Monday, January 31, 2011

Sock hop

Lots of busy and bustle this weekend getting ready for a particularly busy bustle-y day today so what knitting there was, was all about the legs of my stocking stitch Biscottes:

I kept hopping from one to the other so that as I
knit knit knit
around and around
I didn't get a 16" leg on one and a 2" on the other.

I am almost up to my usual length now, and I have quite a lot of yarn left there don't I. I'm thinking perhaps I might go as long as possible, add in a calf gusset and keep on going until the yarn runs out.

Of course that would mean throwing in some purl stitches here and there which sort of spoils the knit knit knit speediness I am enjoying so much about these socks.

I will ponder this I think during today's bustling and keep you posted on any exciting developments

(because what is more exciting than a long pair of socks?)

(yes, you're quite right, I am showing signs of needing a holiday.)

(involving knitting and chocolate.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Heels and toes

Got the heels done on my Biscotte stripeys!

and now I'm well into the toes of my boot socks.

Side note: see the cute little bag there I'm using to keep the balls from tangling with each other in the bigger bag? Melissa again. She found vintage embroidery blanks - linen fabrics with pre-printed patterns and pretty eyelet curves for use as decorated table runners and so forth, and turned them into these little drawstring pouches. She's doing that design often now in other fabrics, if you're craving one yourself.

Now back to those boot socks. I sort of dread working on them because I am putting in a twisty slipped stitch pattern. Technically, it doesn't even show, and it does require paying attention, which I couldn't be much less inclined to do at the moment. But I know it's there, and I do love the look of the finished product when I put on my Sailor's Delights - the twists draw in the pattern at intervals so it looks like it's a bit scalloped up the sides - so I'm sticking with it even though this yarn is more patterned and it shows even less.

The base pattern for both these socks is the same, the one I'm working out to include all my favourite features, but I perfected the heel on the stripeys after I got the toes well started on the boots and guess what?

The boot socks have 2 more stitches than the stripes.

Which means 1 more per heel.

Which means the slipped stitch heel thing I like and worked out with great effort for one stitch less is going to require brain to execute here.

So I decided to bow to reality and do a stocking stitch heel. Honestly, I have several socks with nothing more robust than that and I wear them all the time and there isn't the slightest sign of wear, so I think it will be okay. Plus, this yarn has a ton of hard-wearing mohair in it.

And since I'm speaking of This Yarn,


This is my second and last skein of it, if you don't count the slightly lighter weight that's still in my stash, and for the purposes of this otherwise logical argument I will not.

I bought it at a knitter's fair last September, and I can buy more next September, or I can, um, order some from the farm's website. I think I might have to do that and knit a pair of superfast non-patterned socks because people, this stuff is amazing. SO warm in my boots, so totally non-itchy, so slippery smooth soft, so squishy thick. I mean, it's snowing again right now! It's just practical to stock up, don't you think?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


The other night I sat down with my long-suffering first-time-handspun scarf and the TV, which was running a program on Spanish art. A magical thing then happened.

The scarf itself has been frogged and reknit repeatedly, owing to its lumpy qualities. After I gave up on its ever becoming a fitted garment I decided to garter stitch the yarn into a long strip, allowing the thick and thin spots to create a shape on their own. But the results were painful - it looked like one of your first-ever knitting efforts when you accidentally pick up and lose stitches on practically every row, and not in way I felt I could live with.

Lightbulb! What if I frogged back to the point at which it still bore some reasonably consistent shape, and then deliberately picked up and lost stitches according to the yarn I could see coming?

So there I was, watching this program and being mindful of my stitches, making new ones in different parts of each row wherever they were needed, decreasing the same way, sort of adapting to the terrain. On the screen, the lives of various Spanish artists and the events that shaped their work (and what an eventful place Spain has been) all played out. My lightbulb faded to the warm glow of candlelight and I felt calm, breathing in time with the yarn as it moved along under my hands.

And it suddenly struck me that the mindless garter stitch scarf I had conceived to use up that amateurishly-made yarn had become art. I wasn't just cranking out stitches, I was anticipating and responding to them. I was using different techniques to achieve one general shape, even changing my tension from time to time, and a close look at the fabric revealed all of them.

It often seems to me that knitting is life in fiber - obstacles, tension, texture, beauty, and above all perseverence. But this scarf encapsulates every movement I've experienced through my years on this earth. Dodging, weaving, getting through. Some patches feel lean, others overful, still others perfectly regular, and they are working together to make something. And whatever that something is, it can't be written in a pattern for anyone else to match. It's entirely customized to its unique materials. Just like life.

