Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Yarn Tasting How-Tos

Yarn Tastings are popping up everywhere.  What are they?  What do they cost?  What do you bring?  Can you throw your own?  Let's jump right in.

The goal of the whole endeavor is for knitters to use or collect a "taste" a variety of yarns and fibers, without the financial investment or commitment of buying a whole skein. This is particularly handy with the more expensive fibers.  Sometimes specific yarn manufacturers or distributors host their own tastings, and all fibers involved are from that single outlet.  Other times, the sky is the limit in what you may discover.

This is some info on how the most frequent tastings work.  When a yarn shop has samples made, there are often ball ends remaining.  These are weighed out and labeled in 1oz skeins, or 20yds, or some standard size, and saved.  Sometimes distributors and manufacturers supply sample skeins, or offer new yarns at an attractive introductory price.  These skeins are sometimes broken down into tasting skeins, too.

The party invitations go out, in one of two common formats: either it's a fixed price for a certain number of "tastes", or each taste has a very distinct price based on its cost to the shop.  When you arrive at the event, there are usually a few activities, sometimes a speaker, and the tastes are distributed, often by price level.  Certain ticket prices access certain "taste" levels. 

The highest priced yarns are often the hardest for a shop owner to sell, as they represent the biggest investment per yard.  Cashmere, camel, and suri alpaca are all lovely to work with, but how do you know if they will work with your project?  You need to swatch, and at $25 - $60 a skein, how many swatches can you afford?  With a yarn tasting, you can afford to make more swatches.  Is there a sock or lace yarn you've always wanted to try?  Tasting is a great way to meet new yarns that require a large amount of yardage to complete a project.  And it's a great way to test out novelty yarns, and see if they're a good fit for your next project.

Can you throw your own?  Sure.  Save and thoroughly label your ball ends from your projects, and encourage your friends or knitting club to do the same.  When you feel like you each have some interesting ball ends (say three or four that many of you haven't used yet) plan to get together over some coffee or a glass of wine.  Usually the rule in the informal tastings is "one in, one out".  That is you can take as many ball ends as you bring to the party, within whatever rules chosen by the group.  (If one person brings 15, and everyone else brings 4, it ends up a little strange!)

You don't have to do this formally.  You can just save your ball ends and exchange them with a friend without involving other people.  You don't even need to have a project in mind.  Just remember to label your finished swatches with the yarn and needle info, so when you're ready to use the yarn in your project, you remember exactly what you used!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Winter Color Knits

It's my favorite time of year.  Time to shop and cast on winter knits!  Winter knitting is traditionally filled with colorwork.  How do you choose the colors that are right for you?  With a little thought, you'll love it every time.  (See other colorwork tutorials. Type Colorwork in the search box.)

The traditional color circle, based on red, yellow and blue, was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, for any color wheel/chart/diagram/ to demonstrate all the colors visible to the human eye with accuracy and in a useful format.  Because of this challenge, thousands of different wheels have been developed over the years.  In reality, any color chart that presents a logically arranged sequence of colors has merit.
As an example, you may find a chart of “cool” colors.  These are usually colors with an undertone of some blue, and also often light and pastel colors.  “Warm” colors are usually with a red undertone or hue, and deeply saturated colors.  “Earth” tones often have an element of brown in them, making them rich, but at the same time muted.  “Desert” tones have an undertone of yellow or gold.  “Victorian” colors tend to have an undertone of gray, giving a soft, slightly aged effect.  Any of these ideas could be demonstrated in a wheel, but it gets very complex to demonstrate them all in the same wheel.
Pick a Color Story.  When blending colors, you want them to have a relationship to each other so that the observer likes the combination.  How?  A color story.  In general, a “color story” is the feeling, mood, attitude, or analogy created by grouping certain colors.  If you wanted to generate a color story that evoked a dairy farm, you might consider a barn red, grassy green, black and white for the cows, a sky blue, and a golden hay color.  Even if you then use these colors to make a market bag, it will have a country feeling to it.  Once you’ve established your own color story, pairing and grouping colors within it will be much easier. 
When in doubt, go with multiple shades of the same color.  A fern green and a pine green make a lovely piece, as do maroon and rose pink.  Not your style?  Try your favorite hue and mix it with white, cream, black, or chocolate for a classic look.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Life and Family and a Blanket

