Friday, July 29, 2011

Adorable Freebie Friday

How cute is this hat?!  I've been thinking that it's time to sart knitting ahead for holiday gifts, and yesterday I came across this.  It's call the Penguins Galore hat.  It's terrific in these colors, and I was realizing it could be done in the colors of any hockey team or school, too.  Just the color bands would change - everything with the white background would stay the same.  LOVE IT!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Naturesong Plant-dyed Merino
There has been a significant movement towards environmentally-friendly everything since the global warming problem started making headlines, and the more folks look at the issue, the more the environment seems to be taking it on the chin.  I'm no scientist, and I don't have any breakthrough information on the subject.  That said, I am interested in being kinder to the environment.  How much is enough?  Can I use modern fibers like tencel and rayon?  What if the yarn label isn't made out of recycled paper and printed with soy ink?  Is it still worth buying?
I've decided that there is no single answer for me.  It's kind of like going on a diet - I'm reducing my environmental impact.  I can't go from 0 to 100% in one step.  As it turns out, neither can most yarn manufacturers.  There are simply too many details, and going fully organic is impossible to do in large volume.  Here are some of the details:  Is the fiber produced without chemicals, pesticides, in sustainable ways with minimal impact to soil, air, and water?  Is it processed on machinery made from sustainable sources?  Powered by water, electric, gas, ethanol?  How is dyeing handled?  Is it vegetable dye?  Sustainable?  Low impact?  Conventional?  If it's silk, were the silk worms allowed to become moths, or were they killed when the cocoons were complete?  Is the entire process cruelty free?  Is the packaging and shipping done in a low-impact way? 

Many of the major manufacturers/distributors have come up with eco-friendlier lines to supplement their existing product line.  To simply stop producing conventional yarns would put the big manufacturers out of business, as eco is so expensive.  Lion Brand, Cascade, Knit Picks, Lana Grossa and Classic Elite have all added eco-friendly and/or organic yarns to their product lines, among a mountain of others.  Using these yarns is a step in the right direction. It sends a message to the company that I'm willing to pay a bit more to do better for the environment.
Allhemp6 Hemp Yarn
Other companies have started eco-friendly, and haven't backed down.  They tend to be smaller manufacturers and distributors, and you have to love the guts it takes for them to hold their own against the big guys.  O-Wool! is dedicated to raising the standard of education about organic wools, and meticulously produces a fine product. Naturesong is a little company with a big selection (all of which is now on major sale!)

Dyeing is the subject of huge debates now, and it's more complex than you would think.  Tiny amounts of conventional dyes will color massive amounts of yarns, and will leave low environmental impact.  Massive amounts of natural dyes are required to dye small amounts of yarn (approximately 100 times more by volume than conventional dyes), and have an enormous farming footprint. 

How do you choose?  I don't have a neat answer.  Research your favorite yarns with regard to your particular concerns.  If you worry about the treatment of animals, environmental impact, land use, or recycling, those are all things you can discover about most fibers.  Jump on company web sites and learn what you can.  And if you can't find the answers you're looking for, ask the company.  They won't know you care if you never tell them. :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Buffalo Gold "Lux" yarn

45% Bison
20% Silk
20% Cashmere
15% Tencel
This is the lace-weight yarn I'm using right now.  I LOVE it!  It's made by Buffalo Gold, although at the moment I don't see it on their website.  For those of us who are allergic to wool, buffalo down is a magical option, as it looks and behaves similarly.  There is less stretch in the fiber, but looking at the finished product, you'd never guess it's not a wool or wool blend.  The resulting fabric is silky soft, impressively strong, and has terrific stitch definition pre-washing.  The swatch I laundered got a lovely soft, dense halo around the original strand, making for a cashmere look.
This yarn is skeined pre-bloom, and does still have some of the manufacturing oils left on its surface.  This is slowing down the action on my hardwood needles, but not much.  I've decided to wash the finished garment instead of the skein to give it a fuller effect than knitting post-bloom would.
I'm making a solid color version of the Ruffles for Lisa scarf, and my particular yarn is a sagey green.  It's skeined at 330 yds, which I think should just do it.  If I come up short, I'll scour Ravelry for another skein.
When I was in Yellowstone recently, the bison were shedding their down.  It was fascinating to my fiber-crazed brain that this soft, billowy down was one of the fibers used in my yarn.  This is not an easy way to obtain fibers!  My understanding is that they only shed their down once a year. I know the Yellowstone herds are wild, but I have a hard time picturing a fully tamed buffalo.  I wouldn't enjoy being responsible for gathering the shed down, or for giving a buffalo a comb-out.  Maybe I'm just a wuss.  Do any of you gather buffalo fibers?
Anyway, pictures will follow, and when I'm sure I'm finished tinkering with it, so will the pattern.  If you've made anything with Lux or with buffalo yarn in general, I'd love to see it and hear about your experience!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ruffles for Lisa is Finished

It's finished.  Here it is on my daughter, Allison. The overall pattern is just 25 rows long!  

