Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weaving & selling

Here's the one and only photo of me & my booth at the Downtown Arts Market last month. You can clearly see two things: it was very windy, and I didn't have much to sell. The only reason I had such a big space was that I couldn't figure out how to display the scarves except by hanging them from the canopy, which we already had. Dunno if you can tell, but in the back two corners I had skeins of handspun yarn hanging from poles; I didn't really want to sell it but I needed it to beef up my display! So I priced it very high & no one bought it.

The two scarves that sold are actually on the same hanger, in the right corner of the photo. One is a tiny pale blue undulating twill in wool & silk, and the other is a longer one in jade green & pale blue, wool & alpaca in a tiny zigzagging twill. Unfortunately this is the only picture I seem to have taken of it. But here are a couple of the undulating twill:

This is it on the loom -- you can see how open the fabric was.

This is the fabric after wet finishing. It closed up a lot, much more than I expected, in fact. The warp was a stretchy wool knitting yarn, and the weft was a handspun silk single. The finished scarf was only 4.5 inches wide, and curved due to tension problems. I really didn't expect it to sell. But it was so soft & the colors so pearly, I really liked it.

This is an unflattering picture on my nondescript carpet. I need to work on presentation, huh? I managed to convince myself that the curvature made it more organically shaped, more suited to a human body! The woman who bought it wrapped it around her neck a couple of times with no tails left to hang down; it looked great.

The scarf that got the most attention was the odd bumpy caramel & jade one just to my left.

Lots & lots of people looked at it, talked about it, even took pictures of it. But no one bought it -- probably because the colors are so odd & also it's a little short. I intend to make more like it, but better, before the next art fair.

Yes, the next one. I decided I might as well do the December fair. But I also realized that instead of weaving as many scarves as possible, I needed to diversify. The market was very slow, but the things that sold were mostly smaller items. I had no smaller items, which was a problem.

So I cast around for things I might like to weave & hope to sell. So far I have made two batches of inkle bookmarks, and am working on some funky little Christmas trees for ornaments, based on a description I found in one of Harriet Tidball's old monographs (Merry Christmas, Handweavers). I am hoping they will be charming and retro instead of kitschy and weird. Of course I warped up enough to make about 150 before I will actually get to see a finished one off the loom, so I hope I am right! There's a lot more figuring-out during the weaving process than I expected, but it's still going pretty fast. My biggest problem right now is finding enough scrap fabric to weave into the fringe between the rows of trees. Oh, and I would have been a lot better off if I hadn't insisted on warping the full width of the loom. My baby wolf is so narrow that I always want to get as close to the full width as I can, but everything seems to work so much better at 22 inches wide than at 24 inches wide. Supposedly you can weave 26 inches wide on one but I am not capable of that, at least not yet.

There are three more weeks before the next fair, which is also the last of the year. Those weeks do include Thanksgiving, with out of town company, and a potluck which we host the first week of December, and the ongoing remodeling and of course regular old daily life. But I think I can get some these little trees woven, and some more inkle bookmarks, and some overshot for lavender sachets, and maybe even a few more scarves. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Gone pro!!

Sold two scarves at an outdoor arts market yesterday -- enough to pay my booth fee, cover material costs, & still make about a quarter an hour. More details to follow, and maybe even pictures.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Weaving a garment?

I want to weave a vest. I want it to be something I can wear and enjoy. And I am torn between two paths:

I could choose a pattern, sew it out of a handwoven-ish commercial fabric, evaluate it, and go from there.

Or I could throw a warp on the loom and wing it.

On the one hand, I suspect that most basically boxy vests wouldn't be so very flattering on me.

On the other hand, my favorite cardigans are big boxy things.

How many hands can you have?

I'm intrigued by this pattern:

which has bust darts and an assortment of necklines and a pieced back so I could make it from one relatively narrow strip of fabric, assuming I want to cut it.

On the other hand, I do really like this simple vest, too: (have to view the pdf to see the photo; it's from Clothing from the Weaving Room.

Clearly I'll have plenty to think about while I do my chores today.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The end is in sight!

Way back in 2005 I impulsively cast on for Elizabeth Zimmerman's Pi Are Square shawl, thinking it would keep me busy on a long car trip. Well, it did, and it has. Here it is in 2006 and 2007. I set it aside shortly after that because I needed to make some decisions, and didn't pick it up again until July of this year, when I was anticipating another long car ride. Here's what it looked like then:

It took me a while to remember where I was and what I was trying to do. I had run out of the two purples I was using for the body of the shawl, and needed to decide how far to go with the gray and what to do about an edging.

I decided to push the gray as far as it would go, to give me more length. I may regret this when I block it. During our car trip (from Oklahoma to Michigan) I finished the body of the shawl and started the edging. As it turns out, a lace edging is not really the best sit-and-chat sort of knitting, so I didn't get much done during the non-driving parts of our vacation. But there was lots of driving, and once I memorized the pattern I started really making progress. Here's where it is today:

And here is a closeup of the patterning:

I'm not entirely happy with this. In case you're not familiar with the pi-shawl concept, you double the number of stitches at intervals that themselves double. So every line of simple holes you see there is a doubling row -- except maybe the last one, I can't remember if I doubled there or not. There's no puckering (the drawback to this method) so I might not have doubled. I'll figure that out later, when I write the finished shawl up.

