Sunday, May 31, 2009

Road Trip: Lorna's Laces Tour

I was fortunate enough to get hooked up with a group of women going to Chicago to get a tour of Lorna's Laces. We left early Saturday morning and arrived in plenty of time. Beth and her husband showed up with their big (I mean huge) dog, Pearl.

Beth started the tour with an explanation of how she got into the business. She was working a sales job (text books) and complaining about it every day. Her husband finally said to her, "You have a choice. Either you can call your boss today and resign or I can call your boss and resign for you."

She listened to his advice, but then spent quite a bit of time bouncing around doing no particular thing. Until she read a tiny ad in the back of a major knitting magazine offering a dyeing business for sale, able to relocate, and an email address. She wrote and within about 9 months owned Lorna's Laces. And voila, no complaining ever since!

She then talked about all the different yarns they dyed there and had samples for us to fondle, I mean handle. Wools, super wash wools, wool/silk blends, angora blends, silk bamboo blends (drool drool). Lace weights, bulkies, thick and thins, worsted, and sock weight. They have it all.

And through it all, we tried to listen and ignore the yarn on the table in front of us. But it was so tempting!

Beth gets the yarn from her suppliers already wound into hanks for her. She bundles a bunch together for dyeing. Depending on the weight of the yarn, she can dye 40 to 80 skeins at a time. (That would be a dye lot.) Being done all at the same time, they would theoretically match. Since it's a hand process, the best you can usually say is that they pretty much match. (But these days that's a "feature" not a problem.)

The powder dyes are mixed into jugs with tap water and some soap added as a surfactant. (It makes it easier to wet the wool.) Apparently they got some hate mail when they switched from Dawn to the current brand because the wool smelled different. (Find something worth complaining about, people.)

With the skeins laying side by side, Beth pours the dye over part of the pile in a formula, whatever that colourway dictates. In the above pic, she's about half way through Gold Hill. The thing you really have to watch for is that the dye penetrates all the way through and saturates the wool.
Here's she just finishing the last stripe of dye.

Then the skeins get popped into steamers. (Just like the ones they keep food hot in.) This pic shows a different colourway which had been dyed earlier. If you look closely you may also see that there are two different weights in the pan. Beth had died a bulky and sock weight at the same time.

After the steaming is done, they rinse the hanks in a washing machine. Beth did a very credible impersonation of a washing machine agitator, and I'm sorry I didn't get it captured on a pic. They use the washing machines to rinse the wool only; there is no actual agitation. When the water comes off clear, it's time to hang them up to dry:

The hanks hung off of large PVC pipes mounted in several spots in the workshop. They were so tempting; you just wanted to snag them all!

Toward the end of the tour, just before we were released to shop the mill ends, I was taking this pic
and suddenly heard Beth cry, "Don't take any pictures of the formulas" in a very...strident...voice. I stopped, and turned, and I think I even had my hands up like a cop had yelled, "Freeze!" I tried to explain that I thought they were just dye pots, and was certainly not trying to take pictures of her formulas. After she said again that I should not take pictures of the formulas because they had cost her a lot and were not to be shared, she said the dye was fine, but not the formulas.

I really had no idea what she was talking about. I hadn't even noticed that there were papers hanging on the wall near the dye pots. I guess when I held my camera over the dye pots to get a shot from a different perspective she thought I was talking a picture of the wall. I was not.

Very awkward. And can I say that every other woman in the room was thinking, "Glad that's her and not me!"

The funny part (sort of) is that when I looked through the pictures I had taken of her showing us the process, the formulae showed up several times. I think they were too out of focus to read (I have no desire to even try!), but you can see that I blocked them out of the above pictures just in case. I didn't dare say it to her, but I think perhaps for the next tour she may be well-advised to take the formulae off the wall first. It would keep things simpler. And maybe a touch...nicer.

A bit of whimsy was the flying pig sculpture hanging above one of the tables with all the mill ends.

Shopping was fun. The ends (or seconds) were about half of retail price. I got a few (ok, 4) worsted weights for the Christmas surprise I'm starting. And some sock yarn for my sister. The colours were all nice and I have yet to notice why they were considered seconds.

