Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Knitting Knitting and Getting Nowhere

This first picture would seem to deny the title of the post, but I have to let you know that after 7 inches of beautiful knitting which took me from green to purple to orange, I had to frog it all. [:hand to throat gasping "No!":] When I got the shaping done to the waist on my Pencil Sketch Camisole, I put all the stitches onto a string and tried it on. You could fit one and a half of me in it. Oh, I hate it when swatches lie...

So while I had it on, I figured out how many stitches to deduct. (Just pinch the extra fabric you don't need and count how many stitches that is.) Well, that brought me pretty much right back to the number the pattern told me to do in the first place. [:double sigh with a big shoulder slump:]

But now I am cast back on, finished the hem, and humming along. One reason this is not as bad as it could be is that the wool is so nice to knit with. Yum, it just makes my fingers and eyes blissful.

Hubby is also partially convinced I took it all out so that I could fix a small mistake I had noticed a number of rows back. (On one stitch I had knit into the stitch of the row below--nothing worth frogging for--but he thinks I take my perfectionism to more extremes than I do.) There was another small mistake in the lace he doesn't know about, but if he did he would count it as additional proof of his theory.

While I'm posting and since I had to do it twice (it came out even nicer the second time), let me share a nice hem for stockingnette garments. I first did it on a baby sweater I made when I was still a young thing (early teens maybe?).

The pattern I'm doing currently actually calls for two rows of ribbing along the bottom but I didn't like how it looked on my swatch. And I didn't think two rows would keep the shirt from curling up. I hate curling. (Not the sport.) This hem will be much better:

Picot Hem Tutorial
Use a loose cast on and knit five or six rows in stocking stitch. Then knit a row of K2tog, YO all the way across. Then knit five or six more rows of stocking stitch:
This will give you a bit of knitting with a row of holes. In the baby sweater I knit as a youngster, the pattern had you fold the piece along the holes and then sew it down like a normal hem after the entire garment was knit. This works, but it's not very satisfying if you don't like sewing seams. And a sewn seam is never as stretchy as the knitting around it.

The alternative is to fold the piece along the holes, putting the cast on edge toward the back of the work and then knitting the cast on edge with the next row. This will "sew" the hem with no sewing at all. (I know, it's like magic!)
So, fold along holes toward the back.

Then use your left needle to pick up the "outside half" of the cast on edge:
(You want to pick up just one strand.)

Then knit the next stitch with this strand like a knit 2 together:
(Right needle is inserted through next stitch and picked-up strand ready to knit them together.)

Here's a pic to show you the back:
(From the back, the "left" needle has picked up the strand.)

And here you can see how the holes have been transformed to "picots." Hence the name, picot hem.
(Again, a view from the back.)

After doing a whole row (or round) of knitting 2 together in this manner, you then just continue to knit. I told you it was like magic.

You can actually use this hem without the YOs so that you get a straight edge along the bottom. In this case, you would usually do a purl row instead which will become your fold line. EZ recommends casting on about 95% of your total stitches (increasing to 100% above the rolled edge) and using a slightly thinner yarn (The Opinionated Knitter p15). I will try this when I get around to knitting hubby the fine gauge sweater I've been thinking about. It will give a flatter and smoother look than the traditional ribbing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pedicure Anyone?

After my first set of socks was done, I wanted to try another pair of toe-up socks (that is, starting at the toe instead of the calf) with a heel flap. It took some searching, but I finally found a tutorial that looked like it was what I was after.

I was interested in the project solely to try out the heel style, so I started the socks half way up the foot. I originally figured I could just rip out the sock and reuse the yarn once I had knit the heel but the sock soon let me know that it was a pedicure sock. So I knit it a mate and am now set to show off my pedicure!

The heel is technically a heel flap, but it is not the same as a traditional calf-down sock. In the above pic, the heel flap is the "rectangle" of vertical knitting on the back of the heel. The gusset is the "triangle" of extra stitches to the right of the heel flap. This is the important feature which allows the sock to expand in diameter around the heel. Project Stats
Started: 20 Mar 09
Finished: 9 Apr 09
Pattern: improvised from free tutorial
Materials: (free!) 1.5 balls Estelle Young Touch Cotton DK
(Much more comfortable than the short-row heel used in my previous socks, IMO.)

