Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy 2008 to all!

A very happy New Year to all of you! Here's to a wonderful 2008 filled with peace and a resolution to the many conflicts plaguing the world.

Once again, thank you for all the comments you left on the last few posts. I have one of them that I want to address.
Rima says:
"I wonder how long it will take knitters using the current trendy crop of expensive merino yarns to find out how badly those yarns can pill when knit too loosely. What a waste.

I used to have faith that the yarns companies knew their products, but over the past couple of years have come to agree with you."

Rima, I hope you are right in that the yarn companies are doing this out of ignorance. I think it is being done deliberately so that knitters are tempted into thinking that the project will be completed quicker and therefore they buy the yarn to begin the project. I also think knitters buy into the delusion because they want to complete things more quickly. Sadly, they don't realize that the few days/weeks of time they save knitting will be lost in the years of wear they won't have. Maybe it is a result of the societal values we have: to acquire quickly and to discard quickly. We buy on impulse and toss indiscriminately when we are tired of things without regard to the resources, effort and time it takes to create and eventually to dispose of each item.
I took this photo last week of my next project but it is almost done already. Talk about instant gratification. I made the bag on the right last summer out of Lopi and Lopi look-alikes. But as you can see, the bottom of the bag is sadly defective. It is concave as I made mistakes on the mitering calculations. But it received a lot of interest at the LYS and made me realize that a felted bag is a great way to learn fair-isle. It is quick to knit (especially in Lopi), you don't have to weave in ends and mistakes vanish in the felting. So I proposed a FI felted bag class and needed to create a sample. I picked two patterns out of Sheila McGregor's Fair Isle book (after looking through Ann Feitelson, Alice Starmore and Sarah Don) and the bag is almost done after a day and a half of knitting. I just have to find the right handles for it (or decide what I want to knit as a handle) and then do the appropriate finishing. I did it right this time. I bought my bag bottom reinforcement and then made the bag to match and I plan on doing the same with the handles. The yarns on the left are the colors in the bag. The main color is the olive (top right-hand 4 balls) and the others are the contrast. I did the patterning in the olive as I wanted a brighter bag and changed the background colors from the green (bottom) to the blue, then the magenta and used the gold as the center accent of the motif before reversing the colors. It looks nice and bright but I'm not sure the FI pattern stands out the way it does in the first bag. Time will tell once it is felted.

I know Alice Starmore's Book of Fair-Isle Knitting is out-of-print and hard to find but it has one lovely section in it missing from the others I looked at. It shows one how to adjust the width of a motif to suit one's needs. I have often done this (along with adjusting the height) but it is nice to see it described. McGregor's book is one of the best and most accessible references for traditional motifs to design one's own. Many of the same designs are in Starmore's book and organized the same way. Feitelson has the best discussion on the use of color. But both McGregor and Don have traditional FI garments pictured and I fell in love with some of the paneled ganseys in McGregor's book.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A color story

Thank you to all those who sent me compliments on the ESW, both via the blog and privately.

Yesterday I finished the quilt my mother started. I had picked it up from the lady who quilted it on Saturday and finally found the time to trim the batting and backing and hem the edging. Here is a photo of the completed quilt on my father's bed. As you can see, it fits the bed perfectly as an accent. It is a twin sized quilt on a queen-sized bed, as a point of reference.This photo shows the quilt folded over to show the backing. It is a burgundy color with a dappled/marbled effect. This post is about the color of the backing. At the quilt store, I went through about a dozen colors. My first thought was that with all the colors in the quilt, almost any color would work. We , the quilt store owner and I, knew that the backing needed to be folded over to create the binding so the backing color was very important. We started with black and navy (both solid and these mottled/marbled fabrics). Both of them dulled the colors. We then moved on to browns - from taupe to a deep chocolate. Same effect. We tried greens - deep natural greens. Same problem. We tried other blues. No luck. We started to have more luck as we moved into purples/violets, teal, burgundy and rust. The secondary colors enhanced the colors in the quilt. The rust and the burgundy were the finalists and I felt the burgundy made the whole effect much richer than the rust did. So that won out. The entire experience was a great lesson in color theory and practice.
My original plan was to press out the seam allowance on the last set of blocks and then attach a binding as usual. However, when I went to press out the seam allowance, I found that in a large number of cases, the seam allowance was caught in the seams attaching the blocks to each other. Since they were hand-pieced around a paper template, it was easy to catch the allowance in the stitches. That plan, therefore, went out the window. I decided to leave the seam allowance folded down and fold over the backing to create a binding. I trimmed the batting to an inch and the backing to 1.5" beyond the quilt edge. Then I folded over the backing and doubled up the batting and hemmed the backing onto the squares overlapping by 1/16". I am pretty sure our eyes can't see that missing 1/16" on the last set of squares around the perimeter. But I leave that to you to judge from the closeup of the binding below.
I folded over the batting because it creates a nice rolled, corded edge. One thing that happens with batting, especially on the edge, is that it gets compressed over time. I'm hoping that this corded edge will stay plump and fluffy. This is a closeup of the quilting. The quilter did a great job of the quilting although it is a very simple meander to keep the focus on the colors and patterns.It is a relief to me to finish this because I've felt that it was something my mother entrusted to me to finish. I wanted to do justice to the work she put into it and initially I felt that meant finishing it by hand. Once I came to terms with the fact that she would have wanted it used, rather than sitting mouldering in my closet, it was a task that needed to be completed. I have never hired someone to sew something and finding the right person was a bit of a challenge. I was lucky in that I found two wonderful people. Kathie who owns the Quilt Basket, and Debbie Brown, the quilter, both took a personal interest in the quilt and gave me sound advice. I am very grateful to both of them for their assistance.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

