Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fridays at the Purl

Last night I went to my first Fridays at the Purl. I had to drop off my design for the KAL Afghan and a square I had made for an afghan that's going to be auctioned off as part of a fund-raiser.

First the design: Amy stamped her approval, but gave a warning that some knitters were going to "wig out" because I had used ssk's and YO's. I think they like to wig out before they sit down to learn something, because they can all do it once they get their wig back on (so to speak). But I also had to adjust the beginning and ending of the square (not realizing that they are knit one after the other without casting off between), so I further simplified the pattern and added the requisite stitch definitions. We will be doing the square next Sunday (the 8th), so it will be fun to see what the reaction is...I'll let you know...

As to the other afghan square: Local organizers are are having a silent auction in connection with the production, Michiana Monologues, to raise money for local shelters and organizations which help abused and at-risk women. So they asked the knitters connected with Red Purl to knit a square out of their spare sock yarn. It was one of the on-going projects that you could work on during Fridays at the Purl last year. I got in a little late in the game, but they still needed squares, so I made one. I was prepared to spend my Friday night sewing squares together, but it turned out that the organizer had already picked up the other squares. So I'm out of the loop on the rest of that one. I hope the blanket raises a bunch of money; I'll let you know if I find out.

And since I had no squares to sew together, I sat down to do some knitting of my own. Oh wait, actually first I shopped and shopped the bulky yarns because I'm considering whether I can commit to making this:
The more I look at it, the more I love it. Imagine it a little longer in the waist, and maybe this colour.  Or you could look at other colours in this yarn here. Amy would have to order it in for me so I could get enough of one dye lot. Every one there was very enthusiastic and ready to spend my money. (We had a lot of fun.) I'm just not sure I could get it done, find something suitable to wear it with (like a black body suit or something!), and find occasions to wear it. I mean that is not something I put on to go to work and then cram under a lab coat. Just doesn't work.

But imagine wearing it in the spring when you no longer need a heavy coat, but you need something...oh it would be so dreamy...

Keep dreaming,

Sahara Update

Remember the "Sahara" that I was working on? I got as far as joining the front and back below the underarm (recall that I am working from top down), and started to do some of the waist shaping decreases so it was time to try it on and see how it is fitting. That's supposed to be one of the advantages of working top down.

I didn't really feel like doing this because for one, I had a good rhythm and momentum going and didn't want to stop. For two, I  knew it would be cold and I don't like to be cold.

As a way to force myself to do it anyway, I transfered all the stitches to waste yarn (because you can't try it on with the needle still in it). So now I couldn't knit on it until I had tried it on. The plan sort of worked because I sure didn't knit on it. But I didn't try it on either...for about two weeks. Poor Sahara.

In addition to the cold, I also had an issue of where to take the picture because all of my mirrors have unsightly things in the background. Then a day or two ago, I had a zinger of an idea, and that was enough to make me brave the cold, try it on, and even take some pictures.

There's not much to fitting the front yet since it's still open. But it looked and felt like it was right. You can see the bright yellow waste yarn I used to put the stitches on. (No mistaking that for the real yarn when I'm putting the stitches back on the needles!) And you can see my little yellow stitch marker (the half circle thing) which marks where I need to do the decreases. Stitch markers are one of those things I caught onto late in life because you can do without them, but it sure is easier with them. They sell fancy beautiful ones, but simple plastics rings are very cheap and there is no reason not have some if you're doing any kind of knitting more than a dishcloth. (And even then they might come in handy.)

I think the back looks a little more like the final product. It's hanging right, and fits over the shoulders. You'll see more waste yarn holding the stitches for the collar. (I think the pattern says to cast them off, but I always prefer to just put them on yarn and then knit them up in the collar. No rigid seam then--I prefer some stretch.) You can also see a couple more stitch markers, again for the decreases.

The knitted fabric felt really nice, and I'm glad I still really liked the colour after not having seen it in a while. (Sometimes you can fall in love at the store, but it's not lasting.)

Now that I am reassured about the fit and feel that I have "done the right thing" I can put those stitches back on the needle and get going again. Yeah! Also in the spirit of "doing things right" I am working from two different balls. Hand-dyed yarns can vary from ball to ball quite a bit even when they're marked as coming from the same dye lot. These look pretty close, but just in case, I am knitting 2 rows with one ball and the next 2 with another. Then if the balls vary, it still makes an overall pattern and colour impression and your sweater isn't splotchy.

