Thursday, July 16, 2009

Awakening the Halo

So, to celebrate the paper being accepted for publication (wow, I'm writing in passive voice already?) I bought yarn to make a commemorative project. Yarn really is the best way to celebrate, honestly. I got two skeins of misti alpaca lace, in their beautifully heathered purple colorway. It's just gorgeous, honestly, with this blue that just pops. And there's this really subtle pink hue that peeks out every once in a while that I just wasn't expecting.

To celebrate, I started swatching. I've been swatching alot lately, it seems. I've started swatching for the infamous lace circle jacket from Feminine Knits. I'm going to use the misti alpaca lace for the jacket; I'm hoping the alpaca has enough halo to substitute well for the mohair. I don't think I could stand that much mohair next to my skin. The pattern states that it should have 16 sts for 4 inches on size 9's. What I got on size 7's was 4 stitches to the inch after washing and blocking. Have I mentioned I'm a loose knitter?

I'm not entirely sure what I want to do next. I'm spot on for gauge... at two sizes SMALLER than what the pattern calls for. I'd like the jacket to be a little more snug than what the pictures show. The pattern says it's 19 inches from armhole to armhole, at best I'm 16 - 17 inches at that measurement, so I definitely need it smaller. For now, I'm just going to see if I can bring out the halo of the alpaca more. So far, I've wound each ball 3 times, and it's starting to get more halo. The third time, I held a very fine grit nail file to the yarn as I wound it in a ball, which seemed to bring out more halo. We'll see.

In other ADD project related news, I started the panache shawl. I'm using knit pick shimmer, in their sherry colorway. Oh my god, it's gorgeous. I decided to do the 9/16 version, mostly because I want a capelet look instead of a wrap-around shawl. Using the picot cast on, I started on row 13 which has 39 stitches. I wanted something that had a defined neckline, where I could attach a shawl pin or ties to hold it closed. It's totally mindless lace, I'm on row 27 already. I'm using size 6 needles, and I won't change sizes until row 63.

It's nice to have mindless lace, though. Currently, the older projects are languishing, mostly because they're being annoyingly complicated. I've somehow made the sleeve too big on the hourglass jacket, so I need to rip back about 4 rows and figure out how I want to change the sleeve cap. So that's changing pattern short rows in broomstick crochet = NOT easy. I think I'll probably tackle it this weekend.

The swatch for the lace bolero is done and hanging on the wall right now. This is more for me to remember than anything else. I did half the swatch in the centered double decrease, and the other half with the traditional sk2p stitch to see which one I liked better. So far, I like the centered decrease. The traditional stitch reminds me of varicose veins, a not attractive look. Now, why is it hanging on the wall, you ask?

I'm hanging it on the wall to see how much drape it will develop. I picked that trick up at a talk I went to at Knitter's Connection, where they hammered into my head the importance of swatch. A great way to check how much a fabric will grow is to wash and block a swatch - and then hang it on the wall for a week. Simply pin it to a bulletin board (cork, foam, whatever) but ONLY pin the top row. This leaves the weight of the swatch to hang from the top row, so you'd get an idea of how much the knitted fabric will grow when you wear it. Leave it there for a week, and check gauge then. Don't forget to include row gauge, because it can change! It's interesting, like a minature experiment for me to do at home, so I'm excited about it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fiber Wars

So, my copy of Feminine Knits last friday. I was so excited that I couldn't resist swatching for a new project. I've wanted to make the lace bolero from the book for ages, except I couldn't read the original Finnish in which it was written. That, and I wanted to make the lace circle jacket, but I just couldn't work up the courage. Now that I have my hot little hands on a copy, I can't help starting even though I have something like a dozen projects in process. And that just counts knitting...

I started out with DMC's Senso Wool Cotton, a yarn that used to be uber cheap at Hobby Lobby. I use the past tense, because I haven't been able to find it at a local store in ages. I started with the ribbing on tiny needles (US 1.5 or 2.5 mm) just to see how it would look. Despite the intimidatingly tiny needles, it looked like a nice even knit. Then I switched to the larger needles for the lace pattern, which is really, really easy. It's a 4 row, 6 st pattern repeat. After all the crazy charts I've been keeping track of, it's almost as mindless as ribbing. Almost.

