Sunday, April 29, 2018

Don't Dawdle, Amaryllis

Unlike Marian Paroo's piano student of the same name in The Music Man, this Herbert Niebling Amaryllis pattern seemed to fly off the needles. One month exactly from cast-on to blocking.

There's just something about the symmetry and pattern of lace knitting that I really enjoy. To start from just 8 stitches in the center, expanding outward in an expanding spiral that gets increasingly slower as you go. By the end, there were 960 stitches on the needle, with each round taking upwards of an hour to complete. And all done with one long piece of cotton thread and just a few a basic stitches. It's all so very satisfying, like putting together an intricate puzzle or constructing a complicated model. I really do like lace knitting more than I ever thought I would. And these Niebling patterns, while intricate and seemingly complicated, are really quite accessible to more knitters than you might think. They're definitely worth a try.

Detail of the pattern alongside my neighbor's Amaryllis
Unlike the two Herbert Neibling patterns I tackled last summer which were roughly oval-shaped (Georg and Flieder), the Amaryllis pattern is round. So there was no picking up of stitches to connect different sections -- just one giant spiral -- which was a lot easier. However, putting in life lines across so many stitches was a bit problematic - but necessary. A few times I found mistakes -- usually right after putting in a lifeline, but in each case I was able to figure out what I'd done wrong, ladder down the stitches, and re-create the pattern correctly. This is so much harder to do in lace than in more traditional stockinette knitting, but do-able if you pay attention to which row you are on. And if you're patient. And if the problems are fairly simple. I found that the surest way to avoid problems was to do a lot of counting as I went -- this left leaning section has 13 stitches on this row, the yarnovers in this direction always take place after 4 plain stitches -- that sort of thing. I have a tendency to do that in my head about all sorts of things anyway, so I kind of find it soothing.

Sample from Amaryllis pattern
This pattern can pretty much be done from the charts -- I didn't have to rely too much on the brief instructions in German that I'd run through Google Translate. There was one section I couldn't quite figure out, which features a small box near a place where the chart seemed to shift over. It looked like it read 5 M. z. , although it was a bit fuzzy. The key in the original pattern reads Maschen zurück d. h. so viel Maschen der folgenden Runde, wie die Ziffer im Zeichen angibt, auf die letzte Nadel der vorigen Runde rechts stricken. Google Translate kicked this back as Mesh back d. H. knit as much stitch as you want on the next round as indicated by the number in the symbol on the last pin of the previous round on the right. Even this didn't quite make sense to me (wish I could figure out what that d. h. abbreviation means - maybe something about the round marker?). I ended up removing the beginning-of-round stitch marker, knitting 5 stitches, replacing the marker and continuing. Seeing that visual 5 stitch difference between rounds 107 and 109 made me think this was the way to go. For the rest of that round, each of the 16 markers (one for each Amaryllis blossom) had to be slid over 5 stitches. It seemed to work. And that strange little 5-stitch section of stockinette has no effect on the entire piece, or course. Not sure if this is what Herbert intended, but it's what happened.


Blocking this thing was a bit of a bear. I used my thinnest blocking wires and ran them around the outside through every other gathering of stitches at the base of each of the 224 edge points. Then I bent them gently into arcs and tried to get a uniform diameter. It ended up varying between 32" and 33" inches across. Sadly, one of the blocking wires bent permanently. But I was able to get it more or less round. Then I needed to pin out the points. I used all of my T-pins and a bunch of yellow-headed pins that I'd gotten at some point. I still had about 50 points to pin. I found a package of safety pins and opened up each of those. Then I grabbed 8 pins from a shirt I'd just bought and unwrapped. Still two short, so I grabbed some cork board push-pins. Whew. It was close. Janelle told me that T-pins make great stocking -stuffers. Just sayin'. While it was damp, I sprayed the whole thing with spray starch (need some more of that, too) and by the next morning it was dry. I love that swishy sound it made when pealing the stiff cloth off the blocking board. Since removing it from the pins and wires, it has tended to gather in a bit and won't lie quite flat. I think it would work better if it were draped over a small table. Still not entirely sure what this tablecloths ultimate fate will be. But so glad I made it.