(all of which is to say that I quite like this scarf now, and if I do 'ruin' more fiber as I learn to use my spinning wheel I will know what to do with it, and if I ruin enough I think I will piece together all my handspun scarves and make a blanket.)

(but I hope I don't have to.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Slow knitting

Sometimes I think I should have a traffic sign beside me at all times that says Slow, Knitting, but this week it's been more like slow knitting because I have been sewing (but still with wool!) Sewing is fast and even if you only get an hour or two to yourself, it's possible to finish a new thing every day. It's tough to ignore the victory potential in that.

However, once I got my travel socks over the heel hump (yesss!) and back to mindless knitting status, I did make some progress on my Mariner sweater:

and learned that it's best not to put this project down and pick it up again unless you make very detailed notes about where you did the short rows last (there are three of various lengths I can never get right when I'm counting them out afterward, and then four regular ones) and what exactly your safety pin is marking.

Also, that even though slip1, knit1 makes a soothing rhythm of needle movement, I have to stay alert enough not to slip in a knit2. Best too if I can catch such a slip before moving three or four rows further on. It really does show, ahem.

In theory this sweater should be super fast, even to the point of pulling it off in a week if I had that traffic sign nearby, but I am noticing my stitches are uneven - odd considering how often I knit these days. I wonder whether this is partly the yarn, which came from the mill in snugly-wound balls a very long time ago, but it may also be that I am working on this project at jittery times. I know I'm choosing it when I don't have to do something else, not because it's all I care about knitting. That lack of notes problem is an effective roadblock.

Worse, I noticed I made a style error about 20 rows back from where I am now - letting my tension get ridiculously loose for perhaps 10 stitches and leaving a very visible gap of very tall loops. I do this sometimes, and I'm glad to know now exactly how I do it so I can catch myself or repair it because I hate how it looks, but I'm not sure how to fix it this time.

When I'm designing something from scratch I expect to have to frog and reknit three or four times at least, so I'm having to stop myself from pulling the needle right out, right now. I know that if I give in, I will have to figure out about where to do those short rows, and I'm not entirely certain I can. Or that I can face going back to the beginning to really get it right.

Maybe I should treat it as a battle scar and move on - what do you think?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spoiled for choice

I don't know why, since I have a lot of stuff on needles right now, but I feel like I need one more big project in play. I want to see a pattern and fall so deeply in love that I have to start it right now. And magically have the right yarn and needles to do it with.

I see a lot of great designs that fit this description, but I keep getting tripped up by one critical point: will I use it? If I can't, can I reasonably gift it to somebody who will?

This rules out countless sweaters I adore, and a lot of time-intensive shawls too, and - since I finally realized I can just cut one out of felted wool - cowls (mostly), and mittens... because I live in Toronto and I don't care how gorgeous they are, knitted mittens are just not going to cut it for me in the super cold weather we get here. Double layer felted wool mittens, yes. Which reminds me, I need to sew a pair for myself and not just to give away.

There are some bright spots in the horizon though.

Like the vest on the cover of Kathi's new book... might leave off the hood, might not, but I had a Fair Isle vest for many years and really miss it - you'd be amazed how useful a stranded vest can be.

And have you seen the ads for Quince and Co. yarns, complete with the gorgeous patterns designed for them? I love them all so much, and I know I'm going to ignore the easier-to-sew thing for this cowl. Plus, is it bad of me that I love this cardi, even though it's pretty much exactly like my Carrot? Which hasn't gotten any more figure-flattering by the way, but I still love it.

Anything by Cecily Glowik MacDonald - whoa. That woman is brilliant. I keep seeing patterns I like on Ravelry and when I look over to see who the designer is, it's Cecily. Or Veronik Avery. I also always fall for anything whatsoever photographed by Jared Flood, whether it's designed by him or not.

Anne Hanson? Totally going to knit one of her cowls at the very least, if I could ever choose one over another to start with. Everything she does is intricate and stunning.

Yeah, I've been hunting, and I'm tempted in a lot of directions but the hunt keeps on coming right back to whether I can justify the time, at this exact moment, for something I already have or can acquire more quickly through another medium. I know the day will come when I won't reach for practicality all the time, but right now: gotta. And one Fair Isle vest (100% justifiable) is only going to keep me busy for a month or two, at best. What then?

You can see how I'd be pretty excited last night to stumble across the listing for this new book from Kristin Omdahl, to be released February 22nd. There are several projects I long for now that my house is freezing and I get the point of the whole wrap concept, but her Summit American Yak Wrap? That thing is just calling my name. Not only does it look like an interesting knit, but you can wear it a ton of different ways, and that makes it harder for me to find some reason it won't work for me.

