Saturday, May 09, 2015

Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

This spring has been so busy, with little time for knitting, and even less for blogging about it. But for the first time in 10 years, I was able to slip away for a few beautiful days and attend the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. It was the perfect long weekend.

I stayed with Sharon and Janelle and family. (See her excellent account of the day.) The day before the festival, Janelle graciously drove me around the Mason-Dixon Line southwest of Gettysburg, PA, looking for a place called as Shockey's Cave, the lair of a notorious counterfeiter in my ancestry.

We never did find it, but we did find a shop called The Knitting Cottage near Waynesboro, PA. The owners were very sweet and I ended up getting some Schoppel-Wolle Crazy Zauberball sock yarn (at bottom of picture below), which I've always wanted to try, plus a recent issue of Knitting Traditions dedicated to patterns based on exploration and adventure travel. Knitting and exploration and history? Yes, please.

The next day we got up bright and early to beat the crowds to the festival. Janelle is always so organized about these things. I was a bit overwhelmed and mostly just followed her around as she checked off her list of vendors to visit. But along the way, I found a few things. My superpower seems to be going into a shop or booth full of colorful yarn and coming out with the only gray skein in the place.

For example, at the Hobbledehoy booth I found a BFL superwash in a light gray (right) that was put up in a 250g skein -- perfect for extra long socks, or socks with elaborate cables. And at the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth I dithered and hemmed and hawed and finally committed to several skeins of Brigantia, a Polworth(85%)/Silk(15%) DK-weight yarn in a steely blue-gray with slight hints of a greenish-yellow that I'm thinking of using for one of the new Brooklyn Tweed men's designs (left). In between we got to eat kettle corn, see dozens of sheep breeds (and other fiber-bearing animals like rabbits and alpacas), see spinning demonstrations, and meet up with many of Janelle's local knitting friends.

Local knitting friends was what the next day was all about. Several of the Gettysburg knitters came over to Sharon & Janelle's house for knitting and chatting. A very talented bunch, to be sure. It was fun to compare notes on the day and just relax. It was good to meet all these women. I even got to drink "the pink stuff," their official group beverage.

So much more happened this weekend -- great meals, relaxing walks, student tumbling exhibitions, art shows, a family book group discussion, and a gamelan rehearsal and performance. I even got to try my hand at weaving on Janelle's Cricket loom and brought home the resulting coasters. But despite being so busy, I came back quite refreshed.

My thanks to Sharon, Janelle and family for a wonderful weekend. I won't wait 10 years for the next trip.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spiral Galaxy Pillow

I finished up the second installment of my springtime throw pillow project today. Or at least I think I have.

This pattern knits up much faster than I thought it would. And used much less yarn. It's a pretty simple three-round pattern. Increases happen in every one of the 15 segments on each round, but decreases happen in only two out of three rounds. This makes the spirals fan out in a rather gradual manner. Basically, you just keep this up until there are 17 stitches in each segment. Oh, and then you do the whole thing again for the second side, of course.

Putting it together started out rather tedious (I had 255 stitches to bind off), and then, about halfway round, descended into downright chaos. The two sides are joined with a 3-needle bind off. Usually, this is done on the wrong side of the work. But since you can't really knit on the inside of a soon-to-be enclosed space, this seam is exposed. About halfway around, I put the pillow form in. And then I happened to look down to see that I hadn't quite caught one of the stitches on the backside about 20 stitches earlier (caught with a greenish clip stitch marker in the picture). So I had to unseam backwards, while trying to keep the building pressure of the pillow form from popping the edge stitches out. I grabbed some DPNs to assist in corralling everything back together. I wanted to yell "clamp!" Like some surgeon on TV. Instead, I stopped for a few calming deep breaths and a picture before moving on. Disaster averted. Did I mention that the cables have started separating from the old Knit Picks interchangeable needles I got that when I first started knitting? That also involved over 40 dropped stitches and dropped profanities...

But all's well that ends well. And I think this is mostly finished. I still think this needs a big fat decorative button in the middle. I bought some wooden ones that I thought might do, but they're clearly the wrong type. They need to be the kind with the securing ring behind, not with holes visible from the front. And the yarn I have won't be able to withstand the springy force of this pillow form. So I'm thinking of taking it to an upholsterer for some guidance -- or to perhaps just do it for me. I'm not proud.

So, two pillows down -- one (or maybe two?) more to go. And I need to get back to those Moorish Stripe Socks.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stripes and Spirals

The flowers are blooming, the weather is warming, and I'm entering into my annual springtime knitting slump. I still have projects that are grabbing my attention, but I just don't seem to have enough time to do much knitting. Plus, the looming warmer days put me off the idea of handknits. I'll get over that soon, I'm sure. In the meantime, I've made some progress I can share.

