I don’t knit things for myself very often. I jokingly think of knitting for myself as ‘selfish knitting’. This stems from the fact that, for some reason, whenever I get the commonly asked question: “who are you knitting that for?” I feel a pang of selfish guilt as I sheepishly reply “myself…” I’ve never known why this is: I’m perfectly entitled to knit for myself, but it’s just a feeling I get.
I always want to knit things for myself (I have a Ravelry queue that probably extends beyond my lifetime), but instead I seem to fall into a familiar pattern of knitting gifts for friends and family each year; starting slowly at first, then knitting steadily through the summer months before building up to a pre-Christmas knitting frenzy each year.
I like it this way, so I’m not complaining. I like gifting my knits to people: knowing that I’ve given something unique and handmade, that I’ve spent hours working on; carefully devoting my time to each stitch with someone specific in mind. To me, there’s no gift more personal or thoughtful than that. Whenever I can’t think of that perfect present, I can always think of something to knit.
However, after several years of predominantly gift-knitting, culminating in a whole year dedicated to knitting for my wedding last year; I decided that this year – 2016 – would be my year. I vowed to spend the year knitting things for myself.
It wasn’t long before this fell by the wayside, of course. I think I lasted until Valentine’s Day, when I couldn’t resist presenting my husband with a pair of soft alpaca knitted socks (I’m sorry, but I couldn’t not: Valentine’s Day just cries out for thoughtful hand-made gifts; it was our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife; Alex loves alpacas, and he’d bought me the yarn for Christmas). From there, my queue of knitting projects once again became crowded with gift ideas; and here I am, now in August, with a Christmas knitting list that’s growing by the day.
Despite this, I’m determined to at least partly stick to my promise to knit some things for myself this year, so I’ve been trying to intersperse my gift knitting with the occasional knit for myself – one of which is my latest project.
When my favourite pair of Hilary Grant mittens developed several holes last winter, having already been patched up on numerous occasions over a few winters of persistent wear (I practically have mittens permanently attached to my hands in the winter months), I decided that before next winter comes around, I would knit myself a new pair.
So, with what little summer we have here in Scotland already drawing to a close and the winter months fast approaching, I realised I was running out of time and decided to tackle my mitten mission so that I’d be sure to have a pair cast off the needles and ready to warm my hands as soon as the frost starts to appear on the ground.
Knitting something for myself feels like a bit of a special occasion, so I wanted to take the time to find a pattern that I really loved. Mittens are one of my favourite things to knit so I wasn’t short of options, but when I came across Brooklyn Tweed’s 34th & 8th pattern I knew this was the one for me.
Anyone who knows me will know that I have a serious soft spot for New York. I spent six months there after my graduation from university in 2011 and, as I’m sure many before me have done, I fell completely in love.
My experience of living in New York was undoubtedly common amongst many others in the city. It is a hard place to live, constantly balanced on a double-edged sword between surviving and thriving; you are poor, you can be lonely, and at times you are struggling to stay afloat. Someone has even taken it upon themselves to put together a (rather popular) NYC Crying Guide – and trust me, at one time or another, you need it!
But, as clichéd as it sounds, none of that matters, because it’s New York and it’s such an amazing place to be, with everything at your finger tips and opportunity every way you turn. To stay topical and quote an American President: Theodore Roosevelt once said “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” New York was a prime example of that for me: it most certainly was not easy, but it was totally worth it. It’s one of my favourite places in the World, and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Understandably then, this New York-inspired pattern from a New York-born company immediately struck a chord with me.
Brooklyn Tweed originally grew from a knitting blog started by Jared Flood when he moved to Brooklyn in 2005 to study at the New York Academy of Art. Pursuing a vision of bringing American-made wools to market, Jared launched the company in 2010, and they remain committed to producing 100% American wool yarns today. The wool all comes from Targhee-Columbia sheep on the ranches of Johnson County, Wyoming.
