Fat Tuesday*

Thank you all so much for your very kind comments on Acer and previously on Aidez! I really appreciate them. I have to say I’m quite proud of all this sweater knitting. I actually have one more finished sweater to show off and talk about, but I wanted to say a little something about my new sweater project given the date.

Being flush with my sweater successes, I decided that it was finally time to try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time but was too timid a knitter: a fair isle cardigan. With a steek and everything! I find it kind of ironic that I’ve been too timid to knit this because I’m usually the one preaching if you can knit and you can purl you can do anything!! But for some reason color work kept scaring me and I decided now was the time to conquer it!

I’d had Elinor Brown‘s Plum Frost Cardigan in my favorites for a long time and I finally pulled it out. I decided I wanted to knit the sweater in some Quince & Co. yarn because they had some great colors and I really really enjoyed knitting with it when I knit Aidez. So for my birthday I treated myself to a bunch of colors in Chickadee, their sport weight 100% wool yarn:

And then I started swatching:

Before I even STARTED the sweater I knit no less than ten swatches, eight of which were fair isle swatches. CRAZINESS! But I learned so so much along the way. First I knit just to see if I knew what the hell I was doing. Turns out I’m not so bad at fair isle – I hold both yarns in my right hand and throw them. My left hand is basically useless. I knit pretty tight in fair isle, but the pattern even tells you to go up two needle sizes so that kind of solved that problem.

Look how pretty my floats are!

It didn’t take me long to settle on a main body color and the remaining five fair isle pattern colors and I knit a swatch, then switched a couple colors around and knit another swatch, then figured out that my gauge was NO WHERE close to what was called for – I might as well have been knitting with a laceweight! – so I switched up to Lark which is Quince & Co.’s worsted. BINGO! I got a pretty close approximation to gauge – enough that I could knit the smallest size and have it come out to a 36 – which is what I need. And as a bonus I put my gauge numbers into the Elizabeth Zimmermann Percentage System and came out with exactly the right numbers. I was ready to start!

But something was nagging at me about my color choices. Something wasn’t quite right. I ignored myself and ordered all the yarn for the sweater. I went so far as to cast on the sleeves (my first time using a tubular cast on! SWEET!) And then I called a couple of friends and asked them to look at the swatch. Margene tried to be nice about telling me she didn’t like it – that it wasn’t working and Ann was much more straight forward – this swatch DOES NOT WORK.

As much as I knew they were absolutely right, I was heartbroken. I’m exhausted. My children, it turns out, are terrible sleepers and with one hitting a stubborn four in a couple of weeks and the other already squarely in the terrible twos, knitting is the only respite I get. AND I bought the yarn. What was I going to do?

It turns out some learning.

I went to my knitting library and found Deb Menz’s Color Works. Color. The all important COLOR. There are three aspects to color: Hue, Saturation and Value. Hue is easy – is it orange, green, etc? And Saturation is easy – how deep/light a green? But Value – oh all important VALUE. Value had kicked my color ass.

The way I understand it, Value is the way the eye sees color immediately, before it registers Hue or Saturation. Value is the BLACK & WHITE of color. So to find out the value of a color, you need to see it in grayscale.Check out these pictures:

Check out that muddled muddy mess! Here are the skeins still wound:

Not so bad, right? They look like a fine bunch of colors! Here they with their values exposed!!

So I’ve got a very high and a very low what with the dark purple and the light pink but oh my god! The other four colors might as well be exactly the same. Three of them really ARE the same value and one is only slightly off.

Frankly, I was kind of embarrassed I had come up with this combination in the first place. I mean, true or not, I fancy myself something of a color connoisseur and it’s not like I didn’t know about value. I’ve talked about it before and everything! Really, I was very disappointed. BUT, not to be deterred! I took my book and all of the skeins I started with and into the car we went! (I say the car because that’s where I do most of my knitting these days. The baby, WHO WILL BE TWO IN JUNE!!!, has pretty much stopped napping at home and will only nap in the car. So when I drop off Meli at school we drive home, Cali falls asleep and I sit in the car with her and knit for a glorious couple of hours. It’s BLISS!)

I flipped through Menz’s book and checked out all the color combinations and rearranged them a million times in my lap all the while taking bl
ack and white pictures with my phone. Good times! My neighbors must think I’m crazier than they originally suspected! Anyway, so I’m snapping away but I’m also trying to use the least amount of new colors I can. Remenber – I’VE ALREADY BOUGHT ALL THE YARN! I want to keep the original dark purple as the main color and as many as the pattern colors as I can. I switched around and switched around and then – hey – this looks kind of nice together. Let’s see the values. Okay, okay – this looks kind of perfect!! I immediately started more swatching!

By switching out TWO colors only, I got these gorgeous values:

Look how well defined the pattern has become! No more muddy mess! BEAUTIFUL!

Now there is a definite high and low, but the low isn’t SO low and the middle has RANGE! Look at that glorious range! TWO colors. I changed out two colors only. Let’s look again!

Now, just for shits and giggles, let’s see the values of the original swatch compared with the values of the new swatch:

Isn’t color AMAZING?!? Blew my mind. And now I’ve got a Mardi Gras Cardigan brewing – purples and greens and gold (and yes pinks!) Completely changes the look of the sweater I’m knitting and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been plugging away on the sleeves and I only have two more increases. Shouldn’t be long before I start the body and then FAIR ISLE BABY!

I still have at least one swatch left. Ahem. I’ve never cut a steek before so you can bet your ass I’ll be practicing!
Happy FAT TUESDAY everyone! YAY FOR KNITTING!!!