Allison was a great sport to put on this wool scarf on a 90 degree day with 80% humidity, while wearing a long-sleeved shirt no less!  And of course, the photos are by my husband David, who is a professional photographer.  Thanks, you guys!  Buy It Now

Yarns in Cones

When you're making a larger project like an afghan or  anywhere you'll need over 1200 yards of yarn, you're buying in bulk.  Why buy by the skein?  For many of us, there aren't any other options.  We can't buy by the cone.  Even if we could, hand-dyed rarely comes by the cone.  And when a yarn is very pricey (think Suri alpaca or cashmere) I usually want to buy as close to the exact amount of yarn I need as possible.  (I can't afford to have $50 worth of overage.)  Skeins make some sense.

But for some of us there is another option - cones.  Cones come in a variety of sizes, usually by weight, and are much cheaper than their skeined counterparts.  How much cheaper?  50 - 75%, and sometimes more.  Buying in cones means more time between shopping and knitting, because you've got some steps to make up.

In one local outlet (Daft Dames for Buffalo NY locals) there is a broad variety of coned yarns in every imaginable fiber, color and weight.  I asked one of the owners why the yarns, clearly of very high quality, are so much cheaper in cones.  She explained to me that coned yarns are two steps behind yarns you buy in skeins. 

In the process of making yarns by machine, the fibers are exposed to lubricants and oils that make the machines less likely to bind up.  (All those fibers that will one day become lint wreak havoc on gears and belts!)  When the machines finish making the particular yarn and it gets coned, it still needs to be washed and skeined. 

Skeining the yarn off, tying the skeins to keep them from opening into a tangle, and popping them in the wash is the first step to take when you get the yarn home.  Niddy Noddys, tools that have been around for hundreds years, are designed for the skeining part.  They are usually about 18 inches long, making each full wrap around the tool = 2 yards.  As you wind, you count, and you know how many yards you've skeined. Watch this video, and it will make sense.  Make enough skeins for your project, and wash them together, or in batches, so that you don't have to suspend your project every time you need to start a new skein.

Yarn pre- and post-bloom
The washing causes the yarn to "bloom".  Blooming is when the fiber returns to a state closer to its original state, but still stays made into yarn.  A coned yarn that looks like fingering can bloom to a Sport, DK, or even Worsted, depending on the fiber it's made from, and how it was manipulated in the yarn making process.  Blooming is a fluffing up, making the yarn springier, softer, and more able to trap air. 

How do you know what a yarn will be like after blooming?  Most places that carry coned yarns will have an example of each yarn knit up post-bloom.  No guesswork is required.

Each fiber and machining process is a little different, and it's always good to ask the staff at the shop what they recommend for cleaning the yarn for the blooming process.  If they don't have an answer, or you forget to ask, Soak, Woolite, and mild shampoo are all effective choices.  Remember a little goes a long way!

Hang your cleaned skeins over a towel rack or the shower rod to dry.  Rotate them a couple of times during drying to facilitate even blooming.  (Thorough drying may take as little as 12 hours or as many as 72, depending on skein size, temperature and humidity in your area.)

Post-drying, your yarn is ready for winding into a ball or a center-pull skein, just like a skein you would buy at the LYS.  Then you can begin your knitting project.  You've saved yourself a small fortune, and gotten to know your yarn just a little bit better before you start knitting.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Knitting Math 7 - cables, ribs, dropped stitches, lace and bobbles

When you're doing your knitting math, there's always the possibility that you're working with a pattern with measurements that don't work out to the gauge math.  The listed stitch gauge multiplied by the listed inches does not even out at all.  What if you want to modify the original design?  Change its size or overall looseness?  Grrrr!
Ribs and Cables - very contracted!
Brioche Rib, a big contractor

Don't panic.  Does your pattern contain cables, ribs, dropped stitches, lace or bobbles?  If none of these are represented in the suggested gauge swatch, you've probably found your problem.  (If this isn't it, it may be "ease", covered in the next article.) 

