Friday, August 28, 2009

Who me? Scattered?

You know that interview question where they ask how other people would describe you? Yeah, that one.

I'm guessing that most people that I know in real life would use words along the lines of "determined" and "focused" in responding to that question. Maybe even a little too focused sometimes.

This has been the source of endless amusement on my part lately.

Because suddenly, I have no focus. None at all. I am starting and forgetting and wandering away from things left and right. The maple leaf pattern? Oh, yeah. I should play with that some more. The sweater that's been on the needles for 6 months? Nope, I need a new one to work on. The shawl that I brought vowing to finish? Ha! Work from a pattern?

I can't even seem to sit down and knit a single round without a million things popping into my head to try next.

Maybe it's just decompression from grad school. Maybe it's that I have a half a notebook full of design ideas that I haven't had time for since I sketched them out a year ago. Maybe it's that I'm in a beautiful place taking pictures of things that inspire me. Maybe it's simply that I have time on my hands.

Whatever it is, "focused" is the last word that I would think to apply to myself at the moment. It's probably a really good thing that there are no comprehensive yarn stores nearby.

I think I'm going to need another notebook...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

All spun up

All this designing requires lots of time for thinking. Every time I hit a snag or need to make a big decision, I walk away and work on something else for a while. This leads to lots of time for spindling.

I finished the silk/merino roving the other day.

It's about 4 oz (I think), and comes in at roughly 317 m. I say roughly, because my yardstick is the cat scratching post, and I'm not sure that it's a particularly accurate ruler. So, more accurately, it's 317 wraps around a piece of wood covered in sisal and fake fur.

Ah, niddy noddy. You are sorely missed.

So, 317 m of two-ply, fingering-to-DK weight yarn (at least before setting the twist…it may end up being a full DK weight by the time we're done).

I double plied both to even out my spindling and to help keep the yarn stable. The singles would have been a good weight, but I wanted to make a harder-wearing yarn. I know that hard-wearing silk is a bit of an oxymoron, but you know what I mean. Of course, the singles would have been enough for a shawl…

At this weight, I probably don't have enough for a stole, but I should have enough for a scarf. One more project waiting in the wings, hoping to take form.

(Grey cat added for color comparison. She was appropriately compensated for her assistance with a belly rub.)

This means that I have only about 4 oz of roving left in Germany. I didn't expect to get through it so quickly, and so I didn't bring much spinning fiber. This may necessitate finding a yarn shop soon. And that's just all kinds of trouble.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not a good team

Note: I wrote this post before reading all of the comments (note within a note: bloggers, this is a very bad idea. Read the comments first so that you can learn from them!).

Now I'm dithering all over again. There has to be a good compromise…

Sometimes things that are perfect don't work well in teams. The one person that polarizes a group. The one, gorgeous color that throws off the rest. The person singing well, but simply singing too loudly. The one sentence that is pure genius, and yet destroys the flow of your writing.

Sometimes the best team is not composed of the best people. We all know this. We've all been in situations where we're working with a bunch of great people, and things just aren't coming together.

Because it's not about the people; it's about the team.

This happens in knitting, too. I was just talking to Jocelyn via email about her Elektra shawl. She has a bunch of great colors, and one is just not fitting in with the rest. It's a beautiful color, but in this combination it's not what she's looking for.

As we had this conversation, I thought back to the times that I have worked with color, usually in quilting. It's very easy for me to walk into a fabric shop and fall desperately in love with a pattern or print. I spend hours finding other patterns that match, building a team around this one player. And then I stand back and look at it. And very often, the team works better alone than it does with my star player. I have built an entire collection just to highlight this one fabric, and then I realize that it no longer belongs.

I try to deny it. I try to find other things that will make it belong. I rail about the injustice of the universe. I make Branden listen to all the reasons that I like the first fabric, and why it should fit.

And then I bite the bullet, and I cut it out.

I whimper and whine, but once I've done it, cutting the one piece lets me begin again and find something that is perfect for the team. Something that makes every member soar.

Teams are about working together, not standing out or showing off. They're about cooperating, working seamlessly in unison.

