Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Weaving ... or not

They say the way to get a lot of weaving done is to always keep a warp on the loom.

Well, for the last six months or so, that brown box full of warp (and weft) has been sitting on my loom and let me tell you, no weaving has occurred.

But I have been promising myself that if I finished two long, tedious projects (Roy's mittens & the chair cushion) I could weave the dishtowels that for whatever reason I really, really want to weave. So last week I opened the box, reworked all the calculations in my insanely cryptic notes, and went to wind my 10 yard warp.

Too bad the warping board that came with the loom only winds 6 yards.

Fortunately, a friend loaned me a bigger board. And even more fortunately, in the meantime I listened to an episode of WeaveCast that talked about full width sampling -- basically you just wind an extra yard and use that to sample. What a great idea! What timing!

So I wound an 11 yard warp. This took longer than I expected, partly because I had the warping board propped up on a chair and it kept slipping, partly because I've only wound warps out of fat yarns before and so hadn't quite realized that I would be winding 492 threads, and partly because I knew I couldn't do it with the kids around. But several days later I had my warp ready to go, and a clear evening to get it on the loom.

As I sat down to start, I thought, "I wonder how many heddles I have?" And I counted.

I have 457.

What's up with this? A Baby Wolf usually comes with 500. The previous owner must somehow have removed or broken 43 heddles -- a few from each harness. The only thing I can imagine is that she was weaving full width but not using all the heddles, they were crammed over to the side and causing problems with her selvedges, and she took them off. That sounds plausible -- so plausible, in fact, that I keep thinking maybe I did that, and going off to search the places I keep weaving stuff. I don't have much, so it doesn't take long, which is a good thing because I've done it three times now.

So here's the state of the warp -- sleyed, but not threaded -- and it's going to stay that way for a few days until I can get more heddles.

In the meantime I've rousted out another old project. It's a 3 x 10 locker-hooked runner, featuring two life-sized tiger shovelnose catfish (some Pseudoplatystoma or another). I started it in the winter of 2001-2002; it was supposed to cushion the drop from the hallway into the living room of our old house while George learned to walk.

Two things happened -- he gave up afternoon naps, leaving me much less time to work on it, and I learned that babies fall on their bottoms, not their heads. Then we moved to a house with no level changes at all, and the urgency receded.

But now we're putting a big tank in the living room, and I thought it would be nice to have the catfish rug hanging on the wall above it. And to add a little urgency I'd kind of like to put it in the art class at the TCA convention in April. I don't suppose it could win anything at a cichlid show, but I'd just like to show it off to people who would appreciate it, and there are a lot of catfish fans at cichlid events.

The good news is, the catfish themselves are about 2/3 finished. The bad news is, the fish are only about 20% of the entire rug. I'm sure the background will go more quickly -- but how quickly is that? And can I focus long enough to get this done? What about after the extra heddles come?

The truth is, the TCA has a convention every year. And I still love this project, which is not always the case when I pull something out after a few years' rest. So I'm sure I'll get it done sometime. But right now would be nice ....

Friday, February 23, 2007


I hate to admit it, but this sock heel is defeating me. It's a toe up sock with a very clever structure that reverses the standard toe down shape, so you get a heel flap & gussets and all the rest. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the shape of the turning, though, and because I'm using a different yarn I have a different stitch count than the instructions I really need to understand it in order for it to work out.

The first time around it took me several tries, but I figured it out and even made some notes to help myself on the second sock. Then I made a whole bunch of other things, so that I had forgotten just about everything when I got to the second heel. My notes turned out to be somewhat cryptic, but I finally turned the second heel.

The heel flap, which should be simple, required several attempts. I was slipping stitches on the purl side instead of the knit side -- except I kept forgetting that. I backed up a lot, but thought I was doing okay.

Then I went to knitting night last night, and looked more carefully at the flap.

Somewhere along the way I seemed to have just stopped slipping stitches; the last inch of my heel flap was plain stockinette. So I pulled out my needles, ripped back, picked up my stitches, and knit in heel stitch until I ran out of gusset stitches.

Way too soon.