ESW photos

I have been delinquent. I spent all of last week, and into Christmas Day, finishing up the ESW. So I didn't blog at all.

First, I crocheted around the edge, then I tried the crab stitch. What a disaster! I had too many crochet sts and the edge was all ruffly and wavy. The crab st looked awful in the fuzzy yarn. That took me about 3 evenings worth of work! I decided I really needed to fix it so I spent the next two days ripping out the crochet and re-doing it. I am so glad I did. It looks so much better and supports my philosophy that it is almost always worth redoing if you are unhappy with the result. Over the weekend, I fringed it. I wore it a few times before I washed it. The fringe is very long and another friend (Carol) had knotted her fringe in a decorative manner. So I spent a few hours on Christmas Day knotting the fringe in the same way. And ta-da!And this is a close-up of the edge that I re-did. Doesn't it look nice? I just did two rounds of US single crochet/UK double crochet as called for in the pattern and based on recommendations from crocheting friends. It doesn't really keep the edges from rolling but it is quite a bit more stable than the knitted edge and I think will be more durable.I have been living in the wrap for the past few days. I wear it under my jacket when I go out and wrapped around me in the house. It is snuggly and warm and everything I could have hoped for. I think I'm in love. It is a long time since I loved a knit so much.

I also have a bunch more stuff to blog about so I'll make up for my silence with more frequent posts over the next week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Finishing the ESW

The finishing instructions ask one to do a couple of rows of US single crochet, UK double crochet around the entire wrap before adding the fringe. I was in two minds about doing this but I decided to do so because the combination of colors used in this crocheted edge was one of my favorites in the wrap.

Then a friend (Hi Gail, if you are reading) said she was thinking of crab stitch (reverse single crochet) rather than the single crochet. I poked around the Web yesterday and found pictures and instructions and liked it. So that's what I'm going to do.

I found I didn't have the right hook size. I am not a crocheter. My crochet skills are an adjunct to my knitting and that means I don't necessarily have the same variety of tools I have for knitting. I didn't want to buy yet another hook to crochet the edge so I had the choice of a H hook or an E hook. The size that matched the needles was G or a 4 mm hook. I thought using the H (larger) and crocheting tightly would work but it didn't. I am a loose knitter and a looser crocheter and getting the larger hook into the sts was an issue. I moved to the smaller (E) hook and am crocheting it loosely and it is working better.

I have 3 sides done (2 short and 1 long) with the foundation row of single crochet. Once I complete that, I'll work the crab st all the way around and then add the fringe. The fringe is the exciting part because the colors are so fabulous!

Any thoughts or comments on tying the fringe vs just knotting it and leaving it as is?

Monday, December 17, 2007

The ESW is done!

Pics to follow when I have added the fringe.

I knitted up the extra 54 rows in the 3rd repeat and measured. It was 150 cms or so and when I tried it on, it was the perfect size for wrapping around my neck a couple of ways. I don't want this to be a shawl, but a long scarf that I can wear as a stole indoors or wrap around my head and neck when it is too cold outside. It works as all three at this size. So I bound it off.

