Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tick Tock

Progress on the Clock Vest is slow . . . very slow. I knit on it every morning for an hour while I sip tea. And how much is accomplished during this hour? Two rows. One half hour per row of 212 stitches. Actually it's more like 40 minutes for the front row where all the stitch twisting happens, and then 20 minutes to do the reverse.

This is the process (and I would very much like to know if there is a better way):

1. Knit 19 stitches
2. Turn to Chart A, find correct row, analyze, *memorize and knit, repeat from * as needed
3. Knit 14 stitches.
4. Repeat Step #2 minus the page flipping and analysis.
5. Knit 25-35 (varies by row) stitches.
6. Turn to Chart C, find correct row, analyze, *memorize and knit, repeat from * as needed
7. Repeat Step #5
8. Turn to Chart B, find correct row, analyze, *memorize and knit, repeat from * as needed
9. Knit 14 stitches.
10. Repeat Step #8 minus the page flipping and analysis.
11. Knit 19 stitches

I persevere. And it is getting easier and faster. Not a lot, but I have hopes of raising my production to 4 rows per day. How many total rows? And if we divide by 4, how many days will it take to finish? Nope. Not going there. Too scary.

So far the fit is looking good. I spread the stitches across two circs and had a little try on session. It is neither obscenely large nor obscenely small, just about right.

This is the back pattern, which spreads out and grabs more stockinette stitches as you knit upwards. At this point I usually begin chanting -- "a purl behind a knit, a knit in front of a purl, purl five, a knit in front of a knit . . ." On some of the easier rows I can get through the whole thing without having to look back at the chart.

And these little twisties are on the right front and under the right arm. Each front pattern mirrors the other, and each repeats on the side. You would think after working the pattern once on the front I would remember it a mere 14 stitches further along. Apparently not. I have to check the chart all over again.

In the goodnews/badnews department: GOOD = the side panels go away once one reaches the armholes; BAD = there is a chart D that merges with chart C at some point to cover the entire back.

But it is a beautiful vest. Well worth the effort. And when it is finished I will be a far more adept knitter of traveling twisted stitches.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Close Encounter With SSS

I have never before had any difficulties with Second Sock Syndrome. I like knitting the first sock of a pair, because there is generally some designing involved. I may have to adapt the pattern to fit the intended feet or perhaps simplify it to better suit a handpainted yarn, or I may be creating my own pattern from scratch. And, of course, I get to decide how I want to handle the heel and the toe. Toes are especially fun; there are so many variations. And then the second sock is just cruising. I do exactly what I did with the first sock (And I do take notes while knitting the first – how many rows from here to there, how many pattern repeats, where to increase or decrease, etc.). The second sock is perfect for TV knitting, no need to stop and deal with design issues.

But this time – with the Aslan Kneesocks – I had a terrible time finishing that second sock. It was so darn long. And I had already surfaced so many problems while creating the first sock that I wanted to forge ahead and start a new pair with a different design. But what use is one sock?

I decided that I would not allow myself to cast on the new pair (Ribby Kneesocks) until I had completed the Aslan pair. I could noodle with the new design on paper, do some calculations, even swatch a bit (although NOT with the actual yarn), but no knitting. That worked. I spent every spare moment knitting on the second sock. Voila! Two kneesocks!

And the reward? Yep! The Ribby Kneesocks are underway. I'm using Brown Sheep Wildfoote, with handpainted "Brown Sugar" for the cuff, heel, and toe, and solid "Dark Carmel" for the body of the sock.

Still on the cuff in this pic. The design feels good so far. I'll start with K2P2, use the Georgia O'Keefe approach for the calf shaping, decrease down to K1P1 at the ankle, and possibly go down a needle size for the ankle and foot as well.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Oh Dear, Oh Deer!

Here's the scene – a quiet winter day, the rain is over for now, but clouds still cluster on the hilltops. No cruise ships in port, no tourists, not a soul around. And I am alone, walking slowly along this road into town, intending to check my mail at the post office. Suddenly I hear rustling in the brush uphill to my right. Before I can even think of reaching for my camera, three deer bound across the road directly in front of me and dive down the hill to the left.