But you may notice that the gusset is only half as tall as the heel flap. On a traditional heel, the triangle is the same height as the heel flap. I'll be looking around some more for how to do a traditional heel on a toe-up sock, or perhaps just working it out on my own. Because surely what can be done going down can also be done going up. Surely.

And when I'm ready to try again, I have some lovely lime green in the same cotton which would also make some lovely summer socks! (Shout out to my sister who gave it to me!)

Here's another close up of the heel (pic above) which better shows the shape of the base of the heel. I had only known heel flaps with a rather square shape (not that my experience could in any imagination be called extensive), but this one uses short rows to round the heel to better match the shape of your foot.

To the left, the area enclosed in black lines was all done with the short rows. It makes the heel look a little funny off the foot, but really fits well when worn. Rounding the corners eliminates extra bulk that can get very uncomfortable when worn in shoes.

Of course, these socks will probably be mostly worn with open shoes--sandals and flipflops--but that only makes it important that the socks look like they fit well for different reasons. I wouldn't want an ugly heel to distract from a nice pedicure!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Finishing Mariah: Part 2 of 2

It is time, at last, for the unveiling of my Mariah. (I know you've been sitting on the edge of your seat...)

I've worn it a couple times now and it is comfortable and warm. It really feels good. It came out a little larger than expected (the original pattern calls for it to fit snugly enough to fit under a jean jacket) but feels so good I'm glad it's not smaller and possibly too tight. And it does fit comfortably under my leather jacket, so I can still get the same look if I want.

Project details:
Started: Nov 2004
Finished: Apr 17, 2009
Pattern: Mariah by Jodi Green, free
Materials cost: black wool, free; green wool, $18.80; zipper, $5.66

A general summary of the construction:
. cable details in the ribbing
. knit from the bottom up with the yoke knit as one piece
. raglan style decreases
. constructed from wool rescued from a damaged Gap sweater

Modifications to the pattern:
. simplified cable pattern on sleeve because I knew I didn't have enough wool
. changed neckline shaping because it was coming out too wide
. completely reworked hood including adding the cable edge because I could not get the pattern instructions to work
. did not knit a 2 stitch garter border along front and hood edge. (My edges are neat enough that I do not need to fold over a facing, thank you very much. Yeah, you can come and check them out--they will stand up to your scrutiny!)
. added a second colour because I did not have enough black

I was not crazy about the way the hood fit at first but am coming to terms with it. I just have to learn to put it on right! I think the neckline was decreased a little too much and, as stated in the previous Mariah post, the hood was made a little too large. However, I am very pleased with how it looks hanging down the back:
and that's most likely how it will be the majority of the time. (And if I'm cold enough to pull the hood on, I am not going to be caring particularly about how I look!)

All in all, I am so happy I made this sweater, and am even happier I finally finished it. If you see me around this spring, chances are you will see me in my Mariah.

[ETA: Mariah won a blue ribbon at the 2009 County Fair (knitted cardigan or coat).]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Finishing Mariah: Part 1 of 2

Get comfortable...this is a long one. So long, in fact, that I split it in two. But I guess a sweater that was 4+ years in the making deserves a long post to finish it up!

This first post will describe the finishing details and the second will give pictures of the final project and sum things up.

In an earlier post I promised some more details about the hood.
I ended up knitting it up to about 4" short of what I thought should be the final length. (That's all in green.) I took the middle 4" from the back (starting on the right side of the above pic) and knit those stitches from back to front. At the end of each row I would knit the last stitch together with one of the stitches from the side. That way I avoided having to sew a seam and it makes for a nice ratio of rows to stitches as you go.

Then, since I wanted the cable to continue around the front edge, I stopped knitting when I got up to the cable and changed directions again. I took the stitches from the cable on the right side and continued to knit it until I met the cable on the left side, now knitting the last stitch with the live stitches from the top panel.

