Monday, December 29, 2008

Raspberry Sorbet

Is done. I was going to get all nit-picky and explain every last detail of the shaping, but I think I won't. There are increases and decreases to give waist shaping, and a few short rows to help keep the back section long so that it doesn't pull the neck opening backwards. I made a fairly large turtleneck to echo the hem pattern, and to keep from drawing too much attention to the hips (not really where I need to direct attention).

We took advantage of a few moments of sunshine yesterday to take some photos. They're not great, but this is what you get when you have literally 5 minutes between clouds to find the sweater, camera, and photographer, and take a picture or two.

Considering that I knit the sweater to be 4" smaller than the point where it would hit my hips, it turned out pretty loose. I measured gauge in stockinette so that I would be able to tell what the body measurement would be, and the moss stitch really added those extra inches back in. Even the stockinette is also loose, though. I wonder how many inches smaller than the measurement my hips really are? (At this rate, I could be downright skinny if it weren't for mirrors and cameras...drat them!)

I could have used to decrease a bit more in the back near the armholes; there's some extra bulk in there. But, overall, the sweater is comfortable, and I've found myself reaching for it pretty frequently, so I think we can call it a success.

In other news, I thought I should share my fiber-related Christmas gifts. My sister bought me two new knitting books:

I'd heard of both, but had read neither. She managed to find two books that I really like, and that aren't in my collection, without even snooping around my bookshelves. Is that talent, or what?

The Country Weekend Knits book is chock full of beautiful sweaters, with all kinds of intricate cable details and lace insertions. It has a little of everything, and the photos are excellent. Definitely a book to turn to when in need of ideas.

I don't usually knit small projects, but I'm thinking that One Skein Wonders will be great for testing out handspun; that way I can play around a bit without committing to a full sweaters' worth of spinning every time!

I set Branden loose in Nicholas and Felice's Etsy store, and this is what he surfaced with. Another case of good taste. Now I might have to knit a shawl or two to show off the shawl pin...

And he also got me this nifty little contraption:

It's a bit hard to see in the box, but it's a measuring spoon with a digital scale built in. I'd ask where he comes up with these things, but I think I have a pretty good idea. Now, you might be wondering what on earth a person might want with a measuring spoon accurate to within half a gram, but only if you've forgotten that I've been thinking about dipping my toe into dyeing for a while now. A good balance is useful for many things, but for repeatable dyeing it's indispensable.

I have had dyes sitting around waiting for months, but I've hesitated to use them on my bare yarn because I'm not ready to knit it up yet. But the One Skein Wonders book, the smart spoon, and the latest issue of Spin Off have me thinking...maybe I should be dyeing top for spinning rather than bare yarn?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Hope you all had happy holidays! Between spotty internet connections and no spare moments, I managed to go a whole week without blogging. You missed hearing in real time about my re-knitting (three times!) of the top of the raspberry sweater, some handwarmers, and a half a sock. If it weren't for that sweater, Branden would have been right; I would have been short on knitting, left with just a sock by the end of the trip.

But, obligingly, I suppose, the sweater refused to play nice. I knit it once, and the sleeves didn't fit nicely once grafted on. I pulled it out and tried re-grafting, but it needed extra length in the front, unless I wanted puffed sleeves. Not being Anne of Green Gables, I prefer a flatter shoulder seam. That meant pulling back to the neck split so that I didn't end up with a huge neck opening. But first, I attempted to avoid the obvious by knitting moss stitch saddle shoulders. I tried taking stitches from the saddle shoulders and switching them front to back to make an interesting almost-cabled neck opening, but they were too wide to cross nicely. Then I tried just a simple boat neck opening, which worked much better.

Just a hint: moss stitch saddle shoulders are not delicate and feminine, even if they do sound like a good idea at the time. In fact, unless you're a fan of military epaulets, I wouldn't suggest going with that style.

After careful consideration and much muttering, I ripped back and reknit.

This time, I stuck with plain stockinette for the shoulders, which was the right choice. (I knew that from the beginning, but didn't really want to admit that I needed to ungraft the sleeves again and pull back that far) I wanted to echo the moss stitch cuffs at the neckline, so I made a large moss stitch turtle neck. I was sure that the neck opening was too large at first, but once I put the collar on it was just about right.

I was ready to begin the grafting when the plane touched down in Boston on Wednesday. I finished the sweater on Tuesday. So much for running out of projects to work on !

I'll post finished pics tomorrow. It's dark already (actually, I don't think it was ever light today), and it takes prettier pictures with at least a little natural light.

I wish that I had thought to take pictures of all of the intermediate sweater steps, but I was working and ripping at family gatherings, and just didn't manage to get out the camera. I also made a set of handwarmers for my ex-roommate and best friend and completely failed to take a picture of them. They were in Cascade 220, and came out very nicely for a colorwork pattern that I made up as I went along.

Besides a half an alpaca sock, that was it for holiday knitting projects. We got back in on Christmas night, and started work again yesterday. Holidays are such a whirlwind deal!

Hope you had a great holiday season, got to spend time with family and friends, and managed to complete all of your Christmas knitting on time!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh, my. It's almost Christmas.

I know, it's amazing that it hadn't really hit me yet. I have been in this cocoon of deadlines lately, and it has kept me well away from goings-on out here in the real world.

The denial has just come to a rapid end, however. Packing a suitcase has a way of doing that. We're flying home for the holidays tomorrow, and so suddenly my brain has transitioned from "I need to finish this chapter" to "what on earth am I going to knit??"