There's a catch, of course: it calls for rather a lot of yarn, and I'm supposed to Not Be Shopping until my physio is all done and paid for. On the other hand, it would look very weird if I did it in several different stash yarns, and I am always a fan of the weird.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What a heel

It is scary how fast you can knit a sock if you're not putting in any sort of pattern:

This is what my latest Biscotte socks looked like yesterday, just one week after getting them started. Usually it takes me a month minimum to get a pair done, and here I am at both heels!

If I weren't trying to design my own heel, I would be done by now. What you're seeing there is I think the fourth try on sock #1, tentatively approved and still to be tested on sock #2. Amazingly, though the actual turning took so much effort, I got the length of the foot right on the first try, mostly by guessing. Go me!

I was less scrupulous about perfection about ten seconds into the gusset of sock #2 when I discovered I had missed half of an increase row and had been two stitches short for the entire foot. (we'll just ignore the fact that had I not been so lazy about putting in a pattern, I would have noticed the mistake much sooner.) Instead of frogging I sort of scratched my nose and discreetly added in the stitches as I carried on.

The custom heel isn't terribly special. It incorporates a different increase method than you usually see - probably because it turns out not to look 100% beautiful in this environment even though it does eliminate any chance of tiny holes - and the increases happen at a slightly different time than you usually see because changing that makes it easier for me to remember to do them.

Side benefit: by taking apart heel construction and reassembling it so that I understand what happens where and when and why, I think I finally get the logic behind the math for a toe-up heel.

And just in time, because instead of knitting these lovely warmer-weather socks, I should be working on my mohair blend boot socks which have a different number of stitches. Yesterday was -17 degrees C without the windchill (with, it was -27, I think) and even as I type this there are thin, dry pellets descending onto the crusty snow below. Now that I've finally got my math right, maybe my super warm socks will go faster.

Even though I am putting a pattern into them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Simple knits

I am really enjoying just knitting lately - plain ol' knit stitch. Let the yarn do the work. Close your eyes if you want and put your hands on autopilot.

Seriously, the other night I was so tired I was nodding off while still knitting my handspun scarf.

It's been frogged twice since the picture I took the other day on my 5mm needle attempt. I think now at 20 stitches on 8mm needles, it's going to work out, if only as a short scarf:

How I know is that I'm not even halfway through the yarn I have. Yay!

Another yay: how I'm getting through the suspense while I wait for February 1 and the first packet from the Biscotte club.

This is yarn I bought from Louise when I saw her in September, and it's such a pleasure to knit (it's her supple-soft Felix, which has a little nylon in it for strength. If you click the link, just scroll down to see the colours in stock.)

I'm practicing my customized toe-up design, and I'd intended to put a pattern onto the foot, but then it occurred to me: why gild the lily? Or in this case the bright multi stripings. Love how the yarn keeps going back to green, don't you?

Simple knitting: when life is busy, there just isn't anything finer.

(unless you count eating really amazing chocolate ice cream while somebody else cleans the bathroom.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Goal post

All the casting-on of new projects does not mean I have forgotten promising myself to learn to spin on my wheel this year, or to knit an Estonian shawl with the laceweight yarn I love.

Here's my progress on spinning:

Karen got her first spinning wheel and after one day of playing with it managed to produce a balanced, beautiful skein of yarn. I read this and wanted to feel hopeful about my own prospects, but didn't. I am working on at least feeling inspired.

Helena suggested another training DVD and I tracked down a copy I can order, but I haven't ordered it yet because I am a slave to free shipping and can't quite think of another something I really want to order at the same time.

The shawl:

I don't know if you ever read Elizabeth Lovick's blog Northern Lace? Highly recommended. A few days ago Elizabeth posted a piece on how to knit nupps which I found rather timely, having just decided I would not fear them. Ha. Apparently this is a common mistake - one of many common mistakes people make when knitting nupps.

After reading all that I decided that I should work some nupps into my test swatch. It was at that point a very small swatch, worked primarily to decide which needles I should use (definitely the lace tips, though I find them so stabby on my fingers) and to find a rhythm whereby knitting with laceweight doesn't make me feel like a clumsy giant with swollen hands from some terrible allergic reaction that is coincidentally affecting my eyesight.

Yep, that's what it looks like now. And I don't see it getting any farther along either.

I think at this stage, I need to decide which is more important to me in this particular goal area: knitting up this laceweight, or knitting an Estonian shawl, because I just don't feel they are going to go together at all. I need yarn with a lot of elasticity for the nupps.

