Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hairy Loopy

I teach a finishing class. It's always popular, and it's always a lot of fun for me. The students invariably bring a bag or three containing various scrunched up projects in pieces, and we get to figure out how to turn those crumpled pieces into actual garments.

It's very gratifying, to see the garments come together -- and the sense of relief in the room is palpable, that this thing that the knitter worked so hard on will actually become what it was supposed to be.

Finishing isn't easy, and patterns aren't very helpful. Finishing instructions are given such short shrift in the pattern -- "assemble", "set in sleeves", "seam". And then, of course, the worst instruction of all, "pick up and knit 76 stitches around the neckline".

Some patterns are better than others, but in general, I find that you can never have too much detail in the finishing instructions.

So there I was, on Saturday morning, coffee in hand, surveying the contents of the (sometimes sheepishly unveiled) plastic bags.

And there it was. The Hairy Loopy sweater.

Mum's been working on a Fleece Artist kit, the Garter Stitch Cardigan. I've mentioned it before in the blog, I think. It's one of those very deceptive kits. It's a great design -- she tried a sample on, and it's a very wearable, very flattering piece. It's a simple shape, all the better to let the yarns themselves be the starring element. Very little shaping, very little finishing -- should be easy, right?

I distinctly recall the yarn shop owner we bought it from telling us that it was an easy project, a fun and quick knit. Yeah... not so much.

Mum calls it the Hairy Loopy sweater. (With capital letters, I can hear it in her voice.)

The yarn is very very challenging to work with. You work with a strand of mohair and a strand of the Fleece Artist "Curly Locks" yarn, held together. The mohair has that typically halo of fuzziness -- the Hairy -- and the Curly Locks has loops -- the Loopy.

The combination of the fuzziness and the loopiness means that it's tough to see the stitches, tough to be sure that you're actually working in the stitch and not with just an errant bit of hair or loop, and it's well-high impossible to undo if you make a mistake.

Mum's an excellent knitter, and it's been driving her insane. I've been doing the finishing for her, to help her out. And it's driving me insane, too. It's so damn easy to drop a stitch, and so damn hard to find them and pick them up -- but the good news is that there's no damn way that the thing is going to unravel.

So there it was, pulled out of another knitter's bag.

I had to laugh. And then I had to apologize and explain.

(And yes, it turns out that my new knitting friend hated the knitting as much as my Mum has.)

(There's a cautionary tale here about how a yarn can make all the difference between and beginner and an expert-level project, which I will pick up later. See also my ravings about Kidsilk Haze and its friends.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

More Fun With Sock Yarn

Colour me easily amused, but I love this sort of thing. It's Regia Nation Color -- once again, found in a bargain bin -- in black and yellow. You're going to ask me what nation this particular colourway is associated with, aren't you? This site lets you do a reverse lookup on flags based on colour and layout. Based on my search, I've decided that these socks are in the colours of the St. David's Cross.

I took a fair bit of time to make sure that the stripes worked out. The colours break pretty hard...

I redid the cast on a couple of times so I was maximizing the yellow and not having any black appear in the ribbing...

And then as soon as I ran out of yellow, I stopped ribbing and changed to stocking stitch.

The stripes are nice and broad -- about 15 rounds -- so that there's enough for a decent ribbing in a single stripe.

And of course, being an absolute control freak about this sort of thing, I carefully engineered how the colour breaks around the heel so that the stripes flow perfectly down the foot. I started the heel halfway through a yellow stripe, and worked the heel with the grey, and then picked up for the gusset and finished the yellow stripe.

And magically, the stripes worked out so that I was able to start the decrease for the toe at the start of a yellow stripe.

Very pleased!

And now the first sock is done, and I'm working the second sock so that the colours are reversed.... stay tuned!

And if you find any of this yarn in the blue and white or red and white stripes, I'd like two balls of each. Thanks!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Wiggle Dress and Jacket on a Real Live Model!

I'll never get tired of seeing my designs actually being worn... especially when the model is so cute... click here...

The Wiggle dress and jacket is a sweet little set for your sweet little girl - a jacket and dress worked in DK weight yarn. The fuzzy trim is entirely optional - or, a good way to use up leftover novelty yarn.

6, 12, 18 & 24 months sizes available.