Despite a couple of tense moments, it was a great tour and it is very generous of Beth and her husband to come in on a Saturday to accommodate us. Thanks!

Up next: we visited three yarn shops and a button and trim shop. My impression and review of each...stay tuned!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Recent Sighting

Seen recently in the area: a pickup with a license plate frame reading,

Knitting takes balls.

I can only assume the driver was
1. a man
2. a knitter.

Good for him!

I find this especially amusing in light of the commercial out for the truck with steps so you can supposedly reach into the bed easier. And then the announcer says something to imply that any real man needs this unless you're just hauling a truckload of yarn. Honestly, the commercial dissed carting yarn around.

I guess you only can do that if you have balls.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When Cutting Your Knitting is a Good Thing

Yes, those are scissors. Cutting my knitting. Call me crazy, but this is what I had to do for this shirt.

I've been saying all along that I had to work in the round and steek the arms and back neck shaping. What you see here is the back neck. For no particular reason, I decided to do the neck first.

I won't go into a step-by-step tutorial today but I will give you an overview of the process.

Here you have the back of my camisole. The black lines mark the shoulder seams. The stitches sitting on the holder will form the center of the back neckline. (The lowest part of the scoop, if you will.)

And the circled part? That is the steek. I've knit a few extra stitches over the opening which will form a facing when we're all done. By the time I took this pic, I had already crocheted a finishing edge along both sides of the part we're going to cut. (The raised ridges.) Again, this is just an overview, so you don't have to see exactly how it was done, just recognize that they're there and we will move on.

Move on to the actual cutting between the crocheted edges:
Here I've reached the end and am cutting through the final stitch. Can you believe you can do this?!

Now that it's cut apart, the crocheted edge nicely turns toward the opening and gives a very neat edge to the facing.

Of course, besides being neat and trim, it's also holding those last two stitches together so the whole thing won't unravel.

Once I open it up, you can see how the neckline now looks quite normal. The center stitches can spread out a little bit, and the angled part on either side is the steek, now with the facings turned to the inside.

Here's a quick peak at the entire camisole:
I'm very happy with how all the colour changes came out. It's getting very close to done. I have picked up the stitches around the neckline and am working on knitting the trim. I still have to edge and cut the armhole steeks and then knit a trim around them. But it's getting there.

Enough typing, time to get back to knitting!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A New Toy (or A New Use for an Old Toy)

You can undoubtedly guess what toy I am talking about. I had read and seen pictures to prove that you could make a yarn swift from Tinker Toy parts and was all for it from the start.

So first step is to get some Tinker Toy parts. I asked my sister to keep an eye out when she's at the second hand stores. My impression is that she is in these types of stores a lot more than I am. She thought she had a lead on a set, but when that didn't pan out, she just bought me a new set for my birthday. (And gave it to me early, thank you dear sister.)

I was trying to track down a swift because I had just bought a couple more sweaters to unravel. A nice pale yet rich blue in a silk/acrylic blend
and an all acrylic which I would normal never bother with, but couldn't help myself because of its beautiful rich colours
[This pic was the closest match I could get (reds and purples are so hard to capture!), but please trust me that they are gorge.] Btw, this sweater was a particularly fashionable crop length with overly long sleeves. Remember those?

Now, I have my niddy noddy to make beautiful skeins:
but winding balls from the skeins so I could actually work with the yarn was a problem.

Enter the Tinker Toy swift:
You build a base (the green rods) and stack up some discs on a yellow posts in the center. Then add four longer rods (I used the orange ones) to make a big X.

Rig up the parts on the end of the orange posts as shown so that the yarn can sit on the outside of the blue post without falling down.

The four orange rods were the absolute perfect size to hold my 2 meter skein, but you can imagine how you could use other lengths of rods to make the right circumference for a different length skein.

Once it's put together, you just loop the skein around the outside of the blue rods, find an end and start winding your ball. The swift will take care of unwinding your skein.

