cold snap

What with one thing and another, I’ve not written about making things much of late. There was some Christmas crafting — but I rather scaled it down this year, and I have to say that I was really glad I did. Tom was pleased with his pair of plain blue socks, and he and my Dad each received a manhat (my Dad’s in some wonderful handspun manx loaghtan that I bought from lovely Anne Kemp last year). I also knit my Ma a Saroyan (rav link) — which I think is a great wee pattern — but then, of course, I managed to wrap and gift it before taking a picture. And during my spare time, I’m also working on several new designs, so the making of things, as well as the thinking about the making, never really stops. But a couple of weeks ago I came over all seasonal, and had a sudden desire to whip myself up a wintery knitted treat.

Two things inspired me. First, at the beginning of December a sweater appeared on TV which fueled my knitting desire. This sweater featured on a Morrisons advert fronted by glib and irritating Richard Hammond (the horror) accompanied by an obligatory sleighbell rendition of Take That’s “Let it Shine” — a confection of steaming puddings, giant hams and turkeys, fake snow, and a bunch of senselessly happy Christmas shoppers, all sporting an assortment of jolly knitwear. Among the crowd (who seemed to be dementedly following Hammond with their supermarket trolleys, as if he were the berloody pied piper or something) was a woman wearing a grey-and-cream festive sweater. The yoke of this sweater was a glorious vision of galloping reindeer and falling snow — I saw it for a split second — then the advert ended and it disappeared. Over the next couple of weeks I found myself actually wanting the advert to come on, just waiting for Hammond’s squashy phiz and stringy mane to appear with their message of commercial Christmas cheer, just so that I could catch another glimpse of that sweater. Amidst this madness, Mel turned up. She had knitted her friend a chullo (rav link) out of Artesano Aran and was very pleased with it. I looked at the chullo. I liked the chullo. Its muted, natural palette was gorgeous, and there was just something so smooth and soft and even about the colourwork. This was really a fantastic hat. I put it on my head. Oh my. It was so soft. So cosy. So very, very pleasing! The tones and texture of the yarn were just amazing. We enthused together about the qualities of both yarn and hat for quite some time — something had clearly taken hold — and I knew I was going to have to knit with those shades of that yarn as soon as possible. The minute that Mel was out the door, I was online ordering myself some Artesano aran.

On Christmas eve, I began to knit. I decided I wanted a close-fitting tunic-style dress with (predictably) a festive yoke. Now, the downside of knitted dresses, it seems to me, is that they sometimes fit rather poorly, or sag, and don’t maintain their structure. To ensure the dress would keep its structure, I knit the yarn (which is quite a heavy aran) as if it were dk, on 4 and 4.5 mm needles, and worked it to my exact dimensions with around 2 inches of negative ease. And to attain a good, flattering fit, I decided to keep the front of the garment entirely increase/ decrease free, and to put all the shaping in the back which is, frankly, where I have most shape. I began with some 2×3 ribbing then added sets of increases at two points — the, um, two pointiest points of my arse. I then decreased (in the same way my arse decreases) and nipped the dress in dramatically at the waist (all working to 2 inches less than my actual dimensions). At this point, my knitting looked like a tube with a gigantic arse-sized pleat in it. More than a little concerning. But I tried it on, and found that the shaping worked a treat. Here is what the arse / waist looks like unworn (the bottom arrow shows the increases, the middle one the arse shaping at its widest point, and the top one indicates the waist decreases).

On a hanger, the back of the dress looks very odd to say the least — like a funny, folded bustle. But on a person, it transforms magically into a three dimensional arse accommodator. Now, I confess it feels a little peculiar showing you me woolly behind on the interweb, but I do so in order for you to see just how the shaping works.

I will definitely use this shaping technique again when making / designing something tunic-length. Working the yarn quite densely, the fabric flattens out across the front (which is flattering) and the back attains a pleasing corset-like effect. I continued the shaping up the back (much as I did on the o w l s sweater), but then, when I came to position the armholes, set them half an inch further back to allow for a little more space in the front of the garment.

Much of the knitting of this was done on the fly while the business of the holidays went on as usual — I knitted in the car, in other people’s houses, in Blackpool and St Annes, in the Lake District, and the Highlands. Its been a speedy and a satisfying project. By the time the holidays were coming to an end, I was getting to the yoke, and my eyes and brain were starting to suffer from perusing a gazillion different Selbu stars and Norweigan snowflakes in my pattern books (I felt they were all merging into one, somehow). In the end I showed Tom a shortlist of about 15 designs, and he selected the one he thought was most ‘flaky’. Its a large repeat (25 sts), and I ummed and ahed about where to put it on the yoke — what I didn’t want was for the pattern to be positioned on my chest as if I had two giant snowflakes resting above each boob. So I shifted the pattern around a little — its worked out fine, but if I was knitting this again I would move the repeat just a tad more to the right for maximum symmetry.

A quick word about this yarn — which I really love. It is very well spun, with a great hand, and I know from knitting with it before that it wears extremely well. Being 50% alpaca and 50% wool it is warm and dense and heavy — but that is really just what you need in this weather — and it works well for this dress, which is toasty, easy to wear, and flexible to move about in (I walked 8 snowy miles in it yesterday). And I have to say that someone at Artesano is very good indeed at blending colours — since this yarn has something I’ve noticed as a feature of some other well-put together yarn ranges (most notably the Alice Starmore Hebridean) — which is the common thread of (sometimes unexpected) colours running through every shade in the palette. This common thread produces a tonal match between each shade — barely perceptible when you look at each one individually — but it means that the whole palette works together in a very satisfying way. In the case of these natural shades of Artesano Aran, it may surprise you when I say that the magic common thread here is red — the greys, and fawns, and creams, and deep chocolate browns of this yarn are all blended with teeny-tiny strands of exactly the same brick red colour. You can hardly notice this in the finished skein, as I say (unless you, like me, routinely pull blended yarn to pieces in full daylight to examine its colour composition) but once you knit the colours alongside one another, you can really tell what a difference these tiny amounts of blended red make. I think the common thread is what gives this palette of natural shades such an even, harmonious appearance when used together– this is the feature that Mel and I both marvelled at in her chullo — and I was very pleased with the final effect of these different but tonally similar colours on the yoke and edgings of this dress.

I don’t intend working this up into a pattern, but I’ve really enjoyed making it, and have learnt things about shaping that I will definitely put to use in future designs.

Name: Cold Snap. By me.
Yarn: Artesano Aran (5 skeins rosewood; 1 each of mahogany, oak, ash, and walnut).
Needles: 4 and 4.5mm addi circs.
Ravelled here.

(apologies for the crazed expression. I am in mid air)

(Oh, and for anyone who might be interested in seeing the reindeer-adorned sweater on the Hammond/ Morrisons advert — I’ve found it here on youtube. Someone actually uploaded it! The sweater is to be seen in the closing moments of the ad. I also noticed that Hammond seems completely incapable of steering his trolley in a safe and responsible manner — at one point he’s struggling down some icy steps with it — “potential death trap!” (as Lynn Faulds Wood would say).