Anyways, my overall concept for this shawl was "pi are squared, purple, lacy" and so I just picked patterns at each doubling, and I don't really think my choices were all that felicitous. The first pattern is a madeira fan that was hard to do and will be invisible under my hair. I like the next zig-zag one, and think it works well with both the fan and the pattern below, although I don't think I'm wild about all the faggoting on the third pattern. But my real concern is the print o' the wave. What was I thinking? It really has nothing in common with the others. I think I thought it would further develop the faggoting, but looking at it now I don't think that the visual connection really happens.

And I was intending to use an edging designed by Sharon Miller to coordinate with print o' the wave, but decided not to after all. Both are a stockinette fabric, and on a sort of cardigan shawl the edging needs to look good on both sides. The edging I chose has a double zig zag, which I hope will tie it in with the various other patterns once the shawl is blocked and you can actually see it, but that leaves the print o' the wave flapping alone in the breeze. I'm not going to rip it back, though! I just hope I remember this the next time I think, "oh, it will be a quick knit, I don't need to plan it." And also that very few things in laceweight are a "quick knit."

I am still pondering the front / neck edge. I had planned to just continue the same edging all the way around, but I wonder if it will be too floppy & lacy. Maybe I'd be happier with a plain edge? Maybe I am thinking this because it would be a lot faster? Oh, and perhaps this has something to do with the deadline for county fair entries in 10 days? I had thought it was in three days and was resigned to missing it, but then I learned I had an extra week. I could certainly finish the bottom & do a quick crochet around the inside edges .... but what a stupid reason to make a design decision. So -- things to think about while I knit.

(Another one is -- will I ever wear this? More than once?)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Off to Kazakhstan!

A couple of days ago I sent a package off on the first leg of its journey to Kazakhstan. This is part of an annual project to provide warm clothes for children aging out of two orphanages. What you see here is a gansey-type sweater, balaclava hat, mittens & scarf, all for the same boy. He'll also be getting a couple of pairs of socks (knitted by someone else) and a blanket; the orphanage provides him with a winter coat.

About a hundred years ago, my grandfather aged out of a similar institution. We don't know too much about his life at that time, but I hope people were kind to him. I have enjoyed making these things & thinking about orphanages, charity, family and warmth.

I've also enjoyed it on a more personal basis. I finally had a reason to knit Robin Hansen's Big Waves mittens. They sure are big! I liked knitting mittens with a different pattern on the palm than on the back of the hand; it makes me want to put a pair of Selbu mittens high on my to-do list. And I'm really pleased at the way the woven scarf echoes the waves -- it's made from the same two yarns as the mittens, and I think they look like a set even though they are in different techniques.

Weaving the scarf was fun, in part because I got to use some new equipment:

This is a floor-based inkle loom (a Leclerc Cendrel) which can also be used as a warping board. When I was deciding to buy this loom I liked the idea of having a warping board with a 10-yard capacity, since the one I already had can only manage 6 yards. But I hadn't even thought of the difference FEET would make! This warping board does not need to be leaned on a chair and doesn't fall over -- such a delight! Someday I think I would like to have a warping reel, but for now this is a huge improvement.

I still ran into trouble with my squirrel cage swift. This is a homemade one that I picked up secondhand for only $20. The reason why became apparent when I started to use it -- it spills yarn off the end, like this:

It went from unusable to barely tolerable when I replaced the axles (right word?), which had become bent. But it was still dumping yarn off the outside of the cages unless I repositioned the yarn every few revolutions -- very frustrating. This is worsted weight knitting yarn which can handle some tugging, but I want to make some warps out of much finer yarn. This sort of tangle would be a nightmare then.

Finally I thought to prop the whole thing up on one side, so the trunk was no longer completely vertical. This seemed to really help; once I had wound off the tangled bit there were no further problems. But I still don't feel confident enough to wind, say, a laceweight warp using this swift. It's frustrating. This swift and the picker I used to own have really turned me against equipment homemade by amateur woodworkers. They are almost just right -- but it turns out that those tiny details make a huge difference.

Despite these difficulties, winding the warp & warping the loom took only a few hours. I started winding on Saturday morning and finished the second scarf Monday afternoon -- very satisfying.

I'm also pleased to have used up almost all of a box of yarn. I bought an armload of Germantown worsted for almost nothing in a thrift store about 12 (14? 15?) years ago, back before I was married. I intended to use it for a sweater for the man who is now my husband, and even swatched a few times, but it just never seemed like the right project. And then a few years back I used some of the yarn as the shag for his father's mittens (apparently never blogged but you can see them on Ravelry if you care to) which pretty much put an end to that project. But there was plenty left for a teenager's sweater, and hat, and mittens & scarf ... and there's still one skein left over. That will go into the "misc. worsted" box, or maybe the "blues" box. I'd show you the empty box, but it has already been filled with handspun that used to be spilling out of a basket on the floor. And the basket? Well, let's just say that the floor is more visible now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The joke's on me!

