Uncharted Territory

I had planned to start talking about yarn shopping today, because, well YARN. But I started looking at the original Roan chart and decided I have some preliminary work to do on it. Like, a LOT, to make it into a chart I'd want (or want to let you) knit. And then I realized you might find this part interesting, so I'll show you!

Click to enlarge

Here are the things that would make me hate knitting this chart, as it was originally published:
1.  It's intended to be knit flat. Yup. Our friends in England love stranded colorwork, but they sometimes expect us to knit it flat, which would mean purling back in pattern, which requires us to read our charts in reverse every other row. Eeewwwwww. And stranded colorwork, as a fabric, likes to get really arsed up when it's knit flat, unless you know and implement some pretty extreme maneouvers to compensate. When we knit our stranded colorwork in the round, as God intended,  all these issues are completely erased.

2.  While I'm on the subject (and dangerously close to ranting), I'd like to state for the good of the order: THIS IS STRANDED COLORWORK, NOT FAIR ISLE KNITTING. Sorry for yelling but I would expect the staff of Rowan, who are actually IN Great Britain, to exhibit a better understanding of their own indigenous knitting traditions. They actually call it Fair Isle in the pattern text. It's not Fair Isle unless it obeys these (and other) rules:

A. Fair Isle stranded colorwork is knit in the round. Period.

B. Fair Isle stranded colorwork uses traditional/geographical motifs; nearly always some variation of knots, crosses, and trees of life. None of these are present in Roan.

C. Fair Isle motifs share common stitch counts, and/or multiples of those counts, which allow them to stack up upon each other round by round and line up with mathematical precision. Roan contains six different motifs, with no less than six different stitch counts. Not only do they not stack up neatly, they barely all fit into the same sweater at all. More on that as we go along.

D. Fair Isle motifs are nearly always symmetrical, and if not, they are mirrored on the piece. These are neither symetrical, nor mirrored, nor even centered.

3.  There are decreases indicated at the sides of the assumed flat-knit body panels. And they are weird, to my eye. They are only 2 sts each, and occur at odd places on the body (all in the hip area). They also, if worked, would be very disruptive to the charted pattern. So because they would only amount to a collective 3/4" change in the garment circumference, in an otherwise extremely loose-fitting (more on that later) silhouette, I'm eliminating them. I suspect they were added by pattern-grading software somewhere along the line, and not caught by the humans.

4.  All of the pattern bands need to be centered on the center back of the body (look closely at the scrolly thing - it's not), and need to be mirrored (reversed) along a center axis of the body. You may disagree with me on the mirroring, so feel free to ignore this next part: It's my personal preference that stranded colorwork motifs are either symmetrical (like the birds), or if directional, that they reverse direction at the center back, center front, or topline of the sleeve. It's just a thing I'm hyper about, and if you are looking at a collection of my sweaters, you may not notice that this is going on, but I promise you'll notice that they look well thought-out and precisely executed. This is one of the reasons why.

5.  There are some ways that designers can make knitting charts friendly to knitters. The first is to make them digital, so you can mess with them and tweak them just the way you want on your device of choice, or at least easily enlarge them to make it safer for your eyes. So my Roan Retool will be digital. Another thing we should always do for you is use actual colors in the chart, rather than symbols or monotone shading. Same reason: If I want you to continue knitting my designs, I'd better respect your eyesight by drawing a legible chart.

6. This seems like a small thing, but it's not. It's the only reason why I recommend that beginning stranded colorwork knitters start out with my patterns, rather than some other designer's: The Tacking of Floats. A couple of posts ago, I showed you the insides of some stranded colorwork, where you can see that I never ever tack floats (twist one strand around the other). It's the single biggest reason why my knitting seems like cohesive flat fabric, instead of a puckered gauge experiment. Tacking floats causes more problems for new stranded colorwork knitters than any other thing. The best cure is not to do it. So what happens when you are knitting a chart like Roan, that has giant stretches of unused color? Look at the top round of the birds panel: There are actually 63 stitches between uses of the motif color in that repeat. Are you supposed to really have a float of 63 stitches (10 1/2")? No, of course not. It's my job as a designer not to saddle you with a knitting problem like that, built right into the design. I think it's unforgivable when someone does that to knitters. There are three ways to deal with a giant empty patch of unused color in a pattern: 1. Hunt down and throttle the designer. Just kidding. 1. Tack the long float in such a way as to not disrupt the knitted fabric (extremely hard to pull off). 2. Leave an unnaturally long float. I'd call the limit on this something like 10 or twelve sts, and it only works if you are using nice, sticky traditional Fair Isle yarn, such as a 2-ply shetland. or 3. Change the chart so the second color does not go unused for more than a reasonable number of sts. I'm going to go with option 3, so my chart will look somewhat different to the original. If you like the long stretches of negative space, then by all means, tack your floats, or leave them long. You'll be able to compare the original chart to my retooled version when I'm done and make your own decision.

Okay, I'm sure you'll agree that I have some work to do on this chart in order to make myself happy with it, so I'll quit preaching to the choir for now. Here's a screen shot of the chart rework in progress, to give you an idea how I'm doing it:

Click to enlarge

See? I've already fixed the centering problem with the scrolly border, and mirrored both it and the braids. Notice how the braids made little hearts at the center back? Total accident, but I love it. And now the scrolls undulate one way on the left side of the body, and the other on the right. They'll mirror beautifully at the center front, regardless of where your size ends in the chart. Better, no? 

Stay tuned for the big chart reveal, and of course, our favorite: Yarn Shopping!

Whoop. There it is.


