Sunday, December 27, 2009

Apparently I Am A Designer

Well, we all are designers really, whether we start from scratch, modify a pattern, or cobble several patterns together into something different. But here's what happened to me.

I bought this fabulous alpaca yarn from Knitpicks intending to use it for a specific vest pattern. That so did not work out. Then I tried it with some other patterns. No and no and no. But I really wanted a vest. I vaguely remembered seeing a demonstration of a very open, lacey drop-stitch, and I stumbled upon several sideways-knit vest patterns, none of which I was exactly crazy about, but the approach is pretty much the same for all. So I used the drop-stitch idea to improvise a vest, which I liked very much.

I liked it so much that I thought of making a few more in different yarns. It didn't take long to organize my notes into something that vaguely resembled a pattern, and I thought I would simply upload a PDF to Ravelry, to join all the other free patterns available there, so that it would be available for me and for anyone else who might want to use it too.

Well, the process is not so simple. First you must designate yourself as a "designer" and give yourself a "designer name." So I did that, although I felt like a fool ("it's just a few notes," this humble little voice was whispering). There were more steps – a pattern page, a store (yes, even though it's free), links, etc., but they are all done.

The last and most difficult step has been to get a link up on my blog that will allow people who are not Ravelry members to view and download the PDF. I think I have that working, although I'm not thrilled with the way it looks. More tinkering will be needed.

It's been a fun, although sometimes frustrating, experience, and having a place to put my improvisations has inspired me to take better notes and to work harder on writing an understandable pattern. Given the problems I've had with patterns written by others, I know how incredibly difficult that can be. Just when you think you've explained it all, someone comes along with a different mindset (like me) and just doesn't get it.

Right now, I'm reverse engineering the Staggered Lace Socks into a pattern. No notes anymore, but I have the actual sock in hand, and it's easy to count rows and stitches. Soon I will have two "designs" up on Ravelry. Woohooo!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

So . . . About That Spinning Wheel . . .

I have, in fact, purchased a spinning device. Notice, I did not say "spinning wheel." Although extensive research into spinning terminology suggests that this device may be considered to be generically a "wheel" despite the absence of an actual wheel. No treadles either. No footmen. Have you guessed yet?

Yep, it is an e-spinner. A HansenCrafts miniSpinner to be precise. What we have here is an Ashford jumbo flyer with sliding-hook yarn guide in Kevin Hansen's beautifully carved mount with a tiny but super powerful motor in the base. Also comes with a foot pedal that operates in two modes. I love it.

Alas, on the day it arrived I had just come down with a dreadful head cold and could do no more than set it on the table next to my laptop and admire it from afar between sniffles, sneezes, and naps.

But then, oh, then . . . when I began to feel better . . . I put the miniSpinner on a low table to the right side of the bed, plugged it in, piled my fiber on the left side of the bed, lay back on my pillows, and spun. Now that was fun!

The whole process was so different from spindling that I had trouble at first determining when the fiber had enough twist in it that I should allow it to wind onto the bobbin. Working with some hairly, snarly Coopworth/Columbia blend acquired several years ago, I drafted away, struggling to keep up with the spinner (at one of its lowest speed settings). But it got easier, and by the second bobbin I was doing better.

Plying was really exciting. No worries about direction. Instead of flipping the switch to the right, I flip it to the left. Done deal. Woohoo! And this is where the speed is seriously great. It was so quick that I had to remind myself to stop from time to time to move the yarn guide. The only oopsie came when I got down near the end of my singles. That stuff I spun at the beginning of the very first bobbin? Uh, not so spun. It just fell apart. Heh. Lesson learned.

So here is what I have to show for my first spinning experience. About 100 yards of a more-or-less-worsted weight "rustic" yarn.

It's the oddest stuff; reminds me a little of the Knitpicks Suri Dream I used recently to make a vest, although it is not nearly so soft. But, just like Suri Dream, there is a narrow core of yarn with a fairly decent twist and then a lot of hairs sticking out that make it much thicker. I certainly didn't set out to create this effect (wouldn't know how), so I'm guessing it's a feature of the fiber, which came with its own supply of little twigs, nicely embedded, no extra charge.

