Thursday, May 31, 2012

End of the Road

I have had to look at the calendar several times today to be sure of the fact that today is, in fact, the last day of May. It hardly seems possible, but it's the truth. The month has really flown by, probably because I've been so busy.

With the end of the month comes the end of the Mad May knitalong on Ravelry, and I am actually attempting to get in one more finished project before midnight tonight. After finishing the baby Gramps sweater, I still had a fair amount of yarn leftover, so thought I would whip up a little hat to go with it:

I used one repeat of the body cable pattern for the front and the ribbing from the back of the sweater for the back. I think I need one more repeat plus a few more rounds for this to be done; I'm planning on grafting the top and adding pompoms or tassels to the corners.

Once this hat is done and in the mail, I'll find myself in a somewhat unusual situation -- I don't really have a project I'm working on that I'm excited about. I have a shawl design that's about halfway done, but it's mainly plain knitting, which is great when you want something mindless but not particularly fun, and a pair of socks that I cast on during the trip to MDSW and have been working on (slowly) during my lunch break at work. The sock pattern has a 12-round repeat, so I haven't yet memorized it and as a result it takes me much longer to do a round than, say, a plain stockinette sock would. I'm finding that I'm getting a bit of an itch to start another big project, like a sweater, but the weather's not really right for a lap full of wool. I generally do more spinning in the summer, but the Tour de Fleece is almost exactly a month away. I could knit a shawl, but then I'd have to wind yarn. Too many decisions!

Knitter's ennui? I haz it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Double Take

I had such fun knitting Rainbow a sweater earlier this month that I thought I'd squeeze in another one for the knitalong before the month was over.

Pattern: Gramps Cardigan by Kate Oates, 6 month size
Yarn: madelinetosh tosh DK, colorway Lapis, approximately 1.25-1.5 skeins
Needles: US 5 (3.75 mm) and US 6 (4.0 mm) Addi Turbos
Started/Completed: May 21/May 26
Mods: quite a few; see below

Having just knit this pattern, I knew that this time around there were a number of things I was going to change. (I also knew that it was going to come out on the smaller side, so I deliberately made a 6 month size for a baby that's due in September with the idea that the kid will wear it this fall and winter.)

As I did with Rainbow's version, I changed the direction that the cables on one of the sleeves crossed so that the two sleeves would mirror each other and cross toward the front of the sweater. Unfortunately, I was not paying enough attention on one sleeve because I discovered some time later (when I had already joined the sleeves and was partway through the yoke decreases) that there was a cable miscrossed on one sleeve. I was too far past it at that point to want to rip back, so once the sweater was complete, I did a little cable surgery. You can only tell that anything was changed if you put your finger in the arm and feel the little bit of extra bulk from weaving in some additional ends to secure the stitches on the wrong side.

I also narrowed the sleeve cable quite significantly (see the photo above) as the raglan decreases encroached on the area of the cable. I didn't like the idea of the decreases "eating up" the cable and leaving a large area of reverse stockinette, so I changed the cable to a basic 2x2 cross for several rows. You'll notice that I also changed the direction of the raglan decreases (k2tog before the marker, ssk after); I think the decrease lines look a lot more tidy this way.

The decreases on the sleeve proved to be the one area of difficulty this time around. I started the yoke with the correct number of stitches and did the correct number of decrease rows. However, when I got to the very last row of the yoke, which has raglan decreases but not decreases at the neck edge, there were only four sleeve stitches remaining between the markers. This presented a problem because the decreases were supposed to be done one stitch in from the marker (i.e., slip marker, k1, ssk, k2tog, k1, slip marker), but obviously I needed six stitches in order to do this. For this last row, I moved the decreases right up next to the marker in order to get down to the correct number of stitches, but that means that the final decreases on the sleeves do not line up with the rest. Fortunately, I think they're hidden by the collar, but it irked me a bit that the numbers did not work out at the end.

My final set of modifications was to pick up fewer stitches than called for on the button bands (I made sure that I had a multiple of four so that the ribbing would work, though) and, because there were fewer stitches with which to work for the collar, eliminated one set of short rows for the shawl collar. The short rows covered enough of the button band stitches, though, that there was really only room for three buttons in the end, which I think is perfectly acceptable in a baby sweater (fewer buttons = less work for the parent). I also did (k2tog, yo) buttonholes instead of the one-row buttonholes called for in the pattern; the buttons I used are on the smaller side and didn't really need the wider holes.