Sweaters are bulky, but I think sweaters are the best option right now. (Nothing else planned, and less than 12 hours to plan anything new. Last minute knit planning is dangerous, anyway.) So, sweaters it is. Too bad they take up so much space. Branden has offered to vacuum seal them so that they fit in the bag. He's not an enabler at all, is he?

Sorry for the short post, but I really need to go panic now. Pack. I meant pack. =)

We'll have spotty internet access, so enjoy your holidays if I don't see you again before then!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Buying time

Time is one of those things that you really can't buy. But I can try, darn it.

The sweater is progressing nicely; I'm almost to the point where I split for the arms (I know...I can't believe it's going this fast). Since it's plain stockinette, it doesn't look much different than it did before, so I will save the pictures for when it has visibly progressed. But, it is growing steadily. That, of course, means that I need to be planning my next project.

Since it takes weeks for me to get through the mulling stage and into actual designing, the fact that I have no new project scheduled is a bad sign. If steps are not taken, this could mean a break in the knitting continuum. That would be bad.

But I am not ready to plan the colorwork sweater. I started the raspberry one to fill the gap while I re-designed the colorwork pattern for the flowers and vines sweater. I thought I'd just get the raspberry sweater out of the way, since it was going to be mostly stockinette, and come up with a plan for the more complicated colorwork while I knit.

The only problem is that I haven't come up with a plan, and I'm about to run out of knitting again. I'm going to need a plan soon, or risk spending time in the "between" space. We all know how dangerous that is.

So, I did what any sensible knitter would do. I bought some time.

9 skeins worth, to be precise. Cascade 200. For a sweater. For Branden.* That is a lot of time. I might just manage to get the colorwork design finished before I run out again.

I love this color, and it was on sale for 15% off. Not only did I manage to buy time, I even got cheap time. That luck might just be enough to get me through a Branden sweater.

Oh, and the picture? It was taken using my new point and shoot camera. We've been thinking about getting a little camera for occasions where we really don't want to carry the SLR and its lenses around (they get heavy, you know). I now have a very cute little Sony camera. It does a pretty good job, no?

*Yes, I really think it will take that much yarn. I might have one skein too many, if I'm really lucky.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Darned alpaca

I may have mentioned that my favorite sweater is getting old (only once every few weeks, I know....). Two weeks ago, the unthinkable (and entirely inevitable) happened; a hole developed in the cuff.

Now, I should probably just accept that the sweater is old, that it's not even that flattering, and that it's probably only going to get worse. But I like this sweater. There is no other in my collection to replace it yet, and it doesn't look all that ratty, despite being quite literally threadbare in a few places.

So, we embarked on a quest. We went to the yarn shop in search of a color match close enough to darn the cuffs. We got something that I thought might be close enough. It wasn't.

In digging through the stash, I discovered that the light grey alpaca from Oblivion actually matched pretty well. So, I darned the cuffs with that.

That was two weeks ago. Alpaca is slippery yarn - more slippery than I gave it credit for. Every time I've worn the sweater, an inch or so of the darning yarn has worked its way back out of the fabric. Alpaca is also fuzzy. It's a little odd to have a fuzzy spot on the cuff of a not-fuzzy sweater. Clearly, I needed to rethink this solution.

Thursday we went to another yarn store and began the hunt again. I found one yarn that was far too thick, but at least the right color. The sweater is knit in a DK weight, and the yarn we found is a bulky. If it were a plied yarn, I'd have just split the plies and used those, but it's a single. I decided to try anyway.

So, this morning, I un-darned the sweater, removing all of the alpaca.

This left a hole, and some very threadbare yarn. (Can you see my finger through the sweater?)

Then, I re-darned with the wool (Donegal tweed, by the way...I love it. If it weren't a single and rather expensive, I would be thinking of making a sweater in it).

Not bad for a twice-darned sweater, huh?

Twice-knitting seems to be all the rage around here lately. I decided a while ago that I didn't like the way the shoulder shaping came out on Oblivion. In fact, I knew I didn't like it within moments of putting on the sweater for the first time, but I wanted to wear it a few times and see if I really minded. Well, I did. I had done a 50% decrease a few rows before the neck bindoff, and it was just too much; the fabric puckered all around it, and pulled the sweater up around my shoulders instead of letting it sit where it belonged. There were only 2 or 3 inches to pull out (not all the way to the colorwork), and I just didn't like the way it fit.

So, last week I pulled it out, and this week I've been reworking that section with a more gradual decrease and a little extra length to help the colorwork sit in place. We all say that the best part of knitting is that you can always do it over; why is it that we go so far to avoid do-overs? It only took a night or two to re-knit, and I'm much happier with the sweater now. I finished weaving in its ends this morning, and it's currently taking a bath, getting ready for blocking.

I think I've had enough darned alpaca for now!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On autopilot

It's amazing what you can accomplish without even knowing it. Ask any nervous eater what can happen when you're not paying attention.

I'm not a nervous eater, but I do have one habit that sometimes surprises me.

(Sorry for the horrible picture...I have been meaning to take it during daylight for the past few days, but daylight is a fleeting thing nowadays, and I keep missing it)

Put some mindless knitting next to my chair, and even if I don't feel like knitting, or haven't thought about what I want to knit, somehow the knitting will grow. I can be reading a book, surfing the internet, writing emails, blogging, waiting for something to bake in the kitchen, and somehow my hands find the knitting and get to work.

Most people have to try and curb their automatic habits, but I think I'm going to let this one continue to run wild. Not too wild, though. There were a few times on the leaf-socks-that-aren't where I distinctly said that I did not want to knit (I know...but it's a sock, what can I say?), and then 10 minutes later Branden looked over and said "I thought you didn't want to knit." It was only after he said something that I realized that I'd picked them up anyway, just to have something to knit on. Believe it or not, I actually caught myself pausing and looking down at my hands in surprise, before shrugging and admitting that it was better to knit on them than on nothing. And they got done, simply on merit of being the project closest to hand.