The point of my post yesterday was not "poor me, no time" but rather my capacity for self-delusion -- that I would imagine a whole empty day stretching out before me, when really what I had was about three hours.

You'll note, however, that I imagined I could get quite a lot done with those three hours. In truth, by the end I had a reasonably clean kitchen, a couple of loads of laundry, and this shirt cut out & two pockets made but not applied. No weaving, no writing, no shirt for George to wear today. By the end of the afternoon I had gotten more done on the shirt while the children played with their friends, but I'm still halfway through the collar. And really, that's a reasonable amount to have accomplished. The amount I thought I could get done is the real joke.

So today I'm trying to be more reasonable in what I expect of myself. But I sure would like to finish that shirt -- and I need to do the writing project, and my loom is calling to me. If I want it badly enough, surely I can squeeze it in?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A day to myself?

My children are in two different school systems. My son, just finishing second grade, is in the local public school, while my daughter still goes to the preschool that is really a laboratory for the education students at the local college. The preschool is on the university schedule, and shuts down before finals so the ed students can study, so she has been out of school for several weeks already.

Today her summer session begins. Today is also my son's penultimate day of second grade. So yesterday, when Charlotte's best friend's mother invited her over for the afternoon, my first thought was, "Hooray! A day to myself!"

And I could use one. I am just a wee bit over committed right now. I have a couple of writing projects due in the next few days; I am weaving my first-ever commission (!), also due shortly; and I am making George a shirt which he would really like to wear to school tomorrow. And there's the laundry and the disgraceful state of the bathrooms -- I've been spending a lot of time gardening, so the house has gone to pieces. And speaking of the garden, while the most urgent tasks (transplanting) have been finished, there's lots more that needs to be done asap if the plants are going to have the strength & root development to survive the hell that is July and August around here. Not to mention some brick-laying projects I have in mind, and the capping & removal of the old gas grill, and talking to roofing contractors, and, and, and....

So I was really excited about a whole day to myself. Then this morning I really thought about it. Here's my day of wide-open possibilities:

7-7:40 breakfast for kids & husband, packing lunches, shoving people out the door.
8:40 - 9:20 taking Charlotte to preschool
11:10 leave to pick Charlotte up at 11:30, taking picnic lunch along (looks like rain, can we eat in van?)
noonish: after picnic, drop her off at friend's house, get home about 12:30
2:40 leave to get George, then Charlotte. Probably too rainy for park -- ask friends over?

And so my Day to Myself has really dwindled to two chunks of time:
9:20 - 11:10 (minus time to make lunches)
12:30 - 2:40

It's nothing to sneeze at, but I had better use it wisely. Writing in morning, shirt in afternoon, weaving tomorrow? Weaving in morning, shirt in afternoon, writing while kids play with friends? (ooh, that won't work!) Shirt in morning, writing in afternoon, weaving while kids play with friends? Shirt in morning, interrupted by mad dashes to computer as I think of something to write, and then some weft fondling on my way back to sewing machine? I think my breakfast eggs must be done by now, so I'm signing off. Wish me a productive use of my day!

PS Must remember to pick up ice cream for Cloverbuds fishing / root beer float party tonight or kids will be very disappointed.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Once again I have wound a perfectly fine warp and then introduced tangles while sleying/threading. It comes from putting multiple threads in a single dent without any way to keep them straight.

Fortunately this warp is pearl cotton which could stand the strain & should be just fine. But I think I need to try warping back to front.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Preschool weaving.

Hey, I'm back! I spent half of my free time last week weaving with the kids at Charlotte's preschool and the other half playing Pet Society on Facebook. In fact, last night I sewed the final seam on this pillow WHILE playing Pet Society. I think this might explain why I am not as productive as some people ....

This was a very fun project. I warped up my two-harness table loom (seen here) with orange and yellow pearl cotton, and took in an assortment of yarns for weft. They included lots of novelty fringe & fuzzy yarns, some soft worsted wools, and some sport weight cotton left over from the Blue / Magenta vest.

It was interesting to see what the kids picked. Many liked the eyelash & furry yarns, and expressly commented on the changing colors. Others wanted a smooth yarn in a solid color. Some really liked the soft, soft, soft purple acrylic. Not one child chose the exact same fuzzy yarn in white.

I did this last year as well, though I see I never blogged about it. It was a wonderful experience for me and a lot of fun for the kids, too, as far as I can tell. Last year we wove a scarf-sized piece of fabric -- 6-8 inches wide is plenty for little hands -- and I turned it into the bag that goes home with a school puppet every night. This year I thought we might make a pillow for their library corner.

Each weaver signed the back (some added drawings as well). The kids range in age from 3 to 5, and their manual skills vary pretty widely, too, but all of them were able to weave successfully. In fact, when I took the loom to a park playdate on Friday to finish up the warp, I wove with a not-quite-two year old, who was then able to explain the process to someone else ("turn this").

