Friday, February 27, 2009

Yarn by mail!

One of the best things for me about knitting in 2009, as opposed to 1989, is that there is so much more yarn to choose from and I finally have some money to spend on it, and you can order it online and have it mailed to you, so you get surprises on blustery gray days. Surprises like yarn that looks like a blustery gray day, except soft and warm.

What this picture doesn't show in addition to clear definition - camera problems, sorry - is the squishy yumminess of this sock yarn from Danidocrafty. It's her Wires and Waves colourway, aka the one so alluring that I had to buy it even though I Do Not Knit Socks (though I've noticed a pinhole hole in that dike, which Kathleen Taylor's fab sock projects do not help block.)

And you might notice something else about this yarn... like, it's not in a skein. I do enjoy winding my own yarn from the back of a chair. Um, really. But sometimes instant gratification is called for and for a ridiculously small fee Dani was willing to make these little cakes for me, bless her.

So. I have new yarn! and it's sock yarn and what I really need is a hat so you know where this is going. Much, much less writing and much, much more swatching.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The 1920s hat

Honestly! How could those women in cloche hats even see?

I've been looking at pictures of flapper-era women in hats since spotting this on Jezebel and I've come to the conclusion that as hemlines went up and offered full-time views of the long-forbidden Ankle Of Sexiness (to say nothing of what the lack of corsets was doing for modesty) designers figured women had to be holding back on something and chose the face. Or at least, expressive parts of it in the eyebrow region. Or maybe the goal was to frame a girl's cupid-bow mouth?

Still... such cute hats! I can't link straight to picks from the Hutton Archive of Getty Images, as it turns out, but if you click here and type "1920s woman golf outfit" into the search engine (leaving out the quotation marks) you'll see what I mean. Cute, cute hats and even cuter knitted ensembles. It makes me wonder whether or not my super adorable two-tone golf shoes still fit and also, whether I'm still good enough to get through a hole in fewer than 12 swings? Because it would be pretty great, if sweaty, to show up on the green in any of those clothes. But not the hats. I'd get a kink in my neck trying to work out where to aim the ball.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The endless surprisingness of love

A few weeks ago I was in one of my local bookstores (because it sells yarn, which is a terrible thing for a writer to say) and picked up and could not put down some gorgeous lush green Colinette wool.

Then I saw some Noro sock yarn whose colours complemented the Colinette beautifully, and bought them both, and when I'd recovered from the near-heart attack induced by their collective cost I went home and started working up a hat, and hated the Noro.

There's no comparision between these two yarns, one soft and full and the other rough and unforgiving. Especially when you knit them together on needles big enough to accommodate the expansiveness of the Colinette.

However, the yarns were made to be together in this hat, and no question, the Noro's colours are a dream. So I persevered, and last night I moved on to The Embellishment, worked exclusively in the Noro. Ew. Which required tiny needles, double ew, the adorable tiny-needled Coraline designs notwithstanding. And guess what?

Knit on the proper needles in the proper stitch, the Noro is sheer bliss!* I could hardly get myself to stop knitting the swatch, and boy is that saying something. So now I know what I'm doing with the rest of the ball when this hat's done: not putting it into the dreck box, but knitting with it on its own as soon as possible.

* Yes, I know many people have figured that out already, and the opportunity to cluck knowingly and shake their heads without offending a soul is today's HugsForYourHead gift to them. I love a good cluck and head-shake, don't you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A book I can recommend:

The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes. Not that I should be surprised, since Clara Parkes is the publisher of Knitter's Review and a contributing editor to Interweave Knits.

Okay, it's true that the cover is adorable, something that shouldn't sway me and always does. But you find out pretty quickly that you're in competent hands and will finish the book with more than just an understanding of the properties and behaviour of different yarn and what you'll have to compensate for; you're going to know where the fibers come from and how they're processed. And you canNOT beat a book with beautiful photographs of yarn and Finished Objects. Finished Objects for which patterns are provided, no less.

I was particularly interested in the entry on bamboo, having hung out recently with a knitter who was making a drool-worthy* baby sweater from lavender and pearl tinted bamboo yarns. And oh, the cabled tea cozy in two colours... I so need to make that, and then have a tea party.

I think this one definitely needs a place on my bookshelf, yes? and when it comes out in October so will its companion, The Knitter's Book of Wool.

* I refer of course to adult drool; not the baby variety. I would be reaching instinctively to get a bib over that cardi at the first hint of spit-on-lip, it was so sweet... though really, drool happens, and a girl oughtta be allowed to drool on her very own summer sweater, don't you think?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why I'll stop complaining about...

