Recently in Warren Johnson Jacket Category

At last

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I can hardly believe it, folks. The Warren Johnson pattern is finally up and ready for purchasing: a cool $6.50 or three pages of family story will get it for you.

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This has been, by FAR, the most complex and cussed pattern I have written. But you know? I think it may also be my best. I've had lots of pairs of eyes on it over the months, and the very uniqueness of some of the techniques forced me to slow down and really consider how most clearly to explain them. There's the video to clarify things as well, in addition to schematics with measurements, photos galore, a truly staggering number of charts, and what may well be the most thorough finishing section you have ever read. I don't think it's overkill, and I genuinely hope it's clear and accurate, after all this time. And what's even better: although the technique is odd, I don't think it's particularly difficult after you get the hang of things.

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Of course, a new pattern always means a new essay, and I'm pretty pleased with this one. Writing it wasn't as unexpectedly emotional as eulogizing Betty Jean, more of a long, reflective process, a time to collect and digest all the scraps of knowledge I had about my reserved, sometimes irascible grandfather. The result is long, and awkward at times, but I hope you'll take a look. I've certainly been enjoying some of the essays you folks have been sending my way recently; thank you for participating in the project!

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So, yay for progress. I have all my fingers and toes crossed that other versions of this jacket start popping up online. For one thing, there are so many color combos in which I'd love to see it: baby blue with light brown and cream; dark brown with green and tan; navy with green and yellow. I think the plaid colorwork technique may also lend itself to other projects, and I'd be excited to see what creative knitters could whip up in the way of hats, scarves or other accessories. But mostly, I love the finished product, and I hope others would, too. Happy knitting!

Teaser Tutorial

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I promise that the Warren Johnson pattern and essay will be done very soon. In the meantime, I hope you'll take a gander at this little video we put together, detailing the hybrid colorwork technique I used to get the plaid effect on the jacket. I'm hopeful that the video will be a useful tool for people making the jacket itself, and I'm also curious about other uses y'all creative knitters might find for the technique!

David really deserves props on this one: he did all the filming, and ALL the editing, which, let me just say, was a lot. The end result is so much prettier and more polished (and, I think, clearer) than I would have been able to achieve on my own. He even dealt graciously with my bouts of crankiness during filming ("Will I have to do voice-over? I don't understand how this will work. Should I even be talking right now if we're just going to record over it?" etc.). David does such awesome work on the Family Trunk Project, and I feel like his contributions are often overshadowed by my glitzier ones. So everyone: three cheers for David! Hip hip huzzah!

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(A higher-quality video is coming in due course, once we iron out a few wrinkles). Enjoy! And be sure to keep watching after the copyright notice for a little taste of Mr. Bingley's attitude toward the fiber arts.

Field trip

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I've been working hard lately, and between my day job and doing the more drudge-like parts of Family Trunk Project (can anyone say "sizing"?), I've been feeling a little lacking in, well, fun. On Sunday, though, I got to combine business and pleasure in a thoroughly delightful way. Can you guess what I did?

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My dad and I took his Honda and the completed Warren Johnson jacket out to Cascade Locks, the park in the Columbia Gorge where the family scattered Warren's ashes a few years back. It was a favorite place of my grandfather's, and a beautiful ride. Although motorcycles aren't particularly characteristic of Warren himself, three out of his four children have taken a great liking to them, and I grew up riding on the backs of my dad's and uncles' bikes. It felt great to be back in the saddle again; somehow both exhilarating and relaxing. Getting a little father-daughter time was really welcome, too - hey, connecting with family is supposed to be the goal of this project, right?

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As for the actual jacket, I'm really pleased with the final product. This was my biggest project yet in quite a few ways: physically largest and longest-term, it was also the trickiest technically, as I had to invent a hybridized colorwork technique in order to achieve the plaid effect. It was my first foray into felting, which turned out to produce a beautiful texture, even if it was more work than I had anticipated to hand-felt each piece. The felting treatment regularized and blended the stitches, and made the finished fabric smooth and cozily buttery to the touch.

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Between the felting and the double-layer of fabric created by the colorwork, this is a seriously warm garment, an actual outerwear jacket rather than a jacket-styled sweater. My dad was a great sport to model it for me on an 80-degree day in August - and he is not a cool-blooded man! Doesn't he look handsome, though? And that cream shirt and the 50's shades are the perfect accessories.

