knitting cables

Voilà: Shire Scarf

Lately, I’ve had all kinds of GTD energy, picking up languishing design WIPS that are mostly done, but abandoned for one excuse or another (I have an infinite supply of excuses). I don’t know exactly what’s prompting me to pick up old projects, but it’s probably some combination of forcing myself to work out at the gym, boredom, chagrin that I abandoned them in the first place (especially this one that was completely finished except for formatting into my pattern template), a desire to drop the phrase “passive income” into casual conversation, and a need to feel productive while binge-watching New Tricks (love Brian “Memory” Lane) and A Touch of Frost.

So, I finished my Shire Scarf that was rejected by Knitty, composed a limerick for it, added it to Ravelry and Craftsy, and now lookie here: a blog post.

My friend Angie took the photos at her little farm in June 2015 (!). And then we ate a delicious chicken dinner.*

Pattern Details: Shire Scarf by Robin Allen | A Texas Girl Knits

A knitter once had a desire
For a scarf of cables entire
Right and wrong must look same
For that’s playing the game
And here is the winner called Shire!

Shire is a heavily cabled scarf that uses 4-stitch cable crossings on both right and wrong sides to produce alternating bands of cables and lattice. And it’s reversible! Both sides look the same, but are not identical.


  • Written and charted instructions
  • Sizing options
  • Reversible
  • Looks great on both sides

Knitting, purling, cabling. (Cabling without a cable needle would be very helpful.)

One. Approximately 6” (15cm) x 68” (173cm).

Valley Yarns Northampton 100% wool; 247yd/226m per 100g skein Natural; 2 skeins.

1 pair size US 8 (5mm) needles.

Cable needle, yarn needle, removable stitch marker.

34 sts/26 rows = 4” (10cm) in cable pattern, blocked.
20 sts/28 rows = 4” (10cm) in stockinette stitch, blocked.


To Ponder: The weaker the body is, the more it commands; the stronger it is, the more it obeys. |-John-Jacques Rousseau-|


Finito: Stormy Cables

Back when I was still in my forties, I started knitting a cabled sweater. Something to keep my hands occupied when I wasn’t working on an original design.

When I was close to finishing, it got set aside, as knitting projects do, then eventually buried beneath other projects on the love seat situated at the foot of Mount Vesuvius in my office in Pompeii.*

I think I stopped working on this Stormy Cables pullover because I was going to have to make some decisions about the neckline—decisions I wasn’t ready for, owing to both laziness and the fact that I was busy working on a complex cabled sweater design (which itself has been set aside due to 100% laziness about making decisions about the neckline).

The street I live on.

A few weeks ago, I dug Stormy out of the rubble and discovered that the neckline looked pretty good, and I had set it aside when it was just about done.  I needed to work only a few more rows and bind off the neck, sew closed the underarms, and weave in all the ends. At most three hours of work, but probably closer to two.

So, I set it aside again.**

Two weeks later, I finished the neckline and bound off. (Binded off? I should know this.)

And then I read a few books, planned a trip to visit my BFF, sold a few things on eBay, taught my 3,000th yoga class, watched the first four episodes of Miss Fisher, celebrated Easter, binge-watched the entire fourth season of Haven, and filed my quarterly sales tax report.

Then a few hours ago, I had this.

Woven in (weaved in?) ends.

And then I had this.

My new Christmas sweater.

My new Christmas sweater.

I love this almost as much as I loved screwing around for months and months since I started it. Can I count this as an accomplishment even though it took me two years to finish?

More pictures on my Ravelry project page.

*I considered posting a picture of the burial ground, but I embarrass myself enough accidentally without doing it on purpose and on the internets.

**Surely you saw that coming.

To Ponder: Excellence in anything increases your potential in everything. |-Joe Rogan-|

Decision: Scarf by Knitty

Remember how Knitty published my Atomic Fingerless Mitts a couple of months ago?

Well, as anyone who has anything to do with stock market investments always reminds you, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

I don’t know why Amy Singer doesn’t want my cool, reversible, cabled Shire scarf, but, dingdang it, she doesn’t.

