Monday, March 31, 2008

a new project

I spent most of the weekend on a big, exhausting project that didn't involve touching anything fuzzy. I am now in very bitter fiber withdrawal. However, the antidote is coming soon: it's knitting night at Barnes & Noble!
I did take a few minutes off from the madness to start a hat.

It doesn't look very big in the picture, but those are #17 (12.75 mm) needles! I feel like a little kid knitting with these huge things, but it's fun. The yarn is Lion Brand Bolero in Amaretto. It's one of those yarns that attached itself to me and would not let me go home without it. It's really soft, I love the colors, and it was on clearance.
The yarn came with a hat pattern, but the pattern involves knitting a few extra rows, gathering the fabric and tying it with a string, and leaving the extra rows sticking out above the gathered part. So you have this weird tuft of extra fabric sticking out the top of your head--I don't think so. So I followed the directions for the first three rows (k2p2 rib), but I stopped paying attention and did an unauthorized fourth row of ribbing. Next is supposed to be a bunch of stockinette, which I will try. If I don't feel it shows off the madness of the yarn enough, I'm going to rip it out do garter instead. And then I'm going to wing the end based on a different pattern. Also, I forgot to do the gauge swatch--I was too excited about casting on for my first real project. (I don't count the scratchy yellow learn-to-knit thing, which is still not finished and even when finished will probably never be used for anything.) So I got carried away, cast on 42 stitches, and started ribbing away. Then I realized my gauge is probably way loose and the hat will be all wrong. Well, I threaded a piece of yarn through the stitches, took it off the needles, and wrapped it around my head, and so far it seems like it will be just right. Yay! Now, it is March in Alabama, so it will be about nine months before I see any weather remotely conducive to wearing this hat, but so what?
Speaking of spring, it was cloudy and a bit chilly this weekend, so it was the perfect time to give the newly completed shawl to its intended recipient.

She loved it. I dreamed up and made a beautiful thing, I gave it to a truly delightful person, and she adores it. This is life at its best.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Huntsvillians, represent!

The Yarn Harlot threw down the gauntlet with her Toronto Sock Picture Scavenger Hunt challenge. Well, the commute for that one is a little tough for most of us, so here’s one a little closer to home: Huntsville, AL! Of course, I don’t have any prizes, but who says you need maple glazed donuts to have fun?
So, in the Harlot spirit, take pictures of your sock in progress with the following items.

- with the Saturn V, 1 point.
- with any other space artifact, 1 point each.
- with a rocket scientist, 1 point. (They’re everywhere.)
- with an engineer, 1 point. (They’re so common, they should only be worth half a point, but let’s keep the math simple.)
- with a PhD, 1 point.
- with someone who is both a rocket scientist and a PhD, 2 points.
- with a space camp attendee, 1 point.
- with a space camp employee, 2 points.
- with a school with a space-related name, 1 point.
- with a street sign with a space-related name, 1 point.
- with a hockey player, 2 points. (We are the hockey capital of the south, but hockey season is over.)

- at Yarn Expressions, 1 point.
- with Meg, 2 points.
- at The Knitting Zone, 1 point.
- with Mary, 2 points.
- at Little Barn, 1 point.
- with Lewis, 2 points.
- at the Barnes & Noble cafe of the Monday night knitters, 1 point.
- at the Books a Million cafe of the 4th Friday and 2nd Tuesday knitters, 1 point.
- at the Panera Bread of the Thursday night knitters, 1 point.
- at any of these establishments with a knitter, 2 points.
- at any of these with a flock of knitters on knit night, 5 points.

- at Rosie’s, 1 point.
- at Bandito Burrito, 1 point.
- at El Palacio, 1 point.
If you do all these, you’ll be sick, so that’s enough restaurants.

- with a red neck, 1 point.
- with a red neck doing something funny, 2 points. (Let’s keep it clean here, people.)
- with an Alabama fan, 1 point
- with an Auburn fan, 1 point
- with an Alabama fan and an Auburn fan in same picture, 3 points (Try not to start any religious wars.)

- with a person operating farm equipment, 1 point
- with a construction worker who is building a house in a recent cotton field, 1 point.
- with a military person, 1 point.

- with a flower-covered tree, 1 point (Time is running out on this one.)