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The fit, too, was a big stretch for me. I am drawn to tailored garments with zero or negative ease, and this baby has eleven inches of ease in its finished state. My dad kept stressing that he wanted "room to move around," and I feel proud and relieved that he is so enthusiastic about the final product. I certainly did much more second-guessing of myself during the construction process on this one than I am normally accustomed to doing. Overall, though, I think I got a good return on my experimentation, especially as I was working hard to get a knitted garment to imitate a fabric (woven plaid) and a style (bomber jacket) not normally associated with knitwear. As far as the styling, I'm particularly pleased with the simple, understated cuffs and collar:

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It should be a week or two before the pattern's done, which is really fine: anyone wanting to knit this would do best to wait until the cooler, fall weather sets in anyway. When it IS done, I will let forth a wild, celebratory whoop, and go on to party Emily-style: perhaps with a glass of wine, an Edwardian novel, and a thick pair of woolly socks.

Almost there

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At long last, it's actually starting to look like a garment.

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One side, sleeve and back, felted and seamed together. The second front is done and waiting to be felted, and I'm about a third of the way done with the second sleeve. After that, it's just felting, seaming, and knitting the collar. And let me tell you, I am really ready to be moving on from this project. It's been a lot of fun and I'm excited about how it's turning out - the feel, in particular, is stunning - but I feel like I've been working on it for about a year.

In my experience, matching plaids is something about which one can get as neurotic as one chooses. In the excellent Eudora Welty collection The Golden Apples, there's a paragraph that opens "There's nothing Virgie Rainey likes better than struggling against a real hard plaid." Reading that, I know just what kind of woman Virgie must be. It's about the struggle and the triumph for her, and she has become less than present to those around her. In past sewing projects, I too have chosen to get hard-nosed about my plaids, but going that level of crazy on this jacket, what with the huge scale of the tartan and all of the other technical challenges, would have completely undone me. So I opted for the more manageable, "mildly neurotic" option, and ended up with a plaid that is more-or-less matched across the shoulder in front, and slightly less so across the back.

Front:

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Back:

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I have to admit that the reversed order of the grey and cream stripes across the shoulder in front was not intentional, and I thought about doing it over. But the effect has actually grown on me, and I've decided to keep it and just replicate the effect on the other side. My grandfather was a quirky man who did a lot of altering materials to fit circumstances. I think the slight discrepancy would have suited him.

On Father's Day, the jacket-in-progress came with me to a Dr. John/Neville Brothers show that David and I attended with my parents, and my dad tried it on. At this point, his enthusiasm is really helping me to keep up my own momentum on the project, and he was thrilled - especially about the sleeves, which are very different from the type of sleeve I normally design, but which he said "fits just like I like them." It's really good to hear, especially when I'm leaving my comfort zone in terms of style and size.

So, just the final sprint to go, plus the fine-tuning of the final pattern. I have to say, I am hankering to start my next project. I ordered some buttons for it off Etsy, and look at this perfect match:

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Think 1940's schoolgirl cardigan, with a few extra treats thrown in for good measure. I can't wait to get started.

Bad news, good news, very good news

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I had a scary day yesterday. I went to meet my parents and godparents at the hospital because my dad, who is strong as an armored bear and who I always think of as able to plow through anything, had a fit of dizziness and chest pain that ended with two nights in the hospital, an angiogram and a huge stent put in a major artery. I don't know whether these things are harder or easier if you know about them in advance, but this definitely took me by surprise like a bucket of anvils being dropped off a bridge. The (very) good news is that the blockage is gone, his heart is in fantastic general health, and there was no damage to the muscle. He was discharged this morning and sounded like his usual, hearty self when I talked to him earlier. The whole experience reminded me forcibly how much I love and value my family, and how much I count on them.

On that note, I do have a felted jacket front to show you:

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It's laid on the back, and you can see that for the most part the plaid is staying pretty well matched through the felting process, which is something that concerned me when I decided to hand-felt each piece. I haven't finished the buttonhole edge yet; it occurred to me mid-way through the felting that I ought to have done the crochet edging BEFORE felting the whole shebang, but at that point I was already committed. In fact, I was almost over-committed; I forgot to protect the buttonhole openings, and nearly felted them together. Luckily, some last-minute reinforcing with a closed pair of scissors brought them back to usability. After all that work on the transition between waistband and body, I'm pleased with this line:

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And of course, since the finished jacket will be a gift for my dad, and my parents own a large black-and-tan dog, I had to use my smaller model as a "dog swatch," to see if the plaid coordinates well with the canine color scheme.

