Ushida Cardigan

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I have a new finished cardigan! The Ushida Cardigan designed by Whitney Hayward from Making Zine no. 6 Black and White is now snugly wrapped around my shoulders – keeping me warm on a cold and rainy Tennessee day.

This cardigan has all the features – a saddle shoulder (perfect for my broad and rounded shoulders), pockets, a shawl collar – everything I want in a cardigan. It’s knit in pieces and seamed after the first round of blocking, then the shawl collar is added with some extra short rows for shaping (a very nice addition).

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My Ushida Cardigan is made from a reclaimed Abercrombie and Fitch sweater. The original sweater had basic cables running along the body, so I knew that cables would work with the dark chocolate brown color of the yarn. After unraveling this extra large sweater, I realized (and this is the case for most machine knit garments) that the worsted weight yarn was actually made from three fingering weight unplied yarns. If the original sweater did not already have a cabled design, I would not have expected this yarn to work so well with cables. Usually, general yarn wisdom states that tightly plied yarns work best with cables – they created the best pop. However, the cable pop on my Ushida Cardigan is 100% fantastic, so this yarn is obviously an exception to that rule.

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I started this cardigan the week before Christmas, right after I finished all my major holiday knitting obligations. I was absolutely certain I wanted the finished cardigan in all it’s cabled glory, but I wasn’t really in the right headspace to knit a complex cabled design. The beginning of a new semester and the start of writing my dissertation made it difficult for me to work on this cardigan at length. I would put a few rows in most nights, but there were often stretches of three days, or so, where I wouldn’t knit at all. That’s rather unheard for me. This cardigan required some headspace I didn’t always have. I finished it eventually, after two months and some weeks, which makes this my second longest sweater project of all time (this sweater is for sure the longest wip I’ve ever had).

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I had to play yarn chicken. I guestimated that an extra large sweater would yield enough yarn for this cabled giant. Once I unraveled everything, washed my yarn, and weighed 10 yards, I realized I was going to be about 100-200 yards short. To mitigate this, I knit my pocket linings in different yarn (leftover from this sweater). I knew this would be extra important because I wanted to knit my sleeves an inch longer than the pattern called for! My choice to use different yarn for the pockets was affirmed when I used up my very last bit of yarn on the shawl collar. It was an intense moment (and I skipped one repeat of short rows), but it all worked out.

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I did some crazy gauge math. My first swatch on the recommended needles was far larger than the recommended pattern gauge. I swatched twice more, on my third swatch I found a needle size that created the same stitch gauge as the pattern, but the row gauge was way off. If I used this new gauge, I would have a much shorter sweater with tiny arm holes. I decided that row gauge was probably the most important number to follow in this cabled design – there was no place to add a small amount of length as the cable repeat was about 40 rows long. So I chose to follow a swatch that produced the same row gauge but with a stitch gauge just a little bigger than the pattern recommendation. Because my stitch gauge was wider than the recommended gauge, I would end up with a much wider cardigan. To mitigate this I did some magic stitch gauge math and identified that if I followed the numbers for the first size, I would most likely create a cardigan that had the width of the fourth size. I learned this kind of genius math stitch witchery when I took Amy Herzog’s Fit to Flatter sweater class at Vogue Knitting Live in Pasadena in 2015. That conference changed my knitting life – mostly because of that class and meeting Susan B. Anderson.

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Every time I adjust the gauge for a pattern I feel a little nervous about the results. While my math might be right, will the finished product look like I imagine it? In this case, I was pleased with the results. My math was spot on and I now have a cardigan with just enough positive ease to layer over a long sleeve layer, I’ve even worn it over other handknit pullovers!

This sweater is a dream. I am so please I took the time to knit this delightful cabled cardigan. I think everyone should have a cardigan like the Ushida cardigan in their handknit wardrobe. It’s a true sweater showstopper.

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Reclaimed yarn vs. secondhand yarn vs. recycled yarn: what’s the difference?

083243ca-282b-4987-bc07-bc9674d0a98b-1I’m just about to cast on my next sweater project. I’m using reclaimed yarn and secondhand yarn. I previously used these words interchangeably, but now, each has taken on distinct meaning. So I’m setting out to clarify the difference between reclaimed yarn, secondhand yarn, and recycled yarn.

Reclaimed yarn: yarn which is harvested through unraveling a previously knit item. This yarn can come from either a hand knit or machine knit item. It usually goes through a washing process to reset the fibers.

Secondhand yarn: unused yarn acquired from secondhand sources. Buying someone else’s stash yarn, finding unused yarn at a creative reuse shop, or skeins found at a thrift store. Can be acquired in whole or partial skeins, cones, balls, or cakes.

