Monday, February 17, 2014

work in progress

Sunrise this morning, through my bedroom window.

I'll just have to take my word for it.

That white spot behind the icicles?
That's the sun.
I swear.

I've not been very energetic or productive recently. It would be easy to withdraw further into a huddled sense of "waiting out" this weather. But I'm dodging that attitude by having a little knitting "wip" (work in progress) near to hand. If I feel restless or anxious or dull, I can always pick up the knitting and know that I am doing something potentially useful while listening to audiobooks or watching DVDs in the evening.

It was an old BBC episode of Lord Peter Wimsey that set me off on my current project. Do you know the stories by Dorothy L. Sayers? The wonderful actor Ian Carmichael was the Lord Peter Wimsey, I think, but this particular episode, Have His Carcase, was part of a 1987 BBC series starring Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter and Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane.

Harriet Vane apparently favored knitwear.
Lovely 1930s knitwear.

Did you notice the hat?

Now, here's a thing about knitters. 
At least some knitters. 
At least this knitter.

I often become fascinated by knitted articles I cannot rationally justify making.

Whimsical tea cozies that will not fit my actual teapot.

Intricately-patterned mittens that could never, ever be worn to the barn.

Lacework shawls. Which I won't even link to, because we could be here all night.

I mean, really. Shawls. To say that I do not have a shawl-wearing lifestyle at the present time would be a significant understatement.

So while I deeply admire many knit designs and have saved about two thousand projects on Ravelry and Pinterest, I very rarely actually knit anything that does not have a clear purpose. Like socks. Or cotton washcloths. That sort of thing.

But the Harriet Vane hat...

it spoke to me. 

I stopped the DVD, went back and played the "hat scenes" over and over. I took a few screenshots. I did a pattern search on Ravelry for "tam," and found many, including one that I intend to knit soon. But I didn't find the exact Harriet Vane hat. I started a thread, tapping into the power of the Rav hivemind to come up with specific pattern suggestions. As a result, I looked at dozens of patterns, hundreds of project photos, learning more about this style of hat but still not finding the elements that would make it identical to Harriet's hat.

Then...I stepped back and thought about those elements. I started looking really closely at the screenshots, and trying to determine how - exactly - it was constructed. This process is called "reverse engineering," and it is not one of my strong points, knitting-wise. In fact, I don't think I've ever done it before.

Crikey, what fun!
Make a few notes!
Cast on!
See what happens!

As you can already see, I'm no longer married to the idea of an identical hat - and by the way, I don't even know who I am knitting this hat for - but I am shooting for the overall effect, and am very curious to see how close I will come.

Knitting tip! Do you see that white thread (actually dental floss) on the tapestry needle? In knitters' jargon, it's called a "lifeline." This is a handy technique to use any time there is a good possibility that you will have to rip back a section of work and start again from that point.

Ripping back is easy. Some call it "tinking" because "tink" is the reverse of "knit." Heh. All you have to do is pull the needles out (gasp) of all the "live" stitches and then gently tug away those hours of labor. I mean stitches.

The tricky thing, after ripping back, is to get the "live" stitches back onto your needles. They shrink away, those little loops. They disappear, and they become "dropped stitches" which create more drama to be dealt with before you can even pick up where you left off and start again.

BUT. Could we rewind for a moment?

If you take just a few minutes to thread a strand of string, or thin yarn, or dental floss (my favorite) through each live stitch in one row while it is still on your needles, before anything goes wonky, just in case you may need to rip back and redo a section...

well, in that case, you end up with this:

a perfect and complete row of live stitches, held safely intact by the lifeline until you can ease the needles back into place.
And then you can carry on your merry, knitterly way. Tra-la!

I put a lifeline in last night, and tonight I ripped back a few inches of new knitting because I was not satisfied with the shaping of the decrease section that was beginning to form the crown of the hat. And now, after patting myself on the back for taking the time to put in the lifeline, I will put each stitch back on the needles and begin that section again, with a slightly different approach, and we shall see what happens.

The yarn feels lovely, The stitch definition is delightful. And so far, I am having fun playing around with the magic of shaping a three-dimensional piece of fabric by means of a simple stitch. 

It's a work in progress, and sometimes that's at least as important as the end result.



  1. Hi Quinn, I have learned something new tonight reading your blog. I will have to tell my hubby who knitter in the family. Lately it has been more rip out then elsewise or so he says. Thank you for stopping by my blog. It had been quite a week, but he is moved and it is better. I decided to take a little break from my embroidery and catch up with friends. Have a great day. Hugs and Prayers from Your Missouri Friend.

