Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Socks and Socks and Socks

The Stem Socks are finished at last. It must be at least six months since I started them, possibly more. I remember that I intended them to be Spring/Summer socks; that's why I picked the light green color with occasional random flecks of pink.

The pattern wasn't particularly difficult; in fact it was quite simple. It was just that I kept putting the socks aside to go off on other knitting adventures. There's a fine line between "multiple projects" and "UFO's." If one is not careful, an active project upon which one knits happily every few days may drift apart from the collection and cross the border into UFO-land.

And I absolutely hate UFO's. They give me an itchy twitchy feeling. Right between the shoulder blades. No matter how deeply buried in a closet the object may be, I know it's there. And I know that because it is not finished, I have WASTED THE YARN. This is the ultimate sin to one raised in a culture of thrift.

I began another sock right away and knit 4-5 inches down the leg before realizing that it was not going to work. The yarn is Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in "Shadow" and I was using the "Slipped Stitch Rib" pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks. I've knit this pattern once before and found that it does a great job of mixing up the colors for yarn that is too stripey (which LL unfortunately is). But 54 stitches on 2.25mm needles was a wee bit tight. And the overall look of the knitting was somehow too open--as if I had knit it on huge needles. So, off to the frog pond for this little guy.

I thought of redoing the cast-on with 60 stitches on 2.0mm needles, but then decided to have another browse through my SKS and MoreSKS books to see if I could find a different pattern that might work to break up the striping. And in MoreSKS I found something called "Cross Stitch Block" which has some stitch-slipping and stitch-crossing going on. Here's a picture I grabbed from a Raveler named Jenn who did a lovely job of knitting these socks. If mine are half as nice, I'll be pleased.

And in the meantime I have also begun fiddling around with this beautiful yarn. The pattern is going to be called "Coriolis." I won't actually know if it will work at all until I've turned the heel. Might be a total bust. But I'm feeling optimistic.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Travelling Twisted Stitches -- Breakthrough!

An exciting moment! I have finished the back of the Clock Vest. Although the pattern appears tremendously complicated, it's easier than it looks. The bits that angle up to either side of the center are the same Charts A and B from the front pieces. And Chart D – the center -- is just seed stitch. Every four rows you trade off the knits and purls, increase one stitch on each side of the center panel, and decrease one stitch on the outside of Charts A and B.

But even more thrilling is the progress I am making in reading and remembering the chart lines. There appear to be certain "rules of the road" with this stuff. For instance knit stitches always go in front of purl stitches. And after a while some lines have become so familiar that I only have to check the chart once to get across the 13 stitches ( itsy bitsy baby steps here).

See, if you look at the pattern right above the yellow line, that's "two vee's and a left slant." Not exactly a stroke of genius on my part, but consider the mental process it replaces – "a purl behind a knit, a knit in front of a purl, a purl behind a knit, a knit in front of a purl, two knits in front of a purl."

And below the blue line we have "two A's and a right slant". Whoooohooo!

It's exciting to get the hang of a new technique.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Two Skeins and a Swatch

Finally! I have finished spinning the second skein of Olive Tones BFL. The second skein is exactly like the first – no thinner, no thicker. This is a good thing.

The grand total for the two skeins is 500 yards of yarn and a total weight of slightly less than 4.5 ounces. How I got 4.5 ounces of yarn from 4.0 ounces of fiber will forever remain a mystery. This calculates to 1800 YPP (yards per pound), which I have learned is a commonly used measurement for handspun yarn. The numbers don't speak to me yet, not like the old, familiar WPI (Wraps Per Inch), where a '12' says "Hello, I'm worsted" and '18' screams "Sock yarn over here."

There are some other measures as well – twists per inch, I think is one. Oh, and number of plies also. Well, that's easy – this yarn has only one ply. It is a 'singles.'

I knit a swatch to see how biased the stitches would be and how the colors would turn out.

Not bad. The stitches look okay, and the colors are lovely. I started with #2 needles then switched to #1's. Definitely nothing larger than #1 for this yarn; #0 would probably be best.

I can't help wondering how the colors would have looked if I two-plied it. Okay, just for fun here's a color swatch from Lisa Souza's web site (where I acquired the fiber). This is her Sock! in the Olive Tones colorway. Hmmm, a bluey, greeny, browny mix. Nice.

I had intended to make socks from this yarn, but now I'm not sure. It doesn't seem strong enough. Maybe just do the leg from my handspun and the foot from commercial yarn. Oh, here's a thought. What if I buy some Sock! in Olive Tones for the foot? Of course then I'd have enough yarn for two pairs of socks. What a dreadful problem.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Writing Patterns -- Not So Easy

While working on the second Stem Sock last night, I glanced down at my directions to see how long the heel flap needed to be. Suddenly it was as if I was seeing the pattern from far, far away. This is it? I wondered. The whole pattern? Surely I must be leaving something out.