This is a great thing to know for those neglected projects that really need doing. I have very few UFOs, but I think I might start moving them closer to my chair one at a time, just to see what happens. Or maybe I'll just surreptitiously place cast on socks around the knitting basket, hoping to fool myself into doing them without realizing it. The only requirement is that the knitting must require little thought. That way, I can knit without interfering with getting other things done. Too bad I won't be churning out any fancy lace this way, but I'll take what I can get from my "in between" moments.

I don't feel like I've been knitting much in the past couple of weeks, but then again, I have two sleeves and a quarter of a sweater that have magically appeared in my knitting basket. Mindless knitting is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

More fat yarn

I've filled a few bobbins with singles since my spinning class, and I finished plying yesterday. The yarn is no thinner than before, but I did these as three-ply rather than two-ply. So, even though my final yarn is the same size, my new singles are 33% smaller than the last set. I'll consider that an improvement. It's more even than the last batch, too:

And, I'm very proud of the fact that it came out perfectly balanced. Right off the spinning wheel, it hung straight and relaxed. I haven't set the twist yet; I think I'm going to wait and do it all at once.

I love the color. I fall hopelessly in love with every dark natural brown that I see, so this isn't surprising. But I particularly like this one. I don't know yet what I want to make with it. To be honest, I'm tempted to get more roving and go for a sweater, but that's a lot of spinning. I've made it through about 6 ounces so far, and I got just over 200 yards. So this is definitely a super-bulky yarn.

I've knit sweaters out of Cascade Eco Wool before, and that's 500 yds/8oz, so about the same grist, or a bit lighter than mine. At that weight, I'd need a little over a pound for a sweater. Depending on whether the handspun gives 3 or 4 st/in, my handy-dandy sweater calculator sheet says that I'll need between 930 and 1325 yards. Which would mean that I have a lot of spinning left to do if I want a sweater, considering that I'm only at 200 so far.

I find all of these sensible calculations really hard to believe. Doesn't this look like a lot of yarn?

In terms of yardage, that's the same as one ball of Cascade 220. I just can't wrap my head around it.

But wouldn't it make a beautiful sweater? (If I ever actually made it through that much roving.)

And the real question: Am I crazy enough to try? (Or maybe, should I let myself be crazy enough to try...I have no doubt that I could muster that kind of craziness without batting an eyelash...)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's over

Ten weeks of continuous miracle-working really takes it out of you. But it's over. As of yesterday, I am no longer in an impossible teaching position. And it feels really good.

I have learned a lot this quarter. I think my students may have learned something, too. Maybe. It's hard to tell when they're being actively encouraged not to recognize it, but I think some of it got past the "too cool for this" facade and into their brains. I know that I kept at least one person from quitting, and I which is really all that I could ask.

This was not the most stellar miracle that I've ever worked, but I was up against a lot, and I am happy with what I managed to accomplish. The people that hired me have begun to realize just how much they asked, and I think that they will also be happy with the results.

And I am really ready to take off the superhero costume. Spandex is so not flattering.

All of this to say that there is now a chance that I will come back to the world of the living and knitting and blogging. That is, if catching up on writing my thesis draft (I want it done this month) and planning a syllabus for next quarter (eep!) don't swallow me up before I manage to come up for air. But they shouldn't. Both processes are well in hand, though there's still a lot of work to be done. Right now, I am ready to spend an evening realizing that my adrenaline levels can now return to a reasonable level, and that there is nothing more that I need to do right now.

What is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson*

And, by that definition, I have. Now, I'm going to go stare at a wall for a while...

Back soon with more knitting content.

*I vaguely remember reading somewhere that this poem is misattributed to Emerson, but for now, I'm just going with it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My apologies to the swatch

I believe that I owe my collective swatches an apology. I have often maligned a swatch, claiming that it has lied to me. This has been the result of many, many swatches incorrectly predicting the number of stitches that I must cast on for a particular project, as evidenced by the fact that the final garment bears no resemblance to the size that a swatch led me to expect. But, I stand corrected. It's not the swatch.

It's the measuring tape.

I have proof.

In preparation for the alpaca oblivion sweater, I took more measurements than is probably healthy for anyone's self-esteem. If there was something that could be measured, I measured it. I measured with sweaters and without them. I measured over jeans, and without. My sketches are littered with numbers and brackets identifying the measurements to which each set of numbers pertains. I only stopped when entirely confident that I could make a complete, fully accurate 3D model of my upper body. I swatched. I knit a sleeve. I checked gauge on several areas of the swatches and sleeve. I calculated my stitch requirements, and I knit.

The sweater was intended to be fairly form-fitting; it had zero ease at the hip (didn't want it to be clingy), and never any positive ease. Despite numerous countings, recountings, and recalculating of stitch counts, the sweater is not close-fitting. It's rather baggy, to be perfectly honest.

To be even more honest, it's something of a relief to have a slightly baggy sweater after measuring yourself accurate to within the quarter inch. But that's beside the point.

The point is that this sweater was meant to be form fitting, and it just plain isn't. I chalked this up to another instance of lying swatches. They're deceitful little buggers.

Or so I thought.

Last night, I finished the sleeves for the raspberry-colored sweater. This means that it's time to cast on for the body, which brings me back to the perennial problem of how many stitches to cast on. I knew that the alpaca sweater was a wee bit large, so I figured I'd measure it, compare its circumference with that of my hips, and determine the measurement for the new sweater based on that number. So, I laid out Oblivion.

