Tuesday, November 27, 2007

not being Eeyore

The dark cloud of late-autumnal knitting angst tried to settle over my small New England town last week. First came the reminder of why I just don't do the cables without a cable needle thing. (I don't care how sticky the yarn is, or how careful I am. Every time it turns into a whack-a-mole game, with those damn little stitches dropping their heads out of sight. Not funny anymore.) Then came the top-down hat, re-worked for a lighter weight yarn so inexpertly that I ended up with a 27" circumference. I decided that what I needed to help get me out of the rut was a tried and true pattern that has been knit to completion over 500 times, according to Ravelry. If 500 people can knit the Swallowtail Shawl, then so can I, angst be damned.

Swallowtail shawl

It's not done yet, but I'm done with the budding lace part, and have decided to let it rest, pre-nupping. It was even so kind as to arrange itself into a familiar shape when I tossed it on the couch, sparing me the pain of having to try to figure out how to photograph an unblocked lump of proto-lace.

Well beyond the dark cloud of knitterly dread, I felt it was safe to start playing with a new sock design idea.


That's a teaser photo of my design process for this sock. Well, you don't get a photo of the jumbled thoughts in my head, but you can see how they translated into an initial charted out sketch kind of thing, with a peek at a chart underneath. I've already swatched to work out most of the kinks, using yarn leftover from the Anniversary socks. These are going to be really fun socks, and I've just cast on for them in a new-to-me brand of yarn that looks and feels very promising.

I also found the energy to fix the plying on some of the slightly underplied BFL, and to set it. Oh, springful bounty!

Handspun BFL

One of the skeins turned out better than the others, in terms of plying and color distribution. I have about 140 yards of the "good" skein, and the beginning of a plan for it. It's about 16 wraps per inch, making it a nice fingering weight. I think the other skein is nicer than I want to believe, and at the very least I should be able to pick and choose the best parts of it to up my yardage.

And of course I worked more on the Redwood BFL singles.

my spinning station

It's a gratuitous photo, since there's not much new to see. But it's so pretty! My new spinning method is to ball up my pre-drafted top, set the ball in the top of my scale, and then let the pre-drafted wool drape over my arm as I spin. I used to wrap it around my wrist, but sweat became problematic. This way I can just pick it up and spin for a couple of minutes here and there, which feels like quite a luxury.

There's a sort of hangover feeling I get when I've started too many projects in too short a time. Even though 2 of them got ripped out, it just feels wrong. My usual remedy would be to show an outstanding level of dedication to the projects that did survive, but alas, there are too many new things to start! I have 3 other projects I want to cast on for by the end of the year, two of which have deadlines, one of which is a design project that could be a potentially big challenge for me. (Only one is holiday knitting. I'm not that crazy.) Look for more deer in the headlights posts this winter. Oh deer dear.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Saluting NaNoWriMo in length, if not in content

I used to find spinning content on blogs boring. It all looked the same to me, I didn't care about it, and I skipped reading blog posts about making yarn in favor of reading blog posts about making things from yarn. And so I must apologize to those of you who read (or used to read) this blog, and are similarly frustrated and bored when I talk about making yarn. While I still love knitting, right now it's spinning that completely captivates me.

I learned how to Navajo ply (or chain ply) last weekend. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, using a sort of "park and ply" technique. My method was to let the spindle hang, doing whatever it pleased, while I chained up about an arm span's length. I pinched off the top loop with my left hand (so twist wouldn't later enter it), grabbed my chains about halfway down with the same hand, and then used my right hand to roll-start the spin. I let the twist build up in that bottom half of the chained singles, then released the top half (still pinching off that top loop), to let the twist enter the rest of the length. When it was enough twist I'd stop the spindle, wind the plied yarn on, and start again with that loop I pinched off at the top. I don't think the process was much slower than what I could reasonably do on a drop spindle without "parking", because twist builds up so quickly that I'd have to stop my spindle to wind the yarn on quite often, anyway. I can't wait until I have a wheel and can ply more smoothly and continuously, though. I found Navajo plying to be a quite soothing process once I got the hang of it. There were frustrating moments, like when I'd start the spin at such a great speed and angle that the spindle would fly across the room, leaving a mess of tangles in its wake.


