Saturday, September 29, 2007

On the Needles

I have been delinquent in posting entries even though I have been working on content. I was knitting away on the large black thing, hoping to have it completed to deliver to the recipient tonight. However, it took a lot longer than I anticipated to do the second half of the wrap and I have 1 full repeat (28 rows) to complete the other side of the body. Then I have to pick up all around the front opening and rib the shawl collar. Stay tuned as I work out the details. I’ll post them as I get to them. The wrap itself is on hiatus as I’m traveling and it is too hot and heavy and large to work on. I’ll be completing it on my return after my travels. I took it with me last week when the second side was being knitted but even then it was cumbersome. So I’m working on socks out of Opal’s Rainforest II collection. The Frog one to be more specific. Since I’m on the road, photos are not readily available so text and links are all I have now.

Ever the optimist, I brought two more skeins with me in case I run out of knitting. Will I be able to make 2 pairs of socks in 2 weeks and still need the third skein? Who knows? But a 100 gm ball of sock yarn doesn’t take up too much space or add weight and so it was easy to just throw it in. I am almost all the way up the leg with the first sock so maybe it is not that optimistic. The socks go so fast after the wrap - where it takes me 10 mins to do a row if I don't make any mistakes and have to work back a few sts.

Back to the wrap: I didn’t do the little chevrons down the center back as I had planned. I made little rectangles instead. I didn’t think the chevrons would stand out enough and I was afraid they’d look like a mistake. I wanted it to look deliberate, rather than accidental. If I had had more time, I would have done the chevrons and ripped them out had they not looked good. Since I didn’t have that luxury, I did 8 row rectangles and set off the center with a single line of the opposing sts:

Row 1-8: K6, p6
Row 9: P6, k6
Row 10: K6,p6
Row 11-16: P6,k6

After I was done with the back neck section, I knitted a row of scrap yarn into the sts for the front opening so I would have live sts for the band/collar. Then I short-rowed the second front to match the first and continued on knitting the second half. Those who love symmetry, cover your ears and eyes now. I didn’t mirror the second half. I did it exactly the same way as the first half. In the black yarn, it won’t be noticeable. I had the pattern memorized and was afraid I’d make mistakes if I tried to reverse it. I like asymmetry so it doesn’t bother me and I doubt the recipient will notice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Podcast reviews

I am traveling for the next few weeks so instead of talking about my knitting, I am going to talk about knitting podcasts. I downloaded a bunch of these to check out on my travels and thought you might like a peek at some of them so you can pick and choose among them.

For those of you who haven't heard a podcast, it is something you download onto your portable music player. It is a very democratic way of sharing something about yourself, like a blog, because almost anyone can create one. You get some software, a mike and talk about anything you want. People can download the recording and listen to it if they feel like it.

I started listening to podcasts while I walk. I found that it was a nice change from music and some of them are quite educational. My favorite ones are from Fitness Rocks and NPR. However, I thought I'd listen to knitting ones while I travel.

I have to listen to one more episode of each of these before I form an opinion. Neither was a typical podcast for the two that I downloaded. The first one, from Rycrafty, is called A Very Palpable Knit. It was a very nice podcast about Rycrafty. However, it was her first podcast which was an introduction to her and not typical of what she intends her podcasts to be, she says. So I have to listen to another one. She has a very lovely voice with a British accent and talked about how she taught herself to knit, her stash, and her temp job where they didn't mind if she knit when she was free. And she was free a lot!

The second one was called About Time by Whit Larson. She talked about the road less traveled and related anecdotes in her life where she did just that. She also interviewed Wren Ross, a singer who also designs knitting patterns. She finishes up with some excerpts from Wren's book Changing Patterns. Lastly, the podcast ends with Wren singing a hat pattern set to music. Whit's podcast website is About Time. I am not satisfied that I am getting to the correct website so I own't post it. Again, I am not sure this is typical of her knitting podcasts so I have to listen to another episode to get the feel of it.

There are about 50-some podcasts that I've downloaded so I hope I don't have to listen to two of each one! I may never get done. If you don't hear from me again, I'll be knitting and listening to my knitting podcasts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Life sometimes gets in the way of knitting. I haven't knit much at all this week and I have to knit a small sample for a class. It is a modular knitted piece and I need to make two mitered squares that I can use to demonstrate joining. Somehow I am not in the mood for modular knitting.

