Friday, August 22, 2008

A UFO Done--and another Naughty Dog

Voila! It only took me a year, but I managed to wrestle another WIP/UFO/Thorn in my Side. Here's the shawl blocking.

My sticking point was the edging. It became apparent that the edging was going to take much longer than the shawl. And I hated knitting it. And it wasn't all that pretty. Once I finally made the decision to rip it back and pick out a simpler edge from Stahman's book, it only took me a week to finish.

Pattern: Pi Shawl from Elizabeth Zimmerman (of course)
Yarn: Lisa Souza's Alpaca Silk in Emerald City
Needles: US Size 10.5

This is the shawl blocking on my daughter's bed--really glad she's on vacation so she won't complain about all the pins.

Naughty dog paw in the upper right corner of the picture. Has anyone noticed that the boy dog is always the naughty one?
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Saturday, August 09, 2008

UFO Olympics-Day 1 Progress

My knitting group is having a UFOlympics challenge. Our goal: smack down those annoying UFOs.
My progress, after day 1, is:

- Norwegian Shawl on the blocking board. Still need to steam block and weave in 2 ends.

- Hyrna Shawl. This is also my challenge for Team Knitting Camp. I didn't cast on until yesterday--according to the rules. I completed 26 rows yesterday. Actually, I completed 50 rows, but had to rip out twice because I apparently don't know how to read charts.

- Charlie's sweater: I only knit about an inch on this at dinner. Miles and miles of stockinette to go. The body needs to be 16". It is now about 11".

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

When Dogs and Spinning Collide

Dancer practicing her obedience dumbell hold.

Tango practicing his obedience dumbell hold.

To train dogs to compete in obedience, this kind of practice happens many times a day. Training is a part of our daily routine. Both dogs get lots of love and cookies for correctly holding and retrieving their dumbell. How does this relate to my fiber life?

Not supposed to touch mama's spinning, but...
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Knitter Knits

Here's the thing...when knitting a stockinette sweater at 7.25 spi, there's this big chunk of time where you just, well, knit. I can't tell you much about the progress on the October sweater because I'm knitting...and knitting...and knitting. The body is done. One sleeve is half done. I suppose I could show you another picture of the body just hanging on the needles, but it isn't all that exciting.

On a good note, however, I confirmed that knitting down from a provisional cast on works just great. I had a bit of dread getting in the way of my knitting. I was worried that my plain stockinette sweater might show the line where I started knitting down. So I swatched. And it works. There. Done.

More Almanac News

I'm already scoping out the projects for November and December. November is Mocassin Socks--a sock with a replaceable sole. I could use any number of sock yarns in my stash, but instead I opted to order some Quebecoise from Schoolhouse Press in a lovely deep gray and some contrasting red.

December is the "hurry up" sweater. This sweater must be knit at 2.5 spi (quite a contrast to my current sweater). The pattern is designed for the lovely Sheepsdown. Have you looked outside lately? It is 95-degrees outside right now. I can't imagine it ever being cold enough for me to wear a sweater made of sheepsdown!!! So I ordered 7 skeins in Gray and Cream. I'll stripe the sweater. I may never wear it, but I'll know what it is supposed to look like.

I'm also scoping out using a mohair lace--like Kid Silk Haze--and making a tunic. I may do both. Some of my knit buds are planning on knitting the sweater too. I can make the bulky one in November to figure out the pattern and the lace one in December--and help my friends that need it.


Despite the apparent lack of finishing, I do have some finished stuff to show you.
First: Lady Eleanor is finally done, off the needles, blocked and fringed. One thing one must remember: Noro Silk Garden (and Silk Garden Lite) is MUCH softer once it is washed. This thing is warm and soft and long.

