First, my apologies for stringing you all along bit by bit with this piece. In truth I knit the thing from start to finish in a very short period but like to take a little extra time with presentation. Plus I loved photographing this thing! Not to mention the obvious fun of milking a good steek for all it’s worth.

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)
 

Pattern: Generic Vest
References: Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Knitting Workshop by EZ
Yarn: My handspun shetland, “Low Country” fiber from Hello Yarn; Recycled Irish tweed wool from this thrift store sweater.
Needles: US8/5.0mm KnitPicks Harmony Circulars

Start Date: 6 May 2008
Finish Date: 11 May 2008

 

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

This was one of those projects that came together eerily well, on it’s own, with very little planning. I had just finished spinning a batch of Shetland that I becom very fond of. I had a good amount of it – about 9 oz. of aran weight – and didn’t want to knit a small project, but knew there wasn’t enough for anything substantial. A few day’s earlier my sister-in-law had sent me this wool sweater she had picked up in Portland from a thrift store. When the vest urge hit me hard, the handspun and the sweater were sitting quietly next to each other in the corner when the big yellow light bulb appeared over my head.

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I swatched a small square, striping the two wools together and really loved how it felt and how the colors looked together. After I had my gauge, I was off and running. The rest is all kind of a blur.

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

Vests are wonderful – it’s like taking all the thrilling parts of sweater knitting and condensing them down into an efficient summary. No sleeve monotony (the second one undoubtedly causes a temporary lapse of excitement in my process), very little shaping, and steeking, means essentially knitting a tube on autopilot with intermittent technique shifts to spice things up. Just when all that stockinette is starting to wear on you? Armholes. And when you’re ready for a little more? Neck Opening. Before you have a chance to get bored? Shoulder shaping. And bam, you have a steek-ready garment. Once you’re at this point, nothing can stop the steek-induced excitement and seeing the odd shaped conical tube bloom into its vest-shape is worth every stitch. It’s a great rhythm.

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

As for a pattern, I didn’t really use one. If you’re comfortable with seamless sweater construction, it’s an easy jump to wing one of these. I recommend using Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson Roberts as a reference. This is by far one of the most well-loved books in the my library, and if you’re a sweater constructo-phile like me, this is essential reading. I also referenced EZ’s Knitting Workshop to compare her armhole and neck opening specifications (vague but useful). Vests need a slightly more exaggerated armhole depth (mine was about 10.5″ before knitting in the armhole ribbing) than their sweater counterparts, but other than that, measurement-wise things are essentially the same.

Striped Vest Collar Detail (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I worked a “slip 2 as if to knit, k1, pass 2 slipped stitches over” centered decrease every other round on the neck ribbing to create the central ridge at the bottom of the v-shapd opening. I used both tubular cast-on and bind off for all the ribbing to add that special finishing touch. Where ribbing is concerned, this is my favorite starting/finishing technique

Low Country Batch Two (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

Now, lets talk a little about steeking – many of you have e-mailed me questions about my method. I’m a die-hard believer in the traditional crocheted steek. I’m anti putting a sewing machine to my knitting and I love the finish and process of securing everything by hand and with wool. I steeked this project in the exact same manner as my Saddle Shoulder Aran Cardigan last year. [Check my April ’07 Archives for an exhaustive amount of photos on this steeking method]

Facings (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)
This is what the facings look like on the inside.

If you feel an innate desire to steek – do it! It isn’t scary, if you play by the rules, and it’s really, REALLY fun. And in my opinion, it makes garment knitting much more intuitive and enjoyable. I’m not a big fan of purling, so it’s a technique that I like to employ whenever possible. The definitive online steeking compendium is Eunny Jang’s and can be found here. Everything you need to know is there, so no excuses for all of you who sent me guilty e-mails admitting to your masochistic urges to cut your knitting.

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I’ve never been a vest wearer, in fact I can’t ever remember owning one, but now I’m a changed man. I’ve already found this thing very useful for keeping warm without overheating. It’s very rain-jacket friendly and looks good layering with a lot of different things. Most of all, though, I think I just like having handspun on my person at all times.

