Monday, November 03, 2008


I hate time changes! Even this one, which is supposed to be the "easy" one. Yeah, I guess so .... if you can sleep in. But my body wakes up at the same time every day, so now I'm awake, but I can't get my day started because we have arbitrarily declared that no, it's not the same time anymore. And of course I'm extra tired because I forced myself to stay up late last night so I would be tired so I'd sleep in ....

... but I didn't. And for the next week I'll be hungry at the wrong time and tired at all times and have cranky kids who are going through the same thing, and an overtired husband who could sleep an hour (or two) later any day you mention and in about four months we'll do it all over again, in reverse.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween madness

This is our house on Halloween. It's modestly decorated, because I don't want to scare away small children. (Also, I'm lazy.) We have a slew of pumpkins, the strings of ghost lights, one tombstone, a couple of bat & skeleton yard stakes in a purposely disheveled front garden, and a few odds and ends like the skull you may or may not be able to see near the tree stake. I had intended to make giant cheesecloth ghosts with the kids this year but couldn't really figure out how to hang them, plus I still think they might spook the teeny ones.

But we did make one major addition this year. Can you see the spider web in front of the window?

Last year I bought a package of "cobwebs" with which we decorated the yard. It's just some synthetic fiber that you can pull out into filmy shreds. I've seen it around forever but never used it before. As a spinner I should have realized that this fiber would be incredibly strong; when I went to remove it I had a hard time getting it off the bushes, and I realized that a bird could be in real trouble if it got tangled up in the fiber. I just don't feel right about using it. But my kids really enjoyed the idea of webs.

So this year I bought one made of clothesline. It's not very well made but I think it will last for quite a few years if we are careful. But a web needs a spider, right? And I just didn't like any of the ones I saw at stores ....

so I made one:
dorsal surface

ventral surface
(string is for tying her to the web)

Here is Charlotte to give you the scale
(gloves for spider handling safety? I didn't ask)

I wish this had audio; she was advancing upon
me and saying "Aaaahhhhgggghhh"

The pattern is this one from Caron but made out of Red Heart supersaver acrylic (used double) for durability exposed to the weather. It's stuffed with gray wool to avoid show-through, and I didn't use the crocheted eyes. There are two 6mm pipecleaners twisted together inside each leg but the wire really isn't sturdy enough. Next year I might do something about that ... or I might not.

I chose the pattern because it seemed to be a much more realistic shape than most of the patterns I found on the web -- the ventral surface is flat, all increasing occurs on the dorsal surface. However, I didn't really notice until I had finished the body that it was more of a garden spider shape than a black widow shape. My husband convinced me that I shouldn't remake it and really I'm glad he did. My kids loved this, most trick or treaters did, too, and it was finished in time. What more could you ask for a holiday project?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My eyes cannot perceive brown ...

... or why else do all the firefighter outfits I dye turn out orange?

This week I am attempting to turn a velour shirt and pants into a Scooby Doo outfit for my daughter. We had a great time dyeing them yesterday, but my carefully mixed dyebath produced what this wikipedia page calls burnt umber or possibly even maroon -- brownish red, or very reddish brown. Scooby Doo, of course, is more of a raw umber color, with a very yellow undertone.

I don't actually like this color, which might be why I can't seem to figure out the dye ratio.

After giving it much thought, this morning we overdyed it screaming lime green (about 3 tsp. of yellow & 1/4 tsp. blue, for 200 g. fabric). Once rinsed, it looked EXACTLY THE SAME to me, though of course since I hadn't matched it with anything ahead of time, I had no basis of comparison. I think it was a little less red but perhaps more orange.

On reflection, I decided that I had added too much yellow and not enough blue. So this afternoon I overdyed it a deep spruce blue (about 1 tsp each blue and yellow, although by now I was not measuring with any accuracy, just spooning and looking at the dye liquor). I was worried about making the outfit too dark, but I really had to get away from the red.

The result is beautiful (I think, it's still wet) but not quite Scooby colored. On the wiki page, it's sort of russet or sepia rather than raw umber, but it's definitely brown, and has a slight yellow undertone (which it certainly should, given how much yellow there is in it!). So I'm thinking this will pass muster.

As an aside, this is my first experiment with Dharma's velour clothes. They are really nice, but unlike many of Dharma's blanks they seem to run true to size. Unfortunately that means that this Scooby outfit is unlikely to fit even through the winter. What do you suppose the odds are that I'll be able to recreate the color?