Pattern: Lady Eleanor from Scarf Style
Yarn: Noro Silk Garden Lite
And I've been doing some spinning. In case you ever wondered what the difference is between "unfinished" yarn and yarn that has been soaked, thwacked and otherwise properly finished, here's a before and after shot--unfortunately in different light.
Blue Moon Fiber Arts Sheep to Shoe kit in Fire on the Mountain.
Superwash Merino, 3 ply. I ended up with well over 500 yards from the 8+ ounces. I haven't done the calcs, but I have lots of yarn here.
OK, that should catch you up. I think I'll go back to working on the sleeves.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sweater Part 3: Evaluating Fit

Evaluating Fit
Pop quiz time, folks!
Assume you've cast on a sweater. You have knowingly skimped on your gauge swatch. After knitting about 4 inches at what-you-think-is 7 stitches per inch, you discover, to your dismay, that your lovely sweater is sized appropriately to fit your pre-teen neice.
Do you:
a) Progress happily onward--making a gift for your neice.
b) Sit on the floor with a bottle of wine until the pain stops.
c) Stomp around the house, scaring the dogs, knocking over boxes of fiber and finally tossing said sweater into trash still on the Addi Turbos and swear off sweaters forever (wait--go grab those Addi's out of the trash first.)
d) Progress happily onward--pretending you didn't know you are actually getting 7.5spi. Maybe the yard gnomes will magically make the problem go away?
e) Schedule lipo and breast reduction surgery (wait now, that's an interesting idea!)
Any one of the above options is probably appropriate. I, of course, took a slightly more mature approach. I channelled Tim Gunn and said: Make it work.

After I finished my waist decreases, I decided to check if this sweater will fit. Rather than slipping it onto waist yarn, I grabbed several of my US1 needles. (It's a long story, but I have at least 6 circular needles in US#1.) I just spread the stitches between all these needles. My first clue that there might be a problem was the length measurement. My waist decreases should have covered 4 inches. I've only finished a bit more than 3 inches.

After a bit of steam blocking, I see the cause of the trouble. I'm not getting 7 spi. I'm getting closer to 7.25. My sweater is only about 34 to 35" wide. I know I like negative ease, but that's skin tight for me. But the fabric? Oh yeah--this is going to be gorgeous. Tiny, but gorgeous. It may be worth making that surgical appointment.

Make it work.

Wait--this isn't even a problem. What would be the right number for a 37" sweater? 268. I currently have 256 stitches. Is there a way I can add 12 stitches without ripping everything out?

Here's what I'm going to do. My original plan was to knit 5 increase rows from the waist to the bustline over 4.5". What if I change that to 8 increase rows over, say 5"? Since I get 4 more stitches per increase row, there's my extra 12 stitches! No problem?
Well, no problem except that my hips are not smaller than my bust--they are pretty equal. But again, this really isn't a problem since I started this sweater with a provisional cast on. When I'm done with the body of the sweater and ready to add my hem, I'll just knit down and add 3 increase rows at the bottom. Worst case? I'll add some lovely lace edging that flares out.

This does mean that my sweater will have much more waist shaping than I'd intended, but that's fine.

For those of you snickering, stop it. This will work. It will. I said stop that snickering already!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

October Sweater: Part Two--Building a Waist

How's your sweater going? Mine has had some ups and downs. Or maybe I should say ins and outs?

Before we talk about the ins and outs of waist shaping, let's recap.

We're knitting the October sweater from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. I'm using JojoLand Melody Superwash in color MS11 that I picked up at a local yarn store.

I guesstimated my gauge at about 7 stitches per inch on US#1. I measured a favorite sweater at 37" around with moderate waist shaping. 7 x 37 = 259. I know I like a bit of negative ease and I wanted a "better" number, so I chose to cast on 256 stitches.

For lots of reasons, I decided to cast on provisionally and plan to knit down when I decide on the hem treatment. I had some Koigu KPPM left over from socks. I cast on using the Koigu, knit two garter ridges flat, then joined in the round and knit two more rows. Why the garter ridges flat? Simple--the last couple of times I've twisted my joins. Since these first rows are going to be taken out later, it doesn't matter and saves me from myself.

I knit about an inch, then started my waist decreases. Now that we're caught up, let's talk about waist decreases.

Shaping a Waist
Styles come and go, but the style now is to show off our feminine physique with waist shaping. For this sweater, I'm opting for some very slight shaping, so I'll do all my adjustments at the sides of the sweater. If I wanted extreme shaping--where the sweater actually hugged my curves--I'd do decreases at four points around the sweater.

We can get all technical about how to calculate the decreases, or we can do it very simply. The easiest way: measure a sweater you like. There, done. The more precise way? Take the measurements on your body.

My favorite sweater has a defined waist over about 9"--it goes in for 4.5" and then goes out for 4.5". Looking at my own body, I'll tweak those numbers slightly--I'll go in from hip to waist for 4" and out from waist to bust for 5", with a bit of a flat space in between.