- at Harrison Brothers Hardware, 1 point.
- at Burritt on the Mountain, 1 point.
- at Big Spring Park, 1 point.
- at Big Spring Park with a waterfowl, 2 points.
- at the Botanical Garden, 1 point.
- at Weeden House, 1 point.
- at Monte Sano, 1 point.

Here, I'll get you started.

Oh wait, that's cheating--that sock is finished, and I didn't even make it! Sigh. At this point in my knitting development, my sock isn't likely to make much progress beyond this any time soon:

I do want to make socks--that's why I bought sock yarn (aside from the well-known fact that it doesn't count as stash). But I think I want to learn a few more things first, like how to bind off, increase, decrease... So you all have a head start on me with the picture thing.

No socks were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Operation Blankie gears up

My Project Linus group had our first meeting last night. Our numbers were on the low side due to illness, but we had a really good time anyway. Bonus: we got a non-crafter crafting! That was a delight to me. It's always good to spread the joy.
For my blanket, I settled on the bright colors afghan. It will be very cheery, and I think a sick kid will really like it. Here it is so far.

The yarn is Baby Bee Sweet Delight in Mr. Sun, Baby Red, Berry Jam, and Crayons Ombre. It's left over from a blanket I made for someone else. I'm just doing hdc for the whole thing, but the stripe pattern will get more interesting soon. It's based on the song "Shepherd's Hey."
As I always do at this point in a project, I think I need more yarn. I'm really not at all convinced that I have enough Baby Red. (The others, I think I'm ok on.) Of course, on the last blanket I made, about a third of the way through the blanket I was really worried about running out of yarn, and I ended up with almost exactly half of it left over. Since I always think I need more yarn, I hesitate to buy any more. In this case, it seems pretty certain, though.
Anyway, the yarn is really soft and bright, and now that I've started this project, I'm excited about it. That's a lucky thing, since we're trying to finish these within the next month! Also, it was kind of freaking me out that I really didn't want to start anything and wasn't inspired about what to make. Now I feel like I'm in the groove again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

sweater theory

I'm new to knitting. Well, ok, I learned in eighth grade but didn't take to it and forgot how. I just re-learned last month. But I still consider myself new to knitting, since I never got beyond a two-inch-long scarf the first time.
I read a lot of knitting blogs, and I've read parts of a lot of knitting books, since they often have a bone or two for crocheters. Plus I've started going to knitting night once a week--even if I don't exactly feel like knitting, the knitters are so funny and great to be around, I really have a good time.
Well, in all these observations of knitting culture, what has really amazed me is how common it seems to be to spend all this time knitting with tiny needles, create a whole garment, and then discover it's unworkable and have to rip it all out. It's not just clueless folks; I watched this one incredible knitter rip out a whole small sweater at knitting night a few weeks ago. This girl is a very skilled knitter, I know she tried on the sweater as she was making it, and I know she checked her gauge, so huh?!?! And this really seems to be accepted as something to be expected with knitting, to my bafflement. I guess I'm a product knitter: if I'm knitting a sweater, sure it's nice to knit and all, but I want a damn sweater! A functional one! That is my purpose in knitting a sweater, and if I spend all that time on it and then have to undo it all, I'm going to be pissed!
Well, I started reading Sweater Design in Plain English and I got some insight into this situation that I'd like to share. Basically, because of the structure of knit fabric and how stretchy it is and how much give it has, there are a lot of ways to make a doomed sweater. By stitch:

  • Garter - very elastic lengthwise, very expansive widthwise. A sweater in all garter stitch will get baggier and baggier in both directions every time it is worn.
  • Stockinette - stretches lengthwise, becomes narrower widthwise. Stockinette will roll up unless it is edged with something else, and putting it in a sweater is no exception.
  • Reverse Stockinette (make stockinette but sew it together inside out) - stretches widthwise, shrinks lengthwise, and doesn't want to go back to how it was.
  • Stockinette turned sideways - stretches widthwise, shrinks lengthwise. In other words, the stockinette problems turned sideways.
  • Seed stitch - reversible, stable. Also makes good trim for stockinette if knit with smaller needles.
  • Ribbing - stretches lengthwise, very elastic widthwise. A whole sweater made of ribbing will show every lump and bulge and look horrible, in general, but ribbed cuffs and sweater bottoms are one way to make all that stretching stop on a sweater made in some other stitch.