I grab the camera, switch it on and point it at the deer as they scramble down this slope. They're too fast for me.

Aha! Gotcha! They stopped for a snack. The forest fire we had in May took out a lot of the greenery in the interior of the island that the deer feed on in wintertime. So we are seeing more and more of them close to town. After some further grazing and a bit of mutual back scratching, these three flicked their tails and took the shortcut downhill toward the grocery store. Wonder if I'll meet them there?

Now, if you want to read more about animals on the move, check out Getting Stitched on the Farm. Lots of sheep charging along those Massachusetts country roads. Really, really funny.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Girlie Side

Having almost completed the Aslan Knee Socks, I have begun to design the next pair. This time I wanted to avoid using a wide stockinette panel to handle the increases and decreases. Instead, this pair – which I have dubbed the "Ribby Kneesocks" -- would be a kneesock version of the classic K2P2 rib. I simply had to figure out a way to handle the increases/decreases for the calf and then the decreases down to the ankle.

For the calf I envisioned a K2 that increased to K4, then split apart in the middle to make room for a P2, which grew to a P4, and gave birth to a K2 in the middle, for a total increase of 8 stitches. These would then be decreased away in the same manner. So I swatched it.

The swatch didn't turn out as I expected. The final K2 in the middle looks like a little lost worm. Perhaps the final increase could go from P4 to P6, I thought, leaving a more open area in the middle. Less offensive than the worm, but not wonderful. I was knitting along, debating the merits of these two approaches when I happened to lay the swatch on the table wrong side up.

Oh. I'll be hornswoggled. Much better. The increases and decreases look a little ragged, because they were executed on the other side, but . . . I like this shape. It has a sort of Georgia O'Keefe flavor - - more, well, more . . . feminine.

So, the heck with the worm. I think I'll go for the girlie side.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An Outing for the Traveling Sock

The traveling sock has been much neglected. Second of the pair, it was cast on in August and knit upon for several hours while in transit to and from the Santa Monica Fiber Festival. Since then it has languished in its little pouch in my backpack.

On Thursday, it got lucky. Sort of.

Sock and I ventured down to the Laundromat, and it was knitted on for over an hour while the clothes washed and dried. Not terribly scenic, but better than the inside of the pouch. Or so it said.

Encouraged by Thursday's progress, I took Sock with me for a walk along the harbor the next day. We found a sunny bench sheltered from the wind, knit, and enjoyed the view. More progress was made – almost down to the heel. We're both excited.

The first sock was completed long ago. It graciously posed for this photo to remind me of its beauty and to encourage me to finish sock #2. The pattern is "Stems" from "More Sensational Knitted Socks" and the yarn is Sock! from Lisa Souza in the Spanish Moss colorway.

I did a six-gore toe, which I really like with this pattern.

The ribbing is K1P1, which lines up nicely with the five-stitch lacy stems that are separated by one purl stitch. But I wish that I had twisted the K1's. I think it would have given the top a better definition and emphasized the way the ribbing flows into the leg pattern.

Soon, the traveling sock will join its twin, and they will socialize with all the other pairs in the sock drawer. And I will cast on another traveling sock.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Okay, It's Finished. But What Is It?

It's a bookmark, of course. A little lacy bookmark.

And why is this such a notable accomplishment? Simple. It is the first—and so far the only—object that I have created from my own handspun yarn.

This tiny project is only 9" long by 3" wide; it used 10-12 yards of yarn, all that I had. The pattern is called Cabled Lace Bookmark—the August 8 entry from Knitting Pattern-a-Day Calendar, 2007. Cast on 19 stitches, knit for 28 rows, and you're done. Takes about a half hour--an hour if you're feeling leisurely.

I spun the yarn from two fibers mooshed together. I had a bit of white BFL left over from my first laughable spindling effort and some red Corriedale that remained from my second, slightly less laughable attempt. I spread out the two pieces of fiber, drafted them together, spun it all up, and two-plied it. The yarn is variously solid red, mostly white, or tweedy red/white. I loved it. Still do.

