Thursday, January 04, 2018

Knittin' Mittens

Over the past month, I made some mittens for my sister and sister-in-law.

I mentioned in my last post that I still had two pairs of mittens to make from the Knit Picks Woodland Winter Mittens kit I'd bought seven years ago. I still hadn't made the November and December patterns, which I thought were the most striking. Perhaps I was saving them for last because they were my favorites? In any case, my plan had always been to make the November pair for my sister and the December pair for my sister-in-law, since their birthdays fall in those months.

The November pair features a scene of deer in the mountain on the back of the hands, and a bold plaid pattern across the palms. It uses five of the Knit Picks Palette colors. I was supposed to use a color called Camel Heather for the light brown section, but accidentally used a color called Almond. Except for losing the heathering effect, I thought it looked fine and decided to stick with it rather than ripping way back. Everything else about it was just fine. From cuff to fingertips, the colors are Bittersweet Heather, Celadon Heather, Almond, Iris Heather, Pennyroyal, Bluebell (I think Knit Picks has renamed that last color Bluebird in the meantime).

This color scheme is called Original and was the only option when I purchased it. Knit Picks also offers this pattern in a much brighter option, bordering on day-glo, called Bright, and a newer color scheme called Stormy that features a lot of dark broody greens and browns. Let's be honest - that's probably what I would have gone with if it had been available back in the day. But I still think the Original color kit shows off the patterns best.

The December mittens are darker, featuring a mountainscape with the Aurora Borealis shining above and a little wolf just above the left-hand cuff. This one uses the dark Bittersweet Heather color as the primary color, and has six, rather than the five contrasting colors of the November mittens. They are, from the cuff up: Iris Heather, Pennyroyal, Oyster Heather, Green Tea Heather, Celadon Heather and Bluebell. I love how the colors sweep up, and how the green of the aurora seems to be reflecting off the top of the mountains. What I've also always loved about these patterns is the way the picture carries across the two mittens. When wearing them, the wearer can't see them because they're on opposite hands. But if the wearer holds them up in front of her face, anyone looking at her can see the complete picture.

As I learned after making the first few pair the thumbs on this pattern, at only 20 stitches in circumference, are rather snug. So I added four stitches at the base of the thumb. This allowed for a bit of extra girth and allowed me to pick up stitches at the problem area where the thumb meets the main body of the mitten, closing up any gaps. The down side is that this broke up the carefully thought-out pattern on the thumbs. This was more of a problem on the December mittens than the November ones, but it's not too jarring, I think.

I gave the November pair to my sister while we were in Colorado recently. I gave my sister-in-law the one finished mitten on her birthday, promising to get the completed pair to her soon. It's going in the mail today! Kind of sorry this kit is finished, but happy that I finally got around to all of them. I hope these keep their hands toasty warm for the rest of the winter and for winters to come.

Next up, a pair of socks, I think...

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Jeff asked me to make him a sweater for an upcoming trip to Colorado with family. I happily obliged, hoping to have it finished by his birthday. I completed it with a week to spare. One month exactly from cast-on to bind-off.

This is the Alchemy Pullover, featured on the cover of Issue 3 of the new Rib Magazine. The designer, Lars Rains, was unfamiliar to me, but he's quite a prolific designer who specializes in working with color and texture in interesting and innovative ways. The sweater is made with 10 colors of Brooklyn Tweed Arbor, which I purchased from Hill Country Weavers. There's a also a 5 color version of the pattern, which I thought was very clever and thoughtful.  It almost tripped me up a few times , though, when I flipped open the magazine to consult the charts and thought I'd made a mistake, only to realize I was looking at the wrong version.

Since I had to check gauge in the round anyway, it made sense to me to just start making a sleeve and count that as my gauge swatch. As luck would have it, I was spot on with the recommended needle size (US7, 4.5mm). So I made both sleeves first, and then started in on the body of the sweater. The sizes made a leap from 42 ¾" to 46 ½" and it called for a few inches of ease. The smaller size would have left only a tiny bit of ease, so I went with the 46 ½" size. It's an inch or two roomier than I might like normally, but better bigger than too snug. Plus, I can wear it also. Just sayin'...