I do not yet have a ball winder that results in a center pull ball (although I have read about a motorized one made out of Lego!) but I can still wind by hand. My ball will just end up a little less symmetric and have fun rolling around as I knit with it.
I have to say the swift worked beautifully. There was absolutely no resistance while I was winding the ball and it was surprisingly stable. Now I will not only be able to wind my unravelled sweaters, I won't be required to wait at the yarn store until they can wind my ball for me. (Cause where I go, they only sell skeins; nothing is pre-wound.) Now, don't get me wrong, I like hanging out there, but it's nice to have a choice.

The blue sweater resulted in about 322 grams / 776 meters of yarn (2 sleeves: 53 g (1.9 oz) and 124 m each; back: 119 g (4.2 oz), about 278 m; front: 107 g (3.8 oz), about 250 m). I am considering a tank or other sleeveless summer top.

The yarn varies dramatically from very thin (center thread, left) to quite thick with the blue starting and ending rather randomly.

The bright acrylic is being held for the right child's item. The sweater yielded a total of 328 g (11.6 oz) / 464 meters of bulky yarn (double strand). I hope it's enough to do a bright jumper for someone, just not sure what for whom.

All for now!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Plarn Gets Fancy

You may recall that I made another plarn bag while teaching the class at Red Purl. I made the small size so that I wouldn't have quite as much work to do. (I'd hate to have the students waiting for me.) It turned out as a nice little purse size. Or a small project bag, if you prefer.

I then had some fun with the brightly coloured bags that I had been saving. I mean once they're gone, they're gone. But the time had come to break them out and cut them up.

I made three different styles of flowers with patterns I picked up from Ravelry. (Where else?) The first pattern was a two-tone designed by SkaMama that I did in white and dark green.

The second was a simpler two-tone number by Drops design. I used a lighter green with pink.

And the third was a very simple two-round crochet flower by Mimi Alelis' Crochet and Other Stuff.

I adlibbed the stems, first crocheting them and then finding it easier to do the chain stitch with a tapestry needle. I also improvised the leaves. I just sewed them down with a few stitchesProject Stats
Started: 16 Apr 09
Finished: 13 May 09
Pattern: my own
Materials: Walmart bags &
various other
Size: 11.5" x 11.5"
of plarn right down the middle.

I think the flowers helped the bag a lot but it's not the sort of thing I'll do all the time. A little too fussy for me. (I'll take 3 hours of straight knitting or even crochet over 1 hour of fiddly stuff any day.) But sometimes you just gotta do.

The plan is to give this to my cousin. I think I gaffed on her Christmas present last year, and hopefully this one will better represent the sincere affection I have for her.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing

I had been merrily knitting along on my lime green cotton socks with lace panels. You can see I got the heel turned, and rather prettily, if I may say so. But I had a growing suspicion...

"Growing" sort of being a problem as I had the suspicion that the sock was too long:
I tried the sock on after finishing the heel, and marked the end of my toes with a spare needle. You can see that I have about an inch and a half to spare!
Even in my family of rather large footed women, this sock is a little too much. The pattern said to start the gusset shaping and heel 2 inches before reaching the back of the heel. But obviously I needed about 3.5 inches.

Only one real solution to this problem. Yup: ribbit ribbit. I frogged it out. But not all of it. I took that number, 1.5 inches, and measured back from the start of the gusset shaping:
I marked this spot with a spare needle, ripped out the working needles and tore out all that knitting. It left me with quite a pile of yarn to rewind.

This "do over" at least gives me a chance to correct something I didn't like about the heel. In the following side by side pic you can see both sides of the heel flap.
On the left you can see a nice row of stitches making a vertical pattern of V's up the edge of the heel flap (circled in red for you). On the right is the other side of the heel, and it doesn't match. Now, I realize that you never see both sides of a sock at the same time, but they should still match.

A simple change of a K2tog into a ssk (or any other left-leaning decrease). At first I thought I was correcting the pattern, but when I read it through again I realized that I had misread the pattern in the first place. She uses the left decrease, K2tog through the back loop, but I prefer the ssk. Apparently I missed the "through the back loop" the first time through.

I got the stitches back on the needles and am now about half way up the heel flap again. I should have just enough yarn in the ball to make a nice folded cuff on top. I'll let you know...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bib Bib Bib

You saw the middle bib previously, but now I have two to add to the pile. Let's hope the coming baby is a girl!

