Thursday, June 26, 2008

Stitch Dictionaries

You might have noticed I'm knitting a lot of lace at the moment. I am also about to start into a design for some cabled socks.

I was recently asked how I come up with "all those clever patterns". The stitch patterns.

Stitch dictionaries, of course.

These are books that contain nothing but instructions for working various stitch patterns. No garments, no discussion, no techniques. Just stitch patterns. Pictures of swatches and instructions.

It was years before I bought one -- I couldn't imagine why on earth I would need such a thing. Even when I started designing, I still didn't need one, because I wasn't doing anything fancy -- no lace, no complicated colourwork, no fancy cables.

But I kept reading about how fabulous these books are... Barbara Walker's 4 volumes and the long out of print but beloved Mary Thomas book, in particular. (Newsflash! It's back in print! Thank you Dover! Marsha at the Needle Arts Book Shop tracked a used copy down for me a few years ago.)

I bought my first, one of the Barbara Walker Treasuries, 5 years ago. And though I paged through it with interest, it was another couple of years before I actually used it. First time I used it, I was creating a simple lace scarf and I needed a lace stitch pattern.

The rest, as they say, is history. Now I won't start a project without first paging through all my stitch dictionaries.

Even if the garment is worked in good old plain stocking stitch (which, if truth be told, it rarely is), I consult the stitch dictionaries for interesting ideas for ribbing and edges. I love working fancy cuffs on plain socks.

You'd be amazed how many different stitch patterns there are; even changing a single stitch in a group of 8 or 10 can change the look radically. Yes, there's definitely overlap between the books, but each has its own unique ideas. The books also differ in how the patterns are presented -- written or charted -- or in my ideal world, both.

And yes, once I find a pattern I like, I do swatch. To see how it looks with the yarn I've chosen, to see how it feels, to see how it works for the design I have in mind.

I've been working on a lace sweater, and the challenge there is finding a stitch pattern that's nice and open and lacy, but still has enough structure to retain the shape of a garment.

I've only recently added the Vogue Stitchionaries to my collection... and I have an issue with them, particularly the first one. There are some great patterns, and enough new and interesting ones to make the book a worthwhile addition to the genre -- but some of the swatch pictures are terrible....

This is a lace design. Yup, in the instructions, there are a fair number of yarn overs to create eyelets, but I'll be damned if I can see them in the swatch picture. I don't have any complaints about the knitting, but my god, the swatches should have been blocked. If it doesn't look attractive, I'm not going to try it. And as I've proven below, a lace swatch simply doesn't look attractive if it's not blocked sufficiently. And few in the book's lace section have been blocked sufficiently.

The basic swatches are fine, but whoever was responsible for the lace chapter needs to rethink her/his work.

The Cables book, Volume 2, is much stronger. There are both written and charted instructions for all patterns, and the photos are much clearer. But be warned about Volume 1 - it rather spoils an otherwise good set of books.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

With Apologies to John Lennon

Socks are what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

I've got a couple of design projects on the go, for which I've been swatching...

and knitting

and blocking...
There are deadlines on both, which mean that I'm working pretty hard on them... lots of focused knitting, at home, in the car, in public, the works.

But somehow, in the in between moments, I seem to have almost finished a pair of socks...

They're what I call emergency socks, in emergency sock yarn. Paton's Kroy 4-ply in the colourway "Paintbox". I bought it, on sale, at Michael's, in one of those "hey, you can never have enough sock yarn, I might need it someday" sort of moments.

And the socks themselves got started when I needed a car project, when neither of the design projects was at a car-appropriate stage. That is, when they needed attentive knitting.

And yes, somehow, they've got themselves just about finished. Socks are what happens to me when I'm busy making other projects...

