Ever since I have reached adulthood, I have broken my Mum's convention that all mature women must have short hair. After so many years of pixie cuts and shags, my rebellion has been to wear longer hair styles. I have a good excuse. My curly locks get kinkier and curlier the shorter they are cut, so long and loose is how I hang.
Of course, like everyone else, I have bad hair days. For years, I have scoured department stores and hair boutiques for clever barrettes and sassy hats, to help out on those days when I fight the hair and the hair wins. So when the Berroco rep. showed us the booklet featuring Borealis, one of their great, new yarns for Fall 2010, and on the cover was a clever kerchief, from first glance, I knew I had to knit one. A quick and easy project knit in a lofty, super bulky yarn, Outre' is a weekend project. The only question was which of the glimmering, lavish colorways would I knit up first?
I chose the brightest colorway, figuring the holidays were a time to be a bit outlandish, and cast on the fat single ply on #11 single points. After years of knitting only on circulars, I am enjoying digging in my basket for vintage needles. I am having retro fun, even with these primitive, plastic pariahs. There is a tiny, sharp nib of plastic, right at each point that is appalling and I made a mental note to toss them after this project, but in my heart of hearts I know, I have never trashed a knitting needle. There is always a less particular knitter who will come along, happy to give them a home.
As you can see, the long, seed stitch band looks fabulous in the plys of blended wool and acrylic, each stitch plump and proper. When picking up the stitches for the attached kerchief, I used stitch markers to divide the band into sections, making it easy to estimate where to place the 63 knit stitches.
Of course, I had to show all the guys and gals at knit night my latest in progress project. Even with only the first ball (of two) knit, they, too, just adored this novel, yet practical design.
Afterwards, we all met for a holiday party, so it was the next day when my kerchief was finished. Then, all that was left to do was post it on Ravelry and find the perfect outfit to compliment my new accessory. Now isn't this a sassy topper? And it isn't even a bad hair day.
I always enjoy checking out the statistics from Kay's Korner - which articles are read the most, the searches that lead knitters to the posts, and of course, the comments. Most every month, a large percentage of these are from knitters wanting more info about hand knits for men. I do love knitting for all the men in my life and my son, Luke, is both a yarn shop owner and knitter, so I try to stay well versed on the subject. As many men enjoy wearing hand knits, from chunky sweaters to snappy hats, it was easy to get feedback to the question, "what hand knits do men like best"?
Although in the U.S., knitting is considered primarily a womanly pursuit, the number of men knitters is steadily growing, as men recognize more the creative, productive, and calming attributes of the craft. Historically, men were the first knitters, fashioning fishing nets from twine. Men have had careers in mill work for centuries. In modern times, men enjoy knitting masculine hats, scarves and sweaters as a hobby, often to add to their own wardrobes.
When I posed the question of what to knit for men to the women, many mentioned the stigma attached to the "boyfriend sweater", along with other projects knitted for a loved one who seems less committed in a relationship. I suppose my view on this is skewed, as I knit a handsome, cable yoke, wool sweater for my husband, just months before he proposed. He tells everyone how he recognized my commitment to him through that first sweater. It was a part of what he considered when deciding that I was the right gal for him. Thirty years later, we are still together and I am still knitting for him. He often sports hats and scarves from my needles and in fact, one of the first patterns I designed was a cabled scarf for him in a luscious, lofty, alpaca/silk yarn of a lovely gray. Bill's current favorites are hand knit socks and I am determined to fill his sock drawer with my lovingly knit tootsie warmers. That first sweater hangs on a wall in Rare Purls Yarn Boutique, a testament to both the longevity of our relationship and the durable good looks of a fine wool.
Whether it is a mother, brother, lover, room mate, sister, or friend, knitters want to know how their men will react to their hand knit gift. They often ask for suggestions and advice, wanting their project to not only convey affection, but to be worn as well, not stashed away in a closet. Bottom line, I think everyone loves it when someone takes the time to knit a garment or accessory for them. It makes no difference whether the gift took 2 weeks or 20, a hand knit gift speaks volumes about a relationship.
So what are the most popular hand knit projects for men? I took my own survey of family and friends and there was no surprise at their #1 answer - socks! Whether worn with tennis shoes, loafers, or Birkenstocks, men love soft, warm socks and though most women I spoke to claimed their men only wanted the dark, solid variety, most men said they enjoyed the opportunity to flash a fancier ankle. Just as some men love brightly patterned neck ties, some men also like interesting texture and colorways in their socks. People in general are inspired by color and patterns, so it certainly follows that men enjoy them, too.