On the bright side:

  • Knitty wants you to submit a publish-ready pattern, so it’s a go for my own indie launch.
  • I paid off my mortgage in June, so the honorarium payment would have been used for something silly, like yarn or an Achiever t-shirt.*
  • It’s not like I have to go out and get a proper job because of it.

*Yes, I’m aware of the irony of advertising myself as an achiever, when I have clearly failed in the modest task that was my charge.

To Ponder: It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them. |-Dolly Freed-|

Submission: The Sweater to Knitscene

No, The Sweater isn’t finished, but it’s close enough to make me confident that I can finish it for Knitscene if they want it.

This is for their Winter 2015 issue, and their call had a very simple description:

That first nip of cold weather is a signal to knitters everywhere to break out the woolens and warm layers. We’re seeking submissions for our Winter Essentials collection—perfect items to knit for women and men that play on the traditional winter wardrobe staples. Use texture, color, and clever twists on basic silhouettes in must-knit garment and accessory designs.

There’s no specific colorwork or cable or style icon story, so it seems like anything goes.

Knitscene is part of Interweave Press, so they want you to send an actual knitted swatch via snail mail. I thought I was going to submit something else, but that didn’t come together in time, which means that by the time I decided to submit The Sweater, it was almost the last minute.

My sweater is probably a wee bit advanced for Knitscene’s target knitters, which are beginner to intermediate, but they’ve published a few challenging patterns:

Skill builders.                                                                                                |Photos (c)Knitscene|

If you must know, I almost didn’t submit this sweater for the silliest reason. If they accept your proposal, they keep the swatch, presumably to compare it to your finished item to make sure you didn’t pull a switcheroo. I had knit a serious swatch for this sweater, and, well, I wanted to keep it.*

A new take on a traditional staple.

But Knitscene can’t accept what I don’t send, so I packaged it up and mailed it off.

*I told you it was a silly reason.

To Ponder: A successful individual typically sets his next goal somewhat but not too much above his last achievement. |-Kurt Lewin-|

Two Black Fridays

No, not marathon shopping among crowds of bargain hunters under torturous conditions. I haven’t done that since I wore makeup every day and drove a Mercedes.

A shiny money pit.

I’m talking about rejections.

Last Friday, I received back the swatch for my kerchief thing I submitted to Interweave Knits for their Summer 2015 issue. This thing is so cute, with its bobbles and eyelet details, I thought for sure they would want it.

This was a lot of work.

My second rejection came from Knit Picks. I had submitted two cabled items for their Fall 2015 call for submissions—a cabled capelet and The Sweater.

I knit up a swatch for the capelet, which turned out beautiful and interesting if I do say, and submitted a PDF to them.

The main cable.

I debated whether to submit The Sweater because the pattern deadline was pretty quick and this design is taking for-e-vah and if Knit Picks accepted the capelet I would have two complex cabled patterns due at the same time. But I’m close to done with it, and I figured I could jam on the pattern if I had to, so I submitted it the day of the deadline. I didn’t have time to create a schematic, so I skipped it, hoping they would love the design so much they wouldn’t even notice.

The Friday before last, I got two rejections in a single email.

On the bright side:

  • I can submit the kerchief thing somewhere else.
  • I can sell the little kerchief swatch at the farmer’s market to a little flower child.
  • I can reuse the cables for the capelet on another design.

To Ponder: Anti-social behaviour is a trait of intelligence in a world full of conformists. |Nikola Tesla|

If I Had a Hammer

If I had a hammer, I’d arrange all of my illusions about designing the perfect cabled sweater in a circle and smash them one by one.

Let’s take them in order of size.

1. Flow an interesting ribbing into the main design. I actually accomplished that, but there’s a new problem: the cables at the neck don’t flow into the ribbing. Or rather, they could if I worked hard enough, but this design has been on my needles since March—and on my nerves since July—and I simply don’t have it in me. So all the fiddling and charting I’ve already done to make sure this works for all sizes matters not.

It’s breaking my heart to let this go.

