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.