Not Martha

Sweater Quest

Sweater Quest book cover

I just finished reading Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini and today I’m happy to be able to ask her a few questions. Sweater Quest is the story of knitting Alice Starmore’s Mary Tudor sweater pattern within one year. If you’re a knitter you might understand why that sounds far easier than it actually is. If you’re not a knitter you should know that it’s an insanely complicated sweater for which the pattern is out of print and difficult (and expensive) to find, the yarn hasn’t been made for years, and the knitting technique is intricate. It was an interesting read, I learned all about Alice Starmore and why she has the reputation she does, there are meetings with lots of the biggest knitting celebrities, trips to knitting meccas, historical facts about Mary Tudor, and musings on why we knit.

One of the things you ponder in the book is whether your sweater is really an Alice Starmore design since you didn’t use the original Alice Starmore yarns. I do not knit with wool and one of the first things I learned to do was substitute yarn so this concern about authenticity was something I’d never considered before. Did you have any further feelings on the this in general or about your Mary Tudor in particular after the book was wrapped up?

For most designs, substituting yarns is no big deal. You might wind up with an object that doesn’t drape or feel like the original but who cares? You’ve made something that pleases you. With Starmore, it makes a huge difference what yarns you use because she is a master at color. Swap out any one skein and you’ll wind up with a mess — and I know this because I tried to do just that. I saved the swatch from that misbegotten disaster and it is hideous.

I’m still not certain is my Mary Tudor is a true Starmore, frankly. I used a yarn (Spindrift) that is very, very close to the original Starmore yarns but isn’t identical. I substituted one color in the blue background bands. It might be close enough to a Starmore to fool the non-connoisseurs. But I wonder how it would fare if put next to the original.

So tell us, did you hear from Alice Starmore or her people once this book came out? Did you ever consider writing to her during your project?

I haven’t heard from Starmore or her official people at all. I have been vigorously taken to task by a few people on Ravelry who claim to be her bosom buddies. But, given the nature of such things, you can be almost anyone you want on the internet. So, really, who knows?

Frankly, I’d love to hear from her and wished that I could get her side of the story directly from her mouth. The publisher’s lawyers were twitchy, however, and I was firmly advised to not make contact. I’m not thrilled with this, mind, but will abide by their advice, even though I wish the world were a different place.

After finding how carefully and how well Alice Starmore uses color, if you were to do another Alice Starmore sweater would you seek out the specific yarns called for? If somebody else was going to tackle a Starmore would you recommend they get the particular yarns?

If — and it’s a big if, given how many other things I want to knit — I ever take on another Starmore sweater, I would get even more obsessive about it, which is hard to imagine, I know. I’d track down all of the original yarns, just to see if it really does make a big difference. For those who aren’t quite as compulsive as I can be, I’d say to just do what you feel is right. To get the best result, you have to use wool, I think, and swatch like a mighty knitter who swatches. Other than that, just do it – because if you can manage a decent knit stitch, you can do Starmore’s Fair Isle.

Do you ever get requests from people who would like to see your Mary Tudor in person? (I have to admit I would.) Are you taking it on your book tour with you?

The Mary Tudor is my constant traveling companion. She doesn’t eat much but does take up a lot of room in my bag. I still get a little thrill when the audience at a reading makes appreciative noises, even though I know it’s wrong to take such pride in a sweater. There are some pictures online, if you can’t make it to where I am, see it here.

Is there any significance to the knitted border design on your book jacket?

Not that I know of. I’ve been working on getting the jacket designer to confirm that the yarn in the main picture is Lamb’s Pride. The designer thinks it’s hilarious that anyone would ask that sort of question about stock art. Clearly, he doesn’t know knitters.

Indeed, thank you Adrienne!

Adrienne will be at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA on April 15 if you’d like to see the Mary Tudor for yourself, and you can keep up with her on her website, martinimade.

· comments [10] · 04-6-2010 · categories:books · craft · knitting ·

knitting in process: short row earflap hat

chunky red hat with short row earflaps

I have this thing about winter hats, they never quite cover my earlobes. I forget all about this until I’m out in the cold and then it’s too late and I end up tugging the hat down trying to keep my poor ears warm. Even the Calorimetry, which I love, doesn’t quite cover my whole ear (maybe I have freakishly large ears?).

The hat shown here is my rough draft and is riddled with mistakes. I closed the short rows on one side incorrectly, I missed when to cable and did some at every five rows, some at six and one a seven. Despite this it’s still my favorite functionally warm hat. And I have enough yarn to make a more polished one. It’s pictured here on a styrafoam head that is considerably smaller than my own head.

chunky red hat with short row earflaps
The hat shown pulled down over the forehead.