Except for the cotton fiber. Wool Cotton is 30% wool and 70% cotton, with hardly any elasticity. I got through about 10 rows of the lace pattern, all the while struggling with the sk2p stitches. I substituted for the centered decrease version, which I liked the look of. Finer needle points wouldn't have helped reduce the difficulty of manipulating the stitches. Though they would have made pushing around the stitches easier, the sheer inelasticity of the cotton was what drove me to try another fiber. I was cursing by row 10 of the lace, trying to get my needle to go through 3 stitches. I'd rather slit my wrists than try a knupp with this yarn.

So, I pulled out some other stash, the lovely buckingham yarn which I used to make the Giselle sweater. I had a ball and half left over, so a few months ago, I bought a second ball of the yarn just so I'd have enough to do a sizeable project. Now I do! The yarn is delicious and very flexible about gauge. It's 80% alpaca and 20% silk, so it's ridiculously warm and has elegant drape. I started swatching with it, and oh! I forgot how much I like this yarn! I'm definitely going to be making the bolero out of it. The alpaca has just enough stretch and memory that I can get the stitches around easily on bamboo needles. I'm just sorry I left the swatch at home, I want to knock it out today.

Not to say that I don't like the wool cotton. It's going to get relegated to crochet, where I can more easily deal with the unforgiving nature of cotton. I'm thinking the cheveron lace cardigan because I can't have enough sweaters. I get cold at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I'm not kidding. So summer AC often leaves me shivering with numb extremities. What can I say, I'm a tropical bird.

It's just interesting to me since I seem to be developing distinct fiber crafting preferences. Cotton for crochet because it literally feels hard to knit with. Silk seems to be following the same lines, but we'll see how the next two silk projects fare. I ordered enough really cheap silk yarn from Ebay to make a dress or sweater. I'm excited, it should start arriving any day now! It's on its way from India and it's been about 10 business days, so it should be here. Plus, there's the silk roving in my stash just waiting for me to start spinning it. I haven't dared spin with it yet just because I don't feel my spinning skills are up to it. We'll see.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Instant Gratification

What do you do when you need a sample size of crochet to get gauge? Turn it into a bracelet of course.

Materials: deathly slippery silk... yarn. It's laceweight at best. 2/0 size glass beads.
Stitches used: ch, hdc, sc
Time to finish: Less than 3 hours

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Free Form Crochet

So, my crochet hero, besides the woman who taught me how to crochet, is Antonina Kuznetsova. I've faved a few of her designs on ravelry, and linked to her photostream. Take a few minutes to look at her creations, it will blow your mind away. This one has to be my favorite:

What? Like it's such a shock that I like pink. Her mastery of freeform crochet blows my mind away. I was lucky enough that the woman who taught me how to crochet taught me how to sight crochet. Essentially, she started with teaching me how to make basic stitches and a general shape. Then she would hand me motifs and tell me to figure out how to make them. The motifs got progressively more complicated, and she taught me an incredibly valuable skill. Not only did she teach me stitches and abbreviations so that I could make things from a pattern, she enabled me to create my own designs. That said, even Irish crochet seems somewhat daunting to me, and I've been crocheting for almost 15 years now.

That said, I found a wonderful tutorial about free form/irish crochet at showing you how to construct your own free form skirt. While it's absolutely gorgeous, I don't think I'll be doing another lace garment just yet. (I heard that derisive snort! Give me until next year at least, to start something insanely intricate again.) However, I think jewelry will be a perfect launching point to learn this technique. As you can see, Dainty Crochet by Aly, uses free form crochet to make really beautiful pieces.

Someone, anyone (not me) please buy that necklace before I cave and buy it myself. If I had to guess at its construction, she started with the circular and center motif. Then she used crochet to create the structure of the necklace and beaded chain at the back of the neck. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of work.

I've got a pretty good idea of what I want to crochet, though, variations on lace trims adapted to necklaces and chokers. I've been browsing through Crochet Lace by Pauline Turner, which I highly recommend. It's got a ton of great patterns and motifs for your imagination to run away with. I actually picked it up at half price books for a great price. I can't wait to get started on a little choker just to bust some stash.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


So, I'm in the middle of several projects all of which take about half an hour or more to do a row. I'm working on the secret project/aspiring design with the haiku yarn. Then there's the wings of a dream shawl that I heavily modified. There's also the celtic tote bag which requires me to finish embroidering the outline. As you might guess, it can get a little tedious.

