Thursday, July 25, 2013

Q is for Qiviut

This evening Jeff and I splurged on dinner at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Um, we're not staying there. While we were there, we nosed around this famous place, looking in all the lounges and shops and admiring the fancy decor. It's really quite an amazing hotel in a stunning setting. The view is indescribable. But bring a sweater. When the sun sets, it gets chilly sitting under a glacier. I don't know if the breeze was technically katabatic, but it was noticeable. I think I'm finally starting to wrap my head around the concept of a "summer sweater."

One of the shops (well, actually, there were two of them) was called Qiviuk and featured garments made of qiviut fiber from the undercoat of the Arctic Musk Ox. Very warm, very light, and very expensive. I had never seen dyed examples, and the garments for sale, while well out of reach for most people, were very beautiful. I asked if I could take some pictures and was told yes, but after I tried to get a shot of a ball of yarn, another sales person told me otherwise. Oh, well. I suppose you can imagine what an $85 ball of yarn the size of a fist looks like. But, to the store's credit, they were actually selling yarn, marketed alongside books about one-skein projects. I did manage to get this picture of some men's sweaters before my photography permission was rescinded. Didn't particularly care for the argyle, but the others were nice.

There were some 10% types in there, shopping for sweaters in July and asking if they could just be tossed in a washing machine. It was time to go -- it was all a bit much for me. If you live somewhere where a rediculously warm fiber is called for, you can't get any garments warmer for the weight, but you might consider getting them from the Oomingmak Co-operative.

Tomorrow, we head off on a long hike amongst waterfalls and glaciers. We don't expect we'll see any musk oxen. Good thing, I suppose. I hear they're cranky.

Monday, July 22, 2013

O Canada!

Jeff and I are on vacation, traveling around British Columbia and a bit of Alberta. We're having a marvelous time, after a rocky start that got us into Vancouver at 2am, or 4am in our CDT heads. The people we've met couldn't be friendlier, and there are beautiful sights around every bend. I haven't gotten to knit as much as I'd like since I'm the designated driver, but I have squeezed some in here and there. Mostly yesterday.

Yesterday was when we took a 15-hour ferry ride -- mostly in daylight this time of year -- from Port Hardy on the northern edge of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, just a bit south of Alaska's southern tip. It started out foggy, but soon the weather cleared and I got to sit on the sun deck, knitting and watching for orcas, humpback whales, and sea lions -- all of which we saw. The Inside Passage through the coastal islands is quite narrow at times, and it was amazing how close we sailed to the shores on either side. What a way to travel.

As far as I could tell, I was the only person knitting on the ferry. I didn't get the odd stares and questions that I often get as a guy knitting in American airports and like situations. I finished up a coaster and completed a placemat in the bison color. Once I finish its accompanying coaster I'll be ⅔ done with this project. I'm not sure if the Ivory yarn I have will hold out, but it just might.

Tomorrow we head for western Alberta and the Canadian Rockies for some hiking. It'll be good to get away from the car for a few days to stretch our legs. Oh, and at the risk of drawing the ire of my fellow Texans...

I've been wearing jeans. Outdoors. In July.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

True Simplicity

I'm fascinated by the Shaker sect and the influence it has had on American culture. Their music, furniture, architecture, agriculture -- all undertaken with a mind toward worship through simplicity. Although they believed in equality of the sexes from their 18th-century founding, they also had some weird ideas about lifelong celibacy. I guess no cult is perfect. Several years ago, Jeff and I stayed a night at the restored Pleasant Hill Shaker village in Kentucky. It was absolutely beautiful. I could have spent much longer there than we did. We loved everything about it. Well, Jeff didn't exactly care for the Shaker Lemon Pie.

My friend Staci, creator of the helpful VeryPink video tutorials, has just released a pattern for Shaker Dishcloths and Coasters, created from a description of similar items in Richard Rutt's A History of Hand Knitting (p. 205). I wanted some colorful placemats to go with our colorful dishes, and I figured I could adapt the dishcloth design a little larger to get what I needed. I'm planning on making 6, in the colors shown in the last post. This picture shows the first attempts. They haven't been washed yet.