I’ll be out of town from tomorrow (Thursday) through Sunday – I’m taking a little vacation. When I come back – I have more finished knits to share. Until then, good knitting.

 

Blocking (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)The vest is done and came out great. Final wrap up in next post!


Snip Snip (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)
 

Post Op (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

And Now For the Fun Part. (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)And Now For the Fun Part. (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

More cutting fun coming soon!

My knitting and I have been enjoying a long-overdue reunion over the last few days. Really, it’s more like a second honeymoon. I’ve been an absolute glutton with my wool and needles , choosing knitting over literally anything else (friends, laundry, eating… nothing is safe!).

I was doing so well taking care of languishing projects and cleaning up loose ends. I thought my annual spring cleaning of stash would help me get a realistic perspective on both current and future knitting, while giving me the sense and control to conjure a game-plan for finishing WIPs. Wrong. Quite the opposite happened, in fact. I uncovered many long-forgotten stash jewels, falling prey to many a fiber spell. I must have blacked out for an afternoon, because when I woke up I was surrounded by multiple new projects. I blame Ravelry. I always blame Ravelry.

I wasn’t even sure where to begin with blogging, there’s so much going on all of a sudden. And, I actually have time to tell you about it. I think I’ll take the haphazard route of random-project-photo-flashing?

The Garter Stitch Love Fest never stops around here. I’m still chipping away at the big afghan.

Halfway (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I had to send for more yarn – this thing is a true beast of wool. This is EZ’s Garter Stitch Afghan from The Opinionated Knitter – pictured is half of the finished product, seamed together. The pattern is worked in 4 pieces. I’m about a quarter of the way through the fourth and final piece. With chunky yarn held double, I’ll be hard pressed to find a warmer blanket than this come winter time.

As for sweater knitting…

Texture Whore (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I’m still plugging away on Na Craga, although it is truly slow going. Really, that’s no problem – it’s rare that I tire from having so much righteous cabel-ry around. I’m ready to start the sleeves, which caused a temporary pause in the process, allowing for a few new projects to wedge their way in. Projects that don’t require sleeves.

Striped Vest (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

When Vests Attack. I’ve never been much of a vest fan, but as has happened so many times before, knitting has slowly worn down yet another of my garment prejudices. The other day, I had an all-consuming urge to knit a vest. No idea where it came from, but when the knitting muse comes a-calling, I try not to stand in her way.

The vest sort of fell into place on it’s own. I had just finished spinning a bunch of Adrian‘s beautiful shetland and it was really burning a hole in my stash. I had more than enough for a smaller project, but not enough for a garment.

Low Country Cakes (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

Mere days before, my sister-in-law sent me a thrifted wool tweed sweater from Ireland that she picked up in Portland for a whopping two dollars. As I was harvesting all that glorious Irish wool, I realized the weight was just the same as my shetland handspun. The vest bug bit and everything became dizzyingly clear…

I’m winging the pattern, knitting it in the round with steeked armholes and v-neck opening. And can’t put it down. I’m having a blast. You’ll see more soon.

Also, lace:

Smoke Ring (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I ran across a discreet skein of fingering weight merino/tencel from Dave at Cabin Cove and started knitting this smoke ring almost immediately, which I find terribly beautiful. It’s the Flared Lace Smoke Ring from the folks at Heartstrings Fiber Arts and I’m loving every stitch.

Smokey (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

The craziest thing is there are MORE projects. They’re everywhere. It’s a true case of knitting schizophrenia. I’m all over the place, and while this type of knitting behavior usually puts me on edge, lately I’m thrilled by it.

More soon. Very soon. (I’m neglecting my knitting)

One of my favorite things to do is watch the number of Baby Surprise Jackets crawl higher and higher into the thousands over on Ravelry. It stands as a testament to the timelessness and genius of this pattern. Whenever I’m finishing one, that annoying Lays Potato Chip slogan always comes into my mind, you know it – betcha can’t eat just one? Yeah. Now that I’ve defiled the glory of EZ by comparing her to greasy snack food, I think we should move onto the knitting.

