Knitting in Transit

If you live in or have ever visited Toronto, you may be familiar with our venerable public transit system, the TTC. Having grown up in car culture Edmonton, where public transit is relatively poorly funded and, thus, requires its users to maintain an intimate geographic familiarity with the city in order to understand that the circuitous bus route will eventually get you to wherever you’re going, I was instantly smitten with the TTC the first time I used it. The TTC seemed impossibly fast compared to ETS, with its frequent bus, subway and streetcar service. When native Torontonians would complain to me about the TTC,  I would scoff and tell them to move to Edmonton, and then we’d talk about poor public transit.

Lately, my benevolent feelings towards the TTC have begun to wane. In fact, I hate the TTC now. Under Toronto’s infamous crack smoking mayor, service has been cut while fares have increased, and no matter the method of conveyance–bus, subway, streetcar–the experience of traveling on the TTC has become a miserable one. Delays are ubiquitous, overcrowding is rampant, and everyone is unhappy.

And yet, I do manage to find glimpses of goodness on the TTC. More recently, I’ve been reading novels like crazy, and if you’re going to be stuck standing up in a fast moving tin can for 30 odd minutes, you might as well be lost in a good book at the same time. When I manage to get a seat, I like to knit.

Knitting on the subway turns me into an instant object of fascination. Most people just stare for a few minutes and then return to their cell phones (those candies won’t crush themselves, after all…). Occasionally, people will talk to me about what I’m doing. I remember once, on a particularly hot and crowded day last summer, a man watched over my shoulder for about 15 minutes as I shaped the toe of a sock before going out of his way (and I mean really out of his way… the streetcar was packed and he had been forced to shuffle to the back of the car with the surge of rush hour commuters) to tell me that he really admired what I was doing. Another time, a woman saw that I was knitting and proceeded to touch my head to see what the hat I was wearing–she assumed, correctly, that I had made it–felt like, not believing that it was made from wool. Yet another time, a woman loudly talked about me and my knitting like I wasn’t there while seated right next to me: “That’s really cool, what she’s doing. I really like her pink scarf. I also really like her blue hat. I bet she made those, too.” On the rare occasion that I see another knitter on the subway, I do a silent internal cheer. Though there are lots of knitters in Toronto, seeing one in the wild is a bit like finding a unicorn, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having proof that there are others in the world like me, who rely on knitting to get them through the awfulness of crowded transit.

So, in aggregate, most people are nice, some people are perhaps a bit too enthusiastic with the whole touching-without-an-invitation thing, and still others are passive aggressive in their support. And, until recently, I thought that was all there was to it. Then, blogTO ran an article identifying the ten worst people on the TTC, and this was the very first comment:

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 9.42.11 AM

That’s right, everyone: Knitters, according to “Al”, are right up there with the seat hoggers, the doorway blockers and the fragrant hot food eaters! We are among the worst on the TTC, and I, apparently, am one of the worst offenders.

Unfortunately for Al and other destroyers of fun, I don’t think I’ll be giving up my transit knitting any time soon. As long as I have two hands and somewhere to go, the knitting will happen. Besides, it’s definitively autumn now and the air is crisp and chilly. A girl’s gotta keep warm somehow, and I choose wool. I just hope that Al’s grumpy judgement is enough to keep him warm…

My Summer Sweater

Sargeant WIP2

A few weeks ago, I excitedly mentioned my participation in Shannon’s Summer Sweater Knit Along and immediately followed this announcement with radio silence. I know, it’s cruel of me to hold out on you like this, but you should know that I only did so for entirely selfish reasons. I’ve noticed a tendency towards failure when I make big promises on this blog. Remember my NaKniSweMo sweater? I probably should have known that Burrard was too challenging to complete within a month, especially the month before Christmas, when I had committed to a mountain of gift knitting. Even so, I loudly announced my participation and then promptly failed to meet the challenge in the prescribed time period. And even when the challenge isn’t so great but I make a promise to write about something I’m excited to show you, I often struggle to come up with the words, or sometimes the thing turns out to be just impossible to photograph without professional equipment and perfect conditions. Other times, I just plain fail at knitting. So I guess what I’m saying is that it sometimes feels like I’ve jinxed myself by getting publicly excited about big things on this blog. To quote Michael Scott, I’m not superstitious, maybe just a little stitious. 