Therefore, K2, p2 ribbing is as interesting as it’s going to get.

2. Use a combination of raglan sleeves and saddle shoulder strips to create a feminine silhouette. I did that too, but when I tried to explain it in writing, my brain started to sizzle. And when I thought about doing it for all sizes, there was a cerebral meltdown that I’m still not fully recovered from. So all the ripping and knitting I did to change the sleeve to a raglan matters not.

Therefore, I’m following the lead of Irish knitters everywhere and going with a drop sleeve.

3. Keep the center cable fully intact at the neckline. In other words, knit a full repeat of the cable rather than cutting it off any ol’ where when it’s time to start binding off for the neck. I made it work for the prototype, but the cable has 36 rows, which is incompatible with a full repeat for all the normal sizes of a sweater. What’s even worse is that I knew this would be a problem going in, but I Scarlett O’Haraed the issue, and now Tara is burning.

But lookie here:

These cables look just fine.

The doyenne of crazy complex cable design, Alice Starmore, isn’t bothered by it, so neither will I be.

4. Publish this pattern by the start of the fall/winter knitting planning season, which is around August or September. (Apparently, knitters who don’t live in south Texas experience the type of weather during those months that turns their thoughts to warmth.) This required that a) my design was perfect from the start, and b) I enjoy having what amounts to a wool blanket in my lap while the daily high temperature could dehydrate a watermelon into a fruit rollup in about 11 hours.

Two negatives do not make a positive, and since there’s no such thing as a C-section when birthing a sweater, it will come out when it’s ready.

On the bright side:

  • After writing this post, I’m getting ideas about how I might could rescue two of my illusions from the hammer. (Not #4; it’s October. Plus, if I could go back in time, I can think of other more urgent and profitable things to do.)
  • I made up all these rules for my sweater, so I can change them.
  • Now I know why Irish knitters and influential designers don’t do anything edgy with these types of cabled sweater.

To Ponder: All things are difficult before they are easy.* |Italian Proverb|

*Especially when the difficulties are self-inflicted.

Somebody Get Guinness on the Line

The other day, after mostly finishing all the pieces of The Sweater, I laid everything out to see how the sleeves would work with the body, and…they don’t. Not even a little bit.*

I messed up so spectacularly, I set a record that Guinness should know about.

At first I didn’t believe it, so I spent about half an hour trying to figure out how it couldn’t be wrong. That didn’t work, so I tried to figure out how to minimize the damage, hoping I could maybe just redo the sleeve caps, but I can’t because it’s that completely bleeped up.

So after about another half hour of looking at my options, I finally came to terms with the fact that I have to rip hours of work and redo all four pieces from the underarm up. For my non-knitting friends, on the body of a sweater, that area is called the yoke; on a sleeve, it’s called the sleeve cap. Combined, that represents about one-third of the sweater.†

The only way I can salvage the work I’ve done is to knit raglan sleeves, but even that won’t save it completely. From the very start of this design, as I chose the cables and their placement, I was working toward a particular type of sleeve, which means that raglan sleeves will cut into a couple of cables in a way I hadn’t intended or planned for.

Explaining, in writing, how I arrived at this point would give me carpal tunnel syndrome, so you’ll have to imagine your own worst screw up.

And then triple it.

On the bright side:

  • I wanted raglan sleeves in the first place.
  • Redesigning should be easy.
  • Guinness doesn’t have a category for knitwear design flubs.

*You might be wondering why I waited until all four pieces were done before I tested my design. I’m wondering the same thing.

†Remember that this is a heavily cabled sweater, so one-third of the sweater is equivalent to three-fourths of my sanity.

p.s. There are no photos in this post because I’m hoping lots of readers will skip it, thereby minimizing the number of people who think less of me.

To Ponder: Ideas must be put to the test. That’s why we make things, otherwise they would be no more than ideas. There is often a huge difference between an idea and its realization. |Andy Goldsworthy|

The Color of Aran

Aran sweaters of the type I’m designing are traditionally knit in natural, cream-colored wool.

