Friday, January 25, 2008

Starting young.

For Christmas Charlotte got a simple Learn to Sew kit (from Aunt Nancy & Uncle Con). It had some pre-punched felt pieces, a plastic needle, and precut lengths of yarn for sewing. She wanted to open it RIGHT AWAY, but it just never seemed to be the right moment. One morning I promised her we would do it in the afternoon, but the day got away from us and soon it was time to pick George up from school and head off to the library for his very favorite, can't-be-skipped after school program. Charlotte was very upset until I said she could bring the kit with her.

Here she is sewing at the library:

[here you must imagine a charming picture which I can't figure out how to get off my camera phone]

After dinner she wanted to do the second piece in the kit. Her enthusiasm was contagious:

She really caught on quickly, and could spot and correct errors on her own. They didn't seem to frustrate her, either, which might be part of the reason why she learned so quickly; she wasn't wasting time and energy fussing or wailing.

Since then she has also made some Dora finger puppets from a similar kit. I think she's probably ready to move on to something more complicated. But what?

How about weaving? This is a two harness Lily table loom that I bought expressly for the kids to use. We fooled around with it some when it arrived (warped, with newspaper from 1973 separating the warp layers) but some threads had gotten broken in transit, there was rust on the reed, and a few others things didn't seem to work right. After Christmas I found the time to cut off the old warp, clean the whole thing up, and figure out the source of the other problems (missing cords). Now it's working great, and Charlotte can weave by herself, at least until she wants to change colors or advance the warp.

A pinch of this, a dash of that

With the new year and the Christmas pressure mostly eased I've been doing lots of little things, finishing up projects, trying out new ones, and just fooling around.

I am so proud of finishing the kids' stockings:

Here they are with the stockings my sister has knit for her family. They are very sweet but I really wanted to make ones that would match the stocking my mother made for me when I was small (and known as Cindy). The stocking that's between my angel and my father's Santa (subtle, huh? but I never thought about it until just now)(I am not suspicious or quick to pick up on things) is the one that started it all. Someone gave it to my mother when she was a teenager; I believe it came from a craft fair.

Aren't my sister's stockings great? She has done very clever things with the motifs -- everyone in the family shares one motif; all the boys have a matching motif as do the girls; everyone shares at least two motifs with everyone else; and everyone has one of their own. She'd really be in trouble if she had another child, though! My sister-in-law knit stockings for her family using the same pattern, and feels a little betrayed that I haven't. But although it might be heresy to say so, knitting isn't always the answer.

I've gotten back to spinning with great delight. Here is a lovely merino/silk blend that was a gift:

I plan to use it as weft for a scarf, so I left it as a single. I hope I weighted it enough; it looks a little kinky:

I have about 650 yards and it weighs about 70 g. I think I will use zephyr for warp but I want to talk to a real weaverTM before taking this on.

I have also been catching up on batt club spinning. This is from August. It's 40% fine wool (a mix of white & brown), 40% tussah silk, and 20% camel/yak -- very pleasant and a little different. I'm going to ply it with tussah to make a laceweight yarn. Then I hope to dye it a deep red; all those different creams and browns ought to give it real depth.

I say "hope" because sometimes my dyeing doesn't turn out the way I plan. Take a look at my Ayany yarn:

This was supposed to be a medium-pale periwinkle. I used Jacquard acid dyes, .5% DOS, 70% brilliant blue,30% hot fuschia. Obviously I should have done some samples gone with something like .2 DOS, but what I'm really wondering is what happened to the fuschia? While I was dyeing the dye liquor looked too pinky-purple for my taste but there's really no hint of the color at all in the finished yarn. Instead it's Brilliant Blue all the way.

I've thought about overdyeing, either with the fuschia, or with some orange to tone the blue down, but it is really a pretty screaming blue and I'm afraid I would make it too muddy if I tried to change it. Also it matches my winter coat exactly. So I think I'll just knit it up and see what it looks like.

