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Swallow Your Pride

For this post, I’m actually going to cheat & look back at some designing I did 6 years ago, when I was still at University in Wales, and only had a couple of years of knitting under my belt. At that time, lace-weight yarn was impossible to find at my small local yarn shops; I remember the shopkeeper offering me a small skein of mercerised cotton as an alternative. She had also never heard of “shadow” or “illusion” knitting. I bet she has now! (an interesting counterpoint to my story from yesterday, I think). Anyway, the thing about this particular design is that it’s still in progress!

In 2005, the extent of my lace knitting experience was a feather & fan baby blanket, and (diving in at the deep end, as usual), the most difficult (and prettiest) piece from the Homework collection on It took me a while to find these photos…

I don’t think I’d even seen much knitted lace, but my imagination (& ambition) was probably fuelled by a few books in my Grandma’s collection, one of which was Knit One, Make One, by Furze Hewitt; and some pieces I saw on the Livejournal knitting community. My vision was a lace stole, with swallows darting daintily to & fro, and spilling out of the garter stitch border at either end. The centre would have some patterning, to symbolise the swallow’s long seasonal migration. I also wanted to try to depict the bird’s motion, and the direction of its feathers. Ha! I bungled along, sewing swatches into my knitting book, and making detailed notes…

Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page
Knit Notebook Page

Yes, I even checked out a book on swallows & made some sketches. When I look back at these, I sort of admire 1. my documentation, and 2. my sheer audacity. Even now this would take a lot of fiddling, swatching, and moving stitches around in Mac Numbers. At the time, not even fully understanding the concept of left- and right-leaning decreases, and working on squared notebook paper, it was more than a little preposterous. I guess it was my love of the graceful form of the swallow, and a desire to break out of the symmetrical nature of most lace, that has made the vision for this design so long-lasting. I think I now have enough of an understanding of lace to give this a fair go, and I intend to, one of these days. My thoughts on the concept of “skill” haven’t changed much though. Here’s an extract from my (digital) journal from August 2005:

knitting lace really isn’t as complicated as it looks. it needs a good deal of patience, but it’s a slow little world you can recede into, weaving miles and miles of thread into a small space. i like to sit on my bed, with no music or radio and certainly no television, and concentrate. if you count and count very carefully you will understand the joy of reaching the end of a row with the right amount of stitches. and if you find you have lost count, it is usually because your mind has wandered, and then you might learn just how unused you are to thinking of just one thing. but you will make a mistake eventually anyway, and then stitch by stitch undo your work, or pull the needle out and try to catch the loops a row down. a lifeline, a length of embroidery thread, woven through the live stitches with a tapestry needle and left in place as you knit, will help you redress, or catch any stitches you drop.

My recent experience teaching my friends how to knit has only reinforced this belief that skill is more about concentration than innate ability, or even practice. When I compare some of the wonky garter stitch I’ve produced while watching Youtube videos, to the perfect bumps my friends make, each with great care and concentration… I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed.

A little OT, but I also wanted to mention this TED talk, and how much I like the idea of looking at self-development as a computer game, where you really can +1 strength, +1 health, etc. :)

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Seamless Pullovers

himalaya jumper

My initiation into the world of circular jumpers (and indeed jumpers in general) came with Stephanie Japel’s ‘Angelica‘. I fell in love with it the moment I saw the photo, and stalked Stephanie’s blog until she put the pattern up. It took me 3 days to knit (I was procrastinating an English essay), and I was utterly fascinated by the process. Angelica is knit top-down, in the round, with yo raglan increases and a beautiful, highly unusual neckline. I’ve knit quite a few top-down jumpers and cardigans since then, and it’s definitely become my method of choice, but this is the first time I’ve tried to knit a bottom-up jumper. The main reason I decided to try it was that I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with the neckline of this jumper. Boatneck? V-Neck? Cowl neck? I was leaning towards the cowl neck, but then I wasn’t sure how much yarn I’d have left to play with. It turned out I had plenty. The yarn is Himalaya Padişah (talk about an incongruous name) which is a Turkish yarn. It’s a 70/30 acrylic/wool blend that’s actually quite nice; fuzzy, but with a sheen, loosely spun and about aran weight. The colours cycle smoothly through blues, purples and bluey greens, creating subtle stripes. My Mum gave me this yarn (she’s more into cotton & linen), which makes it even more special.

2x2 hem

I ended up knitting the body three times. The first time there was too little ease, the second time, too much, and finally on the third go I got it right. It just goes to show that you can do the maths and estimations, but you still can’t be sure until you try it out. I decided not to bother with waist-shaping, but I did work a few decreases after the ribbing to prevent the stocking stitch from sagging outwards, as it tends to do, just in the right place to make you look like you’ve got a spare tyre.

the cowl neck

I was quite excited by the possibility of raglan decreases instead of increases, and I nicked a trick from Véronik Avery’s ‘Offset Raglan‘ in Simple Style (which I reviewed here): left and right-slanting double decreases divided by two purl stitches. The book doesn’t seem to specify which decreases to use, and I found that a k3tog wasn’t a very good match for the sl1 k2tog psso, so I substituted a double decrease that Mary Thomas mentions in her Knitting Book: sl1, k1, psso, return st to left needle, pass 2nd st on left needle over 1st st. This creates a more clearly-defined right slant, rather than the bunchy-looking k3tog.

himalaya jumper

I continued the four pairs of purl stitches up the cowl neck, which is almost as long as the body when unfolded. It can be worn unfolded, or folded in half with the right side facing, or rolled down to show the reverse. I think it works really well & it’s just loose enough to keep you warm without choking you.

this photo could interest only a knitter

One of the biggest drawbacks of bottom-up jumpers as opposed to top-down ones, is the need for underarms seams. Seams? On a seamless sweater? It’s a bit difficult to visualise why this is the case, but basically, when you go to join the sleeves, the long circular needles you’re using for the body can’t bend around to accomodate the narrower sleeves. The solution is to put aside (or bind off) a certain number of stitches from both the body and the sleeves, and join them up later on, by grafting, seaming or a three-needle bind-off. Definitely a bit of a drag. I opted to graft mine, which left two circular holes on either side. These I closed up by threading the yarn around the hole, like the top of a hat, and pulling tight.

2x2 cuffs

I love this jumper, and bottom-up construction definitely has its place, but top-down is still my favourite. Here’s a run-down of the pros & cons of each approach. Let me know in the comments if you can think of others!


Online Knitting Class

  • The chance to use some decorative decreases for the yoke.
  • The chance to defer the decision of what to do with the yoke/neckline until you have a better idea what the jumper will look like as a whole.


  • Underarm seams! On a “seamless” pullover. Tch tch!
  • The need for an extra set of circs to join the sleeves onto the body (though their size doesn’t really matter).
  • More difficult than top-down to adjust length.
  • Lots of balls of yarn/ends dangling about after you join the sleeves.



  • It’s easier to make adjustments depending on how much yarn you have left. Shorter sleeves, shorter body, etc. This is one of my favourite things about top-down jumpers.
  • It’s easier to try on as you go along, and get a good idea of fit.
  • The chance to use decorative increases (hello yo!).
  • Can be accomplished with one pair of circs. As long as you’re happy magic looping.


  • Ummm…

Knit Things & Get Very Excited!

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Ah, December. Post-autumn, pre-Christmas, prime Knitting Season. It comes after the shooting season, before the London season, and is by far the cosiest and the most fun. I’m exceedingly pleased with my WoollyWormhead Mystery Hat, now christened ‘Everglade’. The gales in Wales almost claimed it, but I ran after it into the wet black night and deftly snatched it back. I’ve lost too many hats on walks, dear knitters. First my pink & black Pirates hat, which I dropped on the beach at Ynyslas, then a navy blue Felicity which I lost on a woodland walk. The latter was particularly annoying, as it went so well with jeans. I refuse to relinquish any more knitted hats to the wilderness!

Anyway, I just got my very first printer, which I am very excited about. Up until now I’ve had to talk nicely to other people to be able to test the KnitLove collection, or scan various application forms. Now I get all the hassle & expense myself. Yay! The first thing I printed was the ‘Get Excited and Make Things’ poster. Actually, I usually reverse that order…

mug jumper

Make things: Mug Jumper.
Get Excited: Nearly 80 faves on Ravelry!

Knitting this won’t take you much longer than emptying the contents of your mug… unless you drink really quickly. Or knit really slowly. And for the moment the pattern only costs 90p. Go on, knit a few. :) What I loved about designing this was that I was able to just sit down with my mug of tea, and ‘unvent’ as I went along.* See what I mean?

My sweet little knitted mug.

I just followed the cables on my mug. I might still be struggling bending notes on the harmonica, but bending a cable is a piece o’ cake. I found this knitty mug at Superdrug a few weeks ago, by the way. It isn’t the most amazingly crafted piece of crockery, but it’s got cables & it’s pink & I love it.

Mug Jumper

More quick gift-knits will be coming soon. We all know it’s not “last-minute” until we’re in double figures at least. ;)

*I’d write about unventing cables, but Eunny did it much better, and about four years earlier.

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