As a brand, the name Brooklyn Tweed always stuck with me. I was myself a resident of Brooklyn for the majority of the time I lived in New York: first renting a room in an old brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant before taking an apartment-sitting opportunity and moving into a friend’s apartment in the more desirable Park Slope area overlooking Prospect Park. I love Brooklyn – the history, the diverse range of ‘up and coming’ hipster neighbourhoods, the art, and the wealth of hidden gems in the form of independent businesses, restaurants, bars and markets just waiting to be stumbled upon as you wander the streets like a concrete maze. I left only in my final month when I moved into Manhattan to stay with friends on the Lower East Side. It was never quite the same though, and if I were to go back, I’m certain I’d choose to make Brooklyn my home over Manhattan. So, the place holds fond memories for me, which is what I’m reminded of when I see Brooklyn Tweed.
I also feel I have to mention that I did actually purchase the Brooklyn Tweed yarn that I used to make these mittens in Brooklyn itself; albeit during a slightly more recent return visit, and not when I was living there originally. I came across Brooklyn General Store in the Carroll Gardens / Cobble Hill neighbourhood when I first moved to Brooklyn. When I arrived in New York, I did some writing for a student publication – BrooklynToday – in the few weeks before I started my job. It was a great introduction to the Borough; forcing me to explore the different neighbourhoods and chat to some of the locals, and it was whilst doing research for an article on the Carroll Gardens neighbourhood that I found Brooklyn General Store – drawn in, of course, by my love of knitting. When I went back to visit a number of years later, I had to return. Now in a significantly more comfortable financial position, I was able to do more than ogle at skein after skein of beautiful yarns, and I joyfully settled on a purchase of four skeins of Brooklyn Tweed’s fingering weight Loft yarn: two in ‘Old World’ and two in ‘Snowbound’.
Upon my return home, they were tucked safely into my yarn stash for a rainy day, to be unearthed a couple of years later and paired with the perfect Brooklyn Tweed pattern.
Inspired by the underground ironwork at the 34th Street and 8th Avenue Subway station, the pattern is a subtle yet unmistakable embodiment of New York.
The New York City Subway is iconic and it’s at the heart of New York itself; trains continuously criss-crossing through the grid-like tunnels, like a network of veins that keep life flowing through the city.
With so many beautiful and often ornate shapes, patterns, and pieces of artwork to be found within the hundreds (469 in total, according to Wikipedia) of subway stations scattered throughout Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, it’s no surprise that the NYC Subway system is often a source of inspiration to artists and designers.
A regular on the subway system during my time in New York, this pattern carries a particular significance for me as – somewhat coincidentally – I took the subway to the station at 34th & 8th every day to get to my work on West 33rd Street.
As well as representing the mathematical, engineered precision of the ironworks in the subway station structures; for me the colourwork pattern featured on these mittens perfectly represent New York above ground, too: the gridded streets of Manhattan, and the distinctively Art Deco style of the architecture, with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building as prime examples.
It took me a long time to knit these mittens, for several reasons:
Firstly, Loft is a fingering weight yarn and I’m generally more used to working with DK, so obviously I had more stitches per round to contend with. I’d definitely recommend swatching beforehand – I tend to knit quite tightly anyway, but I did find that the yarn knits up on the small side, so I had to increase my needle size to get the right gauge (the pattern suggests 2.25mm needles, I used 2.75mm).
Secondly, the yarn is very fine: it has a lovely light, wispy quality to it and a little less twist than most yarns, which makes it rather delicate. Brooklyn Tweed do warn you to treat the yarn with a little more care on the needles; however, I did have a few teething problems involving snapped yarn in the beginning, and it took me a while to get used to handling the yarn carefully enough to avoid breakages, but firmly enough to ensure my tension was consistent and my stitches pulled tightly enough to create a close-knit fabric for my mittens. Once I had this mastered, though, it was a lovely yarn to knit with.
Finally, most of the pattern involves stranded colourwork, which always takes extra time: reading the chart and making sure the pattern is followed down to the stitch; making sure the tension is ok and no strands are pulled tight enough to cause the stitches to bunch up; stopping every now and then to untangle the yarn as the two colours become twisted together.
Although the mittens took a long time to knit, it has been a slow, enjoyable project; and I feel satisfied knowing that in the midst of the cold Scottish winter, I’ll have a pair of delicately patterned, cosy mittens which remind me in every way of New York whenever I look down at my hands.