Firebirds is officially finished


Good thing we snapped a picture of the sweater yesterday. Today a storm has come in and it’s so cold that the rain might turn to snow. What a wonderful day to wear a warm sweater.

Now that I’ve had a chance to actually use a woolly board, I would recommend it to any one who thinks they’ll be knitting lots of Fair Isle sweaters. It stretches the sweater a bit while drying so that any irregularities in the knitted fabric are straightened out.

When starting this sweater I intended to shorten it by one lengthwise repeat because I like sweaters to hang well above my hips. However  once  the body was half way done I got cold feet after checking my tension. At that point it looked like my row gauge would make the sweater a few centimeters shorter and I was afraid that taking out one lengthwise repeat would make it way too short. Now that it’s been dressed on the woolly board, I wish I would have shortened it. Oh, that’s not to say I don’t like it. The length won’t keep me from wearing it but it’s a good lesson for my future sweater projects.  It’s quite easy to adjust the length and/or width a couple of inches when using a woolly board.

What’s next? I must really get started on those fingerless gloves. I’m also very tempted by another VY kit. But wait, I also have lots of fiber to spin.

More on buttonholes

woolly board

Finally, I finished the front band with the button holes. Today I soaked the sweater and put it on the board. “Muffin” couldn’t resist playing with the yarn that I used to bast the front bands together. I also put some basting stitches around the armholes and neck to help keep them from stretching too much.

As I mentioned before the pattern says to make thirteen two-stitch buttonholes over two rows but didn’t like the results. I then started wondering if these tiny holes would be big enough for the buttons I purchased; After all, the pattern didn’t mention how large the buttons should be. The only way to find out was to make some samples and see for myself.  Turns out that there is enough give in the fabric so that the two-stitch buttonhole will generally accommodate a small to medium sized button.

Even though the two-stitch buttonhole would work OK, I decided to do a three-stitch one row buttonhole similar to the one described in Ann Feitelson’s book. In my opinion this one is much neater with less stretch.

Here’s how I do it.

Before  I start, note that this button band is worked in garter stitch. Also, I decided that because of the two row motif, it was easier to knit the button hole while knitting on the wrong side row.

1. Figure out the position of the buttonholes and use stitch markers to indicate which stitches will be cast off for the holes. I decided to use 12 buttons and figured I could space the buttons as follows.

k 6 sts, work 3st buttonhole, *k 12 sts, work 3st buttonhole, k 11 stst*, repeat from * until twelve buttonholes are made, k 6 sts. Total number of sts = 173.

2. Knit to first buttonhole. Bring yarn to front and slip one stitch from left needle to right needle. Take yarn to back. Slip another stitch from left needle to right needle. Pass first slipped stitch over second one. Slip another stitch from left needle to right needle. Pass second stitch on right needle over stitch that was just slipped. Bind off a total of three stitches in this manner. Turn band to other side.

3. Cast on four stitches using “knitted cast-on” technique, making sure to twist each yarn before each cast on stitch. Turn band to other side. With yarn in back, slip first stitch from left needle to right needle. Now cast off one stitch on right needle by passing second stitch the over the first one.

4. Continue knitting to start of next buttonhole. Repeat steps 2 & 3 for each buttonhole.

It’s really hard to get good pictures of this. If you need to see pictures I would suggest picking up the latest issue of Interweave Knits (Winter 2006). Page 32 has instructions on how to knit a one-row buttonhole. My instructions are a bit different; I prefer a knitted cast-on while IK’s instructions use a cable cast-on.



After four years of knitting I can’t believe that I’m just now finding out how hard it is to make professional looking medium to large sized buttonholes.

The instructions for this cardigan essentially say to knit 13 two-stitch, two-row buttonholes using the following process.

On the first row work to the start of the buttonhole and then bind off two stitches. Work to the start of the next buttonhole and  bind off two more stitches. Repeat binding off 2 stitches for each buttonhole until the row is finished. Turn work. On the second row, work to where the stitches have been cast off on the previous row and then cast on two. Repeat for the rest of the buttonholes.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well I did it and didn’t like how it looked; a tiny hole punched through the band with stranded yarn peaking through the hole. Yuck. Sometimes I can be very picky about my knitting and this odd looking button hole wasn’t up to snuff.

Feeling a bit frustrated, I pulled out all the reference books. Most mentioned making buttonholes just like the pattern. When I got to “Principles of Knitting” I had to chuckle at Ms. Hemmons Hiatt’s assessment of buttonholes. She says, “Buttonholes make me rather unhappy, I suppose because I am a perfectionist by nature and it is quite impossible to make a perfect buttonhole in a knitted fabric. Oh we can make reasonable buttonholes, but they all look rather better when covered by the button than they do alone.


