Friday, September 28, 2012

What to Knit Holiday 2012 - Slippers

Elf Slippers
I know, it may seem early for the annual What to Knit series, but I think that really depends on two facts: 1. How long is your list?  2. How quickly do you knit?

If you're like me, it's almost impossible to start too early, mostly because there are sooooo many things I want to make for people!  Like most years, we'll focus on charming accessories, and we're starting with slippers.  A note: you can add soles to any of these patterns inexpensively. Soles, and heel and toe pads are available at the LYS, craft store, and many online knitting suppliers.

Mother's Day Cotton Slippers
The Elf Slippers above are from Caron International, and the pattern is free.  The yarn listed is Caron Soft Chunky, but you can make them in any chunky yarn.  They're cozy, and adorable!

The slippers at right are called Mother's Day Cotton Slippers, though obviously they can be made at any time.  The yarn suggested is Mission Falls 1824, which sadly is no longer available.  Fear not!  Try your favorite eco-friendly cotton, or recycled yarn in worsted weight, and they'll be beautiful.
Felted Footies
A returning favorite, Felted Footies, is such a popular pattern that I've made it two years in a row.  It's a great way to use up all your worsted weight ball ends, making the beautiful striped effect.  I've made them for the LYS, for myself, and mostly finished a pair for the DH.  They work well for men or women, and they are extremely warm!
Indeed, my colorwork loving friends, I haven't forgotten you.  These Elaborate Norwegian Star Slippers, published in Knitting Scandinavian Slippers and Socks, are a colorwork lover's delight, and they are stunning.  You'll have to buy the book or hit the library to get the pattern, but if you're hooked on socks or slippers, you'll be thrilled to flip the pages and find new favorites.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Swatches LIE - ?

Dr. House - "Everybody Lies"
One of the many compicated things about being a knitter is that no two expert knitters seem to give the same advice on anything. They don't agree on what material needles you should use, what shape of cable needles are best, what fibers are best (acrylic, anyone?), circs or straights - what's a knitter to do?

"Imperfections are how you know it was handmade!"  Has anyone ever fed you this line of #*>&?  I'm pretty sure artists from Rembrandt to Nicky Epstein have never subscribed to this theory.  "There is no one right way."  I love this line too, because it completely ignores the fact that there are thousands of wrong ways.  You can make a row of knitting that looks okay to you, but is, in fact, wrong, and going to screw up the row above or below it.  There is, sometimes, one right way.

But my all-time favorite bit of knitting "wisdom" is "I never swatch.  Swatches LIE!"  My response is, "Not if you raise them right." 

Like an errant child, misbehaving swatches need to be corrected.  Why do we swatch?  To learn specific details about how our garment is going to look, brush up on techniques, discover how much yarn we'll need, and so much more.

Here's how to make a swatch that works:

1.  Use the same yarn on the same needles.  If you're going to knit your project with Cascade 220 on US 6 addi Turbos, don't swatch on US 6 bamboo straights.  It does matter.  Every needle has a different finish, which affects the size of each stitch.  Remember, across 25 stitches a difference in guage seems small.  Across 150 stitches, and 100 rows, any difference magnifies to several inches too small or too large.

2.  Row gauge matters most of the time, so make sure you get it right.  Yes, it does.  I don't care what you've heard.  If you have the correct stitch gauge and the incorrect row gauge, change needle surfaces.  In general, bamboo will give you the shortest stitches, and nickel will give you the tallest.  If your stitches are short, switch to needles that are slipperier.  If they're tall, choose something stickier, like plastic or bamboo.

3.  If you're going to knit in the round, swatch in the round.  Yes, really.  Everyone purls more tightly than they knit, and knitting in the round tends to create slightly taller stitches.  You'll still need to make a swatch that's 4-6 inches wide, meaning it will be 8-12 inches in total circumference.  Yes, it takes longer.  The round one will be accurate.  The flat one won't.  Make the round one.

4.  Swatch until you achieve a fabric you like.  If you don't like it when it's 6 inches square, you won't like it when it's a full garment.  If you hate it small, substitute yarns until you find one you like, and make a fabric you'll love to wear.  Remember, no matter how good the picture looks, you'll be wearing this, not the model.  If you can't achieve a fabric you love with the pattern instructions, that's not the pattern for you.

5.  Read the whole pattern, and swatch each part.  I know, maybe the instructions told you to swatch over stockinette only.  Groovy.  I've never known two people to knit lace or cables or pretty much any significant stitch pattern in the same gauge as their stockinette.  The pattern author doesn't have to wear the garment.  You do.  Swatch the design elements.  You'll do a better job with them in your garment, and your garment will more likely fit.

6.  If you're knitting in colorwork, swatch in colorwork.  Yep.  I know.  But there isn't really any point in arguing with me.  Not only am I unable to hear you, I'm right.  Most people have a very different gauge in colorwork.  Just do it.

