Elinor Brown Knits

Knitting Designs by Elinor Brown

Category: UFOs

On wool

Ivy League Vest

Last winter, it became clear that I would not be able to continue my half marathon training without warmer clothing. Specifically, I needed better coverings for my head and hands. I walked into the local outdoor gear shop looking for the appropriate accessories. Now, some of you will point out the contradiction of a knitter buying synthetic mittens. This point was not lost on me; I felt appropriately ashamed but cold, nevertheless. Actually, I had decided my enemy was not cold, it was wind. Not only that, but who wants to knit mittens to cover sweaty hands during a long run? Not I.

So there I stood, talking to a salesman about the accessories to buy. He showed me some brand name, very expensive hats to block the wind. Neoprene, polypropylene, wind-block fleece, all materials designed to keep you warm. When I said I needed something specifically for a long run-a run lasting about two hours-he quickly abandoned the hats he’d shown me, instead turning to a different line. The answer, he said, was wool. Specifically, a $50 wool hat whose materials had been specially engineered to keep one warm in the cold and provide enough ventilation to prevent overheating. What did he mean by specially engineered materials, I asked. Isn’t that just what wool does? Generations of sheep represent the only technological innovators on this front, as far as I was concerned.

I’m not saying there is no room for technical fabrics. After all, I would never be able to run through the winter without fleece-lined, polypropylene tights. However, it is clear to me that no amount of human engineering can compete with thousands of years of selective pressure on sheep to produce the most effective insulation from the cold.

I need not tell you how I made it through the rest of the winter, of course. I am cheap and unabashedly so. I dug out an old wool hat I knitted years ago and stole the tufted mittens I knit for Aaron. To my amazement, 5 a.m. runs in -15 degree weather were no big deal. Actually, to be completely honest, the 5 a.m. part was still a big deal but the bitter cold was not.

I’ve been considering this experience lately, as it comes time to find Beatrix some warm winter clothes. I decided to design a heavy wool jacket for her as a cheap alternative to a winter coat. In fact, I find some of my heaviest wool sweaters far warmer than my biggest parka. Although my sense of parental guilt will likely drive me to the store this winter to buy her a coat she’ll quickly outgrow, I hope this heavy sweater lasts her two winters.

Grow Like a Weed Jacket

Last week, I sent the pattern to a handful of test knitters. Hopefully, I will be able to offer it to you soon!

In the meantime, I have some stealth mittens under way at the moment. I will certainly share them with you next week when they have met their intended recipient. Until then, I’ll leave you with the beginnings of Bryant’s Slipover vest (Ravelry link), a project I’m knitting for my cousin Ida. I promised to knit this last year but I found myself sidetracked by other things. Since I will be seeing Ida in Boston next week, I decided to finish it so I could leave it with her! Wish me luck on that one, the gauge is 7.5 sts/in and I’ve not yet reached the waist.

Pretty slipped stitch pattern or 1970s uphostery?

Projects unfinished

When Laura Belle stopped knitting

One year ago this week, Aaron’s 94-year-old grandmother passed away. Laura Belle was one of my favorite people. In addition to being spry and fiesty, she had a wonderfully sunny disposition that always seemed to draw crowds. Laura Belle was an accomplished quilter and many of the bed coverings in our house bear the marks of remnant fabrics she scavenged from textile mills near her home in rural Alabama. Her quilts demand another post entirely, one that may come before too long; this post needs to be about her knitting. When she moved to an apartment and stopped quilting, Laura Belle turned to knitting and crochet to keep her hands in shape. Her most recent project was to knit full size afghans for each of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. When she was dying, she expressed regret over not finishing the last afghan. As the only knitter in the family, I promised her I would complete it. This is where you and I begin.

Laura Belle's afghan for Lisa

Laura Belle had finished just about three of seven or eight pattern repeats when she died, although her last few rows were pretty rocky. I could tell she had really tried to finish but her mind was not in it. Knowing how she would have scowled at aberrant cables and mistakenly purled stitches, I considered ripping out her last few rows and re-knitting them. I let them alone only because I knew how hard they had been for her to knit. Some family members wanted me to put a line of contrasting yarn where her work ended and mine began, a task that struck me as too morose. I began knitting where she left off, which is what I think she would have preferred.