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Today is a two for one – two handspunBSJ’s – and represents a few things: my new found knitting time with the official end of my semester (glory!), spring cleaning and the finishing of way too many WIPS (I’m taking them down all around me), and what may serve as a good segue back to knitting from all that spinning talk.

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There’s not much to say about the pattern that hasn’t already been said hundreds of times. If you’ve knit one, you know. If you haven’t, you should. The pattern can be found in Knitting Workshop and The Opinionated Knitter, and is also available as a stand-alone pattern from Schoolhouse Press as well as a DVD walkthrough with Meg Swansen.

BSJ II (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

These are BSJ #2 and #3 for me (Fall Version and Spring Version seem more appropriate titles). The first was made last year in early summer, and happened to be the first time I ever officially knit with handspun. Domino effect?

BSJ III (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I think this pattern is a great match for handspun yarn – the self-striping nature of handspun accentuates the shaping of the garment and the slightly irregular texture suits garter stitch wonderfully. Not to mention you can knit a whole one using between 4-5 oz of yarn, and spinners usually have a lot of small batches of handspun lying around. They’re also great at classing up all your scraps. Very versatile.

BSJ II (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

The Autumn (Red/Orange) Version was knit with merino fibers dyed at Spunky Eclectic. The colorway is Burning Bush and came out fantastic – it was a pleasure to both spin and knit. [Solo yarn shot here.] I actually knit this about 9 months ago. I remember because it was my portable knitting during that hellish move in September. I also remember channeling all my desperation for the onset of Fall into it. But alas, it sat completed and without buttons all of these months, until the other one came along and prompted me to get over to the button shop.

BSJ III (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

The spring version is fine shetland dyed by Krista atPigeonroof Studios. I actually ran out of yarn right at the buttonband and subbed in some leftover merino from a previous spin, which also turned out to be Pigeonroof. [Both yarns here and here].

BSJ II (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

Buttons were purchased at B.E. Yarn in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Everything was sewn up and photographed a couple of weeks ago. And I think that about exhausts these two for things that I can blather on about. Are you still with me?

BSJ III (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

As I said before, my schedule has taken a dramatic change this week, in favor of my knitting. I should have a normal life for a while, which means I can actually check e-mail (crazy, right?), read blogs, and best of all knit. I have a lot of catch-up to do, but things are looking up. Thanks to all of you for sticking with me through this sadly sparse year. Onward and upward.
 

Welcome back to the second half of our anatomy lesson. Today all the fun stuff happens – we’ll be turning fiber into yarn through a few simple steps. To answer a couple of questions from last time, I spin with a Kromski Minstrel, (you’ll see it in today’s pictures) and yes, I love my wheel. It’s an upright double treadle that is compact enough to fit into small apartments without being cumbersome and is an aesthetically pleasing piece aside from its upstanding functionality. Both big priorities in my book.

Now, lets do some spinning, shall we?

Spinning I (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

Spinning is essentially putting twist into loose fibers to hold them together into a strong, continuous string or thread. Twist is, in fact, the very essence of spinning and mastering control over the amount of twist you choose to use will dramatically change your resulting yarn. Hard, durable yarns have lots of twist and are favored by weavers and rug makers for their ability to take hard knocks and stay intact. For handknitters, lighter, lofty yarns are often preferable and are less tightly spun. Of course this is an over-simplification, but you get the idea.

Spinning 2 (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)
 

I’ll be spinning a 2-ply yarn today, and the first step in the process is to spin singles (single plies of fiber). These spun fibers will then be plied together for the finished product. An important rule when plying: the direction of your twist in the singles must always be reversed when plying – thus equalizing the tension put on the fibers and forming a balanced yarn.

I like to think of twist as dormant energy – if you put too much into your singles and don’t compensate for it while plying, one throws the other off balance.

