Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Semi Satisfactory Sakiori

Remember this pattern? Probably not. I hardly remember it myself. According to my Ravelry project file, I started knitting the Sakiori Vest in October 2007. Yikes! The knitting was completed in Spring 2008, but that surfaced a fit issue, and Sakiori took an extended sabbatical. The little side pieces made the vest hang oddly. That plus the absence of shoulder shaping gave it a blocky, too-big appearance. I suspect this vest would look best on a much larger person.

The most important thing I learned here? Never, never, never knit an item of clothing that is not modeled by a human being. Much as I love Cheryl Oberle's "Folk Vests" (from which this pattern was taken), every single vest in the book is photographed lying flat. Not helpful. Another clue should have been the absence of any pictures of the vest on the actual body of one of the 20-30 Ravellers who have knit it. A few claimed to like it, but supplied no pix in support of this supposed devotion.

While Sakiori was hibernating I thought of sewing up the sides and putting a zipper in the front. But I couldn't decide how long the zipper should be. In the end I simply sewed up both sides and the front to about the same point and turned it into a pullover.

I'm happy with this as something warm to wear around the house, but not so sure about public appearances. The shoulders have a "take me to your leader" look, not so very fashion forward. But I love all the colors and especially the memories of the socks I knit with these leftover bits. On the upper right front there is some yarn from the first pair of socks I ever made.

Interestingly, Cheryl Oberle's newest book "Knitted Jackets" has a pattern – the Wabi Sabi Jacket -- that looks just like the Sakiori with solid-color sleeves added. See what I mean? At first I was tempted to run with the idea and knit on some sleeves. But this project has taken up enough time and brain space. It's not perfect, but it will do. And, like all the best projects, it has been a valuable learning experience.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Yes, It's A Hat

As many guessed, the amoeba (aka grapefruit warmer, aka paramecium) has turned out to be a hat. It is a beret that is knit sideways. Voila!

The pattern is "Arbacia," one of Wooly Wormhead's incredibly clever and convoluted designs. It uses short rows not only to allow the top to taper to the crown, but also between the top and the band so that the top stays full while the band fits snugly. I still can't quite believe that this actually came out okay, looks good, and fits. What a knitting adventure!

The short rows were a nice refresher on creating and picking up wraps. Other fun? Well, let's see. How about "p2tog tbl"? Yes, that is "purl 2 together through the (ack!) back loop." Not my favorite maneuver at the best of times. And on 2.75mm needles with a somewhat hairy alpaca blend (Classic Elite Alpaca Sox), it was amazingly challenging. By the eighth, and last, repeat, I finally got the hang of it.

But the best was saved for last. Since the hat is knit around, there is some seaming involved. The pattern suggests a provisional cast-on in order to pop those stitches back onto a needle at the end and Kitchener all 136 stitches (68 on each side). I have Kitchenered many a sock toe, but that's only 12-14 stitches. Not one-hundred-thirty-six! And besides, why put those original stitches back on a needle just so you can sew them?

I decided to try Lucy Neatby's method, which I had watched on a DVD, but never practiced. I began with orange waste yarn and finished up with yellow waste yarn. Here's what I learned -- the Neatby method is so incredibly tidy and perfect that it's impossible to look back and see which bit is your sewing and which are the actual stitches. Makes tightening up the sewing difficult. It was easy enough to do on the straight stockinette part, but the band, with it's delightful cables and yarnovers, was another story. When next I knit this pattern (and I probably will, it's serious fun) I shall attach a new piece of yarn and begin weaving from the center of the circle. I'll also knit fewer rows with waste yarn. I thought more would be better, but they just added bulk and got in the way of the sewing.

Blocking was a breeze. I used a dinner plate, as recommended, and added one little variation. Because alpaca is prone to stretch, I fastened the hatband tightly to a glass in the middle of the plate. This provided maximum stretch for the crown and zero stretch of the band.

Two other points in favor of the Arbacia pattern – 1) it's free, and 2) it used only 40 grams of fingering yarn.

