Still Life from Quimper

Still Life from Quimper
A shot of an almost-completed still life needlepoint

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Mountain Projects - Brambleberry Sweater

I've promised and promised to put these projects on my blog, and now here it is - a Friday afternoon in late April (Good Friday, in fact), and the Mountain is now a happy memory.

But not to worry! That's why blogs exist!

This is the first of several posts about projects I work on at the annual Atlanta Knitting Guild retreat at The Mountain in North Carolina. It is a wonderful, calming, peaceful place, way up at the ankle of the Appalachian Mountains (Atlanta being the foothills, North Carolina would be the ankles, no?). Everyone brings projects that they often cannot work on anywhere else, due to the association with The Mountain, the amount of concentration needed to work on a project, or the help they will receive from other knitters over the long weekend. And that's basically what it is: show up after noon-ish on Friday, snack, knit, eat dinner, knit, begin to taste Knitting Water, and continue knitting into the weee hours of the next day.



For an entire long weekend.

Some other projects I've worked on have been a wedding shawl for my friend and former colleague, for whom I cast on 400 stitches! a project that could only have been accomplished with many stitch markers, the complete silence of other understanding knitters, and a few swigs of Knitting Water.

I also knit Webmaster Bill his two cable-knit sweaters, the first out of Chester Farms yarn out of Virginia, a thick, durable, "wears like iron" wool yarn that is 100% machine washable. I found out while knitting that sweater that you can fudge the fact that you didn't count your rows properly, and can crochet an edging to make the arm decreases look like knit decreases instead of purl-on-the-right-side decreases. You can, you really can . . .

The second was a beautiful off-white sweater featuring yarn from Blackwater Abbey Yarns, available only through the distributor in Colorado (or from Abbey Farm in Ireland). I had had a trunk show with Blackwater Abbey Yarns while my friend was still in my employ - she is a huge fan of the designer Beth Brown-Reinsel who has designed a number of Aran and Guernsey-style sweaters out of this yarn. The yarn is also a traditional Irish Aran yarn, and not at all appealing to the soft scarf crowd, but it still proved to be a fruitful trunk show and one which I wish I could have had again. And many of the sales were to staff and owner, but that's just one of the perks of working in the yarn shop!

So, my project for the Mountain (stay on topic!) was my sweater out of this beautiful, handwash only yarn, using a pattern designed for this yarn (not by BB-R) called "Brambleberry." I used a fall-ish orangey rust yarn, and I did my swatches. Oh, boy, did I do my swatches! But more on that later.

The pattern is a little different, in that the chart is read from left to right on the right side of the pattern, and the reverse on the wrong side. Which is opposite all the other charted patterns I've ever used. Another difference is the reversal of odd-is-right, even-is-wrong row counting. Needless to say, Knitting Water has helped make these pattern differences even more clear, and has taken the sting out of ripping back and re-knitting those rows until I began to focus on the pattern's quirks.

I started this pattern 2 Mountain trips ago, in 2009, with a cast-on and knitting of the back. And you know what? After I figured out the pattern changes, it really was an easy pattern to knit. Seriously. It's only on R2 that you have to cable, and you knit the majority of the body repeating the same 8 rows. Very, very simple for late night conversation.

Then you get to do the traveling cables as you decrease for the arms, a factor which adds its very own magic to the design of the sweater. Some concentration, and no Knitting Water was involved (in fact, I think I did these decreases at home, but I wouldn't swear to it), and it makes the sweater design really cool.

Last year's Mountain stay featured knitting the front of this sweater, and one of the things I wanted to make certain of was that I was a) familiar with the pattern by this year's Mountain stay, and b) ready to start on the sleeves by doing a): finishing the front before I got to The Mountain. Which I did with the help of some very brave bunnies, as featured in that marvelous masterpiece, Watership Down, as a book on tape. Meaning I knitting into the evening and heard one of my favorite books read aloud as only a gifted storyteller can.

As promised, here are the pictures:

This is the back of the Brambleberry sweater. I only wish the color was more true - it's an orangy reddish leaf color.

This is much more true to the actual color of the yarn itself. This is a detail of the sweater. What makes the cables stand out so amazingly is the Z-twist of the yarn - it's spun in reverse. Most yarns and threads produced commercially or privately by spinners create an S-twist. But not this yarn.

This is the front of the sweater. Notice the deep neckline, an indication of it being the front, and also the double-decreasing at both sides while knitting the traveling cables.

I now have greater respect for the professional photographers who make the pictures on patterns look just perfect! It's hard to see the detail, but the traveling cables start right at the arm decreases.

Why this picture of a scrap of knitting, you ask? Why, this is no ordinary scrap of knitting: this is my swatch. I knit it with three different needles, then washed the swatch to see how my individual needle choices would come out. After all, I was going to spend at least 3 years of my life on this project, and I wanted it to be perfect.

You know what I found? Not just the needle size but the needle type makes all the difference with this project. My gauge was the same whatever needle size I used, BTW.

My first needle option was a size 6, since I tend to knit loose. Not so much fun knitting with these needles on a 2-ply Worsted Weight yarn. That's the scrunched up bit at the bottom.

My second needle option was a Bryspun plastic size 7 needle. Soft on the hand and easy to manuver the yarn over and around. Great, I thought, but I'll try one more. Plus, the pattern called for a 7 though my gauge didn't change at all.

My third option was size 8 bamboo. And that made all the difference.

Remember when I said that I had washed and blocked my swatch after I knit it? Well, the portion I knit with the size 6 was all hard to pull - no give whatsoever. But the portion I knit with the nice, soft, easy-to-manuver Bryspun? It turned flat. There was no definition in my cables, they relaxed almost to the point of being just an embellishment on the pattern and not the pattern itself. I could not believe my hands, and the more knitters I've shown it to, the more my reality about using these needles has been correct.

So my final option, of the bamboo size 8's, was right on the money. The cables were crisp and at attention, and maybe because the wood offers resistance to the wool it makes the cables stand up the way they do.

That's my lesson for the day - always, always wash your swatch, and keep knitting on the same swatch so that you can see one variation from the other. Very, very, important.

Oh, and before I sign off, here are the promised sleeves, started this year at the Mountain (I had forgotten that the rows are read reversed, so after 7 rows I poured some more Knitting Water to take the sting out of ripping them out and starting again). And one more thing - I'm knitting both sleeves together/at the same time. This way I can keep up with the pattern and its myriad of increases. Like the ones I forgot right at the very beginning, which is fine because I have small wrists, and heavily increased sleeves would just hang on my wrists like flappy bits of knitted fabric. My arms increase after the elbow, and by golly, that's just where these extra increases are going to go!

Here are the pictures:

There is more knit on them now, of course. My goal here is to finish the sleeves by this autumn, to either knit the pieces together and wear this sweater at The Mountain (it gets pretty darn cold up there, let me tell ya!) or sew it together next year while there.

OK, well, that's my first of these posts of Mountain projects. Will put some more up (I've taken tons of pictures), and hopefully all the posts will be current by the time I go on next year's retreat!