7.  Once you've achieved a swatch you like, launder it according to the instructions on the ball band, and block it.  Very small differences in gauge can easily be corrected in the blocking phase.  In particular, design elements (stuff that isn't plain stockinette) rarely lay properly until they're blocked anyway.  And this is the time you'll find out if your colors run.  Nothing ruins a great colorwork project like one color running all over another.  If your swatch doesn't launder well, seriously consider starting over in a different yarn. 

This is how to make a swatch that doesn't lie.  If you make a swatch and break any of the above rules, don't complain about the finished product.  You've been warned.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Southern Adirondak Fiber Festival

This past weekend was a lovely one.  The Southern Adirondak Festival is a lovely festival in upstate, near Saratoga Springs.  It's fast becoming a can't miss festival, and I've been lucky enough to be invited to teach there for the last two years.  It's held at the Washington County Fairgrounds, inhabiting at least 8 barns of vendors, plus classes, herding competitions, and all things sheep and fiber.  The vendors are selected by a jury process, ensuring a nice variety of offerings for spinners, knitters, crocheters, dyers, and anyone else involved in yarn or felting.

This year as I wandered the barns.  There was a wonderful vintage button dealer, with fabulous collections.  Just the thing for the sweater you have on the needles right now.  These wooden ones to the left are from Lazy Day Farms. **Slurp** (A little knitting drool!)

The felted poppies at right are another product on offering, with vintage button centers.  They make lovely lapel pins, hair clips, and bag decorations.  The colors were great, and was generous enough to let me take these photos.

Valentine Arts had these unique yarns in their booth.  Each ply is hand painted separately, and then plied together to make these beautiful yarns. And, each yarn is hand-spun.  Fiber Festivals are one of the few places where you'll find a wide variety of hand-made yarns.  For fiber fans who are looking to break out of the commercial-look mold, it's terrific to have several yarns to choose from.

This spinning wheel, right, is unlike any I've seen before.  It's a interesting blend between modernity and history.  Handcrafts enter the 21st century.  It about $600, available from a builder in Vermont.  All the woods are locally sourced.  No word on whether the carbon fiber wheel is "organic".

As wonderful as all the "stuff" is at all these festivals, the best part is getting to spend time with the people.  I love getting to visit with my students, who have wonderful stories and knitting styles that we build on in class.  The owner of Battenkill Fibers, Mary Jane Packer, and I got to have a quick visit about sock knitting, and the preferences we have for the same type of long wearing heel patterns.  Stephanie Grieger, of Dirty Water Dye Works, introduced me to some terrific new sock yarn, and we're brewing up something for the Rhinebeck 2013 Sock.  Laurie Perrin, of Silver Moon Farm Fiber Arts, led me to some lovely superwash superfine merino which will allow me to finally make Louie's blanket.

These are all parts of why I love these events.  If you haven't gone to a fiber festival yet, it's time to get off the couch, and go!  Meet some fiber people, and make some new fiber friends.  See things in person that will inspire you.  I hope to meet you at a festival soon!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sock Season

Snuggly Sock on Ravelry
The day has come.  It's 47 degrees outside, and I've pulled out my first pair of hand knit socks of the season.  This is a delicious moment, slipping them on and enjoying the cozy warmth.

As of three years ago, I hadn't had a pair of hand knit socks in decades.  I made them in Girl Scouts, and wore those in high school and college.  I made them for other people.  For some reason, I didn't make any for me.  I'd buy woolen socks and wear them, and always wish they fit better, or were softer, or thinner, or thicker, or taller...

After making a couple of pairs for my husband, I noticed that he nearly always wore those, and not the rest of his drawer of socks.  Now, I admit my ego is fragile, but it isn't that fragile.  "Honey, you don't have to wear them every day.  I know you like them.  I understand," I told him.  He washed them in the sink at night, so they'd be ready sooner than the household wash.
"No way!  I would feel guilty about asking you to make more, but these are the best socks I have.  They're the most comfortable, by far.  I never noticed that I didn't like my other socks until I wore these."  These words are approximate, as it was three years ago.

A light slowly dawned.  The next pair of socks would not be for my DH.  They would be for me.  I picked the yarn (Schaeffer's Nichole) and cast on right away.  By the time I was through the first cuff, I had all kinds of sock fantasies in my head.  My socks wouldn't fall down, they wouldn't get caught between my toes, I wouldn't get blisters any more, they would stay soft...  One pair was definitely not going to do it.
Rhinebeck 2012 Sock
Naturally, I finished them and loved them.  I learned about how different heel designs fit differently.  I read books about socks.  I designed socks.  I taught classes on socks.  I was addicted. 

And then, as it always does, the weather turned summery, and though I kept knitting socks (and mittens, of course) I couldn't wear them.  I wore sandals or bare feet all summer.  And for the first time, I learned to savor the first day of wool sock wearing weather.

For me, that day is today.  If you haven't had this delightful feeling, it's because you don't have socks that fit perfectly, which you can only accomplish by having them made for you.  For narrow feet, V heels, and regular tapered toe.  For wide feet, a flap heel and a box toe.
Jump into sock knitting!  And enjoy that first wool sock of the season.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Wake and Funeral

We're waking Lou today and the funeral is tomorrow.  I'm sorry I've been writing so little, but as you can imagine, it's extremely busy around here.  I did manage to take a photo of the (finished) back of my "Rhinebeck" sweater, so here it is.  More to come next week when things settle down a little bit.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yarn for Lou's Blanket

The yarn arrived on Friday!  It's a lovely color, and very soft in the skein.  I gave it to Lou in one of his rare "awake" moments, and he patted it as if it was a kitten.  He's in a coma full time now, so it was nice that he had a moment to enjoy it.

