Sunday, January 30, 2005

Problem Solving, or why items remain unfinished:

I started the brioche vest for my husband last winter when his office was very cold and he was wearing knit vests under his sportcoat to work everyday. The body of the vest went fine, but the pattern instructions for finishing left me cold. So the vest sat for many weeks (nay...months!) in a basket, unfinished.

I don't mind if the things I make look handcrafted, but don't want them to scream "homemade!!" Until yesterday, the button bands were knitted according to the pattern and sewn onto the vest, but they looked so flimsy and unprofessional, I couldn't bring myself to sew on the buttons and finish the armholes. Yesterday afternoon I ripped off the buttonbands, pulled out my copy of Montse Stanley's The Handknitter's Handbook (which has since become the Reader's Digest Handknitter's Handbook) and started looking through it for cast on and button band ideas. What I came up with is a button band that is knit as doubleknit stocking stitch. I cast on 13 stitches using tubular cast on, then knit one, yarn to front, slip one...repeat across. Turn the work and continue w/ knit one, ytf, sl one. The picture below has the original pattern button band on the right and my version on the left.

Button bands for Men's Brioche Vest
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You can see that the buttonband on the left is nice and sturdy. It won't sag under the weight of buttons on the right hand side, nor will vertical slit buttonholes pull out of shape on the left front of the garment. Yes the knitting is slow, but the finished item will look so much better!

spun from the roving in Jan. 24 post
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I've also been spinning from the roving shown in the Jan. 24th post. Below is a raggedy tag swatch knitted from the singles.

swatch knitted as singles
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As you can see, the blue overwhelms the purple and turquoise in the yarn. The finished yarn will be kind of stripey when knit. I'm still thinking a shawl. I usually do all of the carding, then all of the spinning, then at last begin to knit. This time I think I'll begin knitting from the first bobbin and continue to card and spin as the knitting progresses. I've changed my mind about the pattern for the shawl and have been going through my library to see if another pattern strikes my fancy. I still want it to be a garter based lace pattern, but perhaps something more shaped, as in the Faroese shawls.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Knitting Muse She's Not!

Back in October we adopted Jazzy from the Animal Rescue League. She was 7 months old, cuddly, and an enormous bundle of energy. She's now about 10 months old, has almost doubled in size, and is still cuddly and full of energy. One other distinctively Jazzy characteristic is her ability to vocalize with almost human intonation. This is the first somewhat focused picture I've been able to get of her. She's sitting on my lap while I'm at the computer in this shot. I've managed to distract her from trying to catch the cursor on the monitor.

Jasmine, aka: Jazzy cat
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Don't let that innocent look fool you. Unlike the other complacent cats in the fiber blogdom, this cat cannot leave yarn, wool, or anything string-like alone. Even worse, she chews wool. What you see below is not moth or rodent damage:

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This was a swatch of some 2/8's Australian merino that I thought was tucked safely away. I found it on the dining room floor with distinctively fishy kitty breath odor on it...grrrr.

Because of this behavior, Jazzy is confined to the basement family room when she is not being supervised. It's for her safety as well as the safety of my works in progress. Ingesting string can pose serious health threats to cats which result in admonishing, expensive veternary visits. Don't the basement she has all of her toys, her own human style bathroom...with kitty acoutrements, and a furnace room that she can explore at will. (Heck, we even put new carpet down there a couple weeks ago!) The only fiber that goes down there is whatever knitting project I carry down to watch tv.

Don't worry about her socialization. She still gets a lot of lap and play time from both my husband and me.....but she won't have free reign of the main floor until she settles down a bit more.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Stack o' Batts:

Woke up Saturday morning to a very white world. This sparked an enormous hunger for color. So I went into the fiber storage closet and pulled out the merino wool dyed in canning jars awhile ago. This was from April 2003 Archives
of my old blog.