Nowadays I am spinning greater quantities of yarn and can reliably produce a two-ply fingering weight. But I have yet to knit anything else from my own handspun.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Spicy Yarn

My first attempt at natural dyeing – dyeing of any sort, actually – resulted in this skein of fingering/sport yarn (the blue bits are the skein ties).

I handspun the yarn (on two separate spindles) from Columbia/Dorset top purchased from Paradise Fibers, then plied the two singles (on yet another spindle) to make a four-ounce skein.

The rest was simple. Instead of plopping the skein into water for a 30-minute simmer bath, I mixed one ounce of tumeric with a gallon of water, simmered it for 30 minutes, then added the yarn for another 30-minute simmer. I let the dye bath cool a bit, rinsed the yarn in warm, then cool water until the water ran clear, then hung it to dry.

It was easy as could be, and I love the color – a most intriguing shade of golden honey brown with a hint of orange.

If you put it next to something red or yellow, the yarn looks quite orange.

But if you put it next to something that is truly orange – an orange, for instance – it looks golden brown.

I'm on the hunt now for other grocery store items that are equally easy to use for dyeing. So far, the leading contenders appear to be Kool-Aid, or similar store brand drink mixes, and food coloring. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet from people who have done this sort of dyeing and much, much more. Lanaset/Sabraset is a name that pops up often in discussions of simple dyeing processes. More research is clearly needed.

I can feel myself being sucked into the vortex of a new hobby. First knitting, then spinning, then . . . . aaiieeeeeeee . . .

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Shall Wear Purple

Actually this sweater isn't purple. The color is called "lupine" and it's a very blue hue of purple. But close enough to count as part of the when I grow old collection.

I knit the sweater about two years ago after a long hiatus. Not a break from knitting, just from sweaters. I'd been knitting socks instead. Although I love making sweaters, I absolutely hate sewing them up. Side seams, sleeve seams – ick, ick, ick. Then I stumbled upon two possibilities that would eliminate the seams: 1) knitting in the round with steeks (very scary), or 2) top-down construction.

Top-down sounded interesting so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I found the guidelines for measuring, etc. here and followed them to the letter. What I learned? I need to adjust the percentage distribution at the top for my own body type and fit preference. In order to make the body of the sweater as big around as I wanted it to be, I ended up with sleeves that were a bit too large at the top. I did gradual decreases on the sleeves, so they fit well between the elbow and the wrist, but there's a good bit of extra fabric between the armhole and the elbow.

I'm happy with the sweater though. It has the casual, knock-around look I was aiming for and the color is perfect. The yarn is Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece (80% cotton, 20% merino wool) which I bought on sale as "seconds." Its flaw was that the skeins were unevenly dyed – exactly right for the "faded jeans" look I wanted.

Add a red hat, and I'll be good to go.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Clock Has Started on the Clock Vest

I had been wanting to start another vest for about a month, ever since the yarn arrived, but kept putting it off in order to finish other projects. The pattern is called "Clock Vest" and it's from Cheryl Oberle's "Folk Vests." When finished it should look like this --

In a weak moment – wide awake in the middle of the night – I surrendered to temptation and cast on. This is what the vest looks like right now –

I'm on row 11 and I've already contrived to make a major mistake, which required the tinking of an entire row (212 stitches). The error? I mistook a 2/1 purl cross for a 2/2 purl cross. Lesson learned. One should review an extremely complicated pattern before launching into the knitting.

The clock vest pattern has five charts. Each chart includes 1/1, 2/1, and 2/2 crosses, which may be variously left or right, knit or purl – 12 possibilities in all. To add to the challenge, the charts are small, two or three to a page, and purls are indicated by shading. Enlarging the charts makes the lines easier to read, but messes with the shading.

The yarn used in the pattern is Schoolhouse Press Quebecoise. And that's what I'm using. It's quite an interesting yarn. Something between a DK and worsted weight, rather hairy and sticky (in a good way), and lightly two-plied.

The whole process feels odd. Knitting exactly to the pattern without a single modification and using exactly the yarn called for by the pattern – I'm not sure I've ever done that before.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In Which An Object Is Finished And Another Takes Center Stage

It felt as though I had been working on the Old Gold Stansfield socks forever (perhaps because I had to frog the first five inches after finding a chronic oopsie on round 12). But they are done at last.