But how much? I want the smallest part of my sweater to be 3" smaller than my hip/bust. If we trust my gauge at 7 spi, I need to take out 21 stitches. The number has to be even, so let's pick 20. Since each decrease row removes 4 stitches, that means I need 5 decrease rows evenly spaced over 4".

A quick check of my knitting shows I'm getting about 8 rows to the inch--but since I've only knit 1", this isn't very precise. That means 4 inches is about 32 rows. 32 divided by 5 = 6.4. Since I'd rather err on the side of decreasing too slowly (and I don't trust my gauge), I'm going to knit a decrease row, followed by 6 rows plain, and repeat for 5 decrease rows.

Talking about Decreases

I place markers to delineate 3 stitches at each side "seam" of the sweater. I have 125 stitches front and back, and 3 stitches between markers at each side. See, I told you 256 was a pretty number.

My decreases are placed on either side of these markers. Ahh...but which decreases! You know, I never remember. I understand that k2tog is a right-slanting decrease and ssk is a left-slanting decrease, but I never remember why I'd want left or right slanting. I looked it up. Use a right slanting decrease on the left side of the front. I swear I'm spatially challenged--is that my left or your left?

But this is an EZ sweater. Pick a method, use it consistently. If it is technically wrong, we'll consider it a design element. This is a sweater with lovely varigating yarn--who'll notice?

So here's my decrease plan:

Decrease row: knit 3 stitches to first marker, SM (slip marker), k2tog, knit 123 stitches (two stitches before next marker), ssk, SM, knit 3, SM, k2tog, knit 123, ssk

*Knit a decrease row
Knit 6 rows.
Repeat from * 4 more times (total of 5 decrease rows knit).
Knit 6 more rows plain (to lengthen the waist). Then begin increase section.

OMG!!! Have you been reading TechKnitter's latest stuff about left leaning decreases? Fascinating reading and I played around with one of her decreases. It didn't work for me as well as my normal SSK, but that's knitting for you!

I'm finished with my waist decreases and ready to evaluate the fit of my sweater, but let's do that another day, shall we? This post is already a bit lengthy.

Want some spinning pron to distract you?

From this:
To this. Yummmm....Blue Moon Fiber Arts Sheep to Shoe Kit in Fire in the Mountain

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Let's Knit a Sweater

I'm not going to apologize for not blogging. I is what I is. Like many knit-bloggers, I've been sucked in by Ravelry and my blog suffers.

Before I go too far, let me just thank you for your comments on my FiFi. I wish I liked it better! I think I need to overdye it a different color for me to really like it. If you looked at the current state of my stash, you'd probably suggest Orange. Everything I buy seems to be orange.

I did, by the way, lengthen FiFi considerably. Lots and lots. Probably 4" longer. Since it is knit from the top down, it was easy to just keep knitting. I had to by the yarn in a bag of 10, so I had lots of yarn available.

Just for some project pron, here's what I recently finished:

AutumnRose-Headless with Green Lace
Pattern: Autumn Rose
Source: Simply Shetland 4
Yarn: Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift--exactly as specified in pattern
Size: 37"
Ease: 1" of negative ease
Needle: US 2 for most, US 0 and 1 where specified.
Gauge: 30 stitches over 4"
Modifications: Modified the colors used in the neckline ribbing to provide a more interesting gradient. The pattern says to use a larger needle size for the sleeves. I missed that and didn't do it.
Started: September 2007 (early)
Finished: September 2007 (late) Total time was about 3 weeks.
Techniques used:
Color knitting with 2 hands, stranded not woven.
Spit splicing at the color changes when I remembered.
Used a german twisted cast-on for the corrugated ribbing using two strands of yarn and a US 4 needle.
There's more pictures of this in my flickr stuff.

Here's what's on the needles:

Pattern: Lady Eleanor
Source: Scarf Style
Yarn: Noro Silk Garden Lite--I'll look up the color code before I'm done
Size: it will be around 23" x 72" without fringe
Needle: US 7 (I think, I need to double check)
Since my yarn is so much lighter than that called for and I'm using a much smaller needle, I started with 8 triangles rather than 7. I'll also do several more rows of rectangles to get the correct length.