I was so enchanted with my adventures in hatland that I immediately cast on another hat. This one will be knit from the top down. And next in the hat queue is a fair isle tam knit from the bottom up. So . . . sideways, top down, bottom up. Have I missed any directions? Is there another way to do it?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Am I Knitting?

The Pastiche Shawl is coming along nicely, but I'm feeling unenthused about the Purple Pullover. It's hard to get excited about a cotton sweater in the middle of cold winter weather. In search of some instant gratification, I have embarked upon a small project. Here it is.

Can't tell what it is? Oh, here, let me spread it out so you can see it better.

Still can't tell? Me neither. This thing in no way resembles that which it is destined to be. It looks like a cute little alpaca amoeba (nope, not knitting an amoeba). The pattern is interesting. And different. It features some techniques I haven't used in quite a while; the fingers are re-learning how to do this stuff.

I like the little twisty bits too. And it might actually turn out be a . . . . . . . well, what do you think? What is this blob going to be?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yet Another Shawl

I simply cannot stop knitting shawls. I'm powerless before this obsession. Is there a 12-step program for shawl addicts?

I'm calling this one the Pastiche Shawl, because it incorporates elements from three different patterns. The basic stitch pattern is taken from the Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl. But I didn't like the cast-on, which generated an odd number of stitches on each side of the center (not so good with an 18-stitch pattern repeat), and I wasn't too crazy about the edging either. So I used the cast-on and the edging from the Danish Tie Shawl. Then I borrowed the half-repeats from Cheryl Oberle's Feather and Fan Triangle Shawl pattern in "Folk Shawls" to make it even more featherfanish.

Delving into the stash of fingering yarn for color choices, I came up with these three. I like the way the gold, red, and multi harmonize. Not exactly picking up the same colors, but working well together. The gold is Fleece Artist 'Saffron'; the multi is Claudia Handpainted 'Butter Pecan'; and the red has a whole story around it. It's Cherry Tree Hill brand, originally called 'Nantucket Red,' then 'Nantucket', then 'Island Red', then discontinued. Apparently there were issues with another company using the name 'Nantucket Red.' Too bad; it's a splendid color, exactly the shade of old bricks that have been weathered over many years of exposure in a coastal environment.

Altogether these three colors provided about 1200 yards of yarn, to be knit on U.S. #5 needles. Surely enough for a decent sized shawl. But I wanted this one to be truly huge. And I'm not planning to stretch it much in the blocking. Perhaps more yarn. Heh. Back to the stash.

This is the final choice – 400 grams, 1600 yards. Got to be enough. I added 100 grams of dark gold – handspun and home dyed with tumeric. It's always a thrill to knit with my own handspun.

And here's where I am as of December 15. The wingspan measures about 2.5 feet and all four colors are in place. Just reaching the point where it feels like real knitting. You know, when each row takes at least 20 minutes and then they get longer and loonger and looooonger. Since Madame Pastiche had become a bit cramped on her 24" cable I relocated her to a 32" cable, and I've ordered some longer cables (60 inches!!!!) from Knitpicks just in case.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hardly Worth It

The Stealth Socks are finished, and I am quite pleased with them. Here they are lounging on the patio.

So what are my complaints about this pattern? Well, none really. It's all my own fault. Had I taken the trouble to purchase 2.50mm (U.S. #1.5) needles, the knitting would have gone smoothly. But instead I had to switch to 2.75mm's for the cable twist, because 2.25mm's, which were just right for the rest of the sock, pulled the cable in too tight. The mental acuity required to swap needles back and forth put this project right out of the mindless knitting category.

And the other issue? Well, the pattern said that you could twist the cables on both socks in the same direction or you could mirror them. Always ready to do things the hard way, I mirrored them. Two cable twists down the second sock, I realized that crossing this particular cable in front was considerably more awkward than crossing it in back. Decision time – frog 25 rounds? Or grit teeth and forge on? Yeah, I forged on. Such needless suffering too. If you look really, really hard at the picture on the left you can just discern the cables on each leg going in a different direction. Someone would have to grab my foot and use a magnifying glass to see the mirroring effect.