What's next? More lace, I think. But brightly colored. And much softer... Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Jujika Cowl

I finally finished the Jujika Cowl yesterday. The major knitting took about three weeks. Then I spent a week and a half just seaming the thing.

This cowl is basically a deflated tire tube, or a flattened donut. Or a torus with no volume inside. You get the idea. It's constructed as a long tube knit in the round. The last round is a seaming round that then joins the last round knit to the first round knit. When everything is done, it should look like a solid piece of fabric. More about that later.

I didn't swatch for this project, figuring it wouldn't really matter being a thing that drapes around a neck. It doesn't really have to "fit" anything, right? About halfway through I regretted that decision. The whole thing was supposed to be about 26 inches long. Mine was 19 inches. I blocked it rather aggressively, not always the wisest thing to do with this rather delicate Brooklyn Tweed Loft, and managed to get it to 24 inches, although it has since shrunk a bit. I'm happy with the density of the fabric and I think larger needles would have made the fabric looser than I wanted. As it is, I can see some of the opposing yarn catches showing through the fabric.

After blocking the un-seamed tube, one is supposed to unzip the provisional crochet cast on and put it on a needle, then graft between the two pieces using a Kitchener-like stitch. It is Kitchener, but you start the 4-step sequence in a different place, and using the color that matches the stitches on the lower needle. Yes - grafting 270 stitches in two different colors. At first it seemed like it was going okay, despite the usual tension issues I have with Kitchener grafting. But then, to my horror, I realized that I had little bars of the opposite color popping up here and there.

It appears that when I knit the very first row of this thing onto the provisional crochet stitches, I had twisted the yarn, probably as a result of trying to catch the opposite color yarn behind. But in doing so, I had caught the opposite yarn within stitches rather than behind them! Can you see the bits of white popping through in the top half of the photo? And the blue strand caught inside the white stitches in the bottom half? Warning to those who try this pattern themselves -- don't bother catching the yarn in the first row. In fact, if your stranded knitting tension is good, you might consider avoiding catching the yarn at all. It's not like anything is going to catch on long floats; they will all be locked away.

What to do? A cast-on row can, in theory, be picked out and re-knit in the opposite direction, but this is really difficult to do (it doesn't just unravel like the last row) and seemed like a lot of work to fix one row. So instead of fixing it, I decided to hide it. I ran a bit of waste yarn through the cast on stitches and tied the ends to together. It's there now, just dangling somewhere within the cowl, unseen. Then, I used a smaller needle (good idea, Staci!) to pick up the right leg of the stitches of the next row down (or up, depending on how your'e looking at it) and re-knit the last row in the opposite direction. This does shift everything over half a stitch, but as it turned out, it's not all that noticeable in such a small stitch pattern. I did have to adjust the beginning step of the grafting instructions to accommodate this, but it all turned out fine. In the picture to the right, you can see the seam line a bit, but I don't think it's too distracting. It's really a clever design - I just wish I'd been able to make it work the way it was supposed to.

There is a small bit of inflexibility along this seam because of the waste yarn behind, although I tried to keep that as loose as possible. And because of my usual tension issues with Kitchener stitch the seam is noticeable in places, but overall I'm pretty happy. I tried it on myself (it's not really me) and it hangs about right when completely open as in this picture. I thought I should be able to double it up and have a tight-fitting neck warmer, and I could, but it wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty. The effect was a bit too Uncle Fester. I may re-block this again just to try and smooth out the seam and try to get a bit of extra length to it.

Glad I made this, though, and I have an idea of someone to give it to. What's up next? Not sure, but I'm thinking of diving back into the world of Herbert Niebling lace patterns...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Hands and Feet

Since last time I checked in, I made some socks. And more mittens. I'm kind of out of control.

After finishing the pairs of mittens for my sister and sister-in-law, I started looking at all the yarn I had leftover from the kit and thought I really should do something with all of it. The colors I had the most of were all the shades of brown. Perfect! At first I thought I'd make a hat, but wasn't sure I had enough. I knew one thing I had enough yarn for, though -- more mittens.