*A day early, but who’s counting, right?

Acer

There is so much knitting to talk about I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed as to where to start. So I’ll start here: I LOVE THIS SWEATER!

I love everything about it! It’s the best fitting sweater I’ve ever knit. The yarn is fantastic. The pattern was a dream. And I so successfully challenged myself in the knitting of this sweater that I’m feeling just a wee bit invincible when it comes to future projects. (More on that in a future blog post!)

As I mentioned in my last post, Ravelry has become indispensable to me. It’s my go to late night browsing and somehow I came across this sweater, Acer by Amy Christoffers. (If it was your version that first came to my attention I apologize that I can’t remember!) Once I had settled on the pattern and the yarn, I started scouring the helpful notes that kind ravelers write and planned my attack. Basically, I decided to knit the sweater as written EXCEPT I wanted to try my hand at top down set-in sleeves. A few people had done it successfully and since the sleeves are stockinette it seemed like a good sweater to try it out on.

First I swatched. I’ve become a regular Clara Parkes! I knit three different swatches in this fabulous yarn on three different needle sizes. Kind of nice because I feel like I never have to swatch it again! Didn’t I mention the yarn? Oh my god – Madelinetosh Vintage. Best.Sweater.Yarn.Ever! (In fact, I’ve already knit another sweater in this yarn and it was just as fabulous. I have a still have a sweater’s worth in the stash and may have to go for another really soon!)

After all the swatching, I decided on size 6s, which gave me a gauge of 21 sts / 32 rows to the 4″. The pattern calls for 20 sts / 28 rows so after doing some calculations, I settled on the size 38 to give me a 36.5″, which gave me just the right amount of positive ease the pattern called for! YAY! Time to knit!

Super enjoyable knit. The fronts and the back are all knit in one piece to the armholes and it went extremely quickly. The cable/lace pattern is easy to memorize and just the right amount of complex that you don’t get bored, but aren’t mucking things up all the time. Things got really interesting after I split for the armholes. I opted to put the underarm stitches on holders instead of binding off and I made sure to pay really close attention to the number of rows I knit so I could duplicate it on both fronts and back. Usually I knit the sleeves at the same time and the fronts at the same time, so I was a bit paranoid about keeping things the same. It was a good thing I did because I had exact numbers at the ready when it came time to start doing the top down math for the sleeves.

Ah, the sleeves. The beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent sleeves! They almost killed me and my kids. I swear I did the first sleeve three times before I finally got it gloriously right! The idea of top down set in sleeves, loosely put, is that you pick up around the armhole and divide the stitches into three sections. The top third is the sleeve cap and you knit across that back and forth while implementing short rows on each stitch, one by one, after that section until you’ve knit short rows all the way around the armhole. Then you start knitting in the round and continue on until the sleeve is done. If you search top down set-in sleeves you will get a million hits on how to do this. I also HIGHLY recommend Barbara Walker’s Knitting From The Top. So my first noticeable problem was my short row technique. I must have searched on a thousand different ways to short row and watched countless youtube videos and still they looked awful – especially on the purl side. Blech. And then I hit upon Socktopus’ INGENIOUS short row technique: THE SHADOW WRAP! This is by far the best short row technique I’ve ever found. Really. You have to see it to believe it. And it’s so damn easy too. Run. Go. I’ll wait.

Fantastic right? Unbelievable! Okay – now that I had the short rows conquered and they looked beautiful I set about knitting the sleeve cap. The only thing was that I kind of winged the how many stitches do you pick up part. Without really paying much attention I thought okay – I usually pick up 3 out of 4 rows when doing a buttonband that should work no? NO. WRONG. DUH. I knit the whole damn cap picking up three times as many stitches as I needed (that’s A LOT of short rows people!) and the cap came out a puffy puckery mess. (See this crappy cell phone picture here.) I hit the books.

After a gazillion more web sites and a dozen youtube videos I went back to the source – Barbara Walker. To quote:

Count the rows on the side armhole edge up the back or front, from underarm to shoulder…. Half of the remaining sleeve stitches (after subtraction of the underarm) must be picked up evenly from this number of rows, on each side, front and back. It may come out to 2 stitches picked up from every 3 rows, or 1 stitch every other row, or 4 stitches from every 5 rows, or some other proportion. Get this calculation right, and comfort yourself with the thought that it is the only calculation you will have to make.

Guess what? She is so smart! I counted my rows and came up with 32 stitches on each side that needed to be picked up. That ended up to be every other stitch – not the 3 out 4 I originally started with. BIG difference. I knit with confidence because Barbara said I should and voila! I knit the most beautiful sleeve cap EVER!

Gorgeous, no?!? Once I did the first the second was a snap and before I knew it I was laying out the sweater to dry after a nice soak. I’ll be honest and tell you that I was nervous – nervous it was going to be too small, but I crossed my fingers and hoped that my swatch didn’t lie and I was rewarded nicely!

Slightly saggy boobs aside (I swear I’m wearing the good bra!), trust me when I say this sweater fits like a dream! The swatch didn’t lie and with the help of some knit geniuses, I have one of my most successful knits to date! THANK YOU Amy, Barbara, Soctopus, Madelinetosh and all those intrepid ravelers who took the time to share their notes. THANK YOU THANK YOU!

And thank YOU for reading! I really appreciate it!
L, C

PS – Next up: another finished sweater (I’m on a roll!), more crazy swatching and a (fingers-crossed) finished double-knit cowl! WHOA!
PPS – GO GIANTS!!!!!