Saturday, February 28, 2009

May I Introduce...?

...the Snowflake Illusion blanket started many moons ago, and finished with a flourish of Kitchener stitching this afternoon:
I first saw illusion patterns last summer...about 10 minutes before starting this blanket. Really. It's not often I see something really new to me in knitting, and this was just fascinating. I had to try it.

So with a clever stitch pattern you can make a design show up when viewed from the side, but disappear when viewed straight on:

The reverse side is not as good looking, but you can still sort of see the snowflake design so that's pretty neat anyway.
I am so relieved to have this done. It's been a real "back-burner" project, always lowest in priority, just to be pulled out when I needed something easy or that could travel and had nothing else. But slowly progress was made, and finally this afternoon I took the time to do the last couple rows and do the finishing which had to be done at home.

I took this design from Emily Byrd's Snowflake Illusion Scarf that I found through Ravelry. (Where else?) I just knit two very short scarves, then knit the blue strip to be sewn between them. The outside garter stitch border was knit directly on by passing the last stitch over a stitch knit up from the edge of the blanket. The corners were done with short rows. The border was started in the middle of one of the sides with a provisional crochet cast on, and when I had gone all around the blanket and got back to the beginning, I stitched the two ends together with the Kitchener stitch. I know many people dread it, but I love to Kitchener. It's so sneaky!

The final size is about 25" x 30"; not big enough for a crib, but probably nice over a car seat. I have no idea where or with whom it will end up. Maybe some baby I don't know yet, or maybe some charity drive that will come along. I just made it to try out this illusion technique.

Keep exploring,

[ETA: The blanket won a 2nd place ribbon at the 2009 County Fair (knitted baby afghan).]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quilt Update and Paper Piecing Tutorial

For a little break from knitting, I'll tell you about the quilting I was able to fit in last week:
I completed the eight "Melon Spike" pieces of the Hawaiian Star including making the decision of how to place the dark colours. Final decision was to make the pieces all identical (as opposed to using them to make a pattern that would sweep across the whole quilt) and it more or less flows from lightest green to darkest blue.

The blue I like the least ended up being highlighted (the "top" blue fabric), but I think it works there. It's always interesting to me how I can use fabrics or colours I actually don't like much but which are necessary for the piece as a whole to work. Plus I do tend to limit how far I'm willing to go search for the perfect piece. I will make do. That's how I like to work.

In the big picture, the Melon Spikes fit into the quilt at the intersections of the Lone Star sections. (Circled in yellow for you below.)
I expect the blues and greens of the Melon Spikes to echo nicely the same colours in the Corner Spikes right above them. The circling geese pieces (that I still have to do) will arc in between them. So yes, I still have to piece the Circling Geese. I missed my self-imposed deadline of Feb 21, when the club was originally going to meet. I can still make the final deadline of having the top pieced by the final meeting on Mar 21.

And now for a tutorial on Foundation Paper Piecing

If you are not interested in how to paper piece, then feel free to skip the rest of this post. I'm including it because I've heard from a couple people since starting this quilt that paper piecing makes no sense to them. [whiny voice] "It's ha-ard" [end whiny voice] And that's hooey. So I hope the following pictures and descriptions will make some sense of it for you because this method is a wonderful way to do certain designs and achieve unbelievably fabulous points! Always the highest goal of any quilter!

First, the tools that will make life easier:
There is the rotary cutter (which every quilter must have), the wooden iron (which nicely replaces pressing with your fingernail, or "finger pressing"), and the Add a Quarter ruler (which simplifies cutting a quarter inch seam allowance). Oh, and to be honest, you'll probably need a seam ripper too. Mistakes do happen...

Foundation paper piecing starts with a foundation paper on which is printed the design and if you're lucky, seam allowances. Because what you see on the paper is the wrong side, it is the mirror image of the final pattern. In the pattern I have, the seam allowances are indicated by dotted lines and the stitch lines by solid lines.
In the few patterns I've done with paper piecing, the pattern's writer indicated what size of fabric to cut for each section. One pattern just specified rectangle pieces big enough to cover the section and this current project has templates so that the fabric can be cut more efficiently. The fundamental idea is to have a large enough piece of fabric to cover the section and the seam allowances. But always cut a little on the generous side if you have to choose.