Despite my silence about the sskal, I have been working diligently on my project since July 31. Seeing as I’ve passed the point of no return, I now feel confident my showing you what I’ve been up to isn’t likely to ruin my sweater now. This year I decided to really challenge myself with some full-on Fair Isle knitting. The pattern is Amy Christophers’ Sargeant Pullover from the recently published New American Knits, and it’s the second sweater I’ve knit from her book (I know, I know I’m behind. My kingdom for some cooler days!)

Sargeant WIP closeup2

 Aside from wanting to step up my skills a notch, I chose this pattern because it’s just plain lovely. What I’ve begun to appreciate about stranded colourwork is that the possibilites for customization are endless, and this pattern is a clean and simple foil for experimenting with beautiful colours. That said, I thought it safest to stick with contrasting colours on a neutral background, and my choices are somewhat similar to those chosen by the designer. One day I will experiment with complimentary colours and really figure out how to make the most of hue and value, as per Jared Flood’s recent colour theory blog posts.

The biggest challenge of all with this sweater has been ensuring the fit. I knit the sleeves first and used them as my gauge, finding that I was pretty close to what the designer calls for. The body of the sweater looks a little small to me, but I’m confident it will block to the right size…. okay, maybe not confident. But I am definitely on the verge of confident. I’ve been keeping my floats nice and loose (but not too loose) and the sweater has some nice stretchiness when I feel the need to tug at it and reassure myself that it will fit me.

Sargeant WIP floats2

 How are your SSKAL projects coming along? Are you going to make the deadline?

Death By Cute

Last week, while I was at work, I got a text message from my Mom. “At the hospital with Lara. Might be labour. Hope not.” I panicked briefly when I read this, for two good reasons. My sister Lara, as you may have guessed, is indeed pregnant, and her due date isn’t until November. My initial panic, therefore, was out of concern for her health and the health of her baby. But when I called and spoke to my Mom, who by then had heard from the doctor that things were going to be okay and that Lara was not in labour, I had another reason to freak out. This baby, I realized, could come at any time now, and I hadn’t yet done any knitting for him. 

Fortunately, and especially because I’m on vacation this week, it has taken me almost no time to remedy this. I knit this cute set in about 3 hours, starting last night. The mittens were finished first, started at about 11:30 PM and completed sometime after midnight. When I woke up this morning, I immediately cast on the hat and knit quietly by myself while Keith slept. The hat is one I’ve knit before, but instead of using my preferred magic loop, I knit this hat entirely with double pointed needles. As a result, I’ve avoided creating an unwanted seam down the middle front of the hat. I’m really, really pleased with how these have turned out in such a short span of time. Now all that’s left for me to do for this baby boy is to whip up an adorable little sweater…

Specs:

Pattern: Baby Mitts by Susan B. Anderson and Garter Ear Flap Hat by Purl Soho

Yarn: Knit Picks Capra in Wine

Modifications – Mitts: Used smaller needles, cast on 24 stitches and adjusted gauge accordingly, knit k1p1 ribbing for the cuffs

Modifications – hat: None

 

 

The First Time

Green Miette front

Well, it’s still too hot to photograph sweaters, so I’ve decided to dig through some old photos and finally show you that skirt I made. You know, the one I promised to show you. A really long time ago.

Anyway.

Hey, look! It’s me! Wearing a skirt! THAT I MADE!!!

It’s difficult for me to know what to say about this wrap skirt because a) I finished it so long ago, and b) I am still very new to sewing and don’t have the vocabulary to discuss in any real detail what I did in the making of the skirt. Suffice to say that I’m happy it’s all over and that I still have a lot to learn. But since this is a forum in which I feel duty bound to talk about something, I suppose I could talk about the pattern itself.