Next up: Making a Scooby Hat.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A study in contrasts

Outside: bleary

Inside: dreary


Per her request, mittens (or maybe gloves) for C. in "rainbow pink" yarn that she helped card. It's a mix of fuchsia, red, black, maroon, white, blue, and turquoise wool (mostly fuchsia), lavender mohair, and bright blue Samoyed. It's lumpy, bumpy, and emphatically not dreary. Thanks, sweetie!

That train done gone ...

... and my sweater's not on it.

I've finished so many things for afghans for Afghans at the last minute, but I just couldn't get this one done. Shame on me; I started it in July and got much of it done in August, then turned to other things.

As I've said before, I like knitting with wool, and I like finding charities that want wool garments for people in cold places where machine washability is not an issue. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it) there are plenty of places like this. I think this sweater will be going to Kazakhstan, where winters get to 40 below, to an orphanage called Akkol. So it will be keeping someone warm. But I'm still annoyed at myself for not finishing.

Just to make myself feel better, I'll show you the shawls I did finish in time, for afghans for Afghans summer shawls-for-new-mothers campaign.

Why, yes, these photos were taken in a public park across from the post office in a small town in Iowa. I finished them on our drive to Nordic Fest and mailed them off just before the deadline. Are you implying something?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Decisions, decisions

As I think I have mentioned before (translation: I am too lazy to check) my big project right now is to spin & then knit myself a cardigan. This was supposed to be my big project last winter, but it didn't get very far. But a winter's worth of wishing I had a nice gray cardigan might be the impetus to get me to actually make one this year.

I am using a Churro-Corriedale cross fleece that is nice to the touch but not the softest thing ever -- good, because I want this to be durable and long lasting. What passes for winter here is not all that cold, and I wear a wool cardigan as my outer coat through much of the long fall. When it gets colder, I just put a coat on top; I wear a wool cardigan almost every day and I want this one to be around for a few decades.

Last week I experimented with fiber prep. First I carded a batt, elongated it, & spun it supported long draw from the end for a semi everything style single, which I then made into a 3 ply with a fairly high angle of twist.

Next I combed yarn with both my English combs and my Viking combs, and spun them pretty much the same way.

(For comparison purposes, I noted that there was twice as much waste with the English combs but prep time was a little faster with the English. I also felt they were easier on my wrists, but harder to use in that I won't get them out when my kids are home. I'm afraid I'll stab myself in the thigh due to a sudden shriek or racing child. Prep time with the combs seemed about comparable to carding, though I didn't keep records when I made that batt, either of the time spent teasing or the amount of waste (considerable as there were lots of second cuts).)

Here's the swatch knit up from those three yarns:

On the bottom is the carded fiber. The middle bit is Viking combs & the top is English.

In person the yarn made from carded fiber is much fuzzier. I'm not sure if the difference will persist through many washes or wearings, though. (And in all honesty, my husband says the differences are all but imperceptable to him.)

Here they are knit into a cable (with peculiar errors, but it was knit at a child's birthday party):

The bottom half is carded fiber. Then there's a garter stitch break; next comes the fiber prepped with Viking combs; after a faint black line comes the English comb version.

Here I see little or no difference -- do you?

Then I decided to try worsted prep & worsted spinning, again for a three ply. Because I'm hoping to do this sweater fairly quickly, I spun the singles at an easy size, which was a little finer than the easy size for the long draw. Also, of course, the yarn didn't bloom as much (or really at all). So I knitted this swatch separately, on 5's instead of 7's:

Here are the two yarns that differ the most, the drum carded & the worsted spun. Even though my scanner couldn't quite focus on them you can still see the difference in fuzziness:

Here are the swatches side by side:

Now you can really see the difference. They are both very appealing to me. I like the clarity of the worsted yarn, but I like the fuzziness of the semi-woolen. Should I make a fuzzy-cable sweater if I'm thinking I might also make a twisted-stitch sweater, so that the contrast between the two will be greater? Should I choose the woolenish yarn because the worsted yarn takes twice as long to spin?

Also, and perhaps more seriously, I am planning on knitting as I spin, not spinning all the yarn first and then knitting. This means, of course, that I can't spin all the singles before plying, and so will need to stay pretty consistent as I go along. You can see in the photo of the two yarns that the woolen style yarn is much more consistent than the worsted. I wasn't really concentrating on either yarn, but to be honest I don't think I can maintain concentration across a sweater's worth of yarn, so I thought I might as well sample the way I would probably spin the real yarn.

