This Saturday I’ll be knitting with the Tejedoras Puce-lanas

A while ago I posted about knitting in Spain and my impressions of doing this craft as a foreigner and a man in this country. Well, I must say that I’m very excited to finally knit socially. I’ll be joining the group Tejedoras Puce-lanas (a play on words, a “pucelana” is from Valladolid and “lana” means wool). I am wicked excited to join a group of knitters who love the craft as much as I do.

I think now I have myself pretty well set up in Spain as a knitter the way I want it! I’ve fulfilled all of my goals: find where to get the good yarns, learn how to read and write patterns in Spanish, knit stuff for my Spanish friends and family, and share the craft socially with a group of wonderful and inviting people.

I’m going to bring my Jaywalker socks I’m working on to the knitting gathering.

Yay!

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It’s always a happy day when you finish a sweater!

Today I finished the blue wishbone cable sweater. The pattern is from Knitting Beautiful Classics, a book published by Classic Elite. I’m going to wash it, dry it, and put it in a gift box for the wearer’s Christmas present.

All I had to do today was finish the collar. I bound it off with the Decrease Bind Off. I found this bind off in Cap Sease’s Cast on, Bind off  but, if you’d like to learn the bind off you can just follow the link I inserted. The nice thing about this bind off is that it is stretchy, so it’s great for collars. I usually like to use a sewn bind off or the tubular method but I decided to try something new. I’ll use it again in the future. It’s very neat and stretches well enough. I’m very happy with how the collar came out, actually!
I think this sweater also proves that it is possible to make attractive cables with synthetic yarn. All that is necessary is to find a good quality yarn and pick the pattern carefully.
On the other hand, I am also relieved. I won’t have to make synthetic garments for a very long time!

Seaming a sweater

I’m on day two of putting together that blue cabled sweater I posted about. This reminds me: good seams on sweaters take lots of patience and time.

It’s taking me this long to sew up the seams because I take lots of breaks and also because I’m not a huge fan of sewing. Why did I choose to knit the sweater flat instead of in the round? The sweater has lots of reverse stockinette stitch and purling is not my favorite thing to do, either. Why am I taking so much time for this? I worked hard on my knitting and I want it to look good when the pieces are put together.

Before I even cast on any sweater I prepare for good seams. Here are some ways to knit the parts of a sweater in preparation for neater and easier sewing:

1) Use a selvedge edge: I cast on an extra stitch for each end of my fabric so that they can be used for the seam. Here are some of the most used selvedge edges and how to make them.

2) Count the rows: When I start a sweater I usually begin with the back (as most patterns start there). When I knit the back I use a row counter to count the number of rows for the ribbing, the total number of rows for the rest of the piece, and the row where the armhole begins. I jot these numbers down so I remember how many rows I should allow for the front and exactly where the armhole begins. I also count the rows for my sleeves. Working this way the front and back have the same number of ribbing and pattern rows and the sleeves also have identical row counts. The side and armhole seams match up precisely. The ribbing lines up perfectly.

3) Mark where the armholes begin: I place a marker on each end of the front and back pieces for the armholes. Combined with counting rows it makes it much easier to ensure that the sleeves meet up with the front and the back in exactly the same places.

This all may seem fussy or “OCD” but it’s worth it to me. I remember the first time I made a sweater and only measured. I wasn’t satisfied with my seams.

Counting rows, marking armholes, and using selvedge stitches are just the beginning. Here are some ways to get really fine seams before sewing:

1) Block the pieces as you go: When I finish a piece of a sweater I block it right away, making sure my selvedge edges are neat and lie as flat as possible. I also record the dimensions of the back and those of my first sleeve so that when it’s time to block the front and the second sleeve I can be sure that they have the correct dimensions. This makes all the difference in the world! Blocking the pieces all at once takes up space and is time consuming. Waiting to block the pieces when they are all completed could actually overwhelm a person enough for him or her to not bother with this step at all. The “block-as-you-go” method means: when it’s time to sew, presto! There are all the parts of your sweater dressed up and ready to take on some good seams.

2) Take lots of breaks as you sew: When I get frustrated or tired of sewing I stop, put the sweater away, and do something else. A grumpy sewer makes messy seams.

What are some of your tricks for neatly sewn seams?

More than halfway through a cabled sweater!

