Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dogwood Blanket

I was off work this week and had plenty of time to devote to the last baby blanket for this spring. And before I knew it, I was finished.

This pattern looks complicated, but isn't all that difficult. Mostly knitting and yarnovers, along with some purling and keeping track of which way various one-stitch and two-stitch decreases lean. Like many lace patterns knit in the round, every other round is a status quo round -- knit the knits and purl the purls. The trickiest part was having to switch out needles. I started on a crochet hook for the pinhole cast-on, switched to double-pointed needles, then about a third of the way through switched to 16" circulars and finally finished with a larger set of circulars for the last dozen rounds. I used the stretchy bind-off that I used for the first Vivid blanket I made. There's a description of this method in the pattern tutorial. I really do like it, and might use it for other projects.

After finishing four squares, they're seamed together with an exposed crochet chain. I wasn't too keen on this, because I had reservations about a ridgid, well, ridge, running crosswise through the middle of everything. I tried some other varieties of seaming, but came back to the crochet because it was the best looking after all. I did modify it a bit by pushing the hook through the outermost legs of the edge stitches on each piece, rather than through both legs. It made the chain just a little less bulky. It seems sturdy enough, and does lend a bit of structure and strength to the whole blanket, which could be useful in something that's otherwise rather delicate and flimsy.

This color was so difficult to photograph. My phone's white balance is off on the best of days, and blue-greens are nearly impossible to capture. To my eye, anyway. I'd say this third picture, taken outdoors, is closest to the true color albeit a bit washed out.

At one point I entertained the idea of adding a lace or picot edging to this, but after finishing I thought the stretchy bind-off's chain edging looked just fine. And anything I considered ended up looking like it would fight with the overall pattern rather than compliment it. So I'm leaving it plain.

This little baby arrives in July, so I finished with plenty of time to spare. I'm really not sure what I want to tackle next, but I think I may have gotten lace out of my system for a while!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Six Trumps Eight

A break between semesters and some stormy weather left me with plenty of time to swatch for my final baby blanket of the season. Is it still a swatch if you knit one fourth of the blanket to decide on the needle size? What about doing that twice?

The blanket I'm making is another Tin Can Knits design, by Emily Wessel, called Dogwood. I was drawn to the stylized dogwood blossom and the center-out construction. It looks rather complicated, but it's clearly charted and not difficult to follow at all. And I noticed that the stitch count per quarter is always 4 more than the round number, which makes checking in much easier. For instance, each side on round 23 has 27 stitches in it. I'm always looking for little patterns like that within the overall pattern. It's saved me several times already.

The original pattern suggests Dream in Color Classy, but my LYS had some Madeline Tosh DK in a color I liked, called Undergrowth) so I went with that. It's a silvery blue-green on the heavy side of DK, not quite the worsted called for in the original. I used 5mm (US8) needles as suggested, but thought the result might be too lacy -- if there is such a thing. I decided to finish it, block it, and assess.

I blocked it to 20"x20", which was a bit aggressive. It seemed a bit too formless and drapey, so there was nothing for it but to try another needle size. The second sample (on the left above) was made on 4mm (US6) needles as suggested on the ball band. I like it better. It looks darker in the photo above because it's still wet from its blocking bath, but it has more of a presence and structure, I think. This one is less aggressively blocked to 17"x17". I'll knit three more so that the final blanket will be 34"x34". I'm fine with this smaller size. I keep reminding myself babies are small.

I should have plenty of yarn now that I've downsized. If I get brave and creative, I might even consider adding a picot edging. Anyone have any suggestions for designs they like?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

16 Shades With Grey

I've been working on a project all month, trying to get it finished in time for a baby shower this morning. And having to work on other projects around the baby's mom, one of my good knitting friends. I finished it just before midnight last night, and am about to wrap it up and head out. I'll schedule this post for later so as not to spoil the surprise. That is, if I haven't managed to already.

This is a variation on the Vivid Blanket I made a few projects back for a colleague who was expecting. I knew I'd have enough yarn in all those colors for a second blanket if I choose a different color for the garter stitch borders on each square. It fit so neatly into my schedule of gift knitting for this spring's births and retirements. Cue The Circle of Life! Or squares, as appropriate.

I'm not one to get wound up in the nonsense of genders and colors. The heart and the eye like what they like. Any neutral would go well with all these bright and pastel shades. I chose grey because that's my favorite neutral, and it makes the colors stand out just enough. And I think it's absolutely appropriate for a little girl. I have a few knitting and blogging friends who have touted the magic of greyness. I'm looking at you, Janelle and Snowden. I just think that grey is that perfect tone to set off the other colors. Not so somber and adult-like as black, but not as likely to show grubbiness as cream or white.

I knit a shawl between these two blankets which used a super-stretchy bind off that I really liked. So instead of using the bind off called for in the original Vivid pattern, I used the one from the shawl. Well, part of the reason was that I liked it. The fact that it was still in the active part of my brain and I couldn't be bothered to revisit the original pattern was another.

I'm torn as to whether this was a good idea. I definitely noticed a difference in the blocking. In the original, the squares shrank back in on themselves about an inch even after thoroughly soaking, blocking and drying. This new even stretchier bind off allowed the squares to keep their shape better. However, it took more yarn, to the extent that I was concerned whether I'd ordered enough of the grey. I ordered six balls, and in the end I used five and a half. Not exactly a squeaker, but I'd planned to have over a ball leftover.

This bind off also made sewing the squares and attatching th i-cord a bit problematic. It created a chain that almost looked like it was floating on a row of crochet posts. It left a little row of holes around the perimeter of each square. I tried versions of mattress and whip stitch to join them, but they ended up looking too "stitchy" -- like the joins of Frankenstein's monster's body parts. So I ended up using a tracing technique across seams, much like weaving in ends. I think it matched the overall effect well enough.

So excited for this little one's arrival. But not as much as her parents and big brother! Now to get this wrapped and get to the party!

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.