Green Miette side(Pardon the wrinkles.)

Because I am both the very definition of novice and have little interest in sewing if it’s not going to be for the purpose of making things I can wear, I decided that I needed to make a garment that wouldn’t be too complicated to sew and that consisted of mostly straight lines. To this end, Tilly’s Miette pattern fit the bill nearly perfectly. The main part of the wrap skirt is composed of four large panels that are sewn together down the sides, while the waistband is made from several smaller pieces (6, I think) and the long ties. With the exception of the hem, there’s not a curve in sight, which makes this a pretty good project to get your feet wet with if you’re brand new to sewing, as I am (or, was, I guess).

Despite the easiness of this pattern, I most definitely didn’t enjoy every second of making this skirt. There are many, many steps between choosing the fabric (a poly-cotton twill at $9/yard from King Textiles) and wearing the finished item, and I found most of them frustrating because I didn’t really know what I was doing and because you can’t just dive into a sewing project in the same way you can with knitting. Things need to be measured carefully, preferably multiple times. Though many mistakes are not insurmountable, some, like cutting your fabric the wrong size or against the grain, can be fatal, and knowing this set me on edge for most of the process. As for the skirt itself, those long ties were difficult to maneuver through the machine, and I found myself swearing a lot more than usual (those who know me well will know that it must have been a fuck of a lot of swearing). On top of all that, it was more than frustrating to work with my second hand sewing machine, which I learned later was badly in need of a tune up and was on the verge of completely breaking down. Still, though, I ended up with a skirt that I can clearly wear, and that’s not nothing.

Green Miette front 2

So, the verdict: will I make this again? To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I will. Despite the fact that making the ties nearly killed my desire to sew full stop, I think I could work around that issue by copying Lauren’s idea to eliminate them altogether and replace with a button closure (which means I need to learn how to make button holes…). Aside from the construction, I find this skirt to be pretty uncomfortable to wear. The waistband is stiff and causes me to bulge in really unflattering places, especially when I sit. And though the skirt panels are wide and provide pretty good coverage when the air is still, the wrap has blown open and revealed my backside to the world on at least one occasion. Nonetheless, I have worn this skirt more than once, which I suppose makes in a success in all the ways that matter to a first timer. I can wear it out of the house and not be embarrassed! (until it blows open and shows my ass to the world, that is…)

In any case, I am now fully committed to sewing. The man I love and who loves me back had my machine fixed and bought me a sewing class for my birthday. I have begun making my second skirt, which will have a zipper closure and will not be a wrap. It will be red and lined with black pinstripes on white bemberg, and it will be glorious.

red fabric and lining

 

Sneak Preview

Hey! It’s me! Back after another looooong silence. Whoops. It’s clear that I have trouble keeping promises about writing more frequently, so I’m not going to make any promises today. I’m not even going to apologize. Instead, I’m going to start fresh. Because I’ve been keeping busy and I’ve got many, many new things to show you.

I guess I’ll begin with my latest project. As some of you are aware, I have a very large family. While growing up in cramped quarters with my three brothers and two sisters produced plenty of acrimony between us as kids, we’re all grown up now and, having gone our separate ways, we get along a lot better than we used to. Why, I’d even go so far as saying that we’ve become pretty good friends. So, because I like my brothers and sisters so much, and having reached the point in life where I have a job and can pay for things, I’ve decided that it’s high time I think about giving them birthday gifts. The gift, I’ve decided, will be handknit socks.

Why socks? Well, I’ve waxed poetic on the merits of handknit socks in the past, one of these being they are extremely warm. And, since my siblings live in Edmonton, where winter temperatures regularly plunge to -30 Celsius, I figure that even such a boring gift won’t be entirely unwelcome.