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Above we have two bobbins of singles in more or less equal amounts. Before spinning I made sure to divide the fiber evenly into two parts in hopes of maximizing the yardage of the finished, plied yarn. You can see clearly on the bobbins how cleanly separated the color fields have spun out. If we were to knit this yarn up as-is, we would see clean, dramatic color stripes in our finished fabric. Plying them together, however, will essentially have the effect of mixing paint – the colors will come together somewhat randomly to diffuse or enhance one another, depending on their individual combinations. This is to me one of the best things about spinning plied yarns from hand-dyed fibers.

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Before plying, I like to load my bobbins on a tensioned Lazy Kate, for ease and consistency of flow while plying. A Kate isn’t absolutely necessary for plying yarns but I find it makes the job a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.

Plying is enjoyable and seems almost too easy in comparison to spinning singles – in a way the plies actually want to come together and relax as the tension of their twist is balanced. The amount of twist added while plying should more or less correspond to that in your singles, as I mentioned before, to achieve a no-fuss yarn.

Plying (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

With one hand pinching the yarn, I use another to separate and guide the plies as they flow off of the Kate. Plying can be rather hypnotic, not only as you watch colors combine and flow but also from the constant whirring of the wheel and mindless peddling of your feet. Very relaxing. Just don’t do it while your cooking something on the stove. Seriously.

Before you know it, you’ll have a nice, full bobbin of 2-ply yarn waiting patiently to come off the bobbin.

Celebration (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

Now the spinning is done, but don’t forget that “finishing” your yarn is an equally important (and enjoyable) part of the process that I shant forget to mention. Using a niddy-noddy, the back of a chair, or any other surface you can think to string yarn around, gently skein your yarn off of the bobbin in preparation for its inaugural bath.

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Washing handspun yarn is essential because it sets the twist, allowing the fiber to relax and adapt to its new configuration. Washing is also wonderful because, much like blocking your knitting, it will often erase or at least de-emphasizes mistakes, snags or tension issues. When taking it out of the bath, it’s also a good idea to give it a few good *whacks* against the tub to even things out. Especially for beginners, skeins straight off the wheel may be far from balanced, but giving the yarn a bath will work wonders as a self-esteem booster. I’ve had particularly ugly yarns come out of the sink looking well-behaved and beautiful. Another of wool’s many wonders.

Wash your yarn like you wash your sweaters – gentle soap, luke warm water, no agitation – squeeze out excess water and hang up to air dry. Weighting the bottom of the skein as it dries also works great for helping to balance your yarn.

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When everything is dry, you can go nuts. Petting, smelling and general merry-making are all now acceptable activities for which to engage with your yarn. Whether or not knitting happens, no worry, handspun is beautiful as a stand-alone, boasting enough aesthetic prowess to hold it’s own just about anywhere in the house.

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And that, my friends, about sums up this fast and loose version of handspinning a 2-ply yarn. This is just one of the many ways you can use a spinning wheel to make yarn, though. The possibilities are truly endless and if you really love having your hands on fiber, you probably won’t ever tire of spinning.

I intend on covering a third portion of this series talking briefly about knitting with handspun and planning projects, but probably not immediately. My knitting time has been fruitful and inspiring lately (I have much to show you), and I don’t have anything immediately in mind for my most recent batch of handspun. When I do, though, we’ll talk more about knitting with handspun yarn.

I do hope everyone is enjoying the sun, it’s been gorgeous around here – my spinning wheel loves all the open windows. Happy spinning!
 

I recently heard someone say that spinning is a natural progression for any knitter. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can say that when I think about how much I’ve learned about yarn since becoming a spinner, this statement definitely holds true for me. When you begin constructing and knitting with your own yarns, you’re bound to reach a new understanding of what this fiber thing is all about, and that’s a good day for everyone.

