Monday, February 16, 2015

beekman (aka she had me at "hello")

At long, long last, my Beekman sweater is done! According to my project page on Ravelry, I started knitting this sweater soon after the pattern was released in October 2013, and it's taken from then until now to finish it.

I had so many problems knitting this sweater and started over twice. I put it down for long stretches (months, in some cases) to work on other projects.  I finally found myself on the home stretch a couple weeks ago and was all set to finish and block when I got to the neckline and everything came to a screeching halt as you may recall from my last post.

I cursed in frustration and put the thing down for a few days. The original boatneck seems to work on everyone else who has made this sweater (according to project pages on Rav), so I think the problem is that I don't have enough of a bust to fill anything out or broad enough shoulders to hold up the neck properly. (You know that saying, "Real women have curves"? I've always hated that because I am not particularly curvy. Does that mean I'm a fake woman or something?)

In any case, I was determined to make this sweater work. I like the design too much to give up! Those asymmetrical cables?! She had me at hello....

So I undid the bind off and kept going for a bit on the neck. I left the front center stitches bound off, but continued back and forth with a couple extra decreases before adding 4 sets of short rows on the back. Then I bound off again and picked up 5 stitches for every 6 with a smaller needle and set to work on the cowl collar, decreasing a bit after an inch or so, and increasing again as I approached the point where the collar would fold over. I switched to bigger needles at the fold, and bigger needles yet about an inch before binding off for good to allow for some flare so the collar would sit right. I was totally and completely winging it but happily, after all the trouble I'd had with everything else up to this point, the collar turned out really nice on the first try. Whew.

We took these pictures on Sunday afternoon. The warmest it got was about 8 degrees with a wind chill of -1, so now you know why my face is red and unhappy. I'm not sure the ugly aluminum siding is a great backdrop for photos, but when it's that cold you don't saunter over to the park. Not worth it!

Pattern: Beekman's Tavern by Thea Coleman
Sticks: size 7 circulars and DPNs for the main knitting; size 6, 7, and 8 for the collar
Mods: neckline, as described above, plus I made the sleeves longer to accommodate my ape arms, lengthened the body just a bit and added some waist shaping to make it look like I have a waist

Friday, February 06, 2015


I had been hoping my next post here would be to show off a new sweater, but alas, that is not to be. I've been working on Beekman's Tavern for well over a year now, and it's been quite the process. I've made more mistakes on this one than I thought possible, and as a result, I've done the equivalent of twice the knitting, probably, and I'm still not done - not done with either the sweater or the screwing up part of it.

But while it's a little disappointing not to have a new sweater to wear yet, I've learned a lot about the process and about patience, and I think that it's definitely worth sharing here.

Sleeve. At least the sleeves went okay for the most part.
The moment I saw this sweater, I knew I wanted to knit it. Not only did I want to knit this sweater, I wanted to wear it, and that's a rare combination for me.  I wear a lot of simple, plain things (if you're being kind you might call my sense of style "classic" but the words "boring" and "lazy" are a little more honest), and while simple, plain sweaters might be nice to wear, they're often not a lot of fun to knit. I don't know if you've noticed here, but monochromatic, textured garments are particularly appealing to me - I've never met a cable I didn't like - and Beekman's Tavern is a beautiful combination of textured stitches and a simple silhouette.

It's not this yellow IRL, fortunately.
As soon as I could, I bought the pattern and dug some yarn out of the stash (as tempting as it was to buy some of that Cormo wool, I really am committed to knitting more of what I've got first, and I have a decent little pile of Cascade 220 in a nice natural color) and off I went. At first, my goal was to get the sweater done by the beginning of 2014, but that obviously didn't happen. I got sidetracked with other things and then I started screwing up the knitting Big Time. I slipped stitches the wrong way on the lace section and it was too tight and pulled up in the middle in the most unattractive way. Rip. I miscrossed a whole bunch of the cables. Rip again. I added waist shaping and misplaced some of the increases. Sob. Rip. This doesn't include all the times I found little mistakes in the cables and lace and had to tink back a round or two to fix them. It has been a while since I have messed up this much on one single project. At first, I got really frustrated, but once I accepted that I had to commit to the long haul for this sweater, I found patience and didn't worry about any artificially imposed deadlines and just worked on it a little bit every night, figuring it would get done eventually.