Sadly, once I started swatching with it, it turned out to be brittle and pilling.  I'm still not sure how both are possible, but there it is.  It's definitely not blanket material, unless it's one of those blankets you make and then never touch, let alone use.  This is an excellent reminder to only buy yarn you can touch and squeeze and otherwise handle before you buy it!  The yarn is discontinued, and now I can see why.  Time to go hunting again.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Knitting Solutions

Did you know you probably have a few things around your house that might make your knitting a whole lot easier?  Here are some things you might not have thought of.

You may have a book holder like the one at right somewhere in your house.  Maybe you have it in the kitchen to hold your cookbooks open.  Maybe it's in a box with some books from college.  Where ever it is, dig it out and set your pattern book or the instructions for Kitchener stitch, etc. in it.  Put it on an end table or coffee table next to you while you're knitting.  It took me two years to realize I should do this!  Be smarter than I am.  Do it now!

This copy board at left is a pretty common tool in offices.  Typists use it to read from while they're typing.  Maybe you bought one in college, or have one left over from your last job.  That handy line marker that slides up and down does wonders for highlighting the exact line of pattern you're working.  This works best for individual patterns printed on paper, as opposed to those in a book or magazine.  Don't have one?  You can pick one up at an office supply store for $7-$15.

Do you have one of these clever things in your house?  The spike at the right is one of thousands that were once common in shops all over America.  Many restaurants and hotels still use them to hold the day's receipts as they accumulate.  Well, they make a surprisingly handy knitting tool.  When you have a skein wound on a ball winder, or a ball-style skein, slip the hole in the ball over the spike.  As you knit, the ball will unroll while you knit, but it won't roll around onto the floor.  These spikes are weighted, so they stay put under normal amounts of yarn tension.  If you have a few, it works nicely when working colorwork, too.  If you like the idea but don't have one around, they are readily available at flea markets, Craigslist, and eBay.

This next one is really cool.  The intrepid Colleen, my amazing assistant and friend, gave me this as a gift about a year ago, and I've been using it ever since.  The tape is repositionable, just like the rest of the Post-it family, and you can write notes on it, too.  It's great for highlighting one line of your knitting pattern at a time. I also use it when I need to isolate one part of a graph.  I just mask off the parts I don't need.  You may have it at your office.  Try it once and you'll be hooked.

Last but not least, the Post-it Note.  When you're working from a graph, draw a key to the symbols you're less familiar with right on the Post-it.  (I use a Sharpie Marker so it's super easy to see!)  Stick the Post-it on the graph in a spot where it doesn't cover any of the image.  You can even stick it to the margin and let it hang off the page.  It saves time flipping back and forth to the key for the knitting graphs.  Just about everyone has these little gems in their home, and if you don't, you can get them in any grocer, office supply store, or big department store like Target.

I hope at least one of these ideas is new to you.  Enjoy your early Fall knitting!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Knitting in Private

As I've shared with you already, my father in law Lou is rapidly losing his battle with cancer.  It is his wish to die at home, and my husband and/or I are at Lou's house nearly 24/7, helping my elderly and ailing mother in law with Lou's care.  This has always been a "door's always open" sort of house, and it still is.  13 visitors yesterday, and that was an average day for this week.  It's a blend of the immediate and extended family, and friends from across the decades.

As often as not, I'm sitting off to the side knitting.  The reactions of the rarely-seen relatives and neighbors are fascinating - very different from the knitting in public comments I usually get.  First, many family members refer to what I'm doing with two needles and some yarn as crocheting.  Second, every single person who comments mentions that they didn't know anyone "did that anymore."  It makes me smile every time.

The part that I enjoy the most, though, are the faces folks make as they remember the knits made for them by loved ones in the past.  "My mother always used to make us thick socks every Christmas," said one with eyes gleaming. "Remember Nana's hats?  I just gave one she made for me when I was a kid to my grandson!"  And last night Tom shared, "My late wife used to knit all the time.  Sweaters, dresses, blankets, mittens - she made 'em all.  She even made costumes for volunteers at Colonial Williamsburg!"  His pride was almost palpable.

Lou's reaction is a little different.  "Still working on that thing?  It looks like you're knitting so fast, but you're never done!" he chides me.  "You spend too much time waiting on me!"  He's been watching me alternate between projects, but it all looks like the same sweater to him. 

The yarn for his blanket hasn't come in yet, but when it does he'll recognize the difference.  The other projects are cream and pastels, but his blanket will be the color of the bluest part of the sky on a clear dry day.  It's his favorite color.  The visitor I await the most anxiously is the UPS man, to bring that yarn.  Darn holiday weekend!  It'll be two more days or more until I can get swatching.