This heel flap was not square by any stretch of the imagination (or of the sock). It was a short, squat rectangle. On closer examination, I decided that I had turned the heel over too many stitches, and used up a bunch of the gusset stitches in the process. So at the end of the evening I ripped out the whole heel, put the stitches back on the needles, and called it a night.

Friday morning is my free time -- two whole hours with no kids, no job, nothing. I spend a lot of time imagining just what I'll do with that lovely time. Today, I decided, I would turn the heel again, so the sock would be ready for knitting in the park. (I was sure I could knit the heel flap correctly while chatting & watching kids.) Then, I would do any one of a number of delightful things during the vast amount of time that would remain.

Fortunately I examined the sock EVEN MORE CLOSELY while beginning to turn the heel again, so that I finally, finally noticed that .....

the heel was set at a 90 degree angle from the toe.

So .... no heel flap, no heel turning, no gussets.
On the positive side, reknitting the gussets in line with the heel is just fine for park knitting. Now, about all that free time....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Let's try this again ....

Here are my latests socks. While I was working on them, many people asked me what I was making. When I said, "a sock," they'd always ask, "oh, for one of your kids?" and then look puzzled when I said it was for me. Looking at the difference between the sock on the blocker and the one in its relaxed state, I can understand the confusion.

These socks are made from Cascade Sassy Stripes superwash wool / nylon, on size 0 needles. It was a fine yarn to work with, except for some funny black spots in one of the red stripes. The pattern is just your generic top down sock-with-heel flap, in a 2x2 rib.

Here's my current puzzle. This swing top is for my daughter. I want her to be able to wear it over another shirt while it's cool out, and to wear it as a tank top when it's hotter. But I just can't get any sort of straps to look right. They stretch or roll or just look icky. Oh, and I'm almost out of yellow.

Here's a closer view of the top section. The stripes are really welts. After showing this to some friends and talking it over, I think I'm going to try edging the armholes with I-cord, and then running the I-cord up over the arm as a strap. (Q for self -- how am I going to lengthen this when necessary? Make it long & tie it in a bow? What are the chances that would stay tied?) Then I can add a couple more I-cords in other colors so it looks like the welts.

So that's where it's at today here at Chez Wool. Oh, and the problem with pictures seems to be a Blogger-Mozilla issue; still can't do this through Firefox but IE seems to be working fine. Pesky.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Blogger vs. pictures

Well, I was going to show you some finished socks & ask for help with another project ... but Blogger doesn't seem to be on top of its game today. All the little buttons are missing from the top of the compose window, including the one for uploading pictures. So I guess no pictures today.

In the meantime, a word to the wise: don't use what Hobby Lobby sells as "punch needle embroidery fabric." It's manufactured by something called M.C.G. Textiles but seems to be exactly the same as the fabric included in Dimensions' punch needle kits. It's very coarse and AWFUL to work with. I much prefer the weaver's cloth that the staff in a cross stitch store up in OKC set me up with when I bought that witch design. I'm so glad I tried that first or I would just cross punch needle right off my list of crafts -- the coarse cloth is that hard to use. Maybe their special needle fits it better? But it's so coarse you don't have a lot of choices for placing each loop.

Why would a woven cloth be called "weaver's cloth?" It's not like it's something weavers would use for anything.

I hope to be able to post pictures some other time. For now, it's back to the Valentine production line. As George said, "This isn't as much fun as I thought it would be."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Oh, frabjous day!

My father-in-law's shagged mittens -- meant to be a present for Christmas 2005 -- are finally done:

They are immense. I have put one of my (ladies' large) gloves beside them for scale. Looking at them I can't believe that they will fit a human hand. But they do fit my husband's hands just fine, and he assures me that his dad's hands are the same size.

The pattern comes from Robin Hansen's wonderful Flying Geese & Partridge Feet, which includes all kinds of unusual mitten-making techniques alongside the more usual ones. (The book is out of print. Patterns from it and her wonderful first mitten book Fox & Geese & Fences have been combined to produce Favorite Mittens: Best Traditional Patterns from Fox & Geese & Fences and Flying Geese & Partridge Feet, but I don't know whether the oddball stuff is included.)

I had the book with me on a family vacation in August 2005, and I showed Roy this page, saying, "Aren't these cool?"