It measures exactly 44 inches at the bottom hem. Which is exactly the size of my hips + jeans at that point (I told you that some bagginness was a welcome thing). This is exactly what I had planned based on my measurements.

The only problem is that the exactly 44-inch hem is at least 4-6 inches bigger than my hips when it's actually on my body. It does not appear stretched when it's on. I measured it in an unstretched position to get the hem length. So, somehow, the sweater becomes instantly bigger when put on, but shows no signs of stretching.

Either that, or my hips become smaller. Now that would be nice, but I have no delusions in that regard.

All the evidence says that the swatch was telling me the truth all along. I cast on for 44 inches, and I got 44 inches. It's just that the 44 inches are somehow not actually related to the size of the sweater on a human frame. Now, the only remaining arbiter between sweater and hip size is the measuring tape (yes, it's the same one, there is no stretching of measuring tape to blame.)

It's not the swatch; it's the measuring tape that's out to get me.

My deepest apologies to the swatches.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blogging in my head

A good friend of mine called yesterday. It's been almost a year since we last spoke. I sent her a letter in April, but never heard back. She apologized, and explained that she'd written me at least 5 replies, all of which were saved on her computer, but that she'd never gotten around to sending.

I had to laugh, because I do this all the time with the blog. There will be a great post kicking around in my head while I knit, or spin, or ride the bus, or wash the dishes. I will know exactly what I want to say, and how I want to say it. I will amuse myself for hours composing, editing, tweaking until it's perfect. And then, I never post it.

I don't know why this happens. The best I can come up with is distraction. I log into my computer, and a thousand things suddenly need my attention. There are emails in need of replies, deadlines that need to be met, blogs to read, and a million links to click. Hours later, I've answered emails, read blogs, clicked on links, and I'm exhausted. It's usually past bedtime when I hit "hibernate" on my computer. The screen goes dark, the fan stops whirring, and in that instant I realize that I haven't posted (which is almost always the reason that I logged on in the first place).

I am really a brilliant and witty blogger in my head. I'm even very regular about posting. But somehow, it never makes it onto the screen.

I'm not sure which I prefer; being a blogger that neglects her readers horribly, or being an excellent blogger, but only in my head.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Reality check

The problem with designing in your head is that sometimes real, knitted objects don't have the properties that your mind would like to give them. Gauge, for instance, is sometimes an entirely different thing in my imagination than it is in real life.

I mentioned the other night that I was going to make an effort to rally some brain cells and just start the silly sweater already. So I did. Friday night I swatched. And realized that my gauge is completely wrong for the stitch pattern I want to use.

I designed the flowers and vines pattern specifically for this sweater project, to work with the colors I have and to break up the horizontal stripes of a fairisle pattern. The only problem is that I neglected to account for the fact that I'm using Cascade 220, which knits up at about 5 st/in. I knew that Cascade knit at 5 st/in. I don't know why this never occurred to my brain as something to consider when designing a colorwork pattern for the front of a sweater. I think it might have occurred once, but the thought was promptly quelled with a "cross that bridge when you get to it" sort of reflex. Well, we got to the bridge.

There is no way that I can fit 2.5 pattern repeats on the front of a sweater at 45 stitches per repeat. At least, not on a sweater that will come anywhere close to fitting me.

I can put about 5 repeats in the stitches for the entire sweater body, but that would mean having some of the pattern work under the arms, where I had planned to use a smaller peerie pattern. (I love the term "peerie" pattern for little fairisle's such a cute word.)

(Pardon the small and messy new tablet and I are still working on getting acquainted, and we're not quite there yet.)

Using the peerie patterns would make the side shaping easier, and would ease the mismatch caused by short row shaping in the bust and shoulders (something I played with in the alpaca sweater and really liked). I'm not sure that I could make short rows work with an allover colorwork design, but I want to try it.

I also wanted 3 repeats of the flower pattern across the chest, which requires 120 stitches for the 2.5 pattern repeat, where my gauge dictates 111 stitches for the front of the sweater. Add another 30 stitches/side for the peeries and side shaping, and you suddenly have a sweater that's a total of 80 stitches too big. At 5 st/in, that's an extra 16 inches around the circumference. I'm all for positive ease, but 16 inches is a bit much...

Humph. Best laid plans, eh?

So, I'm not sure what to do with this. I've already narrowed the color bands as much as I can without distorting the pattern. I really like this design, but I need a smaller gauge to get that many stitches on a sweater front. (It would take about 300 st/round, which is the same as the gauge for the alpaca sweater.)

I don't really like 1 and 2 repeat versions, so I think I may have to repurpose this yarn and save the sweater pattern for some fingering. Of course, this means that I'm back to horizontal color stripes, unless I design another pattern to break them up. I could skip the peeries and side shaping, and just have the color repeats wrap under the arms, but I'm not sure that's really what I want for this pattern. In any case, more thinking needs to be done.

But I think better when I'm knitting something. And I like knitting sweaters. So I wanted to get a sweater on the needles. I also have some raspberry sherbet colored Cascade hanging around waiting for it's turn, and so I cast on a sleeve today. (Actually, I've cast on 4 sleeves, but only one was worth keeping; you can just barely see it in this after-dark-with-a-flash picture. Artemis isn't sure what she thinks of it, but she definitely didn't like it asking for a spot on my lap).

I haven't decided yet what to do about the body. I'm thinking set-in sleeves, and possibly a moss stitch section near the top; either a wide neck band or a quasi-yoke.

I haven't decided yet if it will be an open or closed-front. I tend to prefer closed-front sweaters, but it's also nice to have a few cardigans, and moss stitch makes a good button band. It would just take a simple steek to convert from the first picture to the second, so I could always decide when it's done. As long as I make a narrow steek it shouldn't be that hard to convert from one to the other, and the button band will make up for any width lost during steeking.

