Monday, March 31, 2008

starting with mittens

On this lovely spring day (read that with heavy irony), mittens don't seem out of place at all. I wish these babies were finished. I might be tempted to wear them.

This is my first try at mittens using a simple pattern that was sent in the mail as part of an ad to subscribe to Knit Simple. I don't like that mag, even though it is a Vogue publication, but I am happy to use their cute striped mitten pattern. The yarn is worsted weight leftovers: Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride in Clematis (more purple than it looks here) and Paton's Classic Merino in Leaf Green. The Lamb's Pride is a little heavier than the other, but together they get gauge.

The needles are Crystal Palace double point bamboo #6 (US). I spent a fortune yesterday at my lys (Arcadia for you Chicagoans) buying sizes 4, 5, and 6 thinking I might need them for my further adventures with mittens. I already have 7 and 8 in Inox which I think are not too slippery.

I think that mittens might be a more boring project than scarves and not as tailored to each recipient. But on the plus side, I can get into surface design if I want to and I can make a lot of them out of yarn I have on hand. I spent way too much on the scarves.

Because many of the gift recipients are people I work with at the library, I especially like to use reference to the audiobook I was listening to in naming them. So this pair is called A Thousand Acres. If you really use your imagination you can see rows of crops in the stripes of the mitten. This is my second reading of this book, and I am liking it better this time because I am more used to Jane Smiley's plotlessness. Actually this one has a bit more plot than some of her others. Her observations of human interactions and motives are acute.

Getting back to Arcardia, while I was shopping for needles yesterday I picked up some yarn to swatch. I want to re-knit the sweater I call Jilly (you can see it if you scroll down) in a firmer material than the cotton/silk blend I used originally. The yarn on the left is Tahki Bali, a bamboo tape in an aran/chunky weight. It shrank drastically in the blocking. It is also too shiny. The yarn on the right is Berroco Comfort - 100% synthetic. Yarn snob that I am, I would never dream of using an all synthetic yarn, although I have liked blends. But the quality of the yarn in the skein looked right for my purpose. I like the swatch as well. I am really tempted to knit the sweater in this yarn; it would cost less than $30 and would go in the washer and dryer.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

nada. rien. bubkis

Perhaps the title of this post has made you decide to skip it. I hope not, but I can't promise much. Let's see if I can make something out of nothing.

Below is the progress of the Kimono Shawl from Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls. This has become my in-between project that I work on mostly in between other, more engrossing projects. It is now just under 30 inches long. I have two balls of Jaeger Zephyr Spun wool/silk (about 1,200 yards) and 1,500 yards of Henry's Attic Petite Cascade silk. It looks like this quantity will make a long enough shawl. I wanted to buy more Zephyr Spun, but the Mosaic Yarn Studio only had two balls. The clerk assured me that 1,200 yards was plenty for any shawl. She is no doubt right, but I prefer to have too much just in case.

This shawl will be perfect for warm weather. I don't expect to make many more lacey shawls for myself. Solid wool ones like the Wool Peddler are more practical, although I do love Oberle's Bird's Nest shawl as well.

April is the month when I should begin my Christmas gift project, that is if I do one this year. In 2006 I made around 15 scarves as presents for everyone at work and other friends. It was a large but satisfying undertaking. I learned a lot about yarn and knitting techniques by doing it. That project was, in fact, the inspiration for this blog, because I wanted some place to show off. (This was before I got on to Ravelry.) I skipped 2007. That is, I only made a few of my presents from that year. But I promised myself that I would do a big project for 2008.

My first thought was socks. Hence my sock experiment from the previous post. I do love my socks, but I realized that fit is crucial in sock knitting. I wore my socks for the first time yesterday. They are wearable, but too big. I would have to know the foot measurement of every recipient to make them socks that they would really like, and that will not do. I want it to be a surprise.

So here is what I am thinking now: mittens. Fit is not that important in mittens, and everyone can use a pair for really cold, snowy conditions even if they don't wear them regularly. I would make gloves, but I fear the fingers. Maybe next year or 2010.