Despite the challenges and frustrations, I'm really happy with this little sweater. This is a gift for for my best friend -- a friend I've known my whole life -- who is expecting her first child this fall. I am unfortunately not able to make it to her baby shower out of town, so I will be sending this down to her and hoping that it will be well received.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

No Time to Blog

Too busy knitting!

Body is done up to the underarms. Attempting to knock out at least one sleeve tonight!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I May Be Crazy

Why, you ask? Because apparently I decided that I could knit another baby sweater by the end of the month for the Mad May knitalong. I picked up more tosh dk at my LYS over the weekend and cast on for another Gramps Cardigan last night. This is for a gift for my best friend, who is expecting her first in September. Her sisters are throwing her a baby shower in early June, and as it looks unlikely that I'll be able to attend (it's out of town and not close enough to do a day trip), I'll need to get her gift mailed off even early than that.

I cast on last night and got a few rows into the cable pattern on the body before I realized that I'd neglected to switch over to larger needles after the ribbing and had to rib back. Tonight I'll be able to rectify that error and get moving on the body. I'm making the smallest size, and considering that I finished Rainbow's version in 14 days, I think I can knit a baby size in 10 -- there is a long weekend coming up, after all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Loose Ends

I used a fair amount of time this week to finish up some spinning projects. First was a small amount of fiber that one of several samples Steven gave me before he left town. This particular bit of fiber was guessed to be bison; there was only 16 grams of it, so not enough to really use for a project, but it seemed perfect for this month's challenge in the Ravelry Spindlers group -- the theme was "my precious." I pulled out my Jenkins Turkish (sadly unused for nearly a year), spun up the two cops you saw here last week, and on Monday night I plied. Here's what I got:

It's every bit as soft as it looks. I ended up with approximately 34 yards. No idea what I'll use this for; for now, I'm quite enjoying petting the skein.

Most of my spinning time this past week was devoted to finishing up a rather large project. I had used a little bit of some Paradise Fibers colonial wool top when I did my corespun yarn about a month ago, and as long as I'd already dug out the fiber from deep in the stash, I figured I should probably just spin the rest of it up. I did one bobbin of singles and then chain plied; I weighed the bobbin afterward and discovered I had a little more than 7 ounces worth of fiber on that bobbin, so it's no wonder it took as long as it did! The finished yarn is heavy fingering to sport weight and about 497 yards.

The resulting yarn, being a blend of different types of wool, is not especially soft, but I do like the great mix of colors in it.

There are several spinning projects now in progress. First is a favor for a friend -- I'm spinning up 16 oz. of mystery wool roving.

Only part of the bag would actually fit in the shot -- it's a lot of fiber! I'm spinning this pretty quickly into a two-ply DK to worsted, most likely.

Then there's a big bag full of scoured merino to comb:

More fleece was washed last night, and there's more waiting for me!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mad for May

It seems that all it takes for me to finish a sweater in two weeks is a knitalong!

Pattern: Gramps Cardigan by Kate Oates, size 4
Yarn: Madelinetosh tosh dk (100% superwash merino) in Robin's Egg, two skeins plus ~5 yards or less of a third skein
Needles: US 5 (3.75 mm) and US 6 (4.0 mm) Addi Turbo circs
Started/Completed: May 1/May 14
Mods: quite a few (see below)

I knit this as part of the Mad May knitalong in the Madelinetosh Lovers group on Ravelry. I didn't want to aim too high and try to knit myself a sweater, but I figured this would be a good challenge because of all the cables. It made for some good car and hotel knitting on the trip to Maryland Sheep and Wool.

While I'm very pleased with how the sweater turned out, I did have some issues with the pattern along the way. I'll be the first to admit that I did not swatch. I had used the same yarn and needle size for my Effortless Cardigan, so I knew I'd be pretty darn close on stitch gauge. I also chose to knit a size up from Rainbow's current size (intending this to fit this fall and winter), and I was counting on the fact that the yarn is superwash to allow it stretch out a bit in blocking.

The main difficulty was with the sleeve. I cast on for the first sleeve in the car on the way back home from MDSW, and the two friends in the car with me both agreed that it looked impossibly tiny. So I ripped that attempt out and cast on again using the number for the next size up (four stitches more, so almost an inch larger). That cuff seemed to be a better size, but I ripped it again when I started the cable and realized that it did not grow out of the ribbing the same way the cables on the body had. On my third attempt, the cuff was the right size and the cable split a column of two knit stitches so that it was symmetrical. However, this time around, I forgot that I was knitting in the round and was omitting every other line of the chart (I was used to knitting flat, knitting the stitches as they appeared rather than consulting the chart), meaning my cable was coming out half the height it should have been. The fourth attempt was finally successful in all aspects.

