Sunday, May 31, 2009

A prize?

I got an email today from Walden at Eternal Arts and Crafts telling me that I'd won a prize for commenting on her site. I didn't even remember entering, probably because I was so focused on the handmade journal in the post (which is beautiful).

And then, she gave me a hard choice. I could go with the dyed roving in pretty blues, purples, and greens, or I could get an undyed roving to play with. I've been itching to dye again lately, and I have some solutions already made up that I need to use before we move, so I went with the undyed fiber. It's hard to pass on those colors, but this way I get to use my prize twice: once as a dyer and once as a spinner.

Make that three times; I also get to knit with it! What a fun prize! I'm really looking forward to playing with it when it arrives. Thanks, Walden!

It's so nice to get a fun surprise, especially at the start of what promises to be a stressful week. Excuse me while I go do an "I won a prize" happy dance. =)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

In love with a stitch pattern

Branden really likes geometric stitch patterns. I tend to like flowery, curvy ones. It's not often that we both look at the same stitch pattern and immediately say "I like it."

I wasn't sure that I would like this pattern when I saw it in the book, but as soon as I started knitting, I fell in love with it.

This is Herringbone lace from BW #1. The yarn is South West Trading Company Bamboo. I love this yarn. I used it once before, to make a halter top for my sister. (I would add a link, but I can't find the post, and those pictures are broken now, anyway. I can't wait to be able to fix the server and archive issues this summer!)

The bamboo has beautiful drape, though it makes a heavy fabric. Branden informs me that I only think it's heavy because I'm a knitter used to working with wool. He's probably right. It's still heavy.

The fabric definitely stretches lengthwise. Even a small swatch has enough weight to add 25-30% to the length of the pattern repeat, which is no small difference. I'm actually finding it hard to knit to the appropriate length measurements, because it feels so short. But the swatch says that it will stretch, and I believe it.

I've had this yarn in the stash for about two years. I got it on clearance on a local yarn shop crawl, and there were only two balls left. It wasn't enough for a big project, and it's ended up just sitting and waiting for a long time. I frequently take it out and look at it, and then put it back. But this time, it was ready.

The lace shell-turned-tank got me thinking about this yarn again. Two balls is enough for a tank, and bamboo doesn't have the warmth that I'd want in a shawl, so a garment seems like a good option. It's harder to work increases and decreases into this lace pattern unobtrusively, so this time I'm experimenting with different needle sizes. The bottom section of the swatch was knit on a size 6, and the top (above the black marker yarn) was knit on 4's. You can just barely tell them apart by feel in the finished piece, and the difference in pattern size isn't as noticeable as it looks in the picture.

Switching needle size gives me a 10 inch decrease at the waist (which is what I used on the last tank), so I'm going to try shaping with needle size.

I'm almost to the armpits on the front half, but I'm at a bit of a standoff with the lace at the moment. I thought about what to do with the wavy edges along the side seams, but I haven't really come up with a good solution for the armholes. The side seams will just be grafted in a zig-zaggy line, but I don't want points along the armhole edges, and I think point avoidance will involve some lace pattern modification. I didn't feel up to this morning when I discovered the problem. (Yes, it took me that long...) I need to start the decrease section soon, so I need to come up with some kind of a stable edging for the opening before I can get much further.

It's hard not to work on this lace, so hopefully I'll find some time to do stitch engineering and get back on track soon. Shouldn't be that hard, right?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Home again

The only problem with a long, carefree weekend? It's really hard to come back!

We really enjoyed our last minute trip down the coast. We've been meaning to take this drive ever since we moved to Seattle 5 years ago, and just haven't gotten around to it. It's too long a drive for a 3-day weekend, and we just never took the extra vacation time. But then, Branden's company instituted a mandatory furlough day once a month. No pay, no option.

Well. That seemed like as good an excuse as any to take a 4-day weekend. Add to that the fact that we only have about a month left in Seattle, and it was time for a trip. We can road trip on the cheap, and we both really needed some time away. So, Saturday morning we put out a bunch of food and an extra litter box for the cats, threw some stuff in the car, and headed out the door.

We drove until Portland, then took a right turn and headed to the coast. We followed the Oregon coast all the way to California. And there's a reason that it's a famous drive.

Unfortunately, we forgot to check the manual settings for the camera on this part of the drive, and ended up with very few good pictures. You'll have to believe me that it was worth the trip.

First, we went through the Willamette Valley, Oregon's agricultural center. Beautiful farmland, and strawberries! At a dollar a pound!