...the slow progress one makes with small needles and slim yarn: Binnie sent me a YouTube link yesterday that makes my sock yarn look chunky... and makes me want to knit some seriously magnificent sweaters. Full-size ones, though, seeing as how my fingertips don't get nearly as cold as my shoulders do.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Needle in a haystack (slipped stitches)

This weekend I've been reading through a book that got very mixed reviews on Amazon and have decided to agree with the disappointed ones. I won't be buying it. Still, I stuck with it for anything that might change my mind, and after two days of heavy going have this tip to show for it:

If you slip the same stitch every other row, the fabric will fold neatly in that place.

If you slip it on the purl side it will fold in; if you slip it on the knit side, it will fold out.

Probably this is not earth-shattering excitement but as I've never knit a cardi with a hemmed button band or a pleated skirt, it's new to me, and useful for one of the hats I have in mind to make, heh heh.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A new day, a new yarn

I spent some time yesterday reorganizing the stash and I'm with Kathi: I need clear plastic airtight boxes. Still, separating out the dreck I will never, ever use from the stuff I love but can't use for what I'm doing right now and the stuff I have jostling together for priority was good for the ol' mental clarity. I had two perfect projects all lined up in my mind before I could even test to make sure I can finally close the doors of my computer hutch/yarn cave.

Then I did a proper swatch to see exactly how one goes about getting a right angle without doing a mitre or picking up stitches (answer: increase like a fiend on just one side of the work.)

And then - are you sitting down? - I put a movie into the DVD player and watched it. While knitting. I never, ever get to do that. It was wonderful, not least because I got through all the boring stocking stitch while on the edge of my seat watching 1929-vintage Hitchcock. If you want to read more about that and try out a fun test, click this.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Making Lemonade

Two ugh projects in a row!

First up: my aunt's pointy-edged tam. Its initial problems were partially resolved by blocking (yay for Soak and again for the incredibly useful giant Tupperware bowl, which is also great as a cover for rising bread dough and as a spinny place for yarn that's being measured for yardage.) Once it was dry, though, more problems emerged. You know how a squirrel can hold like a million nuts in its cheeks? Well, the bottom of this tam could hold about a million squirrels with a million nuts in their cheeks. Fail.

Next: the Great Malabrigo Experiment. I have resisted Malabrigo since falling off the no-knitting wagon last fall (I was heavily addicted in the 80s and early 90s, and recovered until Karen and Kathi lured me back.) If you're going to be spoiled for anything else, it's best to be spoiled by something less expensive than Malabrigo.

Then I got to see some and feel it and was tempted... except that there really weren't any colours I liked. And then, a few weeks ago, I found a skein whose colours I love. But I've been knitting it into a Thing the last two days and you know what? I don't love the way the colours fall. They're kinda blotchy - nothing like a stripe, nothing like a soft blur. More like somebody threw down a bunch of pastel powder in a fit of pique and stomped away. And the Thing never took shape into anything but that before I ran out of yarn. I haven't improvised a single thing in the past four months without having yarn left over, so I was totally unprepared for that.

Being stoic, I'm going to treat it like a swatch and measure the heck out of it and then roll it all back into a ball to do what with, I don't know. I think only felting will give me the colour blur I wanted and a bag is kind of a waste of Malabrigo, don't you think? It's too soft not to be touching your skin.

So. Learning experience: pairing stitches to shapes is very important, and so is checking yardage before beginning, and swatching not just for size but for colour when working with variegated yarn. I just hope my next crash course in disaster avoidance takes less than 12 hours.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Does not compute

I'm reading another (very yummy) book about Gansey knitting - Cables, Diamonds, Herringbone - and engaged as always by the backstory of the fishermen's wives and mothers who made them. So you can imagine how perplexing it is to me to read about a tradition in which women valued their family patterns and taught them to the next generation, who simply assumed that they would be using these patterns to help clothe the men in their family and that knitting would form a special part of courtship when the time came to marry - until suddenly one set of Next Generation just isn't interested.

Not interested

Okay, I can see how a girl might come up with other ways to convince a likely lad she's marriage material, beside wielding needles to produce a sweater, even if it's unlike any other in a good way. And I can see how a teenage girl with her head turned, or a young mother, might say No to knitting if she hasn't learned it yet - who has time at that point? But for that apathy to one's cultural past to continue into later stages of life, and not just in one person but in an entire generation, men and women... Wow. Yet true in Filey (in Yorkshire), apparently.