It's been a long, strange summer.  I was very ill this spring and summer, as was my father in law.  I recovered, but sadly, he did not.  Lou is in the final days/weeks of his life, and he's still teaching us all.

Lou went from being uncomfortable to being hospitalized over the period of a couple of weeks.  He is in incredible pain, but he never complains.  He's calm, patient, funny, and dignified.  His only concerns are for the welfare of his family.  Though bedridden at home now, he still wants to babysit his great-grandchildren.  Though unable to keep solid food down, he still tried his granddaughter's "healthy" smoothie, to be polite.  It didn't go well, but I'll never forget the gesture.

I wanted to help him somehow, and as a knitter I realized making an afghan would be a natural choice.  His favorite color is blue - "not too dark, but like the sky today.  It's always been blue."  But by the time I had sourced the yarn, I realized I'll never finish it in time for him to see or enjoy it. 

I'm doing the standard family vigil, caring for my mother in law, doing her housekeeping, serving coffee to out of town relatives, and hearing all the family stories that go by in these times.  Everyone is laughing and visiting, including Lou.  He once had a red convertible, and my mother in law used to drive it when they were dating even though she hadn't had lessons or a license.  Lou's grandfather used to make wine in the basement, and he had a special way of leaving the spigot so he could tell if anyone had been "tasting" it.  The "kids", now in their late fifties, just learned how he always caught them! 

Lou greets and thanks each visitor for coming.  He stays awake and makes conversation for hours, but the moment guests leave he closes his eyes and sleeps.  He doesn't do it out of pride.  It's respect for the people who've made the effort to visit.  Even though he's too weak to walk, he wants to holds the babies.  He'll keep tasting the food pressed on him by well-meaning loved ones.  That's Lou - kind, funny, respectful, patient, and dignified.  He's shown us how to live, and he's teaching us how to die.

I think I'll make the blanket anyway.  It will be impossible to work on it or use it without thinking of the kind man who inspired it.  I'll share the pattern with you soon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Intarsia In The Round

Knitting intarsia in the round is very much the same as knitting it flat.   If you're not familiar with knitting intarsia flat, click here for an earlier tutorial.  Both of these lessons are from my Intro to Colorwork class, available at Rhinebeck, Toronto's Creativ, and other festivals this summer and fall.

The best way to do this is to just do it.  We're going to make a quick swatch.  You'll need two circs of the same size, and three colors of yarn in a corresponding weight.  Cast on 15 stitches in color A on one circular needle.  Cast on 15 stitches of color B on another circular needle.  Now, holding the needles together with A in front so the working yarns both come from the right side,* twist the 2 yarns together.  Knit across A with A.  Do not turn.  Purl across B with B.  Turn.  Twist the yarns together once.  Purl across A with A.  Do not turn.  Knit across B with B. Turn.*   Repeat these two rounds.

As you can see, essentially you’re working  each color as you would on straight needles.  The only change is that you need to twist the yarns together at the end of each row, just like you did in intarsia.  Several rounds of this process produces a tube which is one color on one side and a different one on the other.  The same basic technique can be used to achieve simple intarsia patterns in the round that don't end at the end of a needle.  You just work the same technique one color at a time.

Now let’s introduce a third color.  On the A color side, let’s knit every second stitch in color C, and keep everything else the same.  When we turn the work to purl, we’ll work the A stitches with C, and the C stitches with A.  You are building a tiny checkerboard pattern, which will be a little tighter, and twice as thick, as the fabric on the other needle.  This technique can be a practical benefit when done on only one of the two needles.

