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.