At least I have a project going now. I'm not exactly sure where it's going, but I have a sleeve and a half and most of the body to knit before I really have to decide. And, it's a lot of stockinette, which will keep my mind free to think up new patterns with no basis in reality. They're the most fun, anyway...

Friday, November 21, 2008

The leaf socks that aren't

It's been quiet in the blogosphere lately. I know this, because I have managed to stay up to date on my blog reading despite spending almost no time doing it. It appears that I'm not the only one that is too busy to blog (or too busy to do anything worth blogging about...).

Not much has happened on the knitting front in the past few weeks. I want to have a sweater going, but I don't want to start a sweater. This is something of a problem. My brain is just not prepared to think hard enough to figure out how many stitches to cast on. It's been busy elsewhere, I'm afraid. I'm hoping it will come back soon.

In the meantime, I have been knitting the project that is closest to my chair. It's amazing. Even when I don't really feel like knitting, a project sitting in a basket beside my chair will leap into my hands and ask for attention. A surprising amount of knitting can get done this way while you're not paying attention. It's a little like a candy dish, with fewer calories.

I don't love socks. I have tried. Several times. I really want to like socks, but I just haven't fallen in love. I like having socks. I like looking at patterns for socks. In fact, I think I probably have more sock patterns saved than any other kind. And yet, every sock project languishes on my needles.

The fact that I don't really have any other knitting nearby has forced me to finish the leaf socks that I started sometime in June (I think). Only now they're not the leaf socks. Now they're little mini-cable socks. I couldn't find a leaf pattern that I wanted to use, and cross stitch cables require very little thought. This is good for those whose brains are on walkabout.

Every time I knit a pair of socks, I change the style, hoping to find the magic one that I just love to make. I did this pair in Cat Bordhi's Riverbed architecture, where all the heel expansion is on the bottom of the foot.

I love the fit. I have very high arches, and it's really nice to have a sock that actually hugs my foot rather than tenting around my arch. These will definitely be my new favorite socks to wear.

Really, I knit at least a three socks to get two. The toe wasn't quite right on the first one, so I ripped back and started over. Three times. Then the heel was a little funny, so it got pulled back, too. I bound off too soon, and the sock ended up really short (I like ankle socks, but not ones that only barely cover my heel).

The second was a little better, except for the fact that they had to match. I seem to be having problems with this lately. The toe was good, except that it wasn't the same shape as the first sock. I have no idea why. I counted the stitches, and the rows, and I swear they were the same. But something was different. So I re-knit. The heel was a little bit better, but it's also not identical. (Yes, I know...2 circs helps with this, but I like dpn's so much better.) I decided I didn't care that much (it was only off by 2 rows). I learned my lesson and made the cuff longer, then went back and added some rows to the first one.

I didn't love making them, but I do really like these socks. They fit perfectly, and it might even have been worth the fussing. I'm hoping that they don't stretch with use; I used smaller needles this time to make the fabric a little bit firmer.

I really like the colors, and the merino bamboo blend is very nice (though more than a little splitty with my pointy sock needles). The color did pool, but not in a garish way, and I think the bamboo will help them hold their shape. They feel like they'll wear well, and I now have another pair of socks to add to the collection.

Now, if I could just find a sweater to work on, or some spare brain cells to plan a new one...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yarn bloom

As I'm sure you gathered from my earlier post, I have learned lots of things since I started spinning a year ago:

1) When the wheel falls off of the spinning wheel during a "test drive" you might want to walk away.
a) unless you have a handy fix-it sort of husband that will enjoy putting it back together
b) and unless you can ignore the wheel going thu-thunk a lot

2) Sheep are dirty. Sheep that clear fields for a living are dirtier.

3) Washing, picking, and hand carding is a lot of work; pick a good fleece, and don't trust the farmer to know what a good fleece is. (Especially if they don't spin and don't breed for fiber. Good intentions will not make a better fleece.)

4) Spinning evenly is harder than it seems that it should be. Practice helps.

5) Setting the twist can undo a lot of problems with plying (thank goodness!)

6) A properly tensioned wheel is very important. You get better yarn and a more pleasant experience when not trying to channel the leg strength of a world-class soccer player in order to make the wheel go. Unless, of course, you happen to be a world-class soccer player. Then you might not notice that your wheel is fighting you. You still get better yarn when your tension is right.

7) When the wheel fights, you should probably listen.

The list looks surprisingly short when enumerated.* But then, it's constantly growing. Today's item of choice?

8) Do not underestimate the power of yarn bloom.

Yep. That's right. You get a (relatively) even thread, you ply it up, it looks like a worsted-kinda weight. You cheer inwardly (and maybe a little outwardly, too) that it's finally getting thinner (i.e. not the knit-on-size-17s that the first yarn became).

And then you wash to set the twist.

We all know what happens when you wash wool. It goes from crumpled and sad-looking to light, airy, and - should we say - fluffy?

This is yarn bloom. The reason that hand-washing a closet full of sweaters is a rewarding task. Because they look so much better afterward.

Well. Lightly spun, somewhat uneven yarn has lots of little spots that are a little less twisted than others. These are ideal locations for yarn bloom.

Even the not-so-lightly spun areas are good locations for yarn bloom, because this is wool, and that's what wool does.

All of this to say that a worsted-looking yarn turned into what I would classify as super bulky. Size 10s were a little small to work with this yarn. I knit with them anyway, and the product can now (literally) stand up on its own.

This is ok with me, because the product is meant to be thick, warm, and weather-proof.