It feels strange to be a beginner again. I had just got to the point where I could reliably and consistently spin any thickness whatever on a spindle. Now I need to learn to do the same on my "wheel." Much fun to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Alpaca Heaven

The highlight of this past weekend for me was a visit to AlpacaFest West. The name says it all – loads of lovely alpacas of all colors and kinds, fiber on the hoof. And so gorgeous. Just look at that cutie little face . . .

As much as I have read descriptions of the two types of alpaca – Suri and Huacaya, it took an up-close-and-personal look to get the idea across. This guy with the dreadlocks is a Suri –

And these two lovelies are Huacayas. They're even fluffier than they look in the picture --

Although there were a dozen or so vendors selling fiber, yarn, garments, etc., the focus of the show was on the competition. The alpacas were judged in different classes based on age, gender, type, and probably some other stuff I've forgotten. Here's one lineup waiting for the judge to check them out --

It was fascinating to watch all the different alpacas parade past and to listen to the judge explain her reasons for ranking one higher than another. "Conformation" was important. And fleece, of course! And evidently the shape of the jaw was a factor as well.

Here's one happy winner in the "two year old males" category. I was rooting for him because of that stunning cinnamon color. --

And a special thanks to Ranch of the Oaks for posting a notice of this event on Ravelry.

They had all sorts of lovely goodies. If you look closely, you will see a table piled up with yarn in the back of the booth. Not just alpaca either. And the ball bands were usually labeled with the name of the animal the fiber came from. I love that.

Altogether a perfect day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Thought I Was Done

Well, I am indeed done with spinning this yarn. And I thought I was done with spinning altogether (more on that in a bit).

According to my Ravelry file I began this spinning project in June 2008 and finished it in October 2009. Rather a long time, wouldn't you say? Naturally there were some life events, like moving to the mainland, and a good bit of knitting along the way, but still.

So what is this stuff? Okay. The fiber is superwash merino from Crown Mountain Farms in the "Say A Little Prayer" colorway (Aretha Franklin song, in case you were wondering). The resulting yarn is a two-ply laceweight, of which there are 6 ounces and 1200 yards. And all of this yardage was spun and plied on spindles (as well as another two ounces that I messed up in the finishing and have put aside for some indeterminate future use).

Why laceweight? I'm not sure. It's just what the fiber wanted to be. Who am I to argue with a truly determined fiber? Just for fun I put it next to the Fiddlesticks Zephyr Laceweight I'm using to knit the Celtic Knot Stole. Take a look.

Yup, that's a laceweight. Mine is much more tightly plied than the Fiddlesticks, which may not be a good thing. We shall see when it comes to the knitting.

After taking such an incredibly long time to spin what is, after all, not so very much yarn – just enough for a nice shawl – I was feeling rather negative about the whole spinning thing. I tucked all the spindles into a basket and put them out of sight. And then . . . heh.

Then I learned that the Southern California Handweavers' Guild was having their annual fiber festival a mere 30 minutes' drive from my residence. Of course, I had to go. And of course (you can guess already, right?) I met tons of friendly, happy fiber-enablers. They showed me their spinning wheels, offered helpful tips, displayed gorgeous fibers. You know how it goes.

So, for the past week, I have been obsessively researching spinning wheels – a truly challenging task. There is a lack of clarity about terminology and functionality that is probably to be expected in a device with parts called "footman," "maiden," and "orifice." Alas, there is also a corresponding lack of solid information. Selecting a spinning wheel is not at all like buying a bicycle -- an apparatus with about the same level of complexity -- perhaps because there are far fewer spinners than there are bicyclists. Neighborhood shops do NOT abound. But I do not despair. There are 7-8 potential wheels on my current list (which leans towards smallness and foldability due to my tiny apartment), and the hunt is on!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Is Heard Is Not What Is Said **

Although I have not yet finished the Celtic Stole, I have already started the Strawberry Pie Shawl. Two shawls on the needles at the same time – shocking, is it not? But I could not wait.

