Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On Fitting a Sock

Wow. I have had my butt kicked by a pair of socks. I'm working on a design project right now, with the ultimate goal of publication. A simple pair of socks, no problem. I'm good at socks. Have designed tons. I know the yarns well, I have various techniques in my repetoire. No problem, I thought.

I found a cool stitch pattern in an old, out of print, knitting book. A cool stitch pattern that would highlight the subtle striping in the chosen yarn. A simple but interesting repeat. Seemed ideal. It even had "rib" in the name. No problem. I've made plain socks, ribbed socks, cable socks, lace socks -- all sorts of socks. I am a sock goddess.

The sock goddess had her butt kicked.

What it came down to is that that the stitch pattern I chose simply wasn't stretchy enough. Yes, absolutely, it fit my leg very well. Too well. A perfect fit around the leg meant that the fabric didn't stretch enough to go over my heel. And if I added sttiches to the pattern repeat, the leg was too loose -- and I don't want slouch. Blocking didn't help -- it took out what little bounce-back there in the stich pattern. It drove me mad. I worked an entire leg of the sock in two different variations of the pattern, blocked, used foul language, changed needle sizes -- none of which helped me in the least.

Until this, I hadn't honestly spent much time considering the stretch factor in a sock fabric. Every stitch pattern, every fabric I created (ok, except for a couple of fair isle pairs dating back to my early colour experiments) naturally had enough stretch. Some socks were slouchier than others, but I'd never run into this problem before.

Lesson learnt.

I ultimately found a substitute pattern that I'm happy with, so this story will have a happy ending. But it hasn't been a happy process, I have to say.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An Ideal Commuting Project

We had a great discussion in a recent class about commute knitting....

I always have knitting with me for my commute. Some projects are better than others for commuting.

The first thing to consider is how long your commute is, and what your surroundings are like. Are you typically sitting still in one place/on one vehicle for a long time? Do you have to change bus/train/vehicle midway through the trip? How much elbow room do you typically have? Is the ride smooth? Do you have big bag(s) with you?

Me, I have about 20 minutes total on the streetcar (a.k.a. tram), with no changes. I usually get a seat the stop after I get on, which gives me a good 15 minutes for knitting.

First things first, I make sure that my commute project is small. Whether a sock or a lightweight scarf or a Lizard Ridge square or the sleeve of a sweater, I make sure that my knitting bag fits into my work bag. And I make sure that it's self-contained... I tend to work on things that don't require me to look at a pattern -- at all, or very often at least. In the case of socks and a lot of lace knitting, I will condense the key info on a small piece of cardboard that I safety pin to the knitting. Not only is it cumbersome to carry around a pattern, it's difficult to keep it handy for reference.

Here's my latest commute project: a black alpaca lace shawl. This is ideal commute knitting for several reasons: the laceweight yarn means that I've got tons of knitting in a very small ball of yarn. The fine gauge also means that progress is slow, so it will keep me going for several weeks' worth of commutes. And black lace requires more attention that my average project, so it keeps me very engaged and entertained. The pattern repeat is simple enough to memorize, but also to capture in two short lines in case I do need to refer to it. I've written it out on a piece of card, and safety-pinned it to the bag. I've also got spare stitch markers safety-pinned to the bag.

The safety pin is probably the most important portable knitting tool. I always have one or two with me. You can use them to attach your pattern notes to your work, as markers, and also for marking mistakes or rescuing dropped stitches that you need to deal with when you get home.

The bag itself is worth noting... it's a small nylon bag with a drawstring. It came with the headset for my office phone -- no idea why -- and it's ideal for carrying knitting. You need a bag that won't develop holes, and that has a closure. Knowknits also makes terrific portable knitting bags, but for throwing in my purse, I prefer this one. The Knowknits GoKnit Pouches have great little loops of nylon with snaps that allow you to attach your project to a bag strap or a belt loop -- but I find those and the closure toggles mean that they're a bit bulky for stuffing in my purse. They're great for when you have a larger bag, or when you're going to be knitting standing up, or walking around.

Similar rules apply for air travel knitting, with two major exceptions.

First, the equipment: Although the TSA has approved all knitting needles for air travel, I find that what is actually permitted on a flight is at the discretion of the security agents inspecting you and your baggage. The first rule is not to ask -- chances are, the security agent you speak to isn't a knitter, and therefore tends to think of needles as sharp and dangerous. I always take plastic, wood or bamboo needles for air travel and just send them through the x-ray machine. I've never been stopped or questioned about them. And as for commuting, I keep a minimal kit with me: the yarn, project, a condensed version of the pattern, a couple of safety pins, and if required, my plastic yarn needle. (It's a Susan Bates "Crystalite".)