I go in waves as far as my knitting is concerned. Back around 2000, I was into modular knitting in a big way. I designed everything as modules and multi-directional, knitting every which way I could. I saw everything around me in terms of modular knitting. Then I got into shadow or illusion knitting and did a number of pieces using that technique.

Now I am really into traditional knitting. I want to knit texture and use traditional shaping and construction. I want to combine lace and cables and experiment with stitch patterns. I find myself drawn to simple lines with interest created by texture and classic styling.

In a few years, I don't know where I'll be. Some day maybe I'll go back to stranded color-
work, or beaded knitting or something I haven't done in a while.

This is why working on multiple projects is not for me. I pulled out a modular shawl I started years ago because it was one of the few examples of beaded knitting I still possess. Most of my beaded work has gone to other places and people. I thought that pulling it out would re-kindle my interest in it. I remember when I conceived the design for it. I bought the yarns and worked it all out in my head. Now I look at it and it doesn't hold my interest at all. I was thinking seriously about frogging it and doing something else with the lovely yarn. Of course, being a modular project, if I frog it I will have lots of bits of yarn. Maybe I could make random stripes of different lengths in a sweater or sock? Could I take what I've knitted and make something else out of it? It is Koigu so I don't want to lose it. I've used bits of leftover Koigu to add interest to socks so I could do that.

I may let it marinate for a while and see if my interest returns. It is one of my few UFOs. Mostly I work on one project at a time and finish it and move on to the next one. I plan and design and see other projects in my head but I don't start knitting them till the one I'm working on is done. If I didn't do that, my house would be littered with projects like the shawl because my interest in techniques and ideas changes all the time. Sometimes I'm riding the wave and sometimes I'm paddling.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Designing on the fly part II

Ambition is not a good thing. I thought I could do a theme a week! Well, maybe a theme of every 2 weeks or a theme of a month is more likely. But this is very similar to my knitting. I always think I am going to finish things a lot faster than I actually do.

Anyway, more on the large black thing. You can see the st pattern in the swatch above. That is 1.5 repeats of the pattern above the garter st divider. The swatch is blocked so while you can see the different heights of the knit and purl sections, the swatch is actually quite flat.

I put in the garter st dividers when I switch needle sizes in a swatch, to allow me to compare the qualities of the fabric created by the different sizes side by side. I typically swatch at least 3 needle sizes to see how they affect the resulting fabric. But in this case I didn't see a lot of difference so I went with the smaller size as the yarn is alpaca. A tighter gauge is better for stretch control.

Here you can see the wrap itself. It is scrunched up towards the top as it is still on the needles. At the very top you can see the pins I inserted to mark my short row turns. This is the unblocked fabric and you can see how much more pleated it looks. That is the characteristic of the pattern that I think will counteract the alpaca's tendency to grow. Time will tell if it works.

I have completed the neck shaping on one side and have started on the back. which is unshaped. It is half the width of the wrap. The neck shaping is similar to the neck shaping for a V-neck sideways knit cardigan.

The designing on the fly part comes about because there are times when I just can't count. The pattern repeat is 28 rows but I originally counted it as 14. So my first attempt at calculating the short row turns was off by a lot. I found I was running out of sts faster than I was building up the width of the front. I've modified the schematic I put in the last post on the wrap to add in the measurements and the direction of knitting . You may want to go back and look at the schematic.

After I ripped and re-did the front neck shaping I had a sudden, scary thought. I had partial repeats at the center front! That in itself is not a bad thing as the front bands will break up the front so as long as the two are mirrored, it is not a problem. But the back is a whole 'nother story. The back needs to have a smooth flow so that when I'm done with the other front shaping, the back and the front end up at the same row in the pattern. Also, partial repeats in the center back will look amateurish. Back to the drawing board.

I stopped knitting and started charting. That is the beauty of charting. It allows you to see what is going to happen and you can play with alternatives without too much wasted time and effort. I first put in the rows that matched my completed left front. Then I flipped them to show the rows that would have to be done to match the to-be-knit right front. That left the lovely little gap in the middle where the partial rows are. Here's the math:

My short row shaping is 32 rows each. So there are 64 rows for the two fronts total.