As far as the yarn goes, I'm thinking about pairing it with something heavier where it can use its powers of angora and cashmere for good, by which I mean softness and halo. I mean, seriously. I was going to knit my qiviut double with this self-striping yarn, but how perfectly does the laceweight match it?

or maybe I kill two birds (there must be some way to update that expression) by plying the laceweight with some other yarn, on my wheel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Early efforts

I've been trying to set myself up with a lot of super easy knitting lately, and over the weekend I sat down with a cup of tea and the disaster that was meant to be a hat that I knit with my very first handspun yarn before Christmas. My job: frogging it so I can remake it into something that won't be a disaster.

Helena has some theories about the product of early handspun efforts - they involve not seeing these yarns as 'wasted fiber' but as part of the journey and so on - which I would like to have it in me to adopt even as I find it ironic that she still describes her own spinning that way when it is gorgeous and has been for ages.

(and did you see what Karen made, on her first weekend with her first wheel? It is to weep.)

That said, my first handspun, with all its overspun segments and underspun bursts and size that ranges from laceweight to superbulky without any warning at all, really, still looks very pretty to me:

I was just beginning to learn how to use my spindle when I did this, using Twisted Fiber Art superwash merino roving in Netherfield. I love these colours together and - yes, I do wish I had yarn in it that I could use for a fitted garment. I know it's journey and all the rest. It's just that all my TFA stuff is precious to me not only because I love it so but because the duty charges when I order it from Canada are so ruinous as to prevent me buying all I want. It can't help but sadden me that I can't just put these colours where I wanted them (on my head, in the form of a hat.)

Still, I can always do a hipster-type misshapen garter stitch scarf, right?

Just maybe not on 5mm needles. You are looking at the sum total of the yarn that I have, and I don't see this making it much farther than a cowl, do you?

Oh dear, I fear another frogging for this poor longsuffering yarn.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cue the suspense

Look what came in the mail last week:

It's the three installments of the first Biscotte club of 2011, plus a little treat:

Louise has been including incredibly cute bags and accessories from Creations Marylou with her club entries, another reason it's killing me that I missed last fall's club and then her holiday one too. I swear I will never again let physiotherapy interfere with my yarn purchasing.

But back to the suspense. I now have those three pouches sitting in my closet waiting for the mornings of the first of February, March, and April, when I will be able to open them in turn. After that, when I turn on my computer for the day, I will find some awesome new pattern designed specifically for the yarn I've just opened. And the yarn will be fantastic, with gorgeous colour and lush feel, because in my increasingly vast experience Biscotte's hand-dyed yarns are all just downright sumptuous.

If I'm making you wish you too had signed up, you can always go to the online shop and see what's in stock today.

While I wait for February 1, I have got something to knit that I've wanted to get onto my needles forever:

Yes! My longstanding Mariner obsession is finally being addressed!

But with more suspense, because I am using the discontinued Jo Sharp yarn my friend destashed over at my house last fall. There are 10 balls, which might be enough and might not; I might have to make the sleeves shorter, or add a second colour to the lower back, and I just won't know till I get there.

One thing I do know almost for certain is that mine won't look exactly like the magazine's version, because it took me almost one whole ball to get to the end of the hem.

Of course, that's because of the half-linen stitch. And I don't care if it's inhaling my yarn; it is one of the most satisfying stitches I've done in forever. So simple - worked flat it's essentially knit one row, knit one stitch and slip one throughout the next row - and such a fabulous effect. Bonus: this yarn is seriously yummy to touch and work with, and now that I've decided to call the colour toffee, I am finding that delicious too.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Clockwork hat: corrected

I finished the hat to match my red/orange/green scarf-poncho thing:

Usually when I finish a hat and wear it outside nobody says anything about it, which I tend to be comforted by ("hey! I must not look like I'm wearing an alligator on my head!"). This one drew comments right away, and they were also not of the alligator-on-head variety but purely complimentary, in spite of this business of stranding two identical colours and expecting a consistently visible pattern to come out.

So I would call it a success even if it hadn't also kept my head covered and warm (not always true of hat, you wouldn't believe how many I've made and not shown here) even on some seriously cold days.

This is a redo of an earlier version, and it accommodates various shocking discoveries such as

'stranded knits are snugger than the same number of stitches worked in stocking stitch' and

'yes, a snug ribbing that sits diagonally does look stupid with glasses.'

I wear glasses, you see, for everything but close work and most photographs. This is not exclusively vanity - I am doing so much close work they are always off me and on some table or sofa or back of bookshelf waiting for me to go mad looking for them.

Also, a lot of the hats I design end up looking less than ideal with my glasses, which have a very wide frame that pushes out the sides of a hat. I figure that people with good vision, contacts, or snugger-fitting glasses should be able to see the hats as they would look on them.

Nonetheless, this is what makes me especially happy about this hat: the sneaky tricks I did with the ribbing make it perfectly fine with my glasses.

And yet, the ribbing still does enough of a job to keep the hat on.