The piece of paper is 4" x 7"; it's off a pad I received as a gift from some wildlife organization to which I donate funds from time to time.

See, here's the first page. It has the cast-on, stitch pattern, number of repeats to heel, heel flap length, heel turn directions, number of stitches to pick up for the gusset, number of patterns to the toe, style of toe. Everything, really, is on one side.

On the flip side I keep track of gusset and toe decreases. There are two sets of decrease/plain tallies – one for each sock – but only one list for the number of stitches that should be on each round of the toe decreases. I put a check next to the numbers for the first sock and circle them for the second sock.

This method works for me. I could pick up any one from my collection of little slips of paper and knit a sock from it. And the sock would fit perfectly. So, for me, these are patterns. But I know they would not be for anyone else. What about someone with a larger foot or ankle? Differently shaped foot?

I've thought of trying to convert one of my kneesock pseudo-patterns into a real pattern that others could use, because knee socks are particularly challenging and there are few good patterns available. As I began to expand my perhaps-overly-concise notes I realized how difficult this pattern writing business can be. How much tutorial information to include? How to convey the overall sense of the design? How much flexibility to allow for different knitting styles? How to accommodate different sizes? And hardest of all – how to cope with different thinking styles? We all assimilate information in different ways, and what is clear to one is confusing to another.

I have gained a new respect for pattern writers, whether they do it for money or for the love. I don't know if I will succeed in my task of pattern creation, but I do know that I will be less likely in future to complain quite so loudly about "poorly written" patterns.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Joy of Monogamy

This would be the project sort of monogamy, of course. Knitting projects only. We're not counting spinning. Or experimenting with crochet. Or investigating brioche stitch. And actually I have not been completely loyal to one project. My knitting time is currently split between the Clock Vest (when I'm feeling docile and non-creative) and the Ribby Knee Socks (when I want to do my own thing).

Amazing isn't it how fast a project can be completed when there is only one project? The first Ribby Knee Sock is done, and I am about a third of the way down the second.

The pattern worked out perfectly. Plain K2P2 ribbing on 80 stitches, with a little 8-stitch calf increase, which then tapers down to K2P1 on 60 stitches at the ankle.

The truly clever part ( I think ) – and I realize one must be a total sock maniac to appreciate it (or even be willing to read about it) – is the transition from the heel to the foot. To keep a P1 on either side of the instep I had to have 31 stitches on the instep and 29 on the heel. But in order to continue the instep pattern to the end of the toe, it would be easiest to have the same number of stitches on front and back. Pondering this dilemma while executing the gusset decreases, I was able to engage a few brain cells. Oh, duh, I now have 31 on the heel, which matches the 31 on the instep. Nothing magic about the number 60. I can eliminate the final decrease and proceed with 62 stitches. I'll switch to #0 needles. That will do the trick.

The other excitement was the yarn supply. Or lack, thereof. I had only two skeins of Wildfoote in Dark Carmel. But I thought it would be okay. Wildfoote has really good yardage; I've used it before and normally have tons left over. Using a coordinating multi for the cuff, heel, and toe, I should just about make it. And I did. Just. I ran out of solid color a bit below the toe. So the toe is a little longer than it might otherwise have been.

Once the second sock is completed and the pair has had their photo shoot -- complete with heel and toe close-ups, of course -- I believe I'll revert to knitting regular socks for a while. Might even follow a pattern. Or not.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thinking About Crochet

It begins with this. A crocheted dresser scarf that my aunt created sometime between 1945 and 1955. No pattern. She just whipped it out in an evening. I've kept it ever since I inherited it, because it's lovely. Dresser scarves haven't been used for decades, and I rarely find a place where I can display it; mostly it lives in a drawer.

My own crochet skills are limited to single and double crochet, primarily to make edges on knitted objects. I can look at the dresser scarf and recognize the regular crochet bits. But what about these little butterfly thingies? Okay, they're chains, but how do they get looped together?

And this edging? How the heck does one do that?

So, I'm already curious about crochet. And then I hear someone in a podcast promote the idea of crochet for the button band on knit sweaters; it provides a firmer surface and far superior buttonholes, they say. It just happens that I am knitting a vest that will require a button band. And the directions for the buttonholes look pretty flakey.

Is there anything on my bookshelf about crochet? And especially with information on crocheted button bands? Yes, indeedy. The 1979 edition of "The Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework," which I refer to frequently for instructions on knitting maneuvers that have been lost in the mists of time, has an entire section on crochet. Diagrams and illustrations show how to make buttonholes in both single and double crochet. The double-crochet version looks appealing—firm and well defined.

So now that I have a plan, I am flipping through the pages of the crochet section, looking at possibilities. Wow. There's a lot you can do with crochet. Entire garments. And look at this cool flower.

