one.

Gray sweater with a textural plaid design knitted into it.It would sound inspiring as all get-out to say the Smart Plaid Pullover is a testament to the power of persistence, but it was more like a inertial stubbornness on my part. My first attempt was in 2010. The yarn (Rowan Scottish Tweed DK) was attractive, it showed the pattern stitch off well, and things were going along wonderfully. I was partway through the sleeves when I discovered that the pattern had lied about how much yarn I’d need and I was way short. By then, of course, Rowan had discontinued the yarn and I’ve never managed to find more of the same dye lot.

Armed with (much more) City Tweed DK, I began my second attempt in late 2016. It zipped along quite nicely until the following spring when I had to start the sleeves and my enthusiasm faltered. Maybe I was traumatized by that earlier failed effort. At this point, the inertia kicked in: I kept working on the sweater, but more out of habit than love or enjoyment. At least that got me through the summer. Then…pfft. All I can say is that there was an inch left on one sleeve and maybe twice that much to go on the other, and it just wasn’t happening. I got back to working on it this spring, mainly because I was fed up with always pushing the project bag out of the way to get at something else.

It’s now summer, so I won’t be able to wear the sweater for real for months yet. But here’s evidence of the insulating properties of wool: it was 94° F (34° C) when this photo was taken, and yes, that’s a wool sweater over a cotton turtleneck. I thought I’d be miserably hot and that it’d be a race to get a photo before I was drenched in sweat. As it turned out, I was warm, but that was it. Really, the parts of me that weren’t under the sweater were more uncomfortable. Here’s hoping it performs this well in winter.


Smart Plaid Pullover
Pattern: Smart Plaid Textured Pullover
Yarn: Knit Picks City Tweed DK
Colorway: Tahitian Pearl
Needles: 2 (2.75 mm) and 5 (3.75 mm)


Wedge Pullover: completed

Why yes, it has been a while since I last wrote about the Wedge Pullover. 2013 to be exact.

Wedge Pullover.

And now it’s chilly enough to model it.

Quick summary of the lost years: I didn’t finish this sweater in time for the 2013 state fair, but I hadn’t expected to. But without a deadline to work to, I lost interest in it. I decided not to enter anything in the 2014 state fair, so there was no pressure to finish it that year. I worked on it every now and then, and eventually I got it done up to finishing the sleeves. I stalled out two rows from the end and the sweater sat like that for months. Then I realized that the 2015 state fair was coming up and that I wanted to enter something. Of the things I could enter, the Wedge Pullover stood the best chance of placing—plus, I was tired of seeing it lying around 95% done. Naturally, despite having almost two years to finish it, I did so at the last minute. In the final few days before entries were due, I knitted those two rows plus a few more just to make sure the sleeves were long enough, sewed the pieces together, and blocked it. I took a few quick photos for people who wanted to look for it at the fair, but it was mid-August and I couldn’t bear to wear it long enough to take good photos.

I entered the sweater in Hand Knitted Articles: Adult sweater, plain pullover (no intarsia or Fair Isle colorwork, no texture stitches or lace or cables allowed) and it won a blue ribbon, my first ever in knitting at the Minnesota State Fair. Oh yeah, I’m thrilled! 😀 And the sweater fits too: yay! It got a bit longer when I blocked it. Okay, hanging on a dummy for two weeks probably didn’t help either. But it’s still an acceptable length on me, so I’ll live. So it’s done, I have something new in my wardrobe this winter, and there’s one UFO fewer haunting me.

Wedge Pullover in state fair display case.

On display at the state fair.

Oh, and the Elnora Cowl won a pink ribbon (4th place) in Crocheted Articles: Clothing Accessories. Whee!

Elnora Cowl in a display case at the state fair.

And if anyone knows what that little blue thing hanging in the lower right corner is…


Wedge Pullover
Pattern: Wedge Pullover
Yarn: Reynolds Odyssey
Color: Bright Blue Mix (409)
Needles: 7 (4.5 mm), 8 (5.0 mm)

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My summer of short rows

Okay, fine (she muttered grudgingly), the Wedge Pullover won’t be finished in time for the state fair. Too many froggings and reknittings of the back, too much distraction by other projects—heck, probably too much blogging. Yes, yes, the whole point of this was a sweater that fits and that I’d actually wear, a sweater which uses this lovely blue merino yarn that’s been in my stash for almost a decade, but still…drat.