Lots and lots of brown stockinette in the round. I was kind of in heaven. But then the real fun started. Each color in the yoke is used for 8 rounds at a time, with a new color being introduced every four rounds. All but two of the colors are used twice. As an added layer, texture is introduced through purling. I was rather used to knitting with two colors, one in each hand, but I was quite unused to purling with my right hand. I found it quite difficult and now understand while some new right-handed throwers are averse to purling. All that moving the yarn back and forth! So much easier in the left hand. As with any stranded pattern knitted in the round, there is a visible line where the pattern rounds change. You can see this over Jeff's left shoulder in the picture above. I think it's only really noticeable at the top with the yellow and brown.

The one part that that I'm not entirely satisfied with is the collar. It's just more simple stockinette in the round in brown above the yoke, but then goes into a 2x2 ribbing for 15 rounds, finished with Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-off. But something about the decrease rate, or maybe just shoulder and neck anatomy in general, makes the fabric gather and bunch up a bit. I've seen this happen in other yoked sweater patterns, but not sure why. So it looks a bit "roomy" in the neck area. I'm thinking, though, that this might not be a bad thing, giving a bit of comfort around the neck, but also trapping warm air in cold weather. I'll go with that.

Speaking of weather, you may notice traces of snow in these pictures. I took these in the morning after a freak late-autumn snow flurry the night before that hit central and south Texas. So unusual at any time, but especially this early in the chilly season. The college where we work had a delayed opening, which allowed us to get this pictures taken. I'm hoping we see a bit more snow than this when we head to Colorado in a few weeks. I know this will keep him snuggly and warm. I'm so pleased he likes it. Happy birthday, Jeff!

Next up, I'm going to finish the last two pairs of the Woodland Winter Mittens kit I got from Knit Picks in 2011. The kit came with enough yarn and six patterns to make pairs of mittens representing the six colder months. Texans - use your imaginations! Within a year of getting the kit, I'd made the mittens for October, January, February and March, but had never made the ones for November and December. I'm not sure why - I'd just set the box aside. From time to time I would unearth the yarn and pattern and remember I needed to get back to them. Now seems to be the time. I've gotten started on the November pair, which features mountains and a large ungulate (elk? moose?) on the back of the hands and a pretty plaid pattern on the palms. They might make nice gifts for people I know who were born in these months...

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Younger Folks & Textured Yokes

I spent much of yesterday finishing up a baby blanket for the newest person on my block.

It's the Pick-a-Knit blanket from Appalachian Baby Design. I made the large size, using one of their kits, which comes with the pattern and two balls of each of the three colors in the blanket - a light silvery-gray, a beige tone, and a natural cream color. The cotton is all organic, and quite soft to the touch. And very washable. Perfect for a new little one.

I knew going into this that there would be a bit of pain and strain. Because of cotton's lack of give compared to animal fibers, knitting with cotton can be hard on the hands, depending on how tightly the knitter holds his yarn and needles. And I tend to hold them both with a death grip. I don't know why, but I've always had trouble maintaining a light touch and "soft hands" while knitting. It usually doesn't bother me, but cotton can really exacerbate the tension. My thumbs are a wee bit sore and I have a little twinge in my left elbow, but I think it was worth it.

Yesterday I finished it up, wove in the ends, washed it and dried it. It's all ready to be boxed up and taken down the street to my new little neighbor. I started this a few days after she was born last month. I hope she hasn't gotten too old to appreciate it already!

And here's a little something I just have to share. A few years ago you may recall that a young neighbor of mine asked me if I would teach him to knit. We cut a deal - I'd teach him to knit if he showed me how he made paper airplanes. Let's just say, he was a better student than I was. And, to my immense pride, he has kept at it. He's since become interested in so many things (building ramps for his bike to jump off of, Little League baseball), but we still talk about knitting from time to time as I walk the dogs by his house. When I was out of town at a conference a few weeks ago, he gave Jeff this sample that he had knitted and asked if he would make sure I got it. I love this so much - the colors, the effort, the pride in knowing how to do something that not everyone can do. A while back, he asked if I would make him a blue hat, and it's never quite happened. It's going to happen soon, I promise.

