Last summer I made and blogged about some little dolls called Peace Pals. They are knitted, soft, squeezable little things, about 5 inches tall, and totally appealing to kids. My son adopted one out of the bunch that I made, but the rest got donated to the folks at www.Knitting4Peace.org; they distribute these dolls worldwide to places of conflict where children especially need comfort. They ask that the dolls be made to ‘match’ the kids they are intended for, so mine have been made with dark brown yarn for faces and skin. Although there is conflict among people of all colors, darker dolls seem to be always in demand.
After one of my sisters saw the posts about these little dolls, she asked me if I would make a set for her grandkids. While the website says that this pattern and the dolls are to be used to fulfill the mission of Knitting4Peace, and cannot be sold or used for profit, I don’t think they would have a problem with this. I know the kids will love them, and now that there’s soon to be three(!) I couldn’t resist.
I got some peach-y yarn for the faces, and searched my stash for good yarn to use for blonde hair. I made a girl doll for my grand-niece and a boy doll for my grand-nephew. I used the yarn from her skirt for half of the stripes in his shirt, to tie them together. I used blue buttons for eyes (I hope they are both past the eating everything stage). But the really fun thing was that I learned how to make a little Peace Pal Baby.
There is a pattern for this on the website (as well as patterns for the other dolls). It is part of a kit for a newborn that includes the baby pal, a wash cloth, and a newborn hat. The pattern for the doll is written for knitting in the round, but I changed it to work it flat. No button eyes for this one, just embroidered sleeping eyes (here’s to hoping). I made her collar match the other two dolls, and gave her a little bit of fluffy hair to match her ‘sister’. They make a cute family, for sure!
Since we are all spread out, I sent the dolls to my sister first, so she can see them up close. Then she can send them on to my nephew whenever she wants, before early April when the baby is due. I can use the rest of the peach yarn to make some more light skinned pals; I’m sure Knitting4Peace will find them homes. And maybe I will make some more babies and newborn kits. It is for sure that we could use a little more comfort and peace in the world, everywhere, for all the colors!
The Glenfiddich Tunic is done! One of the last bits of any sweater work is blocking, and for this project I blocked at the very end when the sweater was completely finished. I soaked it in cold water until it was totally saturated. Then I rolled it gently in a towel, then pinned it out on my blocking mat. I used wires along the side seams and at the top of the sleeves/shoulders. This simple sweater is very straight, so super easy to block. After the wires were threaded through inside, I just pulled them to the proper width, then pulled the sweater to the right length. I made sure the sleeves were blocked to the right width, and then blocked them as long as they would comfortably go. The last adjustment I made was at the bottom hem; instead of leaving it blocked completely straight the way it was knit, I very gently flared it out at the bottom so it wouldn’t hug too tightly at the hips. After it was completely dry, I hit it from the front with my steam iron set for wool. Then I unpinned it, flipped it over, and steamed the back.
Some of the unevenness is still there, from whatever was going on with the yarn. Now though it is growing on me, and I think it is interesting looking. The very last thing I want to mention is how comfortable this is! It is totally easy to wear, and while it is unstructured it doesn’t look like a big box. It is not bulky, but kind of rustic and nicely casual. I am also pleasantly surprised to find that it is not rough or itchy. I was thinking I might have to layer it for comfort, but it is perfectly fine on its own. It took a while, but I am very happy with the outcome…my new every day go-to sweater.
Ahhh, the last bit of work to finish my tunic sweater is here — sewing the side seams, underarm, and sleeve seams, then weaving in ends — finishing! Some people dread finishing. I am kind of one of those people. I am not nearly as good at it as I am at knitting, and if it is done poorly, I think the whole sweater looks bad. It is really the seaming that is hard for me; weaving in ends is not too bad, especially if they fall at the edges where there is a little waste area to sew them into. It’s trickier to disguise them right in the middle of the fabric, so I always try to change yarns at the edges. Anything to make life simpler.
Seaming or joining is getting a little simpler because I have learned and am practicing the mattress stitch. Before, I just sewed my pieces together any which way, and it looked like it. Not smooth, not pretty, amateur. Now with the mattress stitch my sweaters look a lot better.