Why yes, I knit while I'm playing Scrabble with children. Don't you?

It's a good thing I gave up on a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise, because last week, when I finally thought I was on the home stretch, I stopped knitting to look things over and discovered that I'd failed to center the bound off stitches on one of the sleeves, and once again had to rip back, this time to the yoke join, and I just about came unglued.


You see, in my ever-so-humble opinion, one major drawback to bottom-up sweaters knitted in one piece is the incredible awkwardness right when you join the sleeves to the body. There are so many stitches and they pull so tightly around the sleeves for the first few rounds, plus there is no way of knowing how the sweater will fit until it's practically done, so if something goes wrong you have a lot to take out. (I've formed some pretty strong opinions on sweater construction, but if I like a design enough, I can set my feelings aside for a little while.)

Anyway, after a few more nights' worth of re-knitting the yoke, I bound off all the stitches and tried it on before picking up the stitches again for the collar.

Sexy boat neck?

The neck is too big. It's just simply TOO BIG.

Nope, just sloppy.

Now, the instructions say to pick up fewer stitches around the collar than were bound off, and then you work in ribbing for a little while, so I know that will pull things in considerably. And after some conversation with the designer, I see that I ended the cables several rows after a cable-cross, so if I kept going for a bit and crossed those cables, it would help pull in the neck just a little more. But I still don't think it's enough.

There is no extra back neck shaping on this sweater, which I know will bug me in the long run. Plus here's the other thing: I've been jonesing for a big squishy cowl neck sweater for a while now and I think I could possibly convert Beekman into just that. I'll leave the stitches bound off in the middle of the front, but add a few back-and-forth rows with more decreases on the back and top of the sleeves, then bind everything off before picking up a bunch of stitches around the neck for a nice big cowl collar. I have plenty of this yarn so there is no worry about running out...I just have to figure out how to construct the cowl. Do I want to split it on the side with some buttons? Knit the whole thing in the round? Do I need to increase a bunch halfway through so it has enough fabric to fold over? I'm still mulling over all this. But I have to fix the basic neckline first.

I know this much: the sweater certainly won't get done by this weekend, and that's okay. Sometimes the creative process takes a while.

Monday, February 02, 2015

some baby things

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about why I blog and how I spend time online. Blogging feels old-fashioned already, at least the way I do it. I'm not selling you anything, for one thing. I don't get paid for this and no one helps me do it. There are so many things I could be doing better - better photography (I'm working on that, but it's slow going), regular posts on particular topics...that's how all the good bloggers do it, right? Sigh. 

Well, more on that later. As much as I don't want MadKnitting to become simply a parade of finished projects with nothing interesting in between, it's late and I'm tired and I have to go to work tomorrow, so I'm going to leave you with a few pictures of the things I made for some friends who welcomed their firstborn to the world last Wednesday. His name is Oliver, and he was born in the middle of the morning on his due date, which is remarkable in more ways than one. 

Alas, we do not share baby O's penchant for punctuality! While I had these gifts all finished up a few weeks ago, we missed the baby shower due to a round of flu, and we have yet to meet the little guy or present him and his parents with these handmade goodies. 

Item 1: a sweater!

