Friday, May 29, 2009

... and now back to door number one

Now that I have my socks where I want 'em (ready for any car trip- or tea party-related mindless knitting extravaganza), I'm back on mitten patrol.

I just love my new mitten design and I really need to stop taunting you people with them because it's cruel. I still have to work out the thumbs and maybe a second size before I finish off the pattern, though I've been trying it on every girl who comes within range and it does seem to fit a variety of hand sizes as it is.

I even have a cute name for them: it's...

Okay, okay, I'll stop. I won't even bore you with another progress picture because I keep ripping back to adjust my tension, though I might just post this one of Victor LaVache getting in a few stitches of his own:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What I learned from socks

Pretty shells and sporty ribbed stripes don't always make a good match.

Even though it's faster (technically) to ladder down to a mistake stitch and weave it back up correctly, when the yarn is fabulous it's more fun to rip back and knit over.

Little green Tupperware cylinder tubs make really, really good knitting caddies for mittens and socks. They even stack nicely, considering all those needles sticking up out of them.

Socks are more work than mittens, but if you're using really awesome sock yarn you can get excited about them all over again by trying them on.

It's maybe a good idea to use really awesome sock yarn for mittens. I will be looking into this in a big way as soon as these socks are done. (But maybe feet are just more receptive to the yumminess of really awesome sock yarn than hands would be, what with all the manual labour and sun exposure and all.)

Two bad things to do the night before a tough day: staying up late to read books, and staying up late to knit one more row.

If I can turn a sock heel, there isn't much knitwise I can't do.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Take that, first-ever sock heel!

One down, one to go.

I must say I'm especially smitten with the dark purple in this mix. It reminds me of blackberry juice when contrasted on the ChiaGoo bamboo needles... but I think it would not be as striking if the yarn was solid and not always contrasted with the other stripe colours.

And now I get to try out the shell pattern! Unless you think having ribbing along the top of the foot would make the shells look silly?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hands and Feet

It's a good thing I have three projects on the go (four if you count the massive hank of roving I'm ruining with my spindle) because they keep getting, in turns, to the wrong place for the level of concentration I have available.

Most of my attention is on the First Ever Socks and the First Mitts of My Own Design. And it's probably worth my remembering, as I beat myself up about the socks, that the mitts are the result of my not being able to follow the pattern for the ones I wanted to make in the first place.

I don't know what it is about the upper part of the heels on these socks that's killing me. Sleep deprivation? Inexperience? Some distant curse on my house that weakened in transit and left me with an inability to make yarn overs where yarn overs are requested?

Whereas the mittens... mmmm. Not only are they ridiculously easy, they are downright relaxing to knit, weaving the two colours back and forth. And so compact! You don't even need a stitch marker, owing to the nice double line that forms up the inside of your hand as you go along. I think you guys will really like these mitts when I get the pattern posted. I know I'm going to be making a ton of them.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Adventure Sweater 2 - measurements

Welcome back to Mary's Adventure Sweater, aka the sweater knit without a pattern, consistent yarn weights, or matching needle sizes.

Today we'll be talking about measurements. They may not guarantee that the finished product will look nice or even fit, but that's the Adventure part. Why let a little uncertainty stop you?

There are a lot of measurements to consider when making a sweater, such as:

distance from shoulder to waist
distance from waist to hip
waist (especially if making a fitted sweater)
length of arm (measured in stages if you want a sweeping forearm)

and more.

Then there's the worst calculation of all - the one for set in sleeves. How early to cast off? How to get just the right slope? How to get the slope right for the back (where the body of the sweater tends to be wider) and the front (narrower) - and then get the sleeve to fit perfectly too?

For this sweater, the most important measurements are the bust and the distance across your shoulders from arm to arm. Once you've got those noted and used your gauge swatches to calculate how many stitches you'll need to have on the needles for those bits, you can advance to the cheating stage.