Comments? Things I should be taking into consideration? I'm going to stuff the swatches into my pockets and carry them around for a week while re-reading all my books on Aran design. Then I will probably knit the Must-Have Cardigan (Ravelry link) except I have to fix that neck. The way that cable gets cut off drives me crazy which is why I've never knit this even though it has been catching my eye for years. Plus I like it in oatmeal, so maybe I shouldn't knit it in gray because I certainly don't want to knit it twice. So maybe I should make Norah Gaughan's Tweedy Aran Cardigan (Ravelry again) which would totally require the worsted yarn except -- hello? Norah? what's with the hip-enhancing band? -- it calls for a different sort of redesign. So like I said, I have some planning & thinking to do while I let these swatches age. But not for too long ... it may be getting up to 90 today, but fall is surely coming.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How not to spin a novelty yarn:

Step 1. Spin a lovely natural colored batt blended from silk, fine wools, and down fibers.

Step 2. Decide, as you are spinning, that you will ply this single with silk, in order to extend the yardage. Consider both 2 & 3 ply yarns. Consider final usage; decide tentatively on lace scarf or stole.

Step 3. Begin spinning tussah silk singles.

Step 4. Get busy. Stop spinning much.

Step 5. During visit of small child, place kate holding filled bobbins up on the mantelpiece.

Step 6. Spin silk occasionally. While spinning, glance up at kate to see how current bobbin compares to bobbin & 1/2 of blended fiber and bobbin of silk.

Step 7. Spin more silk. Get very bored with silk. Decide (by glancing) that you must certainly have enough silk by now.

Step 8. Set wheel up for plying in front of the TV. Start plying with two bobbins of silk and one of blended fiber. Ply merrily along while watching Genghis Blues.

Step 9. After 45 minutes, glance down at the strands passing through your fingers. Think, "Wow, that singles looks like a 2-ply!"

Step 10. Realize that once upon a time you decided on a 2-ply, and actually plied half a bobbin full before deciding you really needed to spin up more silk. Realize that you have been plying that 2-ply along with another two plies of silk. in the same direction. Realize that this yarn looks very strange.

Step 11. Consider unplying bizarre yarn. Give it up as impractical. Head off to pick your kids up from school. Try not to cry.

Step 12. Ply rest of singles as two ply. Love it. Try not to think how much more of the 2-ply you would have if you had actually looked at your singles before starting to ply.

Step 13. Try to imagine use for bizarre yarn and regular yarn that will be a Good Thing not just a salvage operation. This is where I am now.

Here are a couple of other yarns I've spun recently, with less drama. Both of these skeins were spurred by the shelving project; I've been finding lots of neglected treasures.

This is superwash BFL, dyed by Caroline of Wool For Brains. It was very nice to spin -- not as slippery as superwash merino -- and I look forward to knitting with it. It's a 3-ply, intended for a hat for my son. But as my champion skein winder was finishing winding it off, she said, "What's this for? Can I make something with this?" So my plans might change. It doesn't particularly match anyone's coat, so perhaps whoever wants it the most should have it.

This is a 2-ply of superwash merino, dyed with leftover Easter egg dyes. The roving has been sitting on my dryer ever since, for no discernable reason. Most of the yarn is one ply of greens & one ply of blues; at the end I ran out of green so that bit is two plies of blues/purples. Despite plenty of acid at the time of dying, this ran like crazy. I soaked it in vinegar water & washed it with synthrapol and all seems to be well; probably I should have simmered it with the vinegar but I didn't. I may regret this. Plans are for a baby surprise jacket, since somehow I've never gotten around to making one, but since there's no recipient in sight this will be on a back burner.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jerseys, guernseys, ganseys, and knit-frocks

Once again I am trying to avoid putting pictures in the center of the screen and having a hell of a time with it. For some reason I can't seem to get past the very basic stages of composition in blogger. Bear with me.

Early in my knitting career I became quite taken with the fisherman's sweater -- gansey, guernsey, jersey, knit-frock, call it what you will. I think of it as a solid dark colored textured pullover, with knit-purl patterns and small cables.

Probably the first book published on this topic was Gladys Thompson's Patterns for guernseys & jerseys, later revised to add Aran patterns as well. This is also the first book I bought on the subject. It's a great book, a wonderful book, and it probably has all the information you need, but it's not much of a hand-holder. I knit my first gansey using the sport weight version of Sugar & Cream and Seahouses Pattern I / Mrs. Laidlaw's pattern (p. 68 in the inexpensive Dover edition, which has held up well for all these years). Unfortunately this pattern, like most in the book, is not charted and I did not realize that it needed to be centered -- you can see here that it is off center:

The book is a classic and inexpensive & really a good addition to any knitter's library but not the first I would buy on the subject.

