Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ethereality Show

I finished up the Ethereal Shawl this weekend.

I'm always seeing lace patterns and thinking "I totally want to knit that," forgetting how much time, attention and patience lace knitting requires. For starters, I'd never made a triangle shawl, where the shoulder edge grows out from the middle of the starting 5 stitches. That would be the center top of the photo on the left. For some reason, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that. I even took an early photo with the shawl pinned out to get an idea of what I was doing, and only realized later that I'd gotten the dimensions all wrong. So, lots of challenges and a bit of tediousness, but quite worth it, I think.

I diligently put in lifelines every ten rows or so, and maddeningly had to rely on one when I dropped a stitch nine rows above and couldn't quite figure out the fix. But that's what they're for, and it did save me from starting over. The inner sections with the squares were actually more challenging than the outer edge. I didn't do the right style of decrease for most of that section because I read the instructions incorrectly, although the method I did use turned out just fine.

The pattern starts with just five stitches and ends up with 535 on the last row. So the early parts fly by, but the final rows often took close to an hour to complete down and back. I chose to do the initial repeat option five times, which produces eight squares in the center column (72 squares total). The final shawl weighs 61 grams. So it used one 50 gram skein and about a fifth of a second. In weird compounding shawl math, 10 of those grams, or one sixth of the yarn in this shawl, is in the last inch of work. The final piece is roughly 28" down the center and 52" wide.

I made this for a colleague who is retiring in a few weeks. I think she might read this ahead of time, but that's okay. She's always been so supportive of and interested in my knitting.

We have worked together for over 25 years. We shared an office in the early days, and she fearlessly took on mentoring this wet-behind-the-ears librarian from day one. She's always been a professional touchstone for me, and really guided me as I took on more of a role with health sciences librarianship at my college. Her approach to collection development and reference work have always been my model. She reads interesting stuff, tells great stories, remains curious about everything, and is always willing to listen. And over the last few years, we've acted as each other's memories when trying to recall names and events from the past. Work is going to be very different without her, but I wish her a happy and fulfilling retirement. I hope she knows just how much she's meant to me and all of her colleagues at the college.

Best wishes, Donna!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Vivacious Vividness

This morning, I finished up the first of a series of baby blankets slated for little ones arriving mid-year. They're the perfect things to be working on with all the beautiful springtime blossoms appearing everywhere.

As you may have guessed, bright colors aren't exactly my thing. But I must admit working on this was a real feast for the eyes. As soon as I got used to a color, it was on to the next one. Deciding how to arrange them was fun, too. A few colors fight each other in proximity -- sewing that reddish-orange and teal together actually hurt after a while -- but when you step back, I think it works. As you can see, a certain darker orange color was ditched for a deep red -- almost a maroon. Around here, that switch has serious implications that non-Texans may not fully grasp. Let's just say that I made this change with a mother's loyalties in mind...

I modified the pattern by adding an attached I-cord edging in gray -- a nod to one of my preferred shades. It took a while, but it helped. Despite blocking each square to 8", over time the garter edging reigned some of them back in closer to 7.5". After sewing the squares together, there were subtle pulls and dips, especially around the edges. The I-cord kind of works like a topping on a cheesecake, hiding the little imperfections and smoothing everything out to a nice uniformity, more or less.

Up next, I'm going to make a variation on this -- look for more "me" in this one. And then yet one more baby blanket, but on a totally different theme -- I think making 32 of these panels will be just plenty for one year.

But not too soon. First, I'll be working on a bit of lace. I found some lace-weight yarn in a dark greenish gray (now that's a color!) in my stash right about the time I was thinking of another gift I need to make. I think I got it in a yarn swap with friends several years ago. I forgot how much I love knitting lace. And how much concentration it takes. I'm going to be putting in a lot of lifelines on this one.

Hope everyone's spring (or autumn) is full of beauty and creativity!


Monday, March 14, 2016

Out With the Old, and...

As of two weeks ago, I had reworked one of the sleeves on my Sawyer Sweater and was beginning the second. Today, on the eve of the Ides of March, I've finished the second sleeve and sewn everything back together. Much better now. But not as much room to conceal knives...

The sleeves are still longish -- with my arms at my side they hang to the base of my thumbs. But rolled up they look and feel fine without all the sags and bags of the earlier iteration. The overall effect is much more to my liking. I'm glad I took the time to correct this, and did so without letting it languish until our next cold snap. While taking theses pictures, here in the last week of winter (technically), the temperature was 92°.

It feels good to finally put this project to rest and move on to the next knitting theme: babies.

I've heard many knitters remark on this phenomenon. Babies arrive in batches. It never seems that you have just one pregnant friend, relative or coworker. As soon as you hear about one, the news of impending blessed events just cascades. So I have at least three bundles of joy in my scopes, and I want to make a little something special for each of them.