Well, there's also the sock, but it's just not captivating me right now. And there's the intolerable cruelty skirt, but that's mindless knitting. Except for the short rows I'm attempting to add. My waist is 6 inches smaller than the widest part of my butt/hips. That means I need to add length back there or I will have a really funny looking hemline. (Anyone else ever make a garment where it's shorter in the back than the front?) Remember that the next time you knit a skirt. In sewing, you make the hem long to compensate for any uneveness and then trim the fabric to get an even hemline. It doesn't work quite the same way in knitting. You gotta add short rows in the back, or as a friend charmingly misspoke: short ass rows.

Anyways, I've decided I'm in need of some instant gratification projects so I thought I would design some silk & beaded crochet lace jewelry. I found this wonderful blog, where she has an embedded video on how to crochet with beads. Good quality, it's not perfect, but it's enough to get you started on the basic idea of how to crochet with beads. I've done it with knitting before, but not crochet yet. There's a wee stash of beads waiting for me to use it, and this just seems like the perfect opportunity to try.

And there's the death shawl.

Its's holding up some gorgeous yarn that probably won't get made into a shawl. Why? Well, let's start with the name. On ravelry, one woman commented that she'd probably get buried in the shawl, because it would either kill her or she wouldn't finish it until she died. The charts for it are just that long. I'm not kidding. It's a beautiful shawl... and not something you should try for your 3rd knitting project ever. Ask me how I know. Anyways, the yarn is a beautiful dusty gold color, which would make for great jewelry, don't you think? Time to dust off my crochet books and figure out what would look really great with some beads.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Creature of Habit

I love crafting. Some might even say it's an unhealthy obsession. To that argument, I have the following response. Creation poses its own unique reward: something new that didn't exist before you made it. You, the creator, are responsible for its being, and that is a powerful accomplishment that no one can take away from you. It holds a special place in my life, because of my difficult family and their lack of acknowledgement. I'm about to finish a bachelor's degree in psychology and I still don't understand them.

Being able to make something soothes me in ways I can only begin to explain. I love creating something light, lacy, and beautiful as proof that I've accomplished something in a life too scarred by harsh criticism. It reassures me that I am skilled, that I am able to master unique abilities on my own. I still underestimate my abilities, but I'm learning to appreciate what I am able to accomplish.

It's soothing, in ways addicts can understand. The yarn harlot had a hilarious bit that I will poorly paraphrase about replacing knitting with smoking. In the first two weeks after you quit smoking, you'll find that keeping your hands busy helps control the cravings. You'll also find yourself the proud owner of 3 afghans, 2 sweaters, and dozens of socks. Funny, but true. It falls into a neat behavioral trick I learned. If you want to break a habit, replace it with another habit (preferably a better one). That way, you'll have a new habit that makes you a better person or enriches your life or simply stops an addiction. I've quit smoking, and I'm learning to replace bad habits with knitting/crocheting/crafting. When I used to smoke a cigarette after a fight with my mom, I'll knit instead. I say this in an ironically timed moment, since I just finished a row of the hourglass jacket which I picked up to soothe myself after a midterm. It's better than biting my nails, no? Plus, I'll have a wonderful summer jacket/indoors cardigan to wear when I'm done.

I can't wait to finish it, because the boyfriend's mother made a wonderful suggestion. I showed her the shawl pins that I made for the etsy shop, and she thought the designs were lovely. She suggested that I show a picture of someone or something wearing the pin so people got a better idea of how the shawl pin worked. Which is a great idea, I thought. The tutorials show you how to stick the pin in the fabric, but it doesn't really show you how it could be worn, does it? Of course, that makes me want to start a new shawl immediately, let's ignore the half-dozen projects I have on my needles currently. But if you've seen the panache shawl can you really blame me?

I leave you, dear reader, with two honest questions - what inspires you to knit or how did you get started crafting? And, would it help if I had pictures of the shawl pins being worn?

Friday, July 3, 2009

New colors, new skills

Well, sort of. The colors I chose really shouldn't surprize anyone that knows me. But I absolutely love the laptop case I just finished knitting for myself. I wouldn't have been able to knit it, if it weren't for the wonderful experience of Knitter's Connection. I took a class there, "Two Colors, Two Hands" taught by Sally Melville. Some of you may remember the glorious disaster that was the f'ing deer socks. Once again, I've demonstrated why my friends crowned me queen of crazytown, because I thought that doing colorwork on the second pair of socks I'd ever made was a great idea. Needless to say the, socks didn't fit at all. The sock part of the sock was great, but my lack of even tension in the ankle kept the sock from making it past the heel of the foot when my boyfriend tried it on. The sock is in hibernation until I've refined my skills at color knitting.