In general, 3 and some 4 year olds need a lot of assistance -- steady reminding about the next step; many 4 year olds can chug along fine with only the occasional reminder, and five year olds and older just need help changing yarns and advancing the warp. But that's a broad generalization. Helping the individual kids was just fascinating; they all approached it a little differently. Several had woven last year and remembered it well. Some kids wanted to weave for a few minutes and were then done with it; others came back every day for another turn.

Here Charlotte demonstrates the size of the finished pillow.

The color interactions really intrigue me. I like to use two different colors in the warp to help the kids know whether or not they have changed the shed, but it can make for a speckledy result. Here, though, the orange has receded in most places.

And all those fuzzy, furry, hairy novelty yarns are pretty tame in the final product. That bumpy blue yarn adds the only really contrasting note; without it I think the pillow would be kind of boring.

Off to school -- where I hope to get a picture of me with the weavers!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Back from Planet Viking!

Final tally: 9 garments in 11 days, plus one inkle belt woven, one batch of sculpy brooches made, four bead necklaces assembled. Other belts / trim / bottle holders were made in advance, some specifically for the fair but most not.

Pretty much everything I made for myself was a bit too big.

So was George's neckline, which is why I made him an undertunic as well. Unfortunately I have no pictures of that. Fortunately I am sure he will be happy to put it all back on again.

Love the eye roll!

Doesn't she look sweet? She wishes her dress was more swirly, but likes the swirl in the back of the apron dress. I think the difference between front and back is interesting but I think she would rather have it swirly all around.

Here you can see the gores in both Dean's tunic and her apron dress -- they were twirling.

What I learned: Lots! First of all, I have to abandon my image of myself as someone who "can't really sew." There's lots of room for improvement, but standing there surrounded by my family entirely dressed in clothes I made within the last couple of weeks really made an impact on me.

It was amazing to me how much confidence I gained in the course of this project. The first couple of garments took a long time -- partly because I was figuring out the patterns (see my post on Charlotte's dress) but also because I kept sewing things together wrong way out. I ripped a lot of seams. Partly that was because these fabrics look the same on both sides, but partly it was because I couldn't keep track of what I was doing. And I had to measure, and study, and draw cutting lines, and measure again. But by the end of the process I was proceeding much more confidently. In fact, I made George's pants and undertunic on Saturday, before we went to the second day of the fair. The tunic is made from scraps of Dean's pants (big scraps because I bought too much fabric), and I was able to bind the neck entirely by machine.

I learned or relearned a lot of sewing techniques, and put into practice many things which I have read about but not done before. I was very pleased to finally figure out machine blindstitched hems. Unfortunately my machine refused to disgorge the zigzag cam in favor of the blindstitching cam until after I had done almost all of my hems. It's working smoothly now -- I guess it took a couple of days for that drop of oil to soak in! As it turns out, you can fake a blindstitched hem with a zigzag, but it won't be nearly as invisible. It still looks better than a hem sewn on top, in my opinion.

Here are the two hems side by side.

On the inside you can see the difference: the blindstitch has four or five straight stitches before the one zigzag reaching over to the outer fabric. The zigzag worked okay, though, and there's no way I'm going to redo the hems. They are very, very long.

My "cloak" is just the handwoven yardage that I haven't yet turned into cushions for my rocking chair. I cut it in half & machine feather stitched the panels together. This is so cool! I just butted the pieces together, irregular selvages & all. In my test swatch, it was very easy to rip the seaming out without damage. I think if you did this before finishing it would be almost invisible afterwards. One of my many unfinished projects involves sewing five blanket panels together by hand; this really has me thinking!

Another technique that enchanted me was french seams. I used them on Charlotte's dress only; after that I abandoned finished seams in favor of finished garments. I hope I don't regret that after washing the clothes! But I am definitely going to experiment more with finished seams.

I also really liked the experience of working with rectangles of fabric. The apron dresses in particular are cut from one long rectangle, cut apart and reassembled without scraps. That is so cool! Of course, there are no sleeves or shoulders in them, which helps. But it was very interesting to compare the scraps from the tunics & underdresses (mostly small or large & square enough to be usable) with the scraps from the pajama style pants I made for the guys (curved, tapered, and often unusable). If I were spinning the yarn and weaving the cloth I'm pretty sure which style of pattern drafting I'd favor!

And I learned a lot about Vikings and about clothing & cloth usage by trying to make semi-authentic costumes instead of something that just looked "Viking-y." I was particularly interested in all the discussion I found online about aprons, apron dresses, and possible reconstructions. I owe a real debt to all the reenactors who have made garments, worn them, thought about them, and written up their experiences. Really this is one of the wonderful things about the internet. And how cool to be able to find detailed diagrams of Viking shirt seams?

Notes for next year: Start sooner! The garments themselves are of course essential, but what was really fun to make & to wear was all the accessories and details. I wish I'd had time to trim many more of the garments, and to make undertunics for all of us, and better cloaks (instead of blankets!) and pouches, etc., etc.

