Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Design, Part III

Up to this point, we've covered the idea, converting the idea into a chart, and swatching. All that remained on this particular pattern was to knit it to make sure that it worked as a whole.

Because I was intending to offer this pattern on Ravelry, it was important to me to have someone else review the pattern and knit from it to make sure that the instructions were clear and that, combined with the charts, they would result in a mitten that looked like the one in my head. Because I had designed this mitten and knew what should be done from one step to another, my knitting of the sample from the pattern was not going to cut it (not to mention that I was too close to the pattern to see any errors).

Luckily, one of the many wonderful resources on Ravelry is the free pattern testing groups. There are two that I know of, the Testing Pool and the Free Pattern Testers. Of the two, the latter is definitely the more stringent, with very specific requirements and steps to take and very active moderators who ensure that both testers and designers stay on top of things. I know that some designers don't care for FPT because the rules are so strict, but because I am busy and don't always have time to chase people down, I chose it for my test because I knew it would ensure that I had a positive experience (i.e., no testers disappearing on me or not completing the test on time). Testers in this group are only allowed to sign up for a certain number of projects at once and they're required to check in with the designer weekly on their progress.

I had three test knitters for my design, each one knitting one of the three sizes. Because both mittens are identical, I only required them to knit one mitten, though one person is doing both at the same time. I am still waiting to hear from that last tester (she was on vacation for about a week and a half), but the other two have finished and have given me great feedback. They were able to catch a minor typo in the numbering of the chart rows and also suggest a change in a direction that was a little unclear.

If you're designing something and want to have some test knitting done, I highly recommend going to one or both of these Ravelry groups. On the flip side, if you're interested in knitting not-yet-available patterns, consider signing up to be a tester. You'll not only get a sneak peek at a new pattern, but you'll get the final pattern from the designer at the end as a thank-you.

I am hoping to pull together the final pattern for my mittens this weekend (a proper photo shoot of the sample is needed), so watch this space for the announcement of the pattern release! In the meantime, here's a little preview.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Yellow Jersey?

The Tour de Fleece, like the Tour de France, officially concludes today, though it remains to be seen whether I will be able to wear my yellow jersey at day's end. I did complete another yarn, one that marks a new skill in my spinning, and by coincidence, it is rather yellow.

It stared as roving (yes, really roving!) from Crown Mountain Farms. This was the June fiber club shipment, Perendale in a retina-searing colorway called the Fifth Element. Because it was roving rather than the usual combed top, I decided that it was a perfect opportunity for me to work on my long draw. I split the fiber in half to do a two ply and got to work. The second bobbin was definitely better than the first -- while it was still a little uneven, I was much more comfortable with the technique. The resulting yarn is certainly very light and airy.

The yardage wasn't as good as I was hoping for (only about 325 yards), but I'm pleased with the yarn. I don't think I'm a long draw master just yet, but it no longer scares/frustrates me. Now I have a good reason to get out my handcards and make some rolags.

Tonight, in order to really get my yellow jersey, I need to finish plying up my Gale's Art Corriedale from MDSW.

That gigantic spindle is the 2+ oz. Louet beginner's spindle I got when I first got interested in spinning about 3 1/2 years ago, and it hasn't seen much use since then. I pulled it out again because I thought it'd be big enough to hold the full 4 oz. skein, but we'll see if that can be done. I don't have much less to do, but it is getting harder and harder to spin as the cop grows. Assuming I do get all the yarn on, that'll be more than 6 oz. in total on it at once! I have a newfound respect for spinners who do everything on spindles. I think that from here on out, I may ply only small amounts on a spindle but ply everything else on the wheel -- if only for the sake of my wrists.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Baby Boom

While most of the crafty activity around here this week has been of the spinning variety, a bit of knitting has been happening and a to-knit list has been growing.

The reason? There are a lot of babies on the way. Two of my coworkers are pregnant, and one is due next month with a girl, so I really had to get my needles going for that one. Because she will be a summer baby, I decided to go with something light. I found the Abigail Sweater on Ravelry. It's a free pattern that's very reminiscent of Elizabeth Zimmermann's February Baby Sweater; knit from the top down, it has a garter raglan top and a gull lace bottom. It's also seamless and fast, which is is a must for any last-minute knit in my book.

I'm using some Knit Picks Shine Worsted that has been in my stash for years; I originally intended to use it to make myself another Sizzle, but clearly if I haven't done it by now, I'm probably not ever going to. The color is bright and cheerful and definitely girly, so I think this is a good use for it. It looks like I'll use about three skeins total, leaving me plenty to make something for Rainbow.

The other coworker is due in December (right around Rainbow's birthday!) and she isn't finding out the sex, so I am thinking Baby Surprise Jacket in a gender-neutral shade of sock yarn (one of the many skeins of STR in my stash, perhaps?). I've got a while until that needs to be done, though, so I won't be casting on just yet and will keep my eyes open for other pattern ideas in the meantime.

Finally, some friends of ours are expecting their first in late January, and that kid is going to get spoiled rotten with knitting, but as they are going to be finding out the sex, I am waiting to hear before I make definite knitting plans.

The Tour de Fleece wraps up this Saturday, so I am trying to finish up the skeins in progress by then. Once we're through this horrible heat wave (today's heat index was supposed to go up to 107!), I think it's time to pull out my Essential Cardigan again and finish up the button band. There's really so little left to knit on it that it shouldn't take me more than a few nights to do, and I think it'd be really nice to go into fall with a new sweater to wear.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Poof

Today's spinning is the most recent yarn off my miniSpinner, a beautiful 4 oz. of Mountain Colors Targhee that started its life looking like this:

I split this top for a fractal spin. The idea of a fractal yarn is that the color repeat is the same in all the plies, but the rate at which the colors change is different in each ply. Because I was going for a two-ply yarn, I split the whole top lengthwise in half and then split one of the halves in half again. The resulting yarn, then, would have one ply that would go through the color repeat once and one ply that would go through it twice. As a result, the colors would sometimes coincide and sometimes barberpole -- a nice effect, in my opinion.

I spun the singles very fine and plied over the course of two spinning sessions. When I wound the yarn onto my niddy noddy, it looked to be a heavy laceweight. Then I gave it its bath and some magic happened. It fluffed up into a squishy, bouncy fingering weight -- in short, it went "poof!"

I love how this yarn turned out, and at 555 yards for my 4 oz., I should have plenty to knit a shawl or wrap with it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Design, Part II

When last we talked about the design process, we were still in the sketching and charting phase. Now a sketch and a chart may look fine, but as I'm sure we've all discovered when fiddling with our knitting to try to get it to come out a certain way, something on paper doesn't always translate well to something in yarn, particularly when you're dealing with a graphic pattern. The next step, then, was to swatch.

I pulled out some leftover Knit Picks Palette from the stash and a printout of the graph and got to work. For this particular swatch, I decided it would be best to do it in the round and using the full stitch count. While a faux in-the-round swatch worked okay for my Ivy League Vest, for a mitten, it wouldn't take much more time to do an abbreviated version of the whole thing. Also, because the motif is the same throughout, I didn't need to knit an entire mitten to get an idea of whether it would work -- I really only needed one repeat of the motif and the top portion to make sure the decreases worked with the motif. Because I wanted a visual of the whole mitten, I included a few rows of my planned cuff as well. This is what I ended up with:

I was pleased with this result, both in the appearance of the motif and in the gauge and feel of the finished fabric, so that meant I was able to move on to the next phase: writing the pattern.

To be honest, writing out the pattern was really the most difficult part of this process. Having worked on a pattern with essentially the same chart and setup before, I was familiar with what I needed to do to get the finished project I wanted. Making those steps clear to someone else -- especially to someone who may never before have knit a mitten like this -- is another story. I tried to be as specific as possible without feeling like I was doing too much hand-holding in the hopes that the pattern would be accessible to knitters of all experience levels. Whether that was the case would be seen in the test knitting phase -- which we'll talk about next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

High-Fiber Cupcakes

Lots of spinning going on, as you would expect, but no new yarns since the last post. I'm working on three spinning projects simultaneously -- one on the Lendrum, one on the miniSpinner, and one on the Bosworth -- so they're all making slow but steady progress. I predict they'll all turn into finished yarns at about the same time.

Instead, I have a little eye candy for you, and this is specifically at the request of Jenn, who, as a new spinner, is just discovering the temptation that is pretty fiber.

I've been trying to be good about buying fiber because I already have so much stashed (and I get an additional 4 oz. every month through the fiber club), but because it is the Tour de Fleece and I've been good about getting through the fiber and practicing certain spinning skills, I decided to treat myself. An ad on Ravelry caught my eye a couple of months ago and I'd put it in my favorites so I could find it again. I have to admit that the packaging of this fiber is totally what did me in.

The Cupcake Fiber Company specializes in fiber batts specifically intended for socks. (For those of you unfamiliar with this particular prep, a batt is a sheet of fiber that has been prepped on a drum carder.) The batts come packaged in what looks like a bakery box, with each batt artistically folded and rolled to look like a pastry instead of something that came off a sheep.

The package come with six batts that are each an ounce, so that you can spin up two skeins of three-ply sock yarn without having to worry about measuring and weighing the fiber ahead of time, and a couple of tags are even included so you can label the yarn when it's done. Clever, don't you think? The price was pretty reasonable considering the amount of work it takes to card fiber well, and shipping was free.

The batts I picked are a superwash merino/nylon blend, which should be perfect for socks. The colorway is called Bluest Berry -- quite an accurate name, in my opinion. It is an intense, almost glowing purple-y blue. I am planning on putting this next in line in the spinning queue, though I still have to decide if I'm going to spin it on the wheel or a spindle. Decisions, decisions!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Let the Tour Begin

This is the time of year when I usually don't get much knitting done, and so far, this year's Tour de Fleece is proving to be very much the norm. Since it began on Saturday, I've knit only a little bit and having been spending the vast majority of my time spinning. I've been sure to give both wheels and my spindles a workout, and that variety has kept me from getting bored of any one thing.

I began in earnest on Saturday afternoon, while waiting for Rainbow to fall asleep for her nap so I could head over to my LYS, as I do almost every Saturday. We're now, for the most part, putting her down in her crib and then leaving the room to let her fall asleep on her own, so I was listening to her talk to herself, which was really cute. In the span of about 20 or so minutes, I started the June shipment from the Crown Mountain Farms fiber club -- Perendale in a shockingly bright colorway called the Fifth Element.

I'm spinning this using a modified/supported long draw; the fiber prep is actually roving, rather than top, for a change. I'm having a few issues as I get used to a spinning style that I don't usually use, but one of my spinning goals for the year was to work on my long draw, so I feel good about the effort. I'm hoping that this will result in a lighter, loftier yarn than what I usually spin.

Once Rainbow was asleep, I packed up my miniSpinner and headed over to Natural Stitches, where I started in on some stunning Mountain Colors Targhee top that I'd picked up there several weeks ago. I split the top for a two-ply fractal yarn, meaning that I split it in half lengthwise and then split one of the halves in half again. This means I'll be following the color sequence for both plies, but one ply will have much shorter color repeats than the other and will go through the sequence twice rather than once. This has been really fun to spin on the miniSpinner because the WooLee Winder creates layers of colors as I spin, so I can watch each color in the sequence overtake and cover up the previous color. One bobbin is complete and the second will be started shortly.

Finally, there's a yarn that is, despite its plain appearance, quite an accomplishment for me as a spinner. Two years ago, back when voting was still allowed in the TdF, I was lucky enough to win a couple prizes. One of those was a beautiful spindle with a glass whorl. Last year during the Tour, I decided that I should really get my spindling skills up to par, so I pulled it out along with some undyed mixed BFL and got going. I was a lot more successful on this attempt, but alas, after the Tour ended, the spindle sat for a long time. Earlier this year I had some renewed interest in spindling again and pulled it out to spin a second cop, and yesterday I plied the two.

This meager skein represents my first spindle-spun yarn -- and by that I mean that I spun the singles and plied them on a spindle. (I'm not counting my first attempts at spinning as a finished yarn, though they're probably still somewhere in my stash in a small tangle.) I'm very proud of this yarn, and not least because it was a yearlong process to finish it. I discovered that what really makes me enjoy spindle spinning is a good spindle; specifically I like a spindle with a notch, which the glass whorl spindle does not have. Because my yarn kept slipping, I kept getting frustrated with that particular spindle, and that's why I kept putting it down.

Spinning is likely to continue at a high rate of activity for a few more weeks, so bear with me if you're not here for the spinning stuff. There is some knitting to come, as I have some baby gifts to knit!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Clearing the Bobbins

Without planning for it or intending to do it, I somehow managed to finish up two spinning projects just before the start of the Tour de Fleece (which officially started yesterday).

First, on my miniSpinner, I finished up another four ounces of Frabjous Fibers Merino/Sparkle. This was a commission of sorts for a friend who works at my LYS. She's not a spinner but was lusting after the fiber, so she asked me to spin it for her.

This colorway is called Purple People Eater, and I was strongly tempted to keep the fiber for myself. But a deal is a deal, so this is going to a good home very shortly.

On Thursday (or was it Friday?) night, I finally finished up the Crown Mountain Farms Columbia top that had been on my Lendrum for a while. The plying especially took some time; the yarn was so fluffy that it nearly filled my bobbin when I still had about a third of the singles left. It took me about an hour, but I managed to get the rest plied by plying about a foot of yarn at a time and then manually winding it on by turning the bobbin. In the end, the bobbin was so packed that it was touching the arms of the flyer on both sides from one end to the other.

I'm still not wild about this colorway, though it did tone down and turn out more autumnal and less 1970s after plying. I'm still a little behind on the fiber club (this was the May shipment; I'm working on June right now and am expecting July to come this week), but I am making good progress.

Interesting and somewhat surprising fact: When both of these yarns were dry and I measured yardage, I discovered that they were exactly the same length -- 355 yards. I'm not sure how that coincidence happened, but it's pretty amazing. Perhaps I should have played 355 in the lottery that day!