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January 2011

Posts from December 2010

Knitting and Spinning 2010 Roundup

In 2010, I knit a bunch of things, wove only one piece (must do more weaving in 2011), spun up some pretty yarns and even knit up some my handspun.  I sold a bunch of stash to pay for two fabulous trips away with knitting friends (must repeat the trips in 2011), bought a bunch of yarn (mostly from Indigodragonfly!) but came out with slightly less yarn than the beginning of the year (woot!).  I reviewed some books, gave away others and filled my hard drive with fabulous pdfs--I love pdf patterns.  I even released a design, *Asterisk* that really challenged me (now available to non-Smart-Ass Knitters club members as a kit!).  

I love fibre arts as much as ever and 2010 was a good year.

(It was a good year for a whole bunch of personal, non-knitting related things, but I think that's a post for tomorrow).

I did this photo mosaic last year and rather liked it.  Here's one for handspun and one for knitting.  

Handspun 2010

Knitting 2010

Of course, knitting is not a sport, but it was a pretty productive year for me. I knit an incredibly complicated, fair isle shawl and finished in time for Rhinebeck (by far, my favourite FO EVER), and I spun a sweater's worth of yarn that is actually almost knit into a sweater. There weren't any total disasters, so that's good too.

My goals for 2011 are to weave more and improve my weaving. Spin enough yarn for a sweater (a small, sweater) and keep working on reducing my stash by trying very hard not to buy yarn. I need to avoid those "keepsake skeins", you know, the ones bought because they're pretty and just one skein. I have a lot of those and well, I need to start cranking out socks and woven scarves to reduce their number. Oddly, they stress me more than sweater quantities.

The biggest challenge right now is to finish my first ever sweater using handspun. I am going to either just have enough to make a long sleeve sweater, or I will be just that smidge short. To avoid ripping back, I'm now knitting both sleeves from either end of the skein. This is made more challenging by the fact that it's a top down raglan.

Happy New Year to all you knitters!  May your stash be ample (but not too ample), your handknits be lovely and loved and may you have all the time you desire to work on your passions.

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Boxing day (It's a Canadian thing, go look).

The whole Christmas thing is over and we can just sit on the couch, watch our new DVDs, play with our new Wii games, knit whatever we like (though I didn't do any gift knitting this year), eat leftovers and RELAX.

This year we hosted Christmas at our house and all I've done on the 24th and 25th is cook, clean the dishes and cook some more.  All meals were a great success, it was mostly fun, but I'm done.  Done.  DONE.

I haven't even been outside since Thursday.  Too busy.

I'm off until after New Year's so I'm planning on doing a bit of loafing, some knitting, some running, some stuff with the kids (I'm open to ideas, because I don't have any plans) and no complicated cooking.  One prime rib dinner with all the fixings and one turkey dinner with all the fixings is quite enough.

I now return to my annual scheduled do-nothing time.  

Book Review: Aran Knitting

The much-awaited re-release of Alice Starmore's classic Aran Knitting has been met with much happiness in the knitting world.  That happiness is well-deserved since Aran Knitting is a fantastic book, both as a resource on the history of these gorgeous cabled hand-knits and as a collection of timeless sweater patterns.

Aran k 1
I've had the new copy of the book for about a month now, but have been trying to think of what to highlight in a review.  This book has a mythic status, the original copy was fetching crazy prices at Ebay auctions and most knitters are well acquainted with the fabulous patterns: Na Craga, St. Brigid, Aranmore, Fulmar...So what else is there to say?

There are a few things.  But let me start with a little story about my history with Aran Knitting.

I started knitting in the early 90's and didn't have much support in my knitting beyond the yarn department at Eaton's department store and the Paton's patterns found in the mall.  There was no yarn shop and I didn't know anyone who knit with anything more than an acrylic-wool blend.  Then I met Dina during my time at grad school in Thunder Bay.  She was from Toronto and had all kinds of crazy things--100% wool yarn, magazines devoted to knitting, patterns from Rowan and Phildar and she recommended yarn shops like Romni and Passionknit.  Totally changed my world.

I happened to be in Toronto at some point on a research expedition and and at that time The Creative Sewing and Needlework festival was on.  So I went.  More expanding of my knitting world.  At one stall there were kits for the most beautiful sweaters.  Cabled, intricate knits and beautiful heathered and tweedy yarns.  I immediately fell in love with this:

St brigid
St. Brigid.  Swoon.  Those gorgeous cables.  That heathered rich yarn.  The fringe (I know people hate it, but I always loved it).  The romantic craggy shores where I could be wearing this sweater and walking on the Aran islands.  I needed to have it.