My pattern repeat is 28 rows. So the back is minimally two repeats which is 56 rows.

That leaves a gap of 8 rows.

I tried playing around with little motifs to fill in the 8 rows. Given they have to be mirrored, that is not a lot. So I am just going to put in a set of small triangles that will have their points facing down to the bottom of the wrap. While I'm not there yet in terms of knitting, and I may change my mind when I get there, my mind is now calm because I have a solution to the problem. Whew! I can knit again.

The bottom line is that there are always opportunities to fix problems in such a way that it looks intentional. My mother taught me this when I was a teenager and we made a cake for a party. It fell. Badly. The center was concave. It was dense. We cut it into pieces and made a lovely hard sauce to pour on it and served it that way. No one knew we meant to make a cake. It tasted like pudding. We got compliments on it. My mother said 'Why tell people that it didn't turn out as intended? Tell them we meant to make it the way it turned out' and I have lived by that motto ever since.

Mistakes are good learning experiences and one should learn from them and tell others about them so they can learn from our mistakes. But sometimes it doesn't matter and as long as the finished product makes the creator and the recipients happy, the mistake can be turned into a design feature.

And speaking of admitting mistakes, I have to find knitting friends who are not named Maggie. Darn! Maggie Brown, super lace knitter, I owe you a huge apology. I didn't even see the little 'b' at the end of the name. How can I make it up to you? How about a lovely adult beverage at next year's Camp or some luscious yarn?

For the rest of you who don't know her, Maggie Brown is my travel companion to Knitting Camp and was my room-mate this year. I can't believe that I didn't recognize her scholarly erudition in the Latin correction. Mea culpa, Maggie!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How specific should a pattern be?

On an online knitting list the other day, someone posted asking why designers don't specify the type of cast-on or bind-off or other technique. Her complaint was that the finished object sometimes has problems with a too loose edge or too tight edge or didn't look exactly like the pictured finished object. I was going to post in response but I wasn't sure if it would be received appropriately by the list moderators, so I decided to blog about it.

When I write patterns for publication, I try to be as specific as possible about the techniques I used when it matters. For example, I might specify that a cast-on should be loose or elastic, or to bind off loosely or in pattern. I might even say that the cast-on should be done provisionally if it is going to be removed later. I also sometimes provide alternate methods e.g. I might say that the cast-on could be provisional or knitted on, both of which provide a mechanism to pick up and knit in the opposite direction.

However, unless there is a really good reason to use one technique and one technique only, I don't get more detailed than the above. Why? My teaching has shown me that what is loose for me might not yield the same results for someone else. My knitted-on cast-on has a loopy edge that I find useful for picking up and knitting. But I have had students for whom that very cast-on is tight. If you don't leave enough play in the sts you cast on, it becomes a very tight cast-on. If I specified the knitted-on cast on assuming that it would be loose and it isn't, that is even worse for the knitter.

An excellent example of this is the provisional cast-on where you crochet a chain and then pick up sts in the backs of the chains. When it is time to undo, you unzip the chain from the end and it comes right out. For me, it does. For my students, it does once they understand where to pick up the sts in the chain. But there are many people online who are certain they are picking up in the right spot but that the chain doesn't unzip for them. It won't unzip if you start from the beginning of the chain. But when we discuss this, they are quite certain that they followed the instructions. They prefer other forms of provisional cast-on that I think are quite fiddly.

So being too specific has its drawbacks. I think it is much more useful to the knitter if the pattern specifies the results that should be achieved (e.g. stating that the cast-on should be stretchy) and leaves it up to the knitter to determine which cast-on yields those results. This assumes that the knitter has experimented with different cast-on techniques and knows what results they get individually.