And here's a little something I noticed while hanging the yarn to dry:

I thought the soap was just called cashmere, but then I noticed the statement "with cashmere extract." Sure enough, the ingredients list "Hydrolized keratin (cashmere extract)." Isn't that a hoot? I'm washing my hands with the carding waste from cheap cashmere sweaters!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

2000 : Summer of Mittens

In the summer of 2000 I decided to knit mittens for all of my nieces and nephews. At the time there were seven of them, and that didn't seem like too big a project. I knit up a bunch of single mittens in varying sizes, and took them on our summer vacation. I gathered the kids together, handed them the mittens, and told them to pick one that fit and that they liked, or to find one that fit and tell me what one they wished fit. I had lots of interchangeable colors of sportweight yarn and Robin Hansen's two wonderful mitten books. It was great fun. We were all staying in a cabin together and they carried the mittens around for a couple of days, choosing and changing their minds and choosing again. Later that summer we saw the kids on the other side of the family, and I had them pick as well.

Of course I didn't finish all the mittens by Christmas, but I did get many of them done, and the rest soon after. Because I was in a rush, though, there are no pictures of the mittens as a group. There are quite a few glimpses of them, here and there, on one child after another. Here are some that we gathered up five years later:

Yes, Chipman's block is one of my favorite patterns, how could you tell? It's so easy, and so pretty, and such a short repeat that you can modify it to fit anyone.

The mittens on the right are Mattie Owl's Patch, which is very similar to Fox & Geese but in my opinion much prettier. Knitting both mittens the same summer led me to compare them as I hadn't before. Mattie Owl's Patch is an 8 stitch repeat which is less convenient than Fox & Geese's six stitch repeat but it's worth it. I'm not sure I can find a picture of the two to show you, though.

The mittens in the center come from Rose W. Anderson's Mittens pamphlet, published in 1939. I made one cross country skier and one downhill skier, sometime around 1990. There's a lot of weaving in to make all that white space around the skiers, but I think it's worth it. The palms have a small all-over pattern. I'll never again knit a cuff with narrow stripes of color on a white background, though; it reminds me too much of athletic socks. Fortunately my sister wears the cuffs folded up.

Those mittens are still in use, as are the yellow & purple Mattie Owl's Patch pair. They were made for my nephew who is now 12; my 4 year old daughter is wearing them this winter:

(She looks bemused because she's not sure what this white stuff is.)

And the red and white pair saw some use, too:

To be honest, I like knitting mittens more than socks. They last longer and you don't need a new pair every day. If only I lived someplace where they weren't an optional winter accessory! Perhaps it's time for another Summer of Mittens.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It just about killed me ...

... but I didn't give this to my husband until it was finished. I am the queen of wrapping up an unfinished object and giving it to someone along with a promise to finish it "soon." And I usually do, but it just takes some of the oomph out of the gift-giving experience. Watching me knit and maybe grumble at the chart and bind off and weave the ends in and then catching the scarf as I toss it from across the room just isn't the same as opening up a package to find a lovely, soft, finished DNA Double Helix scarf:

As Maggie Righetti would say, note the hand position. My husband has carefully smoothed the scarf to display the cables, and he is HOLDING IT DOWN because this thing is alive. It would twist and turn and flip to the backside in seconds if he let go, which I guess is not inappropriate for DNA or any kind of helix. But it's frustrating. I don't know if a different yarn would behave better; this is Berroco Ultra Alpaca (50% wool, 50% alpaca) which you would think would have enough wool to be stable.

It was a fun pattern to knit, though one that required some concentration. The sides of the helix are not parallel; sometimes they both move in the same direction but at different speeds, sometimes they move in different directions, and then there's the ridges in the center of the cable to keep in mind as well. By the last go-round I felt like I had some idea what would happen in the next row. I still had to check, but I didn't find myself with too many center stitches and not enough outside stitches, or vice versa, which happened fairly frequently on the first half of the scarf. (No, I didn't rip back. I decreased the excess stitches and added new ones where they were needed. Can you spot where? I didn't think so.) (And even if you can, my husband can't.)

I wish I could say that I was done with my Christmas knitting, but I'm not. Nearly done, though.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Last minute indeed!

For weeks before Christmas I had been saying to myself, "I'd really like to knit Clarinda a scarf." That sort of morphed into, "I'm knitting Clarinda a scarf" without any actual scarf knitting taking place. Then the ice storm wiped out a week of shopping and crafting time and pretty soon I found myself packing for our trip without even the slightest semblance of a scarf at hand.

At the mall the night before we left (to buy another present that I had crossed off my list without actually buying it) I saw lots of mannequins draped in crocheted scarves. After the third or fourth the light bulb went on.