Oddly enough, this relatively simple pattern gave me all sorts of trouble. I could not make sense of the directions. Clearly the designer and I spoke different dialects of pattern-ese. I attempted to chart the little strawberries, and, after a good bit of symbol shifting, came up with this --

The strawberries are correct and the spacing is correct. Good. Now I could cast on. But I was still convinced that some of the directions were "wrong." Heh.

So I decided it would be fun and educational to translate the chart into my dialect of pattern-ese. Oh, did the light ever dawn!

See that pencilled square? Those ten stitches are the "strawberry." That's the bit that is repeated across. And in that context, every single word of the instructions is completely correct. What was wrong was . . . well, I guess, my brain. I simply wasn't reading the pattern the way it was intended to be read.

Here's the scary part -- if it's possible to so thoroughly misunderstand something as focused and specialized as knitting instructions, what does that say about the possibilities for misunderstanding in the wider world? How often do we think someone is "wrong," when we simply are not listening? (And don't even get me started about the "sound bites" on news shows. Aaaargh!)

**from "Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?" by Ajahn Brahm

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Adventures in Bread Making

A while back I read a book called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" and was greatly intrigued by the process described. But since the method involved putting aside my beloved bread machine in order to shape the bread by hand and bake it in the oven, the experiment had to await weather cool enough to run the oven without fainting from heat stroke.

The idea is that you skip all the kneading, multiple rises, punching down, etc. Simply slop all the ingredients into a covered container of some sort, let it sit out for a few hours, and then pop it into the fridge. Over the next two weeks you can then pull off a piece of whatever size you want, shape it, and then bake it for about 30 minutes.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?

Well, I mixed up a bucket of dough Friday. That took about 10 minutes. Then this morning I pulled off a small piece, shaped it into this boule, let it sit out for 30 minutes, slashed the top, and baked it for 30 minutes.

My little boule not only looks and tastes great, but it is also LITTLE, a major asset when baking bread for one's own single self. Here's a pic of it sitting next to an ordinary table knife (okay, I had eaten a slice or two).

You can see how small it is. Just enough bread to keep me going for 2-3 days, and then I can bake up another loaf.

According to the authors, this approach works because the dough is extremely wet, so it behaves differently than traditional bread dough. Certainly the recipes are different – about twice as much water as I would typically use. But who can argue with success? It's quick, it's easy, and it produces great bread.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fun on the Beach

I got a nice surprise when I took a stroll down to the pier today -- a Kite Festival.

Big ones, little ones, all over the beach. How about this dragon?

We had entertainment too. These drummers were awesome. Incredibly coordinated routines.

And as I walked home along the water's edge I encountered another sort of kite -- a windsurfer.

While the river (behind the nearest jetty) and the stretch of beach closest to it are strictly for board surfers, the next strip is reserved for the windsurfers to get in and out. What with the kite, the board, and all the lines, these folks need a lot of space.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nature Abhors A Vacuum

What have we here? An empty drawer? Totally, entirely empty? How did such a thing happen? Excessive efficiency on the part of the drawer owner, perhaps. Tsk, tsk, this will never do.

Ah, much better. Drawers, as we know, are meant to be filled with yarn (or fiber). There's room for more, of course, but this will do for now.

So, let's take a closer look at the contents (which just arrived in today's mail, huzzah!)

First we have Knitpicks Gloss in the Winter Night colorway. The picture makes the yarn look as though it has multiple shades of blue, but no. All one solid color really. Must be the way the silk picks up and reflects the light. This yarn is intended for the Strawberry Pie Shawl.

This lovely stuff is Knitpicks Suri Dream in Fennel, which is a mix of dark olive, light yellow-green, beige, and everything in between. It is mostly alpaca (Hi, my name is Rita and I'm an alpaca addict.) with a little wool and nylon thrown in. It is – I hope – going to become the Simply Garter Vest from Cheryl Oberle's "Folk Vests," but I couldn't swear to it. I might end up swearing AT it. Here's why.

Although Knitpicks classifies Suri Dream as a "super bulky" yarn, I learned from trolling Ravelry that it is more DK-ish. Without the surrounding fuzz, the core of the yarn is actually thinner than fingering-weight Gloss. So, there are a ton of options when it comes to choosing needle size; depends entirely how you want the fabric to look. If it doesn't work out for the vest, though, it will make a fabulous shawl. I mean . . . alpaca. What's not to like? And it was ON SALE!!!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Name That Tree!