Only three repeats in...

The pattern itself was cobbled together from a collection of cabled stitch patterns she liked. To my horror, Laura Belle had written the pattern out line by line with no cable chart.

Tens of pages of handwritten instructions, line by line

Leafing through tens of pages of handwritten instructions, I found some interesting margin notes that filled out what else was happening in the background as Laura Belle knit. Sometimes, she jotted down a word with its definition, as if she had learned its meaning in a book or in a conversation as she knit. Other times, she wrote down phone numbers or the ages of someone’s children. Here, she had written a blood pressure reading, dated a few weeks before she died.

Blood pressure

My favorite note is one I do not understand:

No no-no

“No no-no”. Does it refer to the pattern? Is she warning herself about a difficult section? Or something unrelated to knitting? I will never know but always wonder.

Unfinished work finished

I finished the afghan, although I stopped at five pattern repeats instead of the seven or eight that Laura Belle had planned. I would have liked to knit it to full size but for the sake of family peace and because non-knitters have different project timelines than knitters, I ended it early. I am sure she would be happy to know that her last afghan is currently in transit to its designated recipient.

Laura Belle's finished afghan for Lisa

This was a hard project to work on because the knitting made me sad. Casting off her last project seemed to be my duty as a fellow knitter, as if there were some unspoken code of ethics in the craft.  After all, who does not feel trapped in knitting purgatory as unfinished projects mount? As knitters, we should all have someone to complete our works in progress when we die. Even though I felt sad knitting this, the satisfaction of binding off was great. I know Laura Belle too would be relieved to know it was done.

A decision

Thanks for all of your input on the size I should choose for Aaron’s sweater! What a dilemma. After listening to the pros and cons of each size, Aaron assured me that he will wear any size I make. I agree with many of you that meeting halfway is probably fair enough so I cast on for the 41″ size.
the endless aran

I really enjoy the knitting; however, my knitting time has been all but replaced by a looming MCAT test date of August 7th.
My life sucks right now.

I’m worried. Mostly because our childcare is going to be limited in July, we’re traveling to Cincinnati this weekend and Aaron has some big projects due at the end of the month. And because I scored low on the physics sections of my last two practice tests. Help! It looks like I will be working through a lot of physics problems in the next five weeks. I really want to score well enough to not have to retake the exam. Is that too much to ask?

Straight Knitting

It’s been a busy few weeks here! We just returned from a weekend trip to my 10 year high school reunion. I’m so annoyed with myself for forgetting my camera at virtually all of the events but I did manage to snap a few pictures. Only about a quarter of the class made it back but it wonderful to see those who came.


We picked up right where we left off ten years ago as if nothing had changed. While our lives have changed radically, the personalities certainly have not! I think my class must have been a particularly good one because there is not one person with whom I would not enjoy spending time. That was certainly an interesting observation to come out of the weekend. I doubt many people could say that about their high school class. I think the reunion also gave Aaron some context for my stories, since it is often difficult for him to understand the boarding school setting. Oh and the other bonus? I ran a personal record in the annual 5K pie race – 26:57!

The reunion provided my hands a much needed, 3-day break from knitting. I usually manage at least a few rows every day but it was too hot and sticky to even think about it. Instead, some of us played with the hose.


So, a break from what knitting? Sweater knitting! Doesn’t everyone pick up a heavy wool sweater when the temperature climbs into the 90s?

Here we have the back, fronts and one sleeve of a Central Park Hoodie, which I hastily cast on and furiously knit last week. The yarn is Tahki Donegal Tweed in “Obsidian” (#850) or, as I’d like to call it, “Only Photographable with a Tripod and ISO 100”. I am making the 36″ size (no ease) and when I knit and washed my first sleeve swatch, the gauge matched precisely. Perhaps a result of using the recommended yarn? Forgive my surprise, following patterns exactly is a new thing here at ExerciseBeforeKnitting. Knitters on Ravelry have commented that the cardigan fits snugly; however, the stretchiness of the yarn makes me wonder if the knitted fabric will sag and droop. Still, nearly 1400 knitters Ravelers can’t be wrong, can they?

