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Posts Tagged ‘knitting’

Sticking to my knitting

So much happening, and so little show-and-tell. I think maybe I’m abashed at how many different directions my mind has been going off in lately. So, for today, I’ll fall in with the old cliché, and ‘stick to my knitting’. Because, sometimes, simple is best.

Look at this, will you?

I picked up a couple of braids of this Bluefaced Leicester/silk blend from All Spun Up in a swap on Ravelry, months ago; fell in love; bought some natural oatmeal BFL/silk to go with it, and eek it out, and began spinning.

I got this:

At this point, it occurred to me that I needed MORE. A lot more. Enough to make a sweater with. But it was a club braid, and therefore not obviously available. So I scoured destashes until I found someone with some to sell/trade, and proceeded to trade for dyeing services (since I also like dyeing, that is practically the definition of win-win).

Every now and then, over a couple of months, I would spin a bit more of the beautiful, intriguing, but resolutely brown yarn, and dream of the garment I would make. And then, I did other things for a few months. Many other things, of which I will speak again. And then, it came finally time to knit the beautiful (but resolutely brown) yarn into um… something.

It was supposed to be a large hooded cardigan/coat-like thing, but that was just going to be too large, and too brown, and besides, I decided that the gauge was going to be off for the pattern I had in mind. So I did a little swatch, and it told me it wanted to be an awesomely simple sweater. Not, as I’d imagined, a cardigan (with a steek), not a big, hooded thing, but a plain sweater. With, um… some kind of simple edging, but probably not ribbing, and er… sleeves of some kind, and presumably, at some point, a neckline.

As you can tell, I’m winging it.

I started with a provisional cast-on, for superior procrastination, and just knit for a bit. The fabric is, frankly, amazing. Not because I’m any great shakes as a handspinner, because I’m surely not, but the combination of fibers is a delight to touch, and – for once – I’m knitting at a tight enough gauge for it to retain some body. There is something about the texture of handspun (imperfect stuff like mine, anyway – I know it’s not an intrinsic quality of handspun) that is appealing. It’s somehow very deeply, movingly alive. It occurs to me that I should have made a three-ply rather than a two-ply yarn, but I didn’t, and I don’t care. if it wears badly/pills horribly, then I shall care, but for now, I’m just too much in love. (And as you can see, I eventually decided on the edging – it’s seed stitch. Or do I mean moss stitch? Whatever. How much? Enough to not curl… I think.)

I’m using one of my favorite stitch-markers too, as it harmonises with the yarn, and is the right size. This was once a pendant, picked out for me by a very wise and spiritual Navajo friend as an appropriate totem-animal for me, and while I love it, I don’t wear it as a pendant any more. A few months ago, I converted it (along with most of the costume-jewelery I inherited from my mother and also don’t wear, but can’t bear to discard). Now I have a diverse range of eccentric stitch-markers I love and use, and that carry history, or meaning, or both.

 

 

 

 

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A few months ago, I read a Yarn Harlot blog post about knitting directly from some unspun, undyed silk hankies – mawatas – and thought, “that looks interesting” and “I must get hold of some of those in my next yarn/fiber order”. Then, a few weeks ago, they came up again, in a Ravelry conversation, and I remembered that I was going to, and set about placing my order. Well, it turned out that she’d blogged about them again, only not in plain black and white, but in full color, and this time, the knitting world had – as one woman – apparently gone crazy. I find that interesting: truly, color speaks. Suppliers were suddenly running out of stock left, right, and center, and the company she bought hers from was even forced to pull their listing from the online store in the face of frenzied demand. (As an aside, sometimes I think I would love to have that level of popularity, either as a dyer, or a blogger, and then, I read through as many of the sycophantic comments on any of her posts as it takes to make me change my mind. Turns out, not as many as you’d think.)

Anyway, to cut a long story short (for once: am I quite well?), my first supplier was out of stock; my second supplier claimed to have stock “but we’re running low for some reason” (I knew the reason, if they didn’t), but turned out not to; then my first supplier got them back in and I was able to get my hands on some.

Oh, swoon – the delights of playing with pure silk. The tactile pleasure. The colors. The sheer sensuous feast.