Nearly all of my mods were on the sleeves. I increased to the number specified in the pattern for the size I was making, but I added an additional 2 inches of length (I know Rainbow is tall, but I don't think she has gorilla arms!). I also changed the way the cable crossed on the second sleeve so that, when the sleeves were connected to the body, the cables would cross toward each other. Finally, as the raglan decreases in the yoke were eating into the cable area, I made the cables narrower at the top of the shoulder so that they would stay intact. The only non-sleeve modification I made was to do a smaller buttonhole (a k2tog, yo buttonhole rather than a three-stitch one-row buttonhole). I wasn't planning on using huge buttons on this sweater, so I didn't think a larger buttonhole was necessary.

In spite of all these changes and challenges, I really did enjoy knitting this sweater. It was really a fast knit once I got used to the cables and could know intuitively what to do next. I will probably knit this again as a baby gift, but there are several things I will do differently next time. For one thing, I might use a heavier yarn (and perhaps go up a needle size) in addition to working a size up. A number of projects on Ravelry indicate that the pattern does run a little small; Rainbow's fits okay now, but if she continues to grow the way she has been lately, it may be a bit snug this fall and winter. I would also switch the direction of the raglan decreases, as I don't really care for how they look as written.

The most important factor of all in determining whether or not this was a successful knit, of course, is Rainbow's response. She is thrilled with it, and it's always a joy to knit for someone who appreciates the knitting.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fun with Fluff

After hosting the grandparents for brunch this morning, the Mister and Rainbow let me have the afternoon off to have fun with fiber-y stuff. In between rewashing batches of fleece from Monday (I probably had too much in the bags the first time, because there was still a fair amount of lanolin in most of the fiber after it was dry), I worked on finishing up Rainbow's Gramps sweater and finishing the rest of the bison fiber I started spinning on my Turkish spindle last weekend. I now have two pretty cops of fluffy singles:

Burt and Ernie for scale
I had a whopping total of 16 g of fiber to start with and split it roughly in half. It was an interesting experience spinning this because I could not use my typical spinning style, nor could I produce my usual smooth, even singles. The staple length was pretty short, so the prep was suited to woolen spinning. As a result, the singles are fluffy and thicker in certain spots, but I actually kind of like it. The plied yarn should be very airy, soft, and warm. Considering how quickly I was able to spin the singles, I'm assuming I can ply this up in one evening later this week (I'm letting the singles rest for a day or so first).

On the agenda next: finish spinning up the colonial top that's been on my miniSpinner for weeks. I have about a yard's length of top left and a new disk of Lark Rise to Candleford to watch, so I will be milking Mother's Day for all it's worth to get maximum spinning time in tonight.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Back to the Grind

I am still recovering somewhat from the trip to Maryland Sheep and Wool. I'm very glad I had the foresight to take Monday off from work as well this year, because there was a lot I needed to get done (and frankly I don't blame the Mister for not getting it done -- a toddler can be a handful!). Once I had done a load of laundry, restocked the fridge, and cleaned all three bathrooms, I finally had some time to have some fun with my purchases.

The first order of business was washing some fleece. I decided to start in on the Merino X first because it definitely seemed like the greasier of the two. I managed to get two batches (two lingerie bags' worth) washed up over the course of several hours -- each had two 20-minute scouring soaks and two 20-minute rinses -- and left them on a mesh drying rack in the basement to dry. As soon as they are dry, I'll pull out my combs and see what I can do with the fiber. This is my first time washing fleece, so we'll see if I did an okay job with it, but the rinse water was running clear at the end, so I know I at least got the dirt out.

While waiting for my kitchen timer to go off to alert me that it was time to switch out the water, I did a bit of spinning on my Jenkins Turkish. I'd taken it, along with a small amount of what may or may not be bison fiber, along with me this past weekend and had spun a small amount. I managed to finish the first half of the fiber and start in on the second in really not much time at all, so if I can squeeze in another hour or two of spinning this week, I could ply this up this weekend.

Most of my crafty time since getting back, however, has been spent working on Rainbow's Gramps Cardigan, which seems to be moving along at a rapid pace. I finished the body up to the underarms on Saturday and started (and ripped and restarted) the first sleeve in the car on the way home on Sunday. Right now, I am about two rows away from finishing the second sleeve and joining the three pieces together.