Next step is to do a couple of rows of crochet on the short edges to provide a place to anchor the fringe and then add the fringe. The pattern calls for crochet all the way around but I like the rolling at the long edges. It is wide enough that the rolling doesn't make it too narrow. So, like some of my friends who have made this, I am going to only crochet along the short edges.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

ESW update

I finished the second repeat last night. That is 372 rows. I measured it this morning and 372 rows only give me 129 cms. The pattern says knit till it is 148 cms. I also, very hopefully, wrapped it around myself wondering if 129 cms would be fine. Sadly, it isn't. According to the gauge I'm getting, I need to knit 54 more rows to get to 148 cms. I thought I could get away with 40 or so more. Fortunately, I'm not worried about running out of yarn. I had more than the 2 balls of Majestic (# 589) called for because I had some leftover from another shawl. If I had had only two, I'd be worried about running out of that color. It is a grayed out mauve and it is used a lot and blends beautifully with the other colors.

So on to more knitting on it. Did I mention I really want to wear it?

I also listened to and discarded the Socks in the City podcast. The content is fine, the length is fine. The delivery is driving me nuts. She uses a lot of 'umm', there are some mouthy breathing sounds, and the volume varies. I have to say that I am a very picky listener. I spend a lot of time on teleconferences and pauses in an of themselves don't bother me. But when people do the 'umm' and 'aaah' thing in between words in a sentence, it annoys me. Early in my career, I took a class on effective presentations. We were videotaped and critiqued and some common mistakes were pointed out. Jangling change or keys in one's pocket, not making eye contact with the audience, reading out verbatim from your slides, speaking in a monotone, and inserting sounds when one pauses to collect one's thoughts, were pointed out as things that irritate listeners. Since then, I have done hundreds of presentations to audiences ranging from a few folks to hundreds. While I don't consider myself to be perfect or even really, really good (some of the best are the motivational speakers, or management consultants, or probably ministers and other religious personalities), I strive to avoid the common pitfalls and it isn't that hard to cure oneself of the habit of saying 'umm' as one thinks. It just takes some work. I can understand a guest or interviewee making those mistakes but the podcaster his- or herself should not do this. They have plenty of time to practice avoidance.

I am on to Stash and Burn. I've only listened to half of one episode so I'm not making any judgment yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More on the Earth Stripe Wrap and gauge

Laura had two comments that I wanted to address. Thank you Laura!

First, the concept of a tighter gauge. This is one of my pet peeves. I think that we are getting too sloppy in our knitting. Knitted fabric is inherently elastic and knitting at a loose gauge for the yarn just makes it more elastic and floppy. I tend to knit most things at a much tighter gauge and when I haven't, I've regretted it. Two recent examples come to mind. You can see from the dates that these are from 2004 and 2005 respectively.This was knit in a cotton and nylon blend called Reynolds Madrigal which I picked up years ago on clearance. I am very happy with the way the sweater looks and feels but it fits horribly. The fabric is too sloppy with no body. The reason I knit it at the ball band gauge is that I was afraid I'd run out of yarn. I made a mistake in my calculations and I had plenty but I was nervous as I had multiple colors and needed to combine them to have sufficient yarn for the entire sweater. I doubt I'll wear it much. I'll keep it as a teaching tool but it looks awful when worn. This is knit in Plymouth Galway, a lovely yarn. I love it. I love the color, I love the way it fits. But again, I had bought the yarn on clearance many moons ago and I created the sweater at a gauge to fit the amount of yarn I had. I didn't make a mistake in this case and I have about half a ball left. The gauge is 5 spi which is perfect for a worsted, right? Wrong! At 5 spi, the yarn is pilling terribly. It would have been better at 5.5 spi or even 6 spi. I will wear this till it is too threadbare to wear any more. So that's my rant on gauge and why I now knit things far more tightly than I should for sweaters and socks and hats .

Lace is a different animal. I knit lace much looser than most people. I like lace to be ethereal. I like the stockinette parts to be gauzy. So shawls and scarves are knit looser than most people would recommend.