Each type of stitch on a traditional Aran sweater is said to have a particular meaning, which symbolizes the life or clan of the person for whom it is knit. For example, cables represent fishermen’s ropes; diamonds represent small fields, and symbolize wealth; honeycombs represent hard work; etc.

Purists believe that cream is the only color they should come in, and while I’m a purist about a lot of things, this is something I care not about. Partly because it’s hard for me not to think of the 1970s when I see a cream cabled sweater, partly because I intensely dislike most of those types of cables, and partly because I chose the stitch patterns for my sweater just because I think they look cool.

Also, in this second decade of the 21st century, anything goes.

Even the Aran Sweater Market located on the Aran Island of Inis Mór sells authentic Aran sweaters in colors other than cream.

I’m knitting my prototype sweater in Valley Yarns Northampton in the Golden Heather colorway, but I ordered a different color for the final version.

It doesn’t look like mud in person.

So, which of these colors did I choose?


















The reason for this color will be revealed in the fullness of time.

To Ponder: The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. |William James|


Rejection: Welligkeit Vest by Twist Collective

Several years ago, I went to Las Vegas for Christmas. I usually play craps, but that time I played Texas Hold ’em. With real live poker players who saw me for what I was: their mortgage payment.

That’s not to say that I didn’t know what I was doing, because I do. And it’s not to say that I didn’t win a few hands, because I did.* But these players lived in Las Vegas and played poker all day, every day.

Watch the movie Rounders for a primer on gambling for a living.

When the same players play together all the time, they come to know the habits of the regular players, and in this one particular weekday game, there was a guy who always raised on the flop. Always.

Unless he and the dealer had developed some sort of supercalifragilistic cheat that the casino had never seen before, the chances were very low that he always had a good hand. The cards just don’t fall that way. (If they did, it would be called winning, not gambling.) So this guy was raising just to raise.†

It’s a way of “buying the pot” by forcing the other players to either call or fold earlier than they would have (because there were still two more cards to be dealt and considered: the turn and the river). Maybe he had a good hand and maybe he didn’t, but no one could read him because he played the same way every time. And if he could get everyone to fold, he would get‡ a little money. It was a solid, if annoying strategy.

To keep this guy from raising and buying the pot, all of the other players ahead of him would check, which means they didn’t bet anything, which means there was nothing for him to see and raise. If he wanted to stay in the game, he would have to bet the amount of the big blind, and then the betting went around the table again allowing the other players who had checked to make the bet they wanted to make in the first place so they could see the next card.

Betting goes clockwise around the table, and this guy was sitting to the left of me, so after everyone checked, I would bet, and this guy would raise, and everyone else would fold, and I would lose my bet.

After about four or five hands, I got wise and started checking, too. And this guy would say, “The check’s at the bank,” and he’d toss his chips into the center of the table. Every single time. “The check’s at the bank.” “The check’s at the bank.” I can still hear his grating, derisive tone of voice. “The check’s at the bank.”

The check’s at the bank.

He wasn’t there to win big or to make a name for himself, but he took a fair amount of my money before I caught on to his game—and probably a lot of other people’s money, too.

In the gambling parlance of our times, these types of low-stakes gamblers are called grinders because they’re just grinding out a living a little at a time. His method wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t popular, but it got the job done. If he played all day, every day, I imagine he earned his mortgage payment in a week or maybe even in a day.

This is how I approach my knitting submissions.

I haven’t yet made a name for myself as a designer, so I knew it was a long shot that my Welligkeit Vest would be accepted by Twist Collective, but I didn’t let my low chance of success deter me from throwing some chips out there and hoping for the best.

The more I play the submitting game, the more acceptances I’ll have, and the more I’ll be saying, “The check’s at the bank.”

*For the Christmas Day poker tournament, which was a couple of days after this story took place, we started with 10 tables of eight players, and I was one of five players at the last table.

†And probably to get attention.

‡I hestitate to say he would win a little money because winning comes from besting another player with skill, not through bravado or bullying. (Also, this would not be considered bluffing because of the way he did it.)