Strawberries might not seem like that big a deal, but remember that we're mostly local foodies now, which means that we generally eat what can be grown within a hundred miles' radius. If it can't be gotten at our farmer's market, we don't eat it. We're not hardcore about this, and we definitely do buy flour and sugar and other staples at the grocery store, but we stick mostly to the farmer's market for anything fresh.

I love eating locally. It forces me to be creative with my cooking, the produce is infinitely better, and I really like putting cash directly into the hands of a farmer. I don't think of seasonal eating as being restrictive or inconvenient in any way. Quite the contrary, in fact. Still, it means long winters with not much fruit. And you can only eat so many apples.

I know now why strawberry festivals are so common. Strawberries are one of the first new fruits of the season, and they're pure heaven after a winter of canned and frozen versions. Eating locally is about finding abundance in something as simple as this:

We stood by the ocean.

We marveled at the driftwood.

It was huge. (Six-foot husband added for scale)

We watched the surf, and the seagulls, and the seals. With some enabling, Branden bought a new kite, which he flew on the perfect sandy beach in the perfect wind.

I played with texture:

And color:

We wound our way down to California, and stood at the feet of some amazing trees.

(He really should warn me when he's actually going to take the picture...)

It was impossible to do them justice, so we paid homage to the very small nestled amongst their roots.

There are many, many more photos, but this is already a picture heavy post, and it's getting late. In all, a good trip.

Yesterday, we came grudgingly back to earth. Time to begin plotting our next adventure, I think...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Song of the open road

It's been a long quarter. Things are going to be busy in June (that might be the understatement of the year). We need some time off.

So, we're going to spend the next few days meandering down the Pacific Coast highway and forgetting that there's anything else we should be doing. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finished pics

We finally got out to take some proper finished pics yesterday evening. I love the fact that it's 9:30 and still light out!

I was surprised at how well it works under a sweater:

Though it's nice as a tank, too:

I really like the ribbing increases:

And it dresses up well for work:

Overall, a quick and versatile knit!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unseamly stretching

I blocked the lace shell last week, and then it was dark and rainy for several days and I didn't get a chance to try it on for pictures. Then, when I tried it on, I realized that it had stretched.

When I first knit my swatch, it seemed like it grew a little in length, even without heavy blocking. I measured, and couldn't really detect a difference. When I blocked the shell, I was very careful not to stretch it out at all. In fact, I even scrunched it up a little bit to keep the measurements where I wanted them.

When it was dry, it looked just fine laid out, but not so great when I tried it on.

I liked the new length better for the body, but there was a disproportionate amount of sretching at the armholes. Far too much to be attractive. At first, I considered pulling out a couple of repeats of lace from the shoulders and re-grafting. And then I decided to think on it for a little while (could also be read as I didn't feel like messing around with un-grafting).

On Saturday, I tried it on again, and looked more carefully at where the stretch was happening. There are a good 2 inches of stretch at the armholes, and only about 2-3 inches over the entire rest of the body. So 6 inches of knitting was stretching as much as the other 14 inches combined. Hmm.

I intentionally knit this piece flat because I thought that seams would be really important for the lace stability. The part that was seamed wasn't stretching much at all. The part that had a raw edge stretched a lot, and caused the entire garment to sag. Fortunately, that is easily fixed:

10 minutes and a crochet hook allowed me to put a crochet "seam" along the free edge of the armhole. I was careful not to crochet tightly, because I didn't want to pucker the fabric. It made a good, firm edge that's almost invisible (the right hand side of the picture has the crochet reinforcement, the left hand side doesn't). Much simpler than ripping and re-grafting, and much more likely to solve the problem.

And now?

An armhole that fits.

I'm not sure what I'd do to avoid this in the future. The crochet edging works, but it's not a very elegant solution. I'm thinking that a slipped selvedge would probably do the trick; I used a stockinette rib as the edge of the shell, and if I'd slipped the first stitch on every other row I'd have had half as many stitches to stretch out on me.

Of course, if I added sleeves (as I'd originally planned), I'd have a seam to stabilize the armhole. I'm still torn on the sleeves, but my inclination is that they will take away from the lines of the final garment. (Doesn't that sound all abstract and designer-y? I didn't mean it that way, but as soon as I typed it I felt just a little snooty...)

