Sunday, September 21, 2014

Machrihanish Progress

Just a short and long overdue post about my progress on the Machrihanish vest...

I've not been working on it steadily. Beginning-of-the-semester busy-ness, catching up with relatives and trying to get ahead on yard work has kept me away from the needles, but I'm getting to it when I can. I've been through three 42-row repeats of the pattern so far and am about a dozen rows into the armhole steeks. The decreases at this point are rapidly drawing in the circumference, so I was able to speed up a bit this weekend. It will only get smaller and smaller as I head toward the shoulders -- quite the opposite of center-out lace or top-down sweater construction.

I love making and looking at steeks. I've made both the checkerboard and striped variations. I think I like the stripes better. Easier to see when cutting. These are narrower than others I've done -- only seven columns instead of a safer nine or eleven. I think I might actually crochet these to secure them before cutting. I didn't on my last vest and it's sticky Shetland wool has held up just fine, but I'm worried that seven is too narrow a margin -- literally.

My 32" circular needle is getting a little too hard to work with, so I picked up a 16" 2.75mm needle this afternoon. I'll need it later for the neck and armhole edging, and in a few rows I'll need to start transferring stitches too it as the circumference narrows even further. It will be pretty crowded at first, but that won't last long.

I should have this finished by the time the cooler weather gets here. If it ever does.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Treasure Post

I received a letter in the mail his summer, which, while delivered in July, only now just made its way to me. It's wonderful beyond words and I just have to share.

I signed a short contract last academic year, and was away from work for most of July through this week. Getting back to the library after a break always involves a flurry of returning calls and going through email. It was halfway through Monday before I tackled the physical mail, and amongst the junk mail and magazines, I found a letter. A proper letter, with a stamp on it. The stamp featured a profile of Her Majesty and was postmarked Glasgow. What could it be?

An envelope of awesomeness, that's what! A Glaswegian Ravelry friend, Alison, had attended the Edinburgh Fashion Festival in July and got to meet Arne & Carlos, the Norwegian designers of the 55 Christmas Balls which I made two years ago. Alison thoughtfully printed out a photo of my completed set beforehand, and asked them to autograph it for me:

I can't tell you how wonderful it was to receive this. Alison sent it to me with a warm handwritten note. I'll treasure both, I assure you. And she was very resourceful in finding an address to mail it to. The librarian in me appreciates such skills. That someone I've never met would think of me and go out of her way to do this for me was truly touching. I will be sending her a proper thank you later, you can be sure of that.

If you want to see her great knitting (and yes, you do), Ravelers can find her under the handle banjocool on Ravelry. I especially like the small-gauge knitting she's done for Barbie and her Action Man!

Thank you so much, Alison. You really touched my heart with this gift.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Making Rounds

On my list of things that needed doing during the summer was a trip to visit my Aunt June. She's always had interesting family stories to share and we've always got along well. I think our status as the eldest children in our familes made us simpatico, and her stint as the librarian in her home town was influential in my career choice. Plus, she's an important link to the family needlework and seweing heritage on my mom's side.

Jeff, my sister and our niece headed down yesterday to spend the day. She made us a yummy lunch (with the help of her grandkids), and I got to give her the Squared Away Throw I finished a few months back. As I worked on it, I thought the colors were so Aunt June, and this picture confirms it! It's almost as if she picked this outfit for the occasion. She was really happy to receive it, which, of course, made this knitter's day.

She showed us some quilts while we were there, including a baby quilt with little sheep and a t-shirt quilt she was making for her grandson, Thomas. She also is repairing a fan-patterned quilt that my grandmother made just before June was born. She would have been twenty-two years old. I love all the fabric prints, which probably came from old sugar and flour sacks. Some are really quite cool, although a few panels have disintegrated over the years. It's just so moving to touch these things and make these connections with my past. I'm glad Aunt June is taking care of it so well. She is planning on coming to the biannual quilt show here in Austin in a month or so. It's become a bit of a tradition, and I'm looking forward to it.

Speaking of rounds, I've completed about 60 rounds of the Machrihanish Vest, which is about one-and-a-half chart repeats. I think I like the darker band better than the lighter one, but they're both nice. Whenever I put this in strong light to take a photograph, it makes the colors come off a bit more primary-ish than I think they are in normal light. Also, I like the way this looks from a distance more so than I do close up. I've completed two balls of the Mussel Blue, and haven't finished the first of any of the others. It's looking like I'll have plenty. I still have a ways to go before thinking about steeking and decreases, so for now I'll continue making the rounds.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Scotch Swatch Not Botched

I began my Machrihanish Vest this week. Stranded knitting has its unique challenges and benefits and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy projects like this. Although I have some Scottish background, none of my ancestors came from the Shetlands as far as I know, much less the Orkneys or Fair Isle. But I do so enjoy the rhythm of this style of two-handed knitting with the myriad patterns that can be created. Maybe I'll find a link some day.

I started the swatch right away -- shown here. Did I mention challenges? Since this project is knitted in the round, I needed to make my pattern swatch in the round, too. I had to do this on a very long needle using a magic loop. I worried that the loop gap might cause gauge issues, but it wasn't that bad. You might see a little distortion running through the center of the leftmost "X" motif where the gap was. I steeked across the other gap and later cut it. I didn't reinforce it at all. Love the grabiness of Shetland wool! After steaming, cutting, pinning and drying, the swatch was at 37.5 stitches over 4", just over the called for 36. The lightest of tugs and I was just fine. Oh -- and US knitters take note -- this pattern calls for a 2.75mm US2 needle. Many needles marketed as US2 circulars are actually 3mm. Check the millimeter size! I had to get a new one. It's from Knitter's Pride, and I quite like it, though the dark cord can make the blue stitches hard to see.