Branden is very amused that they can stand on their own. He kept standing them up around the house like little sentries. I asked if he was mocking me. He put them on. He's smart like that.

The simple knit-purl woven texture gets a little lost in the *ahem* texture of the yarn, but I hear the mitts are very warm. And they are made from handspun.

I thought he might deserve a special knitting project, especially considering all of the work that is going into the KnitChart software (it's still coming, I's been through a couple of big redesigns, and we're now at the final bug-hunting stage).

This is the yarn I made just before taking my class, so I'm excited to see what the after-class yarn will look like. I know it spun up into much thinner singles, so I'm hoping it might manage to keep yarn bloom at bay.

*I am sorry for the horrible formatting of this list. I lined everything up nicely in Blogger's compose window, but it doesn't seem to want to actually put things where I told it to. It's late, and I don't feel like fighting it in html tonight. Hopefully it's readable as-is.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

*Photo by Mary Davis, from the American Legion Auxiliary website

There are so many things that I could say here, but McCrae has said it better. We asked for a sacrifice; let us not break faith with those that gave it, and let us not ask it of those who remain.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spinning my wheels...

Seems like I've been doing a lot of that lately. This whole miracles business isn't all it's cracked up to be, let me tell you. It's been a long couple of weeks. BUT...the quarter is almost over, and there is still hope that I will pull it all off before then. I just need to manage not to crack from stress before the end of the month, and everything will be great. There is still a chance that I'll make it. So, enough about spinning that kind of wheel.

I have been spinning another kind of wheel lately, too. I've honestly been too frazzled to knit this week (I know...). You see, knitting would involve sitting still, and I'm just not up to that right now. So, I've been doing something that at least lets me sit around and tap my foot a lot. Today, I even got to tap two feet at once, which might be even better. Except that it makes the wheel go really fast.

The scary thing about spinning is how fast you can make yarn. I've spun about 3 oz this week, and I've been going pretty slowly. I can just feel the stash swelling coming on...

This morning, I went to the second week of spinning class, where we talked about things to look for in a fleece (this all made a lot of sense to me, having already explored in great detail all the things that one might want to avoid). I was hoping that we'd spend more time on plying, but we didn't get to it until the very, very end, so I guess I'll have to go back for the intermediate class if I want to know how to actually turn my singles into balanced yarn.

But of course, I want to turn them into yarn now. I had some scrap singles from class that weren't really enough to do anything with, so I decided to teach myself to Navajo ply this afternoon. It's a really cool technique, and besides having some rather serious coordination and timing issues combined with some wheel tension drama at the outset, I managed to produce something that was reasonably close to even.

It is even, but it is completely unbalanced. Way overspun. (Probably related to aforementioned tension wheel is out to get me.)

Tonight, I took the growing handspun collection and gave it a bath. Twist is now setting. I'm plotting what to do with it once it's dry, but I'm not sure yet what it will become. Those wheels are spinning, too.

It is dark and I am lazy, so there are no pictures of yarn setting twist in the bathroom (trust doesn't look like much anyway). I have a teaching workshop to lead all afternoon tomorrow, but I am hoping that I will manage some knitting sometime soon so that I'll actually have something to say next time I pop online to ramble.

Hope you're having a good weekend!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A little tight

I have been spinning for about a year now. It all started with a drop spindle. There was a woodworker at the farmer's market who made all kinds of wooden bracelets and tops and things. One day, I asked if he ever made spindles. He said he didn't, but he could. So, he made me one.

We had kittens in the house, and drop spindling with a kitten is as dangerous as it sounds. The kittens love it, let me tell you, but it's not so good for the fiber. I spun a little, but not very much. Progress is slow on a drop spindle, and I'm not entirely sure the one I have is balanced/weighted quite right. It was his first spindle, after all.

So, I didn't do a lot of spinning for a while. But it was in the back of my mind. And then there was a wheel on Craig's list. For cheap. We went and looked. We bought. As we were leaving, it became apparent that the wheel was disconnected from the footman (the footman is the little piece of wood that connects the wheel to the treadle and makes it spin). Not a good sign, but Branden thought he could fix it.

The wheel is an old one, and was shipped in pieces from New Zealand and assembled upon arrival. Whoever assembled it glued it a little bit crooked (either that, or a long time in storage caused it to torque a little bit). So the wheel wasn't exactly on straight, and that put stress on the bearings that let it spin around. Branden made an adaptor to fix the spot where the wood had been broken, and realigned it as well as he could without taking it apart and reglueing.

So, now I had a spinning wheel. It wobbled a little bit, and it rubbed sometimes because the wheel isn't centered, but it worked well enough to learn on, anyway.

Of course, having a spinning wheel meant that I needed fiber. I bought some combed top at a local store and spent an afternoon learning how to spin. (On merino, no less...) The yarn came out lumpy and bumpy, with sections that were overtwisted and sections that were undertwisted. Slubby doesn't begin to describe it. But, it was yarn.

So I knit it up. I'd apparently overplied, so there is quite a bit of bias, and it's a very thick, very short scarf. But, with a nice button to keep it wrapped around my neck, it would make a great neckwarmer. The bias makes a nice angled edge that helps it look intentional.

Artemis wasn't too thrilled when I asked her to model it, but it's about the right length for her.

But spinning store-bought fiber was somewhat expensive, and I wanted something that I could practice on without worrying about wasting it. I am also an inveterate process person, and wanted to see the whole sheep-to-yarn process. We returned to Craig's list and found a farmer with some sheep advertising that he had wool for spinning. At $2 a pound.