All for now,

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Beading I

So I've gotten into a little beading lately. Just walking through the bead aisle is enough to get me hooked, there are so many gorgeous beads, rocks, and stones out there.
I bought myself a little beading tray set up with a gift card a few months ago and have collected up a few supplies.

My first necklace had to be restrung three times before it was wearable. A couple attempts involved trying to knot the string between each bead like they do with pearl necklaces, so that if the string breaks the beads don't fly off and spread all over the floor. But the bead holes were too big, or the string too any case, it didn't work. In the end I knotted between the repeated round beads by the clasp, but left the center portion free. I could still use some lessons and practice at the details like attaching clasps, but I'm improving. (I'm sure a book or two from the library would be in order.)

I made a matching bracelet by stringing the same beads on some memory wire. It was my first time working with memory wire and it was very easy, at least for the smaller beads. The wire is preset to a certain curve (or diameter) so you buy a different curve for bracelets or necklaces. Since the metal "remembers" its shape, you can either make the piece a little long so the ends just overlap to hold the item on, or with a little extra pressure you can form a hook on the end to grab a split ring (which is what I did). The longer beads were a little hard to push onto the memory wire because of the curve, but I managed to get them on without breaking anything (and by flattening the bracelet into more of an oval). All this set needed were some dangling earrings and voila: a complete set.

I had bought the black and white square beads a while ago and finally decided what to do with them: I strung them onto some leather thongs, secured with knots. (The pic shows the back side so you can see the knots better.)

It also required several tries to get the sizing right and everything even, but it's ok now. It is very snug (there's a reason they call them "chokers") but I like the look and besides, it's the only way the beads will hang right without flipping wrong side up.

I am currently working on another project with several related necklaces, but that will be revealed when it is finished and the recipients have all received theirs. (Stay tuned...)

Meanwhile I am wearing more jewellery than I normally do, and keeping an eye out at stores for beads that I like. It's been fun. Yet another hobby I can do while camped out in front of the woodstove...

Bead on!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steps to a Design: Drop Stitch

So while I have been confined to the little area in front of my woodstove (it's frigid cold), I have used my time to work on my Red Purl KAL afghan design. First I mapped out a design using drop stitches which stepped up and to the right from the bottom of the square to the top, with alternating sections of knit and purl. Very good in theory: simple stitches, very graph-able (to teach new skills), fun and "easy." In practice, however, it didn't work out at all. So rip, rip and I'm back to the beginning and started designing with the needles and wool instead of the computer and chart.

First thing I did was simplify even more. Instead of trying to move the drop stitch row around, I kept it running up and down. That helped. And I worked out how many stitches to decrease from the border so the square would be square. And I gave up on the alternating purl rows because a dropped stitch between knit and purl stitches just doesn't seem to work.

Once I had a basic pattern I thought was good then I addressed the details. For one, the dropped stitches were getting lost because the stitches bordering the dropped stitches were stretching out. Remembering overhearing a comment Amy [Red Purl owner] made to someone in the shop about a drop stitch scarf sample doing the same thing, and with some online research, I found my solution.

Take a look at the following picture (ignore the arrows for now; they're not yet relevant):

In the bottom third (under the lowest red line) is the first attempt. You can see the dropped stitches (the long horizontal lines forming a sort of ladder), and you can notice how the stitches on either side of the ladder are stretched out and cause the ladder to narrow. In time these stitches will kind of all even out and just look like some big loose sloppy stitches. (And that is not good, in case that's not clear.)

In the middle third, you can see where I twisted the border stitch on every other row. It's a little easier to do on the right side when you're knitting the stitch rather than on the wrong side when you're purling. I was hoping that would be enough to neaten things up. But it's really not. The stitches keep their shape a little better and we haven't lost so much of the dropped stitch ladder, but the border stitches are uneven from one row to the next and still look pretty messy.

So we had to take it one step further and twist the border stitches on every row. You can see in the top third the stitches are firm and even, and the dropped stitch ladder is wide and even. This is the best method to keep the pattern stable through wear and use.

Are you curious enough about this stitch to ask how it's done? (Hint: if not, just skip the rest of this post.)

You have to set up the drop stitch ladder by doing a K2tog, YO [knit 2 together, yarn over] in the first row. This will be the base of the ladder and will keep the dropped stitch from running all the way down to the cast on edge.