Pattern: Classic Cardigan by Erika Knight. I left off the pockets. Cute as they are, I see no point in pockets for a tiny baby sweater, and I like the clean look of it without them anyway.
Yarn: Dale of Norway Lerke, which I've had in my stash forever. I've made at least four other baby sweaters out of this stuff (this one and this one and these puppies plus a couple sweaters that evidently didn't even get blogged) and I still have some left. I swear I didn't have all that much to begin with, but it's lasting forever. I'd say I'm sick of it, but Lerke is great for baby sweaters, so I guess I don't mind having a little more on hand.
Size: 3-6's always good to guess on the big side. Babies grow fast and there are only about  three months out of the year you don't need a sweater here.

Item 2: a quilt!

I have to confess, this is a quilt top I made years ago for a different child, but I never finished it. I think my own little people got in the way. So when I heard our friends were expecting a boy, I pulled this out and finished it, which only required attaching the backing, tying the knots and sewing on the binding. As you can see from the pictures, I chose coordinating flannel prints and arranged them in a predictable way. It didn't require a whole lot of creative effort, but I'm happy with the result all the same. Some of my corners were perfect, and some were not. All those corners were covered by the knots anyway, so it doesn't matter. Knotting quilts isn't my favorite look, but it sure is fast, not to mention reliable. I am skittish about machine-quilting flannel backed with fuzzy polyester knit (not pictured) and the knots seemed like a safer option.

Next post I'll share more about the creative process, and the importance of screwing up. But now, it's time for me to get some sleep.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


It's about time I shared a success story! While I don't regret for one minute tossing that ugly sweater, it certainly didn't take me long to move on. In fact, before I even tossed that one out, I finished a hat that I started over the holidays during an interminable layover in the Atlanta airport. 

I make a lot of hats. Knitting hats is like instant gratification for me. Often when I find myself slogging through a sweater or other long project, a hat is just the thing to take the edge off.  Hats are quick, they don't come in pairs, and where I live, you just can't have too many.

This one is 7up, and even though it's a babycocktails pattern, it's one I didn't test knit, believe it or not (I did test Black Tea from the same collection, that enough links for you?) I used some alpaca yarn from my stash. I didn't swatch or anything, just cast on and figured whatever size it turned out to be, it would fit someone.

At first it was rather small, but it grew after blocking (alpaca will do that, not much memory in the fiber) so it fit me after all. I made the mistake of letting Anya try it on...

...and that was that. It's hers now. And that heathery teal color is so beautiful on her I don't even mind.  Question is now, should I make another for myself?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

the bone pile

Every knitter has languishing WIPs, frogged projects, and ill-fitting sweaters destined for the Felting Fairy or the thrift store pile. But aside from the consequences of - shudder - a dreaded m*th attack, have you ever met a knitter with a project that has turned out so badly she or he actually just pitched the whole thing into the trash?

I don't think I've ever done that...until tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Ugly Baby Sweater!

That is pretty darn ugly.

I don't remember when I started this sweater, but it was likely before Daniel was born. I know it was before Ravelry existed. And I do remember buying this yarn at Lakeside Fibers (no longer in business) more than ten years ago. It was the first yarn I ever stashed. There was an assortment of odd colors (as you can see) of DK weight wool, a German brand I think though the label is long gone, bagged up in the sale bin and I bought it with vague plans for socks. I made one pair of thick hiking-type socks for my FIL (he may even still have them) and then instead of making more, for some reason began this project.

So much is wrong with this sweater. While the striping and mix of garter and seed stitch isn't bad in and of itself, it makes for a gazillion ends to hide, the tedium of which may have been what prompted me to stick the whole thing in a bag and shove it into the back of my tea shelf (why yes, I have a tea shelf, don't you??) for - and I'm not exaggerating here - years. Also, the mix of gaudy 70s kitchen decor colors isn't doing this sweater any favors. Take out the grellow, maybe, or the orange, and it would be okay, but all together it just looks like, well, like someone had a bunch of ugly colors of yarn to use up in a sweater. 

I pulled this out the other day with the intention of finishing it, despite the annoying ends to hide and unappealing colors. I've been on a decluttering/destashing/finishing-things-up jag since the new year and I thought it would feel good to have this done. Even if I couldn't bring myself to punish any new parents with this sweater as a gift, I reasoned, I could donate it to a women's shelter or the thrift pile, where someone would be bound to find it, like it and maybe even take it home on purpose.