In a nutshell, you put the pieces to be seamed right side up, edges butted together. Working from the bottom up, you pick up under a bar of a stitch from side to side, going back and forth. This makes a kind of zigzag stitch that when pulled snug is almost a straight length of yarn along the seam. You can adjust the fabric of the sweater along this length of yarn, so the seam doesn’t end up too tight. The really awesome thing though is if you do it right it is almost invisible from the right side. The trick is where you pick up the little bars on the edges; if you pick up in a straight line on both sides, when you snug up the sewing yarn the two sides magically pull together to look like one knitted stitch right next to another knitted stitch. And there is a little bit of selvedge on the wrong side to weave ends into. Where I need more practice is in being able to ‘see’ the bars so I pick up in a straight line. Knitting reference books describe this stitch, and you can find descriptions with a Google search, and I can’t say it enough, YouTube is amazingly helpful.
Seaming and weaving can easily be a whole day’s work, so take your time, don’t rush it, and your seams will be beautiful.
So to fix the sleeves on my tunic, working one sleeve at a time, I pulled out the garter stitch border, picked up the live stitches, and added 20 more rows of stockinette stitch. On row 10, I did a decrease row the same way the decreases were done earlier in the sleeve. After 20 rows I did the garter stitch border, and then the bind off. I picked 20 rows because that should add 4 inches, and with some nice blocking, should end up making a 3/4 length sleeve. I still didn’t throw any lifelines. Go figure.
One note about binding off. Usually, a pattern won’t specify what kind of bind off you should do. So you are free to do any type you want! After I learned the Russian bind off, I tend to use that one. It is very stretchy, so it won’t add any support or structure. On the other hand, it is very stretchy so it is not binding or confining. I like it for cuffs, especially on sleeves that I might want to push up. I also used it on the neck edge of this tunic, although I probably could have used one that is a little more firm. I think it will be OK, hopefully it won’t end up too loose or floppy. The Russian bind off uses a bit more yarn than a simple ‘knit and flip’ bind off, and takes a little more time, but it is almost impossible to work it too tightly, which is an advantage. It doesn’t work everywhere, but I tend to use it more often that not. Lots of tutorials — Google and YouTube!
So, while my tunic is not quite a tunic yet (the sides and under arm seams are not sewn) I can kind of try it on and see how it will look. And the sleeves look short.
I knew they were not full length to the wrist, but my sleeves look like they are going to fall right at the elbow. Almost like a half length. I think this is too short for a wool sweater. I don’t want it to have a spring-summer feel, I want it to be more fall-winter. So I need to add some length to my sleeves.
So I unpicked the finishing knot at the end of my bind off and pulled out the stitches for the garter stitch border. I really quickly picked up the live stitches from the stockinette section before any of them could slip away. Luckily this yarn is 100% wool and kind of ‘grabby’ — all the stitches stayed where they were and I could get them on my needle without losing any. The whole thing still really makes me nervous, but it worked out, and practice makes you better, right?
Just a little note about doing this: when the stitches are along a live edge and you need to pick them all up, handle the piece very carefully! Don’t pull at it or shift it around; a stitch can very easily slip through and get lost. Then you have to get a crochet hook and go find it. Practice makes this easier, and there are videos on You Tube for help, but my best advice is to try to avoid losing stitches in the first place, if at all possible. Also, I pick up the stitches any which way, just get them on the needle so they are safe. When I am knitting my first row using the stitches, then I individually fix the twist of each stitch before I work it. Check YouTube to see how stitches should look on the needle so the twist ends up correct. I never can remember, and always double check. After that first row, then you are good to go.
Something else that I’ve used sometimes, and should use more often, are lifelines. This is a length of yarn or string that you thread through a row of stitches, and then just leave it in the knitted fabric until you are finished. The lifeline just gets pulled out if it is not needed, but if you need to frog part of your work, you simply pull back to the stitches on the lifeline, and then pick them up. They can’t get lost because they are caught by the line, and the twist will be correct because the line captures that too. I use them more on lace than plain knitting, but they always come in handy, and can be a real time saver if they are there when you need one. I like to use unwaxed dental floss; it is super strong, skinny, and pulls out smoothly with no unwanted fiber shedding. Some people drop a lifeline every so many rows while they knit, or after one repeat of a lace section, or just in a tricky part of the pattern. I’ll have to remember to use these more often.
The very last bit of construction left to do on my Glenfiddich Wool Terrific Tunic is the neck edge. Stitches are picked up around the neck edge and garter stitch is worked in the round to make a border that matches the hem and sleeve edging. Again, minimal shaping, but nice little details to make a pretty finished edge. Some of these stitches have been on stitch holders, and some are picked up from the knitted fabric. My shortest cable worked well, and I could knit in the round without too much pulling or stretching.