The red/orange/yellow/black with olive green undertones was tempting, but I didn't want colors to melt the snow just yet. So I pulled out the turquoise through purple side of the color wheel. Then I pulled the drum carder down from its shelf and spent most of the weekend creating batts.

Batts ready for further blending.
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At first I tried one of Deb Menz's techniques for stacking batts and pulling them into roving. But I didn't like the way that was coming out. I wanted the fibers to be blended a little better for drafting than making a 'sandwich' of the batts allows. So I separated out the colors from the first attempt. That's what you see lying on top of the stack.

Next, I tried carding a thin layer of the darkest blue (navy) then worked on putting stripes of turquoise, purple, then medium blue horizontally on the drumcarder. Once this was well carded, I pulled the batt off the drum carder, rolled the batt lengthwise and gently drafted it into roving. That's what you see here:

Blended batts pulled into roving.
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I did spin a little bit to test my fiber prep. There's not enough yarn to make an interesting photo. I'm thinking this yarn will be the Old Shale Shawl by Evelyn Clark in the current issue of Piecework. There's only about a 1 lb. of fiber which is much more than needed. I would like to spin it as singles, and the garter stitch base of this design should work well for a singles.

I've also been working on a pair of gloves for my son. The hat and Seaman's scarf were knitted a good while ago and he's been wearing those. Both gloves are knitted through the pinky finger and are ready for the ring finger to be added. I always work pairs of things at the same time. It increases the chances of them actually being a pair (ie. completed) and matching as well. Just one of my many personality quirks. Pictures of the gloves will come later. I'm planning on sending them to him as a Valentines gift, along with a box of those Necco hearts with the weird sayings on them.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A Story of Hope:

I've mentioned before that I'm an incorrigible NY Times Op Ed column reader. Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof wrote an update to the story of the young women whose freedom he purchased from a brothel owner in Cambodia last year. When it became known in journalism circles that he had done this, he was roundly criticized for entering into the story rather than observing and reporting on it. I applaud him for his actions and for showing us in the U.S. that such a small amount of our wealth and caring can transform another's life.

Please, go read: Leaving the Brothel Behind

On the fiber front: I worked on my son's gloves last night while watching West Wing. This morning I found myself wondering how long the president was going to be able to stand for the inaugural address today. Whoops...wrong president, it's President Bartlett that has MS. Oh well, back to reality.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Spontaneous Knitting Lesson:

One perk of the current knitting frenzy is the sighting of handknitted items walking about in the community. Granted, most of them are bright, eyelash yarn scarves which are better for displaying current fashion color trends than for exhibiting knitting expertise. Still there is the occassional more seriously knit or crochet item that begs a closer look, like the uniquely fashioned Aran style hat noted while waiting in the library checkout line yesterday. And the librarian was wearing a beautiful intarsia patterned sweater. If I have to be in cold, snowy, grey Michigan in January the spotting of handknit items will serve as my tropical flowers.

Today I joined the parade and donned my Aran Cardy, handknit Koigu gloves, and handknit print yarn socks to head out and meet Nan for lunch at Bahama Breeze. Note the irony of the destination considering I had to shovel out of 6" of snow to get there!! Anyway...after lunch we headed our separate ways: she to grocery shop and me to pick up catfood and kitty litter.

Petsmart just happens to be in the same strip mall as Barnes & Noble, so after loading the kitty items in the van, I wandered in for some cozy browsing. I picked up the current issues of Piecework and Cloth Paper Scissors. Piecework has a felted backpack and a knitted shawl by Evelyn Clark that I wanted to look at more closely. Cloth Paper Scissors is purely eye candy and inspiration.

Finished in the periodicals, I headed over to the craft book section to see what might catch my eye. Sitting on the floor in front of the knitting books was a middle aged Asian woman, poring over heel turning instructions in the XRX Socks, Socks, Socks book. I didn't really notice her at first because Barnes and Noble is always full of browsers (most with cell phones to their ear) and the goal is to not trip over them. However, when she looked up, I must have looked like a billboard for knitting information in my handknit sweater, gloves, and socks, standing in front of the knitting books. She tapped on my leg and said excitedly, "You knit socks?!" Uhhhmmm....yes.... "Can you teach me to do this?" as she stabbed her finger at illustrations which totally skipped a graphic for the short row turning of the heel after the flap is finished.