Taking the foundation paper, find section 1, the first section to be put in place:
Take your fabric for section one, and put it under the paper right side down so it "covers" section one including its seam allowances. In the following pic you can see the fabric (circled in yellow) under the paper, and it is big enough to "cover" the area outlined in orange. (It may be bigger than that, but it has to at least cover that.)
Now some people use a glue stick to keep this fabric in place for the next couple steps, but I prefer pins. User's choice!

Now you want to fold the paper back along line 1. I use an index card to fold the paper against to make a nice, straight and firm fold.

So now the paper is folded back revealing the "excess" fabric underneath:
We need to cut some of that fabric away so that we will have neat 1/4 inch seams. Using your Add a Quarter ruler, place the lip of the ruler against the paper fold and cut along the edge of the ruler. Voila! A perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance. You can do this with a regular quilter's ruler, but it is slower and more prone to slip ups. I find the specialty ruler well worth it.

Now that we have the edge of the seam allowance defined, we can take the fabric for section two and slip is under the fabric for section one right side up. (You're sewing right sides together, just like usual.)
Match the two fabric edges:
Then flip the paper back, (pin if desired), and sew along line 1.

After sewing, we can flip the whole thing over, and you can see the seam you have just sewn:
(If you used a glue stick, this is the time to pull the fabric away from the paper. If you leave it til the end, it will become very difficult to rip the paper away.)

Now flip the section two fabric over, and press with your wooden iron (or finger nail, if preferred). You do not want to be running back and forth to a real iron, and the non-heated pressing does not distort your fabrics.
I have learned that you should not rub too hard or vigorously with the wooden iron or it will mar your fabric and give it "heat burn" making it shiny.

Now for the next piece...You want to take your index card and fold the paper along line 2. However, the previous stitching is in the way (see yellow circle). All you need to do is pull the point of a straight pin along the stitch line (not too hard, you don't want to rip the thread) in order to tear the paper. You can then fold the paper back.
You then proceed to cut the fabric 1/4 inch from the fold with your Add a Quarter ruler, align your fabric for section three, fold the paper back, (pin if desired), sew along line 2, press open, and repeat for all sections of the piece.

Section three is added:
Section four:
Sections five...and six and seven (oops, missed some pictures):
Section eight:
Section nine:
The final steps are to press with a heat iron (and steam, I love the steam!), and cut everything off at the outside cutting line of the paper.
Et voila! A final piece. And please admire those beautiful points! I really had nothing to do with them; they're automatic with this method.

I will admit that the trickiest part of this method is making sure your fabric is big enough to cover the section it's supposed to. Sewing non-square pieces at funny angles really exercises the spatial computing part of your brain. Some people will trace the dotted seam allowance lines to the back side of the paper with a light box so that you can see exactly where your fabric needs to be when you're putting it into place. It does help but I found it to be way too much tedious-ness for the couple of seams I might have to rip back. And this is one of those things that gets easier and easier with practice. (Surprise surprise.)

I hope this makes some sense of the process for you, keeping in mind that it's just one step at a time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"You've Got Some Nerve!"

"You did what? How dare you?!"

Ok, so I did something I wish I didn't have to. And I'm feeling a little shameful about it, but before you judge, let me defend myself.

I absolutely loved the hat I got at the hat exchange. I did.
First, it's alpaca and dreamy soft. Let me say again, Al-pa-ca. Yum. I loved that someone made it with care and did a great job. The colours are gorge. BUT...

But, I couldn't wear it. It just didn't fit. The colour stranding wouldn't stretch and the hat was too tight. I finally decided that if I really loved the hat I had to remake it, rather than let it sit in a drawer never worn and feeling unloved. I hope if its maker ever reads this post she will forgive me for the sacrilege and recognize that I redid this hat out of love...