Finally I had to finish the seam where the cable met itself and used the Kitchener stitch. The close up pic shows the seam and I think it came out pretty well. (Of course the black will hide any flaws anyway.)

In general the hood came out a little long and a little boxy. But boxy is better than pointy in my book. And I guess I'd say long is better than too short and tight. So if I had to err I think I leaned the right direction in both cases.

And now for the zipper. You may recall that I was worried about how the zipper would go in. It's very easy for the sweater to get all stretched out during the insertion process. Then the zipper doesn't lie flat but instead travels in valleys and mounds. Not very flattering. It's also easy for the two halves not to be level, or for the zipper not to be centered. In other words, there are lots of ways for a zipper to go wrong, and only one way for it to be right.

Shortly before needing to do the zipper I fortunately read this post from the Yarn Harlot where she succinctly summarizes the steps to putting in a zipper:

1. Baste the fronts together, making sure the top and bottom edges match. This may sound obvious but sometimes these things get overlooked. Especially when you are almost done and just have one measly zipper holding you back.
I went ahead and basted right where the sweater was laid out from blocking.

And use a contrasting yarn that you can easily see to pull out later.

2. Lay one half of the zipper on the sweater matching the edge of the zipper teeth with the center seam you just sewed. Baste with thread, once again in a highly contrasting colour.
(Some people just pin but I am a firm believer in sewing zippers. Zippers shift as you pull out the pins. They can't shift if you've got them sewn down within an inch of their lives.)

3. Zip the other half onto the part that's sewn down and baste it too. See, now the two halves have to match perfectly on your sweater. No shifting or lumps or anything. Perfect!

4. Now you'll have to remove the first basting. Hopefully you've not only used a contrasting yarn, but also a smooth slippery one that will pull out easily without leaving a lot of fuzz etc. (Oh, should I have mentioned that earlier?) Then unzip the two parts of the zipper.

5. Next up is the actual sewing. Some may do it by hand, but unless it's really fine or fancy, I'm going to use my machine.

Here's a little tip that helps whenever you have to sew along an edge: do not place your foot so that it hangs over the edge of your fabric and only half the foot is guiding the fabric. Rather, place it so it can run entirely on top of the fabric and just move your needle position to the side (to the right in the above pic) so that the stitches are close to the edge, but the foot can still move evenly over the fabric. I also used my walking foot which helps a lot.

You can sew from the top or from the bottom, but whatever you do, sew both sides from the same direction. So if the zipper or fabric shift at all, they will shift in the same direction and still match. This will mean, however, that one side is easy to sew with all the fabric to the left of the machine and the other side is not.

Below is the left half being sewn, and you can see most of the fabric is in the way.
However, since my machine has a wide throat (and I know I've bragged about it before, but it really is wonderful) it was not a problem in the slightest.

Once the zipper is sewn in, you can then take out the basting threads. Et voila, a zipper is installed and I could call my Mariah finished!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Got My Pattern!

Remember the pattern I was searching for in this post? I received it from the fellow Raveler I had asked! (She says I'm lucky because she normally doesn't save the patterns she downloads but she still had this one. Phew!) And it looks so worth the extra work it took to get it.

I knit a 40-stitch swatch on Monday to confirm which size needles I wanted to use and what gauge I got with them. I knew the wool I wanted to use was thinner than what the pattern called for. And even though we all know swatches lie, they can help to get you in the ball park.

In addition to making changes to account for the swatch, I also have to make changes for the size. The (free) pattern is only available in the size the designer made for herself: too small for me. So I added a few inches based on the measurements of my Sahara which has a similar fit.

I got it cast on Monday night (all 212 stitches :mops brow:) with the crochet cast on. I didn't like how the ribbing looked on my swatch so I'm planning to change the bottom edge to a folded picot hem. This meant I needed some nice stitches along the cast on edge to knit. If you don't get why, you can be sure I will show you all the details in a future post. I just have to get there first!

