Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mix and match

I don't have a lot of matching knitted things. I'm afraid I sometimes wear a Fair Isle tam in blues with purple Norwegian mittens and a scarf that has nothing to do with either of them. Is it an eclectic look or a short attention span? (It might just be desperation to stay warm in winter as we know it in Wisconsin.) I'm always eager to go onto the next design idea or yarn and I guess I have a very low tolerance for boredom.
  Recently I resolved to have a few things that match. Well, not exactly the same, but at least so they have something in common. Hence, I knit a blue scarf that (more or less) goes with my favorite blue and black hat.
I knit a gray hat that (more or less) goes with my pumpkin and gray squares scarf. They both have gray in them and they both have rectangles as a design feature. The hat pattern is here.

But do my mittens match? They do have gray in them. And yes, friends from warmer places, this is what I wear in November before the really cold weather hits.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My fleet of UFOs

Something once came over me and I made a big push to finish up all my knitting UFOs (UnFinished Objects). I even ripped out a partially completed vest I didn't enjoy knitting which had been sitting  for over a decade and used the yarn to make something else.
   I've often had a project in limbo for years. I often design my own projects and sometimes get to a place where I don't know what to do. (This wouldn't happen so much if I had a plan for the entire project in mind when I start, but I think I'll have some brilliant idea for sleeves once I get to them. And then don't, at least for a while, have any idea whatsoever.)
So once I diligently finished all my projects and only had one underway, did I bask in the glow of being a responsible adult? No. I didn't like it at all.
Then I realized each knitter has an optimum number of projects underway.  Too few and you might not have any knitting that is mindless enough to do while watching TV or you might have only mindless knitting that doesn't really excite you.
Too many UFOs and one's life feels out of control. So I've decided my optimum number of projects is six. Since I currently only have five, perhaps it's time to cast something on. What's your optimum number of projects?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Some (very small) knitting content

I love animated movies and just found this incredible YouTube video by Aardman Animations of Wallace and Gromit fame. Knitting often appears in Aardman films. (Wallace invented the Knit-O-Matic in A Close Shave.)  What sets this animation apart is its character's incredibly tiny size. The character is only 9mm tall. (That's less than 3/8" for us non-metric people.)

If you like the animation, also watch the "Making of Dot" video. It's amazing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Playing with yarn: autumn colors

It seems autumn always goes past much too quickly.  They don't call it fall for nothing.
One day the hills are clothed in glorious colors and the next day most trees are bare and the predominant color is gray.
  Then it's time, perhaps, to extend autumn by heating up some apple cider and playing with your colors. I find moving my balls around is a great way to explore color ideas. If your stash isn't up to this you can cut out pictures from magazines or catalogs and play with them. Then buy your yarn. (What a concept.)
 Don't forget to add some sunny sky! This is a good idea if you think you don't look good in reds, oranges or brown but do like blue. Or you could add white for those big fluffy clouds.
I'm thinking of making a tam with these colors, using lots of blue. And here's a project I knit long ago that uses some fall colors. (A little purple also snuck in, as it will.)  A small knit purse is a nice project for testing colors if you don't feel like making a hat or mittens.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fear not the steek

One of my Unfinished Objects (UFOs) has become airborne again. One reason I put it aside is that before I could continue, I had to take my scissors to it. Cutting into something I've spent months knitting still makes me nervous even though I've done it quite a few times. However, I no longer hyperventilate (much).
 A steek is a vertical set of stitches that are inserted in stranded knitting as a place to cut later. Since my Mayan Dreams sweater is to be a cardigan with sleeves, I had a steek the entire length of the front and steeks on each side beginning at the underarm.
 The advantage of a steek is that one can knit around and around, always looking at the right side of the pattern. Doing a complicated two-color pattern back and forth would be mentally challenging as the pattern is difficult to see on the purl side.  (Interestingly enough, most Peruvian stranded work is done from the purl side so they probably would think I do it the hard way working from the knit side.)
  Many people sew along each side of the steek with a sewing machine before they cut it. Some add a crochet chain before they cut to stabilize the edge. But since I am very lazy, I do no preparation. This works for both Shetland yarn or the Kauni yarn I am using for this sweater because these yarns are so sticky they don't want to unravel. I proved this to myself by cutting a swatch and pulling at the edges. It's also the method recommended by Alice Starmore. By the way, I am so pleased that Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting has been reissued by Dover. It's the best book I've seen for both techniques and inspiration for Fair Isle knitting. Considering that I paid $24.95 in 1988 and the list price is again $24.95, it's quite a bargain.
I always make my steeks in alternating colors. That is, one stitch of color A, one stitch of color B, and so on, repeated until I have 8 or 10 stitches. Having these narrow columns of color makes it much easier to see where to cut. Once I have measured many times to make sure my armhole is the right depth, I cut. I am very careful that I am only cutting one layer of the sweater by holding some fingers under the top layer. In the picture, I'm using embroidery scissors but you can use any sharp scissors.
In the above picture I have paused to admire my neat cutting. After I cut the steeks I grafted the shoulders and picked up stitches around one of the arm holes. I pick up every row for 3 rows and then skip a row.  (Most people have stitches that are slightly shorter than they are wide.)
Now I am knitting down on the first sleeve. Later I will trim my steeks to be two stitches wide and sew  them with stitches on the inside that make Xs over the raw edge. This is an example on my Obsession sweater, also knit in Kauni. I've worn it a lot and washed it a couple of times with no problems with raveling.
  Using steeks is a technique well worth learning if you want to do Fair Isle or other stranded knitting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Touring the yarn