Of course afghans are also a popular gift knit for men. I knit a sweetheart a throw for Christmas my last year of high school and I am sure it has lasted far longer than our relationship. The friend who introduced me to my husband proudly displays a throw from an old flame in his living room and takes good care of the piece all these years later. Several years ago, I had my older son, Will, choose yarns for a throw. Following his conservative choices of color in apparel, he chose many shades of blue with black for the chevron striped project. He truly liked the idea of his Mum knitting something just for him. To this day, my guys' favorite covers are two oversize throws that are super soft and comfy. The basketweave stitch blankets stay parked at various sofas, ready to warm a late night of movies or a nap.
Naturally, when the weather turns cool, many men love a knit hat to warm them. I truly hope that one day, snappy knit hats will stamp out ball caps, though that is probably a pipe dream. A matching scarf completes the ensemble, though I have noticed most men do not trouble with matching anything. Currently, I am putting the final rows on a merino/silk scarf in linen stitch for our Rare Purls' landlord and I know it will look grand with his upscale wardrobe. Yes, hats and scarves are certainly gifts welcomed by men and the favorite projects of novice male knitters. The general response to my survey was to forget the fringe and make sure of a generous size. Three inch scarves that are eighty inches long are not the choice of the men I surveyed. Think practically - a cozy six by sixty inch scarf is great for the South, but adding a few inches to the width will better break the wind in more harsh climes. For snow sports, earflap hats and ski masks are most welcome and consider using the more insulating fibers such as alpaca or wool. Men also appreciate functionality, so a superwash wool or other washable yarn is always a good choice.
My current project, destined for my hubby's chest of drawers, is a teal and sea green button up vest, a basic pattern from Lion Brand. I am using Rustic Wool, a self striping, superwash wool yarn from Queensland Collection. The DK yarn is knitting to the perfect weight for our Georgia weather and I am only a couple seams and a front band away from completing this project. Bill chose the vivid colorway, a choice I certainly would not have made for him, but he loves it. Vests are a versatile addition to any wardrobe. Choose pullover or button up, they both are great for layering. Is your fellow a jeans kind of guy? A vest slips on easily for a cold night. If you man is more GQ, Whit, a Straker design, is a classic cabled vest that will warm both his body and heart. If you really want to make it special, go for cashmere, super fine merino, or alpaca, spun solo or in a blend. Do not forget to make the buttons count, as well. Wooden or plastic buttons give a more casual effect, where pewter or brass are more lasting and showy.
Other welcome hand knits for men range from beer cozies to floor mats. Consider the man and his lifestyle, then choose a project to please. Where I cannot think of a single man who would welcome a lace doily or smoke ring cowl, I know of several who would appreciate a felted dog collar and leash. Last year Luke knit a flask cover for his friend, Chef Eric, and the nouvelle cuisine afficianado found it both clever and individual. For years I have thought my older son might enjoy a felted laptop carrier, custom sized for his Macbook. Whether you choose the tried and true or think outside the box, knitting for the man in your life can be interesting knitting and who knows, he might just knit you something back.
No, I have not flown the coup! Nor do I have "blog fade." I like to do things in batches. I cook up a storm one day a week. I knit several projects at once and I also work on several several different articles at any given time. But as I have heard a few grumblings, "when are you going to post again?", here is the latest chapter of On Kay's Needles. I have to say, it is nice to be missed (:
Of the many articles published here, the two subjects that draw the most comments recently are knitted gifts for men and techniques for knitting with hand dyed yarns. Coincidentally, two of my current projects will cover both. Ravelry is rockin' with variations of Kate Gilbert's Clapotis, originally introduced on Knitty.com, a wonderful on line collection of free seasonal patterns. Many of my knitting friends have made their own versions of this savvy scarf and initially, I considered a solid color worsted for my project. But after reading Kate's notes about how the dropped stitches play against the background striping when a hand dyed yarn is used, I opted for Andes by Ester Bitran in a yummy, fresh yellow/tangerine orange colorway.
After completing 12 row repeats for the center section, I adored how I was able to unravel the dropped stitches as I go, giving me a sneak preview of the finished project. After many years of working with my own dropped stitch projects, I see why Ms. Gilbert used twisted stitches to keep the ladders neat, especially when working with a smooth yarn. In my Aqua Wrap, a drop stitch wrap knit in slippery nylon and synthetic fibers, after several wears the ladders migrated leaving an allover loose, but attractive fabric. The addition of twisted stitches seems to have tamed this migration in Clapotis.
