Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Too little, too late

These are the Jester booties from Zoë Mellor's 50 Baby Booties to Knit. They are darling & were fun to knit --- but Christmas is over and the baby was already getting a little too big for them.

Oh, well. I guess I'm ahead of the game for some future Christmas baby. And that picot hem between the sole and the side is very interesting.

(Knit from Dale's Baby Ull. As if they were going to get thrown in the washing machine all the time.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007


I can't be the only one who likes to think of my knitting as a protective layer standing between my loved ones and their sometimes harsh environments. So when George asked me to knit him a knight's helmet and gauntlets, how could I resist?

He took one look at this picture and picked out his helmet -- top center, for those without the same clarity of vision.

I lobbied hard for a balaclava style, but he was sure this was the most knightly option. So I looked at several patterns for this very common style from the 1940's, and ad-libbed a larger version.

The mitts started out as simple fingerless hand coverings with one large opening for his fingers, mitten style, but then he decided he wanted them to be more like gloves, with a separate hole for each finger. The original thumb slit looked silly with the fingers so covered up, so I added a thumb. I thought it would look as if the mitts were assembled from separate pieces, like armor, but they look as if they were knitted in one piece at one time.

These were actually finished before Christmas, but much to my surprise we've had some weather that called for hand coverings that cover the tips of your fingers! So they haven't been worn yet.

May I present Sir George?

"Mama," he said, as we were taking these pictures, "it's too bad you didn't knit me a sword and shield."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

So many!

A couple of days ago I decided I had to crochet a scarf or a wrap or an afghan or something, out of as many different textures of yarn as possible. So of course this meant I had to rummage around in my stash pulling out appropriate yarns. My stash lives in one very full closet, except for fleeces, which are in the garage, and "rummaging around" really means "pulling out all the boxes."

As long as I was doing that, I decided to Make a List. (Hey, it's January..) I wish I had guessed ahead of time how many boxes were in the closet, but I didn't. My husband, who has only limited familiarity with the closet but who has seen me barricaded behind the stacks of boxes I've pulled out, guessed 27.

There are 60.

My three year old counts "one, two, three, so many." And I get it now. Once you get to a certain point, you just can't wrap your brain around more. It's just "so many."

How could I have 60 boxes of yarn & fiber? I hardly even buy any -- well, okay, the giant box with no label is from Henry's Attic last year, and there was that box of Fisherman's from when I was making soakers ..... but still. 60.

It broke down to 32 boxes of knitting yarn, 4 boxes of weaving yarn (the boundaries between these two are a little fuzzy), 10 boxes of spinning fiber (which is of course intended to become yarn for knitting or weaving), 3 boxes of needlepoint yarn, and one Other (lace fragments & ribbons). The closet also holds my knitting machine, my combs, occasionally my wheel, Christmas presents (not now), rainy day surprises for the kids (did I mention there's a lock on this closet?) and one box of fabric scraps. But mostly it's wool & yarn.

It's a little sobering. All of that is wonderful stuff -- I've weeded out the not-so-wonderful stuff over the years. Sometimes I know why things are still in the stash. Often I bought a wonderful yarn at a great price, only to discover that there wasn't quite enough to make a sweater for myself. So I might hang onto those 12 skeins of Rowan silk & wool a little longer, until Charlotte is old enough for a really special sweater. But other yarns are just there because I changed my mind about what I was going to do with them & have never gotten back to them.

Sometimes it's hard to use stash yarn. I had ideas for those yarns, and my new projects aren't the same ideas. And while I'm not knitting up those old ideas, if I use the yarn I feel like I'm giving up on the idea. If I use the cotton/wool blend for a casual cardigan, does that mean I'll never knit the Celtic knotwork one I imagined (in detail) about 10 years ago?

I guess the real question is, if I don't use the cotton/wool blend for that casual cardigan, is there a hope in hell that it will ever become the Celtic knotwork sweater?

I'm not making any huge promises to stick to yarns already in the stash. But I will definitely shop there first. And it's hard to imagine what I'd need to make that couldn't be made out of something that's already on hand.

And if it isn't on hand, there's always those 10 boxes of fiber. (Three of them are angora. I honestly hadn't remembered how much of it I had on hand. Maybe I could spin the yarn for my own Bohus sweater. Hmm.)

Now I wonder if I should inventory the fleeces in garage. Do I want to know? Can I afford not to know?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Second time around

Here is Charlotte, wearing a vest that I made for George while I was pregnant with her. She wore it last winter, and I thought it would be too small this year. But short-over-long seems to be acceptable fashion around here.

I love watching the things I've made go from one child to another. Another sweater Charlotte has been favoring this winter is one I made for my cousin's daughter about 16 years ago. It's kind of embarrassing to see -- in particular, my finishing is Just Awful, which might explain my preference for no-sew methods of sweater construction back then -- but at the same time, it's easy to remember what I was thinking as I made it. (Love for my cousin and a deep sense of pride at a pocket modification predominated. It was the Chanel jacket from Debbie Bliss' Baby Knits. Imagine how I felt when New Baby Knits came out with a Chanel jacket pattern that included the modification I had thought of on my very own.) I've seen the jacket worn by Caroline (the original recipient), Claire, Amy, and now Charlotte. That's really satisfying. But I think I'll spare you a picture.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not pink.

Well, the yarn is not pink any more. Fortunately I didn't try to dye it Friday afternoon -- I started early Saturday morning and was still fiddling with the dye amounts after lunch. Why? First, because I didn't have any dyestock mixed up, and second, because I really don't have much of a clue when it comes to browns.