I did want to pass on a tip for making a better join. It's so easy when you join in the round for the first stitch to be very loose, sloppy, and dare I say ugly. What I do to try to improve this stitch is to slip it, and then knit it up when I come back around to that spot, like knitting up a dropped stitch. Hmm...words are so inadequate. I will try a few pics to see if that will help.

[You will notice that I did not take pictures of the very first row which is where you would implement this trick, but I think you will get the point nonetheless.]

So you cast on your stitches and are about to knit the very first stitch which will make your work a circle instead of a line. Instead of knitting it, slip it to the right needle (purlwise) and knit the next stitch pulling the yarn firmly.

When you get back to this point after knitting a round, you will come to the slipped stitch (black arrow) and behind it will be an extra loop of yarn (red arrow):
Now you don't want to leave that loop of yarn flapping in the back; you want to knit it up. So, insert the tip of your left needle to pick up the loop:
Then insert the tip of your right needle into the slipped stitch (purlwise):
And pass the slipped stitch over the loop of yarn:
You have just knit up the loop as if you had dropped a stitch. You are now ready to knit away on your project:

So you see that this will tighten the first stitch and hopefully prevent it from stretching out and looking...can't think of a delicate way to say this...just plain ugly. (I will allow no ugliness on my Pencil Sketch Camisole.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Red Purl Afghan KAL: April

So did you miss the knit-a-long last week? Although normally on the second week of the month, it was preempted by Easter and we got together this week instead. Last Thursday, I heard a rumour that we were going to need a cable needle so I was expecting something a little Aran. I was wrong; it was quite different.

The design was called an Asymmetrical Basket Weave. Angie's directions were very clear and included the first cable in the sampler style blanket. When I saw that it was a basket weave, I was expecting something like this or maybe this,, but what we got is this:
Maybe I'm just not seeing it, but I have a hard time getting all those nice contrasting squares to actually make a basket weave pattern. And the serpentine cable was added for interest, but I'm not sure I understand how it relates to the rest.

Additionally, there is one issue with the cable that is going to come back to haunt later on: the "crossings" were not centered vertically on the pattern or on the piece as a whole.
You can see in the bottom circle that the cable starts very close to the bottom edge (after 2 pattern rows) which distorts it quite a bit. It's going to be hard to block that edge straight. And then at the top there is quite a bit of room between the last crossing and the end of the design (5 rows) which leaves a sort of "dead" cable. Never a good thing. If the cable were done one pattern row later the split could have been 4-3 instead of 2-5. I didn't see this in time to implement that change either.

I gave brief thought to changing the square to a more traditional basket weave but decided instead to just go with the flow. For one, I was pretty far along by then and did not relish taking it out. And I believe there is value in doing some things that you wouldn't chose if left only to your own devices. It can open your world up a little; new possibilities and all that. I will say I love the name Amy dubbed it: The Adam and Eve Basket Weave (because of the "snake," I assume).

Thanks to some "bonus" knitting done during a favourite one-year old's birthday party tonight, I got everything but the last four border rows done today. I should be able to finish those tomorrow at lunch. It will be good to have it done because next month's KAL is a week early (thanks to Mother's Day). That's only two weeks away!

I do have to say that the colour--Cadmium 7--is so cheery that you could pretty much knit anything and that yellow could carry it off. It makes you happy to look at it, and makes me happy to knit with it.

And to think, next year I will be able to snuggle under this and have my day filled with this sunshine all the time!

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Did the Class Go?

Oh yes, thank you for asking...

The Better Plastic Bag class went well. I thought I was prepared with what I had to say. I had handouts. (Three of them.) I demonstrated how to prepare the plarn, discussed using different colours (stripes or spots), and got everyone started on her bag. By "everyone" I mean the one student. Yes, I had one student, but went ahead with the class anyway. (Why not?)

She was very excited to learn and did very well. I was very happy that she had some crochet experience. I could have shown her if I had had to, but it would have really slowed us down.

I got her started on the base of her bag so that she could work the next two weeks on the body of the bag. Then next class we can work on the handles, and hopefully even finish the bag that night.