I wrestled with whether to post anything about any of these projects, so as not to spoil any surprises. I hope to keep things vague enough so that any of the expectant moms that stumble across these will still be left guessing as to my plans. Plus, I just can't not share these.

First up is a baby blanket pattern called Vivid designed by Emily Wessel and available at Tin Can Knits. It's made with little square panels that are knit in bright colors and sewn together. The total number doesn't matter, but I've chosen 16 separate colors and am planning a 32"x32" blanket made up of 16 8"x8" squares. I'm using Knit Picks Swish DK Superwash.

I'm still playing with color placement, but I really liked what one Ravelry knitter did, aligning color families from most saturated to palest. I had to substitute an orange for one that had been discontinued -- you can probably tell which one from the photo. But I like having a column of red-oranges, blues, yellow-greens and purple-pinks. I'm almost to the halfway point and have enough yarn leftover for a very Steven-ish variation on these. The panels don't take as long as you might think to knit up, and the pattern is surprisingly easy to memorize.

Vivid, no? Just the thing to be knitting as we head in to spring, I think.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Fight to Pare Arms

I finally had to admit that I wasn't happy with the length of the sleeves on my recently-completed Sawyer Sweater. Something needed to be done.

At first I thought I could just unravel the end and rework the ribbing further up the length of the sleeve. But since I don't do this sort of thing often, I forgot you can't simply unravel the cast-on edge of a ribbed fabric piece like you can the cast-off edge. I knew this 9 years ago, but have since forgotten (see link below). Something about the moving of the yarn in front of and behind the work locks it in in that direction. It's possible to pick the yarn out through each stitch individually (which I laboriously did for a few rows), but that would eventually wear the yarn, and my patience, to a fragile thinness.

My second approach was to try and define a row on the sleeve from whence I wanted to start the cuff ribbing anew, and then cut the yarn. It's unnerving and plays havoc with the stitch count, but it's possible. I've done it before. But not this time. The nature of this pattern is such that it's very difficult to define a row in the completed work. I kept trying to run a line through what I thought was a row only to realize I was working on the diagonal, as this fabric naturally runs.

That left Plan C, which was remove the sleeves, unravel them (from the cast-off edge!) and start them over -- this time without the extra inch that I thought I'd needed the first time around and measuring more carefully. Daunting, but necessary. Ive got the first one finished and will start on the second today. As you can see, the length is coming out much better. The schematic in the pattern tells me it should be 25" long. This second attempt is 25 ¼" long. I'll take it.

It's going by pretty quickly now. I almost feel I can knit this pattern in my sleep at this stage. It's difficult to get motivated to do this kind of alteration for several reasons, among them the feeling that I should know better by now, the lovely spring weather and other planned time-sensitive knitting projects. But ultimately it feels good to be addressing this now so that it will all be squared away in 11 months when winter comes again.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sawyer Sweater

I finally finished it up today!

As of this morning, I had completed all the large pieces, sewn the shoulder seams together, and added the collar. All I had left to do was add the button bands, sew on the buttons, and seam everything together.

One of the things I'm not used to doing with patterns is knowing that when it says to make the button band a certain length, the pattern expects it to fit in a certain place and way -- and I should check that. I made the button band and the buttonhole band the requisite 8.25", but when I held them up, I could see they were an inch short. So I added an inch to the button band, and totally remade the buttonhole band, since the old one had holes in all the wrong places. This set me back a bit.

Once fixed, the afternoon was devoted to sewing. Because Shelter is a fragile yarn when pulled, it doesn't work well for sewing seams (ask me how I know this), so I found some old chocolate brown sport weight yarn that I'd used to make some gloves several year ago. Perhaps not an ideal match, but it doesn't show anywhere, so it did the job.

This pattern doesn't lend itself well to invisible seaming -- which, as the programmers say, is a feature rather than a bug. However, it's interesting to note that none of the model photographs in the pattern show any of the seams on the sides or on the sleeves. I can't remember who it was that pointed this aspect of pattern marketing out to me years ago. Flaws -- or at least details that some might find off-putting, don't make it into photos. I get it -- we all have a good side. And the seams don't bother me -- I only really noticed when I referred to the pattern to see what they were supposed to look like.

Another takeaway that I didn't catch onto in the pattern photographs was that one of the models had the cuffs rolled back. You may recall that I'd added an inch to the body and the sleeves to accommodate my anatomy. Didn't need it in the sleeves, it turns out. They go all the way to my knuckles -- which wouldn't be a bad thing on frosty mornings -- but not what I'd planned for. I did hold them up to my arms before sewing things together and saw that they looked a bit long, but I've been burned before and ended up with short sleeves. This time, it seemed I overcompensated. But I can live with turned back cuffs.