This type of color combining creates a beautiful effect in socks, mittens, hats, sleeves, and any other knitting in the round.  Spice up a single colored pattern, or reinforce palms and soles of the feet.  By adding a second yarn to the “wear” side of a garment, you’re adding life by adding durability.  And it’s always nice to do it in color.

Of course, if you wish, you can perform this two color technique on each needle.  When working in this way, each color needs to stay on its own needle, so even if you wanted to use color C on the front and back of the work, you would need to be working from two separate balls of C, just like you would in flat intarsia. 

Work this swatch until you create neat, firm, closed seams between colors that do not pucker.  The only way to even out your tension at the color changes is to practice.  Once you have it, it's like riding a bike - you'll never forget it!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

More with Foster Sheep Farm

Antique Wrought Iron Sheep Toy
It's been a crazy week here, with my father-in-law being hospitalized within hours of my return home from my wonderful weekend teaching classes at Foster Sheep Farm in Schuylerville, NY.  What is going on with everyone being so sick?  It's been one of those years...

Antique Yarn Spool Lamps
As much as I know my knitting info cold, I'm a bit of a spaz in the rest of my life.  As I drove to Schuylerville from Buffalo, I realized I'd packed everything except the undies, which were still in the dryer.  (Thank you, Target.)  I'd arranged to sleep in the yarn shop thanks to Carol Foster's kind offer, forgetting that my wool allergy might be an obstacle.  (Thank you, Benadryl.)  The screen on my phone wasn't working so I missed all my texts.  (No thank you, Samsung.)  And I left my camera in a coffee shop, severely limiting my ability to take photos to share with you. (Thank you, Abby Foster, for use of yours.) 
Mitten Form for Drying
 Mittens Fireside

As this is not an uncommon set of details for me (I wish it were, but alas, I'm really a spaz) it came as no surprise that one of the texts I missed was important.  It was from Carol Foster, my hostess, offering me a tour of Battenkill Fibers, a spinnery near the farm.  Mary Jean Packer is the owner and operator, and although she was in the middle of an order for Tahki (a brand new yarn that is Oh, so cool!) she took the time to show me around.  (Yep. More Benadryl.  A girl has to breathe.)  I'll share more about this in another post.

After my groovy tour of the spinnery, I was revved for day 2 of classes at Foster Sheep Farm.  The group was there for a class of Shaping Techniques which shows alternatives for shaping.  Different yarns take shaping techniques differently.  Something that makes a smooth decrease in a silk/linen blend may make a lumpy one in cotton.  We made a variety of shapes in a dozen ways. 

The shop is dotted with early American antiques, many of them knitting-related, located in an old farmhouse.  I couldn't help thinking that there was energy from dozens of knitters who came before us, original owners of the antiques and the farm, right there with us.  The quiet of the rainy day in the country made it all the more memorable.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Foster Sheep Farm Classes

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to teach at The Yarn Shop at Foster Sheep Farm in Schuylerville, NY.  (It's about 20 minutes outside of Saratoga Springs.)  I met lovely people, and had a terrific time!

The shop is located on a working sheep farm in a truly bucolic setting.  Inside, it's decorated with a trove of early american antiques piled high with very high quality fibers. 

As a sheep farmer and expert spinner, Carol Foster is an ideal guide to the world of fiber.  Her understanding of wool, spinning, plying, and knitting combine into outstanding recommendations of fiber and technique to make any project a success. She's also a baker, and both days I taught there were delicious baked good snacks provided to customers and the folks in class.  (I was partial to the mixed berry pie with ice cream.)

The students were all knitters who were spinners as well, and they were hilarious.  Each one brought a unique attitude, and we had a terrific time.  This weekend was the first time I taught the new Simple and Surprising Shaping Techniques class.  It was a success, in spite of a few mis-steps on my part.