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Pretty dashing, no? I look forward to seeing my dad in this jacket for many seasons to come.

You know those niggling little tasks which would improve your life immensely once done, and which aren't even that hard, but to which you somehow still never manage to get around? Well, this weekend David and I totally DID those things. It felt awesome.

During the most laid-back part of the weekend we had my parents and uncle over, and my dad tried on his jacket pieces. They fit perfectly, which is a big relief to me. I try to keep up a healthy attitude about ripping back, but I have started that left front about fifteen times now, and I'm glad I don't have to do it again. What was even nicer was that he seemed really excited about the finished garment, and I think it's going to look dashing on him. Seeing it on, it's hard for the jacket to remind me of anyone other than my own dad, but he told me the other day that he thought I'd nailed my grandfather. Needless to say, that's a very nice thing to hear. In further Warren Johnson news, after only one false start so far, I got a decent little beginning on the left sleeve:

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One of the many tasks whose ass I kicked this weekend: most of the remaining design work on this jacket. If my plans for the sleeve work out, I can pretty much sit back and enjoy knitting. (Until it's time to figure out the sizing, of course, but I'm not thinking about that yet.)

Other checklist items we kicked to the curb? I'm happy you asked! David and I:

  • Made a thank-you call that's been languishing for weeks;
  • Picked up a pair of tickets for a show we want to see (Dr. John and the Neville Brothers!);
  • Cleaned the bejeezus out of our house;
  • Dropped a bag of stuff at Goodwill that had been taking up floor space for months;
  • Did a big grocery run, including lots of fresh fruits and veggies;
  • Returned a movie on time (significant for us);
  • Five months late, hung up our birdfeeder;
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  • Did a photo shoot of the recent Secret Knitting. Obviously I can't show those to you yet, but they came out looking beautiful!
  • Purchased and washed fabric to make a duvet cover for our bed, after a year of leaving it open to the elements;
  • Tweaked the archives of this blog, so that they should all match the front page instead of defaulting to the Movable Type template (check this out for us; let us know if you find a glitch);
  • And lastly, a full year after buying and moving into our house, FINALLY put up shelving in the utility and bathroom closets!
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This last one is really huge. We've been limping along with insufficient shelving the entire time we've been living here, making piles of things on the floor, scrunching things into tight corners. Having so much usable space is inexpressibly delightful. And see my fabric stash up at the right-hand side of the middle shelf? Having a separate space for fabric means that my yarn-stash-cum-projects-in-progress area has a little breathing room. Especially since another task I tackled this weekend was a reorganization of that little cabinet:

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Those plastic bins are in-progress or ready-to-start sewing projects, with pattern, fabric and notions all collected in one place. Yarn is upstairs on the left, in-progress knitting (Warren Johnson) is downstairs on the left, and next to that I've got sewing patterns. Pretty neat and tidy! This whole reorganization project has left me re-committed to keeping a tight reign on indiscriminate acquisition of stuff, so hopefully my little crafting nook will stay tidy for some time to come.

And now, for a little self-satisfied movie-side knitting, perhaps with a glass of wine.

Back on track

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With Secret Knitting done and Ms. Walkaway on the hanger, I'm recharged and making progress on the Warren Johnson jacket. (What, a garment that's actually relevant to the Family Trunk Project? You don't say!)

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These are some quick snaps of the completed left jacket front, pre-felting. This project is a little bit frustrating because felting, even the kind of light felting I'm doing, is a big commitment, and something I don't want to do until I'm sure each finished piece has the proper dimensions. So I'm waiting to felt this and seam it to the back, until after I see my dad on Sunday and get a chance to fuss over the fit. Hopefully, everything will go well. Meanwhile I'm about ready to cast on for an arm. Once I have a front, arm and back all joined together, I will feel very confident about the final success of the jacket as a whole.

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Previous to my little sewing-and-secret-knitting break, I struggled mightily with the treatment of the front placket and buttonhole area. First I couldn't get the transition from two-stranded grey waistband to two-color placket to look smooth, and ripped out numerous times before finally coming up with a method that works (pretending it's intarsia and twisting BOTH strands of each section around both strands of the other). The real pickle, though, was how to do the buttonholes. Due to the felting and the unorthodox colorwork, most traditional treatments wouldn't work: picking up stitches for a buttonhole band once the jacket is seamed, for example, or even knitting the band separately and seaming it on last. I didn't want a single-color band disrupting the plaid on the jacket front, and I couldn't get any kind of non-curling textured stitch to look remotely decent with the colorwork pattern. Finally, I decided to work the buttonholes in one piece with the jacket front, trimming the front with some single crochet in dark grey to control the curling. Once it's felted I think that should be enough; the felted fabric of the back has much less curl than it did prior to felting. Cross your fingers! I would really prefer to have found the solution to this little quandary, and move on.