The set is available for sale on Ravelry and Patternfish.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Travel Knitting: Lessons Learned

1. No problem at all with a short metal circular at either Toronto or Heathrow. I had carefully transferred my lace project to a bamboo needle, to go through security, and had the metal needle tucked into my bag in its holder, ready to be abandoned if need be. I also had extra stitch markers, and point protectors for my needles. No questions or issues at all.

I don't often use point protectors -- those little stoppers to put on the end of the needles -- but in this case I was in terror of my knitting falling off the needles, so I dusted off a set and pressed them into service. Didn't lose a single stitch.

2. I know I've said this before, but lace knitting is great for flying. After all, it needs significant care and attention, and god knows on a long flight there really is nothing else to do. And as an added bonus, 400m of lace weight yarn takes up hardly any room in your carry-on bag.

(On a separate note, if I think about how long it's going to take me to finish this scarf, I'll get depressed. I got about six inches worked in about 6 hours. And the scarf is going to be about 50 inches long. Given that this is the sort of project that can only be worked in ideal conditions -- good light, undivided attention, fully alert, this is going to take a while. Perhaps I'll plan on working an inch a week so it will be ready for next fall?)

3. No matter how good an idea it might seem, knitting in the pub really isn't a sensible thing to do.

(The sock I was working on in that shot was restarted the next day.)

4. Flight attendants who work long haul flights (hello ladies!) are as keen to knit to pass the time as the passengers.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

FO and SO - Finished and Started Objects

A project finished, as part of my program of sensible socks, a pair in Socks that Rock Grawk from the Raven Clan.

They are ny second pair in Socks that Rock. It's great yarn, feels terrific to work with, and I do love the Raven clan. It's a genius idea. Mostly black yarn, shot through with a bit of colour. Because, after all, sometimes you need more sensible... more sutble socks. The jury is still out on how well it will wear, as it is 100% wool. I'll let you know in a year or two...

And a project started.

This is Misti Alpaca Laceweight. Also black. I've had this kicking around in the stash for a while. It was originally going to the Lace Wings shawl, but I tired quickly of the stitch pattern, and decided I wasn't keen on having yet another triangle shawl.

So this will be a long rectangle, aiming for about 18 inches wide. I'm keeping the patterning pretty simple, since it is very fine black alpaca. It's reminding me somewhat of my experience with Kidsilk Haze, but it's not quite as difficult. I don't know whether that's me or the yarn. It seems less sticky; I was actually successful when I needed to undo a row or two.

I'm travelling over the weekend, so will have some dedicated time to work on it. It's not the only time this particular yarn will have been on a plane. I also took it with London and Cannes with me in May, and it stayed tucked in my bag, untouched. I didn't even cast on. But this time I'm ready, I've cast on and I'm good to go.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Send Me A Postcard...

Way back in the spring, at the Frolic, Mum bought a knitting kit from Philosopher's. A beautiful Fair Isle design -- this one, if memory serves.

It's gorgeous, in rich blues and greens.

I wound the yarn for her with my ballwinder and swift, since to do it by hand would likely have taken longer than the knitting...

There's a lot of yarn in that kit. A LOT of yarn.

Mum's just about finished up with the other project she bought at the Frolic, and is ready to tackle this kit.

I've been helping her out here and there with that other project. It's a Fleece Artist kit, and you know how I feel about Fleece Artist patterns. It's not that it's got mistakes in it, but it's so casually written that there simply isn't enough detail for the average knitter.

But now it's just about done, and she's ready to tackle the Philosopher's kit.

Internets, I have a dirty, dirty secret: I'm not a fan of Fair Isle knitting. I love the results, but I don't enjoy the process.

I told her that she should just send me a postcard when she's done.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Latvian Mittens!

I'm honoured to count among my knitting a friends a lovely woman called Aija. She's attended a few of my classes. One day last winter, in the midst of our long, horrible, cold, nasty winter, she wore a pair of beautiful Latvian mittens. They are stunning, in black with allover fair-isle patterns in greens and blues. Being fair isle, they're lined and warm.

She told me of the long and wonderful traditions of Latvian mitten knitting. 4,500 pairs were knitted as gifts for all the attendees of the 2006 NATO summit.