The photo above is of two of the four colors of the Shetland sampler, after being plied and set. My camera batteries and natural light both ran out before I could properly photograph the other two colors. These two colors and the light brown are all about a fingering weight, though I admit that I haven't done a WPI count, yet. The grey, which I spun first, seems to be more of a sport weight.

I was concerned about the yarn after I plied it and before I set it because it seemed stringy. There was hardly any bounce to it. But after a good simmer on the stove, the yarn really came to life. It's quite elastic now, and I'm very proud of it. It feels like when I first became confident in my stranded colorwork abilities -- when that lightbulb came on, and I realized that I had the tools to knit all the Starmore sweaters my heart could desire. After all that concern about having spent dozens upon dozens of hours spinning a stringy, lifeless yarn, the joy of seeing what bounce and spring the setting process gave it has left me with a feeling of confidence and fibrous power. I can SPIN! I can make things I want to knit with!

Unfortunately, I don't think I have enough to knit the colorwork hat that I'd planned, so I may send the yarn itself to the friend for whom I was hoping to knit the hat, so she has a chance to crochet with some woolly handspun. I do think I'll keep the thicker grey for myself, to incorporate in what I'm already calling the "Scrapple" bag. Alex and I have been using my Coronet hat as a Scrabble bag, and that just won't do. Little bits of handspun, though, have great potential to remedy this situation.

I also Navajo plied some of the Spunky Eclectic BFL last weekend:

BFL mosaic

That's about .75 oz, which means I have about 3.25 oz to go. I've ordered a lighter drop spindle, so hopefully I'll be able to comfortably spin more than .75 oz at a time, soon. It's taking a bit longer than I anticipated to get that spindle, so I've had to put the BFL project on hold. It's a bit frustrating because I hardly want to do anything right now more than I want to spin. But of all life's potential hardships, I can hardly complain about this. I think the yarn in the above pic is about a laceweight, though I haven't set it yet, so don't know if it will plump up. Right now the plan is to spin and ply all of it to match this first bit, and then use it for a shawl.

There's been other spinning activity going on in my house, but I'll save that for another post. Instead, here are some socks, for all of you who couldn't care less about the spinning.

Arch Shaped Sock mosaic

This is the Arch-Shaped Sock by Jen Showalter. I used Mama E's C*eye*ber Fiber sock yarn in the colorway Purgatory Orphan, which may not exist anymore. (It was one of the colorways she made when trying to perfect the colorways for Brenda Dayne's Brother Amos socks. I love the name!) I adore the way the socks fit, and am so happy I knit this pattern. I did find that there were some vagaries and mistakes in the pattern itself, but nothing really major if you've knit socks before and have the confidence to rework some minor elements. I do plan to use this shaping in the future, perhaps for a design idea I have, and do plan to alter it so it works a bit more elegantly with the gusset decreases. But I'd definitely recommend that anyone with decent arches knit a pair of these for themself. They really do hug your feet.

You can probably tell that I altered the pattern a bit, to continue the ribbing down the front of the foot. I've been doing a lot of ribbing lately, including a hat design that is based on the same idea I want to use for the sock design I mentioned above. Here is a sneak peek at one of the hats:

Ribbed Hat

More on that later, when the pattern is written. (Don't worry, I'm self publishing this one, so there won't be any of that annoying months- or year-long teasing about something you can't see!)

I really should have posted some time last week, eh? If you're still reading, I have a book review for you. It's a book you've surely seen reviewed in many other places, but I am so delighted with the book that I feel like I need to add in my "me too." The book is The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes. I should say that I received this book free, from the publisher, as a review copy. I don't feel that that alters my opinion of the book at all, but as a former social science researcher feel a moral obligation to disclose the fact that this book was essentially a gift from the people trying to sell it.