The second bib I made is on the right; a lot like the first but not on the bias. The one on the left is done in a 3x3 pattern without the eyelet border. I topped it off with a garter band with the eyelets because they double as buttonholes. Putting in a row of eyelets makes the strap length adjustable: you can put the button through which ever hole works!

Yarn used is Bernat Handicrafter Cotton Solids in the suitably titled color, Baby Pink. I started the first bib in early March and finished the final one by the end of April. A lot of the knitting was accomplished on a trip home to Canada in late March. (I had someone else to drive--I love when that works out!) And the last two sat around for a while before I finally finished them with a button.

I got the buttons on two separate visits to the bead shop I like. They have a lot of odds and ends available for sale, including miscellaneous buttons. (I love fishing through bowls of stuff finding that one item that works.) I like how these buttons look like they match but aren't an actual set.

They add just that right touch of Too Much Pink! If the people I'm thinking of do have a girl, they'd just better get ready for it! And I am here to help them do just that.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Red Purl KAL 2009: May Block

It's the second Sunday of the month: were you waiting for the Red Purl KAL block? Well, it was rescheduled because apparently you can not get together to knit on Mother's Day. The meeting was last week, but I was not able to go because I was out on a charity walk.

I finally got into Red Purl on Friday to pick up the pattern. Since this timed well with "Fridays at the Purl" I sat around for a while and hung out with the others that had showed up. I actually didn't have the patterns I needed for the knitting I had with me so I looked through pattern books. (I'm getting an itch to do some peasant mittens with some really complicated pattern.)

And I forgot to bring some of my afghan yarn so I could start the block. I got that started on Saturday instead. Or maybe it was Friday night after I got home.

I have to say I wasn't bowled over by the pattern when I saw the sample on the store counter. But as I started to knit it, it really started to grow on me.

It's called "Raised Brick." I think the variegated yarn of the sample just really obscured the pattern. I don't know. In any case, I went with orange because I have no imagination: what else would you do a brick pattern in? (Remembering that there is no red in this afghan.)

I couldn't figure out why it was called Raised Brick, but then I saw how the purl bumps (some are outlined in black above) make a sort of brick pattern with the slipped stitches making the "V"s in between like mortar.

The slip stitches pull the fabric in both vertically and horizontally and the whole pattern makes a nice dense texture and complements the February block. It would make a very nice fill on an Aran style sweater. Very nice, I'd say.

I used up the Glazed Carrot leftover from the January block and got about 8 inches out of it. I finished the block with the second ball I bought, and should have plenty to make a third block sometime later. Just what I wanted.

I got the square done on Saturday and am now just waiting for the second Sunday in June. I think it's time to break out one of my newer colours...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cami Progress

Doesn't that look great? I got to say again, I just love this wool.

So I have the shirt done up to the underarm shaping. Twice. I didn't have to undo anything this time though. I knit up to the length that the pattern called for and then (thankfully) tried it on. It was really short so I added another three inches. I still have to try it on again just to be sure, but it should be just right.

As I watch the colours slowly change I keep changing my mind about how the striping will work out. (You have a lot of time to think about it when you're working with fine gauge wool.) When I went to the original length I was worried the shirt wouldn't be long enough to show enough of the colours. Now that I'm going longer I'm hoping I have enough wool that I don't get into the orange again. (I'd be more comfortable if the orange isn't around my face--much as I love it, I don't think it'll be flattering.)

I finally got smart about tracking which row of the lace pattern I'm on by adding a row counter as a stitch marker:
I was keeping track of it on paper and/or in my head and finally asked myself, "Why do you want to make this so hard on yourself?" So I strung a row counter onto some wire and placed it right before the lace work. Now when I get there, I advance the counter by one row and that tells me which row I'm on in the chart. How easy peasy is that! (And I've finally memorized the chart in case you were wondering about that.)

Now that I'm up to the underarms, I have to take a break from actual knitting and rewrite the pattern for working in the round and steeks. (EEK! No, I'm just kidding--that's just what a lot of knitters say when thinking of steeks.) You see, the pattern is written to work the back and front separately around the armholes. But that certainly won't work with this wool. Not if I want them to match.