I myself started another (smaller) plarn bag so that I could work on the same project along side her. It seemed a little silly to pull out a different project to work on while she was crocheting in my class. (And not working on anything at all seems so silly as to not even be considered!) I should have no trouble getting it done to the handles by next class.

I'm planning to embellish it. Something along the lines of the bag I talked about making in this post. That bag really wasn't getting anywhere, so I threw it into the frog pond. (Speaking of which, ripping out what I had done on that bag gave me a ball of plarn for the first time. Usually it works better to just add loops as you go, but there is no way I am wasting all the plarn that I had crocheted into that bag. So now I have quite lengthy bit of plarn so I can really go to town!)

Now, as to the embellishing, should I decorate with leaves or flowers?

Bloggers Quilt Festival: Favourite Quilt

I just read about a fun event organized by blogger Park City Girl Amy (not Red Purl Amy): a bloggers quilt festival for all of us who can't make it to real quilt festivals nearly enough!

Today there will be a great circle of bloggers posting about their favourite quilt. The idea is great on its own but she upped the ante by adding prizes (and you know I can not resist prizes!). They are random prizes so there is no need to vote or judge or pick between the quilts: you can love them all. You can view participants' quilts by following the links on the bottom of her post.

So what would I pick as my favourite quilt that I have made?? I had to think about it because I really love the Hawaiian Star I'm working on...but it's not done. I really enjoyed working with my sisters on the quilts for our mom and dad. I loved the shower/wedding quilt we put together for my sister with squares from all kinds of people that love her. But my favourite?

Today I'd have to say the Fibonacci Quilt I made for my in-laws and was (finally) able to complete and give to them as a house warming gift.

I got the idea from the article "Pythagorean Tree" by Diana Venters in AQS's American Quilter: Ultimate Projects (vol XIX, no 5, 2003) in which she discusses how she used quilts to demonstrate mathematical principals. It was my MIL's magazine actually that I was reading while visiting them.

I love math and all things math-like so the quilt really appealed to me. The Fibonacci Sequence is a series of numbers in which the next number is simply the last two added together. (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, see how this works.) Now Fibonacci didn't just make up this list because he thought it was fun; it actually appears often in nature (flower petals, snail shells) and turns out to be a very pleasing relationship to the human eye.

So, lopping off the first "1", I put together a series of squares that were defined by that series. I can't remember how big the smallest center squares were, but the next one was twice that size, the next one 3 times that size, the next 5, etc.

I picked the colours based on the brightness of the paint that the ILs had chosen to paint their walls. I wanted four primary colours (ok, I know there are only three primary colours, but you know what I mean) and went shopping with my sister to find them in a light and dark. We did alright, I think.

Assembly was pretty straight forward as long as I kept the lights and dark straight. (Two quadrants were the same, and the other two had the lights and darks reversed.)

The hard part was deciding how to quilt it. All sorts of crazy ideas swirled in my head. There were a lot of squares to play with and I could have put a lot of motifs or medallions in the squares.

But in the end, I kept it simple and decided on lines headed in different directions in each quadrant. the number of lines in each stripe determined by the Fibonacci Sequence again. I used a variegated thread in primary colours.
Right about the time I started quilting, I went out and bought a new sewing machine, the Viking Sapphire 830. It has a large throat so I could fit the quilt in there quite easily, and it was the first time I used a walking foot: boy does that help!

I loved the fabric I then found for the binding. It looked completely crazy and I can't imagine what other people used it for, but it was perfect as the binding on this quilt.

I liked that the design was made up of squares separated into quadrants (not that you could tell once it was made into binding) and of course that the colours matched so well.

But I would have to say on top of all this, the big reason I would pick this quilt as a favourite is the reception it received from the ILs. I know we who are in the business of making things for others have to count on enjoying the process and not the adulation because you never know how something will be received, or treated.
But when the recipients show that they really love and appreciate it, I have to say, it feels good!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I've Found a Pattern (Maybe)

I do believe I've found a pattern for my gorgeous orange/purple/green wool from Estonia. (This has been weighing quite heavy on my mind!)