The recipient is happy with the socks, and I am pleased too. The pattern (Stansfield 196 from More Sensational Knitted Socks) is lovely. It looks a lot like cables without actually being cables. Now I want to knit a pair for myself. But not right away. Two socks worth of the same pattern, however delightful, generally leaves me ready for something new. And the constant need to be alert to the special fix needed on round 12 became irritating. (The problem was this – on round 11 there is a yarnover after a knit and before a purl. If knit in the ordinary way on the next round it leaves what looks to me like a gaping hole; others might consider it delightfully lacy. But if one knits in the back of that yarnover – no hole.)

Sooooo . . . . . it's time to focus on finishing the second Aslan Knee Sock. Sock and I went down to the harbor, found a sunny bench, and spent some quality time together.

It's coming along nicely.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tricksy Knee Socks - Part Two

After my experience with Nancy Bush's Clock Stockings pattern, I knew I needed some help to figure out how to shape knee socks. I found it here. I followed the directions, measuring the length and circumference of my leg in a multitude of different spots. Then I did a gauge swatch, devised a strategy, and cast on.

This is the first sock:

The pattern – if such it can be called – consists of five repeats of K10, P2, K2, P2. The K10 panels were intended to handle the increases and decreases, and the P2,K2,P2 bits supplied some elasticity. I began with 80 stitches, increased to 88 for the calf, then back down to 80, then tapered down to 55 stitches at the ankle. And in general I'm happy with the result. But as you can see from this side view there are some issues.

The calf increases and decreases worked out fine. I did two at a time around a center line. No problem. Excellent fit, and at the end I was back to the 80 stitches I started with. So next . . .

I thought it would be a good idea to do two decreases on each 10-st panel to get down to 70 stitches and then a while further do the same thing again to get to 60 stitches. And I thought decreases on the sides of the panel wouldn't show. Not true. Those two spots where the panel curves in? Yes, those would be the decreases. I'm going to consider this a "design feature" for this pair, but never again.

To add to the pain . . . I decided 60 stitches was not quite snug enough for the narrowest part of the ankle, so decreased one more stitch in the middle of each panel to get down to 55 stitches. This decrease doesn't show at all.

As I did the gusset decreases I was noodling about how to handle the 55 stitches at the toe. Then I discovered I had made a mistake on one round and left out a decrease on one side. So I had 56 stitches. Problem solved – 28 stitches front and back, and a nice standard toe. Now that mistake has become part of the design.

I have learned a lot from this one sock and I'm going to knit the second one exactly the same—mistakes, "design features," and all. But I'm looking forward to casting on a new pair with a new, improved design.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cultural Context is Critical

Suppose you lived on a small island off the coast of a major country. Could be Britain or France or Japan or Australia. Anywhere. Then suppose you went for a walk along the harbor one Thursday morning in November and saw this:

You would probably take a hard look at this boat and try to identify the colored object bobbing in the air. You might pull out your digital camera and use the zoom to get a closer look. Then you might, or might not, realize that the object is an inflated plastic turkey.

Why are these people flying a plastic turkey from their boat? You might wonder and wonder. But if your island was situated off the coast of the USA you would know. They are celebrating Thanksgiving. Of course.

Thousands of years from now will archeologists wonder why the turkey was such a prevalent symbol in this one part of the globe? And will they ever deduce that it symbolizes gratitude for one's blessings? Turkey=thankfulness . . . the logic is a little shaky.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

New Yarn AND New Fiber

The post office has been good to me. Two packages in the same day – one of yarn and one of fiber. Yum!

First, the yarn. On the left we have a 4-oz skein of Austermann Step in color #03, which most vendors call "Grass Green" or something to that effect. On the right is another 4-oz skein, this one of Dream in Color's Smooshy sock yarn. The colorway is "Chinatown Red," and it's the most intriguing blend of dark red, brick red, and even a bit of orange. It will be a challenge to find exactly the right pattern for this beauty.

And then there's the fiber. Both of these are dyed by Lisa Souza. First is BFL in the Olive Tones colorway. I'm excited about this one, because I'm going to attempt to spin a fingering weight singles with it, finish it off, and then knit it into socks. NO plying! Various internet sources say that this can be done, as long as one "soft spins" the fiber. I thought BFL would be a good choice for the experiment, because it is both strong and long. We shall see.

