November 19, 2012

Crazy Cable Blanket Debrief (With a Bonus Border Pattern)

So, I finished Crazy Cable Blanket:

Yet I cannot make my bed well, or pick up the shoes I haven't worn in months.
It's all done.  Border, blocked, everything.  I can't believe I managed to finish it.  The label I sewed on it says it all:

I ordered them from KnitPicks, but other retailers may have these labels in stock as well
Anyway, since this took about a year and a month of my life (though if I had worked on it consistently, it would have been more around eight months), I figured I go into detailed 'debrief' of the pattern for anyone who's crazy enough to make one.

The Pattern
The pattern I used for the blanket itself was Alice Starmore's St. Ciaran (missing accents; sorry) from the reprinted version of the book Aran Knitting (it may be in the original as well.  I don't know and I can't vouch for that version).  Like all of Alice Starmore's cable work, it is interesting, creative, intricate, and absolutely crazy.  What made this more fascinating is the idea of having cables form Celtic patterns, which involves learning how to make the cable appear like it's making a bend when in fact that's where you started or ended the cable.  As I love cables, and I like Celtic designs, I loved this.  Hell, I bought Aran Knitting because I saw this pattern knitted up in a KnitPicks catalog.

However, the Celtic cabling is also what made the pattern challenging.  Now, honestly, the pattern and the charts that go with it are flawless.  I had no problem learning how to read the chart, setting it up, and following it.  I did have some issues the whole 'start and finish the cable in the middle of it' step in the beginning, though.  The first couple of times I screwed up and had to re-start the blanket.  But after that, all my mistakes were more due to my momentary lapses in paying attention more than anything (can you blame me? Knitting solid cables 200+ stitches across gets a bit tedious, no matter how much you like the pattern).

The other interesting thing about this pattern is that it's actually supposed to be a shawl.  However, it's a really big shawl...what most of us would call a small blanket.

For anyone who wants to attempt the pattern, the advice I'd give to you is:
  1. Use a 60" circular needle.  Use a good quality one as well; you will put stress on the joins between the cord and needle with this pattern and you don't want them popping mid blanket.  However, you will not get far with straight needles unless you are so against circulars you insist on using them.  Your sanity and wrists will thank me later.
  2.  I know it's a blanket, but for the love of the knitting goddess, SWATCH FIRST.  If you're too lazy to swatch one of the charts (which is recommended to learn how to do the cable from nothing trick before you start the blanket and then have to re-start it), at least swatch in stockinette.  Alice Starmore's patterns are notorious for tight gauge (I think I saw someone call it 'bullet-proof'; it's not too much of an exaggeration).  You may have an issue with it and have to go up a needle size or two, depending on the yarn used.
  3. While I used an acrylic/nylon blend successfully, I would still recommend going will some sort of wool, wool blend, or some other flexible, springy yarn for this blanket.  You will enjoy knitting it more with a yarn that doesn't mind going through some gymnastics, because that's all this pattern is.  You may find a different fiber that will work, but tread carefully.  If you need machine washable like I did, you may have to compromise on ease-of-knitting a bit, however you must triple-check that your chosen yarn won't send you to the wrist doctor for pain either (Ravelry reviews of other knitters having done cables with said yarn are a godsend for this).  This is also why you need to swatch, hopefully before you commit yourself to buying all the skeins.
  4. On the other hand, the yardage you will get by calculating it out of the pattern is a bit more than you need, unless you're knitting more loosely or putting the fringe on.  I used a little under 2100 yards on the blanket itself as written (minus the fringe), but bought 2730 yards based on the pattern.  With my border, I used about 2520 yards.
  5. Put stitch markers where each chart ends/begins.  They don't really get in the way and they help you see where all the charts are.
  6. Have separate row counters for each chart, along with one representing the whole blanket. You can use an app for this if you don't want five string-on counters on your needle cord.  The benefit of the app is that most of them will switch all the counters with one button push.  The downside is that you need your phone/tablet around and not dead whenever you knit.
  7. It may be easier if you photocopy the charts so you're not flipping back and forth in the book. I insist on it if you're using a library copy or someone else's copy of Aran Knitting. I didn't do this, and  I broke the spine of my book and the pattern pages de-attached. I had to duct tape them back in. Twice.
  8. Don't try to memorize the charts.  You may get the A chart down pat all right, as it's just a six-stitch braid (and it's the most common chart in the blanket), but you will make more mistakes than anything if you try to memorize the other three charts.  They are too long and complicated.  Save yourself some hair-ripping and just stick with reading the charts.