The good news, though, is that this knitting just FLIES in comparison with my stealth knitting project. Once I ensure good fit, the right front and sleeves should be dropping off my needles in no time at all.

Back in plaid

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Well. Here's a jacket-back, lightly felted and ready for action:

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I'm pleased with it, although I have my standard, higher-than-normal level of sizing-related anxiety about making a garment for someone other than myself, with a type of fit that is different than the ones I tend to favor. The Warren Johnson jacket is being made to fit my dad, Warren's son, a good-sized guy who likes, as he says, to be able to move around in his clothes. I, on the other hand, favor a highly tailored, like-a-glove kind of fit, and the idea of over five inches of ease is kind of freaking me out. It throws off my eye to have all that extra room side-to-side; I was shocked, for example, to find that I had already reached the point where I should start binding off for the shoulders. I've been measuring and re-measuring at every step, unable to quite believe the evidence of my tape. I'm lucky that my dad lives in town, so I can compare the pieces to an actual body on a regular basis.

It's really good practice, though, and designing with different people in mind means I won't just end up making the same sweater over and over again with minor variations. The felting is so light that there's no appreciable difference in size between pre- and post-felted fabric, but there's definitely a difference in feel - post-felting, the wool is softer and sturdier. I think the colors are also just the right amount subtler; I'm extremely relieved that my pre-knitting color treatments seem to have done their job.

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I've also been finding the wrong side of this fabric extremely satisfying, despite the fact that it makes a few minor errors easier to spot. Here it is pre-felting; I love the combination of tiny, fairisle-esque floats and chain-linked, intarsialike transition columns.

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And then came the fronts...

And you thought bobbins were ugly.

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Well. It turns out that gauge issues and vertical stripes were just the beginning of the challenges that Papa Warnie had in store for me with this jacket project. Two nights ago, I was dealing with a felted, tangled mess that looked a little something like this:

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Basically, I had been hoping to achieve a fitted waistband for this jacket with a combination of increases in the last row of the waistband, and a higher level of felting on the waistband than on the rest of the coat. This plan afforded a valuable opportunity for me to learn a thing or two about felting:

1. There is a limit to how far a garment will hand-felt, after which continuing to add soap and friction will not shrink it any further; and
2. Failing to accept that reality leaves you with a sadly over-felted, pilly piece of fabric that is still too large.

Luckily, knowing I was lacking in felting experience prior to starting this project, I invested in extra yarn and geared myself up to be patient. Having felted the waistband to death, there was nothing for it but to slice the felted part off of the un-felted colorwork body, knit another, smaller waistband, and graft it on. It ended up being one of those "shortcuts" that was probably actually longer than simply ripping out the whole thing and starting over, but I was unreasonably attached to the lovely plaid pattern beginning to emerge in the body of the jacket. So I cut...

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...Then yanked and dislodged the remaining felt fragments away from the body (no easy task, as it turned out). As I was cutting the waste felt away every inch or so, there were the requisite body stitches that got cut and had to be carefully fixed back together, with cursing and nimble manipulation of crochet hook and clear nail polish. As David pointed out, it wouldn't be a Johnson-inspired garment without a respectable number of curse words and improvised solutions knitted into it. In the end, I managed to pick up the body stitches as they were released from the former waistband:

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This part was more complicated than it would usually have been, because the whole thing was double-stranded and the strands wanted to twist around each other in grotesque, unnatural ways, hopping over and under each other, reversing their orientation, and so on. I had to experiment a bit to get them back onto the needles in an orderly fashion, but eventually they were sufficiently correct to be grafted to Waistband 2.0:

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There are imperfections in the grafting, but nothing that blocking and felting won't fix (or obscure). I'll probably felt this new waistband version tonight, just to be sure I can get the dimensions I'd like. Hopefully I can, because I really don't fancy going through this process again.