Next is merino in the Wild Things colorway. This is destined for a more traditional two-ply. I'd love to Navaho ply it, but my limited efforts at three-plying have not been at all successful. Still, there is fun to be had in dividing up the fiber and deciding how to arrange the colors and how to draft. As a novice spinner, I am easily entertained.

The difficult part will be deciding what to do first. I lean toward spinning the BFL singles. But the merino colors are gorgeous. And that Chinatown Red yarn deserves a stunning pattern.

Spin? Knit? Design? Not enough hours in the day.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Construction Zone

The newest naked yarn has been joined by a sibling (more Columbia Dorset). Plying is underway.

It's taking rather longer than I had anticipated. I've never kept a precise count of how many hours it takes to spin or ply a particular quantity (too depressing), but I think it took about two hours the last time I plied a two-ounce skein. So, in theory, this four-ounce skein should take about four hours. But I plied for over two hours yesterday and another hour today and I'm not even remotely half-way there. Maybe a quarter done, at best.

And I AM getting faster all the time. I often ply from the upstairs balcony, and with a really good sendoff the spindle will go almost all the way to the ground. My plying spindle is very good-natured too. Unlike some I might mention ('the Bos'), this spindle waits quietly once its work is done while I hoist it up to wind on the yarn. It does NOT immediately begin spinning in the opposite direction.

So, I shall ply and wind until the job is done. At least the weather is warm and sunny--perfect for prancing about on the balcony!

Monday, November 12, 2007

So Done With That . . . I Think

When I first began knitting socks (April 2005 to be precise), I bought some "sock" yarn under the guidance of the folks at Yarn Lady and some U.S. #2 bamboo DPN's. Armed with a set of directions on 'how to knit a sock' and some absolutely gorgeous Fortissima Socka Colori, I was off to San Miguel de Allende. No problem staying occupied on this plane trip. Knitting around and around, I was amazed to see beautifully colored stripes come flowing off the needles--so lovely that total strangers admired my work. Well, by vacation's end the socks were done--not perfect (a bit too short in the leg, gaps in the gusset, and a truly lumpy Kitchenered toe), but good. And I was enchanted with self-striping yarn.

The second pair I knit in Lion Brand Magic Stripes. Leg length much better this time. And I avoided gusset problems by doing a short-row heel.

Then the adventure of an afterthought heel with some Regia wool/cotton blend. And it was on sale!

Along the way, there was some Lang Color Jacquard, some more Regia, and so on -- stripes, stripes, stripes. Just when I thought I'd never stripe again I encountered Austerman Step, y'know the sock yarn with aloe vera. Yum! And the colors! And the lovely wiiide stripes! So I knit up a skein.

But then it was time to move on. Cable patterns, fair-isle patterns, lacey patterns . . . new adventures in sock knitting. No more stripes. Or so I thought.

Last week while browsing happily through the pages of my favorite sock yarn pushers--The Loopy Ewe and Simply Socks Yarn Company--I happened upon my old friend Austerman Step. New colors! Oh, nice. The blue, and, um, oooo, that green.

So I had a little accident. These things happen. Apparently stripes and I are getting back together.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

More Naked Yarn

At first glance this spindle full of yarn looks much like the Oatmeal yarn -- natural, straight from the sheep stuff. But this 2-oz single has a higher destiny. Once plied with its companion spindle (after the companion spindle has been filled, of course), this yarn is going to be dyed. How or with what, I am not sure. I've never dyed anything before. But I've been greatly attracted to some instructions provided by Lion Brand Yarn on how to create and use natural dyes. I lean towards tumeric. It's one of my favorite spices, and I like the color it will produce.

Another exciting thing about this apparently boring yarn is that the spindle does indeed contain a full two ounces, more than I have ever before been able to cram onto a spindle. And there's room for more--perhaps three, or even four, ounces. The two bibles that have guided my first baby steps into spinning ("Spinning in the Old Way" by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and "Spindle Spinning: From Novice to Expert" by Connie Delaney) provide more than adequate information on what a full 'cop' (the yarn wound on the spindle) should look like. But they are are a bit sketchy on the details of how to attain this perfect cop -- one that does NOT slide merrily off the end of the shaft every other twirl. It's a difficult thing to communicate in a book, so much easier if one had the expert at hand to say: "see, just do this."