Since it's almost summer, I think I'm going to leave it as a tank top for now. I'll see if I wear it, how it wears, and then decide whether or not to add sleeves when the temperatures fall again. I wouldn't wear it to work anyway, as lab and clothes you care about do not mix. If I find myself not wearing it, or being too chilly while wearing it, I'll add some kind of cap sleeve. Evolving garments...could be a new trend!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sleeveless (for now)

Sorry it's been quiet over here lately. I had (a mild case of) not-swine flu last week, and didn't feel much like doing anything, so I didn't.

I'm looking forward to porting the blog over to a new hosting service once the thesis craziness is over (three weeks!). My computer got a virus a few months ago, and so we stopped using it as a web host. All of the pictures in the blog archives are broken now, and it's pushing me to make some bigger changes that I've been mulling over for a while. I'm looking forward to having time to work on doing some blog development this summer; it's in dire need of an update.

The biggest change will probably involve switching to Wordpress, which is especially exciting because Wordpress is much smarter about facilitating comment-answering. Right now, I have to log into a separate web service (Haloscan), find the comments section, click through to open an email window, and manually copy the comment text into the email body before I can respond. It's not a big deal, but there's usually some inertia to be overcome, especially when I've gotten behind (which I tend to do, because it's not fun to do all this clicking). It's just...clunky. From what I hear, Wordpress is much simpler to use, and I'm hoping that it will help me do a better job of keeping up with the comments. For now, know that I see them, appreciate them, and will eventually respond, probably long after you've forgotten what you were commenting on. =)

I didn't feel much like knitting when I was sick, and so there wasn't a lot of progress last week. This week, things are picking up a bit. I finished the back panel last night, and grafted the body of the lace shell together this evening:

Overall, the fit is really good, though it's a little bit overstretched at the bust. I think this will disappear with blocking. Since the rest of the lace will open up a bit, the extra stretch shouldn't be as noticeable. I'd definitely wear a camisole under this, but it's a pretty dense fabric. Someone more adventurous could easily get away without.

I didn't shape the back panel, except to increase and decrease a little bit around the sleeves. The front had a lot of internal shaping in the ribs, but the back section didn't need it (except at the hips).

Sorry for the dark pictures; I hadn't finished the shoulder grafts when the sun set. We'll take some better pictures when I have actually woven in the ends, which will happen after I decide what exactly to do about the sleeves.

I tend to wear things with sleeves more than tank tops, but I kind of like this as a tank top. Long sleeves are always my preference, but I don't have enough yarn to make them, and this was supposed to be a summery top. I was originally planning to make it short sleeved, but now I'm thinking that might make it seem too formal/dressy. What do you think?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Big needles make it go fast

It's amazing what happens when you knit lace on size 6's with sock yarn. Fast knitting! Progress!

The shoulders look very short to me in this photo, but I did measure them's hard to tell exactly which measurements to believe when making a garment out of lace. I think I need to get out the tape measure again. Funny how different things look in pictures...

Almost all of that shaping is done by adding just one extra knit stitch to each rib; isn't that amazing? There is a decrease of one repeat on each side at the armpit, but other than that, there's no shaping except the ribbing.

Despite some mild knitting malaise, I have started the back piece, and I'm hoping to get to "vest" soon. I'm not sure I'll have enough yarn for long sleeves, but this is a summery top anyway. And who can resist a good nailbiter?

Friday, May 1, 2009

A whole new kind of steeking

Last weekend, we took this off the loom:

6 skeins of Paton's Merino, roughly 30 oz of 3/2 pearle cotton, and a few weeks of spare moments. 19 feet and 4 inches of 16 inch wide fabric came off the loom, and after a rigorous bath in hot water, the final measurements are 18 feet, 2.5 inches by 15 inches wide.

I have to say that there was a little corner of my brain screaming "what are you doing with hot water? That's wool!" throughout the entire bathing process, but dramatic hot-cold transitions and agitation are the prescription for "finishing" a weave. And it worked beautifully. The fabric went into the bath slightly "tender"; I could still separate the weft threads a little bit, and it was pretty easy to make small holes in the fabric. It came out of the bath nice and stable, with all of the weft threads packed tight against one another.

I was surprised that it shrunk more in the long direction than in the width; I had expected the opposite from what I've read, and because the weft was the wool. I assumed that felting the wool slightly would pull in the sides, but it didn't.

So, I now have one very long, narrow piece of fabric that's destined to become a blanket. For that to happen, it needs to turn into four long pieces of fabric. This takes steeking to a whole new level. Thick, knit wool is one thing...wool woven with slippery cotton is quite another. It will be fun to see if it works.