I Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone: Cobalt Cables Sweater

I can’t leave well enough alone. My cookbooks can attest to that. On just about every recipe I use, I have annotations and substitutions inked in — even recipes that I wrote myself. I can’t resist the temptation to tinker with recipes and directions, to question them, to adapt them for my particular needs.

And so it goes with my knitting. Being small of stature and large of gauge, I have to adapt just about everything I make. It’s a rare (and welcome!) event when I can pick up a pattern and knit it as written.

When my husband chose Marly Bird’s Cobalt Cables  as his next sweater, it was therefore no surprise to either of us when I made a working copy of the pattern and immediately began to mark it up with changes. It was a perfectly fine pattern, but I couldn’t resist the urge to modify it. Some of the changes were to accommodate my gauge, and others were to adapt the pattern to suit the wearer’s preferences.

It’s wonderful to knit custom clothing, but it does require a good deal of math. Now that I’ve designed several sweaters from scratch, and heavily modified quite a number of others, I will never begrudge a designer the fee that he or she charges for a pattern. It’s well worth it to have someone else figure out the math, supposing that I can live with the pattern as designed. Even if I have to make changes, the inspiration a design provides, along with whatever math I can salvage, is still worth the pattern price.

Marly Bird’s Cobalt Cables strikes a good balance between complexity and simplicity. Offset diamond cables make up the front and back panels, with small cables interspersed between. A diamond cable runs the length of each sleeve and continues onto saddles. Filler stitch is simple seed stitch.

My husband examined the photos of the sweater on my working copy. He picked up a swatch of basketweave braid lying on the table. “I like this. Can you add it?” he asked. “And the neckline,” he continued, “can you bring that in just a bit?”

Of course I can, I told him. I looked at the charts. If I cut out the small cables between the larger diamonds and moved the diamonds all next to each other, I could make room for the basketweave braid on either side of the main panel.

Offset Diamonds front

To make the neck opening smaller, I could swap out the wider diamond pattern on the sleeves for the narrower basketweave, which would make the neck opening smaller while preserving the saddle.  And, while I was at it, I’d swap out the seed stitch for a waffle weave filler stitch I’d used on other Arans.

full sleeve

saddle sleeve

I turned my attention to the sleeves. The design called for drop sleeves, which are a total gift, as far as I’m concerned. Easy to knit, easy to wear. On the last sweater I knit, though, I experimented with shallow cap sleeves, which are not as deep nor as complicated as true cap sleeves, but require more effort (read: math) than drop sleeves. The result is more tailored than drop sleeves, but still casual. I decided to add those in.

shoulder cap sleeve

A good deal of swatching and cutting and pasting of charts later, and I had my revised design. I cast on 20 percent fewer stitches for the ribbing than the body for a slightly blousier effect that my husband prefers, and knit on.

The most laborious part was doing the math for the sleeves. I used Janet Szabo’s Aran Sweater Design book to figure out the sleeve caps (and corresponding decreases on the front and back) and Principles of Knitting to re-figure the slope of the sleeves.

Steve's sweater sleeve cap

It was a huge relief when all the pieces came together gracefully, and I picked up the stitches for the neckline.

puzzle pieces

As usual, I purled the first row after picking up the stitches, which I think sets off the neckline ribbing nicely.


The result? A sweater that was a good deal more complicated to knit than the original design, but totally worth it. It fits well and has the design elements that my husband wanted. Custom clothing. Inspired by Marly Bird, tailored by me.

Steve's sweater done

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Mountain Colors Multnomah Shawl

I half-staggered downstairs to my sewing room, grumpy from uneasy sleep the night before, and the knowledge that I had to fast that morning in advance of my abdominal ultrasound.   The fast included abstinence from sanity-giving coffee, as well as food.

I had decided that morning that the best way to occupy myself before the ultrasound would be to cast on a new project. My three new hanks of Mountain Colors Mountain Goat were perched on my sewing room table, too new, even, to have been parked with the older stash housed in the cabinets. I picked one hank up and examined it. The colors were calming — shades of turqoise, a deep cobalt blue, quiet violet, and just a bit of fuschia.   The colors made me think of a plumeria lei tossed in the waves of a Maui beach. The fiber itself was also interesting — a juxtaposition of gloss with a soft halo.

Table Mountain

Colorway: Swift Current

Shortly after I’d brought this yarn home, I decided it should eventually become a Multnomah Shawl. Multnomah is mostly simple garter stitch with a feather and fan border. Easy, and the effect is greater than the sum of those two straightforward parts. A simple shawl in soothing colors. Just what I needed to help me through my latest medical issues. I set the yarn on my swift and stretched it to the ballwinder, and started winding.

With the yarn wound, I settled into my recliner to knit. The menfolk hustled and bustled to get off to work and school. I avoided the kitchen, where the smells of breakfast and coffee reminded me of my fast. I watched as the number of stitches grew, and the water colors change as the yarn slipped through my fingers. While I knit, I thought about how it had all come to this.

For several months, my doctor had been monitoring my liver enzymes. A routine blood test had turned up slightly elevated numbers. Nothing to worry about, she said, but something to keep tabs on. I went back again and again to have my enzymes checked. The levels stayed the same — slightly elevated, but unchanging, despite the fact that I’d stopped taking about every medication I’d been on.