I was telling a friend, Maggi, about this and my requirements. I didn’t want to have a staggered cast on (I like tubular for hats), I didn’t want to have tie anything under the chin, I didn’t want to go back and knit ear flaps later on (they don’t seem to do anything but hang there anyhow). Then Maggi, all effortless like, suggested short rows. She is a genius. I’ve only just wrapped my head around how short rows work so I gave it a shot.

chunky red hat with short row earflaps
The hat shown pulled back a bit.

I made the short rows on this hat like you would do for a sock heel (each row was shorter than the previous), and the result was that they curl inward and hug underneath the ear, a nice unexpected outcome. I used the Chunky Cabled Beanie pattern from Stitch Cafe as a starting point. (Here found at the Internet Archive after it disappeared during a site redesign sometime in the last two days.) I added a pattern repeat, for a total of seven cable/rib sections, and placed the short row areas centered over cabled sections closer to the back of the head, if you are counting from the join at the back of the head they would be over sections 2 and 6.

chunky red hat with short row earflaps, set flat on the floor to show details

The hat is shown above flat. On the left is the hat from the front, and on the right is the hat from the side (if worn one’s face would be pointed to the left). I’m trying to show how I didn’t center the earflaps but set them back a bit, they seem to be well placed for me.

chunky red hat with short row earflaps, on me
(I’m no good at getting photographs of myself in a mirror, this is the only one that shows the hat well enough.)

There are a few short row earflap hats already out there including this very tidy one from QueerJoe’s Knitting Blog, the Brioche Helmet Hat from Interweave Knits, Earflap Hat from Sunshine Knit Designs, and Cameron’s Cap by Sarah Peasley (note: that link is to a PDF).

I’m not sure if it uses short rows but I like the cabled had from Rebecca shown by Action Hero in her roundup of winter hats. Another ear covering hat that comes immediately to mind is the Amelia Earhart Aviator Cap. On Ravelry I found the Mimipita Earflap Hat, which is written in Japanese but uses a universal chart, and the Cabled Earflap Hat which is sized for a baby but easily made larger using a larger gauge.

There are also plenty of cute earflap hats that have chin ties that I wouldn’t mind having: Cabled Chullo, Snowboarder Hat That Rocks and 18 Seconds to Sunrise.

One last note, I still really like Japanese short rows. The best tutorials I’ve found are at nonaKnits and for Japanese short rows in the round Adorabubble Knits works through it nicely.

p.s. My project is here on Ravelry in case you’re interested: red cabled short row earflap hat.

· comments [22] · 12-2-2009 · categories:craft · knitting ·

Palindrome, a reversible cable scarf

big red reversible cable scarf

I recently came across the concept of reversible cables, what a lovely and tidy thing, especially for a nice thick scarf that won’t curl in on itself and you won’t have to worry about having the correct side facing out. I used the free pattern Palindrome, which is very easy, and added a pattern repeat. I’m using Berocco Comfort Chunky yarn on size #8 needles to keep the ribbing nice and tight. I bought four balls of yarn and I’m half way through the third ball, the scarf is long enough that I might make a hat using the same reversible cable pattern.

big red reversible cable scarf, the cast on end

I did a 2×2 tubular cast-on and it’s rounded edge makes me happy.

Reversible Knitting pattern book

Lucky me, just as I’m discovering how much I like reversible knitting comes out a book: Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-New, Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns. I’m looking forward to seeing what is in there.

· comments [20] · 10-7-2009 · categories:knitting ·

my first sock – turning the heel

my first sock - the heel

Look at that, I have a heel on my sock. I only needed to rip back four times to get it all right. That dark line of thread you see is a lifeline that I got a whole lot of use out of. I used the Japanese short rows from nonaKnits which explains the basics, but I found this tutorial for Japanese short rows in the round at Adorabubble Knits to be the most useful. Though, I turn, slip, then add a pin. That difference didn’t seem to affect how the gaps closed on the last go around. I will try the turn, add a pin and then slip next sock to see if there is a difference. I’ve also discovered that stringing pins on my yarn ahead of time, just like you would if you were knitting with beads, saves a lot of frustration when I’m in the midst of short rowing. Thanks again to Amy Singer for her excellent Favorite Sock Recipe, I suspect I would have given up on other forms of short rows.