Back to The Sweater

For the past couple of months, the cabled sweater I left off designing has been sitting on the other half of the white loveseat in my office, trying to make eye contact with me. I’ve owned dogs, so I know how to avoid those pleads for attention, lest the dog become excited and insistent. But after a very long intermission that had me swatching and slaving and submitting tee after tank top after vest to knitting magazines, my own eyes had no other place to land.

It feels good to get back to it (in a spiritual “catching up with an interesting friend” sort of way, not a physical “knitting a 100% wool sweater in 100º heat” way).

Red badge of courage.

When I design anything, I take notes as I go, but I also keep a lot of stuff in my head, like decisions I’ve made and the reasons I made them, or decisions I still need to make that I, of course, put off as long as I can. If I go too long without working on something this complex, I lose the plot.

It’s the equivalent of getting halfway through a big novel with lots of characters like The Lord of the Rings* and setting it aside for a couple or three weeks to read a few amateur sleuth mysteries. When you pick it back up again, you don’t remember where you are in the story, so you have to start over from a place that seems familiar, which more often than not is four chapters back, but then you come upon the name Boromir, and is he the brother or the dad, and is Éomer good or bad? Which sends you scanning through earlier chapters for their names.

That’s what happened here, except I’m not sure which cable combination I decided to go with, and there was something having to do with the sleeve decreases that I needed to figure out, and why did I write “I don’t grok that”? Oh yeah, that was a good quote from The Rockford Files.

RIP James Garner.

With as many designs as I’ve worked on over the years, I still haven’t learned the lesson to write down every thought for every design, no matter how insignificant. (Using complete sentences would help, too.)

I actually did that on a project once, and I was so happy I wanted to high-five myself.† I wrote everything down, including notes about design elements I considered and then rejected, and I even explained why I rejected them so I didn’t reconsider them. And I thought, I have lots of paper and many 0.5 pencil leads, so there’s no reason I can’t do this for every design.‡

(I also think that there’s no reason I can’t take my vitamins every day, especially when they’re all meted out in one of those little daily pill keepers, but here we are on Monday, and last week’s Thu/Fri/Sat compartments are not empty.)

Part of the reason I don’t take better notes in the first place is because I’m always sure I’m going to finish one design before I start on another. I believe this even though it never happens. E.V.E.R.

Even when I do take notes, I need a Navajo Code Talker to grok them.

My foolishness optimism can be a good thing, because—and I’m not just saying this—when I come back to something after a long pause, I don’t remember what the issues were, so I just read my knitting and go with what seems right, and everything usually works out.ф

This is not one of the those times.

I well remember what the issues were.

I’ve knit 90% of: both sleeves, the front, and the back, and now it’s time to decide how to do the neck and sleeve caps. Those aren’t much of a challenge in and of themselves, but remember that I’m seriously picky and a) cables must flow into other cables, and b) there is no way I’m allowing the main cable to be chopped off in the middle of a repeat to make way for the neck band, and c) I want to trick out the saddle strip that goes across the shoulder with a repeat of the main cable (although I’m rethinking the saddle shoulder entirely).

After working on The Sweater for a couple of days, I’ve mostly crypted out where I am and where I need to be. And I may have even figured out how to keep the main cable intact to the neckline, but it’s only for the size I’m test knitting. I’ll have to stand on my head to do it for other sizes.

Good thing I do lots of yoga.

*I’ve never read LOTR, but you get the idea. How do I know those character names? Wikipedia, of course.

†Actually, I wanted to high-five Keanu Reeves.

‡It would also talk me down from the momentarily satisfying but long-term imprudent decision to just frog the whole bleetin’ thing and start over.

фJust like if you kept reading LOTR, you’d eventually figure out that Boromir is the older brother and Éomer is good.

To Ponder: There’s no such thing as a creative type. As if creative people can just show up and make stuff up. As if it were that easy. I think people need to be reminded that creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb. It’s about taking an idea in your head and transforming that idea into something real. And that’s always going to be a long and difficult process. If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel a lot like work. |Milton Glaser|