And since I'm likely to be sitting for much longer periods of time, I tend to choose a more complex project for longer trips. After all, there will be little to distract me, and I'll be able to lay a pattern sheet out on my tray table or lap. Whether it's a travel project or not, I always photocopy my pattern instructions and carry them with me in a plastic sheet protector. I leave the book and magazine at home, protected from coffee spills. I can make notes and marks all over the photocopy of the pattern, and I only have to carry around the key pages. (Key caution: make sure you have all the instructions and pattern information with you... I ended up making a major mistake on my Pimlico because I was missing the photo.)

Of course, my favourite travel knitting tool is my Creative Zen digital music player... Just because I'm not reading a book doesn't mean I want to chit-chat....

Monday, May 21, 2007

On My Way

Black Lace. It's going ok, actually.

Especially because I seem to have forgotten my own advice about using a lifeline.

It's an easy pattern repeat to memorize -- and, more importantly, to spot mistakes in.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Meme: My KnitList

I wasn't specifically tagged for this, but found it a thought provoking exercise.

Bold for stuff you’ve done, italics for stuff you plan to do one day, and normal for stuff you’re not planning on doing.

Afghan/Blanket (baby)
Garter stitch

Knitting with metal wire
Stockinette stitch
Socks: top-down
Socks: toe-up
Knitting with camel yarn
Mittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
Knitting with silk
Moebius band knitting
Participating in a KAL
Drop stitch patterns
Knitting with recycled/secondhand yarn
Slip stitch patterns
Knitting with banana fiber yarn
Domino knitting (modular knitting)
Twisted stitch patterns
Knitting with bamboo yarn
Two end knitting
Charity knitting
Knitting with soy yarn

Toy/doll clothing
Knitting with circular needles

Knitting with your own handspun yarn
Graffiti knitting (knitting items on, or to be left on the street)
Continental knitting
Designing knitted garments

Cable stitch patterns (incl. Aran)
Lace patterns
Publishing a knitting book
American/English knitting (as opposed to continental)
Knitting to make money
Button holes

Knitting with alpaca
Fair Isle knitting
Norwegian knitting
Dying with plant colors
Knitting items for a wedding
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths, tea cozies…)

Knitting socks (or other small tubular items) on two circulars
Olympic knitting
Knitting with someone else’s handspun yarn
Knitting with DPNs

Holiday related knitting
Teaching a male how to knit
Knitting for a living
Knitting with cotton
Knitting smocking
Dying yarn
Knitting art
Knitting with wool
Textured knitting
Kitchener BO
Knitting with beads
Long Tail CO
Knitting and purling backwards
Machine knitting
Knitting with self-patterning/self-striping/variegating yarn
Stuffed toys
Baby items
Knitting with cashmere
Knitting with synthetic yarn
Writing a pattern
Knitting with linen
Knitting for preemies
Tubular CO
Freeform knitting
Short rows
Cuffs/fingerless mitts/arm warmers
Knitting a pattern from an online knitting magazine
Knitting on a loom
Thrummed knitting
Knitting a gift

Knitting for pets
Knitting with dog/cat hair
Hair accessories
Knitting in public

My Own Personal Everest

I've decided I'm ready. I'm going to knit a lace shawl in black.

Lace Wings, as it's very straightforward. The yarn I've chosen is Misti Alpaca Lace.

Of course, I should probably get the Swallowtail done first. I've decided, after much thinking and math and listening to the sensible words of a commenter, that I'm going to work it as the pattern dictates. And if I've got tons of Sea Silk leftover then perhaps a narrow rectangular lace scarf might be nice, and would make a terrific commuting project.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another Reason to Swatch

I'm working on the Swallowtail Shawl from last fall's IK. Very nearly done now, it's coming out nicely, and I'm getting lots of compliments on it. I chose Seasilk in a lovely green colour, and the "budding lace" is entirely reminiscent of leaves. I hope that the leaf effect remains after blocking.

The Lily of the Valley Border, though, it's been a bit of a problem. The chart's perfect, it looks great, and ultimately it's actually pretty interesting to work. But it's a challlenge. The nupps. As I remarked to Megan the other day... "Nupp? Sounds like f***."

It was oddly hard to wrap my brain around the pattern -- and it didn't become obvious until I'd worked a good 12 or 14 rows. And at 220+ sts each, that was a fair bit of knitting. And a fair bit of dangerous knitting, at that... I'd already moved my lifeline up when I realized that I'd not quite got the grasp of it, and realized that a correction I'd made for a missed yo (below the lifeline) wasn't quite the right thing to do.