There’s a good news/bad news aspect to this in that I’ve sold the first batch already. I’m not even sure I have any left to play with myself, which was all I ever expected to do. So, my ‘good problem to have’ for today is, do I order some more, while the dyeing’s good? Because, I sure loved dyeing them, and I would totally love to sell a few more, and hey, I’d still quite like to try knitting/spinning some, actually. And they take a pretty photograph, too.

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There comes a time in a knitter’s life when the S-word has to be used. In fact, several S-words, all at once, including, but not necessarily limited to, Scissors! Scary! Steek!

and possibly, also, Scotch!

and hopefully, concluding with Success! Satisfaction!

Well, I like a challenge and this one has compelled me for quite some time now. Pretty much since I first learned of the technique, I have wanted to steek something. It appeals to the reckless risk-taker inside me (the one who is also terrified of those truly terrible S-words, Stocks! and Shares! but who likes to play with acids, flame, and hot glass. That namby-pamby, crafty, pseudo-risk-taker.) In other words, I was all up for knitting an entire jumper/sweater/jersey (delete as applicable depending on your particular use of English) and then cutting into it. For what noise could possibly be more satisfying than that of good, sharp scissor blades incisively scything through cloth? And how much more interesting might that noise be when the ‘cloth’ in question is a) not designed to be cut into and b) represents hours and hours (and hours) of your valuable time? (Oh, and money too.) Lead me to it.

 

That said, I knew – before ever a friend came round to my house, looked at the perfectly nice, nearly complete sweater, and helpfully pointed out that if I failed, then utter ruination, devastation and calamity would be wrought upon it; that there would be no return, and no salvaging anything, and was I Absolutely Sure? – that wimping out would become more appealing as I progressed. So I was careful to outsmart myself, and I’m proud of that I had the foresight to do so.

Thus, I carefully ensured a break in the pattern down the center, so that I would have no choice but to cut.  (When I referred to actual steeking instructions, when the moment of truth arrived, I discovered that I should have knit a whole band of future-cardigan-insuring-ness into the middle of my sweater. I didn’t know that, so my own Panel of No-Return was more modest.) Of course when I tried on the perfect, whole, perfectly-fitting, all-in-one-piece garment while I was working out the height of the yoke, I had a moment’s bitter regret. And a moment’s bitter, regretful cursing. And then a little back-patting at my cleverness. And so on, in alternation, for some three days while I contemplated What Was About to be Done.

Then, being a fool and an idiot (that’s two separate entries for anyone who’s scoring), I waited for it to be dark, and the house overrun with small children, so I could do this with the full benefit of poor lighting and free-form distraction. (If you want risk, go for it, I say. Peace, quiet and daylight are for wimps.) No time like the present.

Words now fail me. Cue the pictures:

The Patient (etherized upon the table)

The Instrument of Surgery/Torture

The Edges of the Wound Look Clean

Out of Danger, In the Recovery Room

And of course, adrenalin rushes being what they are, I can’t WAIT to do it all again.

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It occurs to me that I make a lot of things, and think I’m going to blog about them, and then don’t. Either because the moment seems to have passed, or because I’ve been busy making other newer!shinier! things instead. So, it’s suddenly struck me that No, it’s not ‘Cheating’ to show them off when they are past some strange number-in-my-head, like, 24-hours old. So here, we go: the first in what might possibly be a series.

This particular One I Made Earlier really does have some kind of seasonal time-limit on getting showed off, so I figured it makes sense to start with the ‘November Spinning Challenge’ thing.  Alright, it’s not November any more, that much I grant. But bear with me.

One of my friends on Ravelry has been throwing out challenges in the spinning group we both belong to. The idea is to get people trying some new things, extending their range, and generally exploring and experimenting together.  Her big idea for November started with distributing portions of some of the worst and most unpleasant spinning fiber known to man. No-one ever quite worked out what this was, and all I can say was it felt like plastic, tested as wool, was the most lurid colors imaginable, and gave severe rugburn while being plied. (Some minor rugburn was also reported by several individuals at the spinning stage.) All I can say, rather terrifyingly, was that the person who gave it to her, had originally been planning to spin and knit a sweater from it. I shudder to think.

So, everyone got given 120g of this stuff, and the brief to spin at least half of it, and use at least some of each color (plus not more than one other yarn/fiber) to make a seasonal ornament of some kind for our assigned partner.