After you have that base, you can just knit above the YO until you want to let the stitch go. This pic shows some stitches that have already been "dropped" and form the ladder we're looking for. The circled stitches have been knit above them and are ready to be dropped.
And what about the twisted stitches? Well, each row, at the stitch just before the dropped stitch ladder, you insert your right needle into the back of the next stitch and then knit (or purl) like normal. It's as easy as that.
Then you get the the stitch right over the dropped stitch ladder. And guess what you do with it: (...wait for it...) you drop it! (Don't you feel smart for getting the right answer on that one.) Yup, you just lift it off the left needle and let it go. So liberating. (And yes, it feels a little naughty too.)

Now you need to make up for that dropped stitch so that you're not decreasing stitches as you go. So what you do is another YO. A simple solution that continues the dropped stitch ladder for you too. In the next pic you can see that the yarn has been brought to the front before knitting the next stitch (see arrow) and this will create the YO. And now that we've mentioned the next stitch, don't forget to knit it through the back loop (see circle) so that it will also be twisted.
After you've completed the row, you can observe your YO (red circle) and your dropped stitch starting to work its way down (white circle). Of course, if you're impatient like me, you pull at the stitches to make them unravel quicker but in general they will do that by themselves.
Really, you can drop the stitch whenever you want. If you're knitting with slippery yarn you could probably knit a whole piece and drop the stitch at the top. With just a little pulling at the edges the stitch will easily run all the way down. However, if you have a more sticky yarn (like most wools) you may want to drop the stitch more often. I love to do it more often (usually every 6 to 8 rows) because it breaks up the tedium of knitting in stocking stitch.

Another thing I've done to break up the tedium in this particular project is adding a seed stitch column in between the drop stitch ladders. (That's what the white arrows are pointing out.) I think it adds a little needed texture and emphasizes the vertical nature of the overall pattern.
In general I'm happy with the design and hope that Amy and the other knitters like it. I haven't signed up for a month yet (sign ups don't actually open til this Sunday), so I don't know when we will be doing it. I have done this half block sample in some leftover Malabrigo I had around. I will be doing an entire block in some other colour yet to be determined. (And that way I have something to knit the month that we get together to do my block!)

I have one more idea for a block that I want to do, but I am going to keep it to myself for now. I will not submit it as a group block but am thinking that I may substitute it in for some block on a month that maybe I don't like quite as much. If it works out it will be a fun little surprise for Amy too.

Ok, enough reading--now start designing something of your own!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Afghan KAL 2009

I've joined a knitting class (club). Yes it's true. Amy has set up a KAL where you get together once a month on a Sunday afternoon, get a new pattern to try out on a square which after 12 months will turn into an afghan.

I spent way too much time choosing yarn on Saturday for my afghan. I wanted to use Lorna's Laces Fisherman Worsted because it was sooo soft and not Malabrigo again! But most of the Lorna's had been sold out and there were only a few variegated colours left. (Apparently everyone else does not wait until the day before to buy their materials!) The colours were gorgeous in themselves but not what I wanted. Variegated colours do not showcase stitches or patterns, and if I'm going to do an afghan where the whole point is to have different stitches in every block, why would I use a yarn where I can't see the stitch??

And so I was seduced by the colours of Malabrigo. I started with a luscious orange that is neither too bright nor too drab. I keep calling it Burnt Carrot, but it's actually Glazed Carrot. (Almost as good.) I'll buy the other colours as I go, although there is a beautiful sky blue I already have my eye on in the shop. I'll have to move fast if I see the supply dwindling...
The pattern is a Reverse Stockinette Chevrons that Amy wrote up. I got about half way done the square while sitting at the shop and got almost done at home while watching the NFL playoffs.

There was a huge crowd at the shop, easily 20 people. Many more than I expected, I must confess. It was a big mix up of people that knew each other well, not at all, and a little bit but just through Red Purl. I stayed the whole time and enjoyed it, but it was fun when the crowd thinned out for the last hour and we had fun with just a few of us. And then I managed to snag a seat on the couch by the faux woodstove heater too.

