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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Making Bread

I have a new toy. This is Zoey.

She is my Zojirushi bread machine. I had been considering acquiring one of these rather expensive devices for some while, mainly due to the frequent absence of bread from the shelves of our one and only grocery store, especially in the wintertime. There is never any lack of alcoholic beverages, but bread has been known to go missing for several days in a row.

Those little paddles at the bottom of the baking pan take care of the kneading, and the control panel provides a dazzling array of sequences for timing the kneading, rising, and baking of different types of bread. Although I have baked numerous cakes, pies, and cookies over the years, I'd never attempted bread. The whole yeast=rising thing was a total mystery. No longer.

This is actually my second loaf. I was so excited by the success of the first that I forgot to take a picture. It's raisin bread with tons of cinnamon and nutmeg swirled in. Yum!

After researching yeast and flour types and other doughy matters, I have plans for ever greater adventures into bread making. Whole wheat is on the horizon. And it's possible to use the machine just to make the dough, which one then shapes and bakes in the oven. Who knew something as simple as bread could be so fun?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blocking Lace

The Arctic Diamond Stole is finished! Bound off, blocked, ends trimmed -- the whole thing. Here are the glamour shots.

Tastefully draped over the shoulders --

Showing off the lovely pattern –

Now let's talk about blocking. I learned a lot in the process of blocking this shawl. Just a few things:

• Remember "wax-on, wax-off" from "The Karate Kid"? Apparently an hour on hands and knees blocking out a stole works certain muscles that do not customarily get worked. Ow! I bet if I did the blocking-the-shawl exercise every day, I'd have the tightest butt in town.

• When blocking a long narrow rectangle, it's best to start from the middle and then block outward to each end.

• Lace responds well to gentle and repeated coaxing. A short rest, and it's willing to stretch some more.

• Geometric patterns (like diamonds) need to be lined up both horizontally and vertically. (Heh. Took a while to figure this one out.)

I didn't think blocking wires would be needed for a simple rectangle, but I was wrong. The painful alternative is the thousand-pin strategy (okay, not really 1,000; more like 300-400; but still . . .). The edge came out reasonably straight only because I wandered over and repositioned the edge pins every half-hour or so. I have since ordered a set of blocking wires (very reasonably priced at joann.com).

Knowing from both the designer's comments and the behavior of my swatch that this yarn is not so cooperative when it comes to holding the blocked length, I knit an extra half-repeat (one diamond) and then pinned it out to 68". After unpinning, the stole relaxed to 65", exactly the length I wanted.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Binding Off Lace

I have finished all the knitting on the Arctic Diamonds Stole. See, here's the end of the last diamond and the final edging.

It's still on the needles, because I haven't yet figured out how to bind it off. The bind-off isn't a huge deal for this stole; the edge needs only to be about as sideways stretchy as the body. But, since I intend to knit more -- and increasingly difficult -- lace projects, it seemed reasonable to investigate a few different methods of getting a super-loose finish. I settled on three to swatch, and the results were most interesting.

The first is called Modified Standard by Eunny Jang (Interweave Knits, Fall 2006), and it's the least stretchy of the three. Also the least appealing visually (to me), since it produces the same loops lying across the fabric as does a standard bindoff. The only difference is that you add a yarnover between the knits. Howso? Well, first you knit one stitch. Then the ongoing process is: yarnover, knit one, pass both the first stitch and the yarnover over the second stitch. This bind-off helps to keep things loose and generates a prettier edge than one gets by going up a few needle sizes, but it does not stretch quite as much as the knit fabric.

The next bindoff I tried has several different names. Some call it Lace Bind-Off and some call it Knit Bind-Off. Or even Knit Lace Bind-Off. Opinions also vary as to its stretchiness. It's pretty simple. You begin by knitting two stitches. Then pass those two back to the left needle and knit them together. Now there is one stitch on the right needle. So knit one, pass the two stitches back to the left needle and knit them together, and keep repeating. This bind-off produces a firm and pretty edge that has more stretch than the Modified Standard -- definitely enough for my purposes. A variation of this method that I did not take the time to swatch involves knitting the two stitches together through the back loops. Supposedly the back-loop approach looks more like a standard bind-off.

And last we have the Russian Bind-Off, also sometimes called Lace Bind-Off (just so we can all be thoroughly confused). It's actually just like its cousin, the "Lace Bind-Off" above, except with this one you purl instead of knitting. Purl two stitches, then slip them back to the left and purl them together, and so on. It's easier and faster than the knitted version (for an English-style knitter), because the maneuver that lines up the two stitches to slip from right to left is the same position needed to purl them together. Two steps become one. The resulting edge is open and really attractive, and this bind-off has the most stretch of the three. It stretches even more than the knitted fabric.

After a bit of dithering, I decided to use the Knit Lace Bind-Off (the middle one). I like the way it looks, and it has just enough stretch. The Russian Bind-Off is lovely, but I think it might be TOO stretchy. I could wind up with a ruffly edge at one end. So I will save this bind-off for another occasion. Now I simply need to gather up my courage, remind myself that I can always unbind it and reknit if I don't like the result, and do the deed.

Next comes the thrill of blocking.