I think the next book I bought on the subject was Rae Compton's The Complete book of traditional guernsey and jersey knitting (1985). I love this book; it's the one I turn to the most on this subject. It has lots of contemporary photos of fisherman wearing ganseys, and charts of the designs on those sweaters. It has a great chapter on designing your own gansey that walks you through the concepts and the math. I used this to design my second gansey, a sweater for my father. The only thing missing in this book, IMO, is a statement to the effect that underarm gussets were used to allow someone wearing a very tightly fitting sweater to move his arms and that therefore they would be unnecessary in a sweater with plenty of ease. It took me years to knit that sweater, and when my dad put it on he grabbed a big handful of excess fabric pooching out at the armpit and said, "What's this for?" He wears it anyways, and I've stopped cringing, but it took a while.

Two other tightly focused books came my way at about the same time: Mary Wright's Cornish guernseys and knit-frocks (1979) and Henriette van der Klift-Tellegen's Knitting from the Netherlands : traditional Dutch fishermen's sweaters (1985) (a translation from the Dutch). They are both interesting but perhaps not essential books, certainly not the place to start. Both have a wealth of old photos, many of which I've seen nowhere else. The Dutch fisherman in particular are very cute and goofy; their sweaters are a little more elaborate than those from the western side of the Channel.

I've run across a number of survey books that cover or attempt to cover all types of traditional knitting from Great Britain & associated islands. Most of these were published in England; many are neither thorough or inspiring. But some are quite nice.

Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' Knitting in the old way (1985) introduced me to ganseys, as to so many other traditional sweaters. The section is brief (7 pp., plus another 3 on Dutch fisherman's sweaters) but enough to give you the basic idea.

Michael Pearson is (was?) apparently a famous British knitter of whom I had never heard before I ran across his book Traditional knitting (1984) at a library sale. It's full of fanciful tales of drowned sailors identified by their sweaters and the Spanish Armada as the origin of Fair Isle patterning and so forth, but it also has some very nice patterns, interviews with aged knitters, and lots of good photos. I tend to think of it as a Fair Isle book but actually half the book is fisher ganseys (100 pp.) with the other half evenly split between Aran & Fair Isle. Some of the photos are the familiar Polperro ones which appear in Compton's & Wright's books as well, but others are unique to this book.

Gwyn Morgan's Traditional knitting : patterns of Ireland, Scotland, and England(1981) is less substantial. She gives a small amount of historical information (3 pp.), followed by patterns for a dozen traditional-style sweaters. Each is named after a town. I think I keep this one partly because I can't stand to get rid of a book and partly because it has several children's ganseys, in several different weights of yarn. I wouldn't search this book out but if it turns up you could do worse than to pick it up.

Of course the master of the "inspired by" sweater is Alice Starmore, and I love her Fisherman's Sweaters (1993) even though I've never knit anything from the book and probably never will. Most of the sweaters are lovely, most of the photo styling is lovely -- it's lots of fun to daydream over.

Also, of course, there's this photo, which is a very useful reminder that some designs are just not flattering. If this sweater can make this willowy model look hippy and frumpy, imagine the effect it would have on me.

I can't end this essay without mentioning a book that I've never owned, and never even read all the way through: Beth Brown-Reinsel's Knitting ganseys. By the time it was published I thought I knew all I needed to know about knitting ganseys, so I didn't buy it. But I've heard wonderful things about it over the years.

If you are just building a knitting library on this subject, I'd start either with Rae Compton's book or with Beth Brown-Reinsel's. (Although if you don't have PGR's Knitting in the old way get that first, it's a must for anyone who is interested in knitting traditional sweaters.) And if you know of others I haven't mentioned, I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why, yes, I do have a book or two ....

I guess when you come right down to it the most distinctive thing about me as a knitter is my extensive library. I've been collecting knitting books & pamphlets & magazines for 25 years, and I've always thought that if one is nice, a dozen are much nicer. In addition to the bookshelves in my last post, I have about 9 linear feet of pamphlets & magazines stored in another room. Back in my single days I pored over them and found many patterns I wanted to knit "when I had time." These days, though, it's pretty clear that there will never be enough time to knit all the cool patterns. But I thought it might be a fun use of my library to share some of these wonderful ideas with you all, and maybe also to write some review articles of (for instance) the 5 or 6 books I have on any particular subject.