Today the temperatures have dropped enough for me to get going on that sweater I never seem to work on. A week ago when I had a day of better temperatures I finished the front piece of it. So far I have the front, back, and half a sleeve done.

Not only has the weather cooperated with me. The sun is shining brightly and I managed to get a good detailed photo of the cables and the ribbing. Natural, bright light, by the way, are the best ingredients for good photography of fabrics. 
As you can see, the pattern is pretty basic. Chunky yarn is knit into braids alternated with big wishbone cables. It’s a drop shoulder “boxy” sweater without much shaping. The pattern is from a Classic Elite book I didn’t know I had. The yarn, I’m sorry to say, is not what I like to work with. However, the wearer wanted a synthetic sweater so that’s what he’s getting. I did manage to find a good synthetic yarn that holds chunky cables. It’s called “Alaska” and it’s manufactured by Katia. I must say that this is the last time I work with synthetics for clothing for a very long time. If anyone else asks me for an all synthetic wearable anything I’m just going to put my foot down and say “absolutely not.” The mosaic blanket is the only project I want to have going that is acrylic.
Anyway, you might note from my photo that I have long ends of yarn. I’ll tell you why: when I start a new ball of yarn on a sweater I always start it on the end of a row. The long strands hanging there will be used for seaming. This means I’ll have a sweater with no ends woven into the wrong side because they’re all hidden in the seams! Another tip: it’s a good idea to block the parts of a sweater as you finish them. That’s what I’ve done. Sewing them together will be much easier and neater for me because my selvedge edges are tidy. By the way, for this sweater I chose to use a garter stitch selvedge edge. If you want or need to learn how to seam garter stitch together try this back issue of Knitty or watch this helpful YouTube video.

It’s been way too hot today

The summer heat today has not permitted me to knit away on my “Jaywalker” socks because my hands get sweaty. Yuck.

So instead I worked on a curtain. This project is going to take a very long time, I think. Here’s how it’s coming along so far:

As you can see, it’s a filet crochet pattern. The photo is yucky but it illustrates some of my progress. Filet crochet with cotton thread requires a lot of patience, especially with a big chart such as this one. The pattern will start to reveal itself better when I get halfway up the chart. By the way, the chart is from the Antique Pattern Library. Here it is:
It’s from page 8 of Augusta Pfeuffer’s Filet Crochet and How to Use It. It’s a very vintage pattern, from 1917. One of the irritating things about vintage patterns is that the charts don’t include numbers. I printed my copy and wrote the row numbers up the side of the chart. If you’d like to work with this chart I can help you out: it’s 90 squares wide. 
The fun involved in looking at and working from vintage patterns far outweighs the nuisances for me.
This whole chart alone will not be the curtain. My thoughts right now are that this filet crochet pattern will sit horizontally across the bottom section of the curtain. Using some colorful crochet thread I think I want to crochet a border around it and then knit lace above it. I’m thinking that I can pick up and knit from the top portion of the crochet border so that I won’t have to sew any pieces together. We’ll see if my master plan works (in five years when I finish the filet crochet chart?).
Perhaps this curtain will become part of a “mythical creatures” theme to decorate my bedroom. I could knit a reversible throw blanket with dragons on it, make some crocheted pillowcases, knit some throw pillows, etc.
If you want to learn to filet crochet there’s plenty of help at About’s crochet page.

Craftsy is awesome!

Today for the first time I tried out Craftsy, an on line platform that delivers instructional videos for all kinds of crafts. I haven’t tried a paid course, but from what I’ve seen from the free mini classes I can tell that this is a top notch service.

So far I’ve watched all of “The Ins and Outs of Grafting” with Anne Hanson and half of “Know Your Wool” with Deborah Robson.

Yes, I know how to graft. However, I learned a lot from the grafting course that I didn’t know about. Her class begins with an explanation of what grafting is, what is appropriate to use it for, and shows you how to graft in stockinette, ribbing, and seed stitch. Hanson then shows you lots of advanced techniques: how to line up stitch patterns properly, how to mask the jog that can appear, and how to incorporate grafting into projects.