I searched Ravelry for Fair Isle mitten patterns that used five colors, but didn't really see anything that spoke to me. So I started flipping through my copy of Ann Feitelson's The Art of Fair Isle Knitting for some ideas. There were some mittens featured as a pattern, but they were a bit subdued for the yarn I had on hand. Then, on page 50, I ran across just the thing.

From Feitelson's The Art of Fair Isle Knitting
There in the margin was a pair of vintage mittens that Feitelson uses as an example of common items that Fair Isle knitters might make. Next to the caption "Mittens, the work of today's older hand knitters, (ahem)" was a pair of mittens that really captured my imagination. They appeared to use six colors, but I thought I could adjust. However, now that I was smitten with mittens, I'd have to figure out the pattern myself.

With much squinting at the photo and a bit of guessing, I was able to chart out the pattern by using an Excel grid with different background colors. It was very slow going, but it really helped me figure out the symmetry. While making it, I kept thinking that the person who originally made these likely just had a few common motifs in her head and designed it as she went. I made a chart for the left hand, and then for the right. The original mittens have the thumbs arising from the palm, but I didn't have any idea how to do that having never done it myself, so using the patterns from the kit I'd just used, I charted out a thumb jutting from the side and keeping the pattern from the palm all the way around. Afterwards, I charted out the top of the thumb that is added at the very last after the body is complete. Once I had it done in Excel, I downloaded a PDF copy, and then pulled it into my KnitCompanion app so I could keep track of where I was as I went.

I'm surprised at how smoothly this all went. Luckily, the number of stitches in the mittens in the book matched up with the number in the kit patterns, so I could refer to that when I got in the weeds. I'd originally planned to make a 62-round pattern, but since the last round involved a color change right at the end, I left that last round out and used Kitchener stitch to close the finger tips across the last 20 stitches.

The thumbs were super fiddly and involved multiple yarn color changes across just 19 rounds of knitting. I use the same method used to catch floats in fair isle knitting to introduce new colors and weave out old ones. This adds a bit of time to the knitting, but is so worth it (to me) at the end when I can just turn the whole thing inside out and snip off all the dangly bits without having to worry about them coming undone. This was really hard to do inside the the thumb which was basically a 24-stitch tube. But still worth it.

I'm pleased with the results! I do wish that I'd been left with some more heathered colors to use. I think the overall effect is a bit more graphic than the original. The only heathered color is a goldish one (called Camel Heather) that you can see as the first color past the wrist ribbing. All the rest were solid colors. And they didn't always play nicely. I got several inches into my first mitten when I realized two colors weren't contrasting enough and went back to the drawing board, or rather, the spreadsheet. Jeff likes the tan background color (Almond), but that's the one that bugs me the most. The heathered grayish-blue in the original is so much more, I don't know, subtle and fluid. Still, I think the whole things works. These are too small for my hands, so I'll hold on to them and find someone with daintier hands to give them to.

I also made some socks at some point since the beginning of the year. The yarn was a Secret Santa gift from my friend Abbe and boy, does she know the kinds of things I like. It's Crazy Zauberball yarn in a colorway called Herbstwind (Autumn Wind). I love all the greenish blues and dark reds. Like other Zauberball yarns, these are kind of hard to predict where they'll go with their striping so I chose to use a solid yarn for the toes and a matching afterthought heel to pull it all together. The rest is just 2x2 ribbing across 72 stitches, with solid stockinette across the soles. I'm really happy with them. I finished them about a month ago, and am just now realizing I haven't worn them. That window may have closed, though. I'm afraid our cold weather is mostly gone for the year. They'll be there for me next year, though.

Not entirely sure what's up next. I just got a book from the public library, the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible by Hitomi Shida. It's absolutely gorgeous and I'm entranced by all the intricate patterns. I'm sure some of these could be used to make some socks, a cowl, a scarf, a hat...

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

Alchemy

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.