I started with flaming fuschia. I added a lot of yellow and a little blue -- dyebath A got turquoise, dyebath B got blue. My goal was a sort of gingerbread brown, and I thought using two different blues would give me slightly different browns that would look good plied together.

After giving the yarn time to release the fuschia & for everything to even out, I had brownish-orange yarn. I kept adding more blue, more blue, a little at a time until I was about to go out of my mind. Then I dumped what would technically be called "a big slug" of 1% dyestock into each dye bath. I was worried about the yarn felting, even though I was stirring as little as possible, and I HAD to turn off the stove at 2:15, so I had to add the acid by about 1:15 or 1:30. And it's not like I'd have reproducible results even if I measured all the dye, what with starting with the fuschia and all. (Excuses, excuses.)

I turned off the pot at 2:15, then left the house for six hours. After that I rinsed, and rinsed, and rinsed, added synthrapol, rinsed, rinsed, rinsed, and rinsed. Then I left it to soak overnight. This morning I rinsed about three more times. It's still leaking a little dye, but I gave up. I'll wash it again after it's plied, anyways.

I had to rinse so many times because I had far too much dye in the pot. Remember that this yarn was bleeding already, from excess dye used by the fiber processor. Then I had to add enough dye to shift the color radically. What a waste. I suppose I could have stuck some white wool in there, too.

Here are the singles, drying. It's a breezy day here in Oklahoma, so I think I could be plying tonight. Can you see the difference between the two dyebaths? I thought you could.

The dyebath with blue came out pretty much the color I had in mind. The dyebath with turquoise is much, much darker.

Take a closer look:
Wildly different, plus very mottled*. This will be, umm, interesting yarn. I hope I like it. I suppose I could ply it, then put it back in the dyepot to let things even up a little more.

*What is with the amount of water called for in dyeing instructions? I find it almost impossible to dye evenly using 30% weight of fiber -- it barely covers the yarn/wool. I usually add a lot more water and a corresponding amount of salt & (eventually) acid. I skimped on the water this time (and the stirring, because I was worried about felting) and it really shows.

Has anyone used an ota-bushi to dye with? Basically it's a plate or lid that you put inside of a stock pot to keep the chicken carcass submerged. I think it would work well for dyeing, too.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A milestone of sorts

What is this, you say? It's a heap of skeins of singles yarn, each skein marked with its yardage and weight. Why? Well, it's a long story ....

I haven't been spinning regularly for quite some time. Last fall I got all fired up about spinning again, and decided that the best way to get back in practice was to tackle some large, but not too large project, and just spin, spin, spin. I had some concerns about my consistency, though, especially since I was out of practice. So I decided to spin all the yarns as singles. Next I will sort the skeins by grist and ply the thickest with the thinnest, the next thickest with the next thinnest, and so on, in order to end up with a two ply that was reasonably consistent.

The fiber is left over from my early days of spinning, circa 1993 or 4, when I bought enormous amounts of almost anything put in front of me. It's about a pound and a half of a fine wool/kid mohair blend, dyed a truly shocking fuschia. I know from experience that the dye bleeds, plus the fiber is kind of sticky. (The person who produced this blend was still learning.)

I don't like the color any more, and so as I've been spinning I've been trying to decide what to do about that. I think I'm going to dye the yarn as singles, then ply it, in order to minimize streaking in the final yarn. But what color? I'm thinking of brown, maybe a gingerbread sort of color. A very yellow green ought to do the trick, I think. I'm also thinking about using two slightly different colors of green, and about complicated ways to divide the yarn into the two pots (e.g., thickest goes into pot A, next thickest into B, next thickest into A, etc., so that the thickest ply in the two ply isn't always the same green) but I'm not sure all that is necessary.

So I'm not quite sure where I'm going, and I'm not quite sure how I'm getting there, but I'm making some sort of progress on my Road Back to Spinning. I wonder if I could get the dyeing done this afternoon .....

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blast from the past

Just before Christmas my sister-in-law called me to say that she had put on her mittens and her little finger had gone right through! Could I fix them? I said sure.

I made these mittens somewhere around 1996, two moves ago for both of us. I'm almost certain they're made of jumper-weight Shetland, and I think they've held up remarkably well. Kathy says she wears them all winter long. I couldn't find matches for the yarn in my Shetland box, so I mended them with some white Shetland that isn't quite the right color and some gray handspun that is exactly the right color but much harsher. I don't think it will matter, though.

Even though they're looking pretty good for their age, these mittens are reaching the end of their useful life. I mended three fingertip holes (both little fingers, one forefinger), an incipient hole on the outside of each thumb where the yarn had broken but the hole had not yet spread, and a break in the cast-on on one side. I could see lots of other thin spots that could break at any time.

So I promised Kathy another pair for next winter. She wants almost exactly the same thing -- a low-contrast Norwegian style mitten -- although she said the colors could be slightly different. This time I think I'll make them just a tiny bit longer so that the fingertips don't wear out as quickly. Also, a little longer hand would frame the top motif better.

But what yarn shall I use? Last time I picked Shetland because I had lots and lots on hand. I still have lots of that Shetland around (abandoned that sweater plan) but no natural colors. I could spin the yarn (there are five or six or maybe seven Shetland fleeces in the garage) but I'm not sure it would be even enough. Or I could buy something that would be more durable than the Shetland. Ten years is a good run -- but it still was a shock to see all those thin spots. Maybe a Norwegian yarn?

I guess this is the first on the list of 2007 projects. I need to make sure they get finished, too!