I'm thinking that my next knitting challenge may be crochet. Not just the button band for the clock vest, but an entire something. It would be fun to learn more technique and be able to wield a hook as well as I do my needles.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Another Top-Down Raglan Pullover

I have completed a second top-down raglan v-neck sweater, and I'm much happier with this one than I was with the purple sweater. In fact, I may be in love. It fits perfectly, it looks good, and it's deliriously soft and warm.

When I launched this project a year ago -- A year! -- with 11 skeins of Knitpicks Andean Silk tucked into a bag, I had only the vaguest idea of what the sweater would look like. A v-neck pullover for sure, because they're great over turtlenecks. Rope cables down the arms, because I love cables. And a better fit than the first v-neck. But then I saw a pullover in a catalog that had a big wishbone cable down the front. Yum! Did I mention I really love cables? So . . . small rope cables down the arms and a medium-ish wishbone cable down the front.

The gauge on #5 needles was a tad tighter than with the purple sweater – somewhere between 4.5 and 5 stitches per inch, so I kept to the same cast-on, figuring that the cables would help pull in the sleeves – 25 stitches for the back and 8 for each sleeve. The front just grows from increases.

All went well until I had joined the V and done the first twist on the wishbone. Oops! I had forgotten that the cable panel would need to flow into the v-neck. See all those purl stitches that flow up from the cable and gradually end at the side of the V ? They began life as knit stitches. Never before have I dropped stitches so very far down. Deliberately! But down they went, about 15-18 rows, and back up they came, this time as purls. Much better.

About two-thirds down the body and halfway down each sleeve, I decided to finish the neck. This gives me a better idea of what the completed sweater will look like when doing try-ons. In search of something different I dove into my ancient copy of "Complete Guide to Needlework" and turned up something it calls "overlapping band." You just K1P1 a one-inch wide band long enough to go around the neck and whipstitch it into place overlapping the ends.

The only decision remaining was what to do with the hem and the sleeve cuffs. I had thought originally that I would just do K2P2 at the hem and K1P1 on the cuffs. Exactly as I had done before. But this yarn didn't want to be ribbed. Yes, it did actually say so. "I'm smooth and soft, and I want my edges to be smooth and soft too," it said. And so it was.

I really like top-down construction. But my next sweater adventure is going to involve steeks, because I've never done them and I'm dying to try, and I'm not sure if you can do those top-down. More research is required.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What Have I Spun ??

I had a plan. With this lovely fiber (Olive Tones BFL from Lisa Souza) I was going to spin fingering-weight singles and then knit them into socks. No plying. Although I love spinning on a spindle – so free and easy, almost like a workout – I detest plying. I chose BFL, because it is reputed to be relatively easy to draft and because I thought that a long-staple fiber would make a stronger yarn.

So, I spun up a sample few yards and put it through the standard finishing process. Two things happened. First, the yarn was much too thin. That I could fix; my hands were simply accustomed to drafting for two-ply. But the sample also emerged as a solid medium-dark olive color. Apparently the darker color was bleeding out and overdying the lighter colors. Perhaps slightly cooler water and less time in it?

So on to sample number two, taking lots of pictures along the way. I pulled off a section of roving that had a good variety of the lighter colors, as well as dark.

I spun it up, skeined it and popped it into not-quite-so-hot water for not-quite-so-long.

Success. The colors are fine, and the yarn is almost thick enough. Time to spin for real. At this point I had slightly less than 4 ounces of fiber left, which I separated into two groups of about 54 grams each. This number becomes important later. I did weigh very carefully.

The spinning was not fun. Either I am a total loss as a spinner (possible) or BFL is a completely dreadful fiber (not likely) or this particular batch of BFL is flawed (also possible) or maybe it's just one of those compatibility things. I have a great relationship with Targhee. And Merino is delightfully easy. Camel/silk blend? No problem. But ohmigawd that BFL.

But it is spun, that first 54-gram set. And finished. And the colors survived. And although it doesn't look a bit like sock yarn, it's deliciously soft and squooshy. Voila!

And here's a closeup of the . . . ahem . . . slightly variable yarn width.

But the really odd thing is this. Remember I started with 54 grams? Well, when I wound this stuff on the niddy, I had 275 yards. A lot of yardage for 54 grams, I thought. So, after finishing and drying the yarn, I weighed it. Seventy grams. Yep. I began with 54 grams of fiber, disposed of a few knarly bits while spinning, and ended up with 70 grams of yarn. Huh? I don't know how the yarn can weigh more than the fiber it was made from. Air trapped inside? Maybe?

I don't know if this yarn I have spun is at all suited to making socks. But I am going to knit a swatch and see how it looks. And I have already begun to spin the second 54-gram batch. We shall see how this half turns out.