On a different note, I've used this yarn before, and I do like it. It's well-priced, good quality, hard wearing, good old nylon and wool blend sock yarn. All the ones listed on the Patons' site seem to be 4-ply, but they used to make a finer, 3 ply variant. The 4-ply is nice, but the socks are thicker and I'm not sure they're as easily fitted in shoes. I do hope they haven't discontinued the 3-ply.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

To A., Who I Met Last Night

There's a woman out there in Toronto who's an excellent spinner -- working on her Master Spinner certification, no less. She confessed to me that she doesn't really know how to knit...

I asked her what she does with the yarn. "Not much."

I wonder if she's taking applications to be her friend???

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fixing Mistakes: A Forest and Trees Problem

I'm working a lace design at the moment.

Hey, on a different but related note... here's the pre- and post-blocking pictures of the lace swatch, and the actual garment piece.

And they say that blocking isn't worth it...

Anyway, yes, working on a lace design. The stitch pattern is simple enough, a 6-stitch repeat. I was knitting away, while watching TV last night, and I discovered I'd made a small mistake. Nothing serious, but it was 6 rows down.

Easy enough, I thought. I can fix this without pulling rows back.

About 45 minutes later, still working away, I began to wonder... at what point does cleverness stop being the right way to go? I spend about an hour fixing the problem in place. But if I'd taken the simple route, and just pulled back the 6 rows and re-knitted them, it would probably have taken less time, and would certainly have required less foul language.

If truth be told, I'm still not wildly happy with the in-situ fix, as the stitches are a bit loose.

It would be great if there was a way to even out the tension.... hey... wait... what was I talking about up there.... ?


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy WWKIP day!

I will be celebrating the way I know best. By knitting.

In public.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Every Day? In Public? In Public Every Day?

This has come up more than once in my knitting classes... I'm asked if I knit every day... (often with a slightly incredulous tone.)

I'm typically asked this when I talk about how long it takes to make a sweater. My favourite question, if only because I can answer it with my favourite snappy reply of all time: "Well, you know, it's sort of a 'how long is a piece of string' question."

Damn skippy I knit every day. Several times a day. I knit in front of the TV, and even if it's only 20 minutes of my favourite 24 hour news channel, there's daily TV watching.

And I knit when I'm on the phone as much as possible. And god knows that happens several times a day. And when I'm on public transport -- not daily but several times a week. And then when I'm in a line (often) or waiting at the dentist (this morning, as a matter of fact) or in a restaurant waiting for my salad to arrive (last night), or waiting for my friends to arrive at the bar (last Friday), or ... you get the idea.

Which brings me to the next question I'm hearing a lot at the moment... June 14th, this Saturday, is World Wide Knit In Public Day. "Do you knit in public?"

This makes me chuckle. I do know lots of people who only knit at home -- my Mum, for one, since her favourite type of project is a big complicated sweater that simply cannot be carted around. But as a lace and sock knitter, I knit in public as much as humanly possible. And I've done it in various locations around the world... photos from my vacation being proof....

This is all partially for practical reasons -- I'm often knitting on a deadline, and I need to maximize my knitting time. But it's also for the simple reason that it's the best possible way I can think of to pass the time.

For me, every day is World Wide Knit in Public day.

Monday, June 09, 2008

On Casting Off

So I mentioned that I'd had to mess with the cast off for the Scurvy shawl.

The cast off I use most frequently for lace knitting is the "Russian Lace bind-off"... explained nicely here. It is indeed nice and stretchy, but it's...... errr...

...I guess the best way to describe it is that it's high profile. Since you're working each stitch twice, you're working a full extra row, and as purl stitches. Which means that they sit higher, and stand out more.

It's a good cast-off, absolutely, but I didn't like how it looked against the garter edging.

So I ripped that back, and I tried the good old "k1, k1, lift first stitch over second" cast-off. You know, the first one you were taught. It is lovely. Very simple and elegant. But it's tight. You have to work fairly hard to even get it at the same tension as the knitting. It's a classic beginner problem, a too-tight cast off. It's not easy.

But then if you're trying to to allow stretch for blocking... Definitely a challenge.