Spending hours (ok, really minutes...spread out over hours) poring over patterns in Ravelry led to this beauty,
the Pencil Sketch Camisole, from Iris G Knits. (She designed this after only about a year of knitting--amazing!)

Besides being lovely, it looks like it would only use about half of my yardage so I could have enough left over to make something else. Maybe some matching armwarmers...mmmm...tempting. But then I would have the difficulty of getting them to match. Perhaps some seaming would be in order.

Anyway, for now, I can think about the dreamy possibilities of knitting the lovely Pencil Sketch Camisole. Nothing else will do or even comes close. Even though I can't wait to cast on, something is holding me back...

When I got home and tried to download the pattern, it seems to no longer be available at the hosting site and comments on the pattern in Ravelry indicate that the designer had not updated her blog in months and months. Oh this was very discouraging!

But further research led to evidence that the designer was back on her blog and someone had already left a comment about the failed download link. I had also pursued getting the pattern from someone on Ravelry so I hold some hope that I can still obtain it.

But it is not yet a sure thing. And that would be a shame.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tutorial: Provisional Crochet Cast On

When I was in Canada a few weeks ago, my sister asked me to show her a provisional cast on. In general, a provisional cast on is one which will be taken out at some point, leaving you with some "live" stitches which you can start knitting. (This may be used in a scarf, for example, with a one-way design. It would allow you to start at the center back and knit one side, then remove the provisional cast on, pick up those stitches and knit the other side. Both halves would then match.) I forgot to show my sister while we were together (we were a little busy with other things), but perhaps this tutorial will suffice.

There are at least several styles of provisional cast on that I've seen or tried, but once I tried the crochet version, I saw no reason to use any other. It's easy, neat, beautiful, and did I already say easy? I don't know why I don't use it as a regular cast on more. I really should.

But as a provisional cast on, the idea is to crochet a chain of stitches around a knitting needle. Then it is a simple matter to knit them, and off you go.

You will need
  • a crochet hook close to the same size as your knitting needle (This is where using metric sizes is so helpful!)
  • some small amount of waste yarn--using a contrasting colour will make it easier when you're taking it out. It should be smooth.
1. Make a slip knot in the waste yarn. Crochet 2 or 3 chain stitches by pulling the yarn through the loop with the crochet hook.
2 or 3 chains have been made

2. Position your knitting needle and yarn as pictured:

3. Moving the crochet hook over the needle, grab the yarn:

4. and pull it through the loop on your hook:
(You've just made a chain stitch over your needle.)

5. Now use your left forefinger to move the yarn to the back of your knitting needle by slipping it over the point of the needle:

You are now set up to make the next stitch:
Repeat steps 3-5 for as many stitches as you need.

Here is a video which may help to illustrate the motions:

Tip: I found it helpful and convenient to position the knitting needle very vertical, as opposed to how you might hold them when you are actually knitting.

After you have the required number of stitches, make a couple more chains which do not go over the knitting needle:

Then pull the yarn to make the loop about 2 inches long:

The resulting cast on edge is very neat (with a little practise with tension, of course):
Keeping in mind that it will be ripped out at some point, I guess it actually doesn't matter how neat it is. But of course, neat edges will make you happier in general. They do for me.

Now since you do not want the end of the waste yarn to get in your way, you will want to cut the loop and put a little knot in its end. The knot tells you which end to start at when you want to pull the stitches out. To do that, you simply pull the knotted string back through the end loop and start undoing the crochet stitches one at a time. Make sure you have a knitting needle handy to pick up the stitches which are released as you undo the crocheting.


I am probably going to use a provisional cast on on my Deep V Argyle Vest because I'm not sure which colour of yarn to use for the ribbing. So I can start knitting on the body of the vest, and then later remove the provisional cast on and knit the ribbing down from the body. As to the Vest, so far I am enjoying my large swatch which is proving very useful to 1. try out the red and grey together, 2. get familiar with the pattern and 3. even out my tension; but I have not starting on anything "real."

May I suggest?

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