Garden Party Flax Light

Fingering weight superwash merino wool with nylon is a reliable base across yarn dyers. It’s a workhorse that you can reach for with confidence regardless of whether or not you’ve heard of a brand before because fingering weight superwash merino with nylon is predictable. Each skein will have more or less the same amount of stretch and bloom when you block it. Each skein will handle textured stitches in more or less the same way and each skein will provide you with a thin but warm garment. What I’m really saying here, is that buying a skein of fingering weight merino yarn is one of the safest things you can do.

Honestly, I think my local yarn store only had the one color of Mitchell’s Creations when my husband and I went in to buy yarn a few weeks ago (actually I don’t think I need to correct how I said that, he enjoys choosing colors!). As I poured over the self striping sock yarn, the Garden Party skeins called to him. It was the first skein he picked up and proudly brought over, know that he was contributing to our hunt for gender neutral baby sweater yarn.

I got back and forth with how easy it is to find gender neutral colors as I think our industry is slightly slanted to those with more feminine tastes. So while I wasn’t reaching for pinks and blues (or whites… I’ve never understood why so many people knit white for babies), I was at least looking for vibrant greens and oranges. When he presented his skein of Garden Party, my initial reaction was “are those really baby colors?”. Me, the same woman who knit a hot pink and black baby sweater for her punk friend. Before he even replied with his “I mean I’d like to receive this so my child could wear it” I realized that my own color biases had set in. Adding the skein to the red one I was carrying, I realized that he was right for the same reason I made the right choice to knit a hot pink and black sweater: the baby doesn’t care.

It’s the same reason so many families probably hold first birthday parties for their little ones who won’t remember who was their or what their cake tasted like. It’s a moment for the parent where they get to see everyone surround the little one that they’ve managed to raise for a whole year. Or in the case of this little sweater, a moment where the parent realizes that you’ve paid attention to who they are as people and want them to know they deserve to be warm.

While I want to say that this is my last flax light for a little bit, it’s such a quick little sweater to crank out and has so many modification options that I can really only say it’s my last one for the immediate future. I have a lace shawl that needs to be finished and a cardigan that needs to be started. I’m calling this one Garden Party Flax Light after the yarn’s color way, the “only” pattern modifications is the addition of Justin’s Flannel texturing (I really need to knit myself one of those so that I don’t steal my husband’s all winter!). Despite the colors being more muted than what I typically reach for, I think this little sweater came out really cute!

A handknit multicolored baby sweater with a waffle texture.

Mars’s Flannel

A mustard yellow sweater wet blocking in a white bathroom sink.
Justin’s Flannel Blocking

While this post doesn’t mark the first sweater I ever made my partner (See: writers block cardigan and Flax), it does mark the first time that I’ve ever used Julie Asselin’s yarn and the first time that Alicia Plummer designed a men’s sweater. Test knitting Justin’s Flannel was so much fun, that I can’t help but see it in every color.

For starters, Justin’s (Mars’s) Flannel is the perfect combination of mindless knitting with a little bit of texture thrown in to keep it interesting. When you combine that with the fact that it’s easy to read your stitches to see where you are in the pattern, this sweater makes for excellent TV, knit night, podcast listening, reading etc knitting. In fact, I had so much fun with it I manipulated the pattern to make a baby sweater for a friend out of fingering yarn (more on that later when it’s finished, also I have it on good authority that Alicia is working on a children’s version as well)!

The next thing I love about this sweater is that it’s actually unisex. While I love Plummer’s designs, I often skip knitting the waist shaping. Though large, Mars’s flannel is a sweater that I could grab and curl up in.

Naturally, even with all my warm and fuzzy feelings I couldn’t help but change a few small details of the sweater. If you like the way the sweater hangs on my partner, you would need to knit the body a total of 16 inches before the ribbing (that’s an extra three inches) and the sleeves 19 inches before adding the ribbing (an extra 1.5). There is also a LOT of positive ease in his sweater, thought it’s been a little while since he’s been measured it’s safe to say that it’s about 5 inches.

Five hanks of Julie Asselin's Nutured yarn in Miel (yellow)
Julie Asselin’s Nurtured in Miel

Speaking of curling up in something, I cannot stress enough how warm and cozy Nurtured by Julie Asselin is. The photo below of my partner shows him in 30 degree (F) weather without a coat. This is particularly noteworthy because he’s from New Zealand and usually has two – three additional layers on compared to what I have. I, as the photographer, am behind the scenes wearing my winter jacket loosely zipped. What a difference! The bloom of Nurtured is also beautiful, meaning that the yarn has an almost felted look to it until it is wet blocked.