But after much experimenting--and dropping of yarn--I have found a way that works. I wind the yarn down the shaft about 1-2 inches from the top, then wind back up. *Next time down I wind 4-6 wraps further, then back up to the top again. Repeat from *. Eventually the yarn is as far down the shaft as possible. Now it's time to retreat. I wind down but stop a bit short of the bottom and create a little cliff edge (past which thou shalt not wind) and head back up to the top. Each time down I retreat a little further. I don't know why this works so well, but it does. The bottom of the cop stays nice and solid, and nothing slips or slides at all.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tricksy Knee Socks - Part One

Lessons learned from my first pair of kneesocks --

  1. A leg that is too long is better than a leg that is too short. If the leg is too long, one can simply fold over a bit of the cuff at the top. Too short, and the sock bags, sags, and eventually slips down to the ankle.

  2. A nice tightly ribbed cuff at the top is essential. It helps to hold up the sock and it provides the necessary flexibility for the leg length.

  3. The shaping from knee to ankle should go from medium to large, back to medium, then down to small at the ankle. If it starts large and gets progressively smaller, same problem as #1 -- saggy, baggy, slidey sock.

I learned all these things in the usual way -- by screwing up. The pattern I selected ("Stockings with Clocks" from Nancy Bush's "Folk Socks"), while lovely, had some issues in the shaping department. The charmingly patterned cuff had zero elasticity.

And the shaping went from large to medium to small. And then I made the leg too short, which really didn't help. The end result was beautiful kneesocks that simply would not stay up. Sooooo.. . . here's the quick fix--

I picked up a bunch of stitches at the top (slightly fewer than I had cast on). Then I knit four inches of K2P2 ribbing. The ribbing can fold down over itself for a two-inch cuff or fold all the way down over the original decorative top. End result: lovely kneesocks that STAY UP!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Raving About Ravelry

Ravelry is great! Ravelry is cool! I received my invite a few days ago, after
only a month on the wait list (not bad) and promptly signed up. So far I have
loaded three stash items, one finished project, and three works in progress.
Doesn't sound like much, does it? Well, the joy -- and the pain -- of Ravelry
is the amount of detail you can/should enter for each project. Where did I buy
that yarn that's been sitting in the stash for a year? Um, uh, well, let me
think. Where do I generally buy yarn? Less than a dozen different places.
Usually. Which one was it? And what size needles did I use to knit those
socks? Hmmmm. I think I used #2's for the leg and #1's for the foot. And on
it goes.

The best part, especially for works in progress, is that once the project is
entered, you get a link that shows who else has knit or is knitting the same
pattern. The link leads to photos and descriptions of the knitters and the
projects. Fascinating.

There is a tendency to get sucked in by the glory of it all and neglect one's
knitting and other communications. In fact, I have noticed that some bloggers
-- especially newbies -- cease blogging altogether once they have joined
Ravelry. Naughty! Naughty!

So, I have taken the pledge: this very new blog WILL continue. And I shall
only add one new project per day (well, maybe two) to Ravelry.

Good intentions. Let's see what happens.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

First Real Yarn!

It's spun at last! A full 138 grams (4.8 oz), 422 yards of wool fingering yarn. Not terribly glamourous colorwise, a sort of natural shade I call "oatmeal." Close-up it has a slightly marled appearance, because it's made of white Targhee plied with fawn Corriedale. Voila!

There are two separate skeins of 60-70 gm each, because I didn't think I could wind more than 50 gm on a spindle. But it worked okay, and next time I will be braver. Each skein went through the same process--Corriedale spun onto one spindle, Targhee onto a second spindle.

Then into the plying box with both spindles

so the singles could be plied onto a third slightly heavier spindle.

This yarn is definitely going to be socks, probably an Aran-ish sort of pattern. Maybe straight honeycomb or possibly a cable. Hmmmm.