The original pattern called for wrap-and-turn short rows. I glanced down after doing one run of them, and winced: every single wrap-and-turn was a little pucker. Rip. For my next attempt, I tried Japanese short rows, as I’d heard they were practically invisible. Indeed, the first wedge, with knit-side short rows, was lovely. Wedge two,  with purl-side short rows, was another wince-producer. The instructions I’d found had been less than clear, and every stitch I’d picked up to close the gaps was twisted. I was able to untwist them, but they’d sucked up too much yarn and looked sloppy. Rip back to first wedge. On the third attempt, I had better instructions, and the second wedge came out wonderfully. Then at some point in the third wedge, I realized I’d dropped a stitch. Attempting to fix it, normally not that big a deal, failed utterly. I still have no idea how I managed to wreck the first and second wedges in the process. Rip back to ribbing.

The front has a challenge of its own: the crew neck. The neck shaping starts by binding off the center 16 stitches. But this is in the middle of a wedge and the rows are diagonal, so I’m going to have to stagger the bind offs to keep the bottom edge sort of level. Which is why this project is now staying home, to be knit in hermitic solitude lest I screw it up. So no, this sweater isn’t going to the state fair this year.

Lintilla and its short rows.

Lintilla and its short rows.

In other knitting news, Lintilla is coming along splendidly. (Guess what’s been distracting me from the Wedge Pullover.) It’s garter stitch with short rows. Yes, I’ve postponed a Color Affection Shawl indefinitely because I was sick of short rows, thanks to Wingspan and the Wedge Pullover, but I’d forgotten that Lintilla had them too until I started it. The short rows the designer calls for were leaving little holes. I couldn’t tell if her original shawlette had those little holes or if I was doing them wrong somehow, but it wasn’t a design feature I was interested in, so I abandoned her version. For this pattern, the classic wrap-and-turn technique has been working just fine.

And that’s how I’ve been spending my summer.

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Wedge Pullover: unstable gauge swatch and the redesign

[Don’t worry, I’m not turning into a post-a-day wonder. I’m a bit backlogged in posts and am trying to get caught up before they get too stale.]

First, there was the gauge swatch. With it in hand, I meant to sit down right away and rework the pattern. Instead, life and other knitting got in the way. The gauge swatch sat on my coffee table for another two weeks, during which time it continued to shrink (!). When I measured it again, it came in at 19 stitches and 25½ rows over 4 inches. So instead of tackling a pattern rewrite that afternoon, I gave in and knitted another swatch on size 8 needles. The new swatch had the right stitch gauge, but not the row gauge, which should be no end of interesting when I’m knitting the sweater because its design is meant to be worked over a precise number of rows. Luckily, I can put off thinking about this for a while, until I’ve knit up that far on the back and know what I’m actually working with. (I was right: the fabric is too drapey. I did consider rewriting the pattern for the tighter gauge, but the sweater would need more yarn and I don’t think I have enough to pull it off. So, looser gauge it is.)

Two sweater schematics.

Comparative schematics: old (left) and new (right). Not entirely to scale, but you get the idea.

Gauge Swatch #2 in hand, I finally got to tackle the redesign. As is usual for a drop shoulder sweater, the body of the original Wedge Pullover is a rectangle. It came in several sizes, but I was going to have to choose between having it fit at the bust or having it fit at the hips, and both of those options would have been too wide at the shoulders. Of course, a drop shoulder sweater is supposed to be wide at the shoulders. But I don’t like how that style looks on me, and some of my coats have such narrow sleeves that it’s hard to wear them over drop shoulder sweaters. So I’ve converted it to an A-line modified drop shoulder sweater that should fit (or at least fit better) at all three points. I also shortened it, since I want it to end at my hips. I’m leaning towards a crew neck at the moment, but that’s something else I don’t have to make a final decision on for a while yet. All of this means I have a first draft of the pattern, and that means I’ve been able to start knitting the sweater (yay!).