Seriously - even with all my hair my coat collar and the big scarf that always end up pushing a hat up to the heavens and off my forehead just when I really need my hands for holding my coat shut in the wind.

Most exciting: this is the base design for the hat I'm doing with Helena. It will be in a different fiber and weight, and the stranded pattern will be new, but all these good features will be in it. I'm just waiting for the yarn now and then I'll be able to get going.

Can. Not. Wait!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revealed: Big Project Small Needles

Ta daaaa!

Can you believe I knit this?

In slightly less than two months no less, even though I had to knit two samples for Interweave Knits at the same time and practice an insane amount for a driver's test, which I passed on the first try. I am still amazed.

This is Genevieve's Graduation Sweater from Kathleen Taylor's book Fearless Fair Isle. When I said I would love to knit a sample for it, I thought I would get - I don't know - mittens? A hat? And then I got an e-mail saying I'd been assigned this and (another amazement) did not have a heart attack. See, I've known Kathi for a reeeeaaaallly long time, and I remembered Genevieve's Graduation Sweater from when she made the one she actually gave Genevieve. It is a very special and meaningful knit and I didn't know whether I could pull it off.

Well, I need not have panicked. Kathi sent over the draft chapter on introducing Fair Isle, complete with all sorts of advice and instruction, and by the time I cast on I felt like a pro. Normally this is the last kind of project I would ever call 'travel knitting', but I traveled with it everywhere and never had a problem following the charts.

And what charts! Complex though the design looks, you almost never have to carry a float more than five stitches, so it's effortless. To say nothing of the thrill as I watched the boxy shapes on the paper chart transformed into gentle curves in the fabric.

I took a few pictures of the process so Kathi could tell me whether I was doing it right - I wanted her sample to be perfect - and I always was, just from following the pattern.

If you look closely at that last picture, you can see the stitching there where I folded down the neck in anticipation of picking up stitches, another thing I didn't know how to do properly until I read Kathi's draft chapter.

Here is my favourite picture, taken just after I cut the steek. I love the design on the exterior of this sweater but I find this interior shot breathtakingly beautiful:

If you're new to Hugs and are so inclined, you can read through the posts I wrote while I was knitting this last spring - they are all tagged Big Project Small Needles.

It was a great experience, and I can't wait to get my hands on the patterns for the other projects in this book.

* * * * * *

Edited to add:

Whoa! I published this and then dashed out the door for much of the day. What a nice thing to come home to all these lovely supportive comments - thanks guys!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stranding and a teaser

An amazing thing happened yesterday: for the first time ever as I sat knitting on the subway, I looked up and saw another person knitting on the subway!

Other people noticed too and I started to have visions of a knit-in-public day in which people just turned up places knitting without talking to each other - a random appearance of knitting people, sort of like a flash mob before you figure out they're all in it together.

(then of course we got off the subway in the same place and immediately started chatting. And because it turned out we were taking exactly the same route for most of the rest of our journeys, we got other people chatting with us too.)

(she was knitting a scarf in brilliant blue mohair on 10mm needles, which means she's pretty much a hero.)

I wasn't knitting my clockworky hat on the subway as it requires concentration, but rather another simpler thing I still managed to mess up during all the chat - today's job is to rip back two rows without crying. Still managed to strand some more of the hat though, from about here:

It's coming along, but you can see what I mean about choosing a contrast colour that matches one of the self-striping colours perfectly. Not so much of a contrast.

While doing all the stranding I have been thinking of what I have learned about this technique in my knitting life. I did colourwork for ages before Kathi asked me to knit a sample for her Fair Isle book, but actually doing that project -which you may recall I dubbed Big Project Small Needles and wrote about many, many times last spring without posting any spoiler pictures - I learned so much more.

How to keep my floats perfect,

what a difference it makes when you consistently keep the same colour in front as you work,

why you can trust blocking to make it all right,

how to pick up stitches neatly,

to say nothing of how to stEEK!

And this is timely because Kathi's book is now available to pre-order, and Kathi herself has published pictures from the interior on her blog.

Big Project Small Needles is in one of the pictures.

But I'm not telling you which one till tomorrow.

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Now that my clockworky thing is fixed and I've worn it as a poncho under a coat and was in fact able to close the loose part around my neck as a scarf,

I need a matching hat.

So I frogged the last attempt, which was just way too short and tight - what was I thinking? - and got going on a redo, which currently looks like this:

One thing I will say: pairing a solid colour with a self-striping yarn striped with a colour the same as the solid and then trying to knit a chart with it is not one of my brightest ideas. On the other hand any mistakes I got in those patches of two matching yarns won't show, right?