Where the third 100 gram hank of Andes was spit joined to the project, there is a definite difference in the color saturation, even though all of the hanks had come out of the same bag from Ester Bitran. The new hank also has larger sections of pooling, but neither difference causes me concern. I consider both part of the art of hand dyed yarns. Vive la difference! The overall effect is quite pleasing.
As for the hand of the yarn, the soft, springy, 100% wool was enjoyable to knit. There was a bit of tackiness in the strands that resisted the unraveling process, which lets me know this yarn would felt well, as the yarn rep. had mentioned when he first showed it to me. I will remember this tidbit for future projects. I believe this, in addition to the twisted stitches, will also help the ladders to stay neat during wear and laundering.
Although the size of my Clapotis is generous, certainly large enough for a stole, I am not wowed how it looks worn this way. But when I wrap it as a scarf, there is a most charming, gentle spiraling of the fabric from neck to ends. The dropped stitch ladders keep this accessory from being too bulky or unyielding and combined with the spiraling effect, give a look that is quite pleasing. The finished project feels cuddly and comfortable nestled around my neck and I am looking forward to wearing this Kate Gilbert design come our first cold snap.
As I enjoy the simple, clean lines of new designer Hillary Smith Callis, I have had her Cerus Scarf in my to do queue for a quite awhile. When I wanted to knit a special gift for Rare Purls' landlord, Mr. Doug Spohn, I knew it would be the perfect choice. Mr. Spohn, who asks me to call him Doug, but this man is worthy of a title, is a very tall and lean gentleman with a head full healthy gray hair. He has always been supportive of Rare Purls and helpful in so many ways, so I asked him to come by the shop and choose a yarn for a scarf. Personally, I have always thought that a nice gray, not too dark, looks handsome on a man with all gray or silver hair and he is no exception. He, too, liked Venezia, a luxurious blend of 70% soft merino wool and 30% pure silk in a lustrous worsted weight yarn by our friends at Cascade Yarns. I found the perfect shade of gray that will look equally fabulous with his long, black, cashmere coat or his denims, on a more casual day.
This pattern is pure linen stitch, which means slipped stitches in every row, so the progress on my US9 Inox Express circular is slow going. Knitting with Venezia is dreamy and the yarn is lovely in the woven look seen on the front of the linen stitch pattern. On the back side, the yarn performs equally well, enhancing the seed like effect. I actually have to be watchful that I do not lapse into seed stitch, as the linen stitch is so similar and I work with seed so often. Although I am usually fairly rigid about scarves being knit in a reversible pattern, for this project I make exception. Both sides have interest and where neither side is overly busy, there will be no need for the wearer to fiddle with trying to keep only the front side public.
I am past the halfway point in Cerus, but as the stitch pattern quickly tires my hands, I have been alternating projects often to give them a rest. Even so, I will have no problem finishing this classy, masculine design in time for Mr. Spohn to sport during our local fall festival.
Copyright September 2010
My itch to stitch is not seasonal. I juggle projects as deftly as the Cirque Soleil clowns do their orbs and it makes no difference whether it is mid-winter or during this summer heat wave. What is different is the fibers I choose to cast on. As summer dining varies from the comfort foods of December, summer knitting is at its best with a steady diet of light, breathable fibers. Like a light, fresh salad is delightful on a hot day, plant fibers are front and center on the summer fiber buffet.
Just today, I finished Cathy Carron's Top with Cowl from Vogue Knitting's spring/summer 2010 issue. I chose a double strand of Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy in spring green for my ensemble. Hempathy is a light weight yarn, spun from actual plant fibers, with a crisp texture and vivid colors. Yes, the yarn softens with each washing and even with the handling given during my knitting, but the character is not lost. So many of todays new "natural" plant yarns are milled as extruded plies, soft and pliable to the touch, but far removed from their phyto origins. The hemp fibers are reminiscent of linen and other bast fibers, much closer to the field than the laboratory.