Robson’s “Know Your Wool” is so far excellent. I am learning so much about wool and sheep that I did not know. She actually takes you on a tour at a sheep breeding festival, interviews some sheep breeders, and takes you on a shopping trip for yarn. Her advice on how to plan designs keeping in mind the type of wool you’re using is extremely helpful. I also admire her swatching method and her manner of maintaining her swatch library. I’m going to finish watching the “Know Your Wool” tonight. Perhaps I will get serious about swatching, labeling, and organizing my swatches as well as Robson.

I would suggest that viewers not heed the “great for beginners” descriptions on some of the free mini classes. These videos, even though they are free and start with the basics, have valuable information in them that experienced knitters will learn. I’m actually blown away by the high quality of the free videos as well as their breadth and depth. When I can spend the $40 on a course I’m going to have a hard time deciding which course I want to take.

Knitting in Spain

Since I’ve come to Spain to live I’ve been learning about being a knitter in Spain: yarn, socializing, patterns, etc. In my case, being a man who knits, I think my experience is becoming unique.

I live in Valladolid, in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon. Luckily, Valladolid is the capital so it’s a good sized city. When I came here I thought there would be lots of wool because Spain has sheep. This country very well might have lots of wool. Finding it is the hard part! The two stores in this city that sell yarn have lots of acrylic. One of the stores is completely dedicated to knitting and crochet. They have lots of yarn and give workshops and classes on the weekends. But, like I said, these two stores tend to sell synthetic fibers. One of the shops explained to me that they tend to stock up on acrylic because the customers prefer it. The specialized knitting and crochet store actually devotes a lot of its space to Katia yarns. When wool is available it’s usually merino. I like merino, fortunately enough! Thanks to these shops I have discovered two wool brands that I like: Cigno Nero and Osso Blanco. Yes, they’re actually from Italy. Another brand I’ve tried for the first time thanks to my local shops is Berger de France. All in all, I like my local shops.

Fortunately, there are online stores in Spain that sell really good stuff. My favorite one so far is Tira del Ovillo. I actually haven’t placed an order with them yet, but I like their yarns. For a super duper selection of all kinds of fibers I’ve had to rely on Wollerei, an on line yarn shop based in Austria. Their service is very efficient and the products are high quality. Thanks to them I discovered SMC, a brand that makes all sorts of wool yarns.

So far my favorite shop in Spain is actually in Madrid: El Gato Negro. I scored some nice big hanks of wool that were on sale last week. I want to make this sweater with it. I think from now on I will buy wool every time I have to be in Madrid. That store deserves my business. The employees are friendly, knowledgeable, and extremely helpful.

The socializing factor has been difficult for me to master. I really want to get involved in a knitting and crochet group, sit around and knit with people, help with fixing mistakes, talking about the craft, etc.

I always thought that being a male knitter in the USA was a bit awkward but I think in recent years both the USA and the UK have come to view men who knit as less of an oddity. In Spain everyone seems to assume that if you’re a knitter you must be a woman. It also seems to me that not many people actually know how to knit. On line groups based in Spain on Ravelry almost always use feminine adjectives and nouns to describe their members. The local knitting group in Valladolid, which meets twice a month in a cafeteria, seems to be all women because they use all feminine adjectives to describe themselves. Rather than just show up at the meeting I emailed the group and asked if they wouldn’t mind if a guy came to knit with them. I have received no response. It very well could be that all of those knitters are away on vacation and they’re not meeting up to knit this month. August is, of course, Spain’s vacation month. Perhaps they will email me with a warm welcome and a “yes, we’d love to see you at the knitting group.” If it turns out they don’t want guys in their club I suppose I could try to start a group of my own. On the other hand, with the paucity of people interested in knitting around here, my efforts could prove to be futile.

*UPDATE* August 28 2013: I finally got a response from the knitting group! I was right, vacations left them disconnected from email. I’m going to join them on August 31! I’m very excited! They gave me a very warm welcome. Knitting for guys in Spain is way cool.

I have knit on the bus and no one noticed or cared.

As a fluent Spanish speaker, writer, and reader, I thought that reading and understanding Spanish knitting patterns would be a breeze. I needed to take some time to study the abbreviations. They are radically different. An ssk, for example, is called in Spanish what it actually is: “a knit decrease to the left.” Slip stitches are sometimes not indicated with numbers, but rather a “P” for every slipped stitch. I suppose the most confusing thing about Spanish knitting patterns is that they can follow whatever system they like because there does not seem to be a common, standard format to abbreviate and write directions.