So I have to continue working in the round and cut the armholes in later. This would explain why I need to take a moment and plan my next move (and all the ones after that).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Sock for a Walk

Last Sunday I walked in a charity walk I do every year. I didn't want to drag my Pencil Sketch Camisole along since it is far too large to do while walking and has a lace chart that I haven't memorized yet. (Only an 8 row repeat and I still can't get it into my head!)

So Saturday I cast on for a pair of socks to try another toe up heel flap pattern/tutorial by Andrea Mules. Socks are the perfect thing to knit while walking. I worked on Saturday and Sunday morning enough to get the toe increases done so I would have nothing but straight knitting on the walk.

My plan worked and I got quit a bit of knitting done. The sad part is that by the end of the walk it was obvious that the sock was too wide and I had to take it all out. (I think it was less than 2 inches so not that bad.) When I started reknitting I decided to add the narrow and simple lace panels just to keep things interesting. I'm just up to the gusset increases now and it is the perfect chance to try EZ's loop increases.

This style of increase comes in a pair so you can mirror image them.

You can see in the left image above the added stitches lean to the right, and in the right picture they lean to the left. And this is done in a very simple way...

First knit up to the point where you want to add a stitch:
Then loop the working yarn around the right needle so that it is twisted (unlike a yarnover). You can see it can be twisted in two directions:
right leaning                             left leaning

The twist on the left will result in a right leaning increase, and the one of the right will make a left leaning increase.

Then pull the yarn to snug up the loop right next to the last stitch you knit:
Now you can continue knitting. When you get back to that point in the next row, you knit it like normal, making sure to knit through the front loop so that it stays twisted. Besides controlling the direction the stitch leans, this twist also helps prevent a hole from appearing at the site of the increase.

I haven't charted it all out, but this increase is exactly equivalent to picking up the loop from the row below and knitting it so that it twists. (Equivalent except that it is done one row higher. Either will work within a pattern.)

The method discussed above causes less distortion to the row below and works better when the yarn is not very stretchy or giving. In a case where the yarn is stretchy or especially prone to leaving gaps or holes, I would recommend the method of picking up the loop from the row below.

And next up is figuring out this particular heel flap...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Knitting Knitting Everywhere

I get some funny looks and curious stares when I knit in public. (The other day it was at the patio furniture display at Sam's Club while I waited for my new tires to be installed. That's what they get for not having a waiting room!) But I don't let this deter me in the least.

Neither did Elizabeth Zimmermann. Her daughter, Meg, shares this story in The Opinionated Knitter (pp78-79):
Elizabeth and her husband rode BMW motorcycles for many decades - until they were well into their eighties. They even motored to the East coast once, where Elizabeth gave a few workshops without any props (no room on the cycle). She called it her, Have Mouth, Will Travel tour.

Elizabeth's last book, Knitting Around, is subtitled, Knitting Without a License, and as we were taping the accompanying video for PBS, my husband decided to stage a little story. We called the one and only policeman in our nearby town and asked if he would like to be in our video. He took it quite seriously and ordered a new cop-cap; shined up his cop-car, etc.

We shot footage of Elizabeth in her usual motorcycle mode: sitting and happily knitting behind Gaffer, with a long strand of the wool flying out behind her. The siren went off.

The cycle pulled to the side of the road as the squad car came up behind them.

The policeman got out and walked slowly toward them (in his shiny new boots) and said, "What do you think you're doing?"

Elizabeth: "Why, just Knitting Around, Officer."

Cop: "Do you have a license for that?"

Elizabeth gasped and put her hand to her mouth. Freeze frame.
She sounds like such a hoot!

She really did knit on the back of the bike. For years she did it in secret since her husband would not have approved. He wanted her to concentrate on motorcycling for all that leaning into the curves, etc. So she used a small circular needle to work on small projects that she could keep in her pocket until they were well under way.

He only found out when he looked up at a semi they were slowly passing one day and saw the driver laughing and pointing out EZ with her knitting to his passenger. BUSTED!

May I suggest?

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