· comments [8] · 08-13-2009 · categories:knitting ·

ma première chaussette

my first sock - the toes

One could not go to Sock Summit and come away not having gained at least enough knowledge to start a basic sock. In this case I took Amy Singer‘s class called Knitting Without Wool where she gave us Amy’s Favorite Sock Recipe, taught us Japanese Short Rows (there at nonaKnits) and showed us a super secret stretchy bind-off that will be published in Knitty in the Autumn. (I’m, apparently, a bind-off geek and am gleeful to have learned three new stretchy bind-offs at the summit.)

my first sock - the cast on end, seamless and so so nice

So, this is a toe-up sock knit in Fixation, started with Judy’s Magic Cast On. The picture above shows the cast-on end with the ball of Fixation holding the sock open. Isn’t the cast-on breathtaking?

my first sock -

This pattern uses an ankle gusset (is that the right thing to call it?) and, at least from what I can tell so far, a fairly shallow turned heel using the aforementioned Japanese Short Rows. I have a high instep so I think this combination will work out well for me. I got to the short rows last night:

my first sock - pins lining my Japanese short rows for the heel

The technique uses placing pins at turns, and using those later to lift the bit of yarn up and over the needle. In class we talked about using coiless safety pins. You can use locking or split ring stitch markers as well but I think those are awfully big for a sock (and I don’t already own any).

detail of small button pins

I set out to find coiless pins and ended up with these Button Pins from Joanns. The only other coilless pins I could find were in the beading section and were 1 1/8th inch and seemed a bit big at that size. The button pins have a little bump in the wire but are only 3/4ths an inch and work really nicely. Here is the package:

button pins package, Dritz brand, 3/4 inch

In my research I also came across these coiless plastic safety pins that Riot of Daisies uses as stitch markers. They are 1″ long and still a bit big for socks, I think, but if you want to break free of the peach and mint green locking stitch marker monopoly these would work well. See also Colonial stitch markers (which I didn’t see in the mega-store) and 3/4 inch coiless safety pins at Angelika’s Yarn Store, as well as larger sizes.

Next I decrease the ankle gusset stitches and then it’ll just be a question knitting a tube up to to the top. I did buy four balls of Fixation just be to sure I would have enough and at this rate it looks like I’ll have a pair of knee socks before I’m done.

· comments [20] · 08-11-2009 · categories:knitting ·

Sock Summit

I’m at the Sock Summit in Portland, OR. You might not think a thousand knitters could converge in one place and knit and talk and shop nothing but socks for four days, and you would be wrong.

The marketplace here is enormous (and open to the public, in case you are nearby and happen to be a knitter). Here are some booths that caught my eye:

Splityarn Handmade

Splityarn Handmade
Splityarn Handmade zipper boxes, flat pouches and camera straps, she has such beautiful fabrics (and is a super sweet person!).

Queen Bee Creations
Queen Bee Creations felt bags with these darling flowers, they don’t have zippers and would really nicely for your knitting. They also have all the fabulous vinyl bags and pouches they are famous for.

Hazel Knits

Hazel Knits
Hazel Knits yummy yarns. She also has a very popular sock club.


5elementknitr makes these super handy stitch markers, they have a detachable short crochet hook for the moment when you drop a stitch but don’t have a crochet hook handy. She also makes some in lovely sterling silver.

Other booths I took note of with the help of the wool-loving Maggi:

  • sets of six 5-inch, very bendy and smooth palmwood DPNs at the Laurel Hill Needles booth ($16!). I have some Laurel Hill #5 needles and love them dearly.
  • Miss Babs, lovely yarns (the sport weight is on sale)
  • Signature Needles, you can compare the mid and stiletto tips
  • try out some square needles at Kollage
  • Wool Candy, bright and happy colors
  • Simply Socks Yarn Company, very nice price for soft sock yarns
  • Namaste small bags (very Hobo-y) perfect for a small projects on DPNs at the Tanglewood Fiber Creations booth
  • Van Der Rock, yarn from Canada
  • you can put your name in a drawing to win a set of DPNs at the Sock Stix booth

· comments [10] · 08-7-2009 · categories:knitting ·

new knitting: Fetching fingerless gloves

Fetching wrist warmers

A time of high stress and not much time left before a big important deadline is, as everybody knows, the perfect time to start a new knitting project. I ripped out my top down raglan experiment sweater for the time being and started in on these fingerless gloves just in time for it to hit 70 degrees in Seattle. These are Fetching from Knitty, made a little longer and using a tubular cast on and bind off. That little section of orange stitches is where the thumb will be picked up to knit.

Fetching wrist warmers

I’m using some leftover Dark Horse Fantasy yarn on size 6 needles. I’m using two circulars for most of the project, and dpns for the thumbs.