But once the decision was made, I unraveled the hat from the top down. Another testament to how well the hat was made was how straight forward it was to undo. No knots, and logical construction. (So often not the case.) When I got below the colour work, I put all the stitches onto some dpns [double pointed needles]. 112 sts.
And rolled up all the yarn I had to use:
Then I started again. Although I considered recreating the original pattern, I didn't because 1. it would be a pain to try to chart it, and 2. I'd probably run out of yarn since I would be knitting looser so that hat would stretch and fit.

So, instead, I went with the Three and One pattern from EZ's book The Opinionated Knitter. It's a colour pattern she designed for sweaters in which every row contains 1 st of one colour and 3 st of another, with a few solid rows thrown in. It's one of those cases where something very simple leads to a deceptively complex design.

I started following her pattern closely, except that I had to stick with the same two colours for a few consecutive rows instead of changing them as often as she did. Then after I lost my place in the chart once, I was "loosely" following her pattern. And by the end I was doing a pattern "inspired by" EZ's pattern. I did, however, stick with the Three and One principal. When the hat was long enough, I switched back to black yarn and made the crown according to EZ's pillbox pattern in the same book.

The final hat:
I am a little disconcerted by all the left over yarn I have, but I think my version came out shorter. (The original was pretty long; or at least long enough that I could fold the brim over as a cuff.) I still feel a bit like I've lived the comic scene where someone rebuilds a clock or an engine and has three leftover parts that don't seem to belong anywhere...but you know they must have been needed somewhere...

But in spite of that, and best of all, it fits!

Or, if you prefer, a side-by-side comparison:

While knitting this up, I took pics and video for a colour stranding tutorial...look for it soon!

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Your Package Has Arrived"

Remember the Harmony knitting needles I ordered? They have arrIIIiived!!
They are so beautiful!

The laminated layers don't show up on the tiny needles quite as well as I had hoped, but they are still wonderful to look at and handle.

The set includes six sizes...well, kind of. I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that there are several sizing systems for knitting needles. Here in the US there is, of course, the American size, and slowly and fitfully you get metric sizes. You can roughly approximately a needle from one system with a close size of the other, but they are not exact. In the case of very small needles, the US system just isn't refined enough. So this set includes:

Metric = US size
2.00 mm = size 0
2.25 mm = size 1
2.50 mm = size 1
2.75 mm = size 2
3.00 mm = size 2
3.25 mm = size 3

See what's wrong there? And coming from Canada, I have a few UK sized needles mixed in too. That is more confusing because it uses the same numbers as the US system but the sizes aren't the same. (And I think one goes up as the sizes increase, and the other counts down for increasing size.) But somehow, I carry on...

When Troy saw the needles, he commented on their similarity to toothpicks, so that prompted me to make the comparison:
The smallest size (left) certainly is approaching toothpick size.

So what to do with them? I ordered them so I'd have something to work some socks out of this wool I unraveled from a vest from Goodwill:
First I rolled the one skein into a ball and then started to knit a swatch. I was eager enough to try the needles but not quite ready with a pattern to start. And the wool from the front of the vest kept breaking on me as I unwound it. I spliced the pieces together but needed to know whether it would hold up to being reknit.
I'm using the size 1 needles...just's the 2.50 mms. 24 stitches.
The swatch is very cute and the wool knit up fine, despite being veeerrry thin in places. I got it cast off tonight and will wash it a little and let it dry to see if it holds up. Then I'm going to search (again) for the sock tutorial on knitting socks from the toe up so I can get something "real" started. My feet are so excited by the promise of green woolly socks. Yum!

But now for some sleep,

PS: EZ says swatches are not wasted, but make very handy pockets. However, I can't quite imagine incorporating a pocket onto my socks...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What My Honey Gave Me

Happy Valentine's Day!