Yes, there is a cheat! And it involves a garment already in your wardrobe that fits you perfectly and makes you look great. In my case, that would be a dress made from recycled T- and hockey shirts by Susan Harris.

Simply lay the garment over a piece of paper and trace the outline, thusly:

You'll get something that looks like this, which you may want to amend to show the curves for both back and front:

It's helpful to use a ruler for basic further measurements, particularly around the shoulder shaping, which in this case will probably be done via short row:

But who can be bothered to work out gauge when all you need to do is lay down some sweater and count? Here is rows per inch:

And this is stitches per inch:

Truth is, even that much effort is just to give you an idea of what to expect. You can also lay down your knitting as you go, to ensure that you are in fact following the correct curve with your increases, or in my case, decreases. Remember that whatever you do on one side of the piece, you do on the other as well.

Yes, I am working upward in the solid from a little less than halfway down the arm opening and working downward in the stripe to get the rest of the curve - hence the horizontal line on my tracing sheet.

Something I've learned from this experience: if you're working downward and increasing in a big way for the bottom of an armhole, do it right on the outside stitch rather than trying to leave the outiside stitch for the selvedge. No selvedge is pretty enough to compensate for the pucker that results.

Thanks for joining me and my solid-in-every-way assistant, The Field Guide To Knitting. Come back next time for Stitch Pickup!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A yarny bell (not the kind you think)

Here it is, folks: my first handspun finished object (if you don't count the yarnfish I made with the same handspun post-plying):

Ring in the new year, baby.

I did some more spindle spinning last night and discovered I get a much tighter, more consistent yarn if I let the spindle drop instead of turning it in my hand - its weight definitely improves the finished product. I'm still not fast enough with the fiber to take advantage of that, but it's something to aspire to.

Meanwhile, I'm depressed about my sock heels, which I may be able to finish this morning and feel better about. It would be good to get onto the cuff and have some mindless knitting in hand.

And speaking of hands, I'm going back to my salt and pepper mittens this weekend. I love swinging the two yarns back and forth over the needle - it's so soothing - and I only stopped because I had to write down the instructions before making the second mitt. Also I want to rip back to reposition the thumb by a few stitches.

When I've finished the writing and repositioning and the testing, I'll post the instructions. Because I think we all need some nice winter mitten projects for the coming heatwaves, yes?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spinning with a twist

Kathleen Taylor tells me that spinning with really, really fabulous roving is a good idea even when (especially when?) you are new to spinning and pretty much a disaster at it, because the beauty of the fiber will inspire you to keep going.

So I did some spinning with some very precious roving from Twisted Fiber Art. I've been dreaming of buying yarn in the Netherfield colourway but the roving came up first so I snapped it up and...

... okay, I will confess to being less in love than expected when I saw all those blocks of bold colour. In fact I felt pretty cavalier about untying the braid and getting to work with my spindle.

Oh me of little faith.

The colours are emerging even more beautifully than I imagined when I placed my order. As I pull the fibers apart to spin them, the dyes are rearranged a little, with greens blending into pinks and reds and browns so that the drift of colour from one inch to the next is both subtle and soothing.

And even my lousy spinning skills can't ruin the fiber itself - lush and pillowy and smooth. In my sleep-deprived state I can think only to compare it to whipped butter, if butter were a little fuzzy. In which case I suppose you would recoil from considering it to be anything like butter, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The source of all wooliness

Earlier this week I visited a farm, a trip that reminded me almost constantly of this cartoon. I was excited to have the opportunity to see sheep up close again, thinking I might perhaps have some new appreciation of them, maybe even nurture a bond, as though they would know instinctively that I am a person who appreciates the unique contribution they make to the world as a whole and my world in particular.

Really though I'm just a person who covets their hair. I didn't enjoy the smell in the barn, and my hayfever kicked in so badly I could barely see the sheep or the cute new lambs, and all I could think of was what a lot of work it must be to get freshly shorn wool clean in the first place. I did have warm feelings about one dozing sheep though who looked like she'd been there, done that, then woke up and started baaaing at us all in a Bea Arthur pitch.