2013 Knitting and Crochet Blog Week—Day 2: A Mascot Project

Day Two (Tuesday April 23rd): A Mascot Project.
Your task today is to either think of or research a project that embodies that house/animal. It could be a knitting or crochet pattern – either of the animal itself or something that makes you think of the qualities of that house. Alternatively it could be a type or colour of yarn, or a single button. Whatever you choose, decide upon a project and blog about how and why it relates to your house/creature. You do not have to make this project! It is simply an exercise in blogging about how you come to decide upon what projects to make. Try and blog about the journey which inspiration and investigating patterns, yarns, stitches, (etc) can often guide you through. You may wish to make a collage or ‘mood board’ to present several ideas, or even sketch out your own design.

Wedge Pullover pattern photo

Wedge Pullover by Natalie Wilson

Despite a selection of 1,092 patterns on Ravelry to choose from, I have no desire to make a monkey-themed project. Indeed, seeing this prompt coming up was almost enough to tip my house selection towards the House of Bee (now making a stuffed bee sounds fun, especially designing the wings—maybe crochet motifs in fine white yarn suspended in…uh, sorry, got distracted). But if the point of this prompt is to write about how I choose projects, then the project I referred to yesterday should work. As I’m in the project selection stage as I write this, what better time to document the process?

To start with, I enjoy making sweaters. So there was nothing out of the ordinary in looking for a sweater pattern when I fell in love with Reynolds’ Odyssey yarn in 2004. You can see from the photo that Odyssey is self-striping; I was looking for a pattern that would set that off well. I was willing to go on a general pattern search, but the LYS that carried this yarn also carried some Reynolds patterns that featured it. I started there, figuring they were meant to work with the yarn, and the hunch paid off when I saw the Wedge Pullover. What caught my eye was the use of short rows to accentuate the striping in the yarn. I’d never seen short rows used decoratively before and I was intrigued. But after I brought the yarn (blue) and pattern home, I let this project drift to the end of the queue for a variety of reasons. It has drop shoulders: easy to knit, but not flattering to my figure. Boxy shape, ditto. V necks are attractive, but I prefer crew necks. I fall between two sizes and wasn’t sure which one to choose. So other projects, easier to start, kept pushing this one aside.

I’ve just finished reading two fantastic and complementary books on sweater construction: Knitting Pattern Essentials by Sally Melville and Knit to Flatter by Amy Herzog. Reading them one after the other has left me with an urge to not only tackle a sweater, but to customize it. Which brings me back to the Wedge Pullover, a sweater that I’ll need to customize if I’m ever going to wear it. Herzog’s book has helped me analyze my body so that I have a better idea of what alterations I want to make. I’m now planning to make the smaller size of the two possible sizes, in order to reduce extra fabric that would make the shoulders fit oddly and make me look top-heavy. Similarly, I plan to change the drop shoulder shaping to modified drop shoulder, again to minimize the visual weight of the sweater at my shoulders, as well as the actual amount of fabric up there. I may try to slip in a bit of waist shaping. A casual sweater like this isn’t meant to be overly fitted, but extra fabric at the waist won’t be of any more use to me than extra fabric at the shoulders. Melville’s book will help me figure out how to make those changes: how to calculate the shaping needed for a crew neck, how much to bring in the armholes for a modified drop shoulder.

There will be frequent use of a tape measure! There will be math! There will be graph paper and schematics! And eventually, and with a bit of knitting, there will be a customized Wedge Pullover.


Perseverance pays off

I am happy to announce that at last I have finished a sweater that took me several attempts to start. I began the Basket Stitch Sampler back in August 2010, a second version of a sweater I’d first knit back in 2003. But whereas my first Basket Stitch Sampler only took me 1½ months to knit—still the fastest long-sleeved sweater I’ve ever done—this one took 2½ years.  I offer no excuse except that after all that reknitting, I hadn’t made enough progress to hold my interest. I still wanted the finished project, but getting there became more of a duty than a pleasure and the sweater ended up spending much of the past 2½ years as a UFO. Still, if you keep knitting a little here, a little there, at some point you tip the balance and you have a project that’s almost done.