Dean wants an undertunic (so the weather will be warmer!) and trim on his tunic.
George wants a belt to match his sleeve trim, maybe another pouch. He would like to be in the costume contest next year; plan on this. His tunics will probably fit, his pants will probably be too short. Make real viking pants?
Charlotte wants to be a princess. Start Really Early!
If Charlotte's a princess, maybe I should match? I'd love to make a kirtle for myself ....

... but for now, it's laundry, bill paying, grocery shopping and cleaning -- all the stuff I've ignored since before our trip to Florida.

ETA: Thanks to Iris, whose Halloween costumes really inspired this whole project!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Endless sewing

I must have been out of my mind to think I could outfit the whole family in a week. Still, some semblance of Viking-hood has been created. Miles to go before I sleep, though.

Just a few quick notes:

* Fabulous guides exist on the web. In particular, Hefdharfru Vidgis Vestfirzka's underdress page and accompanying apron dress page (doesn't show diagrams in Firefox, works fine in IE) are what I've used for Charlotte's & my outfits. For the guys, I've relied heavily on this overview, Christina Krupp's guide and Cynthia Virtue's tunic worksheet.

* One garment a day is ambitious but doable. Two a day is madness.

* There appears to be no limit to the number of times I can sew seams wrong side out.

* As a corollary to that, the real secret behind the Damendorf Trousers is clearly someone who cuts fabric like me: cut it too small, sew bits and pieces onto it to make it bigger, cut it again, repeat.

Time to put dinner on. After dinner: pajama style pants for Dean.

Tally sheet:
Charlotte's dress: done
My dress: done except for sleeve hems
Dean's tunic: done
George's tunic: done except for sleeve hems
George's pants: may be able to use existing pair
Dean's pants: not started
Charlotte's apron: not started
My apron: not started

We plan to be at the fair in approximately 70 hours.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I don't think these sleeves are going to fit!

Maybe if she just keeps her arms inside ....

Friday, March 13, 2009

In case you were wondering ...

... the maximum length of an inkle band I can weave on my Ashford inkle loom appears to be 3 yds., 5 inches. (Minifigs included for scale.)

I assume my crummy selvages will improve with practice.

5/2 pearl cotton, 106 threads, about 2 1/4 inches. This will probably be George's belt / sword belt, but I might cut it up to trim our outfits.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More about weaving.

Here is my scarf, hanging to dry. It is Rowan Botany in two lights, one dark. You can see that a) I did not record how many dark rows I did at the beginning, and so didn't match it at the end, and b) there's a spot where I did two rows of light instead of four. But I like it anyways.

This shot was taken outside, and shows the colors better. It also shows the problematic selvedges. I'm thinking about using a two color blanket stitch around the edge to neaten it up some -- what do you think?

Here is my temporary weaving studio:

Charlotte was weaving just where her loom is sitting now, which gave her a pretty good view of the mechanics of the floor loom.

Here are some closeups of the loom (since you asked, Caroline). It makes more sense when it is threaded but that's some days off yet. Looking from the front:

and from the back:

There are some pictures of the loom threaded here and especially here.
But I am on a different tangent right now, having just realized that the Medieval Fair is only 10 days after we return from next week's vacation. We are planning on going as a Viking family but nothing more than planning has occurred to make this happen.

Some fast research has revealed that the most distinctive thing about Viking dress is a lot of decorative banding around wrists and neck openings. So I have warped up my inkle loom:

and started weaving:

This long band ought to be enough to make George a belt & sword belt, if he wants one. I'm going to take some tablet weaving on vacation with us. Then I can sew like crazy after we get back & with luck get it all done in time. I'm trying to forget that last year's "fast research" got me to the fair dressed as a barmaid instead of a merchant's wife.

A totally unrelated picture:

Who on earth would offer a disposable (manual) razor as an incentive for buying batteries? This makes no sense to me at all. The batteries were on sale, so I bought them, but I am very puzzled.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Weaving has occurred ...

... not that I can prove it, given the mysterious lack of all AA batteries in the house. But I have woven a nice houndstooth scarf. Well -- nearly houndstooth, at any rate. More about that when I have pictures.

I spent much of my weaving time planning my next warp, and hope to spend time at the warping board today. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few knitting pictures.

Here are the two pairs of mittens that I sent off to Akkol (two pairs on right) and a pair I knitted many years ago, to reassure me that the lumpy tips will even out. The far right pair is my favorite Chipman's block. The middle pair is Salt & Pepper, i.e. two colors, alternated. I was in love with this while knitting because the fabric is very smooth and dense, but once I looked at the finished object I was bothered by the way every little variation in tension shows up. Perhaps it will even out over time.

The yellow pair was worn by my nephew K. when he was about Charlotte's age (and size). He loved them and wore them years after they actually fit. They appear to have been run through the washing machine but I haven't asked. Aside from the perpetually wide ribbing, they've survived just fine, and Charlotte wears them now. They are in Mattie Owl's Patch (or Compass) which is an 8 stitch variation of Fox & Geese & Fences. I like it much better, although it's more trouble to knit.