It may be a bit premature to post this, but I finished the first of the Moorish Stripe Socks. There were options for knitting pinstripes into the heel flap and the toes, but I decided for solid navy. As Tim Gunn might say, these socks are already "a lotta look," so having three solid patches gives me eyes a chance to catch their breath. I know I'm confusing senses and mixing metaphors there, but you get the idea. The hard part for me was realizing that the pattern across the instep is meant to be continued as if the gusset wasn't there, so that when the gusset does eventually draw together, it just disappears into the pattern. I didn't get that at first, overthought things, and ended up having to un-knit a few rounds to get back on track. Such a lot of fuss for something that will be covered by shoes most of the time, right? Now to cast on for the second one and do all this all over again before Second Sock Syndrome sets in.

I also got started, yesterday, on the second of my pillow projects, the Spiral Galaxy Pillow. I needed something round that would knit to 16". This one is scalable out to nearly any size, really. It's designed by Daniel Yuhas, appears in 10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters, and came to me through the magic of Interlibrary Loan. Thanks, Dallas Public Library!

It's knit from the center out and is pretty simple to follow. Except for the instructions about slipping stitches and moving markers around. I overthought those, too, starting over three times before figuring out that keeping the same number of stitches between the 15 spiral segments is really the goal here. The first side is about 10" across right now. I still have quite a bit of yarn left, but I also know that it gets eaten up faster and faster as the circumference grows. I'm thinking of putting a big button right in the middle of this. Maybe a big wooden one? Or maybe a knit-covered one?

Not to let sheep out of the bag, but as it happens, I have a little trip planned soon that will surely shake me out of my spring slump. More on that later...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Texas Two-Step

After finishing my pillow, I found myself this week in a bit of a lull between projects. For the next pillow, I had the yarn but not the pattern. It's coming, but I'm at the mercy of the Interlibrary Loan system. For a runner I'd like to make, I have the pattern but haven't settled on the yarn. So I decided to fall back on my favorite thing to knit. Socks. I'm not a big yarn hoarder, but I always try to have some sock yarn around.

I decided to return to one of my Charlene Schurch books, More Sensational Knitted Socks for inspiration. There are several stranded patterns in this book that I haven't tried. And with good reason. They take twice the yarn and are thus twice as warm as normal handknit socks. Not exactly necessary in Texas. But some of the patterns intrigued me, and I had just purchased two skeins of yarn that would work well together.

The pattern is called Moorish Stripe. I like the little one-stitch lice pattern interspersed with the geometric stripes. On the foot, a much jazzier stripe that is a variation ofthe one on the cuff runs around the sole and instep -- pictures to follow when I get there. The tan color contrasts pretty well with the dark navy, but I think the effect might pop more if the contrast color were a variegated or semi-solid yarn. This is looking a little flat to me. I still like it, but if I do more of these stranded patterns I'll try to remember that.

I bought this yarn last week while I was on spring break. I met my childhood piano teacher and longtime friend Leah for lunch in La Grange. Non-Texans probably know La Grange from its most infamous business, but it's a great Texas small town with lots of little cafes and shops. One of its big draws is The Quilted Skein, just a block off the Fayette County courthouse square. It's right next to the Texas Quilt Museum, which unfortunately, was closed.

The Quilted Skein, which is dedicated almost equally between yarn and quilt fabrics, is one of the most beautiful yarn shops I've ever visited. Everything is new shiny wood, and the ceilings go up forever. The selection is really wide, with lots of yarns I'd never heard of. The back of the shop has large windows that overlook an intimate garden space. The staff were very friendly, too. I didn't get to meet the owner, Stephen, when I was there, but hope to get to on future trips. Because there will be many more trips down there, I'm sure.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Break Squared

Turns out my college's spring break framed my latest knitting project from start to finish. I cast on just hours after getting home a week ago Friday, and finished sewing up the seams this morning. I'd been wanting to make some cabled pillows to match our duvet cover and had bought yarn in colors I liked in January. Then I got side tracked making toys and socks. But as spring break loomed I found a pattern with cables I liked -- the Christmas Cables Pillow.

The only thing that read "Christmas" about this was the red color, but I had to change a bit more than my mindset to make this work. I had already bought some pillow forms, and didn't have one in the 16" square size that the pattern was designed for. I "knew" I had a 12" one, so I swatched carefully with the needles and yarn I wanted to use and reduced the number of horseshoe cabled from 6 to 4 to get close to a 12"x12" square pillow and set to work.

It's really an easy pattern to memorize. The edges have a cable motif that crosses stitches on every right-side row, and the larger horseshoe cables only cross every eight rows. The whole thing is made in one long piece and then folded over the pillow form and seamed on three sides.