Pattern: Bartholomew's Tantalizing Socks
Source: Cat Bordhi's new sock book!
Yarn: Handspun Merino Tencel from Abby Franquemont in the color Autumn Harvest
Size: Pretty darn small. I wear a size 5.5 shoe
Needle: US 1 or 0--another one to double check
This has been a weird and interesting story--I'll have to show you my sock surgery in another post. I knit the first sock, started on the second, and decided I hated the first sock and that it was too small. After finishing the second, I loved it, so I went back and cut up the first sock. I should finish this one today.

An Almanac Sweater Journal

I have an idea, let's knit a sweater together. The sweater I'm going to knit is the October sweater from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. There are two versions of this sweater: top-down and bottom-up. While I'd like to do a top-down sweater, I don't really see the point for this sweater. Let's just do the bottom up. In typical EZ style, we're really going to design our own sweater.

The basic style of this sweater is a bottom-up raglan golf shirt. EZ shows it with short sleeves. I'm going to do 3/4 sleeves if I have enough yarn. If not, I can change my mind later. There's a nice golf-shirt style placket at the neckline and a typical collar. I suppose I could knit some fancy stitch pattern, but no. This is going to be a simple stockinette sweater suitable for my southern California life.

To start the sweater, we need to do 3 things before we start knitting:
· Choose our yarn
· Decide on needle size
· Sketch out a schematic with measurements.

Choosing the yarn
Here's two simple truths I've learned in knitting sweaters. First, bulky yarn knits up much faster than thin yarns. Second, I look like crap in bulky sweaters and never wear them. This is a sporty golf shirt. I'm going to opt for a fairly light yarn and face the reality that this means lots of mindless stockinette.

I really wanted to use handspun for the rest of my Almanac projects. I spun up some lovely pastel romney and plied it with corriedale. The result is a 800 yards of gorgeous light worsted weight yarn. No way is that 800 yards going to be enough. Off it goes to the stash.

My second option is to pick something from my stash. How about some Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool? That would be nice. Or I could use the Rowan yarns I picked for an abandoned project and do something with stripes?

Ahh, but one of my favorite local yarn stores is having an anniversary celebration sale. Everything in the store is on sale. Off we go to the yarn store. Oooh, shiny! In a moment of impetuous abandon, I pick up 1300 yards of JoJoLand Melody. I later realize that's not enough yarn, go back, buy more. More, more, more! I'm still a bit worried that I may not have enough yarn, so I'm going to plan for that contingency as I knit.

Decide on needle size

Let's face a harsh reality, shall we? Gauge swatches are (as Harlot says) filthy little liars. I have no illusions about my ability to knit a perfect gauge swatch, calculate how many fractions of a stitch there are, etc. I just want to get a rough idea about what needle produces a reasonable fabric. Since I know swatches aren't sweaters, I also realize that the fabric I create in a swatch may be slightly different than the sweater. OK, I can live with that.

I also know, from past experience, that my circular knitting gauge is really close to my flat knitting gauge. Not that this makes any difference because gauge swatches are still filthy little liars. The "right" thing to do is to cast on something about the size of a hat, knit a bare minimum of 4 inches, but better yet, just knit the whole hat, wash it, block it, and then carefully measure in at least 3 different locations around the hat.

My usual technique is to make an educated guess, cast on for the sleeves and go for it. My sleeve becomes my swatch. If my educated guess is pure fiction, than it isn't a big issue to frog 4" of sleeve and start again. This is no more effort than knitting a swatch and it gets me started on my sweater. I'm not going to do that this time because I'm not sure how long I'm going to make my sleeves. I may end up with only enough yarn for short sleeves.

I look at the ball band. It recommends a gauge of 7 to 8 stitches per inch and US 1 to 3 needles. If this were handspun, I'd look at one of those charts that correlate wraps per inch and needle size. Let's aim for 7 stitches to the inch. I cast on 28 stitches (4 inches x 7 stitches per inch) on US 3 needles. I knit a couple of rows in garter, flat. Then I start stockinette. After about an inch, I grab my favorite measuring tool: an index card. This one is 4" x 6". I lay the card over my knitting and instantly see I'm nowhere near 4", probably closer to 6". I knit a row of garter using new needles (US 1) and continue on my happy way. After about another inch, I see that I'm much closer to my 4" and the fabric looks pretty good. I continue on for another inch and see that the fabric is something I can live with and my swatch is indeed 4" wide. I should probably continue on for another couple of inches, bind off, block and see if I still like the fabric.