They were used for driving teams of horses to pull the logs out of the woods. Here's a picture of a fancy pair for showing off while sleigh-driving:

Roy's reaction astounded me. "Those are great," he said. "They'd be perfect when I'm using the snow-blower." He and my mother-in-law waxed eloquent on this subject for quite a while. So my course was clear: I had to make a pair.

The base mitten is just your average mitten, although supersized for Roy's hands. I made it out of Classic Elite's Tapestry, a worsted-spun wool & mohair blend, for comfort and durability. Unfortunately I used a black yarn. The other color I had on hand was a sort of pea green. Black's great, I thought. It'll hide dirt.

I finished the base mittens well before Christmas 2005. But when I started the shagging I discovered the flaw in my plan.

If you ever get a hankering to make a pair of these mittens, DO NOT USE BLACK YARN. I can't stress this enough. The technique requires that you sew a loop of yarn around each stitch. That's much easier if you can see the freakin' stitch.

In order to work on these mittens I had to have a spotlight trained on the knitting -- so much for portability. And this technique, while interesting to read about, is rather extremely boring to do. Have I mentioned that these mittens are large?

By Christmas 2005 I had the first mitten about 1/3 shagged. (I used Brunswick's Germantown worsted weight wool, in what I thought was blue but what turned out to be sort of purple one it was trimmed -- go figure.) I showed it to Roy apologetically, and (subtly, I hope) checked to make sure that he still wanted them. He sure did. He told me about the mittens he had bought that were just not doing the job. I promised to keep going, and I did, sporadically. I gave up when the crocuses bloomed. And I didn't pick them up soon enough this fall to get them done in time for Christmas 2006.

But now they are done. And they're pretty cool. You can't do much while wearing them, since it's like wearing carpets on your hands. In fact, it's kind of hard to get the second mitten on. Still, they are very warm and very comfortable - having the lining on the outside makes them somehow feel less bulky next to your skin. I hope Roy loves them...but I hope he never wants another pair!

(Thanks to This American Life for free webcasts, without which these mittens would never have been finished.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Odds & ends

I can't seem to settle down to one thing these days -- I pick up one thing for an evening or two, then switch to another. I'd like to say it was winter lasting too long, or spring coming, or something external but I think it's just me, feeling unfocused.

Some of the folks at my Thursday night knitting group have been learning to tat, which of course made me itchy to dig out my shuttles and fool around. This (unblocked and out of focus) piece is from Teri Dusenbury's wonderful (and cheap) Tatting Hearts. I can't decide whether to stiffen it for a home decoration, sew it on a shirt for one of the kids, or leave it crumpled in my knitting bag until after Valentine's Day. Guess which one is the most likely to happen? I guess I'll be ahead for next year.

Here's the start of my first-ever afghan. I wanted to make an afghan that would be interesting to touch as well as to look at. It does feel nice, and I like the contrast of the soft alpaca, the bumpy novelty yarn, and the firmer wool. But if I close my eyes and fondle it, the textures feel nice but they don't feel distinct. On top of that this thing is about twice as wide as I intended -- bed sized, not chair sized. I did swatch in the main yarn, but I don't do much crocheting and I think my gauge must have changed drastically. So I'm chalking this up to practice time, ripping it out, and thinking about a block-style afghan.

And finally, something seasonally appropriate -- just not for this season. To prove that this aimlessness isn't new, here's a punch needle kit that overwhelmed me in October. I had never done punch needle, never wanted to, never thought much about it, until one day I HAD to have this kit, and the needle, and the hoop, and the little extra wire threaders and stitch gauges. Just had to. I raced home, transferred the pattern, and spent one evening making the little circles.

Then I put it away for 3 1/2 months.

A couple of nights ago, while pondering the fate of the tatted heart and ironing glitter hearts onto George's t-shirt for the fourth time, it suddenly became clear to me: I HAVE to make little punch needle heart pins for the kids for Valentine's Day. So I dug this out, and spent some time working on it to remind myself how it goes. It's neat, although it hurts my wrist so I won't be able to do too much of it. But surely some little pins wouldn't take long.....

Now I'm off to pick up George, pay my traffic ticket, and stop at Hobby Lobby for some pin backs. I'll leave you with a picture of the front:

Pretty cool, eh?