Since July I have been noticing these trees with gorgeous orange flowers all along Ocean Avenue. As long as I have lived in Southern California, I don't remember ever seeing anything like this. What the heck are they? Does anyone know?

It's definitely a tree, not a bush. The big ones are way taller than a one-story house.

Here's a closeup of the blossom. Each one of those teeny mini-bananas in the middle opens into a fabulous orange beauty. As more of the inner ones open, the outer blooms tend to drop off, so the overall flower stays about the same size.

And here's some leaves --

And that is absolutely all the information I have. Can anyone help?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Little Diversion

Whilst chugging along with the Celtic Stole (halfway there!) and my endless supply of "Say a Little Prayer" fiber to be spun, plied, finished, etc. I was assailed by a small attack of startitis. Only a little one. Here's what caught my eye.

The pattern calls for Cascade Fixation, but I decided to try it in Shachenmayer Nomotta Stretch Only, which stretches just like Fixation, but is somewhat softer. The only color I could find was red. No problem. I love red; it goes great with denim. So a few weeks later, here we are --

Aside from the yarn choice, there is another key difference between my tank and the original top. Mine is modified for the more mature figure, i.e. wider straps to conceal the necessary lingerie beneath. It was an easy change; I just omitted the last few decreases at the arm edge, bound off fewer stitches at the neck, and then did fewer decreases at that edge too. Not so much knitting at that point but a LOT of trying on.

This project, more than any other, made me thankful for my Knitpicks Harmony interchangeable circs. So simple to unscrew the tips from one cable and pop them onto another so the back and front could be worked at the same time.

I'm eager to make another of these tops, this time with muli-colored Cascade Fixation. Got my eye on a nice combo of navy, beige, and brown. Should go well with denim.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ah, The Scent of Wet Wool!

At last! I have blocked the Pastiche Shawl that I finished knitting in March. And it came out rather larger than expected, 76" wingspan and 36" down the back. It's going to be nice and cozy when the cold winds blow. Behold the classic wingspan pose.

And the blocking was a breeze. For two reasons: 1) a dandy bar-height countertop between the living room and the kitchen, and 2)a Pattern Cutting Board acquired from Joann's (for a mere $10). Actually I bought two of the boards, 'cuz they're only medium-thick cardboard, and put a beach towel in between. Here's the set-up.

And after a carefree session of pinning while standing -- let me just repeat here -- STANDING at the counter, here is Madame Pastiche all blocked out. Despite being folded in half she dried quickly and was ready for her glamour shots the next day.

It's always fun trying to take pictures of yourself. I did the mirror maneuver . . .

and the "perch the camera on a barstool, point it at the wall, and set the timer" maneuver

As you can see, the shawl coordinates nicely with denim, my favorite fashion fabric.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Prepare to Be Bored

I've finally completed the first repeat of the Celtic Knot Stole. How long has it been? Three weeks? Four? Anyway, here it is --

As you can see, these are not teensy tiny repeats. Each one is almost 100 rows long, and there are four of them. I don't expect the next three to take quite so long as the first. The knitting goes faster as I become more familiar with the pattern and the thread (oops, sorry, yarn). And hopefully I will not again need to tink 15 rows of laceweight. That was soooo not fun.

But still . . . I don't foresee any stimulating and exciting blog posts in the near future. In two weeks or so, if I'm lucky, there will be the halfway point, and then we have the thrill of the third repeat, and, well, you see where this is going.

The borders should be interesting though. That's where we take those invisibly caston stitches that have been vacationing on the cable and do fun stuff ("fun" being defined as "something I have never done before and don't know how to do").

In the meantime, however, take a seat on the Ho-Hum Express and fasten your seat belt.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Invisible Cast On Conquered

I've been eager to start my next lace shawl, because this is the first with actual "laceweight" yarn. (Y'know that skinny stuff you can barely see?) I'm using some Fiddlesticks Zephyr Wool-Silk that I purchased back in February as a happy-birthday-to-me present. The color is "Basil," and it's one of those shades that are near impossible to capture well with a digital camera.