I enjoy stranding. It's very peaceful, letting the two colours move as you knit so you're catching the right one at the right time. It's like the kind of dancing in a costume drama, the name for which I'm sure I could recall if I hadn't just got up and not had any caffeine yet.

Anyway I am really hoping to get this hat done fast, because it looks like it will be warm, and we are having another big run of snow and icy temperatures this week.

I wonder whether I will ever remember that winter, while motivating, is not the best time to be knitting a hat, but rather wearing one you knit back in the warmer days of fall? I should be rotating my ideas like those strands of colour, summer knits in cold weather, winter knits in the heat.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The socks I am keeping

There was a good deal of sulking involved, but I have finally finished the socks I was making for mum and which are now for me, owing to my having used needles too small for the slouchy elastic fit that would allow her to get them on:

Normally when I get that close to the finish of a project - in this case, I was right up to the toes before I noticed my mistake - I don't stop till I'm done. Nothing beats the thrill of looking at a Thing with no needles attached, not to mention striking a line off the To Do list, am I right?

(okay, maybe doing that and eating supremely expensive milk chocolate ice cream at the same time. While somebody else cleans your bathroom.)

But I put so much energy into these, so much love and positive thought - every stitch was all about mum. These are mum's socks, and since they aren't going to mum, they must be a failure.

But they are, um, pretty good looking failures aren't they. And I did just make an equally special, if faster, bag for mum she can use every day, and not just till it needs a wash.

Maybe there are two stages in the life of a made thing - the life it had while it was being made, with all the feelings and activities of those times soaking into the fiber, and the life it has when it is being used. Maybe I can turn these very beautiful socks into something I feel good about every time I look at them, just by living in them myself.

(I probably won't wear them when I'm going to see mum though.)

Project Details

No-Purl Monkeys, CraftyPancakes' version of Cookie A's Monkey Socks, in which all the purl stitches are knitted

Knitterly Things' Vesper Sock Yarn, 'Far Away' exclusive sock club colourway

Monday, January 10, 2011

One step forward, two steps back

The weariness with which I have been approaching knitting in this post-frenzy period has been punctuating with all sorts of commas, even semi-colons, the projects I've had the energy to start.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Recently I ripped out my big cowl to make a big collar before the snow hit again, but when I found the collar was too small to fit around my chin, I ripped it out and reknit it on much larger needles, only to find it was still too small and also now too floppy for the job, and required being ripped out also; I am now considering a scarf.


The other day I cast on some easy bus knitting, a test for a design idea I wrote down last fall, and had a pleasant morning putting several inches onto it; when I looked more closely after that time, I realized it was about four inches too wide, and so after much measuring and testing and consideration, I ripped it out and cast on fewer stitches.


I very much want a second pair of my beloved wool/mohair boot socks so I cast on with my remaining skein of their yarn using a pattern I am still working out; after completing the toe on both socks I came to know that the number of stitches I was working with would require the heel to be offset on each foot by one stitch, which is almost certain to loosen my grip on my senses, and prompted me not only to rip them out but to rework all the math on the draft pattern and to accept that the finished socks will not be as perfectly snug on my feet as their predecessors.

In good news, the revised socks seem not to need any more ripping yet:

and I have plans to spend today in a hospital waiting room where making up the lost hours on my easy knit will be very welcome indeed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Goal post

After the panic over my first steps toward my spinning wheel goal for this year, I cast an admiring look at my copy of The Haapsalu Shawl, the book on Estonian lace shawls that inspired what I thought was the Really Scary Goal. (I am thinking now I got the two goals reversed.)

You know how sometimes you don't bother to read the directions?

I got this book about a year ago and devoured all the writing in it, but somehow didn't pay attention to the technicalities.

Ravelry sees this book as a stitch dictionary, so you can't link to patterns from it unless you piggyback on one that's already posted. In fact it's very much a Build It Yourself version of a pattern book. The 'pattern' is in the front, and then a bunch of stitch choices to plug into said pattern are in the back.

What I learned before I went looking for the plug-in stitch of my choice, that I didn't clue into before:

These shawls are traditionally knit in off-white wool, so right off the bat I'm off authenticity with hand-dyed cashmere/alpaca/silk. You may or may not know that all three of those fibers are a bit light on the whole elasticity thing. Which doesn't make them a bad choice for lace, unless you're doing something fussy like, say, nupps.

I'm pretty sure that the version of bobbles I've been knitting - I follow the directions but they come out much flatter than everybody else's - are a close cousin of nupps. For that reason, and because I haven't yet tried an actual nupp, I am confident I can pull that off. I do however suspect it's easier to make nice ones that don't require hair loss if you're using a yarn with elasticity.