Our little Wednesday afternoon knitting group made a field trip to the beautiful hilly area near Madison that was missed by the last glacier. We visited 3 fiber shops and 2 places for food and came away very satisfied.
  First stop was the Sow's Ear in Verona. It seems to be the most popular yarn store in Madison even though it's not actually in Madison. A big plus is that it has coffee and food; it claims to be the first place in the Midwest to combine a yarn store with a coffee shop.  It's a brilliant concept. I hadn't eaten there before other than grabbing a smoothie after a bike ride. (In a striking coincidence, many of our bike rides start and end near the Sow's Ear.) We enjoyed our lunch and then did a little yarn shopping. I did a little stash enhancement, buying some yarn for a double knitting project I have in mind. For me, the key thing about my stash is having lots of colors in a few specific weights of yarn. I'm afraid I've started a collection of DK alpaca and add to it whenever I see a color I like.
  We continued on to Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill, a few miles outside of Mount Horeb. We had an appointment with Anne, one of the owners, for a tour of the mill.  Anne answered all our questions as she explained taking the raw wool through the entire yarn production process including dyeing it.
 The mill is full of enormous machines covered with fuzz.
Anne said that there are only 5 mills of this size in the entire country. Blackberry Ridge is having an open house with tours on November 20 and 21; check it out if you are in the area. It's a working mill so if you want to go at a time other than during an open house, just call ahead to make arrangements. Here's a picture of some of their yarn display. I enjoyed buying some yarn right where it was spun.
   By now we were feeling a little faint from fondling all that fiber so we stopped at Sjolinds Chocolate House on Main Street in Mount Horeb. Many of our bike rides end up at Sjolinds because of their excellent coffee and bakery treats. They also sell a vast assortment of chocolate bars from all over the world.
   Just a few doors away is a fairly new yarn store The Cat and Crow. We met and chatted with the two owners, Mo and Rebecca, who are both very welcoming. They have a nice selection of yarn, including lots of llama in natural colors. I scored some Rowen 2 ply jumper yarn in their stash exchange basket. You can take in yarn with ball bands and get a store credit for it or you can buy something from a basket for a very reasonable $2.50 a ball. Isn't that a great idea?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Travel knitting

I probably spend more time deciding what knitting to take on a trip than picking out my clothes. On our most recent trip, I took along some double knitting and made a scarf. It was a great choice for a travel project.
Travel knitting should be compact, but involve enough knitting to last for the whole trip. For this scarf I used exactly two 50 gram balls of Indiecita Baby Alpaca yarn. I chose a US 3 (3.25mm) circular needle—circular so it couldn't fall out and under the airline seat and in bamboo to decrease the chance of anyone thinking it was a terrorist weapon. I finished about half the scarf while I was away for 2 weeks.
Travel knitting should be challenging enough to be interesting yet easy enough to do just about anywhere even in less than perfect light. My challenge came from never having successfully done double knitting before. There is nothing like sitting in a plane for hours to focus one's mind on the only knitting available.  Squares and rectangles are much easier to double knit than elaborate designs that require you to read a pattern; I added fun by making up the pattern as I went along.  I prefer projects that let me make lots of decisions along the way.
 I love that the scarf is reversible and it drapes well. It's about 5" X 56" (13cm X 142cm). I'm now working on a scarf with dots which is slightly more challenging. (By the way, I also discovered that for beginners at double knitting, it's good to have quite a bit of contrast between the two colors to help one keep track of the pattern.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Words can't describe well the beautiful glowing colors of trees in a Wisconsin autumn.
The light seems to come from within the maples.
The smell of fallen leaves takes me to childhood memories of jumping in big leaf piles or kicking them along as I walked to school. 
Soon the brilliant explosion of colors is over and trees begin their winter sleep.