And if something's not working, then it doesn't belong.

Even if I love it.








The rick rib is not playing nicely.

Or rather, it's doing all that it can do to fit in, but it cannot mesh flawlessly with the waving lace.

See there? At the join where the column of rick rib meets the column of faggoting? See how there's a break in the pattern?


There's nothing I can do about it. Or at least there's nothing that I know of that I can do about it.

The problem arises because the rick rib columns are made with yos and slipped stitches, while the faggoting columns are made with yos and k2togs.

Doesn't seem like a big deal, does it? But it means that the threads between the open holes cross without touching in the rick rib, while they wrap around one another in the faggoting.

Here's the rick rib:







And a slightly less blurry, less stretched version:

A zigzag of not-overlapping strands, a beautiful relative of the brioche stitch.

And here's the faggoting:


Here, we have rounded triangles, where the yos wrap around and through one another to hold each other open.

At the transition, we switch from a two-stitch pattern to a four-stitch pattern, and from crossing to wrapping.

I can line them up, but I can't make them perfect. Maybe this isn't the best team.

I've been fighting with myself about this all week. It goes something like this:

Rational self: "It's not perfect. I'm sorry, but it has to go."

But-It-Was-a-Great-Idea Self: "But I like it, and it's fast and easy to knit."

Rational self: "Yes, but a faggoting stitch would be just as easy, and would have a better join."

But-It-Was-a-Great-Idea Self: "But I like the rick rib. See the herringbone? It's all tilty and zigzaggy and I love it."

Rational self: "I know. But it's not working well here. It will work somewhere else, but it doesn't work here."

But-It-Was-a-Great-Idea Self: "But, but…."


I'm not going to rip back. I don't mind the imperfection so much, and it would probably damage the yarn to rip it back again. And, I'd have to rip all the way back to the cast on.

But, when I knit this again (and I will), I think the rick rib has to go. I really really love it, but it's just not perfect in this team.

And after all, that's what matters.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two posts in one = twice the fun

As I was knitting on the edging for the first half of the alpaca stole, I noticed a slightly green color in the yarn.

There was also a slightly green color on my fingers.

And then I remembered noticing this once before, when I was knitting a stole last year on these needles. The yarn was dark, and I didn't think much of it. But now, the yarn is creamy white, and the grayish-green of tarnished brass does not add to the finished piece.

Anyone else had this problem with Addi needles?

I'm still knitting with them, because I love my addi lace needles and Inox are just not the same. I'm just trying to minimize contact between the needles and the yarn while storing them. I rub the needles down when I start, and I'm hoping that the color will just wash out at the end.

If it doesn't, it won't be the end of the world, as I was thinking of dyeing the final product anyway. I'm still not terribly pleased.

In other news, I am horribly behind in telling you what's going on with this project. This processy-blogging works great on a daily schedule, but on a non-daily schedule it kinda drags things out a bit. So, despite the fact that I haven't knit in four days (don't know what came over me), I am still ahead of the blog posting.

This is kind of a new thing for me. I can't say that I hate it.

So today, you get two posts in one. Tarnished fingers, and awkward joins.

Part of the reason that I am playing with the maple leaf stitch pattern is that I wanted to see how lace patterns worked, from the inside out. I wanted to know this so that I could figure out how to put them together seamlessly.

I didn't really think about the join between the rick rib and the waving lace when I first knit the join in the alpaca stole. Or rather, I thought about it, decided that it was hard and I was tired, and just kept going.

That gave me this:

It's not horrible, but there's a definite join between those two patterns. They don't flow into one another; they collide.

And so, I pulled back. Stitch by stitch, very carefully.

Have I mentioned that alpaca handspun felts to itself while you knit? Very soft yarn, very fuzzy. I think understand why people complain about knitting with mohair.

Every single stitch was tinked. No pulling. (Because pulling leads to felted knots, run stitches, and broken yarn. Ask me how I know.)

But, I made it back. This time, I put some thought into the join. A lot of thought, actually.

I removed a half repeat of the waving lace panel, partly to center it and partly because it was stretching more than my swatch said it would.