Kinda reminds me of an article I read about twined knitting, which fell out of use when well-meaning folk came into communities and taught all the children to knit the Continental way, an approach that makes twining more than a tad of a challenge. And conveniently forgot to add twined knitting to the school curriculum to boot.

In other news before I get back to the book - folks, I need help with the stashing of the stash.

I counted and I only have about 15 skeins/balls of yarn I care about collecting in some visible yet dust-free assemblage. How, where, in what receptacle, arg. The suggestion box is open.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The lonely bookshelf

Last night I spent some time reading through Amazon and some other sites for good books about knitting.

It's fascinating to me how much you can knit and knit and only learn what you need for the one project, never seeing the potential in other techniques because they're in some other pattern you're not making. It's sort of like the way you can live life quite adequately without ever traveling, but seeing how other people manage gives you more opportunities to live life well... if only to enjoy what you do with a different kind of tea on the table in front of you.

All of which is to say that I now have a few more guides on my to-get list.

And I am also going to try out the notion of knitting a circular garment on straight needles using the double knitting method, as somebody suggested on one of the sites I stumbled across. It's not like I don't have half a dozen pairs of 6mm straights looking for something to do, right?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stocking vs. Seed

Why, you might ask yourself, should there be any sort of versus in that title? Can't different stitches just learn to get along?

Sadly no. We will not discuss the precise manner in which the battlefield that is my aunt's tam demonstrates the discord between these two, beyond noting that the Statue of Liberty would be well-suited by the result. I have hopes that careful negotiations, in the form of a pressing cloth and steaming iron, will lead to peace.

Stocking stitch takes yarn farther than other stitches. Even garter stitch snuggles up close to itself row after row, so that if you have two small sections of stocking stitch and a long section of some other stitch - cable, tumbling blocks, seed - it will pull up in the middle where the stocking stitch sections are not staking it down. It sounds pretty when you put it that way, doesn't it? Perhaps I will take my aunt's tam as a learning experience and apply it more productively at the bottom of a sleeve or a hem or some other place where scallops look nice. But first, I have to fire up the iron.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

... from all of us at Procrastination Central!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Getting a line on a cable

I used to be a complete cable junkie, back when all my knitting was done on a bed in residence, surrounded by knitting- and non-knitting friends, and watching hours of TV at a time (anybody remember Moonlighting?) These days most of it is done in short bursts before I have to run off and do the next thing, and that just isn't so conducive to a vast Aran acreage.

Taking pity on my plight a few months back during a rushed phone call, Karen told me about cabling without cable needles. I was intrigued but could not grasp the concept... and then had to run off to do the next thing, and forgot to look it up.

But Binnie of the Great Minds Think Alikeness has had cables on her mind lately, and found this. Now it all makes sense... and suddenly every time I close my eyes I see another elaborately cabled hat. Mmmmm, cabled hats.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine Freebie #2 - Flower Pot

And here you have it - spring in an upturned flowerpot!

It's a bit like a fez too, isn't it. You could make it long enough to have a dent and give you more height if you wanted to go for Henry's look:

What I love about this hat is the top. Biscotte & Cie's colours are even more rich in the tight texture of rice stitch gone circular.

Happy Valentine's Day! And now I'll get back to my knitting.

Update: another view of the hat, from Louise at Biscotte & Cie. I think the ladybug buttons make it, don't you?

Another update - Biscotte's web shop features the hat (and necessary yarn) here (post-doll-knitting) and it's so beautiful! Makes me want to make one even though I already did :^)

View .pdf of Flower Pot Hat.

View .pdf of Flower Pot Hat - French translation (thanks, Louise!)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine Freebie #1 - Pocket Top

MAN, I have got to start remembering that it takes a couple of hours to write up a pattern. I have two variations on one variegated hat to share, but you'll have to wait for the other. It's a lot less silly (just as soft and warm, though.)

Since I look exactly like a girl with a terrible cold - what a coincidence - Henry is standing in as hat model this time:

Why did I make this ridiculous top, you may wonder? Two reasons - one, I wanted to avoid decreases and maximize the striping effect of Biscotte & Cie's beautiful dye work, and two, I wanted to play with an idea for closing off the top of a hat by knitting it onto straight needles.

Added bonuses:

If you turn it so the flap runs down the side of your head, you can fold a high ponytail into the back point. And if you're short a tea cosy for that special event, you can use the Pocket Top!

Insurance policy:

If you get to the top and don't like it on you, frog it back and reknit it using Valentine Freebie #2, Flower Pot.