So here we go. This Missoni cardigan is from the Spring/Summer 93 issue of Vogue Knitting. I have loved it from the very beginning, and I still love it. Looking at it makes me want to cast on for it right now and to hell with the other projects I've got going.

I love how the solid colors and the typical Missoni tweeds work together. I love that black & white band. I even love its drop-shouldered shapelessness.

What I don't love is the yarns. Most of it is cotton; the tweeds are a viscose/cotton/poly blend. I bet the finished sweater weighs 5 pounds. I would like to make it in wool. Several times I've collected yarns to make it with, but they've always been of varying weights & qualities, and I've always chickened out, afraid (with reason, I think) that the final product would not be wonderful.

The obvious answer, of course, is to dye the yarn myself and to spin the tweeds. I hope I will someday. Maybe next winter? Not this year, anyways. (I just checked on Ravelry -- no projects, and in nobody's queue, except mine.)

Off to do some real-life knitting ...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Out from under

My husband put up a couple of shelves in my wool room / office last weekend. Somehow we managed to live here for six years without noticing that this wall was perfect for shelves.

I am especially pleased to have found a spot for the cumbersome homemade electric bobbin winder which used to live up on top of the dresser to the right. I never actually dropped it on my head while getting it down ... but I knew I was living on borrowed time.

Here's a shot of the floor level. All of those bags and boxes used to cover the floor out to about where I was standing to take the picture. This made it a wee bit difficult to get into the bookcases at right.

You'll notice that the shelves are not really packed tight. In part that's because I want to be able to get to to the things stored there ....

.... and in part it's because this stuff still has to be sorted, stored, and shelved. Much of it belongs in the closet (did I mention there's a closet full of yarn in this room?) but has gotten into bags and baskets and boxes, all marked "misc. yarn and supplies" because I haven't been able to get to the closet for a while now.

This is so wonderful that my next project (for him) involves shelves right here:

He's more than willing to put them up since not too long ago the whole stack tumbled down, blocking the doorway to the room. I had hoped to get to the hardware store today during my 90 minutes of kid-free time, but I don't think that will happen. My daughter woke up complaining that her tummy hurt, and she has been lying listlessly on the couch all morning:

I think she's on the mend (note the fake smile she assumed when I pulled out the camera) but I don't think she'll be going to school today. And if she's too sick for school it seems a little heartless to haul her out to the store. Besides, I've got a table full of who-knows-what to organize before dinner, which of course brings me to the eternal question: what can I make for dinner?

But I digress. I'm sure you all know the thrill of finding out for sure that there really is a floor under all those stacks of stuff. And I've regained access to my bookshelves -- really I haven't seen some of my knitting books for a couple of years. I mean, I knew they were there, and if I needed a particular one I could move things around and get to it, but just to sit and browse? No way. So for a bit of inspiration, I leave you with these:

If you're curious, click for big. You can read most of the titles. But do it quietly -- I'm reading!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Beech Leaf vest underway

A year or so ago I was searching for a nice summer cardigan, and instead fell in love with the Beech Leaf vest from Fiddlesticks (see it here ). I bought the kit, which is so unlike me, and started swatching.

And there it stopped. I had a little trouble getting gauge, and since the instructions stress that it has to be a finished swatch I couldn't just make a series of swatches in one night -- I had to wash them and let them dry and then measure them. Really you wouldn't think this was a big deal but for whatever reason it was. I made a whole slew of swatches, didn't label them, let them sit for weeks, forgot which was which and what sizes I used, started over, etc. Rinse, wash, repeat.

But now I'm knitting. I'm a little nervous, because while my gauge was spot on this time, I forgot to measure the unwashed swatch, and so I'm not sure how much it changed, so if I'm getting gauge as I'm knitting, is that a problem or not? I should make another swatch but I can hardly bear it. Here's what it looks like now:

I started with the back, even though it is the biggest piece, because I want to add some bust shaping and maybe some waist shaping and I need some time to think about it. If I do waist shaping of course I will need to do it on the back as well, but what I really need time to think about is how big I'll make the bust darts and if I'll only do horizontal ones or add vertical ones as well or will the waist shaping take care of that, oh, and how does the v-neck fit in with this?