The only answer is to use a larger needle. A MUCH larger needle. I had decent success using a 5.5 mm needle (having worked the shawl with a 3.5mm needle) and staying very relaxed.

It worked. If push came to shove, there's probably a bit more blocking room in the lace, and not quite enough in the cast-off, but I'm quite content with it the way it is.

Friday, June 06, 2008

FO: The Scurvy Shawl

About time, too.

This yarn was the result of a couple of pints, a boxing day sale, and a cold, dark winter.

It's Malabrigo Lace, in a colourway that no-one has ever seen anywhere else, and can't be found on their website. You wouldn't be out of line to suggest that it was an unfortunate mistake in the dyeing vats.

However, it in the depths of winter, it reminded me of nothing more than a shot of lively citrus fruits.

And so inspired, I sought out a semi-circular design, something that would take actually work with the citrusy nature of the colourway.

And I found a "cocoon" stitch that on the wrong side, looks entirely like the flesh of a citrus fruit.

You can see it in this picture -- click to embiggen.

And so was born the Scurvy Shawl - a knitted slice of orange. To combat scurvy, you see.

I've been working it on and off since January, and decided a few weeks ago to focus to actually get it done. The problem with semicircular (and triangular) shawls is that as they get closer to being done, the rows get longer, and therefore take longer to do. As its biggest, I was working over 400 stitches per row. Takes a while. The last 20 or so rows took me well over 8 hours.

I took it with me on vacation, and worked on it during our train journey from Cannes to London. Great scenery, a big bag of food we'd bought the morning of our departure at the local market in Cannes, some good music, and a knitting project I was desperate to finish -- it was a great day. I wasn't quite done by the time we hit London, but a couple of pub evenings and a trip or two on the underground and I was just about complete. I started the cast-off a couple of times... my usual "Russian lace bind off" (which I'll explain later) didn't look good in the context of the garter edging. And not having any larger needles with me, a standard cast-off was simply too tight. So I reluctantly packed it up and brought it home unfinished.

The final cast off, which a 5.5mm needle (compared to the 3.5mm on which I worked the shawl) looked good against the garter edging, and had enough stretch to accommodate the blocking.

I finished it up Monday, blocked it Tuesday (blocking wires, clothespins and my laundry rack... much quicker than pinning it to the floor)

and was wearing it by Wednesday.

It's a single skein of the Malabrigo Lace -- I did buy two, and I might have to see if I the shop that sold it to me is willing to take the extra back. I'm not sure I see how I need anything else in this colourway in my wardrobe right now...

It's modestly sized, but just perfect for a soft, warm little scarf with a light coat. And my god, it's soft and warm.

Very pleased with it, in the end. I'm just sorry the weather's suddenly got too hot for wearing wool scarves...

A visitor to my blog recently commented that she loves travel knitting, as the finished object will always carry with it the associations with the places it was worked. A train in the south of France in early seems like an entirely appropriate place to associate with this project...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What I Did On My Summer Holidays

I'm on the train! Knitting on the train!

That big plastic bag may well have been full of crisps and chocolate. I will neither confirm nor deny it.

What knitting did I get done? I finished up the scurvy shawl, all but the cast-off. I completed one and a bit socks for a design assignment, and got about a third of the way into another sock....

The tweedy black and white is the mystery unlabelled sock yarn. I'm working the the heel, toe and ribbing in plain black and there will be enough of the tweedy yarn for a pair. Of course, we came back to full on hot and humid summer, so it's probably going to be a while before I need black wool socks. But hey, it's good to be prepared.

On that note, I didn't get anywhere near the Misti Alpace laceweight I packed to take on holiday, nor the third ball of sock yarn. But my god, to run out of yarn would have been a bad bad thing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

In London

That's the Scurvy Shawl.

All the knitting is done, I just have to redo the cast off. I didn't like how my usual lace cast-off looked against the garter edging, and a normal cast-off was just too tight with the same size needles.

Need to redo it with a larger needle.