And that brings us to the crux of the problem: knitters don't seem to want to experiment to find techniques that work for them. They want to be told what to do. Unfortunately, this is not going to be satisfactory because we are all unique and our knitting reflects that diversity. I have to find what works for me and what I like. I can execute some techniques perfectly but I don't like them. My fingers don't like working them. My brain doesn't like working them. So I avoid them. There are others that have that perfect blend of visual appeal and kinetic appeal for me. I use them often. But that is me. What about you? What techniques have that perfect blend for you? You have to find that out for yourself.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Designing on the fly

The theme of this week is the neckline shaping that I am doing on the large black thing. Details w/ pictures to come.

First of all, thanks to Maggie Rabjohns for coming to my rescue and correcting my Latin. I was trying to be grammatically correct from a gender perspective without any knowledge of Latin. Perfect way to make mistakes. Maggie is one of those who has completed the Am Kamin sweater which was featured at Crossed in Translation and that so many people have lusted after. You can see hers (and lots of other gorgeous knits) at Knitaddict's report from Knitting Camp. We are both supposed to be working on Bohus sweaters. Maggie probably is. Me, I'm not, as you know.

I've been knitting and ripping and making incorrect calculations but I think I've got it now. I am knitting a wrap so it is rectangular on the sides with a sideways knit V-neck and a shawl collar. It is the sideways knit V-neck that I am making mistakes on. Very simple concept but one has to be able to count rows in order to figure out the decrease rate. That is where I goofed.

The pattern is a set of knit/purl triangles that make up a pinwheel shape. It is from one of Barbara Walker 's books - probably the first Treasury. I chose it because the wrap is in black and I wanted a simple reversible pattern. This pattern gives the effect of a damask weave.

I am knitting it in a natural black alpaca sport-weight yarn from Times Remembered. They are a small alpaca farm and always have a booth at the NY Sheep and Wool Festival. I am amazed at how silky and lustrous the natural alpaca is. I love knitting with it. The yarn is also very inexpensive and once blocked, the fabric has a lovely drape.

Because it is alpaca, which has a tendency to stretch, I am knitting this pattern sideways so that the tendency of the pattern to shrink (due to the knit/purl combination) is in the same direction as gravity. I am hoping that the two will offset each other. Otherwise my sister-in-law (the recipient) will have an ever growing wrap.

I am going to try and get pictures of the swatch showing the pattern after it is blocked and I hope I can get something other than a black rectangle. More on that later as I need to spend some quality time with the camera.

In the meantime, I've got one side of the neck shaped and am working on the back. I am doing this all in one piece with no cutting or joining yarns except when I need to move to another skein. The shawl collar will be knit separately but the whole thing will be completely reversible as I am not picking up sts except at the back neck. I am going to leave live sts on the two fronts for the collar. I will enclose the back neck edge in the pickup so it will be reversible.

Here's a schematic so you know what I'm talking about in the next few posts. This is not to scale and is only meant to give an idea of the shape of the wrap.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

To Block or Not to Block

I didn't really block anything for many years. When I started knitting, everything was knit in pieces and the instructions were always to block them before sewing. Well, I wasn't convinced because I was quite capable of knitting to size and the curling edges didn't bother me much. I still don't block till the piece is finished unless I want to see what the item looks like vis a vis size after blocking.

But I have become a convert to the process. I wash and block swatches before measuring gauge and I block almost everything after washing. I think the difference in my thinking now vs back then is that I don't view blocking as stretching and forcing things any more. I view it more like ironing. It makes the item look good and gives it a finished look. Lace requires a lot of stretching and straightening to make it open up but any knitted item can use a little patting and straightening after it comes out of the wash.

Sweaters and socks just get a patting into shape as they are laid flat. I match up seams, make sure edges are straight, that the neck and the cuffs are shaped correctly and that there are no wrinkles in the garment. Stoles and shawls and scarves get the full detailing.

To block the stole I've been working on, I first inserted blocking wires into the two long sections of the center as I wanted to widen the center section. I use stainless steel tig welding rods as blocking wires as they are cheaper and locally available. I used the heavier wires on the sides as I wanted them straight. I then pinned out one side with quilting pins, stretched and measured the distance to the other side and pinned it out evenly. Then I inserted thinner wires into the two short edges of the shawl, measured the distance from the center section and pinned them out to be even. I didn't pin out the long sides of the side panels as those have a tendency to widen and I didn't need to stretch them out.