The lace pattern is very nice -- not hard, but not too simple, either. It's a little tricky for park knitting but mostly because I don't have any way to mark what row I'm on, and figuring out which row I left it on is a little tricky if I'm trying to watch the kids and also carry on a conversation. If I take care of that it should be pretty smooth sailing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

no knitting

... because it is George's seventh birthday on Thursday and I am tracing an episode from the Bayeux Tapestry (the siege of Dinan) onto a bedsheet as a surprise present. Shockingly, I have underestimated the time required to do so. Also the markers I bought, although a good color match, are far too thick. I'm using Sharpies right now but don't have all the colors I need and am worrying about permanency; I might have to go over them with other markers. Will I get done in time? Stay tuned. Fortunately I know he would be thrilled if I handed it to him as it stands right now -- pretty much the center bit shown here, but with outlines only, no fancy bits.

Of course, I also need to pull together some other presents, bake a cake, and plan and organize his party which fortunately is not until next Sunday as I have quite a few things to do before then. We are having a tournament in the back yard (along the lines of this) which exists mostly in my head at this point, although I've bought some little plastic jewels and glue dots, and have made a giant banner for the front yard. I don't think this is quite enough. But hey, I've got a week! I think that really I will have so much extra time that I could make some hangings for the portable gazebo-cum-pavilion (like this but plain blue) we're going to set up in the yard ....

oh, and I need to get my vegetable garden cleared and planted. But surely I can fit it all in. Right?

Monday, April 21, 2008


I recently received two skeins of Noro Transitions as an unexpected gift. This is not the sort of yarn I would buy for myself, so I'm pleased to have the chance to try it out. At the same time, I want to knit something satisfactory out of it -- something I will wear or give away with pride & pleasure. I'm not very sure how to do that with a yarn that changes so drastically throughout the skein. The color is the not-so-evocative #8, a pleasant enough mix of marine blue, olive green, teal, grape, lavender, and brown. The colors work pretty well together, but not so well that straight stripes would look good, IMO. So I'm looking for something that will mix it up a little.

The obvious choice seems a scarf. But (heresy) I don't really wear knit scarves, except for my fabulous Orenburg scarf. In Oklahoma's not very harsh winters I like thin scarves with good drape, and that usually means a woven scarf. It certainly doesn't mean a bulky wool scarf. But if I did choose a scarf, I'd be choosing between the ubiquitous multidirectional diagonal scarf or this pretty one, which has a nice star-stitch pattern that breaks up the stripiness.

I also found a few hat patterns. Again, bulky yarn is not my usual choice, but I like the Topi hat from Knitty. Question -- would I wear a wool hat without ear coverage? Maybe I should make this hat in cotton for summer. Maybe I could leave the crown off and just make the stand and brim. Hmm.

Here's another brimmed hat, this one in crochet. But it isn't a free pattern and don't really want to figure it out myself.

Any other ideas? I've thought about a vest, but I don't have nearly enough and I'm not going to buy more. The colors actually go well with the screaming blue of my Ayany yarn. I could mix the leftovers with it, or I could rip out the vest (which is in timeout right now, while I figure out how to deal with gaping armholes) and redesign to include the Transitions. Hmmm.

Clearly this all needs to percolate a little. Has anyone worked with Transitions? How well does it take ripping out?

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Just kidding. I haven't vanished, I've just been swamped by a project. Which is kind of fun and kind of overwhelming -- I'm sure you are all familiar with the feeling.

Next weekend is Norman's Medieval Faire, which is one of the high points of my year. I just love it. And for the five or so years that I've been going, I have wanted to dress up. Every year I chicken out, or I leave it too late. Last year I wore some odd combination of garments scrounged from my closet; this year I was determined to do it right.

Unfortunately my research has been kind of haphazard, and has led me to select the name Ford Prefect .... I mean, to select Butterick 6196 as an appropriate outfit for a nice middle class lady (view on left) except I know there weren't middle classes but still ... I don't want to be a princess. That's Charlotte's job. I'd like to imagine myself a cloth merchant's wife, or maybe the wife of some small-time knight, running a little estate in the country.

As it turns out, I'm going to look like a nice, middle aged barmaid. I was dismayed by this at first, but what the heck. It helps that I have a pirate-themed banquet to attend a week later, and I figure I can use the blouse and the bodice over again. Next year -- who knows?

So far I have made the blouse and the skirt. This afternoon I am going to tackle the bodice which looks complicated but do-able, even by a sewer of limited skills (me). It helps that it doesn't have to fit perfectly due to the lacing. I am hoping to finish it by tomorrow night, which would give me four days to make an apron, a coif, and what I really want to work on right now -- a pocket. A tie-on pocket with crewel embroidery. I probably don't have time, and they're 18th century anyways .... but I really want one.