Other than that, though, I am quite pleased with how the plaid is working out:

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You can begin to see the vertical repeat, and the interlaced squares of grey and camel that play on the red background. Manipulation of the bobbins has become second nature to me now, and I'm finding that if I keep them short until they're needed, they don't tangle. It's very easy as far as intarsia goes: every transition is a straight vertical line, so there's no necessity to remember when I need to twist the old color over the new color and when I don't. Plus, I'm transitioning so often that I get into a rhythm and stop noticing that anything unusual is going on. Overall, I'm feeling optimistic!

Praise and curses

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First off, I'd like to direct lavish thanks toward Ysolda for hosting a lovely interview with yours truly about the Family Trunk Project! And for all of you who are clicking over here in response to Ysolda's piece, welcome. I really enjoyed doing it, and I'll be back to answer more questions in a day or so.

As I mentioned over there, I've started working on the next Family Trunk garment, which will be a jacket inspired by my paternal grandfather, Warren Johnson. I'm taking my cue from this photograph of Warnie as a little boy - or, more accurately perhaps, as a little working-man:

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What a serious little kid! Can you believe it? Most pictures of my grandfather are very serious, unless his face is cracked in a wide, contagious grin. I always loved it when he laughed, although his frequent grumblings were also a source of rueful amusement among the family. He was a generous, cantankerous jerry-rigger all his life, which makes the beginning stages of planning for this jacket especially funny. Let's just say, it has done a fair amount of cranky grumbling itself, and I had to rig up an improvised combination of knitting techniques in order to come up with this:

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This is the general idea: a lightly felted, tri-color plaid, made up into a mid-length drop-shoulder jacket. Red, camel and charcoal should make a classic, masculine combination. I have an ongoing relationship with plaid, which is only partially explained by how amusing I find the actual word, and was excited to get back to plaiddish pursuits. "That's interesting," I remember thinking, "I haven't seen many imitation-plaid garments in the knitting world. I wonder why that might be." Lucky me! I didn't have to wait too long before I found out.

Originally I had planned to do this project with slipped-stitch pattern that would mean only knitting with one strand of yarn at a time. If I'd been angling for a bi-color plaid, I might have even stuck with this plan, despite being less-than-thrilled with how the swatches were turning out. But trying to put together a tri-color plaid with slipped stitches just wasn't happening, and everything I did in an attempt to mitigate the difficulties just made the pattern look more like a Mondrian dress from the 60's. A cool look, I grant you, but not what I was going for here. The problem is that true plaids are woven fabrics, with warp and weft colors apparent, and it's a challenge to get those vertical lines happening in a knitted fabric. The more forward-thinking among you have probably already arrived at the solution, and I got there eventually as well:

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Oh, horrors! If you guys needed any more proof that I'm not in this for the money, here it is. I am starting a double-thick, felted wool jacket in April, and it involves about a million bobbins. Will ANYone have ANY interest in buying this pattern and following me down the plaid-colored road? Well, never mind. My grandfather would have mumbled grumpily at naysayers, and I'll do the same.

The thing about it is, that while there are vertical stripes of color which necessitate the bobbins, there are also horizontal stripes of color which necessitate a continuous strand of yarn to alternate with the strands of each bobbin in turn. My solution? Strandtarsia: a cobbled-together fairisle/intarsia blend whereby I knit or purl two-handed in the fair-isle style (except back-and-forth rather than in the round), throwing each old bobbin strand over the new bobbin strand when I get to a transition between two vertical lines. Cantankerous and jerry-rigged enough for you?

Really, it's not so bad now that I've grown accustomed to it (and I'm sure I'll find out via a comment that this is actually a time-honored technique of which I wasn't aware). It's pretty darn cool to see the plaid pattern emerging and the vertical columns sitting so neatly next to one another. But this project had another ace up its sleeve which is still causing me to break out some of my grandfather's juicier swear words.

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You may have noticed in comparing the photos of the swatch and the bobbins, that the camel color in the swatch looks closer to a muddy pink. That's right: this yarn was not colorfast AT ALL. So, in an effort to maintain my classic working-man color scheme, I am making every ball of red and charcoal into a hank, washing and rinsing it repeatedly, and hanging the hanks over every doorknob in our home, with hand towels underneath to catch the drips. David has been an awesome sport about this, especially as I keep forgetting the hand towels and leaving him to discover the puddles of yarn water with his stocking feet.

So, I've been alternating my delight and consternation. And really, I think it's quite remarkable that this jacket has managed to remind me so forcibly of my grandfather, before I'd even started knitting it.

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