I’d come to dread the follow-up phone call from the medical assistant. She always had the same news: levels still elevated, and could I come in yet again for another test in a few weeks? I felt fine. Perfectly fine. I was getting exasperated with my doctor. Why wouldn’t she let me be? If my enzymes were slightly elevated, what on Earth was the big deal that required so much poking and prodding?

Another part of me was indeed worried:

Your enzymes have never been elevated before, even when you’ve taken some pretty high-powered medications.

After so many iterations of blood tests, my doctor ordered up an abdominal ultrasound. Ultrasound? Gee, now things had gotten serious. Or silly. An ultrasound seemed like an unnecessary expense of time and money for slightly elevated enzymes. My doctor was a worry-wort. That had to be the answer.

Elevated enzymes mean something’s not right. And it’s not getting any better.

I fretted over the ultrasound ever since it was scheduled. What would they see? What would they find? Some bizarre liver ailment? Cancer? Nothing?

By the time I went to the radiology center, I’d gotten a decent start on the Multnomah and had worked myself into a right good fit about the ultrasound. The center was so organized that I didn’t have time to even finish a row before my name was called.

I watched anxiously as the technician moved the wand over my jelly-coated abdomen. If there were anything there that was abnormal, it wasn’t so crazy abnormal that I could tell. The tech (natch) was circumspect and wouldn’t tell me anything. “You’ll have the results in a day or two,” she chirped.

I went out for a late breakfast. Problems are best handled on a full stomach and with caffeine, I thought. I knitted on Multnomah at the coffee shop, while I waited for my breakfast order. Well, there was nothing more to do but wait. And knit.

Two days — and lots more nervous knitting — later, I had my results. Not cancer, not a mysterious nothing. No, it was a gallstone. A huge thing more than an inch in diameter. A gallstone? The relief of the diagnosis washed over me. I could totally deal with that. Compared with all the awful possible diagnoses that my imagination had birthed over the past few weeks, a gallstone was a gift.

I kept knitting on the Multnomah in the days that followed, but now, at least, I didn’t have the need to be distracted from a potentially devastating diagnosis. Now, I’d follow up with my doctor.

Yes, my doctor, for whom I was now incredibly grateful. Rather than being a worry-wort, she had been on top of things from the beginning – diligently following up on an oddball bit of bloodwork results. We discussed my history. I hadn’t had symptoms of a classic gallbladder attack, mostly because the gallstone was too large to be lodged in a bile duct. Rather, I tended to have pain in the center of my abdomen after eating. I’d chalked this up to reflux until I learned of the gallstone. Over several years, the pain had gradually worsened. Could most of my abdominal issues be due to this gallstone?

By the time I met with the surgeon to discuss a path forward, I was knitting the feather and fan border on the Multnomah. My range of emotions had gone from being worried sick to happy to have a rather benign diagnosis, to problem-solving and figuring out whether gallbladder removal was the best option.

Considering all the pain I’d been through, the surgeon and I decided on surgery. I thought it was fitting that I finished the Multnomah just as I came to the end of this medical odyssey and decided on surgery. A surgery project would be different, but the Multnomah saw me through the worst of it.

I wear the Multnomah a lot — it’s probably my most-worn shawl, due to its practical butterfly shape and colors that go with many things in my wardrobe. While others will see just a nice shawl, I see more. This shawl was my companion as I figured out a painful medical problem, and how to solve it. I feel that way about a lot of my projects: There was the cheerful rainbow scarf that saw me through a rough patch at work. The wrap I knit to ward off boredom on various business trips.   Each project is knit up not only of yarn, but also of whatever challenges and [good things] that I encountered during the knitting. And that’s what makes all of my projects special to me.

Multnomah back Multnomah batwing Multnomah front Multnomah side



Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

If You Knit Yourself A Cowl . . .

If you knit yourself a cowl

Prickle dress

You might want some mittens to go with it.

Prickle mittens

If you knit yourself some mittens, you might also want

Swirl Hat

a hat.

Well, that’s what happend to me, anyway. I chanced upon a new yarn at my LYS called Twizzle, from Mountain Colors, a wool/silk worsted weight blend, handpainted in fun colors.  I decided to buy a skein to play with, and made this pretty and practical Prickle Cowl for my sister-in-law for Christmas. (The colorway is Headwaters, which includes teal, brown, indigo, and other colors, as well.)

Prickle - wearing

It’s a moebius cowl with an interesting cast-on for which Cat Bordhi has an excellent YouTube video.  I enjoyed knitting it and the yarn so much that I decided to make one for myself.  Only this time, I chose a colorway called Blooming Gale that included my favorite shade of pink, and I bought two skeins so that I could make some mittens to match.

I went a size down on my needles (from a 10 to a 9), so as not to chew up as much yarn as I did with the first cowl, and came out with 30 grams of yarn left over.  I parked the leftovers, and cast on for the mittens, using my trusty mitten pattern.

When the mittens were cast off, I realized I had enough yarn from the cowl and mittens to make a hat, if I didn’t get too crazy with it.  I did a bit of poking around and found this Swirl Hat pattern.

What I liked about these three projects was the opportunity to see how the colorway behaves in different situations. With the cowl, the colors are dispersed. With the mittens, there’s a stripey effect with (thankfully) not much color pooling.  With the hat, there were little blocks and splotches of color that repeated at pleasing intervals.  Same colorway, three unique presentations, and one coordinated look.

Prickle and mittens

Cowl + mittens + hat

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment