Thursday, January 29, 2009

Speedy Needles

This past week, I've experienced an almost magical combination of bulky yarn, fast needles, and a large gauge. After casting on at the last knit night, I'm only half a row and a bind off away from completing the body of The Mister's Big Thaw.

I've also got only a toe to go before I finish the first of a pair of socks for a friend.


The Mister and I are headed down to Deep Creek, Md., this weekend so that he can go skiing. I don't ski, which means I'll have a day with my wool. You may see a finished sweater in a few days!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Real Men Wear Knit Socks

The Mister has his first hand-knit socks of 2009.

Pattern: stockinette worked over 64 sts with a 2x2 ribbed cuff, slip-stitch heel, and wide toe
Yarn: Patons Stretch Socks (41% cotton, 39% wool, 13% nylon, 7% elastic), colorway Licorice, two skeins
Needles: two 12" US 1 (2.5 mm) Addi Turbo circs
Started/Completed: January 10/January 23

This yarn was bought on a whim when we were shopping for gift-wrapping supplies at a Michaels in December. Of course, I had to take a swing by the yarn department and saw this new yarn featured at the end of the aisle and on sale. The Mister had been complaining that, much as he liked his wool socks, they made his feet sweat a bit, so I thought the high cotton content in this yarn might be more appealing to him. He approved the color, so into the basket it went.

I liked this yarn, and not just because it was only a couple of bucks a skein. I encountered no big issues and had more than enough in each skein (a whopping 239 yards) to knit The Mister socks to his specifications -- that is, an 8" leg and a 10.5" foot -- with some leftovers. Although I haven't knit with it to know for sure, Knit Picks Risata seems to be a very similar yarn, though perhaps a little softer because its wool is merino. Perhaps the most satisfying thing about this yarn is that I can take a 10-minute drive and pick some up, without having to place an order and wait for it to ship.

The most important critic, of course, is The Mister himself. He's worn these socks twice already since I finished them last week, so I'd say that's a ringing endorsement!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Newest Yarn

It's Sunday, so there must be spinning to show! This time, it's the All Spun Up spinalong fiber, a 70% superwash merino/30% alpaca blend. As a reminder, this is what the fiber looked like:

I knew I wanted this to be sock yarn, so with the idea of spinning an amount for each sock, I split the fiber in half lenthwise, spun the singles for each half, and Navajo plied. In execution, it didn't work out so well; one skein is significantly larger than the other, to the tune of about 70 yards.

Altogether, I have about 366 yards, which should be enough for a decently sized pair of socks, but I'll clearly have to use some yardage from the larger skein for the second sock.

The photos are a little dark, but they're pretty accurate. This yarn bloomed beautifully in its bath and the chain plying maintained all the beautiful shades in the fiber -- deep, plummy purple; royal blue; mossy green; burnt orange; and just a hint of gold. I love it.

Now I've moved on to some fiber from the Loopy Ewe that seems to be spinning up faster than just about anything I've spun before, some Spirit Trail Fiberworks superwash merino. I'm doing a two-ply fingering weight this time around, and I've already spun up half of it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Beginnings

Thank you for all the very nice compliments on my vest! I wore it to work yesterday, and not one person asked me if it was my own creation (although most of my coworkers do know that I knit), so I think it must be a great success.

Amid all the excitement over finishing the vest and wanting to share it with you, I completely forgot to mention that my Knit Picks Options set arrived last Thursday. I supplemented the set with extra cables in the 40, 47, and 60 inch lengths. I broke in several sizes of tips by swatching for my next two sweaters, one of which has already been cast on:

This would be the beginning of the saddle/yoke for The Mister's Big Thaw pullover, started at Hurricane Knitting last night. After all that knitting with fingering-weight yarn, it's rather fun to be working with size 9 needles!

Meanwhile, a little bit of knitting time tonight should see me through to the completion of my secret design project. Here's a little peek:


You didn't think I'd show you the right side, did you?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Completion

It's been a long journey to get to this point, but now I can officially say that I've completed my first stranded garment and cut my first steek.

Pattern: Ivy League Vest by Eunny Jang, winter 2007 Interweave Knits
Yarn: Knit Picks Palette (100% Peruvian Highland wool), colorways Twig, Bark, Mist, Fog, Blue, and Navy, one skein or less each
Needles: US 3 (3.25) and US 1 (2.25) circs
Started/Completed: November 29, 2008/January 14, 2009

There are so many things to love about this vest. Above all, I love how well the colors ended up working, especially after dithering over my choices for so many weeks. In the end, I decided to go with two shades of three colors -- brown, blue, and gray. It turned out exactly as I wanted.

I also really liked working with this yarn. In the skein, it felt a little scratchy, but it didn't feel at all rough when knitting with it. It is rather loosely plied, which gives it a lovely lofty look, and has just enough "grip" to it to give the finished fabric a smooth appearance after blocking; that little bit of fuzziness fills in any spaces between stitches. Although my color decision took so long, I'm rather glad that I weighted so many options, because now I have plenty of shades with which to knit some pretty stranded mittens and gloves and things!

The most difficult part of knitting this pattern (aside from taking scissors to my knitting) was following the chart and keeping track of my start and end point as I completed increases and decreases. Eventually, I was able to read my knitting and judge where I was based on what I'd already completed, but it took some time to adjust.

Cutting the steeks turned out to be not nearly as scary as I was expecting. I would not have done it without reinforcing the steeks on my sewing machine -- but, in fact, getting the vest under the machine in order to sew those reinforcements proved to be more difficult than doing the actual cutting. While the idea of purposefully cutting a hole in my knitting still seems a little bit like sacrilege to me, I don't think I'll ever purposefully avoid patterns that have steeks in the future.

In addition to helping me get over that fear, this pattern also helped to practice and perfect my continental knitting technique. I do colorwork two-handed, with the main color in my right hand and the complimentary color in my left. While I'd managed to knit left-handed before, I could never quite get purling down. This vest has faux purled seams along the side and corrugated ribbing around the neck that forced me to purl with the color in my left hand, and I've now mastered that skill. It's still much less comfortable than knitting and purling with my right hand, but it's good to know that I can do it with both hands for colorwork projects.

For the most part, I'm very happy with how the vest turned out, but there are a couple of minor issues. The bottom flips up a little bit, as you can see in the side view above, but I think that can be combatted with some additional blocking.

The larger issue (no pun intended) is that it's a bit big. I knew that the finished size might not match the pattern when I started out, because I decided to go with the needle size that gave me the fabric I liked rather than the size that gave me gauge and went up a size to account for the difference. I also probably exacerbated the problem by blocking rather aggressively to counteract another problem -- puffing of the fabric on either side of the neck (probably caused by a difference in gauge when I went down two needle sizes for the neck band and because I misread the directions and didn't pick up enough stitches). Clearly it's not so big that it's unwearable, but I would have liked a little less ease had I been able to make the numbers work.

You know the most amazing thing about this vest? It took a skein or less of each color of the yarn to knit -- no more than 230 yards of any one color. The blue took the most -- I had only a yard or two left when I was done -- but there's a good half skein left of both shades of gray. I had two skeins of each color to start, so theoretically I could make this again if I wanted to.

Finally, what would a post on a fair isle garment be without a shot of the guts?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Resolved.

This time of year, it's very common to hear about resolutions and big goals for the year ahead, even as they pertain to knitting. Now, I'm not usually one to make resolutions, particularly as I can only remember ever keeping one (and that was to floss my teeth every night -- not exactly a life-changing thing).

Still, when the new year rolls around, I like to think about my knitting, my stash, and my plans for the 12 months ahead. I like to think about all the projects I intended to knit in the year before and all the intentions I had for my yarn. So, rather than making specific resolutions for my knitting in 2009, let's say that I have some very specific aspirations.

First, and I know this will shock some of you, is that I don't think I'll be knitting my usual number of socks this year. I have no doubt that I'll still have a sock on the needles much of the time, but they just don't give me the thrill they used to. I think that some of that has to do with the fact that my sock drawer is extremely full right now, as is The Mister's. Certainly those socks will wear out and need to be replaced one day, and I do intend to continue to work my way through New Pathways, but for the forseeable future, I think it will be mostly handspuns socks.

So what will I be knitting in 2009? I predict this will be the year of the sweater. I fully intend to seriously try to knit from my stash this year, particularly as I have sweater amounts of yarn for about six or seven adult sweaters. I may have to knit a few baby sweaters this year, but I'm going to embrace the idea of selfish knitting and seek to replace the old, store-bought sweaters in my dresser drawers with handknits. The Mister's Big Thaw Pullover is likely the next sweater on the needles.

I also predict you'll see a fair amount of lace on the blog this year, with the first order of business being finally finishing the Icarus Shawl that I cast on in August 2007. After that, I plan to work through my laceweight stash, especially some of my handspun.

Though you haven't seen it on the blog, I've been working on a design for about a month now and hope to finish it in the next few weeks. Then I will need to decide what to do with it (offer it for free here? make it a free Ravelry download? try to sell it?) and may ask your opinion in the future.

Finally, in continuing my efforts to "go green," I'm going to keep up a pretty steady supply of knit dishcloths and other household cleaning items. I've gotten one cloth done already this year (knit during the Steelers game on Sunday), and I hope to knit at least two a month.

At the very top of my knitting goals for 2009, however, is finishing my Ivy League Vest. Only a handful of rows on the neck and dealing with some ends stand in my way.

What are your knitting aspirations for 2009?

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Rainbow in Wool

After all that cutting last week, I was a little afraid to touch my vest for a while (you know, just in case it decided to unravel as soon as I tried to pick up stitches or something), so I need a fun interim project. Jen had let me borrow a shawl pattern from her a while ago, and once the thrill/terror from cutting the steeks had subsided, I decided it was time to purchase my own copy of the pattern and use up the free Noro I had in my stash. Just a few days later, I had myself a shawl!

Pattern: Forest Canopy Shawl by Susan Lawrence
Yarn: Noro Kureyon Sock (70% wool, 30% nylon), color S229, a little less than one skein
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm) Addi Turbo circs
Dimensions: approximately 27" by 54"
Started/Completed: January 6/January 10
Mods: added three pattern repeats

One skein of yarn was more than enough for this shawl, which made me happy. I might've had enough to squeeze out another repeat, but it would have been very close and wondering if I was going to run out would've made me cranky. Plus, I kinda like how the shawl starts and ends with the same color in the repeat (totally by luck, by the way).

If you're new to lace, this is an exceptionally easy pattern. It has both written and charted directions, and it's easily adaptable to different weights of yarn (just adjust your needle size accordingly). For me, having knit much more complicated lace before, it was a real pleasure to just sit down, memorize the pattern, and knock out an entire shawl in a few days.


I'm still not a huge fan of the Kureyon Sock, but it worked well in this instance for a rustic look. I really do like the stripes -- they worked really well with this not-too-complicated lace pattern.

Now -- on to finishing the vest!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Socks 2009.1

Remember this yarn? Well, it's now grown up to be a pair of socks.

Pattern: stockinette worked over 60 stitches, with 3x2 ribbed cuffs and slip-stitch heels
Yarn: my handspun two-ply sock yarn (specs here)
Needles: two 12" US 1 (2.5 mm) Addi Turbo circs
Started/Completed: December 20, 2008/January 6, 2009

These are a little more pink in real life; even with a good camera, I can't get really good shots without some natural light.