The first birthday is my sister Lara’s (which also happens to be my own birthday), and the socks pictured above are for her. They’re a basic 3×1 stitch rib over 64 stitches, and I managed to start and finish making these in 3 days. I’ve decided to stick to boring and plain socks because, otherwise, I know I’ll struggle to finish in time for the birthdays. This is, after all, my 3rd try at starting the birthday sock project–my attempt at making ankle socks for my brother, Bill, was an abject failure, and two pairs of fancy socks that ended up being comically too small for my Mom taught me that, when under the gun, simple is best.

Almost immediately after Lara’s and my birthday is Clifford’s, so I’ve begun a pair for him as well:

These will also be simple, a 2×2 broken rib stitch sock. The yarn is Fleece Artist Trail Sock, and I hear it’s pretty tough wearing. I love the autumnal colours of this yarn, and I especially love how masculine they are without being the standard issue dark blues and greys.

I’ll leave you now with more pictures because I’ve been holding out on you, dear readers… I have blog posts for weeks because of the confluence of rabid knitting and it being too hot to wear a sweater even for a picture. It won’t be hot forever, though, and I’ve been dying to show you what I’ve made… stay tuned!

P.S. Is anyone else as excited about the Summer Sweater Knit Along as I am!?!

Why I’m Making a Blanket in the Summer

I suppose the statement “my cat is crazy” will elicit eye rolls the world over. Whose cat isn’t crazy, after all? And who among us hasn’t known at least one crazy cat in their lifetime? One time, years ago, my cat was making me particularly crazy, so I wrote as much on my Facebook wall. A beloved former professor wrote back, “You could just as easily have said ‘I have a cat,'” which is pretty hard to argue with.

But I’m here to talk about a blanket, which, I promise you, is related to my cat’s crazy behaviour. My cat, Manolo, is a peculiar mix of affection and antisocial behaviour. On the one hand, she loves to be touched. Loves it! This has been especially obvious since I started working outside the home. Now that I’m not around all the time to give her loving throughout the day, she’s very persistent when I get home. She even follows me to the bathroom, often pushing the door open if I haven’t closed it all the way and pacing in fast, short circles before eventually flopping on the ground and showing her belly expectantly. This is how she invites me to touch her. But the moment I’ve decided that I want a cuddle with her without her making the first move, she’s gone. She’s sussed out the best hiding spots in the apartment, away from prying eyes and the reach of unwanted handsy people like me, and she’ll run fast and hide deeply when she decides that cuddles are not her idea and, therefore, I can’t have any.

In addition to hiding places, Manolo, I’ve observed, has designated certain spots in the apartment as single use spaces. My favorite of these is how she uses the living room windowsill. The righthand side of the sill, where the window opens, is a favorite lounge spot, and I can see why: the breeze that sometimes comes through must feel great on her skin, and it’s the place that gets the most sunlight in the whole apartment. If I were a cat, I’d probably spend most of my time there, too. The lefthand side of the windowsill, though, is clearly her toilette. It’s now the only place in the apartment where I ever see her clean herself in the weird, flexible way that cats do, and when she wanders over to that side of the sill, I know it’s bath time.

My least favorite of her cat behaviours is the way she has claimed the couch blanket has her own territory. I know that lots of cats are immediately interested in whatever their people are interested in, and Manolo is no stranger to plopping down on books, papers, computers and knitting the moment I leave them out for even a second. But the blanket is by far the worst of it. Because, unlike papers or metal computer casings or even knitting, which I usually snatch away as soon as I see her near the yarn, that brown polar fleece blanket seems to retain smells like a box of baking soda in the fridge. And, based on the smell, it appears that Manolo has decided her favorite use for the blanket is as a dampener for her farts. So, because there are few things more unpleasant than draping oneself in cat farts, I have decided to make us a blanket this summer.