Later in the day I got chatting with somebody who works at the farm, and asked what they do with the wool when the shearing is done. Apparently a lady in town takes it and does all the cleaning save for removing the lanolin, spins the yarn and then knits mittens - which are waterproof, owing to the lanolin. You can be quite sure I filed that away for future reference.

And then yesterday my latest yums arrived from Twisted Fiber Art:

And I was so awestruck by what I found inside that I put down the scissors I used to open the parcel and haven't found them since:

Yes, I had to spend a whack of cash on Duty on top of the cost of the yarn and yes, it is still worth every penny. I wish I could adore wool on the sheep but perhaps that will come, and in the meantime I'll gladly settle for loving it like this:

Pretty good consolation, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The hazards of sock-knitting

I'm not even finished my first pair of socks yet and look what's happened to me! All that stitching away with self-striping yarn in a wild colour combination and butter-soft wool has turned my head.

Normally I am all staid and sensible:

But when I had to buy emergency socks last week, I bought these:

Oh dear, oh dearie me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I've been knitting with very different sorts of needles lately. For the mittens and socks, it's been Brittany birch, Hiya Hiya stainless steel, and Chia Goo bamboo, and I'm still not sure which ones I like best.

The Brittany needles are bliss, really. Lightweight, smooth, a nice length. There's just the teeniest drag as the stitches shift along which I'll need for anything terribly slippery, but is ever so slightly annoying when working with my yummy robust mitten yarn from A Piece of Vermont.

The Hiya Hiyas are positioned as a rival to Addi needles and are just as slick and luxurious to use at half the price. I love them for the first 184 stitches no matter how many slip off and then - I don't know what it is - the skin on my hands starts to tingle as though I'm getting some sort of energy from the steel and Not In A Good Way. That doesn't happen with my Addi Clicks.

I have a larger size of Chia Goos and love their smoothness and sharp tips, but in sock size I'm finding those tips are actually splitting my lovely fingering yarn. Also one of the needles has more drag than the others owing to the way it's been stamped with the size information. On the upside, when you go along to keep somebody company during a scary MRI exam, it's nice to find you've brought along the sock you're making on bamboo needles rather than the steel ones (and that you've left enough of a cast-on tail to fashion a last-minute yarny substitute stitch marker.)

I'm also pretty torn about the needles I'm using for stripy portion of The Adventure Sweater.
I needed a particular size and a particular length and the only ones in my cache of needles were these green vintage plastic ones that were warped long before I got my hands on them:

They're smooth enough and the tips aren't too sharp, but they're still splitting my gorgeous stripy fingering from The Black Lamb and the warping is bugging me already even though the sweater weighs next to nothing at this point.

H'mmm. Perhaps I need to make more needle investments. Just for research purposes, of course.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Messy knitting

I did a lot more work on the Adventure Sweater this past weekend, though I know it doesn't show, not least because I was distracted by sock knitting and had very limited sit-down time. The Adventure Sweater doesn't lend itself to walking around and is noisy and lumpy because I have two sets of needles going at once. Yep, I'm working up and down at the same time.

I love the way it's coming out though, don't you? And it's nice to be able to switch direction when you get tired of one of the yarns. Not that such a thing has happened yet... I'm more devoted to Twisted Fiber Art (brown) and The Black Lamb (variegated) with every stitch.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Measuring up

When I started designing my own patterns and wanted to share them I realized I needed to know yardage requirements. Ack. I decided that the displacement technique was the best solution for partially used balls or non-commercially-prepared skeins where your mileage may vary. You know the drill, right? Measure the length in the ball, knit, and measure what's left.