Shrinkers - ribs and cables both contract your knitting horizontally when they're verticle, and cables will also contract it a little vertically.  Twisted stitches are also in this category.  When you're ribbing horizontally (like garter stitch, or any combo of right-side knit rows alternated with right-side purl rows) it will contract your knitting vertically. 

Growers - dropped stitches, lace and bobbles all cause the knitting to grow.  Dropped stitches create wide, elegant ladders of open work, and are the stitch that expands your knitting the most horizontally.  Lace will expand it horizontally, and usually expand it even more vertically.  Bobbles, because they disrupt the tension of the rest of the row, will usually expand the row horizontally just a little.

How do you know how much these decorative elements have affected the stitch count?  Ah, I think we all know the answer, we just want to avoid it.  Yep.  You have to swatch it.

After you achieve correct gauge on your basic swatch you need to make a separate swatch with the design element.  Use the needles that gave you gauge.  For your first row:

Make an 8 stitch moss stitch border, then an inch of stockinette, then a full repeat of the design element.  Then repeat the inch of stockinette and 8 stitch moss stitch border.  One row completed.

Keep following the pattern for the design element until you've finished one repeat of it vertically, or for four verticall inches of knitting, whichever is longer.  Now, measure your swatch at its narrowest and widest points, excluding the first and last two rows. Just like you would any other swatch, launder it the way you will launder the garment, and block it.  Measure again.**  Now you have a pretty good idea of what affect the design element will have on the measurements.

Our demo numbers:  Gauge is 6 stitches per inch, design element is 10 stitches per inch. The design element is one inch wide. Our total stitches inches in the row are 106, and total inches are 17.

If your design element occurs once, the math is this:  Total inches - design element (in inches) = inches in regular gauge.  If you need to make adjustment, make it in the regular gauge stitches, and make it match left to right unless you want something off

17 - 1 = 16  I have 16 inches where I can make an adjustment without messing with my design element. 

If your design element occurs more than once:  Total inches - (design element number of repeats x design element in inches) = inches in regular gauge.

If my design element occurs 6 times, 17 - 6 = 11.  I have 11 inches where I can make my adjustment. 

**Why do you need to measure twice?  Because how your garment will lay and measure after laundering and blocking is often very different from how it knits up.  If you don't measure it twice, you won't know how much it will grow or shrink, and you may end up making the wrong size by mistake.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Knitting Math 6 - Change Sheets

Even if you never pick up a calculator, there are a couple of steps in the land of Knitting Math that we all seem to forget.  Mostly they involve writing down the stuff we did and changed, as it's different from what the pattern said.  Two years later, when you decide to make this project again, you'll really want to know what the heck you did!

Let's say you did some knitting math to place your decreases evenly, which your pattern asked you to do.  Well, if the pattern doesn't specify how often to decrease and you did the math on your calculator, you know what to do for your decrease row.  But if you take a little post-it note and stick it to the pattern, all the better. 

Modify the sleeve length?  Another post-it.  Modify the gauge or change the yarn?  Yep, more post-its.

Why all the post-its?  Because if you knit past your changes and turn out not to like them, you'll rip back, and change it again.  Then you can peel the first note and replace it with what change you liked better.  This way you're not writing directly on the pattern.  When you finish the garment, then you can take all the post-its and write out one final "change sheet".  Make a little highlighter dot on your pattern every time you need to look at the change sheet for the next time you make the project.  And of course, place a photo of the finished piece on the change sheet, or at least keep one with the pattern.

It might look like this:   Change Sheet for Emma Jumper

Yarn:  Used Cascade Rustic instead, total of 4 hanks

Needle:  Used US 8

Cast - on:  liked cable cast-on better, stayed with it

Length:  found the original length too long for Jane (5 yrs old), and shortened it to 12" before the decrease

Decreases: k3, k2tog

Finishing:  Finished by single-crocheting the V-neck bind-offs and the armhole for a smoother look.

Remember, the Change Sheet only represents what you did differently.  It doesn't have to include anything you did the way the pattern suggests, just the changes.  Paper clip this to the original pattern, and some day, (just long enough for you to not remember what you did differently), it will be there to remind you.  Or it can remind your dear friend, who wants to borrow the pattern once they see the beautiful work you did. 