When I left this as a WIP years ago, the sleeves were about half done. Evidently, back when I started I did have the foresight to do both sleeves at the same time, which might have been yet another reason I put it down; having two sleeves on one circular needle might seem like a good idea, but it's actually fiddly and the yarn has a tendency to tangle up with all the back and forth, and that drives me nuts. Anyway, I finished one sleeve and sewed it in. I held up the sweater and took one good look at it and decided I'm. Done. 

That sleeve is too narrow. It does actually fit in the armhole, but assembled, the sweater looks like it's made for a baby pumpkin with twigs for arms. Something appears to be proportionally off with this sweater and I don't have the will or energy to fix it. With all the color changes there's no point in frogging to save the yarn, either, so into the trash it goes, out of my life and off my conscience forever! Ha!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Needle Roll tutorial

As promised, here is the needle roll tutorial. I'm warning you, it's a lot of work making one of these things; I fully appreciate the $50 price tags you see on Etsy for similar products! But if you have a yard or two of fabric lying around and a couple or few hours on your hands, you might want to try making one like I did.

Putting this post together was a ton of work, by the way. I made two needle cases; the first was a test run, and the second was for the purpose of taking photos and making sure my instructions make sense. I sure hope someone finds this helpful.

Here we go.

  • 1 yard of main fabric*
  • 1/2 yard of contrast fabric*
  • 1/2 yard fusible interfacing
  • matching thread

*If you want, you can use the contrast fabric for one or two of the pockets, in which case you can probably get away with 1/2 yard of the main fabric. Just check your measurements before you cut anything out. Also, I used linen for the main fabric and quilting cotton for the contrast. If you want something thicker like denim or heavy cotton or corduroy for the main fabric, I recommend you just use that for the main piece and choose a lighter cotton for the pockets so the layers don't get too thick.

  • ruler, mat, rotary cutter
  • sewing machine (a walking foot is very helpful, though not entirely necessary)
  • iron
  • pins
  • needle for hand sewing

When I have a project with lots of pieces like this, I prefer to cut everything out first, then press, mark and add interfacing to all the pieces before stitching anything together. I've ordered the steps the same way here.

Cut and prepare your fabric:
From the main fabric, cut out one piece each with the following measurements:

  • 18" x 21"
  • 18" x 14.5"
  • 18" x 11.5"
  • 18" x 8.5"
From the contrast fabric, cut out pieces to the following measurements:
  • two strips 18" x 2.5" (for the ties)
  • one rectangle 19" x 5"
  • one long strip of binding 2" wide and at least 42" long 

To get a binding strip long enough, you may need to sew some pieces together as follows:
Pin the strips with right sides together at a right angle.

Sew a diagonal seam across the overlapping corner, making sure the line of stitching runs from outside edge to outside edge.

Clip the excess fabric.

Unfold and press the seam.

Add interfacing:
Fold the largest rectangle in half lengthwise and press the crease. Open up the rectangle.

Cut a piece of fusible interfacing roughly half the size of the rectangle and fuse to the inside. This helps give the needle roll some structure and stability.

Cut a piece of interfacing a little smaller than the 19"x5" piece of contrast fabric and fuse to the wrong side. Fold this rectangle in half with wrong sides together, press, and set aside.

Press and mark the rest of the pieces as follows:
Fold the long binding strip in half lengthwise and press. Set aside.
Take the remaining rectangles you cut from the main fabric and fold in half lengthwise with the right side out, pressing a sharp crease in each. The largest one is the back of the needle roll, and the three smaller ones will form the pockets.
Stack the folded rectangles with the largest one on the bottom of the stack and the smallest on top, pointing the folded edges up, and lining up the raw edges at the bottom.
Using a ruler and marking chalk or washable marker, lightly draw vertical lines as stitch guides for the pockets as follows:
Start by measuring 8.5" in from each edge so there are two lines in the middle 1" apart.
Next draw lines 4" away from each of the center marks (towards the edges), then another set of lines just 1/4" away from those lines. (The 1" gap in the middle and 1/4" gaps between pockets are to allow room for the needle case to fold up.)