If I'd taken the time to swatch the lace pattern in advance, I would have understood it before I began, and would have significantly reduced the risk of error, and the possible effects of a poor mistake correction. Will it look ok after blocking?

... There's a small quiet voice in my head suggesting that maybe I should rip back the border and make sure it's right.

On a related topic, I'm a bit surprised/befuddled about the yarn usage. There's 400 or so m in the Seasilk, and reading other blogs I was left with the impression that this pattern uses up almost the entire ball...

Now I know it's hard to tell, because the later rows have more stitches, but I have more than a third of a ball left over before the final 16 rows.

So, three options occur to me:
1) Work as the pattern dictates and be done with it, not worrying about the yarn leftovers
2) Add a third repeat of the Lily of the Valley inner border
3) Rip back the 2 repeats of the Lily of the Valley inner border I've already worked, and work a few more repeats of the budding lace before redoing (correctly and with full confidence) the Lily of the Valley border


I did a bit of research online, and at least one knitter has chosen my second option, adding a third repeat of the Lily of the Valley. I'm not sure it works for me... it seems to disrupt the balance between the two borders... there's a golden ratio going on between the width of the Lily inner border and the peaked outer border, I think.

So, #1 or #3? Perhaps the leftover yarn is the knitting gods way of telling me that I should rip back...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Disrupting Friday Night Dinner...

M. and R. tracked my progress with LR all through the fall and early winter, and had recently asked me what was going on with it.

So I brought all the blocked squares over for dinner last Friday. After the cake and tea, we pushed the dishes aside and laid all the squares out on the table.

And we played LR-tetris. "No, not there, that's too close to another dark one."

"How about this orangey-one here, to set off the grey?"

After much swapping and changing and standing on chairs to get a better view, we got it.

We carefully labelled the pieces, while M. played documetary photographer.

So, all I have to do now is the actual sewing....

Friday, May 04, 2007

Clapotis Mark II is Done

Jitterbug Bright Charcoal gets a 10/10 for Clapotis-suitability.

Compare and contrast the aran-weight Sarubia version with the sock-yarn version. (I did do two extra repeats in the straight section for the Jitterbug version so it's not quite a fair comparision.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Product vs. Process

There are people who knit to produce -- to create something, to wear, to display, to make a statement, to give as a gift.

There are others among us who knit for the process. I'm one of these. I will cheerfully spend hours creating something without a single thought to who will wear it -- or indeed whether it would ever be worn at all.

Designers, I think, have to be process knitters. Or at least those who knit their own samples. I've knitted all sorts of things that will never be worn by anyone -- store samples, samples for photography and the like. I've also knitted things that I've immediately taken apart -- design ideas that didn't work.

I've knitted many things for the sake of it, because the technique or construction has interested me. Toe socks. Thrummed mittens. And notably, lace. Those who know me well know that I'm not a lacy sort of girl, but I love knitting lace. My very first lace project I gave away, but others languish at home, collecting dust. I occasionally use the Highland shawl as a wrap when I'm watching TV, and the cat has taken to sitting on it. The cat's paw shawl sometimes goes with me to class to show off the technique. I will, I'm quite sure, continue to knit lace and will continue to struggle with what to do with the output.

(In fact, I've just started the Swallowtail shawl from last fall's Interweave mag in Sea Silk, just because I wanted something different. Looks nice. Anyone willing to bet whether I'll ever actually wear it?)

And then there's the Elizabeth Zimmerman Ribwarmer. I've knitted the damn thing twice, in two different yarns. In both cases, it was no more than a couple of days before I undid the entire thing. It's a great design -- all short row garter stitch, in one piece, lots of corners and cleverness. But, dare I say, it's kinda ugly and ill-fitting. At least on me. Maybe if I was shaped a bit differently? The first time I knitted it, about 12 or 13 years ago, I used a great long-discontinued purple tweedy shade of Galway.. Now, fashions were different then, and a cropped fit vest wasn't really in tune with the rest of my wardrobe.

As styles changed, and as I acquired a bag full of Noro Sarubia in a trade, I thought that the Ribwarmer would be a good idea. Nope. Once again, loved the process, but hated the result. With any other yarn, I probably would have given it away, or kept it as a sample -- but I ripped it out almost immediately and the yarn was repurposed to a happier end.

There are, absolutely, times when I will knit something because I want to wear the result -- Handmaiden's Jane is currently on my needles, and I'm dying to wear it. But for the most part, I'm a process knitter.

It's clear that it's possible to enjoy both process and product knitting, but I have to wonder if people lean more strongly towards one or the other? Does it change as a knitter gets more skilled, more experienced?