Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bits and Bobs

There was no school last Friday, so Mr. S. and I went to Madison: Trader Joe's, bookstores, a music store for a new harmonica for himself, gelato at a new place just off State Street. Bright lights, big city. One stop was at the Hospice thrift store on the West side, where I found this:

It's for making hairpin lace, something I've never done. Another experiment in the offing.
At one of the bookstores I bought this:

And consequently I spent all of Sunday afternoon and Monday reading. I liked the first half best: the neolithic period, Crete, Bronze age Europe, Sumeria. There are some perfectly wonderful images. These periods fascinate me.

I was particularly taken with this one, in part because I immediately recognized her, though I had never seen this particular artifact before.

I knew her from these:

They are 19th-20th Century embroideries from Eastern Europe that appeared in an article in "Threads" magazine in 1987. It amazes me how the image has persisted through time and enormous changes of culture.

I spent most of yesterday with Gypsy Girl. Here's how the center pattern is developing:

At least as much time went into charting as actual knitting (partly because the charting involved some erasing and re-doing). I'm reaching the point (in charting) where I need to start thinking about how I'm going to finish off the top.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Process or Product?

Which kind of knitter am I? Well, sometimes one and sometimes the other, but also another category altogether "Experimental".

I have hauled out the stitch dictionaries,

and started in on slip stitch swatches,

and this reminds me how much I enjoy swatching pattern stitches. I love playing around with them, trying to analyze why they do what they do, tweaking them, envisioning how they could be used, what they would be good for and what they would not be good for. I could almost be satisfied just swatching and sketching design ideas without ever completing a finished object. (Almost.) What I have done so far barely begins to scratch the surface of the possibilities.

Just one example: ringing some changes on a very basic 4 row pattern:

On this swatch I started out with Pinstripe from Barbara Walker (bottom). Looks like stranded knitting, but only one color worked per row - breaks up the varegation of the second yarn - sleeve cuff for sweater? The first half of the second section up is "Corn on the Cob" (also BW). These are really exactly the same pattern stitch, except the first is worked in stockinette and the second in garter. But there is a significant difference in look (and in feel). Thicker - kind of cute nubbiness - hat brim? The top half of the second section combines them: two rows stockinette based, two rows garter based. The difference from Corn on the Cob is very subtle, but might be more apparent with a different yarn combo, maybe one fuzzy and one smooth? Or what if I worked 6 rows stockinette based and 2 garter? You see how it goes.

Moving up, I am still working the Pinstripe Pattern, but...

In the bottom section, on the variegated rows I slipped with yarn in front instead of in back on Red RS rows. In the next section (looks like solid black) I slipped wyif on the black RS rows. And at the top I slipped wyif every right side row. (Hmm, that flattens out the fabric noticably.) None of these are all that visually exciting. But what if I worked that first bit slipping every third stitch instead of every second, so the background color peeked through a little more?

Some of this is, in a sense, reinventing the wheel. I expect that any number of stitch variations I can come up with will already exist in the stitch dictionaries. But by swatching for myself I start to get an understanding and a feel for how they actually work (not to mention tons of other "what if?" ideas). And I like that.

P.S. to Jeanne: Thanks for stopping by and for the comments. I've tried to return the visit, but the link in the comment doesn't work for me. :(

Slipping Along

Slipped stitches have always seemed a little bit magic to me. It's rather amazing how so many (and such varied) pattern stitches can be based on such a minimalist maneuver - slipping a stitch from the left needle to the right needle without doing anything else to it at all. I'm thinking about working up a tutorial on the basics and the possibilities. But before that can happen, I will need some swatches for examples, so I have started on the first.

Monday was sock mending day. This picture demonstrates why I don't usually do a classic darn. Its not very pretty, though it will serve the purpose (cover and hold together the gaping hole under the heel). I'm not sure why I attempted it, except maybe to see if this time I could do it neatly. As it turns out, I could not.

This next pair, however, hadn't developed an actual hole. The yarn had worn so thin that I was afraid to put it through the wash, but it was still in place. So I was able to use Swiss Darning (aka Duplicate Stitch) for a very unobtrusive mend. The socks are semi-felted, somewhat matted and pilled from many washings, but (partly because of the felting) toasty, toasy warm. So I'm glad I can keep them going.

(BTW this is the Not Really Cable sock pattern, which you can have for yourself if you scroll down the sidebar to the "free stuff" section)

And on a completely unrelated note: sometimes there are obstructions to making up the bed.