First I suggested the local yarn shop...and she replied, "no, no, no,...I try that. Too busy, can't concentrate." Okay...fair enough, she's probably right. So I sat down on the floor and patiently tried to explain the operation that was frustrating her. It wasn't long before I found myself sitting on the floor, among the stacks in Barnes & Noble, with my naked right foot hanging out as we passed my handknit sock back and forth, examining the heel turning details.

This was particularly entertaining for my "student" as she laughed, "You teach me...I come to your home." Well...if you live in the Detroit area, one of the things you're not inclined to do is drag complete strangers home with you. Fortunately, knitting guild meets tomorrow night. So I invited her to the guild meeting. She wrote down the information, picked out one of the little Vogue sock knitting books, and hurried off, saying that she had to get home to knit a sock to the heel turning point so she could get help tomorrow night.

It wasn't so long ago when I was taunted and teased about my handknit I'm simply mainstream Everyone knits...or wants to learn.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Hostage Situation

Further thinking about the stash has revealed that I am being held hostage by certain elements within my stash. This includes: yarns that are too luxurious to go into just any old garment, fiber that's too beautiful to spin, and fabric (both handwoven and commercial) that defies being cut into pieces for a garment.

On the left, Cleckheaton Merino 8 ply. On right Grinasco Diamante: 85% cashmere, 15% merino wool.
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Note the photo above. The purple yarn (which is a little more grape than the picture shows) was purchased for an aran style sweater quite sometime ago. But the yarn is so buttery soft, I have fears of any cable/texture patterning getting lost in the fabric, not to mention the fact that soft yarns aren't particularly hardwearing. Each time I take out that bag of yarn, a mental picture of an indistinct cable pattern with unsightly pills forming over the wear areas causes me to put the yarn right back on the shelf. I still love the yarn and have half decided to make a diamond cable and lace sweater design by Donna Kay from the winter 2003-04 issue of Cast-On with it. Now the other half of me has to come to agreement with that plan.

The pink yarn is a luscious cashmere yarn that was purchased with my 10% birthday discount at Old Village Yarn Shop back when I was a somewhat younger woman. Again, this yarn is very soft, likely to pill, and show texture stitches poorly. I did have a sweater in mind when I purchased the yarn, but have since decided that it would be unflattering. There's not quite enough yardage for a complete sweater, but there is plenty of yardage for a vest, like one of the lacy vests in A Gathering of Lace . However, it might have a longer life if it were knitted into a long rectangular shawl like of some of those in Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls book. But once again, I am undecided.!
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Then there are the spinning fibers. It's hard to imagine a yarn spun from the Treetops Harmonies silk that will show off the colors in the same stunning way as the sliver. I envision a lovely variegated singles yarn used to weave the most luxurious scarf. But there's not a huge quantity, so how do I sample without using up all of the sliver in samples?!

And the silk brick: To begin spinning will mean miles and miles of white. Not that white is so bad...but, that's a lot of white for someone who looks better in colors. To dye the silk means that it will need to be prepped for spinning again. So would I run it through the drum carder or use mini-combs? And what would be the intended use of the resulting yarn?

This is just a small sample of my "captors": really nice stuff that deserves to be made into even nicer stuff. Am I up to the task? I certainly have the techinical skill to pull it off, but it seems my self confidence about design decisions is lacking.

I think I need to tackle these hostage chains one link at a time. Begin by sampling with one daunting stash member per month and see if I can move it toward project status. Now...which one do I start with? Decisiveness...that's the next hurdle!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Resolutions, Fiber diets, and Stash Reduction

Clicking through the blogs it appears that most fiberbloggers are doing at least one, if not a combination of the above. I should be doing so as well. I swear, it seems that one of everything is in my stash. While moving things for the carpeting venture, projects pop into my head, then I realize that the raw materials for such a project are already in my stash somewhere.