On the Earth Stripe Wrap, Laura asked if the yarn was doubled. Yes, it is but not in the way you'd think. There are two colors held throughout and the colors change frequently. Sometimes one color changes and sometimes both. The combinations are not ones I'd consider without thinking a lot about it - hot pink and brown, or teal and mauve, for example. But the resulting effect is striking and will go with anything in my closet. I'm up to row 105 on the second repeat.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Tale of two WIPs

I found the camera. It was hiding in plain sight but out of the case and I was looking for the case. Oh well. So I present visuals to complement last week's text. I have been knitting up a storm on the Earth Stripe Wrap so I have not been blogging or doing much else. I am up to row 70 on the second repeat. Each repeat is 186 rows. I present it with two different backgrounds, to give you an idea of the colors. They are amazing in the way they blend and contrast with each other. Plus the entire wrap is cushy and cozy. I am knitting it like a mad person because I want to wear it. Every day when I leave work and come out into the dark cold night, I dream of being bundled up in it.
This is the wrap on a light background with a bit more natural light. It is about 22" wide and is currently 63 cm long. I am supposed to knit till it is 148 cm long. I still think that is going to be about 410 rows or 2.25 repeats. I have a way to go. I am knitting about 35 rows every evening but I need to start by 7 pm and knit all evening. I am able to do that some evenings and not on others. This is the other WIP that I knit on when I can't knit on the ESW. It is the bottom ribbing of a man's vest. You can see the Tapestry yarn in the background. This is very mindless knitting, unlike the ESW and so far it is pretty portable. So I carry it around and knit it when I have a few minutes or am brain dead.
Here's a view of the swatch showing the broken rib pattern I'm planning to use. In the swatch, the stripes are wider but they will be narrower in the vest as there are many more sts.

Last but not least, a podcast review. I listened to a few episode of She-Knits podcast. I was extremely underwhelmed and started thinking about advertising on podcasts. I contrast Ready, Set, Knit! with She-Knits as illustrations. Both have commercial undertones. Ready, Set, Knit talks about what is going on at Webs - the closeouts, book signings, etc. But there is also stuff that is not about the store and tidbits of knitting info in the knit-along section. Instructions on short rows, doing a sloped set of bind-offs on a shoulder, etc. There is no hiding that it is commercial. No apologies. Sharon of She-Knits, by contrast, states repeatedly that she is not plugging her Etsy shops but she mentions them, the patterns she has for sale, the blogs that she has to support and market her products, etc. all through the podcasts. There is no instructional stuff. Also, she rambles a lot and there were a lot of clicks and odd pauses due to the editing. She is not a professional and I can tolerate a lot of technical malfunctions but I found those very distracting. I am not comparing the delivery of the Webs podcast with the She-Knits podcast because that would not be fair. Just the content and the overt commercialism vs. the implicit commercialism. I prefer the over commercialism . I didn't listen to all 14 episodes I had on the ipod. I gave up after 4. I am now listening to Socks in the City and will review that next time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I was holding off so I could post photos of my Earth Stripe Wrap (ESW) but the camera seems to be hiding. But I felt guilty about not posting so here's a text only post.

I am up to row 154 which is about 25% of the way on the ESW. I am estimating about 415 rows total. It is quite amazing to see how the colors blend. I can't even imagine putting some of the colors together but it works, and works well. I can't wait to finish it because it is now cold and I could use a warm, snuggly wrap. And it is warm and snuggly. But not mindless. Even though it is all stockinette, the colors change so frequently that it is not very portable or mindless.

I also started a vest for my husband. It will be pretty mindless. It is in Rowan Tapestry in the Antique colorway in a broken rib pattern - 2 rows/rounds of k2, p2 rib followed by 2 rows/rnds of stockinette. This is the same pattern as is used in the much-knitted Blueberry Waffle socks, and is a favorite pattern of mine. The Tapestry splits a great deal but the color knits up beautifully. I am also knitting it at a much tighter gauge than recommended on the ball band.

Which brings me to a rant about loose gauges: Loose gauges are the reason so many sweaters lose their shape and look old before their time. A loose gauge is quicker to knit, which is why many yarn manufacturers have loose ball band gauges. Rowan Tapestry for example is a DK weight yarn and the ball band recommends a 5.5 sts/in gauge. So far so good. However, it is also a very loosely spun yarn so, at that gauge, it doesn't wear very well. I've seen a bunch of comments on Ravelry about how quickly it pills and I suspect this is because people have been knitting it that gauge. I am making mine at a 6.5 sts/in gauge and I like the fabric. I washed and dried my swatch and I like the way it feels and looks.

I swatched for this and cast on over the weekend and I shouldn't really do math in my head. I cast on 304 sts instead of the 272 I needed. Then I twisted the join despite checking and rechecking. However, I remembered that Elizabeth Zimmerman said that you can untwist at the end of the first round s0 I did and all is well.

I hope to have pictures of both items-in-progress soon.