  2. This is a great tip, especially when you're trying to recreate a pattern (which I've never done). Good luck with your tam creation! I recently knit a hat that someone recreated from the Harry Potter movies. I admire anyone who can do this just by sight!! Have a great week ... hope those icicles melt away soon ;) Wendy x

  3. The icicles are beautiful in the sun. Fine specimans.

    I love the Lord Peter Wimsey series, except our library doesn't have that particular one. So I didn't notice the hat but the more photos you showed, the more I loved it! You did a great analysis on it.

  4. I used to love that Lord Peter Wimsey series! We read The Nine Tailors as a set text in English lessons when I was about 14 and from then on I was hooked! I'll have to start reading them again - and watch the programmes too.

    Your hat is going to be a triumph! I wouldn't know where to start with working out a pattern by myself. Good luck!

  5. What a great idea! Especially after having been there for so many projects that just don't fit. Can't wait to see the finished product. And the icicles are fabulous! Hugs, Terri

  6. Love your "curtain" of icicles, thanks for sharing cause this is something I don't get to share. I have knitted shawls and like you I'm not a shawl person. I use them more like a knitted throw to keep warm when reading. I love your hat.

  7. >>>>> Shirley and September Violets and Cache-Mire, I can't tell you the number of times I've been glad I put in a lifeline...or regretted that I had not! The key is using a very blunt needle, I think called a crewel or tapestry needle. I use the same one I use for kitchenering the toes of handknit socks. The blunt end makes it much easier to thread the floss cleanly through the stitches on the needle, instead of splitting the yarn and getting the floss stuck in the yarn fibers. The lifeline should be longer than the entire piece of knitting, and it should move freely. When I knit in the round, I tie the ends so it is a big loop. Good luck! :)

  8. >>>>> Lucy, I *loved* The Nine Tailors! I can hear Ian Carmichael now, volunteering to step in with no notice or training, to pull a rope in the marathon hero!!! ;)

  9. I am anxious to see the finished results of this - so pretty! And, I do love the looks of the shawls, but tend to give them away once made (though the smaller ones I can wear bandana like...yeah, my life style doesn't afford much wearing room for shawls, either). LOVE the icicles...MISS icicles...HATE cactus this time of year! I know how badly you are all hoping for sunshine, though - hope some is headed your way! Tanya

  10. >>>>>Tanya, I am sorry to report it has been snowing very heavily since early this morning...

  11. What a clever idea to use the dental floss stuff! thanks for that heads up.
    Your icicles are pretty beautiful though I dare say the suns rays bring the sparkle to them, that makes them bearable after the first 24 hrs!
    Rather you than me...........Im shivering looking at them!

  12. Oh and sorry, love the hat!
    Its practical and in a lovely colour so it would be ideal for trotting round outdoors and its a great design!

  13. Perhaps you didn't read the novel itself? where he comments that indeed he had a lot of practice ringing the chimes, in the parish where his ancestral home is. He discusses this with the vicar, only saying he was a bit rusty on the sequence they were ringing. They could never have safely let a beginning in on this event, since you can easily be hanged in the ropes if you don't know exactly what you're doing. And her bellringing knowledge was impeccable!

    It's another instance of Lord P. knowing the most unusual stuff and doing it!

  14. Ooh. Can't wait to see how close to the original you do get. And isn't a hat's purpose to keep your head warm. See, it is a useful article you're knitting ;)

    The whippets tinked my WIP today ... I now have a broken circ and a bird's nest of unravelled yarn to sort out.

  15. >>>>>Oh, Annie! Much sympathy! You've got your work cut out for you. I am so lucky that Piper has never grabbed a WIP, though over the years she has managed to mistake two new balls of yarn and one of my circs for dog toys.

  16. How surprised I was to see this hat on your blog! I knitted this for the costume designer when I was an art student in Brighton back in the 80s and was looking for a picture of it online. I can't remember the pattern, it was an old vintage one I'd found.

    1. Oh Katy! The first part of your comment made my heart rise and I was ready to beg you for the pattern immediately, such luck, I guess! Oh well, now I know it's "out there, somewhere" in vintage-pattern land and may be find-able :)
      Anyway, it's pretty amazing that you found the hat here, and I'm very glad you commented! Thank you :)


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