When I was at the trunk show in January, they had a sample of this tunic on a mannequin, and I thought the neckline looked too open. They suggested just working a few extra rounds if I wanted to fill it in a little. But when I had tried on my long ago knit in the round version, the neckline didn’t seem as open, so I just followed the pattern and didn’t add any extra rows. After working my bind off, I tried it on to see how it looked. The side seams and still not done, so it’s not a real sweater yet, but I can tell that the neckline is good, not too open at all. I’m really glad, since I already did the bind off. My circular needle was not quite long enough for me to try the sweater on before binding off, I was afraid of dropping some stitches, so I just did the bind off, and am super glad the neck looks great.
I read once that as soon as you finish a sleeve of a sweater you should immediately start the second sleeve. No waiting, no delay, no congratulating yourself on finishing one sleeve, no putting everything aside. The sweater is not finished, even though you feel a completion of sort.
I should have listened. I put the sweater down, and it took a few days to pick it up again. This is a mind game that knitting plays with you. For some reason, when you are done with one part but not yet started on another part, you (and by ‘you’ I also mean ‘I’) feel a bit finished. But if you start that next part, even just to pick up the stitches and get one row on the needles, then you feel like you need to keep going. Totally psychological.
I finally picked up stitches for the second sleeve, and since I was working on it during a school day, I got it finished really pretty quick. Now I will take my own advice and immediately pick up stitches around the neck edge. No waiting around!
So now that I have the front and the back of the tunic finished and connected at the shoulders, I am ready to pick up stitches and knit the sleeves. I have some of the yarn with less character (bumpiness) leftover from working the front, so I will start with that. Since the sweater is still flat, it will be easy to pick up a straight section for the sleeve and knit flat for the sleeve length. There are just a few rows with shaping, and the sleeves are not full length so it should go pretty quick. This is a pretty straight forward pattern. It would be great for someone’s first sweater attempt, an easy next step from making scarves. Don’t be scared…go for it!
I steamed along the edges where I am going to pick up stitches, not full on blocking but enough to smooth things out and make the stitches easier to see. I followed the pattern guidelines for the number of stitches to place, and how far to go from the shoulder seam. This measurement has been marked with removable stitch markers during construction so it was easy. I just divided each section evenly into roughly two and a half inch bits and picked up 8 stitches in each bit. Now it is just stockinette stitch with minimal shaping, ending with a garter stitch edge and bind off.
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I was right, the sleeve was easy and worked up pretty quick. I finished one in a day. I ran out of the yarn from the front piece pretty quick, and had to go to the yarn that was still knit up from my first attempt when I knit the front and back together in the round. This yarn has a lot of ‘character’ and the fabric from it looks a bit rough, almost as if there are holes in it. But it is what it is. I am finishing the sweater and will see how it looks at the end.
Whew…I am done with the front of the tunic, and I finished the piece with ‘non-bumpy’ yarn. It has a little character, that is what I’m going to call the bumpiness from now on, but is generally smooth. And very pretty. The color variation is evenly distributed, no pooling or big splotches. I am pretty happy with it.
I repeated the three needle bind-off for the shoulders. I just love that stitch. It makes such a smooth connection, and it is firm and strong without being bulky. You just have to plan to have live stitches, and the exact same number of stitches on each section you are joining. And you need three needles to do it. But it works so well; use it everywhere you can!
Now I am basically back to where I was before I started over. The only difference is that the side seams are open; before they were connected because I had knit in the round. That way I could try the tunic on. I can’t try it on now, but I know from before that it should fit well. Finally, I am moving on to something new–the sleeves!
I just realized something. I probably won’t do a quilt this year.
And by this year, I mean this school year while Evan is in first grade. I don’t like to quilt when Evan is home. First of all, it is harder to interrupt working on a quilt, at least for me. I like to have many hours to just stay with it and get progress made. I get better after I am ‘warmed up’ so to speak. My cutting gets better, my sewing gets more even, I get into a groove with whatever part I am on. So if I have to stop and start over and over, I think the quality of my work suffers. Second, there are too many dangerous things out when I am quilting, big fabric scissors, rotary cutters, steam iron. Nothing compatible with a 6 year old jumping around boy.
And since January is really almost done already, and he will be done with school in early June, and I have other projects started, knitting and crochet work, I don’t see a quilt happening until maybe next fall. Which is kind of a shame because I have a kit for a gorgeous wall hanging that I’ve been wanting to do, and a jacket, and a pin cushion, and some microwave safe bowl holders, and another bed quilt, and a cat quilt, and ideas for a Halloween quilt. It will take me a decade (literally?) to do all that. Maybe I can get the pin cushion done…