I'm making the size 4, figuring that it will have a little bit of room so it will still fit come fall, but I had to modify the sleeves quite a bit. I ended up casting of the number of stitches for the next size up; I finished the cuff following the pattern, and it was positively tiny! I think this is probably because my gauge was a little off (I was a bad knitter and didn't swatch because I knew roughly what my gauge was with these needles and this yarn) but also because Rainbow is tall! I also had to add about 2 inches in additional length to get the arms to be long enough to reach to her wrists. I'm counting on the sweater growing a bit when I wash it, too (it is superwash, after all), so that it will be just a little more roomy.

Think she likes the sleeves?

Monday, May 07, 2012

MDSW: The Haul

Last year was my first year going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I had one thing in particular I was looking for (a lazy kate that would fit my WooLee Winder bobbins), but other than that, I was mainly there to see the sights and pick up some things that I liked. This year, now that I was a festival veteran, I went with a very specific list of things to buy, and I'm happy to say that I found all of the things on the list -- plus a few extras. You want to see?

We got to the fairgrounds just before 8 on Saturday morning, though technically the festival didn't open until 9. This gave me plenty of time to get my bearings and get in line for the fleece sale, which was the first thing on my list. I had made plans to meet up with a friend from Ravelry to pick out fleeces together (I wasn't completely confident that I could pick a good one, so she offered to help). We were in the first five or so people to get in, so we had our pick of fleeces and were very happy with what we found. I will get to that later.

After a fleece, the next highest priority on my list was to find a pair of wool combs. I had decided that I would wash and process this year's fleece myself; I was very happy with my experience last year sending my fleece to a mill, but what I got back was roving when I find I really prefer to spin from top. I had researched the vendors carrying the combs I wanted and ended up at Carolina Homespun, the same vendor that sold me my Lendrum four years ago, where I bought these:

These are Valkyrie double pitch extra fine mini combs (and a pad to hold one while in use). I'd done a lot of reading in the Fiber Prep Ravelry group, and these had gotten good reviews, so I'm very excited about them.

There were two fiber vendors whose booths I wanted to visit -- Loop, whose "bullseye bumps" I'd looked at last year and regretted not purchasing, and Into the Whirled, a new vendor this year. Both booths were conveniently located in the main building (where I already was to make the first two purchases of the day), so I stopped by and picked up the following beauties:

Wisteria bullseye bump -- 4.6 oz. blend of merino, bamboo, tussah silk, and angelina
Nebula drum carded batt -- 4-4.5 oz. blend of 85% Polwarth/15% silk
After I'd made these purchases, it was about 10 a.m. and I'd crossed everything I had on my list for me off! Pretty incredible, if I do say so. I did make a couple more acquisitions as we wandered around and looked for the rest of the day Saturday and for a bit on Sunday morning:

Gale's Art Blueface Swirl, 4 oz., colorway Velvet Elvis
Verdant Gryphon Eidos, 4 oz./420 yds., colorway Hathor
Miss Babs Color Affection kit -- Yummy Sock in Peony, Impatiens, and Lilacs (4 oz./400 yds. each)
I bought a little more than I was planning, but I'm really happy with all my purchases, especially the ones I spent several hours playing with today:

I wanted to buy one fleece, but I ended up coming home with two half fleeces -- a Rambouillet on the left and a gorgeous deep chocolate brown Merino X on the right. My fleece shopping friend and I each found a good one, so we decided to split them both. Each was about 8 pounds, I think, so I have an awful lot of fiber to wash and process. I started in on the merino today. It's quite sticky -- lots of lanolin! -- but I think you can see why I picked it when I show you this detail shot:

Isn't that crimp spectacular? We saw the sheep from the farm this fleece came from when we were touring the sheep barns on Sunday morning and found that the sheep were coated -- which explains why this fleece was so clean. The Rambo is pretty spectacular, too:

I'm really interested to see how this will wash up, as the locks seem to be multicolored, but I can't tell if some of that might be dirt. My plan is to try to wash a batch up every evening, if I can, and maybe a couple over the weekend. I know it will take me a while to actually comb or card it all, but I want the fiber to be clean at least.

All in all, it was a great, if expensive, weekend. I'm going to have lots of fun with the stuff that came home with me, and I'm fairly certain my wallet is glad that this won't happen again for another year!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Packing and Planning

By this time tomorrow, I will be in Maryland, probably with a stomach full of crab cake. Before then, though, I have a lot of packing to do. I've made my list of what to take but there's always that fear that I'll forget something important -- and by "important," I don't mean clean underwear or medication, I mean yarn!