These socks are delightfully soft, but I think they'll hold up better than the last handspun pair as they're superwash. It's amazing how enjoyable knitting a boring stockinette sock can be when you're knitting with handspun. If it didn't add on a couple weeks to spin the yarn, I'd knit The Mister's large socks out of handspun, too!

Meanwhile, I did some knitting last night, and you know what this means:


I'm too much of a chicken to cut the steeks just yet. I might need the support of the Hurricane Knitters tomorrow night to get the guts to actually do it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My Pretties

As promised, I have a little bit of eye candy for you this evening. First is my newest fiber, which arrived in the mail yesterday and was promptly on my wheel.



This fiber was the latest for the All Spun Up spinalong on Ravelry. This time around it's a superwash merino/alpaca blend in a really stunning colorway. I think just about every color in the rainbow is represented here, although the deep purple seems to be the predominant shade. I split the top in half lengthwise and plan to Navajo ply the two bobbins of singles into sock yarn, so I should get more or less matching socks.

Up next, the latest shot of my Ivy League Vest, which is moving along much more quickly these days now that I've completed the armhole shaping and most of the decreases for the v-neck.


I'm just a handful of rows away from starting the back neck steek, which is the last, and shortest, of the four. Every time I pick this project up, I'm just amazed by how much bigger it seems to have gotten. I'm hoping to have this done, blocked, and ready to wear within a few weeks, because I owe The Mister a sweater!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

FO Numero Uno

We have the first finished project of the new year, finished on New Year's Day. I think the fact that it's an item for charity sets a good tone for the year ahead.

Pattern: Esprit Chemo Turban by Ann Cannon-Brown
Yarn: Cascade Fixation (98.3% cotton, 1.7% elastic), color 9349, two skeins
Needles: US 7 (4.5 mm) Addi Turbo circs
Started/Completed: December 23, 2008/January 1, 2009
Mods: It's a couple inches shorter than it should be because I ran out of yarn.

The construction of this hat is rather interesting. You start with a provisional cast on and knit until your strip of ribbing is 40 inches long (or, in my case 38"). Then you graft the two ends together, forming a long loop, and sew a seam 8" long along the side of one end. The turban is then worn by putting the sewn end on the head with the remaining loop to the back, twisting the loop, and then pulling the loop up to the front and around the head. (Obviously when used for its intended purpose, it wouldn't result in the funny tuft of hair you can see coming out of the back in the shot above).


This was one of two hats I knit as part of a knitalong on Ravelry; the group is collecting chemo caps to be donated to the University of Chicago cancer center in honor of Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama's grandmother. (The other hat was this furry thing resembling a Muppet pelt.) Both were sent off to the coordinator in Chicago this morning so that they'll get there in time to be donated to the cancer center on or around Inauguration Day.

Although this pattern makes for a really comfy hat, it was a bit of a pain to knit, in part because the grafting doesn't really work out -- because you're grafting knitting done in two opposite directions, the stitches are about half a stitch off when you're trying to line them up. Kitchenering didn't work, so I ended up knitting a row at each end with some contrasting yarn and then following the yarn to weave the two ends together. It wasn't so much difficult as it was fiddly and time consuming.

My main gripe, however, was the yarn. The fabric it produces is delightfully stretchy and really suited to this kind of project, but I found the quality seriously lacking. I came across two knots in the first skein and three in the second. For a skein of yarn that's only 100 yards long, that's just unacceptable in my book. I'm glad to have gotten it out of my stash and used it for a good cause. I don't think I'll be buying it again.

Tomorrow: New spinning and an update on my vest, with lots of progress!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year, New Look

It's now 2009, my fourth year of blogging, so I thought a new look was in order. I still have to do some playing around -- much of it with The Mister's help -- to get my buttons and stuff back in my sidebar, but most important to me is that I've moved away from the black background. (I figured that if it was bothering my eyes, it had to be bothering someone else's eyes.) Thoughts?