A couple weeks ago I was talking about Elizabeth Zimmermann and saying I couldn't believe I had none of her books. I think we would be kindred spirits (not equals, I wouldn't claim that, but I think we think along the same lines) and I'm hearing/reading more and more about her lately. I happened to say this around my husband who immediately asked, "Oh, would this make a good birthday present?" (He is always trying to give me good birthday presents which lately has resulted in my getting at least one in all three of the months leading to my birthday!) I said that my birthday is months away but Valentine's Day is next Saturday so I thought it would make a better Valentine's present. (I'm learning how to work this system!)

So about four days later I find this
lying on my pillow. How wonderful! And isn't that a great title? (Elizabeth had a hankering to be called this and wanted it to be the title of her first book. The publisher, however, insisted on Knitting Without Tears, which is also a good title. But not as good.) I'm taking my time to read through this slim volume and enjoying the patterns from the old newsletters, the extra notes written by her daughter and fellow knitter, Meg Swansen, and the excerpts from Elizabeth's journals.

In my first glance I read this from a journal entry in 1972 about skiing
As a young woman I considered myself competent on skis, having been lucky enough to have enjoyed about a decade of Alpine skiing. Standards were gentle in those days. Snappy turns on a well-groomed slope were considered more meretricious than otherwise and the main attributes of a good skier were endurance, strong legs and a love of discomfort... (p 7)
I love this attitude! I learned the word, meretricious, during a game of Balderdash (played from a dictionary) so many years ago; what a joy to see it actually used! (Well-worth looking up.)

She goes on to say that "Lifts were for the rich and worldly" but I'm not sure I want to go that far! I rather enjoy chair lifts when I'm skiing.

I'm also learning that talk about Elizabeth is full of abbreviations I'm just expected to know, such as,
EZ = Elizabeth Zimmermann (in knitting, EZ will never mean "easy" but always Elizabeth)

EPS: Elizabeth's Percentage System, a system to calculate how many stitches to cast on for different parts of a sweater given the number needed for the full chest measurement. It allows you to adapt patterns to almost any gauge or yarn you may use.

BSJ: Baby Surprise Jacket, a pattern knit all in one piece that "surprisingly" turns into a baby jacket after sewing two seams. Very popular design for KALs still today. Classic.

And I'm sure there are more that I will learn about. I have a new nephew; perhaps getting this book which includes EZ's BSJ pattern will inspire me to make it for him. If I do, I'll let you know!

I feel like I am about to delve into a whole new world. Thanks, honey!

And I will leave you with EZ's own tagline:
Kint on, with confidence and hope, through all crises,

Fridays at the Purl: Hat Exchange

Tonight was the big night at the Purl for the hat exchange. I believe there were 11 hats exchanged. We all brought one, Amy put them into bags, and we pulled numbers to see who got which hat. As often happens when things are randomly distributed, it was amazing how many people got the perfect hat for them. (Ok, one person did a "second round" trade a little later but that all worked for the best, too.)

Since I had been keeping my hat top secret, I will now reveal that I did a Vortex from the latest issue of knitty in Malabrigo worsted in Blue Surf and Simply Taupe.
It was a fun knit with lots of short rows, but the top came out very pointy. I got most of that blocked out by arranging the wet hat onto a large pickle jar with a flat top (well, usually it's the bottom but I had the jar upside-down)

and it came out pretty long too. However I thought it looked good on the recipient and she seemed to like it. The pattern would be much more dramatic in colours that contrasted more, or if one were a self-striping yarn, but that is not for everyone either.

I, myself, got a lovely fair-isle hat in dream-a-licious alpaca. I believe I heard that this was the first fair-isle done by its maker, and if that is true, she really did a great job. (Well, it's a good job either way, but especially for a first time.) The hat will look great with my black coat, and is a really nice combinations of colours.

Here is the whole gang after we have all gotten our new hats:
In addition to all the hat exchange fun, and the fantastic treats you can see laid out on the table, I also got in about two and a half hours of knitting so all in all, a very good night.