When making an Estonian shawl of this kind you don't just knit a rectangle in pretty lace and say Voila! In fact, you add in a garter stitch border, and when you're done that, you cast on 8 million and 43 stitches twice for two different lace borders that you later sew onto the lace rectangle by hand. And then you block it. Preferably on a special frame. Good luck with that in my house, Estonian lace shawl.

After learning all that I was onto the bigger question: which lace stitch would I used for the center panel?

Looking over the gorgeous pictures again I realized that these shawls tend to look formal, and that I'd have to choose carefully a pattern that I can pull off with one of my weird skirts so I actually use it.

Also, one that wouldn't be impossible to follow the chart for.

Also, one that doesn't have too many nupps. But not one with no nupps, because that would be cheating, the point of most Haapsalu shawl stitches being nupps. Basically if I could pick my way past the most beautiful stitches and their 10 nupps per inch I would be happy, and if it didn't look too conservative that would be icing on the laceweight cake.

You can guess what I thought when I flipped to this page:

Plus, do you see there that it's called Lightning? And my yarn's colourway is called Sea Storm. Done and done.

Next on my list: math, and the swatch, not necessarily in that order.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Clock repairs

I know you've been worried about my possibly having forgotten I knit a perfectly good Clockwork drapey shawl thing that needed Something before I could wear it. Ha! Not only did I not forget, I thought of the Something, and yesterday I finally had time to execute same.

To recap: Clockwork is a gorgeous garter stitch scarf in a curving shape that looks stunning wrapped once around the neck of its wearer, with the ends hanging down in front. If a scarf worn in such a way is flattering on you and/or meets the demands of your climate, you should totally knit one.

Sadly it turns out I am not such a person.

I tried wearing it as a shawl, but it kept slipping off and while I considered adding an I-cord button loop and a funky button to hold it in place, it really isn't deep enough to keep my back warm.

I tried tying it, but that just hid all the shape and drape that make this pattern worth knitting.

I even tried just wearing it as a scarf just folded across the opening at the top of my coat, and I froze every time - the depth problem again I think, plus the weight of all that garter stitch kept pulling the fold open and exposing my neck.

So I got out my trusty darning needle and tracked down my little bag of remaining yarn (which took about two panicky hours as I had stuffed it in the crafty cupboard behind my sewing things while making room for the Christmas tree) and sewed it up.

It's difficult to describe how I approached this task apart from saying I positioned it somewhat like a curling orange peel, folded it right side to right side, and stitched through the tops of the caston/castoff edges as they met.

From the front, you can see how I lined up some gear marks (sort of... it's the top two on the left, sorry for the bad lighting):

This view from the back shows the new depth, which is not much more than when I made it a shawl but - key difference - since I now don't have to hike it up to keep it from falling off entirely, I can let my hair take care of the top of my back and have the wool take care of the rest.

You can see in both of these pictures how there is a lot of loose stuff at the top of the front, and yes, it falls in folds like a folding cowl when worn. Sadly I had to ask a mirror and indoor light to help out with some semblance of how this looks in practice, but hopefully you get the idea:

It's a little weird, but I like that in clothing so I'm happy. I wore it all through the rest of the day and was warm as toast that is still warm. Bonus: the charm of the two gorgeous yarns I used - from Biscotte (Precieux) and Twisted Fiber Art (Playful) - are shown to full advantage, by way of both colour and drape.

I never thought I'd say such a thing after all the acrylic granny square versions that dotted my childhood, but this is one poncho I really love.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Back to basics

I'm beginning to think that knitting an Estonian lace shawl with 2-ply laceweight will be easier than learning how to use my spinning wheel, and that scares me.

I do have a How To Spin DVD now, and it is tremendously helpful, though I must say its New Age music is throwing me little. Over the holiday when I ran it so I could have a look without a wheel in front of me, somebody wandered past and asked what was so suspenseful, the theme having shifted to something urgent and ominous.

It is true however that keeping your fiber from overtwisting and breaking off is suspenseful, so I suppose it's appropriate, if distracting.

Anyway I gave it a good thirty minutes, adjusting my bobbin tension and chair position and how much I predrafted and something about where I put the rubber band thingy and a lot of other things before accepting that freaking out is not the response a wheel is meant to produce. So I put it away and resolved to:

accept that learning to use a spinning wheel in 2011 doesn't mean doing that during the first week of 2011

watch the video again, wheel-free, when I am calmer

practise just treadling so I get my speed consistent

find a spinning wheel class (and fiber I truly don't care about ruining.)

Then I got out a spindle.

Oh, I can't help it - I love how easy they are. And I've been drafting out my Twisted fiber in a new to me way that I couldn't wait any longer to see spun up.