Just casually surfing Ravelry and Knitty produced 8 free mitten downloads. How cute are these from Elliphantom:

Or these from Hello Yarns:

Elliphantom also has a free squirrel pattern, and Hello Yarns (inventor of the Irish Hiking Scarf) has a skull and crossbones. And of course, being obsessed with knitting books as well as knitting, I am getting Folk Mittens to complete my collection of the Interweave press Folk series. The only one left to go after that is Folk Knitting in Estonia.

So, am I committed to mittens now? I guess so.

Monday, March 24, 2008

it's a...sock?

It took about a week for me to knit the first pair of socks I have made in thirty years. There they are, above, in all their glory made of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in the colorway Amish, courtesy of Ruth of Ruthless Knitting.

Considering the time gap, I think they came out pretty well. I used five double pointed # 3 (US) bamboo needles. I chose to use five rather than four because of TECHknitting, who recommended five. I believe everything TECHknitter says, no questions asked. She points out that distributing the work over four needles rather than three holds the stitches at a shallower angle and leads to neater stitches between the needles. And guess what, she's right! Anyway, the four needles felt more flexible and relaxed than the stiff-ish triangle formed by three.

The first sock I knit had problems with the picked up stitches at the bottom of the gusset. They were horribly loose and I had to fix them with a yarn needle. The second sock was much better. You will note that the socks don't match in terms of the color distribution. Was I supposed to try and match up the yarn? I didn't want to. I think the uneveness of the colors is part of their charm (ahem). Here is a view of them being blocked (they are unblocked above) with the leftover yarn. What are you supposed to do with the leftovers?

The photo above isn't very good, but you can see that the feet of these socks are sort of blockily shaped. They fit all right. I customized the length, but I wish they were a little tighter in the width. I knit the women's medium from Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd. Next time I will further customize the fit or maybe knit a smaller size. I wear a size 8 1/2 shoe; maybe that isn't quite a medium, at least in Ann Budd's sizing scheme.

In any case, I am unlikely to use the Ann Budd book again. She did a good job on getting me started (as she promises in her title), but I think I would like a little more refinement next time, maybe try a different heel. Also, the smallest gauge Ann gives is 8 stitches to the inch. Charlene Schurch in Sensational Knitted Socks gives gauges as small as 10 stitch to the inch for sock-weight (fingering weight) yarn. I think I would like a tighter gauge better. However, I am glad I used a size 3 needle (to get 7 stitches to the inch) for the first time. Size 0 needles might have driven me insane.

Because I haven't knitted socks in forever, I only have five sock books in my library. Now of course I will have to get some more. I do think that if I could only have one book, I would choose the Schurch book. She gives all the basics, but goes beyond the basics in the patterns she gives. I especially like her practical guide to picking a decorative pattern based on sock size and kntting gauge.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

a room of one's own

The week before last I straightened the upstairs bedroom that I call my sewing room. While this room does hold a sewing machine and sewing supplies, it is really, of course, a knitting room, and I am very lucky to have it. It is a small room with two windows that was used as a child's room by the first owners of the house. We have lived here more than 20 years, and since we have only one child, we gave her a larger room, and I have always been able to use this room for myself. It has features that make it especially suitable for my purpose.

The two photos above move from right to left along one of the room's long walls. The original owners had a dresser, desk, and cupboard built into the room. These are premanent features of the room, and these, along with many other built-ins in other rooms, are what sold us on this house. The dresser and desk drawers hold yarn and supplies, and the bookcase holds most of my knitting book library.
The long wall opposite the built-ins has my daughter's old school desk, which holds yarn, etc. and a second bookcase for knitting books. This bookcase is a recent addition, also formerly my daughter's, and holds stitch dictionaries and books about technique.
A closet with built-in shelves holds more knitting magazines and papers above and yarn, mostly oddballs, in bins below. This room also has my most prized possession:A shadowy photo, but it shows an embroidery done in the 1930s by the aunt who taught me how to knit.