Hmm. It appears I don't actually have the knitting pictures I thought I did, so here's my one weaving photo:

These are the ends after I wound on the warp. Look at the differences! I think I need a raddle, so I can warp back to front. Front to back on such a stretchy warp (Rowan Botany) seems problematic. It worked out fine in the scarf but I hate to see it so uneven here.

And giving up all pretense of fiber content, here is Charlotte's portrait of her best friend:

Let me tell you, the hair and the smile are pretty accurate!

Here's hoping your Monday is going well. I had better get mine underway.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mitten books

It looks like I will only be sending two pairs of mittens off to Kazakhstan on Monday. I'm just not willing to turn my whole weekend over to knitting furiously. It's taking me about 3 days to make a pair without thumbs, so I can easily finish up the fourth mitten & make four thumbs in the next three days, but doing that AND making a whole third pair seems like more than I want to tackle.

While I've been knitting these mittens I've also found myself looking through lots of my mitten books. I thought it might be fun to write a roundup review.

As I mentioned before, the mitten books I turn to most often are Robin Hansen's Fox & Geese & Fences and Flying Geese & Partridge Feet. Over the years I've made several dozen pairs following these instructions, usually the two color Maine mittens (rounded tips). Oddly enough, there are quite a few patterns I've never tried, since a few have become my favorites. I make Chipman's Block, Spruce / Jacob's Ladder, and Mattie Owl's Patch / Compass over and over again. I wrote about these mittens last year, though, so I won't say more now.

One of the first mitten-specific books I bought was The Swedish Mitten Book : Traditional Patterns from Gotland, by Inger & Ingrid Gottfridsson. (Lark, 1984) I was a new knitter and unnerved by the fine gauge -- the "bulky" version of the patterns uses fingering weight yarn and #0 or #1 needles, so it was quite a few years before I actually made anything out of this book. The patterns vary widely, from small allover patterns with short floats to large, multicolored florals with very long floats. As with much Swedish knitting, practicality takes second place behind beauty. This made more sense to me when I realized that the Gottfridssons were recording traditional patterns on the small canvas of mittens, rather than specifically recording traditional mitten patterns. Mittens really do need to be practical, and long floats are more of a problem in mittens than they would be on a sweater. I've made a couple of pairs of mittens from this book and have used the patterns on other garments as well, which I think is what they had in mind.

A little while later I bought Lizbeth Upitis' Latvian Mittens : Traditional Designs & Techniques. (Dos Tejadoros, 1981) This is a fantastic book, full of astonishing patterns, knitting techniques, and Latvian folklore. At the time I was floored to read that she was not Latvian, just married to a Latvian -- and here she was, publishing a book about his ethnic heritage, in Latvian (and English), no less. Now I'm married to a Norwegian, and I get it, at least a little. (I haven't learned Norwegian, though.) I have the first edition -- have wanted the second ever since it came out, but just can't bring myself to buy it when I have so many charts in the first that I've yet to explore -- but I think my comments would apply to the second as well. There are detailed instructions for a simple child's mitten and four full-fledged adult mittens from various districts, along with photos of another 48 (the second edition has twice as many ) and charts for 103 mittens which of course could be mixed & matched to make a gazillion different mittens. There are several interesting techniques including a knitted-in fringe and a sort of wrapped stitch that looks like braiding; I've seen these elsewhere since then but this was the first place.

I've made a couple of Latvian mittens and have used the techniques elsewhere as well. I love to look at the color combinations. The mittens I like best use at least three colors at a time, though, and I usually only want to knit with two. So I haven't made as many of these as of the Maine mittens.

A couple of years ago (or maybe longer, time blurs) I bought a lovely little book called Cimdi. Durani : Savpatna Vertiba Latvija / Gloves. Mittens : Unique Heritage of Latvia. It's a tiny little book (about the size of a mitten when open) published by the Dept. of Ethnography of the History Museum of Latvia. It has no knitting information per se, but lots of beautiful photographs and interesting historical information. I'm not sure whether this is still available; I think I got my copy from Schoolhouse Press.

Homespun, Handknit was another purchase fairly early in my knitting life; I bought it when I still thought handspinning was crazy. I don't think I've ever knit a mitten straight from this book but there are lots of interesting patterns. I find it very stimulating to read about other people's handspun projects. I also wonder why I've never made the darling sheep mittens -- Charlotte may need a pair for next winter.

Marcia Lewandowski's Folk Mittens : Techniques and Patterns for Handknitted Mittens is a very nice overview of many different mitten traditions, from Northern Europe to South America. Several patterns from different regions of North America are included; oddly enough, Maine & the Maritime provinces are not included. But this book would be a very good starting place for someone who wanted to explore different traditions. Lots of different thumbs and cuffs are included, though as part of patterns rather than in a separate discussion. Almost all of the mittens tips are decreased at the little-finger & thumb sides, rather than in a round; there's no real discussion of the choices you make in shaping a mitten tip. My only quibble is with her statement that twisting yarns while doing tvandstickning is old-fashioned and "rarely done today." Well, tvandstickning is rarely done today, but there are plenty of people who believe you can only really call it tvandstickning if you do indeed twist the yarns.