Lightly mark the outer pocket lines on the outside layer of the back pieces to help position the ties.

Attach the ties to the outside of the needle case:
Set aside the three pocket pieces and keep the large back piece handy.
To make the ties, fold the two 18" x 2.5" strips in contrast fabric in half lengthwise with right sides together and stitch a narrow 1/4" seam along the long edge of each one, leaving the middle 3-4" unsewn for turning.

Position the tubes so that the long seam is centered at the bottom, and stitch the ends of the tubes together with a narrow seam.

Turn the ties right side out through the unstitched part in the middle. I find turning the tubes to be incredibly tedious... If you want to avoid this annoying step, just use some 1" ribbon and skip the sewing and turning part!

Press so the seam is in the middle underneath. The unstitched portion will be hidden when you sew this onto the needle case.

Unfold the large back piece and pin the tie pieces to the outside layer, positioning the ties in the center and evenly spaced as in the picture below. You can eyeball this if you want.
Stitch the ties to the back piece outside layer only, stitching between the pocket lines you marked earlier.

Stitch the pockets:
Stack your rectangles again, keeping the large back piece unfolded.

Pin together.

Stitch along your marked pocket guidelines, backstitching along the top for reinforcement. Always stitch bottom-to-top to avoid any weird pulling.

Attach the binding:
Fold the back piece together so everything is lined up. You'll attach the binding along three sides of the needle roll: the right, bottom and left side.
Starting with the right side with pockets facing up, pin the binding strip to the needle roll with all raw edges lining up. Stitch along this edge with 1/4" seam.

When you reach the bottom, pull the whole thing out of the sewing machine and turn 90 degrees for a neat, mitered corner as shown in the photo (I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took for me to figure out this gem of a technique! I'm not great at it, still, so if you want a decent tutorial you're better off going to youtube.)

Do another mitered corner and continue to attach the binding along the left edge.
You may have a little extra binding strip hanging over the top. Trim it to be even with the top of the roll. Don't worry about the raw edge of the binding; that will be hidden when you attach the flap in the next step.

Attach the top flap:
At the top of the needle roll, fold the binding around to the outside and press in place.

With right sides together, pin the 19"x5" piece of contrast fabric to the top outside edge of the needle roll, leaving 1/2" of raw edge overhanging. Stitch in place with 1/4" seam.

Here's a closeup of that top edge.
 Fold that flap up and press the seam.

Now fold the flap in half with right sides together and stitch down that short side without catching any other part of the needle case in the process. Repeat on the other side.

Trim the excess fabric from the seams.

Turn the flap right side out and press. Don't worry about the raw edge; that will be hidden in the next step!

Fold the entire flap towards the pocket side of the needle case and press.

I like how the steam looks in this picture.
With the outside of the needle case facing you, topstitch along the top edge to secure the flap to the inside/pocket side of the needle case. I chose to stitch in the ditch so the stitches wouldn't show up on the contrast fabric, but there is a little wiggle room here. The raw edge of the flap will be hidden inside the layers of the flap now.

Flap goes up...

Flap goes down!

The last step is to stitch down the binding around the outside. I do this by hand because I know I'll screw up if I try to topstitch on the machine, but if you're feeling impatient you can take your chances, I suppose. You'll probably have to trim away excess fabric first. No matter how hard I try, I always end up with raw edges misaligned and I have to trim them down for the binding to fit nicely.

Snip snip

And you're done! Your needle case is ready for use.

I have way way WAY more than two needles, y'all. Don't be fooled by the austerity of this photo.