Oh, and I might need to help the kids with outfits, too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sweater in a week

About two weeks ago I read an appeal from afghans for Afghans. They had an unexpected opportunity to send a load of clothing for children to Afghanistan with Roots of Peace. The kicker was that the items had to be in California by March 18th. Could we help?

Really, the answer was no. I was busy, we had plans for the weekend, it was my birthday (which now involves a surprising amount of planning on my part, so that there's a cake for the kids to decorate and time for them to make me a present, and so forth), and we were leaving town on the 13th. I'd have to let this one pass me by.

But somehow I couldn't. What if Roots of Peace told these kids they could expect warm clothes, and then there weren't any? So I decided I could just whip up a sweater on the Bond, no problem.

Well, it isn't as simple as that. It has been a couple of years since I used the sweater machine, so I had to remind myself how certain operations work. And the calculations for sleeve decreasing were rendered extremely complex by the relationship of my expected gauge (ball band) compared to the actual gauge I was getting. Since I wasn't knitting for anyone in particular, I didn't do a gauge swatch, but I did want the finished sweater to have a good chance of fitting someone.

And actually, I wanted it to fit a big someone. The call was for clothes to fit kids up to 14 years old, and I figured that more people would make small sweaters than large ones, especially given the quick turnaround time. Knitting a bigger sweater on the machine takes very little more time than knitting a small one -- most of the time is in the setup, at least for a plain stockinette sweater. So I planned a largish sweater.

Because we had several hours in the car (on March 9th) I started by casting on for the bottom ribbing. I knit all of the back ribbing and half of the front, planning to hang the ribbing on the machine and continue on from there. (Usually I do the ribbing last, but I wanted to get started that day.) It was a great idea, but I cast on as many stitches as I wanted for the body, and also used the size needle I'd use for the body if I were knitting by hand. So then in order not to end up with flaring ribbing I had to make the body even bigger.

But that was okay. I had 5 skeins of Patons Classic Wool Merino in a very pretty pumpkin shade, and Ravelry shows several adult sweaters made with 3 1/2 skeins, so I didn't worry about running out. I just made a bigger sweater; some 14 year old boy will fit into it.

I knit the back Monday morning, finished the ribbing for the front Monday afternoon, and knit the front Monday night after the kids went to bed, and connected the shoulders with a three needle bindoff. Tuesday (my birthday) all I could manage was one sleeve. Wednesday I knit the second sleeve. I had picked up the sleeve stitches from the sides, so all four pieces were attached to each other. We would be traveling all day Thursday, so I could sew the side and sleeve seams and knit the neck & wrist ribbings on the plane, and mail it from Florida on Friday.

Hah! I always forget how long finishing can take. I did sew the seams on the plane, but that was all I managed to do. And knitting the wrist ribbings and the enormously long turtleneck that I really wanted to make took quite a bit of time, too. I wasn't willing to ignore the parents I'd traveled to see (or the pool in their backyard), so I didn't finish until after the post office closed on Saturday.

Oh, and those 3 1/2 skein adult sweaters? They must have been for some pretty small women. I might have had enough to finish the ribbings, but probably not enough for a turtleneck. I had noticed, though, that the wine-colored waste yarn I was using looked very nice with the pumpkin, so I striped the ribbings with that.

I mailed it out on Monday the 17th. I hope it got to California in time; if not, I'm sure it will get to Afghanistan sooner or later. And on the way back from the post office ..... I realized I had forgotten to take a picture. So imagine here that you see a pumpkin colored stockinette sweater, with square set-in sleeves, short-rowed shoulders & back neck, and a wine & pumpkin striped turtleneck.

Cozy, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Woven, but not finished.

The cloth is off the loom! Here is all four yards of it, stretched across the overgrown bushes in our raggedy front yard (nothing like photography to make things obvious, is there?):

Here is a closer look at the fabric:

The 3" edge sections are dyed the same color as the weft. Then there are warp stripes: 2" A, 2" B, 6" A, 2" B, 2" A, and then another 3" of edge.

The central stripes were supposed to have distinct stripe patterns, but as you may recall, things didn't quite work out that way. I like the shifts in color, though I wish the grayish patches weren't there. Those areas are almost the original color of the warp yarn, which is mysterious considering the quarts of excess dye we used. Perhaps I didn't mist those sections with vinegar? Next time maybe I'll mix the acid with the dye.