This book is what has been missing from the fiber arts shelves of the bookstore. There are hundreds (or at least dozens) of beautiful, informative, inspiring books on the market about techniques and patterns, but this is the first book I've seen that focuses on yarn, itself. I feel that I know a lot about yarn, as a compulsive researcher (I have been known to check Consumer Reports before buying a simple toaster), and as someone who has been knitting for years and intensely immersing herself in spinning for the past few months. It turns out that I did know a lot, and still learned a lot more from this book. The writing is clear and engaging, the format is easy to follow, and the patterns are clever and interesting. Organizing the patterns by yarn ply is something I've never seen before, and really opened my eyes to mistakes I've made and details I've overlooked in the past about my own yarn choices for projects.

If I could change anything about the book, I'd split it into two volumes. I think that the chapters on fiber type and making yarn, plus an introduction to the characteristics of ply type, could be a book on its own. As much information as this book contains, I want more! I wish all 250 pages were devoted to that exposition, with a companion volume for the patterns, with expanded photographs.

But if my biggest complaint is "I want MORE!," I suppose things aren't all that bad. I'm fairly picky about what books I'll actually buy, and this is a book I know I would have eventually paid money for if I hadn't been lucky enough to receive a copy for free. If you're interested in expanding your knowledge about yarns, and interested in becoming better at matching yarns to patterns (or patterns to yarns), flip through this book, buy it, or at least request that your local library acquire a copy. It's an excellent resource that will not be redundant with anything already on your bookshelf.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Creepy, Crawly, and STICKY

(First off, I must say that I've had the Can Can song stuck in my head since before my last post. And then yesterday, while I was browsing in a bookstore, a jazzy version of the Can Can song came in over the Muzak speakers. Or perhaps I'm just going insane, poisoned by having my recommended yearly allowance of Can Can concentrated into one week. Condensed Can Can! augh! Though it's starting to morph into the Facts of Life theme song, which, while equally horrific, is at least variety...)

The new issue of The Anticraft has arrived, and among its creepy, crawly, and sticky offerings are my lace scarf. Go to The Anticraft to see the pattern, as well as all the other goodies in this issue. But I'll post some photos here, too:





This scarf started out as a brainstorm between me and Zabet. Keep in mind that this is only half of a complete package. There were some technical difficulties with the second half of this project, so the concept won't be truly complete for a little while.

Zabet gets credit for the artistic rendering of "Some Pig". She drew it out, and I translated her stylizing of the letters into lace. Erssie asked about the design of the lace in the scarf. I did not use stitch dictionaries for any of it, though it's simple enough that I'm sure the patterning does exist in stitch dictionaries out there. In fact, I was looking through a book (perhaps Victorian Lace Today?) in the bookstore after I finished the scarf, and I saw a shawl that used what looked like the same stitch pattern as the webby ends of the scarf. Then I looked through another book (Folk Shawls, I believe), and learned that I "unvented" the method I used to start the pointy ends of the scarf. The repeating bug pattern in the middle took a while to get just right, involving a lot of graph paper and swatching. It's amazing how easy it is to inadvertently knit a leaf with lace. No wonder there are so many leaf lace patterns out there! It took a while before I got my bugs to be bugs, and not delicate little leaves. (Spiders don't eat leaves, dammit!)

Do make sure to look at the other projects in this issue of The Anticraft. I think this may be my favorite issue, yet. Some of my other favorite projects from this issue are the Pumpkin Pasties (would look delicious if we hadn't just made FOUR pumpkin pies in the last 2 weeks), Black Widow (what I want to bring to the Pumpkin Festival next year), and Spider's Parlor (I want a pet).

So there's one secret project revealed! Please let me know if you have any questions about or problems with the pattern. None of the lacework in it is difficult at all. If you can knit, purl, yarnover, k2tog, and ssk (or left leaning decrease of your choice), you can knit this scarf.

I'm still waiting to hear back from knitty about my other secret project. It should be soon, either way, since I believe the Winter issue is due out in early December. Keep your toes crossed!

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