The buttons turned out great. They are a bit of a tight squeeze for the holes I made, but they work. They are also a little heavy, being metal, and tend to make the collar sag a bit when not in use. But I still like them. I'm not entirely sure I got the bands anchored at the bottom of the Henly opening quite right, but they're secure. If there's one aspect of sweater making that makes me feel like a fraud, it's sewing on buttons. I never quite feel like I know what I'm doing. I watch videos of HongKong and Saville Row tailors whip through it in a minute and think, "how hard can this be?" And 30 minutes and wads of snarled thread later, I know just how hard. Let's just say you won't be seeing photos of the back of the button band.

In the final assessment, though, I love it. It's the tiniest bit big, but that's okay. I was always thinking of this as an outer garment. The sleeves are a bit long, like I said. But looking at the photos Jeff took this afternoon, I have to admit it turned out pretty good, despite my tendency to sweat the small stuff. Thanks to my knitter pals who gave me the birthday gift of this yarn. I'm going to treasure this for quite a while. And now, I think I'll go walk the dogs in it before summer arrives tomorrow.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I Walked the Line

I kept a close watch on this sleeve of mine
I kept my eyes wide open all the time
I saw the signs and now I'm gonna whine
I'm out of twine, I walked the line

My apologies to Johnny Cash, but this song has been going through my head all day.

I finished the first sleeve of my Sawyer Sweater late Friday after piddling away at it for a few weeks. When I finished, I saw that I only had a a little over two balls of yarn left for the second sleeve and the collar. I weighed the first sleeve -- 104 grams. I had 108 grams of yarn left, so clearly I would need to get more yarn for the collar, but at least I had enough for the second sleeve with a tiny bit to spare. Or so it seemed.

Saturday afternoon, I rode to my LYS and checked -- they were out of my dye lot, but I was okay with the collar being from a different lot, so I got two more skeins of the closest match. There was enough of a difference in the texture and the stitch patterns between the body and the collar that no one would notice on a galloping horse. While there, I got 5 buttons as called for in the instructions. I admired some wooden ones and even considered some rugged antler buttons, but decided on these metal ones with a yellowish patina that might bring out some of the yellow/gold flecks in the yarn.

This weekend I was able to get a LOT of of knitting done. I cast on for the second sleeve Friday night and all but have it done now. That's right. Almost done. Because I'm going to have to dig into one of the new dye lot skeins for the last 8 rows. Grrr. Maybe I need a better scale? I didn't think adding an extra inch to the body and sleeves would eat up that much more yarn, but now that I think about it, yeah, it would. Still, I kind of wish patterns would indicate a bit more exactly what "11 balls" means. Does it mean "10 balls and one more yard" or does it mean "Every freakin' last centimeter of 11 balls -- you know what -- better make it 12"?

So, I have a bit of ball winding to do, followed by a few more rows, some binding off, putting on a collar and some buttons, and some sewing together. And I'm rapidly feeling my enthusiasm ebbing away, despite my recent rapid progress, not least because of the unseasosonably warm weather. It really was "June in January," and not, as Bing sings, "because I'm in love," but because it was 85° Fahrenheit. In January. Beautiful, but I'm just not ready for it yet.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Match Game

Hit a milestone on my Sawyer Sweater today; I've completed the front and the back.

Once done, I placed the front on the back to see if all the decreases on both pieces matched up and mirrored each other. And they do. But doing this also revealed a problem I've never had before; the front is about an inch wider than the back. My stitch counts were all correct at all the check-in points in the pattern, so I must have had a mid-garment gauge issue. Was I more tense while knitting the back -- or more relaxed knitting the front? I don't think it's going to make a huge difference in the finished sweater, but I'm a bit disconcerted. I hope it doesn't become a trend. I'll see when I start the sleeves.

The top of the front involves dividing for the Henley and also decreasing for the armholes. It's one of those "at the same time" instructions that are so hard for me to follow. I had to draw a little diagram to keep track of where I was on each side. All this while juggling two balls of yarn and following new selvedge edge instructions for certain rows. Not sure I quite followed that last part correctly, but I don't think it will make a huge difference. Just about 20 or so rows, but so much to keep track of. The shoulder decreases in the two pieces match, so I must have gotten the gist at least. But my brain hurts.

I'm really liking the texture that this stitch pattern creates. It looks very different from close-up and from afar. I get a kick out of looking down the long diagonal rows of little bumps. Except when I see mistakes. In this pattern, and for me, this means ripping back rather than trying to fix it with a crochet hook. If you do see any breaks or other anomalies in the pattern detail pictured here, kindly keep it to yourself at this point, please.

I got to have lunch and go yarn shopping at Hill Country Weavers with my sister yesterday. I was all prepared to be a fount of knowledge about all things fibery, but she was on a mission. She new she wanted red and black variegated yarn for a scarf for her daughter, and zeroed in on several samples. She ended up with a super-soft alpaca/merino blend from Cascade called Color Duo. I think the one she chose is called Red Queen. Within hours she texted me a picture of several inches of neat and tidy rows. She's really taking off with knitting and I couldn't be prouder!