Basket Stitch Sampler, front…

Basket Stitch Sampler, front…

…and back

…and back

What distinguishes this sweater is that each section features a different basket weave stitch, five total. I used Cotton Fleece from Brown Sheep (color = Tea Rose), which shows the stitches off really well. It’s 80% cotton and 20% merino wool, but I wouldn’t know there was wool in it if I hadn’t read the label. I modified the design a bit. The designer intended that the back be four inches longer than the front. I have enough trouble with sweaters trying to fall backwards on me without adding extra weight to the back, plus I didn’t think that would be an attractive look on me, so I skipped that part. I also worked a round of slip stitches around the neckline where it joins the body. The last two sweaters I’ve made with garter stitch necks have stretched with wearing to the point that the sweater begins to fit oddly, so I figured I’d just stop that problem before it started with this one.

Basic Basket Stitch (front)

Basic Basket Stitch (front)

Woven Stitch (back)

Woven Stitch (back)

All the stitches are pleasant to look at, but I will happily never work Double Fleck Stitch (left sleeve) again. For some reason, the pattern is written so that you’re working those paired purl stitches as knit stitches on the wrong side, which makes keeping them aligned a pain and a half. I figured out after about an inch that this was going to annoy the heck out of me, but I got stubborn and refused to rip out what I’d already done in order to reverse the pattern. Which meant that I got to knit another 16″ (41 cm) of that pattern, fuming the whole way, when it probably would’ve gone faster in the end if I’d just ripped out and started over.

Oblong Texture Stitch (yoke)

Oblong Texture Stitch (yoke)

Close Check Pattern (right sleeve)

Close Check Pattern (right sleeve)

For all my complaining, I expect to love the sweater itself. It fits great, and I remember loving wearing its predecessor—I knit it again for a good reason!

Double Fleck Stitch (left sleeve)

Double Fleck Stitch (left sleeve)


Aran Wrap Cardigan: finally finished

I have finished the Aran Wrap Cardigan. Actually, I finished it last month, but it was so close to the deadline for entering it in the state fair that there wasn’t time to take pictures. But the fair is over and the sweater is back in my hands. Since I’ve been posting all my triumphs and agonies about knitting this as I went along, there’s not much left to say at this point.

Aran Wrap Cardigan, front viewAran Wrap Cardigan, back viewAran Wrap Cardigan laid flat

I entered it in the “adult sweater, texture cardigan” category at the fair, where it got 5th place and the gentlest (vaguest) comments I’ve ever received on an entry: “Nice knitting of interesting style. This was a big and competitive lot.”

Aran Wrap Cardigan in display case.

At the Minnesota State Fair: very nicely displayed.

In comparing notes with friends, I see several people were told theirs was a large and competitive lot. As hand knitting continues to be popular, the Creative Activities building is straining to hold all the entries—along with all the other creative activities, of course. Maybe I should resurrect my counted cross stitch skills: I haven’t seen much cross stitch at the fair in recent years!


Aran Wrap Cardigan: the sleeves

As usual for July, I’m in state fair panic mode, which means I spend my evenings knitting rather than writing about knitting. But I pause for a moment for an update on the Aran Wrap Cardigan.

The sleeves have not been fun to knit, although I admire the cleverness of the design. You pick up stitches around the armhole and use ever-longer short rows to shape the cap before finally knitting in the round down to the wrist. You alternate double decreases on the top and underarm moss stitch panels to narrow it. Unfortunately the designer doesn’t say what decrease(s) will best accomplish this. I finally decided on centered double decreases, both knit and purl. These sleeves alone justify my purchase of the mammoth Principles of Knitting, since I’m not sure I own any other book that has instructions for a purled centered double decrease!

I finished the left sleeve and was less than thrilled with it. These sleeves need to end on the 12th round of a 24-row cable pattern, which has no relation to the length of my arms. In addition, the sleeve flared at the end because the cables spread out, and the whole thing looked sloppy. But as I was working the right sleeve, I thought to try knitting the last repeat of the cable pattern on smaller needles. It hasn’t fixed the problems entirely, but this is definitely an improvement.