And that is what I wish you: a very good night,

Friday, February 13, 2009

Afghan KAL Snafu

Yes, I ran into a snafu while knitting my latest block for this year's afghan. And by snafu, I mean mistake, of course. Do you see it?

Maybe this will help:
As I used to sing with Sesame Street, "One of these bobbles is not like the others / One of these bobbles just isn't the same." Apparently this taught kids to be racist and quick to find fault with those unlike themselves, but in knitting it just won't do to have a "unique" bobble. No individuality here, thank you very much.

I still don't know what went wrong; I just know that when I paused to examine my work (ok, let's be honest: admire) I was appalled to find something that didn't look right. I showed the entire square to my husband (who's no knitter but has an eye for detail) to see if he could spot the mistake. I let him know there was a mistake, but not what or where it might be. Well, he spotted it right away and said it must be fixed. Yes, it must.

So I had a choice: I could tink(1) or frog(2) back 6 or 8 rows, or I could just undo the stitches that would lead me down to the mistake. The second option involved less reknitting and didn't preclude resorting to the first option if it didn't work. I've done enough of this type of repair to feel confident, but I've never done it for such a complicated pattern. We've got purl 3 togethers in here and (K1, P1, K1) into one stitch, so this was not just a straight up and down march. I would be making three stitches into one and one stitch into three as I went.

Step 1. Knit across the row until you get just before the stitches which are above the mistake. In this case, the "column" above the mistake was alternating between 3 stitches and 1. At this particular row, it was only 1, and I let that stitch fall off the left needle.
[right side facing]

Step 2. Gently pull out the stitches one row at a time until you get to the row just below the mistake. You have just undone your mistake: congratulations. Catch the stitch(es) onto a crochet hook approximately the size of your needles.  All the long "rungs" of yarn you see below are the pieces that will be needed to make new correct stitches, row by row.
[right side facing]

Step 3. Start knitting the rows back up, keeping in pattern, using the crochet hooks. This is, of course, the tricky part. You just have to remember that knitting and purling are the same thing but reversed. (A knit stitch on one side is a purl stitch on the other.) This will tell you which way to pull the new stitch through the old on the hook. In this pic, you see I have just (K1, P1, K1) into the stitch below. Hence the three crochet hooks.
[right side facing]

Here I have slipped all three stitches onto one hook and am about to "purl" them all back onto one stitch.
[wrong side facing]

Now I'm half way through the purl 3 together. I've hooked the yarn for the next row and have pulled it through two of the stitches on the hook. I'm about to pull it through the last one.
[wrong side facing]

Step 4. After working through all the rungs/rows, slip the final stitch(es) back onto the knitting needle. 
[wrong side facing]

And then check your work. After looking at mine for a few minutes, I figured out that I had knit 3 together instead of purling. So I took it all out and did it again. It's still less than 10 minutes and I figure that's way less than frogging and reknitting all those rows. (And it's better for your wool, too. Less wear and tear.) It is also an opportunity to see your knitting in a new way: you may learn something about how it all works together!

Now can you find it?
Well, I think I can too. But I think it's because the wool got a little fuzzy and tension hasn't quite evened out. I have studied it carefully and am sure that it is technically identical to the other bobbles even if it doesn't look quite even. I believe some blocking will make just about all of that go away.

In the context of a larger afghan made of 12 of these blocks, I'm really not concerned about it showing. I just wanted to make it right. I made the repairs on Wednesday night, and got the rest of the block knit and cast off last night.

Tonight is the long-anticipated hat exchange at Red Purl: wish me luck!

(1) tink: a technique of undoing stitches one at a time from right needle to left needle. The term is the word "knit" spelled backwards. (Good for complicated stitches or a small number of stitches to be undone)
(2) frog: to rip out your knitting by removing the needle from the stitches and pulling on the working yarn. When you're as far back as you want to be, you reinsert the needle and continue from there. The term seems to come from either the sound the stitches make as they're being unravelled or the words, "rip it, rip it" that you say as you go along. (Good when large areas of knitting need to be undone)

May I suggest?

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