But that's okay. The fabric is destined to become cushions for this rocking chair, and I can use the less-spectacular bits for the backs of the cushions:
My brother bought it, broken and battered, and repaired and refinished it as a graduation present when I got my master's. My now-sister-in-law took a class to learn how to weave the seat. It is lovely ... but the back is a little uncomfortable. I've been looking around for cushions for a while (19 years). (Actually I made one once before, from commercial fabric, but it didn't age well.)

The cluttered photo includes a corner of a stand for a fish tank, painted the same red as the walls. Eventually there will be doors on the stand, painted the same red. I hope (and expect) that the brownish red fabric will go well with this color, which matches the wall that you can dimly see behind the chair, between the fish tank and the piano, the bench of which his holding some weaving tools (yes, the house is full!).

The fabric is not done. Here's a close up of what I guess is called the web:

You can see spaces between the threads; they are interwoven but not yet locked together. I need to wet-finish this. I am currently reading and asking questions and trying to figure out how to do this. I wove extra to allow for some sampling, but I'm not sure a little bit will react the same way as a big long piece. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Warp painting: a family affair

A few weeks ago I started getting the itch to weave. It came over me that what our house NEEDED more than anything RIGHT NOW was some cushions for a beautiful but uncomfortable rocking chair. And they needed to be made of handwoven fabric. And probably some handspun yarn, and I could dye it, and it could be a family project .....

Next thing you know, I had my family out on the back porch, painting warp chains. This is something I've never done before, and I've only painted yarn or roving a couple of times. So obviously it was a great thing to take on with a couple of little kids!

(we have all chosen our own "dye day" clothing)

Actually it worked out fine, despite a few hair raising moments. I wound the warp into several chains, then split them into two groups which were painted separately. I mixed up many little cups of different colors of dye, and we poured or spooned them on in different sections. I was hoping for vertical stripes from the two different sets of chains, and horizontal stripes from the dye. We used far too much dye, though, so most of the horizontal detail was lost.

You can see that the kids were very serious about their painting. Charlotte really only painted about 10" of warp but boy did she get it all! She must have used about a quart of dye!

My husband was also painting; he took all the pictures so he's not in any. I wish I had taken one of him; it was really nice to all work on a project together. It would have been nicer if it wasn't 40 degrees with constant wind gusts. In fact, it was chilly enough that the kids only made it through one set of warp chains. Then I sent them inside and did the second batch myself.

Next I wrapped the chains in plastic, trying to ignore the excess dye that was running out. THEN I realized that I hadn't spritzed with vinegar or added any acid to the dye cups, so I had to unwrap everything and spray. We had used up all the plastic wrap, so I would have to steam them in ziplocs. As long as everything was so screwed up, I decided I might as well wring out the skeins to get rid of excess dye. After all of this I was pretty sure the chains would come out uniform colors; I only hoped that the two sets of chains would be different colors, so I could at least get vertical stripes.

To my cautious relief, they looked pretty good after steaming, cooling and rinsing. The next day I dyed the weft (handspun shetland) and the edge warps a single coordinating color.

You can see the stripes better in the warp than in the web. There's a three inch stripe of solid red on each side, then stripes of warp chains A-B-AAA-B-A and more solid red to finish it off. It's much more subtle than I had planned but still very nice (I think).

I had hoped that the kids and I could weave this together, but the warp -- a millspun wool & mohair blend -- is too sticky. I'm raising each shaft separately and having no trouble, but I really couldn't get Charlotte to treadle that way, and she says it's no fun if she can't step on it! So the next project will have to be more kid-friendly.

The warp is 5 yards long and I've woven perhaps three of those without incident. Now I'm developing loose selvedge threads -- I guess I'll have to rig up some weights. My other concern is that this fabric might not be sturdy enough for cushions in which case I might be forced to make a garment out of it. With a silver lining, maybe.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fleece in a week, and other tall tales.

Hey -- I spun a whole fleece in a week! Am I a great spinner, or what?

Of course, it was the Icelandic lamb fleece last seen on my back porch last June:

It took me the intervening seven months to card it -- or rather, to get around to carding it. Actual carding only took a few days, spread out over about three months.

And I did really spin it in a week -- into 15 ounces of low twist, bulky two ply:

(That isn't a stripe. I separated out the darkest wool and spun it by itself. This is just all twisted together for storage; I couldn't be bothered to redo the hanks for a picture. Hey, it's Monday.)

But since less than a pound of bulky yarn in seven months doesn't sound very impressive, I'm going with fleece in a week!

Thursday, February 07, 2008