Alas, I also didn't have the money for the kit.  So I noted the book--something called Aran Knitting and added it to my wish list.  

Aran knitting
I told Craig about it around Christmas time: I would love this book called Aran Knitting, it has some great patterns in it.  I had no idea who Alice Starmore was and no concept that she was an innovator in the knitting world (I didn't conceive of anything like a knitting world for that matter).  I got the book for Christmas, read every word of the history of these garments, studied the designs and then stuff got in the way.  I remember it being an expensive gift at the time and didn't realize that it would be out of print shortly after.

Some time later we were living in Toronto, I found the big yarn shops and my knitting evolved.  I decided it was time to crack open Aran Knitting and make something from this book.  For reasons, I don't remember beyond what I suspect was a desire to knit something for my husband, I chose Na Craga and bought the called-for Scottish Heather yarn to make this gigantic cabled sweater.

Na craga
(It could have been because of that photo--yum.)

It took a long time.  So long that I had a baby that I knit a lot for in between.  On December 24, 2002, I finished it for Craig.  It looked amazing on him and I was very pleased.  I don't have a photo of him in it (since it does predate my blog, but here's some FO photos from a long, long time ago in internet land). 

He still has the sweater, but I confess he doesn't wear it very much because he finds it too hot (I must make him go outside in it more often).  And while I have picked the book up over the years to browse the patterns, and I've got a sturdy purple tweed stashed for St. Brigid, I've never made another garment from it again.

But I didn't sell it either--even when it was fetching a fine price on the Ebay market.  There is something so classic in those patterns, even if they do have rather 80's styling--yes, they are rectangles with sleeves.  The cables are just so beautiful, the locations so pretty that it's a book you need to keep in your library.  I've also seen some amazing modifications of these patterns over the years--just have a look through Ravelry to find fitted versions, pullovers made into cardigans, gauge changes and all sorts of beautiful knits inspired by this book.  

That's why I'm so pleased for the re-release.  The book, now in softback (which I find a bit more difficult to use since it won't lay flat) contains the same historical and technical information as the original.  The original designs are all included, but there have been some important modifications.  Most have been re-photographed (though some of the original images are used) and the sizing and gauges have been changed to a more modern ease.  This means that designs are sized down and in some cases the largest size is not as large as it was.  There are also more sizes in some cases.  

It seems that the size changes come about mostly from changes to gauge/tension, which if you're already a bit sore from Alice Starmore's bullet-proof gauge, may be a bit tough.  I suspect one could go down yarn size (ie from worsted to dk) and make a perfectly fine sweater, that still has a solid gauge.  For sweaters involving this much effort, swatching is SUPER important.

Here's a few examples by way of comparison:

St. Brigid Original: 2 sizes: 45 & 48 inches.  Gauge: 21sts and 27 rows

St. Brigid Revised: 3 sizes: 42, 45 and 48 inches.  Gauge: 22sts and 32 rows

Aranmor Original: 3 sizes: 46, 49.5 and 52.5 inches. Gauge: 19sts and 24 rows

Aranmor Revised: 4 sizes: 41, 45, 48 and 51.  Gauge: 19.5sts and 26 rows

While these sizes still seem large if you're more petite or like your sweaters form fitting, remember these are garments meant to be worn with a fair amount of positive ease--all those cables shouldn't sit tight on the body in worsted or aran weight wool.  And really, these almost count as outerwear for Fall or early Spring.

One thing I dislike is that all patterns do not provide yardage; only the weight of yarn required (ie 850 grams of Hebridean 3 ply).  I know this is to encourage you to buy directly from Ms Starmore (who doesn't share the yardage on her site or print on the labels) but this smacks a bit as elitist and greedy--there's lots of yarn in the world to use to make these sweaters (and in my stash too!).  But in the end, it just means a bit more searching online to get a sense of yardage requirements from those who have knit up these patterns. 

To end on a positive note, check out this bonus to the new edition--a new pattern by Alice Starmore (click the image to embiggen).  

  Eala bahn

Eala Bhan is stunning.  A fitted, delicate cardigan with an open neck and a lovely shape.  The sleeves are set in and is described as "a fine example of how knotwork motifs can be specifically designed to incorporate precise body shaping".  While I might say it seems Ms Starmore was a bit behind the design times with this statement, the results are too pretty to care since Eala Bhan is both modern and timeless and on my to-knit list.