I’d love to show you a picture of my swatch but I ripped it out. You may all point and laugh if this sweater ends up small enough to fit my dog or big enough to cover my car. I'm taking a risk here, but an educated risk. A wool sweater is easily blocked if I’m off by an inch or so.

Before we all panic that I’m knitting a sweater on US 1, let’s be smart. I wanted a gauge of 7 stitches per inch. If I got that gauge with US3 needles, I wouldn’t be having these palpitations. However, I’d still be knitting the same number of stitches, wouldn’t I? If you want to have a fit, have a fit about 7 stitches per inch, not the size of the needle.

Sketch out a schematic with measurements
I started by taking some measurements of a sweater I know I like.

Here's a rough sketch of my sweater. I used a CAD program to draw this because I use CAD programs all the time. A sketch on the back of a napkin would suffice. The key thing is to get the width and length measurements on paper so I don't cheat later. (I'm famous for deciding that I really like sweaters that are 10" from hem to armhole after several weeks of knitting mindless stockinette.) I took the measurements from a favorite sweater or two. I've added just a little bit of shaping--ever so slight. EZ's original pattern was straight and straight would be fine. I just want to break up my knitting with some detail to focus on. I've discovered that I look good in straight sweaters with negative ease at the bust. The sweater stretches over the bust and then snugs in a bit below to fit loosely around the waist--giving an illusion of shaping without actually clinging to my waist. So don’t hesitate to omit the shaping.

Since I know I want a 37" sweater and I'm knitting 7 stitches to the inch, I'll need 259 stitches. I'm only going in 2" at the waist, so I'll decrease down to 245 stitches. I don't really have to worry about that right now, so let's just move on and talk about the decreases when we're ready.

Casting On
As you know, I'm not sure I have enough yarn. I can entertain lots of creative options. I can add stripes. I can make the sleeves shorter. I can decide to make the whole sweater shorter. But the sweater will look pretty funky if I decide to add stripes only in the yoke because I ran out of yarn. I'm going to cast on in the middle and work my way up. If I start running short of yarn, I can use a contrasting yarn at the hem of the sweater, echo the contrast at the sleeves and the collar. Casting on in the middle is really easy--use a provisional cast on. This also gives me some time to think about what fancy hem treatment I want to use. I'll start at the upper hip level just before the decreases start.

I know of at least 3 ways to do a provisional cast on. EZ uses a very, very fast cast on. The only downside is I'm not EZ. When I do this cast on, I sometimes get some loose stitches when I go back and start knitting the other way. I really don't want a loose line of stitches accentuating my ample hip line. So I'm not going to use that.

Another way is to start with a crochet chain. I've used that before and it works. I still risk the line of loose stiches, but I could probably make it work.

My third way is the slowest and least efficient, but it is very neat and tidy. I just cast on with some scrap yarn, knit 3 or 4 rows, then start knitting with my real yarn. Later on, I carefully pick up the stiches and just cut out the scrap yarn. Since neatness is important to me, I'm going to use this technique. I want to make sure to use some slick yarn for this of a similar weight. I happen to have some Rowan Cotton Glace left over from an earlier project. It is a bit heavier that my Melody. I think I'll dig around and find some leftover sock yarn. I’ll just to a backward loop cast on—it is going to be removed later anyway.

I'm going to wrap this up, go cast on my 259 stitches and knit for 1". When I get to that point, I'll come back and we can talk about waist shaping.

Risk Assessment
As any good project manager knows, you need to know where the risks are and mitigate the risks. My risks, or nagging concerns, are:

Gauge: Always gauge. I’ll be sure to take the sweater off the needles and measure it frequently—both with a ruler and by trying it on.

Yarn Choice: This is a really fine yarn. I’m concerned that the resultant fabric will be too light and thin for a practical sweater. I’m also concerned because the neckline of my sweater is steeked. This is a superwash wool. I think I can mitigate this risk by using a sewing machine to reinforce the steek, but I need to know up front that this may not be the right yarn for my design and be prepared to abandon ship if I see problems once I start knitting.

I'm going away now to finish the socks and then cast on this sweater. I'll come back soon. Thanks again for all the great comments!