One downside of Nurtured is that with the extra warmth comes extra weight. I tend to be someone who knits more with Fingering – DK weight yarns in the interest of my hands and wrists not being the limiting factor while I knit. It sometimes felt like I was knitting with cotton, the yarn doesn’t seem to have a lot of elasticity and the project was heavy. 100% worth it, but worth mentioning because I couldn’t spend a lot of consistent time working on the sweater because my hands needed breaks. Despite this, I would use it again (although I would probably use Nurtured Fine instead, light weight yarn biases and all). Also, doesn’t bother me, but this yarn isn’t machine washable.

All in all, highly recommend both the yarn and the pattern!

A man walking his hound in the woods wearing a yellow textured knit sweater.
Walking on the local snow mobile trail during melt season is the best time to grab a knit sweater.

Garnered Cardigan Test Knit

To start, I would like to remind everyone that this is the third sweater that I have knit for Alicia Plummer this fall. True, I tend to make slight modifications to her sweaters because I lack hips, but otherwise they’re gorgeous perfect creations.

I’m not sure what happened with my Garnered sweater other than whatever it was being completely my fault. The lace pattern was fun and easy to follow. The pieces fit together nicely. My gauge swatch lied to me. Actually, I’m leaning toward that last one being the issue. Then again, the body of my sweater hung correctly. Perhaps the sleeves being a little too long was a fluke?

Knit in Valley Yarn Berkshire, this sweater is soft (although not machine washable) and the lace stitches are nicely defined. When knit in wool, Garnered has the potential to be a warm but stylish addition to anyone’s collection — but I’m bias towards adding it to the collection of a hiker or runner. Just imagine rinsing off after a winter hike, or run, pulling on a pair of yoga pants and this cardigan. Mmmm perfection. I honestly can’t help feeling like a spokes person whenever I have the chance to bring up Berkshire.

I ended up gifting it to my friend, who loves it (or is at least nice enough not to say otherwise to my face). For all of the reasons that I didn’t like this sweater on me I love it on her. Sometimes I picture her throwing it on after a morning of rock climbing or curled up at night on her laptop getting ready to work on a grad school class. Usually when I do I feel a little bit like a creep…

Sweaters are a magical thing that tend to take on a life of their own. Once knit, even something that I intended for one person finds itself really belonging to someone else. As much as they also keep someone warm, I don’t find that hats and mittens have the same destiny. Perhaps when you knit a sweater (and I suppose a shawl too) you have more time to give it life due to the length of time required to complete the project.

Whatever the reason, this sweater came off my needles knowing the home it was going to, even if it didn’t know when the first few stitches were being cast on.

Stonewall, Take Two

Yellow orange yarn knit into a stockinet stitch gauge swatch.
Swatching for Stonewall in Wool of the Andes

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, which breaks down to about 20 hours a week for 10 years. If you break that down into a work week, that’s roughly five hours a day Monday through Friday. If you take advantage of all seven days then it’s around three hours a day. Three hours a day for 10 years in order to reach 10,000 hours or master level. Crazy.

Mind you, the 10,000 hours must be put toward something called deliberate practice or practicing in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible (1). I learned how to knit sometime around 2006, which is over ten years ago now, but before I call myself a master I need to admit that deliberate practice did not come until I knit my friend a baby blanket for her first born in 2013. That’s only seven years ago.

I’m a good knitter. Socks come together without following a pattern. Sweaters patterns are modified and manipulated to my hearts desire. Cables are created without the use of a cable needle. I test knit patterns and am able to trouble shoot when there is an error. I’m a good knitter, but I’m not sure I can really call myself an expert based upon the above criteria.

About 8 inches of an in progress yellow orange handknit sweater, 3 inches of bottom ribbing and 5 inches of broken seed stitch.
Stonehill body

Recently, Princeton has conducted research to look into Malcolm Gladwell’s popularized work from over twenty years ago with the following question in mind: Why do so few people who take up an instrument such as the violin, a sport such as golf, or a game such as chess ever reach an expert level of performance (2)? Based upon Gladwell’s 10,000 theory, you would think there would be an easy answer: not many people commit 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to something. I think the point of their question, however, was really are people born experts (and then spend time practicing) or can you become an expert via practicing.

Before I get into what the Princeton study said, you’ll need to excuse my minor geek out moment. The study is a Meta-Analysis, which is something that I encourage my students to look for day in and day out. Essentially, a Meta-Analysis is highly transparent and reproduceable study design meant to answer a question using existing literature while minimizing researcher bias. In short, a team of researchers conduct a systematic search of the literature (using multiple databases) and then perform a title/abstract screen using inclusion/exclusion criteria. When that’s done, they then perform a full text screen using the same criteria. The leftovers studies are then used to write the review and if the data across the studies can be statistically analyzed, the team is able to conduct a meta analysis.