I was aided in this exercise by a desk one of my carpenter grandfathers built from scraps during the Depression. (What are the odds that both my grandfathers were carpenters, and that I myself would grow up to be so interested in and yet incompetent with woodworking?) It's like he knew I'd one day need a table that is exactly 1 yard wide:

I like to work with yarn wound into a ball, tossing it into a giant Tupperware bowl so it can roll around as I draw off one yard at a time. We'll skip over the agony of measuring out fingering yarn that comes in an approximate yardage of 683 yards for a 100g ball, and note the convenience of a carpenter's measuring tape hooked over one end of the desk and stretched out to the other to make measuring the last few inches of yarn a simple matter.

You may be wondering what that B-shaped blob is on the upper right corner of the desk. Seen from this angle it reminds me of a superhero logo beamed onto the surface, but actually it's symbolic of the day I learned why a drippy nail polish remover bottle is never going to be best friends with finished wood.

For the intial measurement, I make a note of the length, but if I'm knitting with the yarn held double I'll slip each ball into a Ziploc bag marked with the length of that particular ball. In the 'after' measurement it's interesting to see how much more yardage one put into the project than the other... sort of like the outside edge of a race track versus the inside.

When I'm done knitting and measuring I like to tie a pretty label on to the end of the ball with the fiber and length marked, because I find it so much more fun to look into a drawer of possibilities than one of plastic bags.

And there you have it. Simple yet effective and

so time consuming and back-breaking!

If there's a better way, I'd love to hear about it. Really. Loooove to.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Crisis knitting

I'd just like to point out that sock knitting on double pointed needles, while highly compact and portable, is not really ideal in a crisis situation. Lots of needles to drop, and only about 2 hours' work between patches of pattern-following unless you can turn heels and narrow or widen for toes in your sleep.

However, superwash wool is an excellent choice for any needle. Sweaty palms plus agitated movements plus untreated wool = felting on the fly.

H'mmm. I wonder if this wouldn't make an interesting technique in itself? Felted mittens to make during horror movies or roller coaster rides? Must investigate, using another guinea pig for the roller coaster venue.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Before and After

On the left, we have 'before' - aka before I realized the very pretty sock I'm making is too loose for what has proven to be a narrow foot. And on the right, 'after' I tried out some ribbing to see whether that would improve the problem.

It did, and so I have since ripped out Sock Left and am reknitting it with matching rib. I must say, this yarn never gets tired, and a good thing too because I expect I'll be turning a heel at least three times before I'm done with it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Inspired by tiny happy

Friday, May 8, 2009

How's the spindle?

It's true, I've been knitting a lot lately, but I haven't completely neglected actual spinning on the spindle. In fact, the other day I plied my first yarn!

The darker stuff is mine - the white stuff is the sample made by the extremely nice woman who sold me the spindle. I keep it there to remind me how spun yarn is supposed to look. I have a long way to go.

Still, I do wind yarn nicely on the spindle, don't you think?

And I'm also pretty good at yarn art:

I call this one 'yarnfish.'

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Can't talk: knitting

I have three projects on the go and I love them equally:

Yep, the Adventure Sweater is growing. And looka here!

Abstract art or toe-up socks?

Did I mention the thumbhole worked beautifully on the mitten? I kind of like it like this though - the claw effect would be perfect for Hallowe'en, and I could use the needles to spear chocolate from my loot bag.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mary joins a sock club

Omigosh! The mail!

And - ohhhh - my first shipment from Knitterly Things' Spring Sock Club. I am in love! Sorry Helena - I couldn't bear to part with this stuff.

Oh, would you look at that. Matching jelly bellies! Orange, grape, and banana! Mmmm. These must be fuel for ball-winding. But wait. What's the best way to wind yarn for socks? Should I roll it into one ball? The label gives needle sizes... and one of them is the size for which I have two sets:

Which means I can knit both socks, alternating between them, and have less risk of messing up my first-ever pair. And I did just read about how to wind a center-pull ball.*

Okay, I have no nostepinne, in spite of coveting the ones at A Piece of Vermont. Self-restraint is so unlike me. But I could use... my spindle!