My main project for the trip is the Gramps Cardigan I am knitting for Rainbow as part of the Mad May knitalong in the Ravelry Madelinetosh Lovers group. I'm knitting this in tosh dk in the colorway Robin's Egg. I cast on for it on Tuesday night and worked on it most of the time last night at knit night, and I've made a decent start:

In real life, it's light blue, not mint green.
This will be my car knitting for the drive down and back as well as (most likely) my evening knitting at the hotel.

Because this project requires charts and counting, I didn't think it would be practical to carry around -- and you know that I must have a small project to take to the festival when I need to take a break from the shopping! -- so I printed out the pattern for the Shur'tugal socks (a pattern that's been in my queue for quite some time) and will have to dig in my stash for some appropriate sock yarn.

Finally, because two knitting projects is clearly not enough to keep me busy, I figured I should take a small spinning project as well, because I have no doubt that buying fleece and other spinning stuff is going to make me want to spin. I thought briefly about bringing my miniSpinner along, but I figured it would be just another thing to have to shlep, so instead I am bringing the Jenkins Turkish spindle I bought at last year's festival with 16 grams of what may be bison fiber that I got from Steven when he moved away (that's his best guess, anyway).

Whatever it is, it's very soft and short stapled, so I think this small spindle is a good fit. I'm going to try to finish it this month for the Ravelry Spindlers group monthly spinalong. With such a small amount of fiber, even if I spin it very fine, I don't think it will take me that long to spin.

If you happen to be at the festival this weekend, please say hi if you see me (I will be wearing my Ravelry pin)! If not, stay tuned for a recap and (I hope) lots of pictures on the flip side!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Sweater Project 2012: Complete!

It is done! Just in time for 80 degree weather, too. ;-)

Pattern: I Heart Aran by Tanis Lavallee
Yarn: my handspun three-ply heavy worsted weight Romney from fleece purchased at MDSW 2011
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm) and US 7 (4.5 mm) Knit Picks Options
Started/Completed: February 23/April 26
Mods: bound off all stitches and seamed rather than grafting at underarms and shoulders, added an additional inch of length to body

I am thrilled with how this turned out. The start-to-finish time span is not quite representative of how long it took to knit, because I was working on other projects at the same time and thus was putting it down and picking it up during that period. The front, with all the cabled details, probably took the longest of all the parts, as you would expect, but even that didn't take more than probably a couple of weeks' worth of knitting sessions all told.

The one minor modification I made to the pattern was to bind off underarm and shoulder stitches and then seam them; the pattern called for putting these stitches on holders and then grafting them at the end. I love to graft, but I felt that because this sweater was so heavy (handspun is generally a lot denser than commercial yarn), the added stability of sewn seams, especially at the shoulders, would help this sweater to keep its shape and wear better over the long run.

One shiny button purchased at my LYS!
I found this pattern to be generally well written, and when I did run into one area of difficulty, I was able to PM the designer and get great help. (For the curious, the difficulty came in the form of the word "repeat." When I see repeat, I always assume that you do something once and then repeat -- do it again -- x number of times. In this case, "repeat" was used to mean do a direction x number of times total.) Tanis double checked the numbers on the sleeve shaping for me and even sent me the pattern again just in case I had downloaded before an update had happened. She even acknowledged that the way the directions were worded was a little confusing. Turns out, the numbers were correct and it was just my interpretation of the directions that was at fault. The experience was great, though, in that I got an excellent example of what customer service and good pattern support should be.

One of the things I was most worried about was having enough yarn. I selected this pattern first and foremost because I loved it but also because all the cabling was only on the front -- as you can see, the back and sleeves are in stockinette. Of course, I still worried that I wouldn't have enough, especially as I only had about 150 yards more than the yardage specified in the pattern. As it turns out, I shouldn't have worried. I have two skeins completely untouched, one of them with fairly high yardage, and according to my calculations, that means I used approximately 925 yards for my sweater, including a swatch and these leftovers (with iPod for scale):

All in all, I can say with certainty that this year's Sweater Project was a huge success! The sweater fits really well and is not nearly as scratchy as last year's sweater, meaning I will wear it often when the weather is amenable. I still have a fair amount of fiber leftover and am thinking of spinning up matching yarn to make Rainbow a coordinating sweater for next winter. Plus, even though I didn't set a specific time frame for completing the sweater, I happened to finish this a week before Maryland Sheep and Wool -- which means I feel completely okay with bringing home another fleece!