Deciding on a pattern took a good long while. My Ravelry queue is bursting with wonderful designs for triangular shawls, but I wanted this one to be a stole. So, of course, I had to peruse every single stole pattern in existence. (In the process, I turned up more nifty triangles too. The queue needs to go on a diet.) The final choice was the Celtic Knot Stole.

One of the delightful features of this pattern – aside from its beauty – is that it forced me to learn a new technique. I've seen the words "invisible cast on" mentioned here and there, but never understood how to do it or why one might use it. Fortunately one of the Ravelers who knit this shawl included a link to a how-to video in her comments. Blessings upon her.

Even with the video it took five or six tries to get it right. There's this little mantra you recite – "in front, behind; behind, behind." Sound familiar? The difficulty arose when attempting to get from the end of the mantra back to the beginning. But eventually I figured it out. Instead of waste yarn, I'm using a cable from my Knitpicks Harmony set so that I can attach a needle point and proceed directly to knit in the opposite direction when the time comes.

I attached some blue yarn and knit the stitches from the cable. It should be no surprise that following the directions produced the desired result. Still, there's a slight aura of magic. It works! It actually works! The directions do mention that every other stitch on the cable will be twisted, and this is true. One merely knits the twisted stitches through the back loop and all is well.

With this successful experiment behind me (kindly note that the number of stitches of each color is the same – a huge accomplishment), I cast on with the Fiddlesticks. Before proceeding any further I counted the number of stitches on the cable THREE times to verify that it was the same as the number on the needle. Yay!

This next pic is about 10 rows into the knitting. Amazing how the laceweight scrunches up to almost nothing. No problem fitting it all onto the needle.

I'm toying with the idea of knitting the first border quite soon, perhaps after I've settled into the pattern. It seems preferable to having that cable dangling off the end the whole time I'm knitting the stole.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Latest Accomplishment

I've never made one of these before. Although there is some knitting involved, most of the work is strategizing (dare I call it designing?) and assembling. Here is the finished result, doing what it's supposed to do, i.e. protect my bony butt from the hard surface of an ancient Hitchcock chair.

The pattern, a free download from Ravelry (perhaps from elsewhere too), is called "Attractive Cushion Cover." It is NOT a modern pattern. What does this mean? It means no tutorials and minimal directions. No problem if you are already adept at short rows and have had experience casting on, binding off, and grafting an object that is short-rowed around in a circle. Fortunately the Arbacia Hat incorporates all these features, so I have already served my apprenticeship.

Knitting the little circles with leftover yarn was the easiest part. Thirty-six stitches gave the 15-inch diameter I wanted, and turning every three stitches made the pie slices a nice size. And grafting the beginning to the end Lucy-Neatby-style is super easy with this thick yarn. Also having done it once, I knew that it was best to tighten up the work as I went along. Once finished, it's nearly impossible to distinguish the grafting from the stitches.

I thought the teensy hole in the middle would look better covered, so while the pieces were blocking I strolled over to Alamitos Bay Yarn Company (Have I mentioned that I absolutely love living a short walk from a marvelous yarn store?) and procured some cute buttons. The two tones of silver on the buttons perfectly match the two shades of gray on the cushion. Button perfection has been attained.

I used a strand of each yarn to sew the pieces together, so the cranberry and gray would mix and have that "I meant to do it" look. I think this is called Whipstitch, but I couldn't swear to it. My hands often remember how to do things that my brain has long since forgotten.

I finished most of the sewing and then began stuffing, only to discover that the cushion did not look quite right (no pic of this phase). I had fastened each button to its appropriate side, but in order to get the depression in the middle I needed to fasten the buttons to each other. A little stuffing removal and fishing about inside to hitch up the two button shanks with a bit of yarn took care of that problem.

And so we have . . .

A dark gray side

And a light gray side

The coolest thing about this "pattern" is that you can use any weight of yarn, any number of stitches, turn on whatever number of stitches gives a wedge size you like, and use however many colors you want. Perfect for leftovers.