Next up on the list of things to make is a sweater for Jeff. He doesn't ask for them that often, but when he saw this pattern for a sweater called the Alchemy Pullover in the latest issue of Rib Magazine, he said he wanted one in the exact colors shown. This pattern comes in a 10-color variation and a more affordable 5-color version. He said he wanted all 10 colors. I mentioned that this would be more expensive, but he just shrugged and I'd grabbed my keys and was out the door before his shoulders had lowered. My goal is to have this finished before his birthday in mid-December and before we head up to Colorado around Christmas-time for a family get-together.

Swatching for this needs to be done in the round, since that is how this is constructed. A swatch in the round is going to look like the beginning of a sleeve anyway,  so I plan to just start knitting a sleeve and measuring for gauge once I get a few inches in. If I have to rip back and start over, so be it -- it's what I'd have to do with an unsuccessful swatch anyway.

Eagle-eyed viewers might note that there are only nine skeins of yarn showing in this photo for a 10-color pullover. I'm recycling some of the yarn in the color called Gale (yet another shade of gray) from my River Rocks scarf. I think I have enough left over of this that I can just use it. See -- I'm saving money already!

Need to go cast on for a sleeve right now. Happy knitting!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

River Rocks

I'd been wanting to knit something from the new men's knitting magazine Rib since it came out, and issue #2 had a pattern that caught my eye -- the River Rocks Scarf.

I liked the graphic pattern, and it used a technique which seems quite popular these days, but which I'd never used - brioche stitch. Brioche is a type of double-knitting, using two strands of yarn that are knitted separately row by row, yet intertwined in such a way as to make a very dense fabric. It creates many pockets of air surrounded by wool, perfect for garments that benefit wearers through trapping warm air near the skin, such as scarves and hats.

This scarf pattern uses two colors to create a reversible pattern that looks quite different on either side. The dark side contains the "river rocks" motif, which uses increases and decreases to create tiny circles that mimic rocks which appear to be breaking up a current. The lighter side, which I prefer, is more linear and graphic. I wanted a contrast, which is why I went with dark (Porter) and light (Gale) tones of gray Brooklyn Tweed Arbor yarn here, though I imagine the river rocks would have shown more if the two colors weren't in the same family. But this guy just needs knit with gray yarn every so often.

The pattern calls for 18 repeats of a 24-row motif, with increasing/decreasing business going on in one out of four rows. Because I had the yarn for it and wanted just a few more inches, I did 19 repeats. It wasn't too complicated, but keeping one's place in the repeat was essential. I messed up more than once, putting a pebble in the stream where it didn't belong, and had to rip back three separate times. A lifeline helped in that regard, although for the last one I was able to rip back just a few rows and get everything back on the needles correctly. Brioche stitches are hard to backwards engineer when trying to fix mistakes. Having contrasting colors helped. If this had been one solid color, fixing in such a way would have been nearly impossible.

I'm not entirely sure I got the two-color Italian cast-on executed correctly. That edge flares in a strange way. But I did figure out the sewn two-color Italian bind off and it looks pretty neat and tidy. The final thing is about 72 inches long and between 7 and 8 inches wide, since the edges ripple. The instructions said to block it, but I don't think I'm going to just yet. I'll wait until the first time I wash it. Looking forward to wearing it in Colorado this winter!

What's next? Another baby blanket, because babies keeping popping up all around. And a sweater for Jeff because he asked, and I learned long ago to not question these rare requests. More on those later.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Fibonacci Stripes

This past month (well one month and one day), I've been working on a striped sweater using yarn handspun by Janelle. It's finished!

While visiting Gettysburg this past summer, I got to admire all the amazing handspun yarn that she's made over the years. Noting that she couldn't knit it all, she said I could take a batch of whatever I want. Janelle's palette runs decidedly blue/green, so this batch of cranberry red yarn really jumped out! We both knew it wasn't enough to make an adult sweater, but she suggested that maybe I could work in another color in some way to stretch it out.  After I got back to Texas I bought some in Brooklyn Tweed Loft in a grayish-brown called Barn Owl, and this is what I came up with.