View .pdf of Pocket Top Hat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The project bucket

While I finetune the freebie-hat-in-progress I thought I'd take a moment to thank my friend Sharon once again for giving me my very first stainless steel stockpot. It's housed many a chicken stock and many a batch of corn on the cob and these days, it looks after my knitting for me.

I used to use one of those folding knitting stands with tapestry stretched over a wood frame, but I was always losing stuff in there and of course now it's full of (neatly organized!) knitting needles. During my recent pre-Christmas KnitFrenzy, I had different projects scattered across a collection of cloth bags filled with Ziploc bags, as well as needles that fell out and rolled across the floor because cloth bags flop over. The worst was never being able to find the stitch marker I'd tossed into the bag from the last project... I kept having to track down my tools, which were invariably in some other flopped-over bag.

That's when I thought of the stockpot. It's the tall narrow kind and, being steel, wouldn't dream of flopping. If I reach in to get something, there's no risk of my fumbling through folds of cloth and dropping the stitch marker to the bottom; I simply locate it with my fingertip and drag it up the side. Its two handles are very convenient for carting it from one knitting zone to another, and the walls are so high a ball of yarn can jump around all day and never pop out. An added bonus: it blends right in on the kitchen counter. Because where else would you keep a project bucket?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Security detail for double-pointed needles

Generally speaking, and given the choice, I would knit with double-pointed needles over magic looping a circular needle any day. With double points, you can at least turn and keep going - with magic loop, there's all that nonsense with tugging the cord between stitches and shifting stitches over vast distances of cord.

(Okay, I admit it, magic loop is my best friend when I have long circular needles and no double points in the size I need at the moment I decide to cast on with some new project. I'm so two-faced.)

However, double points do have their downside, as when all you can find are the 8" length and you want to do a whole hat on them. Then you have to worry about lost stitches, especially if you're traveling. In the run up to Christmas I must have gone out three times looking for point protectors only to laugh hysterically at the price of them and return home to think, Dang, I really needed those.

Then I remembered a tip from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac and, after folding my work into four so that all the needles were snugged up side by side, slipped a ponytail holder over the lot thusly:

Ready for travel! And when you get to your destination and pull out your knitting, you can protect yourself against leaving this precious knitting aid behind by slipping it along the length of the yarn you're feeding in, rather than over the needles and away onto the table:

You may notice two things from these photographs. One is that my needle organization project yielded 3.75mm needles I didn't know I had, even if Aunt Paula did only leave me four so that I had to cobble in a fifth gleaned from an eBay excursion. (and I would like to note that this is not the first time I have blessed Aunt Paula for having been a knitter as well as a crochet queen, and for having such a wide selection of needle and hook sizes.)

The other thing is the sneak preview you're getting of the next freebie hat pattern. Mwa ha ha ha is what I would say if I didn't come down with a cold yesterday; you'll have to live with coff coff hack.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One way to organize knitting needles

Sandy from South Dakota, my kindred spirit, I hope you like packing tape. This project uses a lot of it!

I'm with Kathi... there are some really beautiful quilted needle rolls out there, and now that I'm in a position to cover my sizes with frequent favourites while leaving the rest in the basement as backup, I have my eye on a Knitzmo. Or maybe one from Sarah Kincheloe... mmmm.

In the meantime, if you have a ton of tools and are short on either the time or inclination to sew, and want something quick to get at and see straight through, this needle binder should hit the spot. Plus it has the added (and for me, necessary) bonus of size-labeling for each storage slot. And all the fun and excitement of packing tape! Can't forget that.

View .pdf of The Big Book of Knitting Needles

Friday, February 6, 2009

Needle overload

I know people accumulate a lot of needles, and that I'm not the only person to bid an insanely high amount for a mixed lot of needles on eBay just to get those really cool plastic ones they only made in the UK in the 1950s (I found that out by being outbid so many times before I finally won a few.) And I definitely know that when you're the only knitter of your generation in a very extended family you are going to inherit all the needles there are to inherit.

But honestly: 12 sets of 6mm straight needles??

Here's how I used to organize my needles: "the ones I like", "the ones I will change gauge to avoid", "ugh, maybe"s, and "please promise me you will never ever knit another Icelandic sweater."

Here's how I sort them now, after three and a half hours of size-checking and folding and taping: by size. I don't care whether they're straight or circular or double pointed or what length any those kinds are, or even whether their colour is a nice complement for the yarn I'm knitting with. If I need a 3.75mm needle to get gauge, by golly I'll be able to find it.