Such a cool pattern! Nothing too complicated, and after I got used to how the stitches are supposed to look on the needles I found I wasn't constantly glancing at the pattern anymore. Although this pattern does represent true simplicity, the knitter should pay attention and read it through carefully. There are some unusual techniques that have to be followed in order for these to work. If you don't like working short rows, then this probably isn't the project for you. But I urge you to try it. You may just find that:

To turn, turn will be your delight
'Til by turning, turning you come 'round right.

Posting may be erratic for the next few weeks while we are on vacation. But I will try to visit a yarn shop or two since we'll be in a place where knitting is appreciated, if not downright necessary. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In High Cotton

And sheep's wool, and alpaca, and mohair...and a little bit of acrylic.

Casting about for things to knit after finishing the sweater last week, I decided to make some socks. I had originally wanted to use some yarn I got at the first Sock Summit in 2009 that I'd never gotten around to using. It's a Jacob/alpaca/mohair fingering blend from Toots LeBlanc -- perhaps my favorite name for a yarn company, ever. I'd originally planned to make some fancy stitch pattern from one of Charlene Schurch's books, but I quickly realized that this yarn didn't want to be knit up fancy.

It has a delicate appearance in the hank with whisps of mohair creating a fuzzy halo, but this ain't no 50's fuzzy sweater yarn. It's tough. Downright bullet-proof, even. So I'm opting for a plain 3x1 ribbed sock, using my standard recipe of 72 stitches cast onto 2mm needles. This yarn is kind of splitty and plied in a Z pattern (as I learned from Janelle), so I feel like it's fighting me all the way. We'll see who wins out.

Also on the horizon is a cool pattern for Shaker dishcloths and coasters created by my friend Staci, along with the usual helpful video. I'm thinking of making the dishcloth pattern a little bigger so they can be used as placemats. We'll see. I got the Knit Picks cotton/acrylic blend that Staci used in the mail today, in colors that I hope will go with some of the colors of our Fiesta dishes. The top color, Ivory, will be used for all of them in combination with the others, clockwise: Marina, Seraphim, Pomegranate, Carrot, Bison and Blackberry. As you might notice, the white balance on my camera is all jacked up. But hopefully, you get the idea. Can't wait to get started!


Friday, July 05, 2013


Behold, a yoked doodle dandy -- made with shades of gray 2-ply. A handmade sweater for my brother Mike, blocked on the 4th of July!

I'm not sure how I finished this so quickly, but once I got to the stranded yoke, the needles just flew. I just didn't want to stop. and I found it such a welcome change to be stranding on larger needles. They made color changes less fiddly. I really liked how the decreases didn't disrupt the flow do the pattern and also how the round changes were invisible. I don't suppose I should expect less from a Jared Flood design, but still, I appreciate the thought that went into all of this.

According to the Icelandic sagas, Grettir was an outlaw who lived for decades in the north of the island sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries. Although quite courageous, he had a reputation for being somewhat belligerent -- hence the outlaw status. He was famous for bravely slaying the Norse equivalent of a zombie, but not before it put a curse on Grettir that made the rest of his life rather miserable. Now wether all of this notoriety makes him a good candidate for having a sweater pattern named after him might be a matter of debate. But for various reasons, Grettir stood out -- and this sweater design is outstanding. I highly recommend it.

There were a few things that stood out for me with this pattern. First of all, I've never changed needle sizes so many times while knitting a garment. There are four different sizes called for in a few different cord lengths -- some used more than once. Interchangeable needles really helped. It was also my first tubular cast- on. I used Staci's video as a guide, and it I had no problems. I used cotton for the provisional stitches, which didn't dry as fast as the wool when blocking, and it made picking out the yarn somewhat difficult, so I wouldn't recommend that. And after all that drama about gauge at the beginning, I ended up with the most spot-on sizing that I've ever achieved with a sweater. And that with using the suggested needles sizes.

I'm still trying to decide whether to go ahead and ship it to my brother in Germany so he can enjoy it this fall, or wait until Christmas. I'm counting on him having forgotten about this blog so that I don't ruin the surprise, whatever I decide. In either case, I'll post a photo with him wearing it at some point in the future.