Here's what I did: instead of tearing the roving into thin strips, thereby reducing the length of each colour repeat, I uncurled the entire piece and tore it down the middle, then down the middle of each of those for four fat strips. I've been drafting from that fat fiber to thin wispy pieces with long, long colour repeats, and I plan to ply each pair with the colour repeats matching so that I retain the gorgeous colour shifts.

Seriously, could you resist that, especially if your alternative is mangling perfectly good fiber on a wheel you don't know how to use?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

As I mean to go on

I'm not going to give myself any grief for not really knitting yesterday even though that is a pretty weird thing for me to (not) do.

I was tired in the morning which may explain why, after leaving my polite grace period as a car passenger, I forgot to reach for my knitting. When I noticed that, 30 minutes into the trip, there didn't seem to be much point in getting out the sock I didn't finish the other day specifically so I could have it for this drive, but when the driver opted to stop for coffee I opted to knit a few rounds while keeping the vehicle company.

That was it for knitting, all day.

Usually in the evening I collapse in front of the TV for some educational viewing and compulsive knitting, but I was invited to play board games instead and even though I usually knit through those as well I didn't even think of doing that. I just giggled a lot.

Later still I just wanted to go to bed or watch TV doing nothing, but I made myself get out some roving I've been drafting. I figured if I couldn't do anything else, I could pet wool, and it was a good call because Hello 'Relaxing'?

I'm not quite sure what to make of this because though I'm pretty sure I did go through one or two four hour periods in which I did not think or even care much about knitting over the last 18 months, it's never lasted a whole day. Probably I am just too tired from all the mayhem of the past two weeks, to say nothing of two months of panic knitting, to know what I am (not) doing.

But it occurs to me that there is just the slightest possibility that the whole concept of 'a peaceful 2011' sunk into my subconscious. Could it be that I will put knitting into perspective, and not have needles in my hands for a minimum of 15 minutes every waking hour?


I think I will take this probably accidental quiet approach and walk meditatively with it today (see, I was going to write 'run with it' there, did you guess?) I have a highly unusual five hours all to myself today and though I strongly suspect I will fill them with the mother of all naps, I have my spinning wheel and instructional video and a bag of undyed fiber sitting out by the couch. Can't get much more peaceful than spinning, right?

Monday, January 3, 2011

I meant well, honest

Remember the socks it was so important to me to knit for my mum by New Year's? I wrapped up so much energy in the idea that it would be a good year all year if only my mum had a pair of handknit socks to start it with (don't smirk, I can't be the only knitter who thinks this way) and also... the idea that if I just focused, it would be in theory physically possible for me to finish a pair of socks in less than my usual six to eight weeks.

And even though I did get sidetracked by some roving to draft out, and some warm things to knit for myself, I was totally on schedule to get the socks done in a mere three weeks. Three! Imagine!

But that devil was lurking in the details. I have knit the top-down pattern for Mum's socks twice before, both times on 2.25 mm needles which produce about a sock that is a little loose and long for me. Mum and I share the same foot and ankle measurements, so I figured I would go down to 2.0mm needles for her, as I did recently with some toe-up socks for myself that fit very nicely.

The top-down socks have six repeats down the leg, then another five along the ankle/foot area, and then you do the toe. By Saturday evening, I had both legs up to the toe, ready to finish and block and present to her today.

And then I tried one on.


Even before I noticed the sock was nowhere near long enough to be starting a toe, I knew I was in trouble because I had to struggle a bit to get my heel through the cast-on opening. Instant dealbreaker: there is no way mum can get on a sock that requires the least resemblance to a struggle. And yes, this is the only sock yarn I have that is subtle enough to suit her needs, apart from some gorgeous denim blue that I really want to save for a man sock but could make an exception for I guess, if I wasn't just a lot more likely to enjoy this excuse to buy more sock yarn.

I went on knitting, trying to be hopeful, figuring that since I wasn't likely to rip out a pair of gorgeous socks that are perfectly functional in every other way I might as well keep them for myself, until they got about here:

at which point I realized I have worked so hard on this one project I have absolutely nothing else to knit in the car today and would have to save them for that or go crazypants. (Seriously, it's like I'm in a fiber desert here, everything waiting to be cast on but nothing new started, even though I spent some time yesterday browsing through my queue and pondering. This whole 'socks in three weeks' thing is obviously not right for me.)

Adding insult to injury: I helped mum with some packing on Saturday and discovered that what she really needs are brown socks, not blue ones. Even if I could give these to her, she wouldn't have much occasion to wear them.

Sunday, instead of knitting anything, I went shopping. I bought mum some stretchy brown bamboo socks. I will give them to her today, and it will be a wonderful year for us all.