I'm using the general crew-neck raglan pullover recipe as outlined in Ann Budd's The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. I've had this book for years, and it's a great go-to source for when you want to branch out on your own in knitting a sweater, but still need to fall back on well thought-out formulas for increasing and decreasing and just general fit.

I couldn't quite get gauge for the 44" in sweater size I wanted to make. But I followed Ann Budd's instructions for adjusting gauge. I ended up using the instructions for the 40" sweater, but following the lengths described in the 44" sweater and it worked like magic! I didn't get quite the ease I wanted, but that's a different type of math, involving adjustments to exercise frequency and taco consumption. Ahem.

I needed to insert the contrasting color in some sort of interesting way, but wasn't sure how. I knew from other design things I've perused that the Fibonacci sequence often produces eye-pleasing results, so I played around with a spreadsheet, adjusting strips and measuring row-gauge, before coming up with a plan. I skipped the number 1 and came up with alternating rows of red and gray/brown yarn in the following sequence: 2-3-5-8-13-8-5-3-2. That is, after 1/3 of the sweater being knit in red, I started with two rows of brown, two rows of red, three rows of brown, three rows of red, etc. Originally, I thought that the top 1/3 of the sweater would be brown, but I decided I had enough to make the top red, and I think it looks much better that way. I did the sleeves the same way, and they more or less match. I like how from a distance, it looks as if you're looking down on a striped cylinder. It also give a sense of motion if I squint just right.

The cuffs, hem and collar are all done in 8 rounds of seed stitch. I love seed stitch, and one day I'd like to make a sweater that is entirely of it. This stitch made a good edge for the most part, although the hem still tends to curl up when I'm not wearing it. It seems to behave once it's on me. I did have an issue with the bind-off. Traditional bind-offs are notorious for forming a tight, inflexible ridge, which can cause problems getting garments on and off. I thought that going up a couple of needle sizes would take care of that, but as you can see, it wasn't enough. I probably could have tugged it down over my ears and nose, but I wasn't confident I would be able to ever remove it. So I undid the bind-off, put the stitches back on the needles, and used Staci's sewn tubular bind-off. It's very easy, I think, and although the directions are for 1x1 ribbing, seed stitch is basically a variation on that and it seemed to work just fine.

Although it's made of alpaca and wool, I was surprised how un-hot I was in it in our low-80s temperatures when we went to the back yard to take some pictures. The main problem was all the mosquitoes that have appeared since our copious Harvey-related rain. I can't wait until it cools off a bit so that they all go away, and I get to wear my new sweater.

Sunday, August 06, 2017


As it gets hotter and  hotter and the world gets crazier, all I want to do is stay indoors and make pretty lacy things.

This one is Flieder, another Herbert Neibling design, but about three times larger than the Georg doily I made last month. Flieder is German for lilac. Neibling produced more than one pattern with this name, but I'm not sure how he saw anything bout lilacs in this particular pattern. The central flower has six petals, and little lilac blossoms have four. Still, it's Neibling's world and we're just living in it. Flieder it is

While shopping for thread -- and I got each of the three balls from three different craft stores in Austin --  I saw that Aunt Lydia's Classic Crochet 10 comes in a light purple, dare I say, lilac color. But that would have been a bit too literal and I would never have used it. White is the way to go with this, I think.

For those interested in such things, here's a little schematic of how this particular sausage was made.The central portion, marked in green, starts with 6 stitches in the middle, one for each petal that grows outward, knit in the round. After completing that, the two sections marked in, let's say, lilac, are knit flat (back and forth). After this, stitches are picked up around the purple sections along with the held live stitches from the remainder of the green so that the work is again done in the round. Four rounds of dense purling with the thread held doubled follow, and then 20 repeats of the pattern are knit up to the orange line. After that, the pattern shifts to 40 repeats. That's a lot of stitch markers. And a lot of stitches on the needle. By the end, there were 1,440 stitches on a 32" needle. I don't have a US0 (2mm) 47" circular needle. I wish I did. Things got quite crowded. I also experienced that weird thing with center-out projects -- the closer you get to the end, the slower your progress. It can be a bit maddening. Everything up to the orange line took 5 or 6 days to knit. Everything outside of that took an additional two weeks.