Part of my geek out comes from being a librarian and appraising the study before reporting it back to you. They did a pretty good job and followed the PRISMA reporting guidelines, not too shabby.

A yellow orange handknit sweater sitting in a sink filled with water and a splash of wool wash.
Blocking my Stonewall sweater

Anyway, despite their conclusion saying that more studies are needed to really understand this topic, they found that there are factors that influence skills outside of the 10,000 hour mark (think age and working memory). Which makes me wonder if some of the skills that I learned really quickly happened because I took up knitting seriously right after I finished college. AKA when I was looking to learn something new and challenge myself.

I suppose I wonder this because the motivation that existed for me to learn how to knit does not exist when it comes to learning how to better my crochet, sewing or embroidery skills.

This rabbit hole was inspired by my take two of Alicia Plummer‘s sweater pattern Stonewall, which came out a LOT better than take one. Admittedly, the bar was set pretty low when you consider that take one grew about a foot when I blocked it and I had never picked up stitches for a neckline before. The thing is, it’s still not perfect. I ignored all waist shaping because I usually like a boxier sweater, but I should have done a little bit of it. I also maybe should have gone down an additional needle size when knitting the neckline, even though I’m happy with the stitches for the bottom and sleeve ribbing.

A young woman wearing a textured yellow orange handknit sweater.
My Completed Stonewall Sweater

So where do I stand on the 10,000 hours thing? I would say it’s been a while since I’ve really pushed myself on a project, probably because I enjoy knitting that is semi mindless. That being said, I’ve think I understand how stitches can translate into a garment and can create a mental image of how something will knit up in the yarn that I’m using (pooling aside of course).

All in all, I think I’m mostly happy with my second attempt of the Stonewall sweater and think I’m going to continue to knit projects that inspire me.

Works Cited (Vancouver Style)

  1. Baer D. New study destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule [Internet]. Business Insider. [cited 2020 Nov 7]. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.com/new-study-destroys-malcolm-gladwells-10000-rule-2014-7
  2. Macnamara BN, Hambrick DZ, Oswald FL. Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: a meta-analysis. Psychol Sci. 2014 Aug 1;25(8):1608–18.

Speed Knitting: Two test knits in two weeks

Do you ever feel like you’re cranking out knitting projects? Like the yarn is flying through your fingers and magically turning into a garment? I’m not sure what it is about 2020, but I feel like I knitting machine. Projects are taking shape between my eyes, and I’ve been taking advantage of this sudden burst in speed.

Ok ok, I admit it, I’m a fast knitter. I’m not sure when it happened, but I will say around the same time I got faster people started telling me that I knit funny. Now, if you remember my post On Deadlines, you’ll remember that I’m not typically a fan of them. So what has me signing up for test knits and enthusiastically cranking them out?

I think part of my inspiration is coming from feeling a little bit like a knitting machine. As fun as it is to crank projects out, sometimes the speed that I’m cranking them out doesn’t match the speed in which I pick a new project. Both of these test knits came at a time where I wasn’t sure what to knit next, taking the pressure off to find something that I really wanted to work on. That and they both looked fun.

Red hand-knit socks.
Colsie by Alicia Plummer, knit in Rohrspatz & Wollmeise Pure 100% Merino Superwash

The first project I knit was Colsie. Within one repeat of the texture pattern, I had it memorized and found it easy to determine which row I was on. It also gave me the opportunity to practice knitting cables without a cable needle. Actually, I think this pattern has the potential to make really cool sleeves. (Note to self, consider making a sweater with textured sleeves)

The second project was Bulky Abate, which is the child’s version of the Ease sweaters that I’ve made previously. This knit worked up in a strange combination of slow (shouldn’t bulky yarn knit faster than this?) and fast at the same time (I knit it in three days?!). Personally, I love this pattern and was thrilled to test knit it in a smaller size/different weight than I would normally knit it.

Two projects in two weeks, not too shabby. I think it’s going to be a little bit before I sign up to crank out another test knit, specifically because I’m thinking about knitting Trevor in black and gold. Sometimes you just have to let creativity hit you and then go where it takes you. That being said, I will probably regret knitting in black the bulk of this sweater in black, but can’t stop thinking about how awesome it will look. Hopefully, that will be enough motivation as I struggle to double-check what row I’m on…