· comments [13] · 04-6-2009 · categories:knitting ·

fifth sweater: need some advice

wearing a half-knit sweater

I’ve made very little progress since my last report but I need some advice: Do you think I’m going to run out of yarn? I started with ten balls and have four and a half left. I need at least six inches more on the body and both of the sleeves. I know sleeves can use a deceptively large amount of yarn. Here are harder stats:

yardage: 93 per ball, I have 930 yards total, and have about 415 yards left
my gauge: 13.5 columns and 22 rows over 4″
needle: 10.5
yarn: Lana Grossa New Soft

The sweater right now would come out very large on me (I’m going for comfort not looks with this one) and I’m happy enough to rip back to mid-shoulder and make the sweater slimmer if I need. So, what do you think? Will I make it with the yarn I have left?

· comments [29] · 03-24-2009 · categories:knitting ·

fifth sweater: restart

me wearing half of a sweater, the top half

I didn’t get far with my improvised top-down raglan before I found the arms were going to be too wide and I was going to run out of yarn, so I started over. This time I’m improvising something similar to a top-down version of the Button On Blanket, except not ribbed all around and with the button band worked as I go along.

a sweater in progress

As I got further down and found I nearly had all the width for the body I wanted, but not for the sleeves I started skipping every other row of increases for the body and it seems to have worked out well. I’m nearly to the point where I’ll be working on the body itself.

I moved the points where the increases start close to the tops of the shoulders, like the B.O.B. has them, but I lined them up with the ribbing on my collar. So far so good.

a sweater in progress

· comments [13] · 03-9-2009 · categories:knitting ·

fifth sweater: bumbling starts to my top down raglan

I decided to try to make a top down raglan cardigan with some bulky yarn I have because having no seams, and therefore less bulk, sounded appealing. Working from the top down will also allow me to make 3/4 sleeves in case I start to run out of yarn, which I’m afraid of.

Taken from the Google Books pages of Knitting In Plain English is this:

The basic idea behind a knit-in-one-piece-from-the-top-down raglan sweater is to make a carefully calculated rectangle that grows bigger every other row and keeps the same proportions until that rectangle is large enough to be divided up into separate sleeves and body.

And this diagram is included, which helps me picture what’s going on nicely:

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· comments [12] · 02-3-2009 · categories:knitting ·

H&M coat

This is my new H&M coat, which I like a lot. It’s a spring weight coat, fully lined in adorable polka dots, see the adorable? It’s perfect for a number of reasons, it’s cotton (I find wool itchy), the collar is cute but not too cute, it’s fitted but not too much, it hangs to the knees but it’s not too full and swingy, it’s not too trenchy, it’s not too military or vintage-y. And the pockets, which aren’t too shallow, are also lined in the polka dots. I think it was around $70. And it comes in red.

The scarf is my latest knitting accomplishment, it only took me four months to complete, ha ha. It’s the Lace Ribbon Scarf pattern from Knitty done with Comfort DK yarn, which is surprisingly excellent. And I’m thrilled that Comfort is now offered in a chunky weight as well.

· comments [9] · 01-30-2009 · categories:knitting · shopping ·

Laurel Hill Knitting Needles

I recently got some Laurel Hill Knitting Needles and I have to say I think I’m in love. The company makes straight knitting needles and crochet hooks from sustainable exotic woods. They are produced in Vietnam in a facility that is “environmentally friendly and safe; all members are treated with dignity and respect.”

The needles I’m using now are size #4 (US) and they are remarkably flexible and springy. I’m making the Lace Ribbon Scarf from Comfort DK yarn which is splitty enough to be fiddly. I originally started the scarf on some bamboo circulars and abandoned the project because the needles hurt my hands. The Laurel Hill needles give me no trouble at all, though, and I have even noticed they don’t rub against a certain spot on my finger that I’m used to. The needles are very smooth and don’t catch on any of the fuzzy fibers, slick enough that I don’t have troubles when I SSK, but still grippy enough that I’ve had no trouble with the needles sliding out and dropping stitches. I really enjoy working with them. The only downside I can see is that the wood the needles are fairly dark, meaning I won’t be knitting anything black on them in the evenings. I have to add that I’ve gotten so used to working with circular needles that I’d forgotten that I find scarves are actually easier to knit on two straight needles.

The crochet hook I have is equally appealing, the wood is far nicer to look at than my usual plastic standby, and the hook feels warm in my hand.