I came up with kind of a nifty filing system after drooling over all the gorgeous organizers on Etsy and realizing I have way too many needles for any of them. If anybody wants instructions and photographs just let me know and I'll post on that tomorrow, just in time for you to spend the weekend doing the same (while I work out the pattern for the exciting next freebie, heh heh heh.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tips on Gauge

Gosh, who am I to be giving tips on gauge? except that I do knit swatches before I start a project, and a good thing too because I vary widely between spot on and waaaay too loose. In fact I've begun to invest in additional small-size needles to cover myself for yarns that really don't work with a looser tension. But that's a subject for another day.

Yes, gauge. Somewhere, recently, I read a really clever idea for knitting swatches in perfect squares, including any special cables or stitches that appear in the pattern, and then using them later as pockets in a purse or on a sweater, or as squares for a quilt. Isn't that brilliant? Don't you think it has maximum cuteness potential?

Here's what I do with gauge swatches: I knit them and measure them and record my findings wherever it seems most sensible at the time, and then I rip them out and use them in the project. Who has enough yarn for gauge swatches that have to go begging?

Anyway, here are my tips. Knit enough of a swatch to give you some leeway between, say, 3 inches and 5, and don't hesitate to measure in metric if that's going to give you a more accurate count. And take the swatch off the needles before you measure.

(Seriously - it's amazing how much more relaxed stitches are when you let them off the needles, like they're all freaked out when they're on there wondering what exciting thing is going to happen next, even if they aren't going to have much to do with it because they're 12 rows down already and getting farther away all the time.)

And with that, I will get back to my editing assignment so I can get back to knitting my lovely green hat.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Elasticity + super smooshiness = wowza

Okay, I don't want anybody to think I do nothing all day but knit hats, because I do have a very full roster of things I avoid doing by knitting hats. That said, here is what happened to me yesterday while working out the details on a hat in the gorgeous Cascade 220 Heathers green/chartreuse mix:

I knit a swatch for a second hat with some 100% superwash merino I bought from Biscotte's Etsy shop, in Watermelon (I can not resist pink and green together. Never) and Oh. My. Goodness.

I have never, ever worked with anything as springy as this yarn. Increasing by purling into the back and front of a stitch? No need to ream on that stitch at all. It just sproings right out and then scrunches back into place. It's like there's little rubber bands spun in there. Plus, the stripes are fabulous. The whole experience was just so, so nice. Even nicer than the Cascade, and even though I adore the hat I'm going to make with that, I think I might have to whip up a watermelon hat super fast.

By which I mean as soon as I can get my mitts on some double-pointed 3.75mm needles, the size I swatched, which has a perfect stability for the hat I dreamed up during said swatching. And if it works out I'll post it here as a freebie, because there are some experiences you just have to share.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rivets - a free pattern

At last! and it only took me three hours to write up the pattern... so much faster than fiction. Unless you count all the time I spent figuring out the stitches and then actually making it, and I won't, because then I would feel even worse about not making headway on my novel.

But back to the rivet band. It's not a hat, but it's making my most sensible hat a lot more sensational and what else is this blog for, after all? You can also make it shorter and wear it as an earwarmer, or just lift the pattern to use for the border of a cardi or a felted purse, which I think I must try myself some time.

In other interesting rivet news, these are my very first bobbles, and I love them--they're so flat and non-popcorny.

View .pdf of Rivets

Monday, February 2, 2009

Maximum smoosh

I am blessed with many local yarn stores, but one of my favourites keeps a blog in which new yarn is not infrequently categorized by its smooshiness factor.

And though I do not - NOT - knit socks (if I knit socks too I would never, ever get anything else done around the house) when I saw this recent post I knew I had to come into the store and check it out for myself. Especially since I wanted to pick up some yarn for a particular hat I have in mind. Have you clicked on the link? Do you see the skein that illustrates the blog entry? It's called 'shadow' and it shadowed me home. I don't knit socks and any hat knit with this (highly smooshy) yarn would have to be for spring or fall or ten years from now because that's how long it would take me to finish it on toothpick needles, but... It's Soooooo Smooshy!

I also bought two skeins of Cascade Heathers 220 in a colour that matches the mittens on the cover of Vogue Knitting, Fall 2008, aka the mittens I cannot get out of my mind. I love the mittens, but I love the colour at least as much, and I will be swatching my idea for the hat to make with it today. But first I'll finish up the tidbit I made for the next free pattern. Stay tuned!