Almost all were working on the afghan and those that weren't were waiting to get yarn and would join in later. It will be fun to see how the same pattern will be interpreted by so many people and how it will turn out in all the different yarn choices. Many are not doing Malabrigo this year, but only because they did one (or two!) last year. And it will also be interesting to see how many stick it out for the full year and get it done! (There was someone there who admitted that she hasn't gotten past July last year, but is starting another one this year anyway!)

The best part?? This year Amy is opening up the design work. If she picks your design then you get a free skein for the project the next month. Oh yes! I am in! I'm thinking of something with dropped stitches: they're so fun and feel so naughty!!

Off to design a winner...

Getcher butt in gear

I was knitting at home on Saturday after getting home from work and a visit to Red Purl to get set up for Amy's afghan knit-along [KAL] (more on that later...). I was happily knitting on my Sahara as it was going along nicely. The Manos silk blend knits up very evenly.
I've just had one thick spot in the yarn and it knit into an edge so nothing to worry about... I got the back done as far as the armhole shaping, and then started the front when I thought that if I'm going to start yet another project then I have got to get that hat ready to send to Iraq. And circumstances were lining up so that I didn't have much time to knit at lunch breaks or times when I'm waiting. So the hat was kind of languishing. Saturday evening I decided that was going to end. I had the Sahara to a point that I could knit it away from home, and so concentrated on the hat.

Before church on Sunday morning, I had the hat done; including the finishing since I had the right tools packed with me. (Now that's getting your butt in gear!) This hat has turned out as well as the other ones like this I've done and I hope it gets much good use.

With the hat done, I could work a little on the Sahara again, and got the front also knit down to the armhole shaping. You see, the Sahara is worked from the shoulders down. The back is cast on with the crochet cast on I've discussed before. And then when it's done to the armhole, you pick up the caston edge and work the front down from that point. When the front is at the same point as the back under the arm, then you start knitting them all together.
That's about as far as I am. I have to knit another two inches straight before the waist shaping will begin. At that point I'll try is on; that's one of the advantages to knitting a sweater top down. [More pics to come...] I've adjusted the colour on this picture so it matches pretty closely to the real sweater. The colour is so rich. It's hand-dyed so the colour varies a little which gives the sweater a real depth. Lovely.

Keep the needles clacking,

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Catching Up

Let's catch up on a few projects I've started or finished lately:

1. I started a red better plastic bag yesterday.
I am just loving the solid red colour; it's surprisingly rich and looks like it's just been soaked in dye. It looks like I'll have plenty to make at least one large tote. (Phew!) This bag has a rectangle bottom (about 4" x 12") and I'm not sure yet how tall it will get. I think I will do short "in line" handles (like the black and white book bag) instead of the longer handles I did on the other large totes.

2. I cast on for another Hat Fit for a Boyfriend. This one is for a co-worker's son who was recently deployed to Iraq. It's cold at night so I thought a soft, light-weight, Malabrigo hat would be just the thing. I should have enough of the same brown left over from the two hats I made previously.

3. I finished my Birthday Cowl. I had a few false starts but really like how it turned out. First of all, the Malabrigo colour "Snow Bird" couldn't look better! Second, it fits well and is so warm; it seems to keep a cushion of warm air around my neck--so nice!
I did modify the pattern slightly. It's a biased rib, written to slant from right to left. But doing decreases right to left means you have to do a slip stitch decrease (aka ssk) which is a) time consuming because you have to pause in your forward momentum and "back up" to slip and pass the slip stitch over; and b) not as attractive. No matter how you do it, the ssk is never as smooth or nice as a simple K2tog. But the K2tog leans left to right so you can't use it in this pattern...right?

Nope, you simply need to accept a left to right slanting bias and reverse the instructions. So sl1, k1, psso, k6, yo, k3 becomes k3, yo, K6, K2tog. Simple, right? It was, and is. And then I made one more small change: I didn't like the hole left by the YO so I just picked up the yarn from the previous row. (This is exactly equivalent except the YO makes the yarn a little longer and that's what I didn't want.) So my final pattern was k3, M1, K6, K2tog.