Anna Zilboorg's Magnificent Mittens (XRX, 1998) is a real gem. It is not a record of any particular ethnic tradition; instead, it's her distillation of many mitten traditions. She relies heavily on Scandinavian and Baltic traditions but also includes lots of Turkish patterns which shakes things up a little. She offers mittens with thumb gores, mittens without thumb gores, mittens with cuffs, mittens with enormous gauntlets, many, many fabulous cuff treatments, and lots of information on combining all of the above. She knits her mittens from the tip to the cuff, and has very clear instructions on how to do so. She also dyes all her own colors and includes the color formulas for replicating them using Washfast Acid dyes from ProChem. The book itself is beautiful, and it lies flat and stays open. Yeah, XRX! Some of the photography is a little too self-consciously romantic for me, but that's a small price to pay for a durable, well made book.
I have made a couple of pairs of mittens from this book. They were fun to make and fun to wear.

Charlene Schurch's Knitting Marvelous Mittens : Ethnic Designs from Russia was published in 1998 but I didn't buy it until a couple of years ago. I can't imagine why not; it's right up my alley. She has documented the knitting of a rapidly disappearing culture in Russia's northwest. There are some very interesting reticulated patterns in here that look like a lot of fun to knit. She says they are easy to remember but look complicated. Since I haven't knit any yet I can only say that they do, indeed, look complicated. The how-to section is basic but functional; the point of the book is clearly to reproduce the pattern charts.

Last winter I was thrilled to discover Terri Shea's Selbuvotter : Biography of a Knitting Tradition. This wonderful book includes detailed charts and information on more than 30 Selbu mittens and gloves from the collections of the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle and of Annemor Sundbo. They demonstrate what a wide range of designs, from geometric to pictorial, are included in the Selbu visual vocabulary. There are also very thorough chapters on techniques and materials that enable the knitter to recreate any of the historic mittens or to create her own. I love Selbu mittens and have knitted a few from other sources, but the wealth of information contained here is just amazing. I can't explain why I haven't knitted anything from this book yet. (Hey, look, I reviewed ths one already, too. I guess I'm just repeating myself today.)

Another recent purchase is Nanette Blanchard's Glove Knitting. This is a short, self-published booklet (unpaginated, but about 36 pages, depending on whether you're counting pages with information, or pages inside the covers) that is chock full of information on thumb gores, methods of finger construction, dealing with holes between fingers, and so forth. The only gloves I've knitted were the hands & feet of my giant gorilla (Rav link) and they didn't have to fit, just look right. I really enjoyed knitting them, though, so I leapt on this book when I found it. Haven't ever knitted from it, though. Do you see a pattern emerging?

I was very excited to order Carol Rasmussen Noble's Knitting Fair Isle Mittens & Gloves. I've read her writing for years with enjoyment & enlightenment, I love her Orenburg shawl book, and I love Fair Isle knitting. So it is with heavy heart that I tell you that I just don't like this book. Or rather, I don't like the hand coverings in the book. The book itself is well written, well charted, and well illustrated. It has a crummy binding that won't stay open and will probably shed pages if I ever start knitting from it, but that is unfortunately a fairly common flaw. But for whatever reason, the designs just don't speak to me. This makes me so unhappy that I haven't really tried to analyze why I don't like them; I just put the book back on the shelf and hope I'll like them better next time. (I just see that copies are listed on Amazon for $133-190; maybe I shouldn't just be putting it back on the shelf!)(Does anyone really pay these prices?) I think perhaps that my dislike stems from the way the patterns look like they are applied to the mittens rather than that they are the mitten -- in most of the examples the color patterning ends when you get to the fingers (on gloves) or the fingertips (on mittens). Maybe I just like allover patterning better. Hmmm. Will think about this.

In the meantime, here is a quick picture of the mittens I've knit this week. I've shown one of each pair inside out:

They are knit in Classic Elite's Tapestry, a worsted weight & worsted spun wool & mohair blend. The red and green pair are in Chipman's Block (surprise) and fit my son; the tan & brown pair are in Salt & Pepper and fit me. Salt & Pepper was a surprise for me. I usually avoid it because it looks so boring but I love the way the fabric is turning out. It's very smooth and dense and of course there are no ends for even the most contrary fingers to get snagged on.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

finished .. sort of

I went ahead and finished the frill -- after all, it's just crochet & easy to take out if I change my mind. I think I like it but we'll see.

No photos because I still need to get buttons and because it went and got cold again here. I'm on to the next thing, anyways. Mittens for Akkol is running a quick campaign due to the unexpected availability of a shipping container. I need to send my things out next Monday and am trying to knit up a stack of mittens before then. The group leader was at the orphanage in December and said there were kids playing outside with bare hands when it was -20 F. That's far colder than my deep freezer which is blowing my children's minds.