He will probably stay there, a contented lump, until the sun is well over the yardarm.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


The topic for this month's blogalong at Blogger's Paradise is "Serendipity"

Many years ago, when we still lived in California, I wanted to find a certain book about Norwegian knitting that I had seen referenced in other books. It had been out of print for a number of years, and these were the days before we had access to the Internet, so I turned to the public library. They took my request, and I waited and waited and waited and almost forgot about it. But about three months later it arrived, all the way from Iowa. I hated to send it back, but of course I did.

Several years after that we were in Decorah, Iowa, visiting the wonderful Vesterheim Museum. I had made arrangements in advance and their extremely gracious staff allowed me to examine some of their collection of knitted mittens and gave me access to their library for the afternoon (I was researching an article that ultimately never did see print). Among a number of resources, I found again my little book. By this point in time new publications on Scandinavian/Norwegian knitting had come out, and I had several in my collection; but I was happy to see it all the same and copied as many pages as I felt I legitimately could.

More years passed. We had moved to Wisconsin, and one day went into a used book store just off State Street in Madison. It is my experience that used book stores don't often have very large knitting collections (is this because knitters hold onto their books, or the because stores don't have sense to snap up every one they can get their hands on?) But I always cruise over to the craft section to check it out. And this time, there it was:

Needless to say, I brought it home with me.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Whatever Happened to Gypsy Girl?

"...'The very first time I saw that admirable woman, Johnson,' said Mr Crummles, drawing a little nearer, and speaking in the tone of confidential friendship, 'she stood upon her head on the butt-end of a spear, surrounded with blazing fireworks.'
'You astonish me!' said Nicholas.
'She astonished me!' returned Mr Crummles, with a very serious countenance. 'Such grace, coupled with such dignity! I adored her from that moment.' "
- Charles Dickens "Nicholas Nickleby"


Gypsy Girl had been set aside for a time, while I attended to other matters. Now I've picked her up again and she is growing slowly (more and more slowly as the rows get longer).

Such grace coupled with such dignity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Here It Is

As promised, a picture of the completed Tiger, Tiger Scarf. I'm almost done with writing up the pattern, just need to weigh the scarf so I can get a more accurate yardage estimate, and then calculate from that how much more would be needed for the shawl version.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mungo Ice & Easing On

And when you heard a dining-room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming -
Then the family would say: `Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!' - And there's nothing at all to be done about that!
from "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" - T.S. Eliot

Gato the Cat is little and feisty, and when she wants something she is very good at finding the thing you least want knocked over and knocking it over. Occasionally, she will knock things off the stairs, just for her own amusement.

When I got home the other day, Mr. S. was in the tub. As he got out he said, "Oh, Gato was in the bathroom pestering me. Then she left, and I heard her knock over something fairly large - just letting you know in case you find anything." We didn't immediately see what it could have been, so we sort of forgot about it.

Yesterday, while I was working on the computer, I heard another crash. But again, no evidence in sight.

Today, a crash and a scratchy, rumbling sound; followed by another.

I finally figured it out: large icicles falling from the upper roof onto the lower. Gato is off the hook.

A couple of posts back, I mentioned a good article on fitting in the current "Knit It!"; which got me to thinking. When addressing the questions "What size should I knit?" or "How much ease should I allow?", authors often advise: "Measure a sweater that fits you well and knit to that size." This is very good advice, as far as it goes. It just should go one step further, and say: "Measure a sweater that fits you and that is made from yarn close to the weight you intend to use." Because yarn weight does affect fit.

I saw this demonstrated years ago at a design workshop given by Lily Chin. She brought in four sweaters, in yarns ranging from fingering to bulky, all knit to exactly the same chest measurement. She proceeded to put them on. The lightest weight floated like a tunic. In the mid range they fit with average ease, and the bulky looked skin tight. It really was almost unbelievable, but there it was in front of our eyes.

Elizabeth Zimmerman explains this phenomenon in Knitter's Almanac: "...very thick sweaters should measure at least one inch, if not two inches, larger than you would think, as the thickness of their fabric makes them smaller inside than out. If you don't believe this, envision making a garment out of a foam-rubber mattress, and think how much wider the circumference would be than the inside measurement. The same applies to a thick sweater."

And keep in mind that a heavy-ish worsted can make a fairly thick fabric if it's worked up in a deeply textured pattern - say all over Aran honeycombs and cables. Just something to consider...


Happy Valentine's Day

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Putting it All Together

The North Wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then, poor thing?

It's that kind of day. So this seems like a good time to finish up the Tiger, Tiger scarf. I have both pieces done. I finished each by working a pattern row. (This is one of those patterns that have plain purl on the wrong side rows). I did this on purpose, because it means that the grafting stitches will be replacing a plain row. So even though some of the stitches I'll be joining are yarn overs, I will just be grafting in knit. Well, that's not entirely true, because there's a four stitch garter border at each side. I'll have to graft those stitches in purl. But I can manage that, especially since I'm going to leave the markers in place to remind me when to switch. I'm just not ready to take on working yarn overs and decreases as I go.