You can read more about the company at Laurel Hill Online and you can buy the needles online only at KnittingStuff.Net. I think a set of Laurel Hill knitting needles or crochet hooks would make a nice upgrade gift for a knitter who seems to already have everything.

· comments [12] · 12-17-2008 · categories:knitting ·

StitchMinder – free iPhone knitting app

Gosh I live the interwebs. Yesterday I was looking through free applications for the iPhone and came across something called StitchMinder, it had a pictures of a ball of yarn in the little button and I did a little dance for the intersection of knitting and technology. It’s a well thought out application but could use a few changes.

StitchMinder gives you four areas to work with, you tap them and the number increases by one. You can edit the label on each area to suit what you currently need to keep track of. Doing a hat with four sets of decreases? Label all the sections Decrease Row and tap after each decrease. You’ll be able to see how many you’ve done. Set all the sections to count in descending order, and set the start number to the number you need to do, then tap away as you knit and you’ll be counting down instead of up, which can be handy to see how much you have left (or simply for motivation). For each counting area you can choose a label – Rows Completed, Pattern Row, Pattern Repeats, Increase Row, Increase Repeat, Decrease Row, Decrease Repeat – so you can keep track of different areas of the pattern on the same screen. You don’t lose your numbers if you close the application, turn off the phone or set it to sleep mode.

StitchMinder is not perfect though. There are Edit and Reset buttons right there next to the area you tap, it’s far too easy to tap those by mistake and lose track completely. If you you enter the Edit screen your numbers will be lost when you return to the main screen, so Edit is really only meant for initial set up. The Reset button just sets the number to zero. There is no way to undo if you accidentally tap an area twice or tap the wrong area or accidentally reset.

This is what I’d like to see: One tiny Edit button to the right of each tap area which would take you to an Edit screen. You wouldn’t lose your information when you return to the main screen. On the Edit screen could be a +1 and -1 button so you can adjust your current number if you need, I’d keep the initial set up options that you see now and place the Reset button at the bottom of this screen. I’d like the main screen to have a nice big Lock toggle button so that cats/children/other people bumping the screen couldn’t cause you to lose your place. This could simply throw up a Pause screen like on a game.

As it is I don’t see myself using StitchMinder much, it’s too easy to lose track. Still, there is hope at the where knitting and iPhones collide.

update: The creator of StitchMinder wrote in to let us know that there will be a few updates to the app, including a confirmation message for the Reset button so you cannot lose your information so easily. Thanks!

· comments [25] · 08-12-2008 · categories:iphone · knitting · technology ·

raffle for all things knitting

Want to win some amazing knitting stuff? Susan from Martha’s Vineyard Fiber Farm (and the incredibly-good-idea Fiber CSA) that I talked about last year is holding a raffle to raise money for somebody who needs our help. She’s raffling off her entire yarn stash and including skeins from the farm (yarn which I’ve had the pleasure to touch, and it’s ever so nice). Not just that, lots of prizes, some individual, some included in the grand stash prize, have been added. There is loads of scrumptous hand spun and dyed yarn, stitch markers, knitting patterns, roving and knitting kits from people all hoping to help — the list is really something to behold.

In the hopes of helping out as much as I can I’ve donated a prize as well, one of my Portable Knitting Needle Cases for DPNs that I make as The Organized Knitter.

You can purchase as many raffle tickets as you like by donating through Paypal. Each ticket is $10 and well worth it for a chance at all the great stuff.

You can read the story behind why this money is being raised, it’ll break your heart, see the huge list of prizes and buy tickets here at the MVFF blog. It’s a good cause for some people who have given their entire lives to helping others, and I hope you will buy many tickets in the effort to help them as much as they deserve.

I’m a little late to hear this news, so buy raffle tickets quickly as the drawing is taking place on Sunday, July 13th, just four days away.

· comments [6] · 07-9-2008 · categories:events · knitting ·

my fourth sweater: the B.O.B.

Look, I knit a big, wooly sweater in the middle of the summer. This is the B.O.B., Button On Blanket. (Also at Ravelry.) It’s a large and cuddly sweater created with the sole purpose of keeping the wearer warm. The pattern was written by Jackie of Yarnish, and it’s a free PDF download from this page, you can also find the pattern here at Ravelry (if you have already joined). I really like this pattern, it simple yet interesting, and so fast that it might be a good one to keep around for the next time a family member begs you to knit them a sweater.

Here are the various links:

the pattern at Yarnish

the B.O.B. page with pattern download at Ravelry

Jackie’s project page at Ravelry

my project page at Ravelry

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· comments [8] · 07-8-2008 · categories:knitting ·