As always when I'm turning out lots of mittens, I'm using Robin Hansen's wonderful books, Fox & Geese & Fences and Flying Geese & Partridge Feet. They are both out of print as far as I know, but a lot of the patterns have been reissued in Favorite Mittens. There are lots of other mitten books, many of which are functional and fun to make, but these are fast & sturdy and utterly reliable.

I'm using Classic Elite's discontinued wool/mohair blend Tapestry for the mittens. It's a heavy worsted so all my mittens are coming out a little bigger than the patterns suggest. That's no problem since I'm not knitting for a specific person as long as I remember to use the next measurement up when the pattern says "knit for x inches." Otherwise I get a stubby little mitten!

Off to the doctor's to get my clean bill of health (I hope) -- almost done with ribbing, must pick a pattern before I go!

Friday, February 20, 2009

another question

I've crocheted all the way around the bottom/front/neck opening, and put on half of the frill. What do you think? I love it on the pattern photo but I worry that it's too frilly on me.

Here's a blurry photo of the armhole. (Can't retake because a child is hanging on me as I type, saying, "Please can we eat lunch SOON, I'm starving" and I feel bad asking her to wait even longer.) Anyways, it's frilly. I like it but I suspect I might feel Too Old For Frills -- or even worse, I wouldn't feel it but everyone looking at me might!

Or am I overthinking this? I do appreciate the comments on the bust darts and am just not looking at them now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Here's my Beech Leaf vest, partially made up. (The right side seam is pinned, not sewn, which is why it is saggy. ) I am happy with everything except about six stitches on each front ....

... can you guess which ones?

The wrapped stitches seem very visible to me, like an arrow pointing to my bust. I guess cotton shows the slight unevenness more than wool. Also my placement ended up a titch high, so the stitches are on the upper curve of my breast; perhaps they would be less noticeable if they were on the underside & somewhat in shadow. The decreases & increases I did for a (very) little waist shaping show a bit, too, but because they are not in such a prominent spot they are less noticeable.

I'm really not sure what to do. I'm afraid that if I leave them like this, I won't like the way the vest looks & I won't wear it. So I'm considering ripping back the top half of each front. It would mean taking out the shoulder seams and about 1/2 inch of the side seams; the knitting itself shouldn't take too long. I could be back at this point in a few days ... though blocking would be pesky.

But look at how nicely it hangs on the side! No pulling up in the front! I really hate the way that looks. So if I take out the bust darts, then maybe I won't wear this because of the way it hangs!

Ideas? Suggestions? Chocolate?

Monday, February 09, 2009


Here is the Beech Leaf vest, blocking at last!

It looks a little wonky, because I knit in some bust shaping and of course that means the pieces aren't really flat. Also I spun the pieces out in the washing machine which left some wrinkles. If they don't disappear as it dries I will have to steam them, and I may need to steam the bust darts over a tailor's ham. But the pieces match each other in length and width and the scallops are pinned out to the same dimensions. I can't wait to seam it up!

And I know it's silly to be so impatient when I have been knitting this for a year, but look:

Do you think it will be dry by the time the kids have gone to sleep?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sock surprise

I have finished the Lang Jawoll socks that I have been knitting since approximately before the flood. They have lived in an inner pocket of my purse as my "emergency knitting" for many, many months, so many that I was quite astonished to finish. But.

They are not identical. The sock on the left has about four more stitches than the sock on the right -- I must have stopped my gusset decreases sooner. So it used up just a teeny bit more yarn with each round, just enough to make the toes mismatched. (Notice, though that BOTH SOCKS have just a tiny bit of white right at the bindoff. Cruel.) Also, the lines on the sock on the right slant up, as if the fabric is being stretched more. They feel the same on my feet, so I plan on ignoring the difference in size.

Unfortunately they are extremely ugly. I don't like the contrast between the dark colors and the white, and I think the speckles just make it worse. They are headed for a dark blue dyebath. Or maybe black. Unless I get lazy and just wear them like this.

I do think this is the last of the self-striping speckledy sock yarns in my enormous bin. I bought a lot before I realized that I don't like them. Or maybe I bought some after I realized that, because they were a good deal. (Note to self: don't do this.)

This is the first time I've knitted with Lang Jawoll. I liked it just fine. I used 2 mm needles (size 0), as I do with most sock yarns I've tried. It's not particularly soft but not rough, either. It feels sturdy. The socks are boring -- 2x2 ribbed legs, gusset heel, ribbed top of foot.

Here's a picture showing one sock off my foot. It's hard to believe it fits:

Charlotte looked at it the other day and said, "You started those back when your feet were smaller." I do love the stretchiness of 2x2 rib.

Must start another pair of socks for emergency knitting purposes. I'd like to make them fancier -- except then they might not qualify as emergency knitting, they might be a Real Project. Which means I'd have to remember what I was doing instead of just letting them languish in my purse. Not that these turned out to be totally foolproof ...