Anyway, the yarn is good, the color is good, the cables are good, and the suffering is over. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. Maybe the most difficult way is not always the best way. Who knew?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's A Wrap!

Isn't it thrilling when things actually work out the way you planned? Perhaps it's the rarity factor.

Anyway, the Colorblock Shawl cooperated in keeping a solid 25" back length after being released from its blocking pins, so I picked up 3 stitches at each end and made two 12" i-cord ties. As usual, there was just enough yarn. I had a 2-gram squib held in reserve in case the bindoff gave me grief. But it didn't. And I unraveled a 3-gram swatch that had been knit by the original owner of the yarn.

Wrapped and tied in back, the shawl is about waist length in front. Very toasty and warm.

Here's a side view. You can see how it slopes to a longer length in back. That's because the wrapping shortens the front.

And a back view. If you look closely you might see a wee i-cord tail peeking out front under the point.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Singular Shawl Shape

The Colorblock Shawl is ALMOST finished. It came off the needles last night and was pinned to the blocking blanket this morning. Considering the cool, damp weather we've been having, it may have to spend a few days there to finish drying.

I thought I was being ever so cautious about the bindoff, constantly weighing the remaining yarn to make sure there was enough. And there was. Just. Apparently the knit lace bindoff needs 2-3 times as much yarn as a full row of pattern knitting. Good to know for future endeavors.

This is the best picture of the colors, which are extremely elusive. They appear to prefer flash photography. Even so, the middle color is a much deeper olive green in real life. The shape of the shawl is, uh, different; not a triangle, circle, half-circle, or anything squarish, it most resembles a traditional Danish Tie Shawl . The Danish shawls have two increases at each end and one on either side of the center. So the ends grow much faster than the middle and elongate into pieces that can be wrapped around and tied in back. This pattern accomplishes a similar effect by increasing at the ends on every right side row, but in the middle bits only on every other right side row.

If this shawl blocks large enough I may try to turn it into a tie shawl, perhaps with the addition of some i-cord at each end. Although it isn't lace (which could be expected to stretch a lot), the plain garter stitch is nevertheless knit of 100% alpaca. And we all know how alpaca loves to stretch, don't we? Not so good for sweaters, but great for shawls. The center back, which was 18" deep at bindoff, blocked to 26". If it holds that length and the rest remains comparably large, it may indeed become a tie shawl. And if not, it will still be a nice cozy everyday shawl.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recycling Yarn

About two years ago I made this sweater. My first attempt at a top-down raglan, it is knit from Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece, which is 80/20 cotton/wool. It was a tad large, and the sleeves especially were too big. But it was okay . . . wearable (although the cat was not impressed). And I loved the color. Labeled "Lupine," it's a blueish, grayish purple that photographs as blue unless it is in direct, bright sunlight.

A year rolled by, and the sweater and I were happy together. But then . . . then I lost weight. Not intentionally; I guess it was all the outdoor activity, now that I am no longer a desk jockey. And the sweater stretched (don’t forget the yarn is 80% cotton). Since I had no particular need for a purple v-neck dress, I frogged it (and rinsed the yarn, dried it, and skeined it, of course, like a good little knitter).

I searched Ravelry to see what sweaters other knitters had made with Cotton Fleece and found this lovely pattern called "Dovetail" which is written for 100% cotton yarn. It's from the Spring 2008 issue of Interweave Knits, so it was right near the top of the magazine pile. The fact that the model has her hair draped across the neckline raises some suspicions in that area, but I'm planning/hoping to change it anyway, so no big deal. I'd like to create a V-neck that follows the line of the slanting rib.

So far, so good. The measurements look about right, and I'm almost up to the armhole decreases. I'm knitting the front first in case I totally mess up the neckline. If I can't make that part work, I may change to a different pattern. I've also removed the little rope cable that runs down the side. It looks nice on the larger sizes, but too crowded for my narrower frame.