We went up to the farm, and picked up a fleece. It was dirty, but it seemed to make sense that it would be, having just come off of a sheep. I asked the farmer how he sold his wool so cheaply, and he explained that he hired his sheep out to graze people's fields, and so the wool wasn't his money maker.

Think about that for a second. A big, fluffy ball of wool with legs is sent out to eat grass in an abandoned field that needs to be cleared. A field full of weeds. And burrs. And bugs.

To say the fleece was dirty is an understatement. The farmer didn't skirt it, so it was especially dirty around the edges. But, after about 7 bathtubs full of water and a weekend of smelly bathroom, it was finally clean enough to use.

I carded up the wool, and began my practicing. Romney is a great wool to learn on, even if it comes from a dirty sheep. But this particular dirty sheep had an extremely coarse coat. I don't mind itchy wool, but this is not something I'd ever wear or knit with. It's also permanently sweat stained. (It provides me with a deep and abiding temptation to borrow a loom, though, because it would make a great rug if properly dyed and woven...)

By the end of the useable part of this fleece, my yarn was getting better, though it was still a little off-balance. More importantly, it was close enough to real yarn that I could return to softer and more expensive fibers.

A month or so ago, I spun up some natural colored Coopworth, which I absolutely love. It seemed a little overplied to me when I first spun it, but I took it off the bobbins today, and it is showing no signs of being off-balance. Swatching will tell, I suppose. But isn't it pretty?

It's not perfect, but I like it. I was having real trouble getting the yarn to come out even, and my thickness seemed to be stuck somewhere around worsted. I decided to take a spinning class. I know that some of you may be thinking that this would have been a good place to start, but that would make the learning process far too easy. I much prefer to give something a try, figure out what I'm having trouble with, and then take a class to fill in the gaps. This is often not the most efficient way to learn, but it makes for all kinds of adventures. (Note to self: dirty sheep wool is an adventure best had only once, and is one that should be followed by copious amounts of soap...)

This morning, I took my first spinning class. I used a shop wheel rather than my own, as mine tends to make ominous clunking noises and I thought it might be better if I didn't distract my classmates with the thu-thunk of my wheel spinning.

I was taking the class to work on spinning a uniform thread. I sat down, and all of my problems with unevenness went away. Before the teacher even showed me what was wrong. This was a bit odd...if it's me (and not the wheel), then I should have had the problem regardless of what wheel I used. I was even using a natural white Coopworth fiber, the exact same kind that I used on my last batch of yarn, so it wasn't the roving.

Turns out that I had the tension set a little high on my wheel. I played around with it a lot when I first started spinning, but I'd found what I thought was a good tension, and haven't changed it since. The teacher sets her tension a little lighter, and voila! I can suddenly spin an even thread. And, I can even spin a fine thread.

I also got to try out Scotch tension (my wheel is set up as a double drive band, though it does both). The two methods don't seem all that different to me, but boy, does tension matter!
These look almost like singles for real yarn, don't they?

The white ones were done in class, and the dark brown was done on my wheel at home. As with so many things in life, it appears that spinning works better if you loosen up a bit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thinking, and planning

Every quarter has its week. The one where everything is just crazy and there's no way around a whole lot of extra hours and stress. The "crunch" week.

Last week was the crunch week, and some of it is spilling over into this week as well. I've been working many nights, and am just too tired to feel like doing anything on the other nights. So, not much knitting to show.

Fortunately, I did manage to finish the mitts in time for the farmers' market, where they were very well received. It turns out that the city is now charging $350 for a permit if farmers want to bring their space heaters, so a little extra warmth was much appreciated.

Finishing that project, of course, left me casting about for something else to work on. Aside from re-starting a sock that's been languishing for months, I haven't really done anything this week. But I've been thinking.

I've actually been thinking for some time now, but I didn't want to talk about it too soon. Remember this yarn?

No? Well, that's probably because I bought it this spring and never got around to doing anything with it. It's been calling. It has even begun to creep.

This yarn is destined for a sweater, but it's taken me a long time to decide on a pattern. I wanted a colorwork pattern, but I didn't want strong horizontal stripes. Traditional fairisle wasn't quite what I had in mind, and I really like the colorwork motif in the damask Kauni sweaters. I didn't come up with an overall tiling that would work with solid colors as well as the Kauni does with the damask, but I'm thinking a good vertical pattern will balance out the color changes nicely.

Inverting the foreground and background colors between the flower and vines stripes makes the vertical pattern really stand out, and I think it does nice things for the value balance. Inverting the whole pattern is also interesting:

It's kind of hard to tell which you like better in black and white, so I played around a bit with colors, too. I offset the color changes for the foreground and background by half a repeat to keep the change more subtle than it would be if I changed both at the same time.

And again, inverting foreground and background makes all the difference.

Having the light colors constant across a flower is nice because they don't look chopped in half (Compare with last image).

I think this is my favorite. Most of the weight is in the flower pattern, which is good because it establishes the color change rhythm. I also like the first pattern. I'll probably have to do some swatching to really know which I like best.

Now, I'm sure you're wondering how I did this graphing. You see, I have a husband that programs computers as a hobby. He is always asking if he can program something for me. (I don't understand this tendency, but I can definitely see the benefits of it!) He's been working on this little project for a while now, and we are getting close to working charting software.

I wanted to wait until Branden had had a chance to test the hard parts of the code before saying anything, because I didn't want him to have the pressure of a bunch of excited knitters before it was working. Coding is a long process with lots of stops and starts, and it's nice to be over the big stops before having people (besides your wife...) turning blue from holding their breath about it being done. It's getting close, but it's not quite there yet. (Please, keep breathing!)

