knitting nature

Capecho Shrug, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

I finally finished Norah Gaughan’s Capecho shrug, after working on it for the last five months.

I had to redo the collar and make it thinner because the original stood up to my ears and covered my chin.

The problems with fit on this pattern were universal, apparently– it is very wide and short and of course with my generous bust that was a fit challenge. I ended up kitting extra partial pentagons under the arms and at the bottom front so that my breasts would be totally covered.

The yarn I chose– Schoeller Stahl Merino Stretch– is very stretchy. It was hard to really determine gauge and now I’m thinking maybe this was the wrong yarn choice as the texture seems to muddle the stitch definition. Anyway, I’m still rather pleased with it, even though it seems to be a rather impractical garment. It is some of the more impressive looking knitting I’ve undertaken, even though the execution is actually quite simple.


basalt tank

I completed Nora Gaughan’s Basalt Tank from Knitting Nature just in time to show it off at Ally Pally. One person, the lovely Robynn from recognized it, bless her. (Anyone who needs a knitting indulgence should check out her site– they have beautiful, quality things, free fairy-tale based patterns and great service.)

I don’t know how I feel about the finished tank. It certainly fits me, and was a joy to knit. I marvel at the math involved in the pattern. Knitting the hexagons which grow one from the other, meditation on the maths needed to invent such a thing is inevitable. It made me realize that it was not my own inadequacies that made higher maths “out of bounds” for me, but a deliberately discouraging educational system that told me not to bother.

I guess in my late thirties I am now realizing that I would have been good at things like calculus if I’d only been given the chance. As a young girl I certainly wouldn’t have insisted I’d be given a chance, though that is what it would have taken.

I remember being 12 and my algebra teacher called me to the board to answer a problem. His manner was much like a drill sergeant and he terrified me. I wished I had a shell– maybe the Basalt Tank– to crawl into. I froze up at the board. I was one of two girls in the class. He said, “is there a young man here who can save her?” And there were laugher and volunteers. He never called me to the board again.

Years later I was in a playground and I saw him on the sidewalk. I went up to him an asked him why he had done that. To my amazement he had remembered me and said something presumptuous and backhanded like, “You had a brilliant mind, but you weren’t using it.”

Knitting this tank I realized that he was, and still is, terribly wrong.

My Vortex Street Pullover, from Nora Gaughan’s Knitting Nature, is completed. I recently returned from a trip to the (freezing cold) Orkneys and this sweater kept me warm and dry. Though it’s a bit longer than I would like, it still works. My aran cables aren’t as bold as the ones in the book, but I’m still happy with it. Excuse the rumpled look of the sweater– I was hiking in it.

I used Peruvian Highland Wool from– and I changed my needles from a 7 to a 6 because I was starting to knit rather loosely. I changed the armholes so that they are shallower than called for in the pattern. I also omitted the roll neck.

This is the Vortex Street Pullover from Nora Gaughan’s Knitting Nature, being blocked.

Now, I’ll have you know, I’m not a blocking kind of girl. I confess I rarely block anything I knit. All those pictures in “How to Knit” books with a perfectly knitted piece pinned to an ironing board covered in graph paper? Well, just the idea of that gives me the creeps. And I don’t own an ironing board. I might have an iron, somewhere–

I realized while knitting this sweater I would have to block it. Despite all the mindless knitting or maybe because of this, there was something very seat-of-the-pants about this pattern. My gauge was all over the place and because of the design, things had to line up. I tried changing needles sizes, tried adjusting my tension but it was all pointless. My gauge still varied bizarrely. I knew blocking would be the answer.

When I have blocked things, I usually spray them with water, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough for this. The stockinette was curling, big time. I wet the whole thing in the tub and watched it stretch out to my dismay.

Once I got it on the towel it was wet, long, disastrous. I got out my tape measure and for the first time in my life “blocked pieces to measurements” as the pattern suggested. (Hey, I rarely use patterns because I’m crap at following them.) I was amazed that I was able to actually mold a 23″ sleeve back into a 19″ rectangle, and I was able to match up the size panels with the central aran panel, which was my major concern.

I don’t think I’ll be pinning any knitting to graph paper anytime soon but I’m beginning to see this whole “blocking” thing as less of an anal-retentive mythology and more as a tool. Now if I can only get used to the smell of wet wool.

vortex street pullover panel, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

This is the middle panel. It is extremely long. It’s going to be more like a dress than a sweater. My gauge got really lose as I knit it. I had to go down two needle sizes and it was still really long.

I confess. Baubles freak me out. I love aran knitting, but I don’t do much of it because of the damn baubles.

This particular example on the right is from Alice Starmore’s Knitting from the British Isles. I’m fascinated by Starmore’s olympic patterns but they all seem to be a lot of work for something that is often unwearable. This is just one example. I mean, here we’re talking intarsia baubles. On trousers. *shudder* I suppose if you are attempting a burryman look for your child, this is a suitable approach.

Right now I’m knitting the Vortex Street Pullover from Knitting Nature. The art-nouveau like aran curls terminate in baubles. Six baubles. I keep telling myself I can handle half-dozen baubles.

But knitting them– distending the stitch, back and forth– back and forth– (which way is the stitch supposed to go when you pass it back? Never mind, just get the thing over with.) Once done, it hangs temporarily from the work like a massive skin tag, a carbuncle, a tumor.

And on the way back in the next row, it falls to the back and you have to push it through the work, like a pimple that needs lancing.

Once it’s tightened up on the next right side row I find myself pulling and twisting and fussing with it neurotically– can I make it look less lesion-like?

I’ve knitted two– I have four more to go. Wish me luck.

And here are a few more things I’ll not be knitting anytime soon:

bfn4.jpgbu3.jpg Sorry to pick on Teva Durham, but her designs are unwearable. I’m all for the daring and strange, but can you imagine anyone wearing these designs? On her website she recommends wearing them with pleather pants.

Swatching for Basalt Tank, originally uploaded by velvetdahlia.

Yesterday I went to John Lewis with Liza and got some Rowan wool cotton for this pattern. I am in love with Knitting Nature by Nora Gaughan– patterns based on fractals and mathematical patterns found in nature.

They have some of the earthy avant garde sensibility of Teva Durham without the pattern wonkiness and sizing issues (read: Teva’s designs are often in skinny sizes only). Theres a lot of masterful, ambitious knitting here that really taps into the poetry of the craft.