I took care to make sure that the vertical columns in the rick rib continued into the faggoting columns in the waving lace without awkward jogs.

It's not perfect, but it's a lot better.

I'll show you what's wrong with it (and why) next time.

But for now? Look at that join!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Falling down the Rabbit hole

I have a confession. I've never really "understood" Ravelry.

I know.

I'm just not a hang around online and chat in forums kind of person. I log into Facebook once every few months (if that). I've never found anything to make me stay. And Ravelry seemed a lot like Facebook.

I'm also the kind of person that prefers to go and look in my stash and fondle yarn rather than to look at pictures in my profile. The blog is as close as I get to a photo-enriched log book, and it's good enough for me.

Seeing how I never use patterns, it's kind of hard to get into the KALs or to spend hours looking through other people's version of a pattern. (They're great, and it's fun to see them all, but if I know I won't knit the pattern, why?)

And so, I have had a Ravelry account for well over a year, and have barely used it. I wasn't in any groups, didn't follow any forums, and didn't tend to leave messages anywhere. (I know that this may also be why its value was not all that apparent...)

Now, I know that this is inconceivable to many modern knitters. I know that Ravelry has lots of great things to offer, and I think it's a wonderful tool, for those that are interested in using it. But I've never been one of those people.

When I came to Germany, I discovered that my LYS is closed for the summer (!). There is no way to plug into knitters in Bretten, because there is no access to the yarn shop that I had hoped would help to connect us. Hmmph.

Of course, I wasn't all that connected to local knitters in Seattle, either. I'd tried two different knitting groups, both of which kind of unraveled and fell apart at the end. People were busy. They never developed the kind of dynamic that would keep them going. After the second, I didn't bother to find a third. I just hung out in the blogosphere.

But in Germany, the social connection with real people is a little more important than it was in the States. I'm not working, I don't have many friends (and no friendships that are more than a few weeks old), and sometimes I get a little tired of talking to myself and the cats. The friends that I do have here don't really understand the knitter thing, though they put up with me knitting around them with only a few sideways glances.

The time was ripe to find the potential in Ravelry. So, I joined a bunch of groups on the forums, and started plugging into the knitting community in Germany. Last Saturday, we went up to Heidelberg for a meetup. We ended up staying for about 6 hours, and it was kinda hard to leave at the end.

There was Geollyn from England and DondaLonda from Australia, both here on exchange programs. Julester is from Boston and here with her military husband. Liakno is from New Orleans, but married a German and is now living near Heidelberg. Leseratte is a native German, and one of the few bloggers in the group. She was working on a mystery shawl KAL project. I am not that brave...I need to see where the pattern is going before I cast on! There was another woman there whose name I don't recall that had a beautiful Horus shawl that she'd just completed, and who was working on a cabled sweater. And there was SnowberryLime, a knitter from Switzerland who is about to move to Wales. She's a knitter and spinner, and has a great shop on Etsy. You should go look at her fun art yarns. (I love the one with the bees, and the wire core just seems like it has so many interesting possibilities...)

DondaLonda, Geollyn, and Julester are all relatively new knitters (ranging from about a year to about 2 days of experience). It was really fun to see new people getting started, and it even inspired Branden to knit one whole round of a sock that I cast on for him. He hasn't touched it since, so I don't think it will stick this time, either, but he did pick it up again.

So maybe I can see the usefulness of Ravelry. Had to come out of my cave sometime, I guess.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A matter of perspective

The swatch I showed you in the last post had errors in it. Actually, there were originally a lot more errors, but I tinked back several times, trying to make it a good swatch. At the end of one pattern repeat, I was pretty ready to give up on knitting anything sizeable in this stitch pattern.

And then I sat back and thought about it. It's not a difficult pattern, but the chart was (to me) just unreadable. I being able to see how my knitting lines up with the chart is absolutely crucial for me, and I just couldn't see it.

And so, I would make a mistake without realizing it, knit blithely on for 4 rows or so, realize that something looked funny, spend 20 minutes figuring out where the problem was, and then have to tink all the way back. Not fun.

Why was it such a big deal, you ask? The charts.

