Mrs. Watson

I am beyond pleased with how my new shawl worked out. It’s Mrs. Watson, by Martina Behm. Actually, it’s Mrs. Watson on steroids. More on that in a bit.

My shawl is 100% sportweight alpaca. It was handspun from an alpaca herd owned by Christa Newhouse. She, along with her husband Shelby, owned Insel Haus on Bois Blanc Island for many years. (It’s “The Hideaway at Bois Blanc” now.) Anyway, my Yarn Dreamer alpaca was spun from two alpacas whose names I know: Leisl and Cressida. I needed a special pattern for this special yarn. It’s been in my stash for about 10 years, waiting for that special pattern. Mrs. Watson was it for sure.

My Mrs. Watson is huge. At its widest it’s 27 inches. That central double decrease spine is 56 inches long. From tip to tip it’s 75 inches, not following the curve. That compares to 20 by 66 inch dimensions as originally designed.

It was difficult for me to figure out how to keep the beautiful short row design features while still widening and lengthening the shawl.

Until I purchased the pattern I couldn’t figure out how this shape is achieved.  Ok. I figured short rows. But that swoosh? And that graceful shape?

The knitting begins at the lower left and the work increases at both edges for…awhile. Then the stitch count stays the same for the rest of the shawl. I knew that to widen the shawl I’d have to continue the increases. So that’s what I did. I added three of the marled brown leaves and then started in just blindly following the pattern. Blindly is the key word, unfortunately.

I had GOBS more yarn than I needed. Gobs. That’s a knitting term of art, right? No worries that I’ll run out of yarn, right? Eventually I understood the pattern and worried I’d run out of the lighter shade of yarn.

What I failed to appreciate may already be obvious to you. The shape of the shawl will be all wonky if that central double decrease doesn’t end with (basically) no stitches on one side of the decrease. But I had bunches more of stitches since I’d widened the shawl by adding 3 full pattern repeats (“body” and “leaf” in the pattern’s lingo). And it’s a subtle but beautiful design feature that those short row leaves change shape as the knitting progresses.

Bottom line, if you work extra leaves before “body” pattern 2, you need to work that same number of extra leaves in the later leaf patterns to get the shape (and spine) to work out correctly. And all the added leaves need to include an accompanying extra body section. I think I know that’s super hard to understand unless you’re actually knitting the pattern. But hopefully it will be of help to someone working the shawl who, like me, decided to widen it. Going into leaf pattern 8, you should end up with 7 stitches beyond the CDD “spine,” which is exactly what’s needed. I worked 3 extra sets of leaf (and body) pattern 7. It worked.

Here’s another look at this beauty before I go on with the rest of my tale about how this knitting yarn got to a happy ending.

I eventually understood that I would run out of the lighter color alpaca. Since each lighter section takes exactly the same amount of yarn, I weighed my remaining ball of that color before and after a section to figure out how much yarn one section needed. I figured it might look like I’d planned the added color if I completed the shawl with one strip of the lighter shade. So I saved enough yarn for that.

My supply of alpaca was lower than low. But I had an almost-600 yarn skein of Heritage Prime Alpaca in a marled black/gray labeled sportweight. Unfortunately it was a very lightweight sportweight. And the rest of my shawl is a very beefy sportweight. Having a limp section at one end of the shawl wouldn’t do. I started hunting around in my stash for a laceweight or fingering weight yarn I could add to the black/gray alpaca to get to the correct weight. I was so sad that my 100% alpaca shawl was going to have to diversify and include some merino. Maybe you heard my groans and sobs?

I was about to add in some black fingering weight merino. Then I remembered a farm stall a zillion years ago selling laceweight alpaca. Had I…? Yes!  I keep a little stash of black yarn set aside to sew critter eyeballs and noses. I had a ball of very fine black alpaca in my critter faces stash. Held together with my Heritage Prime that yarn gave me essentially the same weight as the beefy Yarn Dreamer. Maybe you heard my joyful hoots and hollers?

I’ve been wearing this shawl almost non-stop lately, especially through recent frigid mornings when it’s been as cold as 15 degrees below zero (Farenheit). In my world, there’s nothing like alpaca for warm.

This alpaca was part of Christa’s flock. Maybe it’s even Leisl.