The Border
The border isn't part of the pattern.  I made it up on the fly.  The blanket just looked unfinished to me without one, and I had extra yarn anyway.  However, the thought of picking up stitches along it and knitting a border...no.  Just no.  So I crocheted it instead.  I love being bi-craftal.

For anyone who wants to go the extra mile of crazy, the border pattern is below:

Start in a stitch or two in front of a corner of the blanket.  It doesn't really matter which corner, but I started on the end of the blanket.

Use a US G/6 (4.25mm) or whatever is slightly smaller than the knitting needle size you're using (Go with the G if you're knitting with an US 7 (4.5mm)). Always end the round by slip stitching (sl st) into the top chain to end the round.  sc = single crochet, dc = double crochet, FPdc = front post double crochet, i = # of side you're on, loc = stitch you're at (the location).  This is a quick and dirty pattern, be warned.  The chart will be added later, as it will take more time to make (though it will be much clearer than my written instructions for many people, I think.  I said it was a bonus).
Round 1:  for(i=0; i < 4; i++){sl st to loc == corner st.  3 sl st.} sl st to loc = 0
Round 2:  Ch 3. for(i=0; i < 4; i++){dc to loc == corner st. 3 dc.} dc to loc = 0
Round 3: Ch 2.  for(i=0; i < 4; i++){sc to loc == corner st. 3 sc } sc to loc = 0
Round 4: Ch 2. for(i=0; i < 4; i++){while(loc != corner st ){sc. FPdc into below dc.} if(loc == corner st){sc, FPdc into corner dc stitch, sc.}}. do{sc. FPdc into below dc.}while(loc != 0)
Round 5-8:  Round 3
Round 9: Round 2
Round 10:  Round 4
Round11: Round 3
I can't tell you how many stitches I did on each side, because I was lazy and didn't count (and therefore had too many stitches and had to decrease. Then I had to learn how to property decrease in crochet, because I realized I've never had to decrease in a way that didn't involve just skipping the stitch.  The result was that I learned that decreasing in crochet is just a two stitch cluster, but I still had a few too many stitches on the ends).  I will tell you that you need to slip stitch into every knit stitch on the sides of the blanket, but you'll need to only do a percentage of them on the ends.

The Yarn
The yarn...what can I say? I used Berroco Comfort in color 9763 (it's a navy blue color, despite some of the photos I took). I knew everything about it from the reviews I read, and I pretty much had the same experience, minus one.  The good is that it's cushy and provides enough stitch definition for cables.  It's also machine washable and dryable, which is good for a blanket for a 13-year-old.  I haven't run it in the washer machine yet, but it's been in the dryer and it came out fine.  The steam blocking job I did created a bit of fuzzy, but that's because I wasn't being careful (it does say not to iron the yarn and while I was using a pillowcase between the iron and the blanket (wet pillowcase = steam without the steam setting), I was pressing too hard and had the iron up too hot).

The bad is that it does have a tendency to split into tiny threads, especially on the sharp tips of the metal needles I prefer.  I'm pretty used to this by now, as I can split yarns that almost never split when using said needles, but it's a bit of an issue with this yarn in particular. Also, you don't have the desired flexibility with the yarn that you may want with such a cabling job.  Sliding the stitches and twisting them are a bit tougher than one may like or expect with a good flexible yarn like wool.

The one thing I do disagree with from a review I read was that I found it easier to crochet with than to knit with.  Since the crochet hook was blunt, and my knitting needles were sharp, I had less of an issue with splitting when crocheting with it. It still split, don't get me wrong, but not as badly.  But maybe my experience is tainted with the fact that I was crocheting simpler stitches than I was knitting, so it just tolerated the less demanding stitchery better.

Conclusion
This was one of the most trying projects I've worked on, and there were many times I dropped it like a hot potato and let it cool for a couple of months. It got tedious some days, and I can't believe I spent so much time on it.

The next one I do is for me. In a nice wool.  I keep staring at it; I love the cables and I want one now.  Or maybe I'll adopt the cables in St. Brigid into a shawl like I wanted to do before I do another Crazy Cable Blanket.  Or actually get around to making Eala Bhan, which is the other pattern I bought this book for.

Don't worry, it won't happen any time soon.  I have enough yarn for other projects already that it'll be awhile before I get around to buying yarn for another one of these....

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