This will feel silly until you go back to a pattern you never thought you'd use again.  But you will use it again, because as knitters, our comfort zones move around.  Let's say you didn't like all the cable work in a pattern.  By the end of next year, you may suddenly want the challenge.  What if you got through a colorwork pattern by the skin of your teeth, and are sure that's the end of colorwork for you?  Well, in five years, you may LOVE colorwork.  (Stranger things have happened.)  Trust me on this.  Making up a change sheet can't hurt you, it can only help you.  There are so many patterns I've changed and didn't make a change sheet, and now I kick myself when I go back to them!  Learn from my mistakes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Silliness in the Morning

Enough!  I relent!  For all who have emailed me asking, I've included a photo in my bio to the right of this article.  (I told you I looked like a normal person.)  Now, is this really me?  Or did I substitute? Yes, it's really me. I would have substituted someone far more interesting if I were going to do that!  Like who?

Julia Roberts
Rumor has it that Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz are both avid knitters.  (I don't know this for sure, but I've seen Ms. Roberts discuss her knitting in interviews.)  I suppose I could scrounge up pictures of them on the net.  They are definitely interesting. Or maybe Franklin Habit, since he's a guy, a knitter and a cartoonist.  Or Grommit, from the wonderful Wallace and Grommit movies.  He's a guy, a knitter, a cartoon, and a dog!  I'm not saying you have to be famous to be interesting, but let's be serious.  It doesn't hurt any.
Cameron Diaz
Franklin Habit
I would be happy to chat about knitting with any of these good people (and dog).  Grommit doesn't talk, but he diagrams well, so I think it would work.  Anyway... 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Request Philosophy, Ruching How-To

OK, first off, and this is a little weird, did anyone else notice that the photo below showing the length of the scarf looks a lot like a colon?  Anybody?
Next up, the magnificent Miss Colleen now informs me that she is in possession of the elusive 60 inch cable.  Silly me.  I should have asked for exactly what I wanted.  (How true of life, eh?)  The worst that would have happened is that she would have said "no".

In third place, the ruffles are now becoming ruching.  Ruching is accomplished in knitting by starting with number of stitches A, increasing to 2 -5 times the A, and then decreasing again back to A or close to A.  I love the yarn, but continue to worry about the scarf being warm enough, so this assures some added trapped air in the garment for warmth. 

In my head I'm back to designing kids' clothes for Book 2.  I'm not writing it down yet due to my tendency to become obsessed with a pattern until I really like it on paper and swatch.  I need to get the scarf off the needles first, and get the pattern written out. 

I am also mindful of upcoming submission deadlines for various media outlets.  Interesting that although I don't ask for everything I want, I try to fulfill editorial requests to the letter.  I believe I'm on the verge of a spate of requesting dressing on the side, directing the grocery clerk to bag my breads at the top of the bag, and haggling at the flea market.  I'm asking for what I want!  The worst I can hear is "no", right?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ruffles for Lisa Progress

Here are some pics of the Ruffles for Lisa scarf.  I'm not a very fast knitter, but I hold my own pretty well.  Even so, these 900+ stitches are taking about 45 minutes per row.  Woof!   The needles are Harmony Wood from Knit Picks, on loan from the magnificent Miss Colleen, intrepid assistant and dear friend.  (Hers have a 40" cable, and my longest was a 32".) 
I can't spread it out to confirm, but my knitting math says the short side is about 4 feet, and the long side is about 6 feet, so it should be nice and ruffly.  (Ruffles are made by increasing the number of stitches exponentially so that the full part of the ruffle is two to 5 or 6 times the length of the cast on.)
Why ruffles?  And a little open work?  I was looking for something simple and ruffly because each fold of fabric traps more air, and the trapped air makes any garment warmer.  Lisa likes her scarves short and narrow, so getting one to be short, narrow, and warm is a good trick.  To top it off, the yarn she feel in love with was the sock yarn.  Light, thin yarns are not going to trap as much air as a bulky.  So, the magic of ruffles comes into play.

I think I'm about another 25 rows away from finished, and the sample above represents about 20.  I'm aiming for the finished project to be about 5 inches wide.  25 more rows only represents about 19 more hours knitting, plus weaving in time for the ends.  Only.  This is when I wish I were a faster knitter.  I really want to get this off the needles and take a look!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ruffles for Lisa

I cast on a scarf for my BFF Lisa last night.  I'm using Crazyfoot from Mountain Colors Yarn, which is a nice sock yarn that comes in all the beautiful Mountain Colors colorways. 

I decided to work the scarf the long way, and to make it ruffle a bit from right to left.  I'm also working in some open stitches, to give it a bit of lace without becoming frothy.  These wonderful colorways lend themselves to simpler stitch work, as the really complicated stuff sometimes can get swallowed up in the highlights and shadows of the colors.  (The color sample above isn't Crazyfoot, it's Moguls. FYI.)