I have to really give credit to Sally Melville, the woman who taught the Two Colors, Two Hands class, for giving me the skills to tackle color knitting again. She was just very reassuring, and very down-to-earth practical. She set attainable and pragmatic goals for knitting in new ways. I hadn't even been aware that I expected myself to be as good at knitting in a new style as I was with knitting lace and everything else I was used to doing. Bear in mind, my first knitting project was the branching out scarf. My bar for "easy" isn't the least bit logical or practical. She pointed out that the most important goals for learning a new knitting style are attaining the muscle memory, establishing good tension, and once both of those are comfortable for you to do, THEN you can start thinking about speed.

I found I was most comfortable knitting with one color in each hand, even though I'm a continental knitter. The thing is, you'll be knitting in a style that you're not normally comfortable with, so why should you be expecting beautifully even knitting your first time around? With her reassurance and gentle guidance, I learned to be comfortable with english style knitting. Her advice for dealing with that conundrum she pointed out? Do a felted bag. The thicker fabric of colorwork makes for a sturdy bag, and felting hides all those sins of tension and (un)even stitches. I took her advice, and went my own way with it, because really, I need another purse like I need a hole in the head. So I made a (soon to be) felted laptop case!

Just so you know, it is a lumpy, bumpy mess, just as she promised most people's first projects would be. Check out a close up of the stitches, pay close attention to how uneven the edge is.

It was just so reassuring to hear that it's not going to be perfectly even the first time around. In class, she held up this beautifully knit a-line skirt with an intricate insert panel of colorwork, and stated quite clearly that it was a lumpy mess until she blocked it. I'll post pictures of blocking, just to show what an effect it has, before I block it. And, like Ms. Melville said, felting will completely obliterate the uneven stitches. She recommended using noro if you want more color without having to constantly change yarns, but I have a deep-seated aversion to noro. So I used jojoland, colorway M-04 instead. I love the gradual color change from purple to lavender to burgundy.

I also followed her advice and used a simple, easy to memorize pattern, houndstooth. Well, it was mostly easy to memorize. As you can see here, I messed up one repeat.
By that point, I had cast on, knitted 2 repeats, and ripped it all back out at least 3 times. I thought I had a handle on the pattern and stopped looking at the pattern. Folly, thy name is pride, and I had too much of it at that point in time. By the time I had realized that I made the mistake, I was sick of ripping out and starting again. I saw that I'd done the repeat wrong right here:

I can live with it, though. I'm just so totally enamored of the color change that the jojoland yarn does. I used jojoland for the contrast color, some leftover paton's classic wool for the pink, and some leftover wool-angora blend in lavender that I got from an ebay auction. I have to say, the bag was great at busting stash. As you may have noticed, I have a terrible problem with leftover yarns, so being able to use them up felt wonderful. The bag is 9.5 inches wide by 15 inches long, to fit a 10.5 inch by 7.25 inch laptop. I'm waiting to felt it along with the celtic tote that I've done. I just need to finish the embroidery on the bag, and then it will be ready to felt.

I can't say enough wonderful things about Knitter's Connection, Sally Melville, and everything I got to see and do there. The Knitter's Market is like... taking your favorite yarn shop and multiplying it by 10. That's the best way I can describe two large conference rooms filled with all sorts of yarn vendors, from hand-dyers to retail distributors and everything in between. Forgot your knitting bag? That's okay, you can buy a Nantucket bag there. Just finished your cardigan in class or lecture, and need buttons? I saw at least 2 vendors that sold nothing but buttons and notions.

As for me? Well, the yarns I loaded up on are another story. I could gush on and on about those for pages and pages. But, I think I'll save that for later.
Welcome to Crazytown, where my friends have proclaimed me queen. Why did they do that you ask? For some reason, there's very little that I fear about knitting. Hmm, a dress in laceweight done in lace knitting written by vogue? Sounds great! I have very few inhibitions when it comes to knitting, and that sometimes ends disasteriously. Apparently, other people think this signifies a level of crazy that only the royalty can attain. Follow along with my escapades as I dive head first into all sorts of insane techniques and projects without much more than an "Oh! That looks pretty, I can make it!"

Those will probably be my famous last words.