I work on the family room floor. I lay out a clean sheet on the carpet and block on top of that. I don't have cats or little kids so this works for me. There is plenty of room and it doesn't get in the way. If the pieces are smaller, I block them on the guest bed just so people don't step on them. The key to success is measuring precisely.

Items usually dry in a day or less. Lace dries very easily when stretched out like this. I also wash all the items before I block them. I know some people like to spritz them or steam them with an iron or steamer held a few inches above the item. But as Joan Schrouder (teacher extraordinaire) pointed out to me a number of years ago, heat sets stains. Also, our knitting gets dragged around a lot and sometimes stays in the knitting process for months. Who knows what dust and dirt gets into them as we knit? Washing them before blocking makes sure that one is starting out with a clean item. This logic made a lot of sense to me and now I wash everything before blocking. Sometimes I may just wet it or spritz it if I am in a hurry but that is always temporary.

Here is the finished stole.

Today was an interesting day: I went to the LYS to teach a sweater class. My students arrived but 75% had not finished their homework. So rather than waste their time and money, we postponed the class. I was hanging around trying to pick buttons for a sweater and chatting, eating lunch when we heard the sound of water running. When we went to the back of the store, we found a waterfall: from the ceiling right on the yarn. So we created a yarn bucket brigade to move the yarn out of the way but the water kept coming till the landlord turned it off. In the 20 mins or so that the water was coming in through the ceiling, two of us got drenched when ceiling tiles gave way and unleashed a torrent on us, a whole wall of yarn was soaked along with cubbyholes across from and adjacent to it. What a mess! Fortunately it was clean water, fortunately we were right there to get the water turned off, and fortunately the landlord was also right there to turn off the water.

Anyway, I also took the opportunity to photograph the sweater I made over the summer using Calmer. This is what the current lot of students is working on:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The large black thing

I have been knitting on my large black thing. At present, there isn't a lot of technical complexity involved so I won't go into a lot of construction details yet. It is a wrap, for my sister-in-law, who asked me to make her something she could wear over her sari. Sweater sleeves get in the way of the sari and while she lives in a HOT place, she travels to colder climates and needs something warm.

The large black thing is made of alpaca and is going to become interesting to knit shortly. At present, I am knitting a large black rectangle which will cover one arm and shoulder. After the interesting bits, I will have to knit another large rectangle to go over the other arm and shoulder. It is mindless but not mindless. I have a lot of sts and it is black so making mistakes is wasteful from a time and patience perspective. I have markers after each repeat and I count to make sure I am on track because I have knit for long periods of time in a Zen-like meditative state and done the same row 4 times instead of twice. I can fix this as I go along as the st pattern is just knit and purl triangles but being black, it isn't fun.

What is it about eyes and age? I have been vision-challenged since I was in first grade so I understand the whole not-being-able-to-focus-on-things. In fact, age has helped me somewhat as I can now focus on things a few inches from my nose without corrective lenses. When I was younger I had to hold things right up to my nose to focus on them. But what I find frustrating is how much more light I need to see things. For example, the lights in my family room just seem to be inadequate no matter how much wattage I add. I need to look at my knitting in daylight or under a daylight lamp to really look at it after dark - especially when it is black. sigh

To relate that complaint back to the large black thing, I have to pay attention as I knit because I don't want to fix mistakes in stuff that I can't see. It takes too long and tries my patience. I have very little patience to begin with and I don't like to use up my quota of patience on my knitting. I need to save it for more important things.

My real rant today is against myself. I have a dual personality. Before dinner, I am the epitomy of healthful eating and living. I enjoy eating healthy foods, I stay away from junk, I drink water, I exercise and I'm happy doing all these things. But come 8 or 9 pm at night, I turn into this other person who likes to eat things like Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, and other salty, sweet, greasy stuff. Why? What happens at that time? Is it like the full moon in the life of a werewolf? even bigger sigh

Monday, September 3, 2007

Onward and upward

I blocked shawls yesterday but more on that later. I love the shawls after they are blocked so I block them and I pay attention to the blocking process. But I dislike the process itself. It is iterative and one has to fuss with the details. Exact measurements, straight lines and precision count. But the end result is well worth it.