Aran Wrap Cardigan sleeve comparison

The left sleeve, worked on 9s, is softer, looser, and not all that neat. The cuff doesn’t flare all that much in the photo, but trust me, with an actual arm and wrist in it, it just drapes limply over the hand and promises to trail and snag on everything. For the right sleeve, I used 7s for the last pattern repeat. Even in the photo, you can see the cuff is narrower; when I measured it, it was a full 3 inches less in circumference than the left sleeve. To minimize flaring, I used a gathered bind off over the cable-y parts of the cable pattern, switching back to the traditional bind off for the flat areas. I hoped that using smaller needles would also shorten the sleeve a bit. It did—you can see it a bit in the picture, since I tried to line the sleeves up precisely—but only by about half an inch. Hey, every bit helps.

Having ripped back 24 rounds on the left sleeve, I’m now reknitting it to match the right sleeve. Then just the bottom third of the body remains, which would be a nice, relaxing knit if only those August state fair deadlines weren’t looming.


Aran Wrap Cardigan: the upper body

As promised, a photo of the upper body of the Aran Wrap Cardigan.

partial sweater

I picked up the stitches for the left sleeve this evening. The picking-up went smoothly enough, but the next few rows (yes, rows) are proving to be a bit tricky. They’re short rows. Only after reading four paragraphs of additional clarification from the designer that she posted on Ravelry did I finally realize that each row is longer than the row before it—pretty much the opposite of what I’m used to with short rows. Clever.

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The end of the sweater diet

It’s been months since I’ve finished a sweater. This doesn’t mean I haven’t started any: I’ve got quite a few unfinished sweaters lying about the place. (No, I’m not counting them. Even if I kept the total to myself, it would still depress me.) Since others have tried yarn diets—refusing to buy new yarn until they’ve used up something in their stashes—I decided to adapt that idea. Enter the sweater diet: I told myself that I wouldn’t start another sweater until I finished one. Ideally, with piles of lovely yarn calling to me to knit it, I’d pick a UFO and burn through it just to get it out of the way and then reward myself with a fresh project.

It was a fine hypothesis that failed to play out in real conditions. Oh, I did make some serious progress on one sweater, but after a gazillion rows of an dull pattern stitch on a sleeve that refused to lengthen, I loathed it. So I got around my self-imposed restriction by starting non-sweater projects: hats, cowls, iPad sleeves. For their part, the sweaters refused to finish knitting themselves. Stalemate.

Therefore, I’m admitting that self-denial in knitting works about as well as self-denial in eating. Either I’ll feel like finishing those sweaters someday or I won’t, but I’m not putting the rest of my knitting life on hold. After all, knitting is supposed to be fun. I want to start a new sweater—I’m starting a new sweater.

This is the left front of the Aran Wrap Cardigan. The one photograph with the pattern in Vogue Knitting was pleasant enough, but uninspiring. I fell in love with the sweater after I saw it in person at a Knitters’ Guild meeting—in fact, when I saw the official photo for the first time, I wondered if it was the same sweater.

While I love the rich cabling, I’m also fascinated by its unusual construction. It’s basically a rectangular shawl with sleeves. But even though I’ve seen many other pictures of it on Ravelry and I’ve studied the schematic in the pattern, exactly how this is going to drape on my body isn’t clear yet. For instance, in the photo below, I think the left edge will be the left front edge of the cardigan. But the right edge will be where I pick up and knit the bottom half of the cardigan. And that giant “buttonhole” at the top is the left armhole, which means the part of the sweater that’s directly to its left is the left shoulder and collar.

Aran Wrap Cardigan: left front

Uh-huh. I think this puppy is gonna be a mystery in many ways up until the moment I put it on for the first time and look in the mirror.

The yarn is City Tweed HW from Knit Picks; the color is Blue Blood. I’m in love with this yarn. It’s been surprisingly wonderful to work with. Oh, sure it looks nice, and I knew that going in. But even when the package arrived and I could hold the balls, I didn’t guess at how soft it would be knitted up. The balls are actually kind of hard and stiff, but then the yarn becomes snuggly and cozy knitted up (the deep cabling is probably helping with this). And I figure it’ll be a warm sweater when finished, since whenever I get distracted with talking and leave it lying on my lap for a bit, my legs get noticeably warmer.