Reversible cables

This is Lustrous Shawl designed by Noma Ndluvo. I knit mine in Anzula Cricket, an 80% merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon this-one’s-for-me DK weight.

Lustrous Shawl is the cover photo shawl from Jen Arnall-Culliford’s “Confident Knitting” book. I’ve been watching her wonderful technique videos for a few years now. It was beyond time to support her by purchasing her books. I took advantage of a new year discount on her series of three books, “Confident Knitting,” “Boost Your Knitting,” and “A Year of Techniques” and took the confident knitting plunge. Many designers, including Arnall-Culliford, are featured in the books. If you follow the links to Ravelry you’ll be able to take a look at each of the projects in each of the books.

Each pattern teaches a different technique, with video support. I purchased both the paper copies of the books and the ebook through MDK in the US. It looks like they are currently out-of-stock at the shop, but you should be able to find the books at other local yarn shops. They are also available on Arnall-Culliford’s own UK website. The paper copies of the books purchased at MDK came with a one-time code that allows the patterns to be downloaded to your Ravelry library. I prefer knitting from digital copies of patterns because I like to print out the core pattern so I can mark it up if I need to. But for me there’s still nothing better than the visual and tactile enjoyment of a book in hand. This series satisfies both needs.

The technique to be learned in Lustrous Shawl is reversible cables. You must have been wondering when I’d get to the point. Here’s another look at both sides of Lustrous Shawl.

If you’ve worked with reversible cables before you already know that the secret of why this works is…ribbing. The cables are worked amid ribbing instead of stockinette or reverse stockinette. For a long time I shied away from trying reversible cables because I figured it would be difficult. It isn’t. It’s just as easy as “regular” cables. If you can cable you can work reversible ones.

I am totally liking this small shawl. And Anzula Cricket makes it a total luxury.

If you want to give reverse cabling a try you might want to knit this worsted weight freebie: “Weather…or Knot” by Mindy Ross. Here’s my version and you can read more about it here.

I had a good bit of difficulty integrating the I-Cord dangles into the body of the scarf in a tidy way. Your mileage may vary. If I knit this again I plan to just work a few more inches of ribbing before I start in on the cables. The I-Cord is certainly distinctive though. I’m not sorry I persevered.


I bought these 6 skeins of worsted weight Stonehedge Fiber Shepherd’s Wool at a local yarn shop on October 6, 2012. How do I know? I record purchase dates in my Ravelry stash. I paid full price for the yarn, $10.40 for each 250 yard skein. If you’re keeping track of yarn inflation, more than nine years later Michigan shops sell the same yarn for $14.00 a skein.

I even remember what I planned to knit with those 1500 yards: Pamela Wynne’s February Lady’s sweater. The sweater is a Ravelry freebie that has 13,856 project pages. It’s modeled after Elizabeth Zimmermann’s classic “Baby Sweater on Two Needles” from her “Knitter’s Almanac.” I don’t know why I never knitted it.1500 yards is enough yarn to complete the adult version of the sweater. And it’s a great pattern. But the yarn just sat. It was long beyond time to turn that pile of purple into something even prettier.

I decided to make Elizabeth Smith’s Brookdale Vest. Such an easy knit and such an unfussy look. Here’s me wearing my vest.

I reckon’ I’m a tad overly casual for a proper model. What’s with the way-too-long sleeves on that old black fleece?  It’s warm that way. Am I really wearing a t-shirt under that old black thing? Yes. It’s warm that way. And straighten the collar on it, woman! It will be even warmer if you stand that collar up properly on both sides. But if you can look beyond all that, isn’t it a comfy vest? Lately, I use a shawl pin to close it up. It’s extra warm that way.

Brookdale Vest even has a small back detail that’s kind of cute.

800 yards in the 4th-from-the-largest size and I had a vest, with 700 yards of Shepherd’s Wool left.

The twofer part of this post is that I decided I’d knit up the rest of the yarn ASAP. I selected Emily Bolduan’s freebie Honeycomb Scarf. It’s a simple slip-stitch pattern with a faux I-Cord edge.

Here’s a better look at that nicely behaved edge.

Honeycomb is a plump stitch that’s perfect for a very cozy scarf. 10 inches wide. 70 inches long. NIce and warm that way.

It’s been 8 below zero Fahrenheit here lately. All I can think about is keeping warm.