Vickie Cowl

img_4884Please allow me to introduce the first in the series Things I Made While You Were Mad at Me. I call it the Vickie Cowl. I had originally conceived the idea to make a cowl for my dear friend last year. I had planned on giving it to him as a Christmas gift using a gorgeous ombre yarn he had picked out. I ended up using a birthday gift yarn a knitter friend had given me years ago because my swatch made me switch. Though I was reluctant to use a different yarn, the cowl turned out better than I had envisioned.

Originally, I started with a yarn he picked: Lima Colour by Rowan in the color Mongolia which is shades of green that gradually change from grass green to a deep jungle palm green. It’s beautiful. Lima Colour is 84% baby alpaca and 16% Merino wool/nylon blend in a chainette construction. He had picked it out as the kind of green he liked the one time he accompanied me to a yarn shop that was within walking distance of his apartment at the time. When he excused himself outside to escape personal boredom, I bought a couple of skeins to make him a gift.

I wasn’t ready to start working on this former Christmas gift until recently, though. I was getting ready to start the project in early December when things between us took a bad turn, which is the last time I heard from him. I’ve been told to leave it alone, which gives me difficulty. I can’t sit on my hands. I knit with them. I turn fidgeting into productivity. I knit through everything, including my problems. So, what happens when one of my projects becomes part of the problem? I needed to figure out my deal with the pattern, and the yarn so I could carry on. I found my answer in the form of this series.

I decided I wanted to make the cowl, regardless, because it was a good pattern and the ombré yarn would look lovely in cowl form. I was so very excited to work with the yarn that I kind of forgot what fiber I was using. I should have known better. Alpaca is a notoriously slippery fiber and would never make the stitches pop like they did in the magazine sample. I would have stood a chance if the alpaca was an accent fiber to add softness, not the main feature. It needed some coarser fiber to make the stitches stand out. Nothing popped and the pattern got lost in the fuzzy lusciousness of the baby alpaca. I couldn’t let the yarn disgrace itself in this tangled mass of stitches it had become. It deserved better. I kept the pattern, shelved the yarn, and leaped headlong into my worsted yarn bucket for a solution. I resurfaced with a small gamble.

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I pulled out two skeins of Vickie Howell’s yarn Sheepish, a single-ply 70/30 acrylic/wool blend distributed by Caron (now distributed by Bernat), in the color Gunmetal-Ish. It was a birthday gift a friend had given me years ago. I loved the color and, of course, Ms. Howell, but I hadn’t found the right pattern to match the yarn. I finally found it in the Fiddlesticks Cowl. It’s a simple cowl that is knit in-the-round, beginning and ending with an I-chord border, and uses traveling stitches to create a crosshatched design across the fabric. The pattern called for a worsted weight yarn to be knit on size US 5 needles which would result in a relatively stiff fabric. The Sheep-Ish was a gamble because some single-ply yarns like to flatten out. The swatch, however, showed me this yarn was up for the task. The yarn did a very good job keeping its shape, and had good stitch definition. Though it did still flatten out a bit, the traveling stitches were enhanced much better than the original alpaca swatch. When knit up, Sheep-Ish has a pearlescent sheen that is enhanced when caught in the light. That sheen makes the stitches visually pop. I’m rather taken with the effect.

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When I started the project, I was determined to make this specific cowl with that specific yarn (Lima Colour). But, the more I worked on the swatch, the clearer it became that it just wasn’t a good match. I had to give up the idea of what I wanted, face the reality of what was in front of me, and figure out what was best for the pattern, and the yarn. The life lesson is not lost on me.

During this process, I discovered I have a real attachment to the Lima Colour, and I may drive myself a little crazy matching it to a pattern, but that’s a problem for Future Me. I am happy enough to have finally put my birthday gift to good use, and to see the pattern realized so well. I named it the Vickie Cowl as an homage to the yarn (and lady) who came to the cowl’s rescue. It looks nothing like I had imagined but that’s a good thing. I imagined an impossibility. It could never exist. What I have in front of me is better than what I imagined. In reality, it’s probably the most versatile accessory I’ve ever knit. It could go with anything! And, it made good use of my birthday yarn, which is most important. I always try to show my greatest respect to my yarn through pattern matching, and I’ve got myself a winner here.

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