The most reasonable buttonhole that I’ve found is the one described in Ann Feitelson’s book. It’s a one row buttonhole that’s a bit firmer than the one mentioned in other Fair Isle books. I’ve adjusted the buttonhole spacing to accommodate this three-stitch one-row buttonhole.

Working buttonholes and keeping track of color changes is quite a task. I found that for this button band working buttonholes on the wrong side made it much easier to manage both tasks.

Notice there are two rows of each double color combination (purple/green or orange/green)? When I knit the first row I need to keep track of the color changes by following the chart but on the second row I only need to follow what I did on the last row. Since I can easily follow the color changes from the previous row, I can forgo looking at the chart and concentrate on making “reasonable” buttonholes. The picture on the right shows one buttonhole from a short sample piece that I did earlier in the week.


In the next few days I’ll get back to working on the actual sweater. Buttonholes should become second nature after I’ve finished all twelve so I’ll report back soon with a description of how I work this type of buttonhole. By the way, I also noticed that the latest issue of Interweave Knits has an excellent set of drawings and instructions on how to do a one-row buttonhole that’s very similar to what I’ve been doing.

Now if only my house guest will give me back my sweater. I’ve tried to trade her for an older sweater but to no avail.

Time to start thinking of the next project

Firebirds: almost done

The pattern says to cut extra stitches on the front of the body and the collar before starting the collar. Every time I anticipate cutting my work, I feel a bit queasy about the idea. So, I decide to only cut the extra stitches around the collar and finish it before cutting into the extra stitches on the front. After the fact, I’m thinking I should just get over my fear of stitches unraveling. It’s really no big deal when working with Shetland yarn. Working the collar with the front open would have been much easier.


Time to start thinking about the next project

I’ve been engrossed in this project for so long that it’s odd to even think about starting another one. Several months back I was going to start a sock project  but never manage to get it started. I’ve been promising to make fingerless gloves, so I guess that will be next.

Read the entire pattern before starting


That’s now my number one advice to any knitter.

Earlier this week I was looking at the pattern for “Lindsay” in Starmore’s A Scottish Garland and was surprised to see a section called “Stitches” that described exactly how the chart, steeks, edge stitch and cross stitch should be done. Right there in black and white, were answers a couple of burning questions that I had wondered about when first starting Firebirds. These were things that most patterns leave to the knitter to figure out on their own.

After finding this, I grabbed my Firebirds pattern to see if that pattern also had a similar section. It turns out that the amendment  send with the pattern card refers to the pattern card for that part of the pattern.  I seemed to have skipped reading the pattern card.

Here are the questions that I had.

Q: There are some long stretches of one color in this pattern. How often should I weave in between color changes?

A: When there are more than 7 stitches of one color then weave in the yarn being carried half way between color changes.

Q:  How long should my yarn ends be when I change colors at the front?

A: Leave a 5 cm tail.

Starmore patterns are very detailed, easy to understand and mostly error free. I did however find one small error on my version of the Firebirds amendment when starting the cuff. It says to start the cuff on round 8 of the chart and then list the first row of the cuff as round 12.  I started at round 12.



Monday night I caught up with the Feral Knitters and brought Firebirds along.

They’re a subset of knitters from the Seattle Knitters Guild who focus on traditional projects such as Fair Isle and Aran knitting.

I was whole heartily welcomed and everyone was very friendly. They all seemed eager to allow one more Fair Isle knitter into the group.  As soon as I found a place I pulled out Firebirds to show to everyone. All were so kind with their comments and loved seeing this Jade Starmore design in person.

As I was showing it to Janine, she noticed the many dangling yarn ends on the sleeve. She suggested that I splice color changes instead of leaving ends. I’m glad she said something because I was wondering how I should handle color changes before I started the sleeve. It’s not that I didn’t know about splicing but thought it wouldn’t look right if each yarn was a different color. Janine said that if the values are close enough than it’s not really noticeable, especially if the color change is under the arm. With this new advice I started splicing most of the color changes.

When I spliced in the past, I would unravel each yarn end, discard one ply from each yarn, put the remaining ones together in the palm of my hand, spit into my hand and rub the plies together until they felted. This method seemed to work OK but didn’t always seem too sturdy. In fact I did it a few times on Firebirds and had to rip out some rows to fix a splice that started falling apart.  So when that happened, I knew there had to be a better way that would result in a stronger splice. I put a little more thought into the process and revamped how I splice. Here it is.

How to splice yarn


1. Unravel the plys of the two yarn ends that need to be spliced. Look at the two yarns as they lay side by side and figure out which ply
from one yarn would easily twist around a ply from the other yarn. I
find one ply that easily fits into the “kinks” of the other and twist
these two plys together with the same amount of twist while leaving the
other two plies dangling.