The swatching directions call for knitting half the motif on one size needle and half on another, because there is an option for making the lower section narrower. I'm more tube-shaped than v-shaped, so I'm not bothering with the shaping. There's also an option for making the ribbing twice as long and then doubling it under for extra strength. This appealed to me at first, and I bought extra yarn for it, but ultimately decided it would be too bulky for Texas.

I started on the vest proper a few days back and I'm to the point that the swatch left off. I've only dropped stitches a few times, but found them and fixed them easily enough. I'm really liking watching this pattern grow. So far, so good. As is often the case, successful projects start with good planning. And this patterns' detailed instructions for swatching were greatly appreciated.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Vest Laid Plans

Some knitting has occurred in the past few weeks, but mostly planning for a new major project.

We got out of town for much of last week, visiting relatives in northeast Texas and spending some time in the woods hiking and relaxing -- and enjoying unseasonably cool weather, along with the sound of rain. Rain! I worked on a pair of socks that I'm making using a free pattern from Knitty and yarn I bought in Germany last December.

These Inlay Socks are kinda cool. The effect is a woven fabric, but it's all knitting. You do this weird technique that allows you to do two-stitch cables without a cable needle or slipping stitches off temporarily. It's fiddly and a little weird to get used to, since one stitch in each pair is intentionally twisted. I can't manage to memorize the pattern, but I'm liking how these are turning out. Things should go a bit faster when I'm only doing the complicated pattern over the instep rather than around the whole cuff.

While I was gone, some yarn arrived that I'd ordered from the UK. I tried to find a closer source, but just couldn't. It's Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage in beautiful, rich colors. Or, rather, colours. They're all solid, with nary a heathered color in the collection, and they're all based on colors found in traditional garments housed in the Shetland Museum and Archives. Nice.

I'm planning to make a vest using a pattern by Kate Davies called Machrihanish, after a village on the Mull of Kintyre. I love the bold designs, and since some of the vests I've made in the past, like the Hillhead and Vaila slipovers, no longer fit me well, I've got a great excuse to start something new. So my days ahead will be filled with careful swatching, two-handed stranded knitting, and steek cutting. Kate's pattern gives very detailed instructions for swatching, which I don't often see for stranded knitting projects, and I'm very appreciative.

Can't wait to get started.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Gist of the Twist

I've been on a roll with knocking out the projects these past few weeks. Today, I finished the Boyfriend Socks that I started back in May.

This pattern has been available online for free for years, but I just now got around to trying it. I used some Cascade Heritage Silk in the color Limestone that I bought when Janelle's friend (and now mine) Kris was in Austin for a conference and we spent a lovely Saturday driving around to yarn shops, knitting, and stuffing ourselves with barbecue. Good times! I started these socks shortly afterwards, but they too fell victim to my late spring/early summer knitting doldrums. But it was easy enough to pick up where I left off. I'd forgotten how luxuriously smooth this yarn is to work with. It can be a splitty with my sharp dpns, but totally worth it.

The construction is rather straightforward in this pattern. They're made toe-up using the magic cast-on. I followed the instructions for increasing on the adjoining edge stitches, but I wish now that I'd offset them by one stitch. And I'm not all that great with wrapped short row heel construction, but at least they look uniform.

I really do like the cables and how they drift back and forth across the ribbing in little bunches of three. Once I figured out how to count rows to find my place it was easily memorized. And the generous yardage on this yarn meant I could take these a little further up the calf before the final 1x1 ribbing and the sewn bind-off.

Those are Jeff's feet modeling in the top photo. He'd rather model than put up with my somewhat demanding photo direction. But he did mention how silky smooth these were -- this from a man who thinks most handknit garments are "too scratchy." Maybe someday I'll make a pair for him, although I suppose I'd have to change the name to Husband Socks.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lunatic Fringe

Started back in November, and all but abandoned for the last several months, the Squared Away Throw is now complete. I powered through the final third this past week and spent a big part of yesterday cutting and knotting fringe.

I just completely lost interest in this at some point, and set it aside with hopes that it would call to me again. It never did. Earlier this week, the blanket and I had an "it's not you, it's me" conversation and decided to end things amicably. Without going into the sordid details, I can report that we will be living apart and that we wish each other the best.

Part of our tension stemmed from, well, tension. I could never get it right, with the result that this throw is 50" x 32" rather than the pattern's "60 x 39". Not such a big thing for something that doesn't have to fit a body part, but still quite annoying and yet another reminder of the importance of mindful swatching for achieving the proper gauge.

I'm also not convinced I got the start-of-row triangles correct. They're sloped and wonky-looking. I noticed that this edge doesn't appear in any of the pattern photos (including mine!) -- so maybe it's intentional. Or, more likely, it just can't be helped because of the way the increases and decreases work when fitting triangles and squares together.

This project combined two things I'm not all that familiar with: crochet and entrelac construction. Trying to figure out where stitches went (or, indeed, what constituted a "stitch") was tricky at first. And learning to think on the bias was weird, too. Oh, and a third thing: Tunisian stitch. Crocheters always tell me how much faster crocheting is than knitting. But my nights in Tunisia showed me that this technique is like crocheting in slow motion.

My friend Staci has an excellent tutorial on the basics of Tunisian crochet if you want to learn more. I referred to it more than once.

 

Don't get me wrong -- this is a really cool technique and I'm glad I've added it to my bag of tricks, but I don't know that I'll be doing it again anytime soon. I think this turned out well enough, and I'm glad it's done. Time to move on to other things, which, when the yarn arrives, will be this.