Recycled yarn: yarn from a manufacturer that includes recycled content. This yarn has been respun from previously used fibers. This yarn is then purchased in new form, with a yarn label that includes “recycled” listed in the contents. Often fiber blends of wool, cashmere, silk, nylon, and cotton.

As the world of secondhand fibers continues to grow, I think it’s important we develop specialized terms to clarify unique materials and approaches. So, what do you think? Do you agree with these definitions? What else would you add?

The Saffran Cardigan: A story in ethical decision-making

My friend Ben asked me to knit a baby cardigan to surprise his wife (and presumably his 6-month old Phoebe, if she can be surprised) for Christmas. I have the special privilege of watching Phoebe one day every two weeks – which brings me so much joy! When he asked me to knit this surprise cardigan I was immediately on board. I’ve had a lot of people request hand knit objects before the holidays – usually they come at the beginning of December and involve large projects… but Ben was smart. He asked me to knit this sweater in September, he offered to pay for materials, and he let me pick the pattern. This is how you ask a friend for a handknitted object!

I was very excited to peruse the large selection of baby cardigans on Ravelry – there are so many and they are SO CUTE! I finally landed on the Saffran Cardigan by Docksjo, an adorable raglan with snowflake/star/flower motifs allover in stranded colorwork. This was an easy decision – I love colorwork and the motif fit the request for a Christmas sweater (though this figgy pudding one was a very close second).

The Yarn

The more difficult decision – the ethical one – was all about yarn choice. I care about where my yarn comes from and what it’s full life cycle will look like. I want my yarn sources to be sustainable, support the wool industry in my region, and be free from non-compostable materials (like nylon). I have my own yarn-buying hierarchy. It begins with thrifting for usable yarns. Most of my large projects come from this option – and it’s my favorite method as it fits my budget and allows me to save materials from the landfill. It’s not a perfect method… but it works well for now. Second, I try to buy directly from farmers and mills. This is option is very far outside of my budget… so I only get the chance to do this once or twice every year. If options one or two aren’t available, I try to buy 100% American wool (bonus if it was also milled and dyed in the U.S.) As a resident of the United States who was raised in a rural area, I want to support my farming neighbors as best I can, so when I can’t buy directly from them, I buy from sources that buy their fleeces. These three steps (thrifted, farm, american wool) make up my initial decision-making schema.

However, deciding which yarn to buy is always complicated by extra factors. The size of the project (and therefore the cost of the materials) will skew me towards one source or the other. If I’m knitting a blanket, I’ll lean towards thrifted yarns, but a pair of mittens will skew me towards farm yarn. When gift knitting, I always consider the lifestyle of the recipient – specifically their laundry habits. If they’re used to hand washing, and I believe they have sufficient yarn wherabouts to keep something out of the laundry machine, they get the prized 100% wool option (my mom is the only person who fits this category for me at the moment…). If they are likely to toss it in the laundry basket with their t-shirts and jeans, I’ll bend my no-superwash preference for them. Usually, I avoid superwash yarns as the ones available in the U.S. are treated with harmful chemicals that can end up in our waterways (leaks always happen). The reason I bend this rule when gift-knitting is because I value the longevity of the final product, that will hopefully become an heirloom piece. By knitting something out of superwash yarn, it stands the chance that it will last that much longer, even after accidental washes (but no dryer! Please no dryer!)

For my Saffran Cardigan, I chose to use Shepherds Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill. This is an affordable yarn that supports the American wool industry (milled in the US, from sheep in the US!) I wanted to keep the cost of this project relatively low while still knitting a quality piece from a yarn source on my ethical hierarchy. This merino wool is ultra-soft. It’s guaranteed to surprise any recipient with it’s handle. I’m not the biggest fan of ultra-soft yarns. I’m a bit too rough and tumble and need sturdy yarns myself, but I know that soft is all the rage, so soft yarns for gifts makes sense. With my soft yarn in hand, I set out to knit the cutest cardigan I ever did see.

The Pattern

Overall I enjoyed knitting the Saffran cardigan. The biggest “challenge” of this cardigan was the steek. I use the term challenge lightly. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of steeking, I just never found the need to cut open my knitting and prevent it from ever being unraveled in a usable way. But, as I was giving this sweater away, the chance it will need to be unraveled isn’t large, so I embraced the opportunity to steek and set out guns scissors a-blazing. The part I found to me mildly challenging was the section at the top of the cardigan where I was instructed to knit flat in colorwork. This was new for me and my tension was noticeably different in this section. I had to focus on this part. But I managed just fine and made no errors. I will most likely be making this sweater again – especially for all those babies that my friends are having at the moment!

Raina Shawl

The story of a shawl that embodies my yarney commitments.