My partner honored the original sweater plan by making me a miniature one (as well as a handful of cute aliens, from a completely different yarn she’d spun either on another occasion, or merely as an antidote, I’m unsure which):

And so what did I make? I have to say, I love it. I knew my partner had two small kids (and celebrated Christmas, as she knew I didn’t), so I thought a holiday puppet might be fun. I’ve never knit a puppet (or any kind of toy, in fact), but inspired very loosely by the Estonian Sheep puppets from Interweave (available here), I decided to have a go at making one up as I went along. (Note: if you intend to try this, and I do encourage you, please use nicer wool: this hideous stuff was too much of a pain to even contemplate swatching properly. It was so horrible, I don’t even make any apologies for not swatching. My recipient almost certainly had issues arising from this that she was too polite to mention, but between ourselves, I’m glad it came billed as a puppet for a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. That’s all I’m saying.)

I started with the decorative two-color long-tailed cast-on I learned at Knit Nation this summer (which deserved a whole post on its own), and continued with some rather desultory colorwork on the body. ‘After a bit’ (when I thought I might run out of green yarn) I decreased for the neck, did some fairly random shaping for the head (pretty much a lucky guess based on the most cursory glance at the sheep pattern above) and then went to town with lashings of i-cord. Darned on some eyes and a nose, and I give you —

Kippi’s Bright i-deer –

 

You can probably tell how much fun I had posing the little guy before I sent him away. The rough wool made really sturdy i-cord, and I was able to get it to stay in various positions without the use of the pipe-cleaner I’d planned – and failed – to run down the middle.

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This may not look like much, but these 18 grams of emergency yarn saved my Kosher-bacon-equivalent, and my shawl from utter disaster. Imagine, if you will, embarking on a project of – for you – daring complexity. Challenges abound, both obvious and hidden. Reward, if it comes at all, is likely to be relative, and rather modest. In my case, the challenge was lace, and the ostensible reward was to be warm shoulders and a fine glow of achievement.

Well, not so much, it turned out. Firstly, it has to be said, I learned a couple of less-than-palatable things about myself. Namely (but in no particular order), I bore more easily than I like to think; I am willing to accept desperately low standards of finishing and also, I can’t count to ten. Or four, actually. Possibly even to two, but my ability to count is so compromised, and my counting-confidence so damaged that I’m no longer sure how many I can’t count to. I am trying to get reconciled to being one of those (along with millennia of hunter-gatherers) who apparently count, one; two; many. I have news: this is not good for lace knitting.

So, I worked my way through interminable – well, a fair few – in fact, frankly many – rows of the Echo Flower shawl pattern. It has repeats ten stitches, and eight rows long. After about ten repeats of this I got very bored indeed. It turns out that while I can do endless stockinette without minding, once I have to pay attention (in my case, a sort of tongue-between-the-teeth level of attention), my boredom threshold is embarrassingly low. It’s close to vanishingly small, in fact, but I am also tenacious, and it turns out that I’m marginally more tenacious than I was bored.

I was proud of managing the two-into-nine and three-into-nine stitches without fuss, and rightly so, I still think. I was, and am, less proud of the fact that any indication that I had added a stitch, or dropped one, or done the wrong kind of decrease, or lost or gained a yarnover was dealt with by resolutely fudging. I tinked back from time to time, but as often as not, I’m ashamed to say, I made do and mended. And this, in spite of the keen awareness that if a lace pattern doesn’t line up, you might as well not bother knitting it. Hell, as long as I got more or less to the end of the row with approximately the right number of stitches, I was willing to let it go. What’s an SSK or a S2K2P2SSO (or whatever) between friends?

OK: I admit it: I was wrong. What’s an SSK or a S2K2P2SSO (or whatever) between friends? The difference between lace and a dog’s dinner. But what of it?

I digress. Let us just say that eventually I was rid of the blasted blossom repeats and then I made what may have been my fatal error. I switched to the border charts for the Laminaria shawl. In theory, this should have worked just fine, because the blossom repeats are common to both shawls, and the Laminaria pattern clearly indicates what percentage of the yardage is taken up by the border. I weighed, I measured, I cogitated, and I steamed ahead.