Here is the chart, compared to the knitting*:

They look nothing alike. To me, that chart looks like so much chicken scratch (no offense intended to the author; the pattern is clear and can be followed. I just don't see the order in it). But this is a simple pattern, and there's no reason that the chart should look so complicated. And I really wanted to use the stitch pattern.

To use the pattern, I would also have to figure out how to knit half a repeat so that the edges of the piece would be straight. So, I sat down to figure out just exactly what was going on with this chart.

There's a column of faggoting stitches that separates the two half-dropped patterns from one another, and so I started there, using the yo/decrease pairs as my signposts.

This at least looked a little more like the knitting, but I thought I could do better. The problem is that the chart is written in solid rows with a stitch in every position. Generally I like them this way, but this pattern has lots of increases and decreases that change the stitch counts for each motif every four rows, effectively shifting the chart rows relative to one another. If you keep the stitches constant in the chart, then it can't look like the knitting. Since I rely on being able to "read" my knitting to figure out what to do next and to catch errors, I'd rather have empty chart boxes where there are no knit stitches.

Since the faggoting stitches are always worked directly above one another, I shifted them into vertical columns and centered the motif stitches, leaving "no stitch" areas to take up the extra space.

This chart looks like my actual knitting, and it's very easy to figure out where to cut the design motif to get a half-pattern to even out the edges. After half an hour of re-charting, I can use the stitch pattern that I like, and I can see where I'm going.

When I sat down to figure this out, I was sure it would be a real pain in the neck, and it simply wasn't. I wonder how many times we avoid a pattern that looks complicated, when a small change in perspective is all it takes to make it simple?

*I'm only showing partial charts where they are copied directly from the book, to avoid giving away BW's published material. It goes without saying that you should own her books anyway. =)

Friday, August 14, 2009

A little edgy

Every piece needs an edge. Really, that's an obvious thing, but sometimes it's not as straightforward as it seems.

I started swatching thinking that I might just use the edge of the Rick Rib for the finished edge of the alpaca shawl.

Not quite what I was looking for.

Then, I tried padding it with one row of k2, k3tog, hoping for a scalloped edge. But it still wasn't quite enough.

Clearly, I needed a real edging. I had settled on the Bold Faggoted Edging from BW #2 for the sides, and I decided to use the same edging on the ends. That left me wondering how to turn the corner.

Eventually, I used short-rows to make half a mitered corner.

Then, I picked up the stitches from the provisional cast-on, and worked the same short row series in the other direction. When the corner has been turned, it looks like this:

So, now I have two stitch patterns, and an edge. Almost a complete design.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The maple leaf stitch pattern is really a distraction to keep me from realizing that I don't have an actual project on the needles at the moment. I needed this, because my handspun alpaca was not cooperating.

It might look friendly and pettable, but it's really very coy.

I started thinking about possible stitch patterns for this yarn while I was spinning it. Then, I skeined it and thought some more. It needed something with a strong pattern that can handle the irregularities of a beginner's handspun, and it needed to be open so that I could get a good sized piece out of the yardage that I have. (I don't have my spinning notebook with me in Germany, but I think it's about 150-200 yds.)

At first, I thought that an ostrich plume or some feather and fan variation would do it, but then I just wasn't interested in those patterns when I started swatching. I tried several other kinds of lace, and none of them were working. I ran out of sock knitting, and switched to the Malabrigo yarn in desperation. We know where that went: colors in the Malabrigo led to ideas of leaves, ideas of leaves led me to swatching in sock yarn, and now suddenly I'm playing with stitch patterns.

But I still wanted a project.

Some projects jump into my mind fully formed, and some of them need to be coaxed out. The alpaca handspun needs to be coaxed.

I've been alternating between the maple leaf rag (as I am now affectionately calling it) and the alpaca for a couple of weeks now. I'm not sure that I can call the alpaca project designing. It's more like flirting. Or wheedling. This yarn will not put up with just any random design idea. No, no. It needs to be wooed into a pattern, not designed.