First I'm taking a tapestry needle threaded with crochet cotton and running lifelines through the live stitches on each needle. I didn't use lifelines while knitting the pieces, because the yarn was large enough and the pattern (relatively) simple enough that I didn't have any trouble figuring out where I was when I ripped back. But if I have to pick back any grafting I will feel more secure in having the lines in.

I left the markers in place, but did not run the lifeline through them.

I lined up the knitting needles with the right sides of the fabric facing outwards (wrong sides together), and the grafting yarn coming off the needle farthest from me, and away I went.

Some of the grafted stitches are a bit loose, so I will use the tip of the tapestry needle to tighten them up, one by one. The lifelines are going to be useful here, too, in indicating which row I'm tightening (the stitches between the lines, not on them).
So, a few more stitches to graft, a mere four ends to weave in, and then on to blocking. I'll post a picture when that's complete.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Second Time Around

Over the weekend, I've returned to the Tiger, Tiger Scarf - almost through with the second half. The scarf version is going so much more smoothly than the stole did. It could be because I only have one horizontal pattern repeat instead of three. It could be that while I don't exactly have the pattern memorized, it is now so familiar that on most rows I only have to glance at the chart (and I usually spot any mistakes before I get more that 3 or 4 stitches past them - easy picking). Or it could be that this yarn isn't cursed.


I grabbed this off a magazine rack on a whim. (I was wandering around Shopko, waiting for my pupils to dilate)

It has a very good article by Deborah Newton on altering knitting patterns for a personal fit. I buy knitting magazines mostly for articles on technique or patterns that have a technique I want to understand. The Newton article justifies this purchase for me.

The actual patterns are a mixed bag. A couple of very basic sweaters for men. Summery items for women. Some cute baby items (Trish has pictures of her version of two of the hats posted at My Merino Mantra). There is a very nice little girl's sweater by Linda Medina, using a slip stitch color pattern (so nice because you only work with one color at a time), bell ruffles at the lower edge and sleeve cuffs, and a collaar edged with picot crochet.

And then there is this:

It looks as though someone has gone and sewn washrags to the shoulders and sleeves of an otherwise perfectly nice, basic little boy's sweater. I don't get it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Squiddles on the Roof

When I was in college a Buddhist monk and scholar from Thailand spent a term as visiting professor. He was a very erudite man, and humble, compassionate and humorous. He also had a very thick accent. Most of us students were working hard to wrap our minds around a conceptual universe that was quite different from any philosophical or religious system we had known before. So maybe we were primed to expect more intellectual difficulties than actually existed.

At any rate, after one lecture a student had some questions about reincarnation.

"You mean we can come back as an animal, like a cat or a dog?"

"Oh yes, a cat or dog or even a squiddle."

"A squiddle?"

"Yes, even that."

(Puzzlement) "But what is a squiddle?"

"You know, they are all over campus. Little animals with big tails. They climb up trees."

Which is all just an elaborate introduction to saying that the squiddles have been loudly ramping across the roof all morning, despite a temperature just one degree above zero. Someone told me it's their mating season, so I guess they can't help it, poor dears.


I'm making a hat for my friend, Lavonne, who starts chemotherapy on Tuesday. I wish I didn't have the occasion. The yarn is Cascade Chunky Baby Alpaca, which is very soft and lightweight and should be very warm. It feels like such a small gesture. I saw Lavonne come through major heart surgery a few years ago almost without blinking, but this has her shook. I don't know that I'm much of a praying person in any conventional sense, but she's asked for prayer, so in my own way I'm trying. If any of you can hold her in your thoughts for a few moments that would be wonderful.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Another Lovely Transaction

CatBookMom, hearing my cries of woe over the unavailability of that book I wanted (or unavailability for under $200), suggested I check the listings at The Needle Arts Books Shop. I didn't find the Lewis book, but decided I would try this one, sight unseen.

First of all, the service was extraordinary. Even though the shop is in Canada, the book arrived in less than a week. The pretty little bookmark and bookplate came with it, and it was tied up in ribbons. Really. I was in such a hurry to look at the book that I didn't get a picture before taking them off. But talk about feeling that I had just received a present....

Now on to the book itself: Mastering Lacework by Annie Maloney. I've only had a chance to skim it so far, but here's my evaluation.

This is a self-published book, spiral bound with heavy wire (nice, because the book lays flat when opened). The covers are cardstock, and the front cover has a transparent plastic overlay. It is illustrated with line drawings, charts and black and white photographs. The focus is on garment design, rather than flat pieces like shawls and scarves.