Apparently the fairisle was pretty easy to implement, but getting lace charts (!!) working has been a lot harder, and has broken a lot of the code for the fairisle. We've been doing a lot of debugging (i.e. he sends me the file, I break it, he fixes it), and it seems like this will turn into a pretty usable program. We still have a lot of kinks to iron out, especially in terms of speed, but it is coming, and it's a pretty neat little program. If we can turn it into something that the average person could put up with using (harder than you'd think with computers...they have all kinds of idiosyncrasies that crop up in the most annoying ways), he will release it for general use. Yay for computer geeks!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So close...

...and yet so far.

I've been working on the farmers' mitts this week, and was hoping to have them done in time to give them out tomorrow.

I made a purple pair with cables:

And another with ribs:

A rose pair with checks:

And an orange pair with seed stitch palm grips:

I kept making mistakes on the orange pair, and had to rip back 3 or 4 times in the second mitt to make a matching pair. So, I was super-careful to make both mitts the same when I made the last pair of rosy ones, with smocked hexagons:

And I did manage to make them exactly. the. same.

Too bad human hands aren't exactly the same. That whole mirror image thing can really get you sometimes...

I thought I had only to knit a thumb, weave in ends and call it done, but instead I'm off to knit another mitt in rose with smocking, so that there will actually be a pair rather than two identical singles.

Fortunately, it's supposed to be warm tomorrow, so I don't think the farmer will miss her mitts too much if it takes another week to deliver them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weaving-Knitting Tutorial

Ok, so here's the tutorial, as promised. But first, the disclaimer:

As I said yesterday, this is just my rendition of the method. It's sort of like when I decided to make socks; I picked up my needles and "invented" a short row heel based on how it looked like it should be done, having never actually seen anyone do it or read instructions on how to go about it. I didn't know all the fancy tricks with wraps and turns, but managed to produce a pretty good replica. In this case, I found a couple of pictures on the internet, and just went from there with what seemed logical. Susanna is teaching all kinds of classes in the Seattle area this winter and spring, and I'm hoping to catch up with her one of these days to learn the fancy tricks. I suggest you do, too, if you ever have the chance. Or, you could get your hands on that Piece work magazine article. Until then, here's how I'm weaving-knitting:

First, get your yarn in order. For each color stripe, you need one strand. I wanted mine to be plenty long, so I wrapped them all around a dowel, in the order that I'd need them.

Then, put a tack in one end of the dowel and tie some scrap yarn around it.

Stick another tack in the other end. Tie a loop in the scrap yarn, and pull it over the second tack.

Now, your strings can be dangled without the dowel rolling away and unwinding all of the yarn.

Begin your cuff. When you're ready to start the weaving bit, pick up the first color and knit 2 stitches. Repeat for each color, until they're all attached.

Knit around in the base color until 1 stitch before the first color stitch in the previous row. (You want the color pattern to shift one stitch to the right to create the diamond shape.)

This is the only tricky part, and it will only be tricky the first time you try it. Turn the knitting once to untwist the color strands (or, dangle the dowel, if you prefer to untwist the yarn that way). Your base yarn (white, in my case) is probably now beneath the color strands, and we need it on top.

Grab the base yarn, and pull it around the needles so that it lays on top of the color strands.

It should now look like this:

Now, pick up your first color strand from underneath the base strand.

Knit two.

Drop yarn, pick up second color, knit two again.

Repeat for each color, making sure to keep the base color on top, and effectively wrapping the color strands around it when you knit. (See how it's like weaving?)

I also inserted a couple of stitches of base color in the center to help with stability. I don't think it's absolutely necessary, but we'll talk more about that in a minute. When you get to the center of the design, you'll need to mirror your color pattern, so knit up to and including the first color stitch from the previous row before switching back to your color strands. This effectively shifts the second half of the color pattern over one stitch to the left, and makes the mirrored diamond shape.

When you get to the end of the color segment, the float of your base yarn will now be held down by all the color strands that you wrapped around it as you knit.

All of the examples I've seen have the colors offset by one stitch in each row. I think that this is to keep from having an awkward join between the base yarn and the color strands. You never wrap the strands in this technique like you would in intarsia, so a straight border might not be very stable. As you work the pattern, you'll see that the yarn pulls itself tight when you pick it up in the next row to work again. It ends up sort of zigzagging up the back, because you always start knitting with a strand 3 stitches before the place where you dropped it in the last row. (This is another thing that I think will make perfect sense with needles in your hands, but sounds like gobbledy-gook when written.)

In a few rows, you'll have this:

The only problem I ran into occurred when I brought the two blue color segments together in the first repeat (you'll note I skipped that in the second repeat). Why? Because it did this:

I read somewhere that you're supposed to knit through the back loop for stitches leaning in one direction (don't remember which). This might solve the problem, but I haven't tried it yet. The problem doesn't arise as long as you keep a couple of stitches of base color in the middle of the pattern. I think just one would do it, and I'm sure there's a way around the issue.

And, look at that reverse side! See what I mean about zig zagging?

Isn't that fun?

It was super easy to keep tension with this method, and it makes a really nice, cushy fabric through the color pattern section.

Of course, like Tsarina, I am fascinated by the things you could do with this base idea. I don't think I'm up to change-ringing patterns just yet (though I'm sorely tempted), but my sketch pad is filling up with all kinds of cable-inspired designs that I think should work.

Now, if I can just get around that little problem with the hole...

For the moment, I've frogged and re-started the practice project, and am heading for a pair of mitts, once the farmers' mitts are done. I think this moves really fast, once you get the hang of it. I've found that keeping a tiny bit of tension on the color strands helps speed up the process of picking them up to knit, so I just lay the dowel across my ankles while I knit to keep those strands straight.

So, there it is. Delightfully simple, isn't it?