Back to the stole, I started over on the size 9 needles and continued on happily. I enjoyed knitting this pattern because it has enough variation to make it interesting. The cables are a nice alternative to the lace. I finished the center section and got started on the first side panel. I had done a yarnover at each side edge to make it easy to pick up the sts for the side panels. Now, given I was not knitting in the same direction, there is the rows to sts ratio to be considered. But lace gets blocked, and is usually knit on much larger needles for the weight of the yarn and this tends to even out the ratio. Besides, if the side panels are wider, it is not a big deal. It makes it easier to throw over the other shoulder. So I was planning to alternate a yarnover with each picked up st. This looks like a line of faggotting - the traditional lace pattern with a k2tog, yo or vice versa.

I had carefully calculated the number of rows on the center section to result in the correct number of sts for the side panel (with the alternating yarnovers included). Therefore I was puzzled when I found that I was a few sts short of the number I needed. Remember how I said I'd messed up? Well here it is. I forgot that I needed to do a half repeat at the end to make the center section symmetrical. If the cables are A and the lace is B (look at the photo of the swatch for reference), the pattern is represented by the following sequence:

The shawl needs to have the following sequence which begins and ends with the same one that it started with.


Not only do we need a half repeat on the side to make it symmetrical but we als need a half repeat on top. I forgot that basic rule. Darn!

But all was not lost. Since the difference was only a few sts, it is easy enough to increase on the row after the pick up to get the correct number. This is a fudge that I do all the time when picking up sts. I pick up just as many as I need for the pickup to look good and then I adjust on the following row/round to get to the correct number. It saves a lot of ripping and redoing which only stretches out the sts and makes the pickup look loose.

Once I had that, it was easy going all the way to the end. Again, the side panels mix lace and welts of reverse stockinette with stockinette which makes for a nice variation in the knitting. Neither gets too boring. I also planned the side panels so that I bound off the center section and continued the pickup for the first side panel. Then I wet-spliced yarn to the CO end and continued the second panel so I only had 2 ends to weave in when I was done.

All but the blocking. That I will save for next time but here's the finished shawl - unblocked.

Here's a closeup of the center section and a side panel - also unblocked.

Here's the view of the center and the entire side panel.

Blocking details and pictures of the finished, blocked shawl come next. You can see how the whole thing looks wrinkled and unfinished - like an un-ironed shirt. That is what blocking does. It is the equivalent of ironing.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Decisions, decisions

I like to make sure that I have something to work on at all times. I finished the stole last night and wanted to pick something else up after I wove in the ends. I have a pair of socks and a wrap on the needles but both of them were at work. I needed to bring them home but I worked from home yesterday and so did not have the opportunity to bring them back.

So I took out the Wild Apple Bohus that I have wound into balls and am ready to start. I thought I could cast on and begin the neck. But, my 2mm circular needles are in the sock that was at work! I have lots of 2mm double points but only 2 circular needles as I prefer dpns. However, for a sweater neck, circulars are better. Therefore I could not start that. I only work on one item at a time so beginning another was not an option. I could have started something else but I really want to finish the wrap and start the Bohus. The wrap is my mindless knitting project while the Bohus will be a complex knit until the yoke is done.

I didn't start anything. I toyed with the idea of casting on to dpns and switching to the circulars after I bring them back but I decided against it.

I have a mini-rant today. Why is it that knitters think they are entitled to knit everywhere? I am a really long time knitter - at least 4 decades long. I knit everywhere I can and take my knitting everywhere I can. But I don't knit EVERYwhere and I don't expect to. I don't knit at meetings unless others are OK with it. I don't knit where it clearly says I can't and if someone asks me to put it away, I do. The latest debates seem to center around planes. Apparently there are some airlines (Quantas was one cited) that don't allow knitting needles so people are coming up with ideas on how they can knit on such flights including smuggling needles on board. Why? Isn't being part of a civilized society obeying rules? Anarchy results from people not following the rules.

What is really funny, though, is that this thread is interspersed with another thread about accidents involving dpns on one list. On the one hand we have people reporting how they ended up injuring themselves inadvertently on their needles, and on the other they are claiming that they should be allowed to circumvent security with their needles.