There is some wool to wash; a LOT of wool to spin; a lot of silk, linen, alpaca, cotton, and some lyocel, ingeo, & tencel to spin; much yarn to weave; and much more yarn to knit. Not to mention the fabric to be sewn into garments and the unfinished quilts in the dresser drawer.

A few months ago I did go through everything and clear out two big garbage bags of yarn to donate to the handwork circle that our guild president is doing with the homeless shelter in Ann Arbor. There isn't much more to cull from the stash. It's all good and relevant to my current interests.

There's an inventory list somewhere on my desk. I need to work creatively from the inventory. Perhaps after we take Steve back to Purdue tomorrow, I'll sit down and come up with some sort of work plan. Wait...I have plans to meet Carole at Heritage Spinning & Weaving on Wednesday. Oh well....

Meanwhile, I did get the buttonhole band finished for dh's vest. At least one finished item is in sight!! And with ten hours in the car tomorrow, sans cat, perhaps Fulmar will see some significant progress. Perhaps there will be pictures at 11 (or by the 11th!)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tongue tied...

Since moving the blog, it seems my mind goes blank every time I open up the 'create a new post' tab. Fiber pursuits in the past week have been pretty mundane. It appears that January will be the month of unfinished business. If I'm diligent, it will be the month of finishing unfinished business.

Sunday night I worked on the buttonhole band for my husband's vest. This project has been languishing in the knitting basket for months. The body of the vest is in Brioche stitch and it requires that the button bands be knit separately and sewn on. To make matters worse, each side of the front bands are knit separately then grafted at the back of the neck. This is fiddly work that I don't like to do. I have considered alternatives and came to the conclusion that the designer really did make the best choice in this pattern.

So before sitting down to watch tv with dh, I carefully measured the finished button band, counted the rows where each buttonhole should go, then armed with my trusty row counter and knitting supplies sat down to complete the thing in one sitting. When the movie was over and I returned to the dining room table with the 'completed' buttonhole band to lay it out against the sweater....ARGH!!!...the last buttonhole would be up on the shoulder, under the left ear of my beloved!! Not exactly prime location for a V neck cardigan vest.

The first button band was knitted with Jazzy cat in lap, wrestling the needles from her periodically, and stowing the yarn under my arm and behind my back where she couldn't get at it. For the buttonhole band, Jazzy preferred dh's lap. It seems one's row gauge is greatly affected by whether or not there is a predatory animal in one's lap. So I will rip and reknit, either using smaller needles, or trying the 'cat in lap' thing to reproduce the gauge of the band that is already sewn onto the sweater.

The other major unfinished business from '04 is Fulmar. This also has been languishing in the basket with Jazzy cat figuring into the equation. The first sleeve is about 1/3 finished and is now on dpn's. This is just too intriguing for a 10 mo. old kitten to resist. I may have to become a closet knitter to complete Fulmar.

The last remaining fiber item for today: As I type, new carpet is being installed in our finished basement. Wahoo!! This is the first step on my campaign to get new carpet through out the house in '05.

Late in the day edit:
It seems the basement carpet will not be finished today. There were challenges: 5 'floating' stairs, 2 poles in the middle of the room, and a corner fire place. The corner fireplace required a diagonal cut in the carpet which, of course, gave them a bias edge to work with. All rules of fiber being constant, a bias edge on a woven fabric will stretch....and it did. So, the carpet guys will be back tomorrow, provided the snow storm doesn't hold them back.

I'm being lazy today...watching the light snow come down and surfing through blogs. One of my favorite clicks is Kerri Smith's Wishjar

It was a bonus to find that there is an interview of Kerri on 52 Projects

These are both great sites for creative inspiration. Take a look, you may find some thinking that will inspire you as well.