The pattern is Martine Ellis’ Knitted Patchwork Recipe, a foolproof project that makes for perfect summer knitting. Each 2-by-2 inch square requires around 2-3 grams of sock yarn (less than the size of a walnut) and takes about 20 or so minutes to knit, which makes it ideal knitting for the commute to and from work or on days when I’m dead tired but still need to do something with my hands. It’s also a great way to use up odds and ends left over from sock knitting, which I seem to have in abundance. I haven’t made many decisions regarding how big I want this blanket to be, but I think it’s a good idea to aim for at least 2 squares a day, which will give me somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 squares by the end of August. I’ve also decided to sew the squares together at the end rather than knitting them together now. I realize that I may come to regret this decision later, but I just don’t know how I want to arrange the colours yet.

As for preventing cat farts on the new blanket, I’m going to have to get creative. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Thankfully, the sock yarn is machine washable.

Lil’ Sprout

It’s hard to believe that my niece, Khloe, will soon be a year old. It doesn’t seem that long ago when her moms were anxiously awaiting her arrival, though it did seem like the pregnancy took forever to get though (speaking as someone who’s never been pregnant, natch). However long the pregnancy was in actuality, when Khloe arrived, time seemed to speed up. Every day she changed in one way or another. I remember seeing lots of pictures of a bewildered and unsmiling little thing in the early weeks. She was only able to wear the little socks I made for a few short days, and then, suddenly, they were too small. As she got bigger, she became more alert, and soon she started to smile. When my sister figured out best ways to coax a smile out of her daughter, she inundated us with videos of the process. I used this intel to my own advantage when I met her for the first time this past Christmas, when she was about 5 months old and beginning to show her personality a bit more. Soon, she was laughing, dancing to music, crawling so fast and, now, standing up with the assistance of people and furniture. It won’t be long before she’s walking, and then, look out!

I love my niece, and I especially love making things for her. But here’s a little detail that I’m ashamed to share: I have a terrible track record of making things for Khloe that are way, way too small for her. This happens for two reasons: 1) We live half a country apart, so I don’t actually get to observe her physical growth on a regular basis; and 2) I have basically zero experience with babies and no idea of their dimensions. For Christmas, for example, I made her an Abate pullover with a neck hole that was too small (why are babies heads so huge? WHY?) and sleeves that were too long. As with the socks, she was really only able to wear her sweater for that one day, but not without making her cry as I attempted to stretch that too-small neck over her large baby head.

So, for her first birthday, I resolved to do it right and make her something she would be able to wear for longer than a day or two.

 

 

This here is my Sproutlette Dress, and I believe it to be an excellent choice for the gun shy baby knitter I’ve become of late. The pattern comes in 3 sizes and can be easily customized using simple math to make modifications to the pattern or by switching to a heavier yarn and larger needles. In this case, I opted to make the largest size, 12-24 months, and to use the suggested fingering weight yarn so that she can wear it on or around her July birthday without it being too hot for her. The short sleeves of the dress mean that I don’t need to worry that they’ll be too long for her little arms, either.

 

 

My favorite fit detail is the large keyhole and button closure in the back, which effectively solves the problem of accommodating her large baby head. With any luck, this closure (and, by the way, isn’t that button cute?) will mean that she can continue to wear the dress well beyond her first birthday. The keyhole will, I hope, keep her comfortable in the warm weather.

 

 

I’m also extremely pleased with how the leaf pattern and scalloped edging turned out. Many other versions of the dress have blocked the edging aggressively to better show off the lacy scalloping, but I actually prefer the ruffled look, so I left it alone.

Now, I don’t want to get too cocky, but I fee pretty confident that I’ve done good here. Not only does this dress fix a lot of the fit issues I’ve had with Khloe’s knits in the past, it seems possible that she might be able to wear this right up to her second birthday. Most of all, I hope she loves it, and one day, when she’s older still, I hope that she’ll look back at this dress and know just how much I love her.

Specs:

Pattern: Sproutlette Dress by Tanis Lavallee

Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll Sock Yarn in Peapod

Modifications: Wet blocked flat without pinning the edging