2. When the two opposite plies are neatly twisted together, I break off the extra plies but leave a tiny overlap.  Here’s a closer view of the two plies after they’ve been twisted together and the extra ends are broken off.

3. Now make the extra ends stick together by spitting into one palm. Place the yarn into the wet palm and  rub with the other palm. This should felt the ends into the yarn.

Here’s a closer view of the finished splice.

Now I won’t have so many ends to weave!

Public and private side of the sleeve

sleeve: public side
sleeve: private side

I found enough courage to finally cut one of the arm steeks and pickup the sleeve stitches.

In the picture on the right, you’ll see the inside (private side) of the sweater and I’ve pointed out where I picked up stitches from the cut steek. So far the edge hasn’t unraveled much despite several attempts at picking up stitches before getting it right. When the sleeves are finished I’ll trim the steek stitches if necessary and tack down the remaining stitches as described in A. Starmore’s book.

In the picture on the left you’ll see the outside (public side) of the same sleeve. Notice how it starts in the middle of a lengthwise repeat. I’ve read that traditional Fair Isle sweaters are usually designed so that there are no partial lengthwise repeats. With that being said, I think the long single lengthwise repeat in this non-traditional sweater makes it impossible to avoid a partial repeat on the sleeves, especially the adult versions. I did however notice that the child’s version shown on the Virtual Yarn website, has sleeves with three full lengthwise repeats.

Front and back


Almost looks like a skirt rather than a sweater. I promise it will start looking more like a sweater soon.

Notice the stitch holders. Just after casting off the extra stitches some stitches are put on hold just before starting decreases for the neck line.

On the front neck line, several inches of stitches in the center of the body are put on hold and the knitting continues in the round with decreases on either side of the extra stitches. Thanks to Anne Feitelson’s book, I learned that the decreases should slant towards the extra stitches – totally opposite of what I would have thought.

On the back neck line, about 1/3 of the stitches at center back are put on hold just a few rows before the body is complete. This small dip in the back will help the collar sit comfortably around the neck; or so I’ve read in various knitting books.

Although not shown in these photos, the shoulders were grafter together earlier this week.

Next step is to cut the extra stitches at the sides  and to pick up stitches for the sleeves. What a difficult thing to do since once done, there’s no turning back.

By the way,  this photo wasn’t taken in my yard. We tend not to water the little grass that we do have. This large lawn was well nurtured by my father for the past year.

Knitter ISO jumper board

Last week I must have run across some bad karma because my tension didn’t seem to be up to snuff so mid week I rip out a whole lengthwise repeat. So, even though I anticipated finishing the neck shaping this week, it didn’t happen. Today, I’m just now at that point.


Traditionally, knitted items such as this one are dressed on some type of frame. I did a bit of searching and came up with these pictures.

  • Here’s a Japanese website called Shaela that shows the two most common frames,  “Woollie Horse” and Jumper board. I can just make out from one photo that the Woollie Horse is from Tulloch of Shetland.
  • The Shetland Museum’s website had several old photos of jumper boards.
  • Knitting Beyond the Hebrides has instructions to make one.
  • There’s a website with the URL that appears to be located in Shetland that is selling them.

There’s several online yarn suppliers that are offering some version of this frame with the cheapest around $90. That seems like a lot of money to plunk down on a knitting device that can only be used for sweaters with drop shoulders. Generally, I don’t like sweaters with drop shoulders but overlooked that fact when choosing Firebirds. The colors and pattern was just irresistible.

Hold it a minute

When knitting with only one color I hold the yarn in my right hand between my thumb and forefinger, with no extra yarn wrapped around any fingers. I probably came across this method when I first started teaching myself how to knit from books but didn’t bother learning the details of how to tension the yarn around other fingers. I’ve tried the proper way of holding yarn in the right hand but always go back to my own way. I love how it gives me total control over the tension, even if it is a little slower method of knitting.

Holding two yarns

Learning to work with two colors was quite a challenge. I tried knitting with both colors in my left hand, both in my right and one in each hand. As you can see in the picture, I finally settled on holding one color in each hand. Of course,I don’t hold the yarns as shown in most books.

The yarn in my right hand is held as I do when knitting with one color. The yarn in my left hand is held between the first and second finger. To give more tension to the yarn in this hand, the working yarn is always placed in front of the object being knitted and held in place with my thumb.

While I can put lots of tension on the yarn with this method, I don’t. I always make sure that tension in both yarns is very even and not too tight or too loose. When switching between yarns I “fan out” the stitches on the right needle to make sure the yarn carried along the back isn’t too tight.

My advice on holding yarn is to practice until you find a way that achieves the best results.

Progress report:
Next week the body of Firebirds should be nearly completed. This week I started the arm steeks.