La la la, this yarn is coming off the skein without any tangles at all. It's fantastic. But I'm going to have another few jelly bellies anyway.

H'mmmm. This is getting heavy now, and it's looking a lot more like cotton candy on a paper cone at the fair than it is a nice squat centre-pull ball.

My wrist hurts. And can you say "dog's breakfast"? Not that it helped when I dropped the spindle right at the end there.

Time for Plan B: winding all 438 yards into two balls with the same striping sequence. I won't be able to do all that in one session but if I stop in mid count I'll lose my place. Wait! I can use a paperclip to mark each 50 yard mark.

Ahhh, that's more like it. This yarn is awesome to wind... so soft and buttery and non-tangly. And the center pull thing really did work even though it was ugly.

I'm sure the 'one bigger than the other' thing is because I wound tighter the second time. And even if it isn't... I did want to have some left over for mitten trim, right?

Now for the swatch.

Omigosh. This is... unbelievable. The fabric is like 170% squishy soft. Amazing! I'm not even taking a picture of this one - I'm going to count the stitches very very quickly 31 sts = 4" and rip it out so I can get those socks moving!!

* note to self - next time, review the instructions and wind the skein to a ball before winding the centre-pull ball on the spindle, so it doesn't run six miles tall.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mitten update

I'm taking notes because I still have to make a second one for my right hand, but I'm definitely free-flowing on this mitten design:

See that bulge? Yeah, I meant to do that.

And aren't the pink and green yarn bell solutions fantastic? My Tupperware collection truly is the gift that keeps on giving, though I wish I had another in the pink one's size. I think it came in a set and I gave all the others away with meringues in them one Christmas. I take comfort in the fact that in addition to the advantages of depth and stackability and minimal weight - I've been carting them all over in a flat-bottomed bag and knitting while standing around with no trouble at all - I'm not wedded to them. When I want to work on the Adventure Sweater instead, I can lift these balls out and slip in the other balls without rethreading a thing.

But back to the bulge. It's for the thumb joint and hopefully not unnecessary. I stumbled across a pattern for a mitten knit in a tube with a thumb opening I wanted to try, but salt and pepper stitch is so rigid I was afraid the gap you use for it simply wouldn't be enough to permit circulation. I won't know whether I was right until I do the thumb, but I'm enjoying the knitting so much I don't really care if I have to rip back to redo.

The bulge isn't the only reason I might have to do that. Let's take a closer look at the thumb opening, shall we?

The salt and pepper is so tight you can barely make it out even with the arrow, but I've got 8 stitches knit with 'waste yarn' (aka the bit of yarn used to tie the skein.) When I'm done the top, I can go back and tug out said yarn, leaving live stitches at the top and bottom of the gap to slip onto needles along with another 4 or so I pick up along the sides. If it works, and if it does turn out that I put it in exactly the right place, this will be the simplest mitten I will ever make.

And if it doesn't, I will be frogging. Ribbit.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Adventure Sweater 1 - Gauge

Hello, and welcome to Mary's Adventure Sweater. Today we'll be discussing gauge.

You really need a gauge swatch for this sweater (you'll be improvising enough with the design since there's no pattern as such) so you might as well treat it like part of the overall knitting experience and enjoy yourself. Pick out some stitches you like and try different needle sizes until you find something you can see working with for a while:

Because I'm mixing yarns I found I had to drop a needle size in the self-striping yarn to match the stitch sizes, and that means my stitches per inch will be particularly important during the Adventure.

My gauge swatches are stocking stitch for three reasons:

I don't have a lot of yarn to work with and short of lace, stocking stitch gives you the most mileage.

I'm using two very beautiful self-patterning yarns that will stand alone without cables or fancy stitches.

The structure will be complicated enough without keeping track of cables and fancy stitches.

Size sort of matters here. You should probably make your swatch 6-8" square so you can really see what you're getting into, but I won't tell if you cop out at 4" because that's what I did too.