I worked along until it was a little over halfway done and then grabbed the pillow form to see how things were looking. The form that I'd had in mind (and now had in hand) was for a 14"x14" pillow. Sigh. For a while I played with the idea of just stretching the hell out of it during blocking, but figured it would just look too stretched and strained. The cables would have been distorted beyond recognition. So I bought a new 12"x12" form. And, looking on the bright side, I now have an additional pillow size to experiment with. Not exactly a win-win situation, but close.

The new pillow turned out fine, with just the right amount of stretch across the form. The edges of the pattern have built-in knit column runways perfect for mattress-stitch seams. And I was able to line up the cast-on and bind-off edge stitches so that they flow into each other on the final edge seam -- it doesn't look that different from the opposite, folded-over edge. I only had one cable snafu, but it wasn't too difficult to rip back and get on the needles, even without a lifeline. The looser-than-usual gauge helped with that.

So now, I get to troll around for some new pillow patterns on Ravelry. I have a 16" circular form (yes, I just double-checked the size!), so I think I'll tackle that next.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Two by Fours

I started some new socks in late January, and just finished them last weekend. But I haven't gotten around to writing anything about them until today.

I knit these on size 2.25 (US 1) dpns. I go back and forth between using dpns and a long circular needle for magic loop sock knitting. Right now, I'm in a distinctly double-pointed mood. Sadly, I seem to have lost one of my favorite green Signature Needle Arts size 1s, so I may have to go back. I'm sure it will show up somewhere. I imagine it's lurking in a cushion or pillow, waiting to impale me at some opportune moment. I just discovered that you can replace these singly if necessary. I think I'll put that off since I still have the bare minimum of four, but it's nice to know it's possible to get single needle replacements. I love these sharp pointy things so much.

I didn't really follow a pattern, but used my standard personal sock recipe. I did a German twisted cast-on of 72 stitches and knit in a K4, P2 pattern to the heel. I executed an eye-of-partridge heel across half the stitches until I had 18 slipped stitches on each side of the heel. I actually ended up picking up 20 on the edges after turning the heel on the first sock, so I made sure I did the same on the second. Then it was just reducing the gusset back to a circumference of 72 stitches and knitting on down, with the 2x4 pattern continuing across the instep and stockinette across the sole. The toe was pretty standard, ending with 8 stitches left to be grafted.

The yarn was Trekking XXL, which I've used before. It's nigh on indestructible. And I can get nice man-sized socks out of one ball. I could have even made them a bit longer. I had close to 7 grams left over from100 when finished. This yarn was a gift from someone in Jeff's dance class! She used to have a yarn shop, and had some yarn to give away, so Jeff brought this home for me. How nice is that? Thank you, Karen! I'm really going to enjoy these.

Spring has finally sprung around here. My college is on Spring Break this week, and some of my time-off plans involve a yarn shop not far from my hometown. More on that soon, I hope.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Here Be Monsters

I've been doing some knitting since I last posted, but amittedly not much. I've been poking away at a pair of socks, but that's about it. Then, last week, we were invited to a 2-year-old neighbor's birthday party. I really wanted to make this little one something special. She's always happy to see us walk by with the dogs and likes to shout out our names -- a collective proper noun that sounds like "TeevenDeff!" It's such fun getting to see her grow up right before our eyes.

My friend Abbe had made the cutest toys for other tots, and I hit her up for info on a pattern I thought would be perfect for our little pal: Daphne and Delilah the Momma and Baby Monster by Rebecca Danger. It's a little striped stuffed monster with a pocket for carrying an even tinier monster. What 2-year-old wouldn't love that? I bought a copy via Ravelry and set to work.

I had some Cascade 220 worsted yarn in a light heathered gray that I'd already bought for a pillow project that has yet to get off the ground. And I found what turned out to be just enough worsted purple yarn leftover from some previous project. I think it might have been from a baby surprise jacket I made several years ago, in which case it's Berroco Vintage in a color called Petunia. I think they ended up working pretty well together.

I started this on Wednesday evening and wrapped it up this morning. It's a fun and fast project -- but does require paying attention to color changes, counting rows, and doing those little tricks to avoid color jogs in the stripes. It also requires a lot of sewing up, which always seems to rattle my confidence. But I managed to fudge and guess and figure out ways to do it that look okay.

The pattern calls for safety eyes, which I couldn't find locally on short notice, so I embroidered some instead. I think the eyes turned out a bit squarer and more menacing than I intended, so I compensated by curving the glued-on felt teeth into slight smiles, hoping to soften their countenances somewhat. Hopefully, they'll come across as goofy and friendly, rather than the stuff of nightmares.

It was a lot of fun getting to visit with our little host's cousins, aunt, uncles, and grandparents this afternoon. Many thanks to her parent for inviting us! We had a marvelous time. We left before the guest of honor got around to opening her gifts, but we see her nearly every day, so I'll give a report when I found out what she thought.

Happy Birthday, Amelia!