Clarinda is wearing the scarf that I cast on (chained on?) as we left the house at 4 p.m. December 20th and finished (except for weaving in ends) during a heavy snowfall in Colorado Springs at about 5 p.m. December 21st. In the intervening 25 hours I had also stopped at McDonald's 3 times (oh, the horror), slept, showered, herded kids around, and read out loud the entirety of Junie B. Jones, First Grader : Shipwrecked (very funny). I didn't look at much scenery -- the downside of crochet, for me, is that I have to look at even simple patterns -- but I took time out to goggle at the pronghorn antelope we passed in New Mexico. I can see why people say crochet is faster than knitting.

The yarns are both clearance yarns from Hobby Lobby, bought with my daughter in mind. The white is Moda Dea Dream (nylon & acrylic). It's very soft and fuzzy without being overwhelming. I don't know how it will hold up but I'd use it again. The pink is Moda Dea Zing (all polyester) and I hated it. It's almost scratchy. It looks okay, but it just doesn't feel good. But it's what I had, so I used it. The scarf is five rows of filet squares, and then an all around scalloped border (sc, dc, tc, dc, sc in each square, ch 3 going around the corner).

It was fun to do something so quickly for a change. I may have to pay more attention to those "last minute gift" books. But first I think I hear something from Knitting New Scarves calling my name.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sock Project update

I have finally finished my first pair of handspun socks. I discussed the yarn here; as you can see I decided to make one pair of socks from the three ply.

The shape looks a little wonky -- they have not been blocked -- but they look nice enough on:

I followed the suggestions in a recent Spin Off article (too lazy to go look it up, ask if you want details) to spin one ply with slow color changes and another with quick color changes, to get a sort of fractal color change. I think I did two slow plies and one fast, but it might have been one slow, one fast, and one random. I like the effect, so I might try to do it in a more controlled way next time.

The socks were knit in an odd order. I wanted to knit toe up, but had to just Get Started (maybe I was heading to the park? or my husband was waiting to watch a movie?) so instead of doing a short row toe, I just cast on provisionally and knit for a while, then made a heel. That gave me some trouble until Caroline suggested a gusseted short row heel. That worked a treat. Then I continued up the leg until it seemed time for some calf increases; I kept increasing and knitting until it looked like yarn might be running low.

Then I used the purple end of the second ball to pick up the provisional cast on and knit a toe. I used a star toe just because I never had before; I probably never will again because I think it looks like my socks are on crooked (see lower foot in picture above).

I couldn't figure out how to start at the toe and still make the second sock match, so I cast on provisionally, knit a star toe, and then picked up the provisional cast on and knit up towards the heel. Then I made the heel, etc, until my second sock matched the first (still on the needles).

At this point I weighed the remaining yarn. I had 4 g. left on one sock and 9 g. on the other, so I ribbed until I used up the 4 g., switched socks, ribbed to match, did a few more rows, and cast off. I took the remaining yarn, went back to the 4 g. sock, added the same few more rows, and cast off there. In the top picture you can see the tiny ball I have left for repairs or whatever.

I think the picture makes it look like the socks are knee length, but they are not. They come to the middle of my calf, not the most practical length. They are very cosy, though, and I guess if the ribbing won't keep them up, they'll just be slouchy socks. I used Elizabeth Zimmerman's brillian sewn bind-off for the first but certainly not the last time, so the cast off edge won't cut into my calves.

(Excuse me, I have to turn down the music my daughter's computer, which is playing the theme song for Maisy's Playhouse over and over and over and over and over again .... I know from bitter experience that it will never stop without intervention.)

SO .... some six months ago I started spinning yarn that is now socks which are on my feet. Nice, but not exactly efficient. Way back in April I announced that I was going to try and knit a dozen pairs of socks for this winter. How have I done? It's January, and I have knitted seven pairs, six of them short. That's not really good enough.

Fortunately, I found Sock Dreams. Their $10 O Woolies are warm and comfortable (to me; some might find them itchy) and looooong. I don't think they will be durable; the cast on is provisional over elastic, which stretches very nicely but will probably break at some point. But they are getting me through the winter with warm feet and right now that's all I ask.

I'm going to keep knitting socks, but I don't have the same desperate urge that I did last spring. And that's just as well.

A toast to the new year: may your feet be warm and your fingers busy! Happy knitting!

-- Cynthia