Aija is from Latvia, and she visits every summer. She emailed me recently to tell me that she'd managed to find me a pair on her most recent -- very much out of season, the selection was small, but the pair she brought me are absolutely magnificent.

Handknitted with local wool in shades of soft greys, the patterning is very traditional, and beautifully done.

The details are wonderful, right down to little tails that were tied together.

But here's the thing that I love the most -- the thing that I couldn't stop talking about... the construction. They're the most practical mittens I've ever seen.

They have a a flip-top so that your fingers can be exposed when you need them, without having to remove the mitten....

And look at the length of the fingers! These are mittens for serious warmth.

But this is the best part of all...

a flip-top thumb! How wonderful is that?

Aija -- many, many thanks!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Metal Needles; The Exploded Ribbing Sock

I used a picture of a sock in my recent Knitty article -- the "exploded ribbing sock". I designed it in the spring, using a new yarn from Diamond's Luxury Collection, Footloose. The colourway is called "Mouse" which I think is rather cute. It's a rather improbable blend of a soft medium brown and a light grey-blue, which works much better than you'd expect. It's neutral but definitely not dull.

(Click to embiggen to see the detail of the stitch pattern.)

I'm on a bit of a roll designing socks with variegated yarns and reverse stocking stitch. I love how the colours in a short-burst variegated blend on the "wrong" side, and I chose this stitch pattern because it shows a lot of the wrong side, and how clearly the knit ribs stand out. This wouldn't work as well in a very strongly coloured yarn, or in a yarn with longer stretches of colour.

There's only one in the picture because I'd only knitted one. This lonely single sock has been sitting around in my sock yarn stash for several months, waiting for its mate.

Inspired by the number of enquiries and compliments I received on the picture, I decided to finish up the pair and I will be publishing the pattern shortly.

Here's number two in progress....

Note carefully the needles. Shock! Horror! I'm using metal sock needles. I never thought I'd go back, and now I'm seriously thinking of throwing out most of my bamboos.

I learnt to knit socks on metal needles -- old school, 8 inch long metal needles. And of course because my first sock was in heavy yarn, they were thick, heavy needles. Awful. I'm honestly surprised I kept at it, because managing the needles was a headache. Once I switched to proper-sized sock needles -- 2.5mm -- they got easier to handle, but still weren't great.

And then about 4 years ago I got my first set of bamboo sock needles. I loved them instantly. Bamboo needles are great because they're light, warm, and a little bit flexible. And compared to older metal needles, I had much more control over the yarn. I also bought the shorter ones, which made a big difference.

Regular readers will remember that several months ago, I was struggling with a heavily cabled design that had a lot of twisted stitches. And I discovered that the points of my bamboo needles weren't holding up. Not only weren't they very pointy, but I was shredding them. Working twisted stitches requires a good point to dig into the stitches. I was wearing down the points of my bamboo needles.

On the recommendation of other knitters, I ordered myself some sets of KnitPicks' Harmony wood needles. Love them. The points are better - sharper and more solid -- and they don't feel like they would break as easily. I'm reasonably careful, but I have broken a bamboo needle by sitting on it.

Faced with the thought of working the second Exploded Ribbing sock -- a sock that's all about twisted stitches -- I tried something new. I ordered myself a set of the KnitPicks' nickel-plated 6 inch sock needles. And yes, I'm in love.

I never thought it would happen. Metal sock needles.

They're light and they're short and those two things make all the difference in the world. And being metal, I don't have to worry they'll break when I stick my project in my purse. (Yes, I always have a sock project on the go in my purse. It's how I have such a large wardrobe of socks.) And the smooth, slick surface is tremendous for fast knitting.

I still love the wood and bamboo needles for travel. Indeed, I'm flying next week, and am really looking forward to sitting down with a set of Harmony dpns and a skein of Malabrigo sock yarn.

But for everyday use -- it's all about metal.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I Love This. Knitting Audio Books

... for the blind.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind provides a very extensive library of audiobooks for the blind.

Available new as of August 2008 Debbie Bliss' Step by Step Knitting Workbook.

Seriously, this is wonderful. No discrimination, no assumptions, no dismissals that knitting might not be for the vision-impaired.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Since It's For Winter, It Needs a Jacket

The Wiggle Dress needed a little jacket, don't you think?

Will be available as of this weekend at the Sheep.