Basically, it sounds like the only hope of having a sweater actually work is to have cuffs and a band at the bottom in something that wants to pull everything into the body (like ribbing or tight seed stitch), so that sweater kind of parks itself at those spots instead of hanging and stretching by its own weight.
Furthermore, the fiber can also cause sweater disaster, and not just if you pick something scratchy. Fibers such as silk, cotton, linen, and rayon -- the fibers that don't have scales -- don't attach to each other stitch by stitch like wool would, so fabric made out of these will stretch. Also, ribbing made out of these will not be as elastic as ribbing made out of wool. So if you're making a sweater out of one of these fibers and you want it to fit, you actually have to make it the size of the person's body or smaller!

Holy cow, no wonder so many sweaters end up in disaster. And before reading this, I would have thought that any commercially available pattern should be expected to work, but I bet a lot of designers aren't aware of all of these details. I'm nowhere near ready to design a pattern for knitting a sweater, but knowing all this stuff, at least maybe I'll be able to pick someone else's pattern and not end up having to undo it all.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rockin' the three-day weekend

I had Friday off for "Spring Break Day"--why it rocks to work for a university--so I got to spend a whole lot of time with yarn this weekend. To my amazement, I actually finished two things!
First is a shawl I've been working on since Novemberish. I impulse-purchased the yarn on major sale, and as I started working on it, it reminded me of a lady at church, so it's for her. Hopefully I'll manage to give it to her before it becomes too hot to wear it.

I also finished the rainbow-striped baby afghan, so now starting a new baby blanket doesn't seem so daunting. I'm going to try to sell the pattern for this one, so just a preview photo for now. I'm really happy with how it turned out.

For anyone following the saga of this blanket, it did make it in the first skein of every color except purple, which had to go into the second skein for several rows. It was also very close for pink, blue, and green, just barely making it in the first skein. It's a good thing I bought two skeins of each color--I would have been freaking out, especially about the purple. Not having the same dye lot would have either looked terrible or necessitated major frogging and/or changes to the design. Anyway, there is plenty left for another blanket as long as the design goes light on the purple. I've already got an idea brewing for that yarn, but it's not what I'm going to work on next.

I also made it to Little Barn, and here's where we see the first signs that the fiber addiction may prove worse than the yarn one. Even though I have plenty of fiber left over from the class materials last weekend plus the extra I bought, I totally fell in love with a packet of mystery fiber in the bargain bin. It's a beautiful rust-ish burgundy color with a few little red sparklies carded in, and I had to have it. I also bought eight more ounces of plain natural wool for practice--wouldn't want to run out! (If this were alcohol, I would have just exhibited one of the major signs of addiction.)
Anyway, I had in my mind a yarn that was a blend of the burgundy and the natural wool, kind of smoothly transitioning between various proportions of the two, but as I started spinning, I quickly realized I would have to card them together to achieve that, and I don't have any cards. What I got instead was sort of a tweed look, which was interesting so I decided to go with it. I ended up making one ply the tweed thing and the other all burgundy, so the finished yarn would be more like what I had in mind.

I would still prefer a bit less contrast between the natural and the burgundy, but I like the results. (I did look at some naturally brown/tan wool in the store, but none of it seemed to go well with the burgundy.) Also, I'm getting the twist and the thickness more even than my first attempts, but the yarn is still lively. In some places it almost looks braided because of the way the two-colored ply interacts with the all-burgundy ply. If I made a whole lot more of it, it would be a wild hat.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

love the yarn you're with

I went to Hobby Lobby last night, and a strange thing happened: I did not buy a single speck of yarn. I looked, I squeezed, I touched, I pondered, but all of the yarn was too pale, too ugly, too scratchy, too skinny, too this, or too that. A vision had been starting to form in my mind involving a certain tealish blue, gold, and purple, but I didn't see anything appropriate. In fact, the yarn that I thought I remembered as being the perfect color was totally not.
But you know what? I have tons of acrylic yarn, and most of it is nice and soft. I can think of four different blanket possibilities based on the yarn I have on hand. I'm just not that excited about it because it's all leftovers from other projects. Plus, I know The Blue I'm envisioning exists in Moda Dea Washable Wool. It's their Real Teal. But let's try to be sensible. You can't buy Washable Wool here, I'd have to get it online, so it might not even get here in time for the first meeting of the blanket society, plus to get enough to be sure of finishing the blanket would cost about $50 plus shipping (for two balls each of purple, blue, and yellow).
So. Using only yarn already in my possession, I could make:

  • a super fluffy fleece blanket in pastel pink, green, yellow, and purple, with white trim around the edge. I've already made one like this, I have half the yarn left over, and it was easy, quick, and fun to make. This is a good candidate.
  • a brightly colored blanket in some stripe pattern of yellow, dark hot pink, purple, and an ombre mix of these colors. Not as quick, but reasonably fun. The yarn is soft, and the colors are electric. This option is more exciting but less likely to be finished on time.
  • a rainbowy cotton blanket, either in the same stripe pattern as the one I'm working on now, or something else. This assumes I finish the one I'm working on now and it actually only takes one skein per color. I'd give an 85% chance of one skein per color and a 60% chance of finishing by Wednesday, since I do have tomorrow off.
  • a simple blanket of multicolor boucle in white, yellow, blue, pink, and purple. This one would look like ice cream sprinkles. It would be fast and fun but probably small--I'm not sure if I have enough yarn.
  • a pastel classic baby theme of some sort in any combination of pink, blue, and off-white. Appealing to me only in theory.

Notice that for each project, I have about half the yarn left over from what I originally made. To put it another way, I bought twice as much yarn as I needed. When I first started crocheting, my projects kept turning out way bigger than I expected, so I always had to rush back to the store and try to get more yarn in the same dye lot while it was still available, so I guess I just started overestimating in a big way. Well, here's something I've never seen written down anywhere: don't make your foundation chain the size you want your finished project to be. Depending on which side of the chain you crochet into,* your chain may stretch to as much as one and a half times its original size when you start crocheting, and then suddenly you have a project that's way bigger than you intended, and all of your yarn calculations go right out the window. I've found that I need to make my chain about two-thirds the size that I want the finished project to be. If you're winging it and don't want to make a swatch, make sure you re-check the size of the project after the first three or four rows. At that point, it should be about the width it will end up. Since I figured that out, I've stopped making panic runs to the yarn store, and I could probably stop buying twice as much yarn as I really need, too.

* Why does it matter which side of the chain you crochet into? If you crochet around the "v" part, like you will at the top of the stitches on all of the other rows, it makes a chain that will stretch to match the rest of your crochet. If you crochet around the other side, the single-strand part, it seems to be a lot less stretchy. You might think this would solve the crazy expanding blanket problem, but the way I crochet, it just makes the end look funny because it's tighter than the rest and won't stretch to match. The rest of the stitches still spread out the way the always do, so I end up with sort of a trapezoid effect at that end. Not pretty.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

project overload

Here's an unusual twist for me. I love yarn, and I seem to have boundless optimism for how much time I will be able to spend with it. See more great yarn? Buy it and start a new project. It's the best thing ever--how could I wait? Life is too short! That's my usual approach, and I'm not one of those ladies who feels guilty about her yarn stash or hides it in the freezer or behind the liquor. Vive le yarn!
Well, I decided it would be fun to organize a group of ladies from my church to make blankets for Project Linus. For a few days I was totally obsessed with how great it would for all of us to get together and make fabulous blankets for kids who are sick or sad or scared (or all three). Great idea, fabulous cause, let's get started! Well, yesterday when I was planning our first blanket-making session, I realized I had spent so much time worrying about details and finding an easy blanket pattern for the non-crafters, I hadn't even given a moment's thought to what I will make. Normally, I love coming up with ideas for a new project--I may love it even more than actually working on a project. But right now, I'm thinking about the following projects currently in progress: rainbow striped baby blanket, frog pond afghan, fiber showcase cape, glorious subtle lacy shawl, heavy pink mohair shawl, and ghastly yellow learning-to-knit sampler that I'm determined not to stop until I've used up all that awful yarn. Plus the blue afghan for which I made approximately a million squares, all of them finished about four years ago, untouched and unassembled ever since. And I would like to spin some of the gorgeous fiber I bought at the seminar! Suddenly, it seems like too much. (Well, I am running out of crochet hooks--that's a bad sign. Yes, I know that, unlike knitting, there's only one loop hanging loose at a time and I can just "borrow" the crochet hook from one project and use it for another, especially if I leave myself a little note about which size it was, but it seems like things are starting to get out of hand here.) But this whole crazy Project Linus thing was my idea, so suddenly I have to start another project, and I find myself, not just uninspired, but thinking "No! No more! I want to finish something first!"