At first I was going to make this yarn into the Romantic Ruffle Scarf from yesterday's post, but alas, I didn't like the yarn and pattern together.  I wanted more of a vertical emphasis.  So that scarf will still be made, in a solid fern green with a thin chocolate edge.  This one will be something else entirely.

The only tricky part so far is laying hands on a really long size 6 circular needle.  The longest I have is a 29", and after a few phone calls to shops and friends, I finally found a 40".  A 48-54" scarf on a shorter needle is fine, but with subtle ruffles, one edge is going to be very long (like 1200 stitches or more.  I started with 250, and it's already a little busy!)  I hope they all fit!

I'm doing simple stitches, a slight ruffled effect, with a little openwork. Keeping it simple, I hope to avoid the colorway and the pattern competing for attention.  In a perfect world, it will make one unified, attractive piece.  I'll share pics as there is something to see, and the pattern when I'm finished tinkering with it.  Anyone else using Mountain Colors right now?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Freebie Scarf/Holiday Knit-Ahead

Looking for a beautiful project that will be a great gift and easy to do in the summer heat?  Try this.  It's called the Romantic Ruffle Scarf, and it's by Piper's Quilts.  It appears on their blog post from January 7th of this year.  (Click here for the post.)  Many thanks to Piper's Quilts for making this lovely free pattern available.

I'm casting it on in cashmere today, and I can't wait to see the finished product!  It's in fingering weight yarn, on US 5s or 6s, and they say it will take about 350 yards.  I'm going with fern green, and maybe a chocolate edge. 

Made in linen or silk, this would be a great addition to your summer wardrobe.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Happy 4th of July!  As I consider those who fought for our independence, I think about how difficult it was to fight that war in those years and in those conditions.  All the soldiers wore handmade socks, like everyone else in those days.  A call was put out by most women who had loved ones in the army for stockings to be made in their son's, husband's, or relative's size.  Those socks were credited with helping the men survive Valley Forge by no less than George Washington himself.  He remarked in a letter home to Martha that the new trend of "socks without heels" (tube socks) had been a boon to the men, as they wore more evenly, and lasted longer.  He implored the women at home to keep knitting, as he wanted the men to have at least two pairs of socks each, and each pair only lasted an average of 45 days.  (All the marching was tough on the socks.)

The Civil War was no different.  The women at home began knitting in groups, making all manner of socks, "helmets" (hats and balaclavas), and gloves.  It was hard work, and over a million garments are estimated to have been knitted and used at the front.

World Wars One and Two brought on the biggest surge of homefront knitting.  On November 21, 1941, Life Magazine devoted most of the issue to teaching American women to knit, and included patterns for socks and a vest to be made in standard sizes for the troops.  Citizens for the Army and Navy, a citizens' group, mentioned in an article that the armed forces needed a million garments by Christmas.  The need was filled in three weeks.

Knitting was Patriotic.  Wool was in very short supply, as it was largely used to make uniforms and bedding for our troops.  "Reclaimed" wool was common, and "Virgin" wool was a luxury.  "Ragg" wool sweaters were knit for loved ones at home, the first time that sweaters made it to the American mainstream fashion pages.  (Previously they were only used in sports.)  Children were taking knitting lessons in school, and according to records from the Red Cross, most of the garments made by children were approved and shipped for use by our troops.

Women knitted in every conceivable place - on buses, at movies, during dinner parties, through college classes, and even in church.  The first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, was famously called the First Knitter, toting her knitting bag everywhere, and knitting in public several times a week.  The patriot knitters knit voraciously whenever yarn was available.  When the war came to an end, there were millions of accomplished knitters on the home front, and yarn companies were not going to let them sit idle.

After years of knitting for others, women wanted to knit for themselves and their families.  Fashion knitting patterns appeared in women's magazines, became available at department stores, and were sold with yarns, now once again widely available after the wartime shortages.  New colors and standard needle sizes made knitting easier in the early fifties, and standardized skeins and patterns quickly came into vogue.  Knitting for children and babies became a must for grandparents and expectant mothers.
These knitters created the demands that made knitting what it is today.  Circular needles, beautiful colors and fibers, fast action tips, standardized needles and patterns - all of these advantages were developed for war-era knitters.  Knitting is a marvelous link to our past, and our history.  As I knit today, I'm silently grateful to those who made my favorite hobby such a joy.