I’ve already determined that I am a shawl convert; once a disbeliever, Iam now a committed member of the handknitting shawl society. The Raina Shawl by Andrea Mowry from Making no. 4/Lines is an incredible shawl. I had high hopes of making this squishy piece when the magazine was first published – and finally found the perfect yarn match this fall.

I love the two yarns in this shawl. One is a breed-specific farm yarn: Round Barn Fiber Mill Esme – a pure Jacob yarn from a single sheep (named Esme) whose fleece produces this lofty, soft, and delightful natural brown yarn. I paired Esme with a white Shetland yarn that I reclaimed from a thrifted sweater. This reclaimed yarn is a little more robust than Esme, which is why the Shetland took the first color place and Esme plays a supporting role in the background of the brioche. The chance to hold a recycled yarn along with a breed-specific yarn is my ideal knitting project! I care so much about using yarn from these two sources: small farms and rescued sources – and the fact that I could use them together in one project where they work so well together was truly satisfying.

This project also brought a new technique: two-color brioche. I’ve done brioche before – usually one-color, with a lot of mistakes and confusion. I have heard from other knitters that two-color brioche can be frustrating and time consuming as it involves sliding a finished row of stitches to the beginning of a needle and following with the second color – so it takes two rows to finish one row. I had no interest in sliding my stitches to the beginning of the needle. So, before I started this project, I sat down with the Sockmatician one-pass brioche tutorial and focused. I learned the one-pass method in one night and cast on my shawl the next day. I will admit, the last time I had to focus like this in a knitting project was when I was learning to knit back in 2011… There was a lot of focus going on.

With one-pass brioche, my Raina Shawl was a very smooth and satisfying knit. I love the finished shawl and the way the two yarns play together. I finished this shawl the night before my second PhD qualifying exam. I wore it during my exam as a protective wooly layer to remind me that: yes – I am amazing! I can knit this shawl and I can pass this exam. I did pass, and I think the focus and clarity I found from knitting Raina helped immensely.

Raina was a delight to knit. Worth every bit of intense focus.

Portage Cardigan: Take Two

I did it, I finally re-made the Portage Cardigan by Melissa Sachschwary after my first failed attempt (seen here).

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I am so happy with this cardigan. This pattern was one of the first I truly fell in love with, right when I started knitting. I tried to make it in the worst yarn possible (black, tweedy, and no memory) and the first version failed. I decided to try again in the interest of using patterns I have and love – this time in the right kind of yarn.

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I found the perfect yarn at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival back in May 2018. After strolling through the fairgrounds filled with yarn booths, I happened across Madeline from Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium. Madeline had a delightful selection of yarns – and I almost bought some of her fingering weight Shetland, until I saw this Hampshire DK.

This 100% Hampshire is an undyed (she called it Naked Ewe for Naked You) two ply. There were a couple of spots in every skein where the yarn was “thick and thin” but overall the yarn was quite consistent. I was a little nervous at first that 100% Hampshire would be too rough for my skin – I’ve yet to see a Hampshire yarn marketed to the knitting masses. I decided to take the chance to knit a full sweater in this yarn, hoping that my the wool would soften with a wash and my body could adjust. I was also very excited to try out some wool exploration after catching up on some KnitBritish podcasts.

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Equally as enticing is the story behind this yarn. Madeline told me that this yarn comes from an eccentric art collector who lives in the hills of Kentucky. After visiting the U.K. he, apparently, was so captivated by the sheep grazing on the British hillsides, that he had to have the exact breed for his own land. So that’s how a flock of Hampshire’s ended up in Kentucky.

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Knitting this cardigan was relatively easy. I added a few modifications in the way of cables. I was inspired by Fee Donovan’s Portage – she continued the side cables through the hem of the cardigan. I followed her lead, and decided to add an underarm cable as well. This sleeve cable is my favorite thing about this cardigan – it’s shy but sassy  – like me.

I also eliminated the pockets – which I feel quite sad about. I tried very hard to make the pockets work, but somehow with my gauge and in this yarn, the pockets refused to lay flat against the body of the sweater. I had a huge gaping problem. Maybe one day I’ll add afterthought pockets, but for now it’s just fine.

I am so inspired to make another shawl collar cardigan – I think this cardigan style will get a substantial amount of wear in my academic wardrobe. They’re easy to layer, and I love the way they look. But, for now, I’ll relish in my newly completed Portage cardigan.

Marettimo – an exercise in beauty

I am delighted that I have a beautiful knit top to add to my collection. The Marettimo Sweater is a perfect addition to my fall/winter/spring wardrobe. When Caitlin Hunter released this pattern during the summer, I fell in love with the bold lace stripes. I wasn’t necessarily planning to cast on another short sleeve top so soon after my Tegna, but after a wild summer I decided that a little deviation from my knitting plans would qualify as self-care rather than self-destruction.