Central Park Hoodie

My fiendish sock knitting last month wore out my hands so I sought out some projects that could be knit on straight needles. I know many people curse straight needles but I confess that I love them. Brittany birch straights, in particular. Circular knitting always hurts my hands after a while but I could knit painlessly with straight needles forever. While they are impractical for a lot of my projects, I usually pick them up when I’m tired.

This is the back of a sweater for Beatrix. Little Knits recently had a sale of 10-skein bags of Rowan Cashsoft DK in “Madame” for $25 and I bought one in spite of my current ban on pink and purple. A $25 Rowan sweater? What would you have done? Well, if you were smart, you would not have received ten skeins of bright pink, notoriously pilly yarn in the mail. In fairness, I did not expect it to be quite so bright. I suppose I will use it for baby and toddler knits now. I think an adult sweater with this yarn would be too garish to wear.

Another baby sweater on the needles

I hope you all had a great weekend! Expect some more sewing from me later this week!

FO: 3×1 Garter Rib Socks and Sock Stash Guilt

Thank you for your wonderful comments on my vest! I also appreciate the wise knitters who pointed out that Beaverslide should not sit in a closet and that I should rip the raglan. I know you’re right. After all, if our positions were reversed, that’s exactly what I’d be telling you to do. In fact, I think I told Liz K just last week that she should rip rather than settle for a too-long sweater with a perfect tubular cast on. If spring were not just around the corner, I would be ripping away. Instead, I will let my sweater alone until next fall when I could really use 900 yards of Beaverslide.

In the meantime, I can show off another pair of dull socks. These might be my favorite every day socks yet, if hopelessly dull to knit.

Koigu KPM 3x1 Garter Rib Socks

Yarn: Koigu KPM in 2343

Pattern: 3×1 Garter Rib with Calf Shaping

Needles: US 1 1/2 and 0

Koigu KPM 3x1 Garter Rib Socks

This was the first time I’ve ever used Koigu (much to my amazement) and I definitely think it is worth every penny, even if the yardage is CRAP. Fortunately, Julieknits at Ravelry had half a skein of this color that she generously sent me because, as I may have mentioned before, Koigu’s yardage is crap. I actually finished these with less than 12 inches of yarn. I used Julie’s yarn to reinforce the heels. I’m stunned that I almost ran out. I have tiny feet and these legs do not strike me as particularly long. What’s a girl with even average sized feet to do? That would be an expensive pair of 3-skeined socks!

Koigu KPM 3x1 Garter Rib Socks

I experimented with some calf shaping by dropping down to a size 0 needle for the lower part of the leg. The rest of the sock was knit on size 1.5 needles.

You can tell that I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately because I’m just cranking out easy socks. Here is the first of another pair of 3×1 garter rib socks in Shibui Knits Sock, although this time I used decreases for the calf shaping. Glenna has also been testing out methods to get the perfect, slouch-free sock. You should check out the cool knee socks she just finished. I used to think that I couldn’t last through knitting knee socks but I suspect with the right yarn, it would be possible.

Shibui Knits 3x1 Garter Rib Socks in Bark

After I knit the first pair, I really wanted to go buy more Koigu. It makes such a nice sock in spite of the yardage. Nevertheless, I simply cannot bring myself to buy more because of the sock yarn I have in stash. I tried adding it up in my head and I came up with enough yarn for 9 pairs. That seemed like a lot until I tracked it all down. Try 21 pairs. And some of it is really, really nice too! I decided that it would be an appropriate exercise in self-discipline to knit what I have, if only to punish myself for buying icky yarn (hi, Knit Picks Essential) just because it was cheap. So here you have my 21 potential pairs, although I cheated a bit and included the Froehlich I just used up because it was so old and I was so proud of myself for getting rid of it. I hope chip away at this until at least all of the Knit Picks is gone so that I can buy nice yarn guilt-free. In the meantime, I will be living vicariously through Megan and her twelve lovely single socks.

*ahem* Revised sock stash. Let's be completely honest now: that's 21 pairs of socks...