In fact, I probably tried somewhere between 5 and 8 different stitch patterns before I found one that would work. After several "not quite" patterns, I finally found one that I liked with the handspun yarn. It's called Waving Lace (from Barbara Walker #4):




















There are a few mistakes in this swatch, but you get the idea.

I have liked this stitch pattern for a long time, and it holds up well to the unevenness in the yarn. The pattern is strong enough and solid enough that a few bumps here and there don't completely obliterate the lace, and I love the undulating columns.

Unfortunately, it takes too much yarn. I would not be able to get much more than a scarf out of this lace with the yardage I have. Add to that my inability to remain interested in the same lace pattern for the entire length of a stole, and you have a requirement for a second stitch pattern. So, I looked for something even more open that would work with the Waving Lace.

I found it in the Rick Rib (BW #2):

I love the columns and zigzags in this stitch pattern, and it's really simple to knit. It is worked on both sides, but it is a three-stitch repeat, and it just flies along. And all those yarn overs make for a very stretchy fabric, perfect for stretching out a short supply of yarn.

So those are the first steps. Two stitch patterns that work with the yarn, and that will (hopefully) allow me to get the length that I want out of the yarn that I have. And now, to turn them from swatches into a stole.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is there an echo in here?

It appears that I am both two-timing and double-posting. Really, this behavior is unacceptable.

Whoops. Sorry 'bout that.

We've been trying to come up with ways that I can compose posts and then have Branden upload them directly to the blog. This would be a lot simpler than the current arrangement where I take the pictures, Branden loads them onto his flash drive, brings them to work the next day, uploads them to our photo gallery, creates links for me, and then I compose the blog post and publish it from home. We've had a few hiccups in this plan, and if one of us forgets even one of the steps it adds an extra day to the delay in posting.

Blogger has a handy feature where you can just write your post in Word, add the pictures, and hit "publish." (Supposedly.) I was a bit suspicious, but we gave it a test run last week, and it worked reasonably well. Branden went through and fixed all the formatting and checked that the formatted text was right (wasn't that nice of him?), but missed the double post. We'll know to check for that little error next time.

And the good news is that it almost worked. So I might be able to post more now. Which means I can show you other things that I've been playing with. Maybe I should go do some writing, huh?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Negative is more powerful

Lace is a delicate balance between positive and negative space. Light and dark, stitches and holes, being and not being.

Lace is a delicate balance between positive and negative space. Light and dark, stitches and holes, being and not being.

Important lesson of the week: In lace, as in many art forms, negative space is more powerful than positive space.

Look at the fragment of a design that you see below.

What does your eye notice?

The holes. The patterns in the negative space.

The positive-space leaves are dark, solid areas full of knit stitches, and they attract almost no attention. There are strong lines in the negative space that pull toward the center of the pattern, and that's where my eye focuses. On that single yo right in the middle. As far from the main motif as I can get.

To be fair, this is partly because the leaves are at the sides of the piece rather than in the middle, where your eye is most prone to spend its time. But still. Too much open space, and too much going on in the open space to allow your eye time to find the "dominant" motif.


In that swatch, all of the leaf motifs are pretty equally spaced, so that there is lots of empty space to fill between them. I had tried to fill that empty space with partially-solid areas, which I hoped would pull it together and keep the design flowing through rather than getting stuck in the openwork.

That didn't work quite as I'd intended, obviously.

Next, I tried squishing the motifs together a bit to close up some of that huge central region. I also removed some of the more solid parts of the "open" center area. Instead, I placed the two motifs as close together horizontally as I could without changing the increases and decreases around the border of the leaf. The design went from 40 st wide to 31.

This helped quite a bit.

In this swatch, the faggoting rows really lean into the pattern and help to draw your eye back into the positive space. Here, the strong lines of the negative space feed into the curves of the pattern and reinforce rather than distract. This is particularly interesting because I thought that those same lines were distracting when the motif was by itself on a stockinette background. (Walden knew that they were right all along…)

In a way, the faggoting columns are giving me the same central motion that I'd wanted to achieve with positive space in the first swatch. But here, negative and positive are working together, rather than competing.