I cast on Marretimo to celebrate my birthday in August and to eliminate any extra stressors, I used only yarn from my stash. The yarn – zen yarn garden in serenity silk + – was good enough for this project. While the fiber content was perfect, I did notice that the speckles in the yarn had greater contrast the the original design. The greater contrast in the main color meant that this sweater could easily become busier than I intended. So to mitigate that, I chose to work the lace and boarder in the same color (an idea first recommended by Kyle). This simplified the sweater and made the lace section truly pop, while also allowing the speckles their time in the spotlight.

Do I love speckled yarn? no, not really, and the more I knit with it the more I think, this looks so lovely in the skein and wound in a ball but when it’s knit up, it looks a lot like those printer ink test pages… maybe it’s just this particular yarn with the contrasting speckles. I’m not totally opposed to using speckled yarn again, but it seems less likely since lately I’ve been consumed by breed-specific yarns and local fibers.

Using stash yarn always comes with challenges – my contrast color is leftover from my Zweig sweater. I assumed I would have just enough to finish the sweater – and I cut it so close. Too close, really. My sleeve lace section is lacking in a coordinating bind-off. This is the only part of the sweater I’m questionable about – do I really like the contrasting hem? should it be longer? Should I try to find a similar blue singles yarn for the hem? For now, it’s okay – and since I rarely go back and fix my knitting, it will probably be okay for the rest of time.

I made quite a few modifications – first my gauge was tighter than the pattern. So I did some calculations and cast on for the medium size. After knitting the body, I realized that the neckline was far too open for my preference, and the sweater was much longer than I intended – so I ripped back and reknit from the armholes up – resulting in a more cropped sweater. From the separation for the arm holes – I knit the size small. I also raised the front neckline by binding off more stitches for my first bind off row and eliminating two short rows on both shoulders. This neckline is perfect for me! I felt so empowered to make an adjustment that was previously too complicated for me to complete. I think modifications might be my favorite thing about knitting at the moment.

I thought a lot about this project – why I wanted to knit it – and how it might affect me. I intended this project to be an exercise in beauty, where I would forgo my typical practical intentions and knit something I did not need. In the end, after thinking about beauty, realizing that maybe this yarn wasn’t my ideal of beauty, and reworking the shaping of the neckline, I’ve come to understand my own commitments to “the beautiful” in a new way. Somehow, I had come to associate “beautiful” with something I could not have. Maybe it was because I assumed beauty came with a heavy price tag, though I’m not ready to commit to this explanation. However, choosing to make a project that was primarily valuable for its appearance (secondarily for its function) placed the creation of beauty in my hands. No longer is beauty something outside me, now I know I can make something beautiful. And the way I can accomplish this is by thoughtfully planning out a project that is both visually enticing and environmentally considerate. The ethical deeply impacts the aesthetic – I can’t separate these two. Something cannot be beautiful unless it tells the story of concern for the environment and my neighbors well-being. When I look at my handmade wardrobe, pieced together from secondhand fabrics, unravelled yarns, and local or breed-specific fibers, I can see that these qualities contribute as much to beauty as the color, weight, or design.

My exercise in knitting a beautiful project was certainly thought-provoking (and it produced a new garment!). I might try this kind of experiment again, with a different virtue rather than beauty, maybe courage or honesty. But, for now, I’m still working out how beauty impacts my creativity and my craft. I have a lot to think about.

Summer Long Socks

It took me one summer to finish these socks. They’re basic bitch 64 stitch socks with a short row heel and a 2×1 ribbed cuff.

I found this yarn at Scrap It Up, Cincinnati’s secondhand craft store. There was no label but it looks similar to a patons sock yarn (washable wool + nylon). I haven’t knit with yarn like this before – I found it unbelievably splitty.

I cast on these toe-up socks so I could have some easy knitting while I watched the latest Star Wars movie in a dark theater. Turns out the theater was far too dark and as I tried to knit I split at least three stitches…

These sizing of these socks was a bit of an enigma. I measured and counted rows, but one sock was an inch longer in the foot than the other. When I re-knit to make them both the same length, they only matched up with the previously too short sock was 10 rows longer than it’s counterpart. No idea what happened there or why simple arithmetic couldn’t capture these socks, but now they’re the same length, so that’s good.

I love having a pair of slow moving socks on the needles. It seems like it takes me a full three months to finish a pair of socks (they’re never a first priority). I have two more balls of unknown sock yarn and I’m hoping to cast on some ribbed socks to branch out from my stockinette sock rut.