Fear not, I'm going to the yarn store this evening to help some of the ladies pick out materials. I'm sure something will come to me. (Who am I kidding? Something will leap into my arms and demand to be taken home and started immediately.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More pics

As promised, here are photos of the yarn I spun with the spindle over the weekend.

I'm definitely getting the thickness more even, but I still have a lot of low-twist fluff spots. I really put a ton of twist in the first yarn, and I was thinking it was probably too much, based on the little pigtail twists it wanted to make when I was plying it. With this yarn, I put in less twist, thinking that would be better, but I'm not sure it is.

Notice how it hangs straight down without the hank wanting to twist--I made balanced yarn!

Monday, March 17, 2008

A dream come true

I just found out Yarn Expressions is hosting a class on spinning with color, taught by none other than Lynne Vogel! [insert internet squee here!!!!] She's totally been my hero since I read The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook. At the time I did not remember how to knit, thought you'd have to be crazy to knit socks, and had only vague notions about spinning. I just got the book from the library because I wanted to read about dyeing. As a crocheter, I'm used to getting books that are almost what I want, reading the parts that interest me, and ignoring the rest, but what this book said about dyeing in the wool made me want to learn to spin. To have such an incredible person coming right here to Huntsville, to teach a class on exactly what I want to learn next, right when I just got the prerequisites's like it's meant to be. What can I say? I'm there!

First spinning

The spinning class absolutely rocked. We spent the morning talking about spinning in general, how it works and why it's important to have balanced yarn, and how to spin on a high-whorl spindle.
Basically, spinning yarn is just twisting fiber together. If you're knitting and your yarn is not balanced (more twist in one direction than the other), the knit fabric you make will end up skewing. Even if you block it straight, it will skew again as soon as it comes in contact with moisture or even humidity.
Here is my first yarn ever:

The blue bits are where I tried to add a blue mohair lock so the end of it would stick out as a tuft. The tuft part fell off, alas, but the blue still looks nice against the natural wool.
It's really funny that it took me all morning to make about three yards of yarn. Well, not that funny, I guess. But we spun and spun and spun, and then she showed us how to ply the yarn with the spindle. After taking forever to spin, I thought I would never finish plying in time for lunch! But when you have such a short little bit of yarn, it takes almost no time at all to ply it.
After lunch, we worked on the same concepts on a spinning wheel. Here is my first wheel-spun yarn:

We also talked about carding fibers together and designing your own yarn. Here is my blend:

I had a total blast and met some really cool people. It is always fabulous hanging out with a bunch of other fiber nuts, and everyone was very encouraging, since I was one of only two first-time spinners in the class. I loved it, and now I have a new expensive item on my wish list: a spinning wheel! In class I was using a Babe spinning wheel, which is about as inexpensive as you can get for a new wheel. I'm glad I got to try it out. The one I was using worked fine and was pretty easy to use. I'd like to have a wooden one, though. On etsy, I found some mostly wooden ones that appear to use bicycle wheels, and they're about the same price as the Babe. I'm tempted, especially since the Babe is not adjustable at all as far as the ratio between the wheel size and the size of the thing that turns the bobbin. That ratio controls how quickly twist goes into the yarn, and the ones on etsy at least have two settings instead of just one.
Anyway, I did buy a high-whorl spindle and some gorgeous fiber at the seminar. There were incredible prices on yarn, fiber, and tools. I heard a few ladies mention being on a yarn diet as we went into the sales area. I, too, had no intention of buying any more yarn, but it went about like any other diet. I ended up with some gorgeous firey-colored mohair and some crazy thick and thin novelty yarn that's very colorful and has lots of little fluffs sticking out the sides. Up to that point, I had been discouraged about how uneven the yarn I had spun was, but as I found myself unable to resist this yarn, I realized that the exact properties I was down on in my own yarn were what made me like this stuff. That cheered me right up.
I did some more spinning over the weekend with my spindle (when I wasn't combing antique shops for spinning wheels--I guess that only bears fruit in the north). I'm getting the yarn much more even. More pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Learning to spin

Tomorrow I'm attending Little Barn's Useful Knowledge Seminar. I'm taking a class about spinning yarns specifically for hand knitting: how to avoid skewing, how to get the texture and thickness you want, etc. Along the same lines, I'm currently reading The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn. Most people have no idea there's such as thing as yarn theory, but that's basically what I'm learning: how the fiber, the number of plies, and the way it's spun affect the final article. It is so interesting! I just wish there was more of this type of information available for crochet.