I didn't finish knitting the last few rows of this swatch, because it was clear that I still need to do some more re-designing. At the very beginning of the leaves, I had left some solid spots, thinking that they might make nice accent areas to balance the three leaf tips.

Well, to put it simply, they don't. They might if they were further removed from the pattern, but here I think that they completely obliterate the leaf tips. I need to rework that section, though I'm not yet sure what to do with it.

It's also interesting how the fabric is behaving when not pinned out. I made sure that my stitch count stays the same on every row, because I thought it would be easier to keep track of things. No need to make the first pattern too complicated, right?

However, I am going back and forth between a very open lace background and a very solid motif, which necessarily causes changes in my gauge. This is what the swatch looks like without pins:

(That's also a lot closer to its real color, since I didn't use the flash.)

Over a large piece of fabric, these puckers will all balance one another out because of the diagonal motif arrangement, but in a single pattern repeat, it's a pretty drastic change.

With some rigorous blocking, I think the piece would lie flat, but it's interesting to see just how differently these two areas stretch. I don't know if the fabric will pucker in a larger piece after blocking. That's definitely something to consider, but I'm not really sure how to test it without just knitting a big piece, and I'm not ready to do that yet.

The fabric shape also has implications for how the faggoting looks. At the top of the leaf, the fabric is narrowing quickly, and so all of the yo's stretch sideways rather than looking round. I like what that does to the pattern, but it's not something I'd have planned.

The yo's between the leaf fronds, on the other hand, are in the area that has a lot of openwork and so is very stretchy. They stay very round, and very small. I'm not sure that this helps the pattern, but that's what they do.

The gauge distortion is enhanced by the decreases at the leaf base. I wanted the base to pull in quickly to the stem rather than stretching out for several rows, and so I added extra decreases in the main leaf motif. That's also what gave the it those beautiful, swirly lines in the upper fronds. I balanced the rapid decreases with increases, but not fast enough, apparently. Since the leaf area doesn't stretch much, changing its size has a much bigger effect on the overall fabric than do changes in the lace area. Also, from the stress points, it looks like I really should have added those extra increases a row or two before starting the decreases. Good to know.

Replacing the solid areas by the tips with more openwork might help to alleviate the gauge issues, as well as helping to define the tips more clearly. I'm not even sure that the gauge thing is an issue to alleviate, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it's pulling in too much and might pucker if given the chance.

So, to summarize: I like the area between the leaves. The motifs are better closer together. The tips still need work, and the fabric might pucker.

In general, negative space is even more important than the motif that it highlights.

And we're only on swatch #4!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Knit, frog, knit

I have been doing an awful lot of knitting lately. I have pictures of some of it, which I have yet to upload so that I can use them. So, there are some pictures coming. The rest of the knitting hasn't been very picture-worthy, though.

Designing is one of those activities where I often end up knitting three or four times as much as the final object shows. Or more, depending on how good I am at guessing what to do with the yarn before I actually try it.

You see, I am a closet perfectionist. I usually pretend to be all zen about things, and I often let the errors stay in a piece if they're small. But when I'm designing? Then the perfectionist has full reign to be picky.

Two repeats too many in that border? Frog the whole thing! One stitch that looks out of place? Frog! Should have used a different cast on? You guessed it...

In general, I enjoy this process. I don't mind re-knitting, and I often go back to try something different even if it would be fine as I first knit it. And sometimes, I go back and re-knit it again the first way when my "improvement" flops. It's part of the experimenting, and it's how I build my knowledge of how different variations work in a piece. It's fun - in an obsessive kind of way - but it doesn't lead to a product. Usually, at the end of the day I have a freshly wound ball of yarn, an empty needle, and a sketch of what to try next.

So there's not a lot to show right now. But there will be soon. It's all simmering away in the design pot. It just hasn't gone from half-baked to well done yet. But it's getting closer.

I got tired of knitting maple leaves, so they have been supplanted by some handspun alpaca, which is beautiful. It's also not a very good communicator. It's having a hard time figuring out what it wants to be.

Again, I think we're getting closer. So, someday soon.

And maybe by then the pictures will be uploaded.

Right now? I need to go frog.