3. This session's Caps for a Cure:
I did the yellow in November and got the red one done during my travels and time off over Christmas. I like the Foliage pattern a lot. They will be sent to a cancer center in LA, CA. (Why do they need hats in such a warm climate?? Mostly because of A/C being set too cold! :pet peeve alert:)

You may notice I tried a little modification on the second cap at the crown. I didn't really like the heavy look of the four two-stitch "ribs" going down from the top so I tried the second cap with a one-stitch rib. Besides not really liking the look, this was also suggested by the pattern which has you decrease the extra rib stitch where they end in the pattern: if you have to take it out later anyway, why put it in in the first place?? So I took it out. I'm not sure it's a big improvement, but it was fun to try and turn my irritation into action! I also fiddled with the decreases: the pattern had a left leaning double decrease which really should have been a center double decrease. That was definitely an improvement, but I'm quite sure you won't be able to see the difference in these pictures.

4. And finally: what happened to my Candle Flame Scarf?
I got it finished in early December and it came out great. The Kitchener stitch to connect the two halves worked great and the seam is nearly invisible. Despite being made from the delectable Malabrigo, it turned out a little itchy on my neck. I have been advised to wash it in vinegar and then treat it with hair conditioner (wool being animal hair after all). I haven't yet tried this, partly because I'm quite enamoured with my cowl.

[ETA: the Candleflame scarf won a 2nd place ribbon at the 2009 County Fair (knitted hat, scarf or mittens set).]

Up next, I bought supplies today for the lovely "Sahara" designed by Wendy Bernard.
I'll be doing it with cap sleeves out of a silk/merino mix and the trim is a silk with sequins.'s so exciting! I haven't cast on yet because I need to take a breath and some time to get ready to do the necessary swatching and gauge-checking. (So tedious; so essential.)

And I also bought a unbelievably lovely Malabrigo lace weight in "Jewel Blue." At 470 yds I thought it might be enough for a shawl, but now I'm not so sure. Looking through lace shawl patterns has got me all fired up, but first things first. (And first, the Sahara!)

All this makes me wonder, how can I convince my hubby that I really should leave my job and be a stay-at-home wife?

Let me know if you have any great ideas on that!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Better Plastic Bags

Last spring my aunt sent me an article about cutting up plastic bags and using them to crochet bags. The idea struck a cord and I went to town. My first bag was a black and white book/magazine tote made completely from WalMart bags for my mom (bottom left). She loved it. From there I made a couple larger totes which my co-workers admired so much that I gave them each one (below right).

The detail pic of the red bag (below left) was actually made from purchased fabric strips with a few stripes of white plastic bags thrown in for interest. That one went to my MIL who likes red almost as much as I do.

And then I did two more for myself: a smaller bag (above right) which I used as a purse for a while and a large yellow and white tote (not pictured). Then I ran out of bags (and wasn't getting any more because I was in the habit of using these better plastic bags when shopping) and ran out of steam as well.

Well once my family saw what was being produced, they started to collect nice or interesting bags for me, especially the red ones available where they are in Canada. After Thanksgiving and Christmas visits when they were able to get the bags to me, I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed! I spent a whole evening this week sorting and folding the bags so they wouldn't take over the room. Now I'm feeling pressure to do something with them. At least I have enough red ones now that I am ok with using them. (Scarcity breeds hoarding in me...)
There are, however, a few really pretty ones that I only have one or two bags of:
I will have to think carefully of what to use them for.

After a search through Ravelry for a suitable pattern, I may start with this paperless grocery bag from Coats and Clark. I especially liked this version
by Ravelry user knitgranny. If I can figure out how to do the appliqued leaves in plastic it would be a perfect use for the limited special coloured bags I have.

It takes about 60 bags to do a smaller bag and I'd say up to 100 for the larger totes so if I got going on a couple bags I could use up this supply handily. I also have a store of the new WalMart bags (they switched from the preferred black and white to a funny grey and blue bag) to use as a base colour. I have a strict policy of using only "used" bags (i.e. I will not grab a bunch of new bags at the checkout just to crochet them up). I also have let myself get lazy about having the bags with me when I shop. Perhaps that is partially due to winter weather and the extra trouble it brings.

To make the strips, I fold the bags flat (as pictured above) so I can cut off the bottom seam. Then I cut .5" to 1" strips (depending on the thickness of the bag and what I need) from the bottom to the top. At the top I cut as close to the handles as I can and then discard the handles. You crochet with these loops like you would with a yarn, but when you get to the end of the loop, you slip knot the next loop into it...and repeat...and repeat. One loop makes about 3 dc stitches, so you are adding more loops all the time! But on the other hand, it does break up the crocheting...

I'll let you know how the new bag goes...

May I suggest?

I Say! or at least I did once...