In cleaning my room, I found nine duplicate knitting magazines that I will be happy to give away. They are Interweave Knits: Summer 98, Fall 98, Winter 98, Summer 99, Spring 00, Winter 06; Knitters: #53 (Winter 98), #57 (Winter 99) ; Vogue Knitting: Men's Special Issue, 2002. Email me at I can send you scans or answer questions. If you have the following issues to swap, sell, etc., these are the ones that are missing from my collection: Interweave Knits: Summer 97, Winter 00/01; Knitters: #31 (Summer 93).

Monday, March 17, 2008

in which i win a contest and finish an object

I apologize for my week-long absence from this blog; I was indisposed. Now I am baaaaaack. And I've won a contest. Over at one of my favorite blogs, Ruthless Knitting, the proprietor Ruth posted the photo of a bizarre ceramic object as a clue to her secret knitting project. If you guessed correctly you could win a prize of some yarn. Well, dear reader, my guess ("piggie, cowie, bunny toy") came closest and I won this.

It is 2 skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in the color Amish. It came with a nice card and certainly cheered my week. After winding and photographing this yarn, I see why it is called Amish. It has the glowing against dark colors of an Amish quilt. Striking and perfect for socks to wear with jeans. Thank you Ruth.

Now previous to my good fortune I had actually been thinking about making this the year of the sock. Now I have to do it. My next project will be to make the first pair of socks I have knit in thirty years. Thirty years ago I took up a set of double pointed aluminium needles (wood and bamboo were rare then) and made a pair of red and blue striped woolen socks. I wanted to make something special for a friend. I had no trouble knitting them. Years later though, I am all thumbs. I want to try them on two circulars (which is a variation of Shetland knitting according to Principles of Knitting), but I am determined to re-master double pointeds first.

And pictured below is my latest finished object, completed yesterday, the Darcy Jacket from Kim Hargreaves' Heartfelt collection.

I am disappointed. I made the size XL (40" chest) and it fits pretty well. The length is perfect (because I have a long torso), it's a little big in the shoulders (because I am shrinking), and a little tight in the waist (because that's where all the fat collects now), but not so you'd notice. But, as I seem to do so often, I made the wrong yarn choice.

When I first swatched the Knit Picks Merino Style DK I bitched and moaned about it because I thought it was too chunky for a dk weight. But it fit the guage for this sweater perfectly, same needle size (US #6) and everything. Now I see that I just don't like this yarn. There is something tawdry about it. It is too soft for this jacket style. (I often find myself wishing for a crisper yarn.) The pattern called for a Rowan cotton yarn, but it would have been too heavy in 100% cotton. Due to the constant k/p stitch alteration, it sucked up yarn - 1,700 yards for this size. At least I used up all the Merino Style. I will never buy that yarn again. With all that, the sweater is wearable; maybe I'll like it better in the wearing.

Now for my embarrassing confession: I made the sleeves 4" too long. Further confession: I don't know my exact sleeve length. I just make the length given for 2 sizes smaller than the one I'm knitting, and it usually works. This time, there was an error in the pattern printing. The length was given in inches and centimeters, and the lengths didn't match. The inch measurements seemed too short (ie: 13") and the centimeter measurements seemed too long (47cm, which is 18", not 13"). So I followed the centimeters. Thanks to TECHknitter on Ravelry (blog bookmarked on the right) I was able to (somewhat) calmly snip a stitch where I wanted the sleeve to end, separate off the excess length, catch the live stitches, re-knit one row and bind off. It worked!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

yarn memories

I took another trip to the past yesterday. A local yarn store, the Knitting Worksphop, is having a moving sale, and I went. A note for Chicagoans: they are moving from their present location on Lincoln just north of Webster to Damen just north of Webster. But I can remember when the Knitting Workshop was the Weaving Workshop, owned and operated by Marilyn Murphy, the first editor of Interweave Knits and its current publisher. How's that for history?

At that time the Weaving Workshop was on Sheffield between Fullerton and Diversey. That was where I bought the Harrisville yarn for the Fair Isle vest I blogged earlier this week. Judith Swartz, the designer and knitting book author, now based in Wisconsin, sold it to me. I remember it very well. The yarn was wound off from cones, and that was the first time I had seen a coned yarn. Of course, it was coned for weaving. I only need an ounce or two of each color, so Judith wound it off into skeins. She told me to wash the skeins before winding them into balls to get the bloom up and also, I suspect, to wash off the oil.