This is definitely not a mindless knit. In addition to the outward twists of the ribbing, almost every row has decreases/increases (waistline shaping and then the armholes). The sleeves should be restful, though. They can be mostly knit in the round on DPN's in straight stockinette (working on the reverse) with only a few increases to keep track of. But first the neckline must be conquered!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Swallowtail Saga

The Swallowtail Shawl is finished at last. It took far longer than it should have, not because the pattern was difficult, but because I had limited amounts of yarn and needed to stop and strategize from time to time.

The final few rows were the worst part. I had completed rows 1-16 of the Peaked Edging and thought I was home free. A little binding off and all would be over. Hah! Hubris, and all that. When I turned to the pattern to see what sort of bindoff was suggested I found that there were two more rows to be knit. Ack! And the first of those rows increased the number of stitches from 259 to 325. And I had little yarn left. Double ack!

Here's what happened – I knit only one of the extra rows, began the bindoff, and ran out of yarn. So then I tinked the bindoff, the increase row, and row 16, knit the increase row in place of row 16, began a second bindoff, discovered halfway through that I was using the wrong bindoff technique (because of the row I had eliminated), and tinked the bindoff again. Finally I embarked on a purled lace bindoff which looked great. Ran out of yarn when almost done. Tore knitting bag apart and turned up a 2-gram squib of yarn. Attached the blessed squib and finished the bindoff. At the end, about two feet of yarn remained.

The three bindoffs took almost a week. Not so much for the knitting (and the tinking) as for the emotional recovery between efforts. And there was a stressful incident during bindoff #2 where one of my Knitpicks Harmony points detached from the cable and allowed some stitches to escape. To my surprise and delight, I had no trouble recovering them. The boundoff shawl looked amazingly shawlish, quite different from the lumpish mass on my needles. Unblocked it measured 45" across and 22" down the back.

Blocking with my lovely new blocking wires was very easy. Next time, though, I think I'll get some of those plastic squares to use as a blocking surface. The old wool blanket I lay over the rug is fine, but it clings to the knitting a bit and impedes that final stage where one gently encourages the beloved object to stretch just another inch or two. The shawl was happy at 60" x 30", but I persuaded it to go for 62" x 33".

I don't have any glamour pix because my photographer is suffering from a nasty cold. Perhaps when she recovers. But here is Swallowtail reclining gracefully upon the bed in all its glory.

At the beginning I wasn't sure how the three different colors would work out, but now that I've gone through the whole process I realize how different each of the three lace sections are. A different color for each one looks fine.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mindless Morning Knitting

Since I retired from the wonderful world of work, I no longer jump in the shower every morning, throw on clothes, and dash off to an hour-long freeway commute. Instead I mosey out to the kitchen, fix myself a mug of tea, and take it back to bed with me. There I sip, knit on something tremendously simple, and wake up ever so slowly. On gray -- or otherwise slothful -- mornings there may be a second mug.

It's critical that the morning knitting be very, very simple. No cables, no lace, nothing with any sort of chart at all. In a semi-somnolent state, I'm capable of major errors. It's no fun to spend as much time tinking as knitting. And at the end of the day, after all that effort – zero progress.

My current morning project is a shawl. Not a lace shawl, just a shawl. The pattern is called Weaver's Wool Mini Shawl and it's plain garter stitch with regular yarnovers in a four-row sequence to provide the necessary increases to the four sections. I'm not sure how to describe the shape. Definitely not a classic triangle, rectangle, square, or circle. Someone on Ravelry alluded to "Faroese" in speaking of this shawl; perhaps that's the shape.

I'm using 100% alpaca yarn, a delight to the hands. Since there wasn't enough of any one color, it's going to be a colorblock shawl – blue, olive green, and rust. And not only will this project help reduce my own stash, it will also de-stash my neighbor, who hardly needed any persuasion at all to donate two of the three colors.