So many of the newer sweater patterns are knit from the top down and this one is a great example. I enjoyed watching the seamless construction quickly develop from neck edge, to yoke, down to the openwork skirt. I did take a detour and worked the detached cowl early in my knitting. It has been a perfect addition to several other outfits over the past couple of weeks and is already a popular project around the shop. The easy seed stitch fabric, knit on a #15 circular needle, brightens an outfit without adding significant warmth or weight. Worn with the sweater, it provides a bit of modesty, mostly covering the low plunging neckline. Even still, I will not be comfortable without seaming closed at least part of the deep v-neck, which will not appreciably alter the look of my project. My petite neck to waist length leaves the neckline open clear down to mid-belly, where VK's model is obviously blessed with a longer torso. A coordinating camisole or tank top is another modest possibility. In fact, I also like the look of my sweater when the front is worn in back, keeping the girls covered and adding interest to the rear view.
But it is the openwork skirt that is the true star of this design. Knit with a progression of larger needle sizes, the bottom edge becomes a riot of oversized stitches that softly cascade from the stockinette body. The wide edging mirrors the stitch pattern in the cowl, nicely pulling together the look of the design.
Yes, this savvy hand knit is fetching! The look is perfect for an al fresco dinner or a day of summer sale shopping. Between the breathable fibers and the ventilation offered by the full and openwork skirt, my summer top stays comfortable even out in the heat. I often expound the virtue of season spanning knits, but this sassy, warm weather knit deserves exception. I know that by the end of September, I will turning to chill chasing cardis, but until that time, this vernal design will stay in my wardrobe queue.
Copyright Kay Mather 2010
For the past several days, I have been enjoying my latest issue of Vogue Knitting, my favorite of all the knitting periodicals. What made it even better? It is the premiere Early Fall edition, giving us a head start on our fall and winter wardrobes. When Vogue Knitting readers were polled, it came back that what they wanted most was more patterns, more of the savvy designs and great photography that make this periodical a perennial favorite with knitters everywhere . In response, Soho Publishing made the decision to halt publication of one of their less popular fashion craft magazines, Knit 1, and to add a fifth issue of Vogue Knitting. What a great idea, to give knitters a jump on fall knitting, the time of year when our hand knits are not only beautiful, but necessary!
As always, my new issue has already been the subject of the day for two days running. I know Luke is tired of hearing me tell him about all the great yarn and ideas that I am gleaning from the ads. I actually like the ads in this publication. They are a good source for what is the newest, latest, and best from many yarn companies, designers, and notion retailers. I also enjoy the articles, reading every one from start to finish as I have done for so many years.
But it is the marvelous hand knit fashions that are the substance and delight of Vogue Knitting. Page after page of stunning photographs, featuring the latest designs from a list of today's most talented designers. I always have such confidence in the patterns offered and usually have a Vogue Knitting garment on needles. I have Cathy Carron's Top with Cowl from the 2010 Spring/Summer issue in my knitting bag ready to cast on and the cover project, a lace capelet by Tanis Gray, has been an object of my desire from the first moment I laid eyes on it. In this latest issue, there are so many more interesting possibilities. The mohair/silk cropped cardi is snazzy and the gray Lutz and Patmos sweaters are mesmerizing me. And I am not alone, it seems. According to Yarn Market News, in a web based survey of 5,000-plus knitters by the Craft Council of America, a whooping 76% of knitters get their project ideas from magazines, reaching 80% in the 45 - 54 year old age group. Although we love the newer on line pattern sources, knitting magazines are still the preferred format and for me, Vogue Knitting reigns supreme. The magazine has enjoyed over 25 years of updating knitters on the latest in hand knitting and many of these back issues are still available through their website.
Although you must go to your local yarn shop for many knitting pattern books, Vogue Knitting is as close as your mailbox. It is also widely available in book stores and other venues that stock periodicals, as well as many yarn shops. Of course, as I am easily amused and get a small thrill when I find the latest issue awaiting me in our stack of mail, subscribing is my preference and certainly the most economical way to enjoy Vogue Knitting. I keep every issue, knowing I will enjoy thumbing through the pages again and again and that each time I will see the beauty in a project, previously overlooked. My workshop table is literally cluttered with back issues, where I so often refer back to articles and patterns.
Yes, in a world where often we are asked to be happy with less, Vogue Knitting has decided to give us more. I love the new issue and the many features now available on their website www.vogueknitting.com, including more views of the designs and even more news from the hand knitting world. I confess to being a knitting magazine junkie, but there is no doubt which is the one who will have the "must knit" to add to my queue. Vogue Knitting draws from so many wonderful contributors, including the huge talents of Meg Swansen, Nicky Epstein, Shiri Mor, and Brandon Mably. The definition of vogue according to the New Oxford American Dictionary is "the prevailing fashion or style at a particular time" and Vogue Knitting certainly delivers this to readers, issue after issue.
Copyright June 2010