Phillip's bronchitis-not-pneumonia is neither. It's bad old-fashioned Whooping Cough. We figured it out in the middle of his third week, when the actual Whooping started. The sound is indescribable: somewhere between a Native American war cry and a Rebel Yell. Definitely guaranteed to strike fear in the hearts of the brave. Lucky for the rest of us Huffs, we got antibiotics in time, and are just plain old sick. So far, anyway, knock on wood. And yes, if you are wondering, all of us have been immunized.

*Begin rant/gross description* We'd like to extend a big thank you to those who are choosing not to immunize their children for this new and more-virulent strain. The flock is only safe when ALL members are inoculated. As a public school teacher, my husband stands every day in the biological cross hares, waiting for a direct hit. 

Phillip has 3 cracked ribs and innumerable broken blood vessels in his eyes and face. A coughing attack lasts as long as 10 minutes, during which oxygen intake is severely compromised. The attack only stops when stomach and lung contents are violently expelled, and the sudden intake of air produces a high-pitched screaming gasp. Less of a "whoop" than a "shriek". And this is in an otherwise fit, healthy adult man. Can you imagine watching this happen to a helpless infant? Who may not be strong enough to survive it? When you could have prevented it?

Whatever your views on childhood immunization, I want to remind everyone of this: an autistic child is still ALIVE, and drowning in your own fluids is an unspeakable thing to inflict on anyone too small to choose for themselves. *End rant/grossness*

The FLAK swatches are piling up, almost as fast as the crumpled tissues. I think I've just about landed on the right combination of cables. The only question now is, what happens when you knit them from the top down? Do I just flip my chart upside down, and hope for the best? I'll let you know what happens, provided the antihistamines hold out. 

How are your swatches? 


Way back at beginning of my digital presence, I asked myself some questions about what my blog would be, and not be.  

At the time (and possibly still now), blogs were like bellybuttons, and everybody had one.  I knew that I wanted to attract like-minded creatures to mine, which meant that I would have to create certain standards for its content.  

It proved difficult to distill what my message should be (still is!).  Instead, I made a list of things I disliked about other blogs, and promised myself (and you, Gentle Readers) that there were a few things I would never do.  I never bothered writing them down before now, but here they are, in no particular order:

  • I Won't: Apologize for not posting more often.  I don't know about you, but if I never read the words "I'm sorry it's been so long since I last posted..." it will be too soon.  This one is easy, Bloggers: If you have something interesting to say, please do so.  If not, don't; we'll (happily) wait.  The only thing worse than an apology for not posting is making up something useless to post.  We all know people who talk just to hear the sounds of their own voices (cough-Washington DC-cough). If nobody is listening, it's because you're boring.  And that's a much bigger crime than quieting down from time to time.
  • I Won't: Snivel.  Okay, this one is tricky, but only because without acknowledging the challenges we face, it's hard to make any interesting observations about them.  But there's a difference between sharing about one's misadventures (particularly with the added perspectives of time and humor), and just having a plain old whinge.  My goal is to only share my complaints if I can also tell what I've learned from them, or how I solved the problem.  My mileage may vary, but I promise to try not to whine.
  • I Won't: Make it Political.  My politics are my own business, and so are yours.  If there's anything off putting when you're looking for a great pattern, or an obscure caston with a matching bindoff, it's listening to a knitter's (possibly uninformed) screed on the State Of The(ir) Nation.  We are all blessed and lucky to live here in the First World, where our biggest problems are who is supposed to be doing the laundry, and where to find the good string.  Have your well-researched opinions, and be the change you envision. Beyond that, shut up and knit, or we might not make friends in the first place.
  • I Won't: Wander too far away from knitting/spinning/fiber-related topics.  Even though my life is made up of lots of activities besides knitting (for reasons which continue to elude me), I believe it is one of the most entertaining things in the world to do.  So since I'm a knitter, and so are you, this could hardly be anything other than a knitting blog.  The times when I have to tell you about exploding toilets and fractured digits, it's only to illustrate how these diversions have affected my knitting.
  • I Won't: Prosthelytize.  I believe what I believe, Spiritually, and so do you.  Each of us is entitled to do so, particularly if we have the good manners to clam up about it, already. Do I worry that being polite equates to hiding my light under a bushel basket?  Yes, from time to time.  But I believe that keeping my religion to myself in the interest of not alienating others is the higher path, which Grace has seen fit to illuminate for me. Whatever we believe individually, Knitters know that the Universe is self-leveling.  Start out with too little yarn on the same day you cheat on your taxes, and see if I'm not right. 

So why go into all this, now?  Because I've realized that from time to time, I should be breaking my own rules.  

Maybe it's that I'm getting older, and closer to becoming the wierdo in the crazy hat I've always dreamt of being.  Or maybe there have been some things I should have said out loud that I let my fear of offending get in the way of.  But you've gotten to know me better over the years, and my failure to tell things like they really are would be tantamount to me wasting the privilege of your kind attention.  If you weren't interested in my point of view, you wouldn't be following my knitting work, and you certainly wouldn't be visiting me here.

In the past there were some things that I didn't say; keeping mum in the hopes of staying neutral and polite.  Which is fine, except when doing so is preventing me from being the change I envision.  So from time to time, because you have told me that you like my perspective and would not be (too) insulted to hear more of it, I've decided to violate my own manifesto.  I promise to give you fair warning: "Not Exactly About Knitting" or something like that, which tells you to steer clear if you're not in the mood for a diatribe today.  But I also promise not to wimp out when there is something I know (of have just discovered) that I think you'd care to hear about.  Being true to you, Gentle Readers, means being true to myself, and I know you wouldn't have it any other way.

Thank you for teaching me, my friends, what it means to have a soapbox: When to stay off it, and when to use it for good, instead of evil.