Please don't think that all this explanation is meant to impress, or to warn you off lace knitting. My point is that it's not nearly as hard you might think. I've made two oval examples, which are probably more fiddly than most. I would think that a square table cloth or round doily would be a bit easier, but just having a basic idea of the construction, using Google Translate, and finding some online German/English knitting glossaries is all you really need to get started. Then it's just a matter of not dropping stitches and not loosing one's place in the pattern. And time.

This fits our dining table perfectly, which was a fluke, really. I just lucked out on that one. I'll likely just use it for special occasions. This morning, I set out some of my Grandma Self's china on it to see what it looks like. The story in the family is that my grandmother didn't really even want fancy china, but my grandfather insisted that they get some while they were living Germany after WWII and had the means -- they'd been so poor when they got married during the Great Depression. It came down to me eventually. A scent I noticed as a I was pulling it out of the cabinet triggered a sense memory of my grandparents house and Thanksgiving dinners in San Antonio. And they look great together, I think, German dishes on a German-designed doily. My family has had so many connections to Germany -- my Kohrs and Weber ancestors immigrating from there to Texas in the 1850s, my grandparents and father living there 100 years later, and my brother's family making their lives there now.

Only 109 days until Thanksgiving!


Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Doily Chronicle

When I started knitting twelve years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of spending time and effort making a lace doily. But today, I finished my first one -- the Georg doily designed by Herbert Niebling.

And I say first one, because I'm going to likely make more. Yes, they're challenging and fiddly, but as a process knitter, theses are the things I kind of like about knitting. Seeing the symmetry inherent in the pattern gives a certain satisfaction. And observing how the squares and symbols on a lace chart translate into leaves and petals makes me want to keep going to see what happens next. Then, of course, there's the challenge of keeping all the balls in the air as it grows and grows. The first round of this project, started in the middle, had 8 live stitches. By the time I got to the cast off, there were nearly 500.

Here's a walk through how this thing is constructed. Starting at the pinhole cast on in the center, the central flower is eight repeats of the same motif knit in the round, creating the petals, with slight variations on opposite sides to set up the oval extensions. Those sections are knit flat (purling on the back side) out to the ends. Then, stitches are picked up around the oval extensions along with the remaining live stitches from the sides of the central flower.  A 20-round pattern repeated 16 times around the whole doily created the leaf points and lace edging.

Then, all that's left is the crocheted points around the outside. The first round serves to bind off the edges of the knitting and create little loops. The second round builds on those, plus pulls the ones opposite the leaf points together. I was intimidated by this part because my crochet fu is not strong, but I think I managed. It was a little tricky to figure out how do the attaching, but I just picked a method and stuck with it. I found myself really wishing my crochet skills were stronger as I finished this up.

I completed the crochet edging yesterday afternoon and went online to find out some blocking options. One was to mix some liquid starch and soak the whole thing, but the video examples I saw led me to believe that it would end up too stiff. I wanted it to have some structure, but I didn't want it stiff as a board, either. I decided to go a bit simpler. I soaked it in warm water (which left the water strangely murky -- this is just cotton, what was up with that?) then placed it flat on a towel draped over my blocking board. Then I got out the regular can of spray starch that I use when I iron shirts (ahem, which isn't often) and went to town. I pinned out all the outer loops to make points. This part was fairly tedious. Not sure I did the tidiest job, but it looks pretty good overall.

In the original design, the central flower, a few rows in the middle and the crochet loop points were all done in a black yarn (see below). Couldn't quite see the point in that -- I thought it looked a bit odd. But tastes change. Consider that one of the staging shots for one of the patterns in the book features an ashtray with a lit cigarette resting on a doily. Not something you'd likely see in a pattern book today!

I enjoyed this project way more than I had anticipated. I was surprised by the sense of dimension in the finished object. The way that the fields of stitches and lacy holes ran in different directions created textures and shading that I hadn't imagined. I'd always though of lace as being very two dimensional, but it doesn't have to be. I was so impressed at the thought and care that Niebling put into this design so that everything lined up and worked together just so. I want to knit more!