Alright, not steamed exactly, but still. I thought I was going to be fine, and then one day, I realised I was decidedly not fine. In fact, somehow, it seemed that about 20g of yarn had evaporated (who knew yarn could evaporate?). Somehow I was nine rows from the end, and rapidly running out of yarn. How in the name of all that is holy did that happen? I still don’t know. I went on Ravelry and bleated in distress. I begged and pleaded, and wrung my hands, and a kind soul generously offered to supply me with the necessary extra yards of the precious (irreplaceable, unmatchable) yarn I was using.

Post haste, it came. Cue the Seventh Cavalry. Bugles! Everything! Here it is. All 78.3 yards of it. Saved! Saved, in the nick of time.

Well, nearly.

Because it turned out that the Shawl that Refused to Die wasn’t finished with me yet. I can report without exaggeration or embellishment that I had very carefully weighed the the last row before I ran out (eight rows from the end), and calculated I was using two grams per row. I calculated (one, two, many – I really thought I was within my comfort zone here) what I would need to finish. And the dispatcher of cavalry sent more than I asked for (I think 18g of a 100g skein of yarn is a pretty generous donation, myself), and I got to two rows from the end and saw, most clearly that I wasn’t going to make it after all. My shawl was Scott of the Antarctic, struggling back towards basecamp, and expiring twelve miles from safety. I was that close. I tinked (again); I bound off a row before the end (really, it’s a dog’s dinner: why did I even think this mattered?) and …

I can barely bring myself to admit it, I ran out again. Yes, the third time, I ran out of yarn twenty stitches from the end. At this point I capitulated, and went to find the best match I had on hand. A very non-identical undyed BFL in about the right weight and approximately (I think two, but now I’ve lost my confidence) similar number of plies.

And I soaked it, and blocked it, and the miracle of lace happened. Yes, by any real lace knitter’s standards, it’s still crap. But it went from this:

to this:

And that’s enough of a miracle to ensure I’m willing to go through all this again. But this time, I really will try to make sure I have enough yarn to finish the job.

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The other day, I had a conversation with a friend, which went more or less as follows:

Friend: Oh, just by the bye, never ever knit from hand-dyed wool without alternating skeins. Ever. Even if they come from the same dyelot. You will end up looking foolish and you will regret it. Not ‘might’, ‘will’. Just thought I’d mention that while I think of it.

Me: Ah, thank you. I sure hope you’re wrong because I’m doing guess what? just now! And I’m not alternating skeins because they come from the same dyelot and they looked OK to me when I put them together and I think I’m getting away with it. They still look fine, and now I’m nearly finished the project. Lucky me.

Friend: Sorry to have bothered you. I’ll keep my advice to myself in future.

Me: Well, it might be useful advice for next time. How exactly would one alternate skeins, if one were inclined to do that?

So, firstly I’d like to point out two things. One, I have a transcript of this conversation, because it happened by email, but I’m paraphrasing to spare the blushes of the party who happened to be oh-so-terribly wrong. (You don’t know who that is yet, because I’m doing such a great job of keeping you in suspense). Two, I was very happy to have the advice, and interested in the technique for future reference. Not being arrogant, merely hubristic.

Cut to the chase.

I can live with it. Of course I can. My options are pretty limited at this stage, frankly, such that, if those skeins were any more different I would be calling the effect stripes and living with it. I admit defeat. In my defence, and for the purposes of Not Making the Same Mistake Twice, I must hasten to disclose that the rather staggering and heartbreaking dissimilarity is only discernable in good natural light. Which, it being February in a dark and gloomy part of the Northern hemisphere, is a commodity in such remarkably short supply that I knit for two weeks without any inkling something was amiss. In other words, I didn’t have a clue until yesterday, when I actually took the project into the living room and sat by the window for a few minutes as I multitasked puzzle supervision and owl knitting.

The moral of the story is simple: I urge you – for the love of God, don’t try to match yarn by artificial light. And above all, never ever knit from hand-dyed wool without alternating skeins. Ever. Even if they come from the same dyelot.

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Happy Christmas to those that do, happy holidays to the rest, happy first knitting birthday to me.

Yes, a year. I’ll be celebrating in style by casting on for half a mile of fun and excitement in the form of an overambitious Estonian lace shawl. Lead me to those nupps, that I may wreak havoc upon them.

I will also be having a giveaway to celebrate, starting right after the holiday (and after I’ve painted the kitchen, when I shall return, and lick this blog into shape). Watch this space, as they say.

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