I received a lot of e-mail responses to my last post regarding the process of converting fiber to yarn. Lots of you want pictures! Do I detect many knitters on the brink of making a crossover? (Just remember, spindles are a cheap way to test the waters)(without causing marital problems) The art of spinning is something I am unqualified to present to you on any formal level, but I thought I’d do what I could and give you a visual journey through my own spinning process. This topic will span 2 to 3 posts, not only because I am wary of overwhelming non-spinners with too much foreign information, but because currently my personal spinning time is a rarity, and this current spinning project is literally in progress. I think it works best this way for all of us. Now, shall we begin?

Wool comes to handspinners in many different forms. In our case we’ll be looking at hand-dyed roving, which seems to me one of the more popular ways urban spinners (with no space for cleaning or carding fleeces) like to roll.

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A roving is a continuous strip of combed or carded fibers to which a slight twist has been added (to keep everything everything together for dying, shipping, etc). Basically, a long, doughy strip of compressed wool. Rovings often come in braids after they’ve been dyed, like the one shown above. This particular beauty comes to us from the good folks at Interlacements in Colorado.

Unfurl the braid to see the roving in its entirety. The photo below shows the roving unbraided and reveals the dying scheme – spacial color fields of oranges, blues, and greens. Purdy, ain’t it?

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Roving is too dense to spin as-is and must be drafted first. Some spinners draft as they spin, others, like me, prefer pre-drafting. Drafting is essentially drawing the fibers out gently from one another to allow air into the spaces between individual fibers. When wool is drafted well it flows easily and consistently while spinning, which is desirable if you like your yarn nice and even. Notice below the difference in the fiber between my fingers and those that have yet to be drawn out. Wispy!

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In the wrong mindset, drafting can be an annoying precursor to the good stuff, although I tend to enjoy it – preparing the fiber and getting to know the tactile qualities of your specific batch of wool adds a special layer to the process. Kind of like giving your fiber a massage.

Depending on what color-effects you’re after, you may choose to tear the roving into strips and draft them individually. By doing this you essentially reduce the length of color repeats in your yarn – a quality you can manipulate in order to conjure up self-striping color patterns or other color tricks in your final yarn. With a well-dyed roving, you have a whole lot of possibilities – no two yarns will ever be exactly the same.

Below is a strip of roving (this time around, I split mine into 4) balled up on the window before being drafted.

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Drafting magically makes your fiber amount seem to multiply exponentially – what used to slink easily into the bottom of your basket as a tidy little roving now gently floats up over the edges – a sumptuous cloud of colorful wool bursting with potential, just waiting for a romp with your wheel. A rather delicate thing of beauty in itself (Note: not pet friendly, nor wind friendly for that matter).

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A nice big basket of pre-drafted fiber is a great thing to have around (see above if you own pets) – beautiful on its own, but always ready for a quick spin. And with this full basket, we conclude this evening’s portion of our tour – fiber prep.

Up next we get down-n-dirty making yarn, followed by some form of knitting-with-handspun, although I’m not promising any projects… if I did, I may never get around to that third post! Stay tuned for more spinning fun!

The vacation euphoria is wearing thin and things are getting back to normal – the AM routine has resumed in it’s habitual glory and I’m back to my most exciting decision of the morning being which scarf I’ll wear as I leave the house . My life is so exciting.

This morning I realized that one of the most popular scarves in my arsenal has yet to get any blog play, and she’s been going strong out there in the streets of New York for a couple months already. Allow me to introduce you.

Espresso Scarf (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)
 

Pattern: Generic Garter Stitch Scarf
Materials: My Handspun (see below for details)
Needles: US6/4.0mm bamboo
Dimensions: 6″ width, 71″ length

Started: November 2007
Finished: January 2008

 

Espresso Scarf (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

One of the greatest things about handspun, aside from the fact that it’s so incredibly rewarding to work with, is that the yarn carries everything. There’s really no need for fancy stitchwork or impressive knitting acrobatics. In fact, I would venture to say that handspun is at its most impressive while standing alone in garter. This may be one of the reasons I have multiple of these scarves started – the same pattern can have multiple personalities with various handspun yarns. And they’re really fun to knit (something so beautiful shouldn’t be so easy. It’s dangerous).