The swatch will give you stitches per inch and rows per inch. Helpful, yes. But wouldn't it be nice to know how many stitches you get to a yard? Here's the trick: partway into the swatch, at the beginning of a row, stop and measure out 36". Tie a slipknot to mark the spot:

Then start the row and keep knitting until you hit the knot. That's how many stitches you get per yard. Later on, if you decide you want to add more pieces - sleeves, for example - you can use a yardage calculator to help determine how much you'll need.

Now untie the knot and keep going. When you get to the end of the swatch, you should really cast off and cut the yarn, but if you're short on yarn like me, there is a cheat. Don't cut the yarn! Pull a big loop through the last stitch and secure it with something. I used a notched plastic stitch marker:

When you do your wet blocking, you'll be able to keep the ball of yarn and maybe even the loop out of the water.

But wait! Don't wet block yet! First, measure the swatch for stitches and rows per inch.

Okay, now you can wet block. Technically, you want to dry the swatch as you would the finished sweater, perhaps clipping a bag of marbles to the bottom and hanging up if you think it will be heavy and stretch out. If you don't like how it looks, you get to start all over again.

When the swatch is dry, check the stitches and rows per inch again. Spot any difference? My two swatches shrank just the teeniest bit, which tells me I should err on the side of big when eyeballing how many stitches I want to add in as I go.

I took a lot of pictures of my swatches before I ripped them out because I couldn't believe how beautiful they were. When I did rip them, they were very wiggly! I spent some time making pictures with the wiggles:

and when I was done trying to decide whether this one looked more like a Chinese dragon or a sailboat in a storm, I rolled them loosely back into balls. My evil plan is to let those two balls sit and go flat again for a while while I knit with the other ball in each colourway. I'd worry about whether or not that will work if this wasn't all meant to be an Adventure.

Well, that's about all we have time for today. I hope you've enjoyed today's look at gauge, and that you'll tune in next time for Measurements.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Knittin' mittens

This week has turned into a self-inflating kiddie pool of editing assignments. I realize this is a bizarre image but it's an accurate description of the way my brain is being contorted like a googly face pushed up against glass so we'll live with it. The bottom line: it's a mixed blessing because while I love editing and the learning therein, and love even more being able to finance all my yarny indiscretions, I get less time to knit.

However, I did start a mitten yesterday, and I couldn't be more thrilled. Yes, the pattern for which I had perfect gauge went horribly wrong within about two rows, but I was able to disengage immediately and head straight into making one of my own that seems to be working out just fine, and let's hope I didn't just jinx myself by typing that. True, I didn't get a chance to take any photographs while it was still light enough out for them to work and I don't have time now, but I can always post some another day. Let's get right to the thrill part:

5" Brittany Birch double pointed needles!

Omigosh, they are so cute to work with! How come I never knew how fun tiny needles can be? I guess I've only ever used 10" metal ones in the teeny sizes. This, by contrast, is tactile heaven, more fun even than the way longer Brittany Birch needles I bought for making hats. It's like playing with dollhouse toys. I will definitely need more sizes next time I'm in Stitch because I know I will want to be knitting socks while I'm knitting mittens, and I hate waiting for needles that are not so very prohibitive to buy in the first place.

Speaking of which, doesn't it just figure that yesterday was the very same day a new batch of yarn showed up at Twisted Fiber Art? So that in spite of my many, many recent knit-related purchases I just had to buy more for spinning and for socks?

I know, I know. Back to the editing so I can pay for all this. I'll post a pic of the mittens in a few days, and the first installment of Adventure Sweater instructions, too. Until then, we'll have to make do with this closeup of the green component of the green-and-natural checkerboard pattern:

You can actually see the crunchiness, can't you? It's the coolest yarn to work with - a bit of alpaca, a lot of wool, really nicely spun, with serious backbone. I'm so glad I got lots.