In those days department stores like Marshall Fields sold yarn (as well as yard goods), and there were not many local yarn stores. The Weaving Workshop was the best ever, selling high quality and affordable yarns that you couldn't get elsewhere at the time. It's still a good store with a large and varied selection. Here are the bargains that I couldn't resist yesterday:

This is Silky Wool in black at half price. It isn't that expensive a yarn in the first place so, as I tell Roger, half price was practically free. I have 11 skeins. What to make? Maybe a Rowan sweater or a skirt I have an idea for.

The other yarn I bought was Katia Arc en ciel (Rainbow?), a variegated, worsted weight acrylic/cotton blend that was sort of expensive though put up in large quantity. I have had the idea of making a neutral colored Clapotis in cotton yarn, so I bought enough for that - four balls. I would like to have such a scarf, but I will save the knitting for a time when I will need a soothing project.

I bet you think I'm a color bore, but hey, I'm not wearing bright purple or hot pink.

Speaking of boring colors, and since this is a trip down memory lane, here is an ancient yarn that I bought in the little import shop on Ashalnd next to Weibolts. Do any old time north siders remember this shop? This yarn is the darkest of navies. I can't imagine what I was going to do with this or what I am going to do with it. I have about 850 yards. It is a light worsted weight with a twist, which would be good for stitch definition, except the color is so dark the stitches wouldn't show. I welcome your ideas.

Monday, March 3, 2008

fair isle memories

After conversations with my Ravelry friend Jane and my review of Fiona Ellis's fair isle book, I have naturally been thinking about fair isle knitting. I made the vest below at least 20 years ago for my husband. He wouldn't wear it because he thinks it's girly and busy. I thought it was manly. I think he'd have liked it better if the motifs had been wider, but I have learned that really he won't accept any motifs, including cables. Be that as it may, I wear it occasionally, and I like it a lot. It is made of Harrisville Shetland fingering weight and is cozily warm.
Here is a close up that shows the floats on the wrong side and the corrugated ribbing. I think I did pretty well for a first timer; you can see some puckering in the close up, but I think that is from a poor job of blocking that I did recently. I never noticed it before. The thing is, this was both my first and last time of knitting fair isle. The patterning is so intense that I don't want much of it in my wardrobe. Fiona Ellis did have a good idea about limiting motifs to the edges of things.

This spectacular though barrel-shaped sweater is on the cover of Classic British Knits by Madeline Weston, a book that was published in 1986, and is now out of print. It is still available on Amazon through marketplace sellers. According to an Amazon reader, it was also published as The Traditional Sweater Book, and that is available through the Amazon marketplace as well. I think you ought to get it. Over the years I have regularly turned to this book for ideas, and I think it was one of the books that started me off on my sick hobby of collecting knitting books and magazines.

Weston covers ganseys, fair isle, aran, and shetland knitting. For many years, I have admired two knits from this book, pictured below, and before too much time goes by I will have knit at least one of them. I have the yarn for the Sheltand shawl, a combination of Knit Picks Palatte and Rowan Yorkshire Tweed 4 ply in grays.

The designs in this book absolutely cannot go out of style. The only thing that has changed since 1986 is the sizing. The sizes run big, reflecting the oversized style of the late 80s and early 90s. That is not problem for me though; I can just make a smaller size. Smaller people would have to recalculate. The smallest finished size is 36 and change, and not all the designs come even that small.

Audiobook: I am reading Remember Me? the latest book by Sophie Kinsella who wrote the Shopaholic series. I know, it's chick lit, but chick lit is totally fun, and Kinsella is its best practioner along with Candace Bushnell. Most of Kinsella's books are narrated by Rosalyn Landor, who is great. Her voice has just the right combination of archness and sweetness for Kinsella's slightly insane characters. So far, though I am liking this book less than previous ones. The premise, heroine has amnesia after an accident and forgets the last four years of her life, is not at all believable. Kinsella's situations are usually not believable, but this one goes a bit too far.