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...