The shawl will be completed when it looks big enough or when I run out of yarn, whichever comes first. It's that sort of pattern. Restful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Blue Ribbons

Sharon was kind enough to award a blue ribbon to my blog. Thanks, Sharon!

Now it's time to pass the compliment on to a few of my fellow bloggers, and I find it difficult to choose. I read blogs in order to learn from fiber fanatics who are more experienced and/or more adept than I; from my point of view they're all wonderful. Some I hope to emulate one day. Others, I can never hope to; I just sit back and enjoy. Anyway, here's a few that I find especially appealing.

First we have my fellow Catalina knitblogger – Message in a Bottle. She has a unique slant on island life and has created some extremely clever teddies for the Mother Bear Project. There's an original sock pattern in the works too.

And all the way across the continent in Florida lives Delighted Hands (I love her quote. Check it out.) She knits, spins, cards, quilts, sews, assists with home renovations . . . Have I forgotten anything?

Prime Time Knitter has completed the Bee Fields Shawl. Need I say more? She can tackle -- and complete to perfection -- pretty much anything.

So, pay a visit to these folks. I think they're fun and interesting. Perhaps you will too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Illusion Knitting

Illusion knitting is so intriguing, but I've never been able to understand the directions. And most of the patterns I've seen were for scarves, which aren't exactly my cup of tea. But then . . .

A helpful knitter/enabler pointed me toward an illusion sock pattern. Free, too – my favorite price. It's called Alice's Illusion Socks ("Wonderland Socks" on Ravelry) and it is cuter than cute. I couldn't resist.

Here we have what looks like an ordinary pair of gray and white striped socks. Right?

But when viewed from an angle, suddenly we see a little gray kitty sitting on a pair of white socks.

This kitty has a long plumy tail that curls all the way up the outside of the leg.

How does the illusion work? Well, it's a lot easier to understand when knitting in the round, because you are always on the front of the fabric. Each row of the pattern is done four times – twice with gray (kitty color) and twice with white. Rows one and three are easy – just knit around, no worries about the pattern. On row two you KNIT around (with gray) and PURL the kitty stitches. On row four you PURL around (with white) and KNIT the kitty stitches. That's it. The gray purl bumps make the picture, while the white knit stitches create a little valley that provides the view of the picture.

The pattern as written is toe-up with a short row heel, but I changed it to cuff down with a flap-and-gusset heel. I managed to divide for the heel at a point that left enough room on the foot for the remainder of the pattern, but it was a close call. I was prepared to shorten kitty's tail a bit if necessary. And since the tail needs to go up the outside of the leg, it was important to mirror-image the pattern from one sock to another.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nupp Busters

I have reached the point on the Swallowtail Shawl where the word "nupp" simply must be mentioned. Trawling the Ravelry forums provided tons of useful tips for wrangling the dreadful creatures (BTW – why are they called "nupps"? Acronym? Derived from some ancient language?). The two suggestions I liked best were: 1) do 3 stitches instead of 5, and 2) fasten the relevant stitches together with something so as not to confuse them with the yarnovers that precede and follow.

Among my knitting notions I found these handy items. Clover calls them stitch markers. I call them nupp-busters – training wheels for the novice nupper. They make the process incredibly simple.

Right after creating the 3, 5, or 7 stitches that will comprise the nupp one simply slides the point of the nupp-buster into the collection and locks it closed. It's an easy maneuver, because the nupp stitches are still all nice and loose.

After working an entire right-side row the shawl looks like this –

The fun comes on the return row. By now, of course, all the looseness in the nupp stitches has spread itself among the adjoining stitches, and the nupp is tighter than tight. Heh. A gentle tug on the nupp-buster loosens it up again so that the right needle can be inserted.

Then we unlock the nupp-buster, slide it out, and purl all the stitches together. Easy peasy. This method does slow the nupp creation a trifle, but it compensates by speeding up the return row amazingly. And most importantly -- I believe it will allow me to complete the Swallowtail while still preserving some remnants of sanity.