Espresso 2-Ply (first 3 oz) (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I knit this scarf with two skeins of dk-weight 2-ply merino, just over 6 oz of wool. The fiber is Hello Yarn (I don’t have a problem.. really I don’t) and entitled “Espresso”. The pre-spun fiber looked like this.

[Sidenote: I’ve received a lot of comments/e-mails from people who love seeing handspun yarn alongside their pre-spun fiber predecessors for comparisons sake. Would you all be interested in a very informal post about the anatomy of a handspun, with pictures from start to finish?]

And while I had my camera at the ready, I thought I’d take some pictures of an oldie that I knit back in 2005. Up for it’s 2 year review – the So-Called Scarf:

So-Called (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

This was knit with Manos Del Uruguay. Pattern is here. A quick review – this scarf doesn’t get much wear unfortunately, despite the fact that I like to look at it. I knit this in the days before Malabrigo, and now that I have scarves in both Manos and Malabrigo, the scratchier of the two (Manos) definitely gets neglected. They both pill, so that’s not really an issue either. And Malabrigo is butter… so what am I to do?

So-Called (by b r o o k l y n t w e e d)

I realize scarf weather is slowly disappearing – spring is coming and everyone is excited, so I’m getting as much wool-wearing in as possible. I love spring as much as the next guy, but the thing is, I think I love winter waaaay more than the next guy, so I’m always slightly sad to see it disappear. I guess I’ll just have to enjoy all this extra sunlight…

Well, I’m officially on Spring Break and feel like I can actually take a nice deep breath, knit profusely, and talk about it. So today I get to share with you some of the knitting fun that has been sporadically plodding along behind the scenes.

The most exciting undertaking to have begun in the last couple of weeks is the second project in the ongoing process of project provocation that Adrian and I seem to continually dish out, or as we officially call it, our 2-Person-Knit-a-long.

I think we’ve probably been waxing poetic about Alice Starmore’s Na Craga [via Ravelry] pattern for well over a year. Armed with lots of wool (this thing is a beast) it’s a wonder that we’ve finally taken the plunge and started the knitting. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have tweedy cables back in my life.

Gimme The Good Stuff

We’re both heavily modifying it from its sack-like origins. Since the fabric is thick like a jacket, and I’m pre-disposed to being warm, this is undergoing a full cardiganization. I also have hopes of making it hooded, the thought of which makes me positively giddy, but this of course all depends on how much yarn I have. Yarn which, as naturally happens, is discontinued.

Twisted Ribbing

I’m dipping into my last sweaters-worth of the lovely Skye Tweed from Classic Elite (may she rest in peace). This will be my third sweater with this yarn… wow, maybe it’s good that I’m being forced to move on?

I’ll be doing the standard seamless treatment on this one too, meaning lovely knitting done all in one piece, just the way I like it. Rather than steeking this time around, I’m knitting back and forth (all the cabling happens on even rows, so it’s nice and clean) with a buttonband worked in as I go.

Cables Everywhere

The cables in this thing are spectacular – those cheese-grater-like honeycombs not only run up the body, but also right up the center of the sleeves and flow into one of the best saddle-shoulders I think I’ve ever seen. The braided plait cables, while being the biggest hand-haters of any motif in the pattern, look so good I can’t complain (that much). And how about that twisted ribbing?! It really makes it.

Knitting a sweater like this is always an up and down saga, but so far we haven’t had any major snags, aside from sometimes being so brain dead at the end of the day that the thought of even looking at the thing sometimes seems outside of my human capacity. In these cases, it’s good to have a back up. To that end, I’m still plugging away on my ginormous garter stitch afghan which I can now safely use to keep me warm whilst I work on it – a huge bonus in my book.

Workhorse

I’m getting out of the city for the week and couldn’t be happier. For those of you who are lucky enough to get a break this week – I hope you enjoy! Tomorrow my knitting and I will be spending some quality time on a train speeding along the Hudson and away from Gotham. Have a great week!