The first chapter is an introduction that covers all the basic yarn over's and decreases (with Canuck/British terminology for the yo's: yrn, yfrn, yon), a good discussion about choosing suitable yarn/fiber, the all important swatching and determining gauge and blocking methods, basic directions for charting, a very sensible discussion how to avoid mistakes. and a good section on shaping garment pieces "in pattern". That's a lot to fit into 18 pages, but it's done very well. The author is an experienced, thinking knitter who is able to articulate her understanding clearly and succinctly. IMO this is an excellent introduction to knitting lace patterns, with many helpful tips.

The second chapter, "The Nature of Lace" is shorter. It discusses some of the causes/solutions of fabric distortion and bias (as well as ideas for incorporating these tendencies as deliberate design features). Here the presentation isn't as exhaustive as that in Lewis. This was a bit disappointing for my purposes, but it is a good and sensible treatment of the basics. Interestingly, in contrast to Lewis, Maloney maintains that the character of the decreases (left or right slanting) does affect bias, even if their placement in relation to the corresponding yarn overs is balanced. The information and tips on working with scallops and chevrons are particularly helpful, including instructions for using short rows to ease the transition from these zigzag patterns into other, unshaped, stitch patterns.

Chapter 3 gives tips and examples for incorporating lace pattern stitches into garment design. Succinct, but with some very good information on either starting from scratch or modifying an existing basic pattern.

The next two chapters cover designing and modifying stitch patterns, with examples charted and photographed, basic guidelines and lots of tips. There is a sort mini-stitch-pattern dictionary of the author's original variations (including a few cable/lace combinations), as well as suggestions for borders and directions for simple cords (to thread through eyelets for closures or as decorative trim).

The book finishes off with patterns for a cap and sash, a scarf and a tank top. I'm stumped as to why the cap is worked on a purled garter stitch base (but there is probably a very good reason for it, one that I may discover when I go back and re-read those opening chapters).

That's my fast overview, now I need to go back for a close read. All in all, I'm very pleased with my purchase (and tempted to go ahead and order Maloney's The Cable Knitting Handbook).

Responding and Absorbing

Good suggestion about the flyers Calamintha. I have just printed off a few (and, duh, why didn't I think of the library? Sometimes my mind seems to work in totally separate compartments that don't communicate with each other at all). I'm almost self taught, but did have someone show me how to cast on, knit and purl. So I'm rather impressed that you managed it on your own.

Hi Patricia. Thanks for the nice words; I do remember you. This is the same Blackhawk Tech, but the Monroe campus. Don't worry about the dpn situation. Lot's of people prefer the Magic Loop or "two circs" alternatives. I understand there is a LYS in Janesville. Have you been there? I would like to check it out, but don't get over in that direction very often.

Back when I was talking about the Susanna Lewis book, Jr_Goddess said, "Sometimes I need to read things six times before I GET it." I hear you, sistah. I have been pouring over it trying to absorb and understand as much as possible before I have to return it. Fortunately, the lending library has allowed me to renew it, so I have it for a couple more weeks.

One of the most helpful/illuminating sections of the book is her analysis and discussion of bias, the several different ways it is created, how it can be tamed or enhanced. OK, it's kind of wonky, but I really, really appreciate a book that helps me understand why certain stitch combinations behave the way they do. I already knew, from Barbara Walker, that a pattern where the decreases always come after their corresponding yo's will bias to the right. One paragraph in Lewis explained why.

"Every eyelet increase causes the fabric to grow in width by one stitch, pushing the stitches between itself and the selvedge outward by one stitch. At the same time, every companion decrease causes the fabric to shrink in width by one stitch, pulling the stitches between itself and the selvedge inward by one stitch. When the decrease is to the left of the eyelet increase,...the fabric will grow toward the right and shrink from the left, and the selvedges will lean from left to right.... It doesn't matter whether the style of decrease is left-leaning... or right-leaning.... The determining factor is the position of the decrease relative to its eyelet."

Well, that should have been obvious to me, but it wasn't, until she stated it so clearly. And in fact, that paragraph didn't take re-reading to absorb. It was a "Eureka" moment. But I am on my third go-through with the part about "eyelets and decreases forming a wedge". I understand it as I read, but it hasn't thoroughly soaked in yet. Maybe the sixth time will be the charm.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Poor Mr. S. Just about every school district in the state is closed due to the cold. But because today was already scheduled as a teacher work day (no kids in school) he had to go to work anyway....

Speaking of teaching, I spent the morning pulling lesson outlines and handouts together, just in case enough students sign up for the Blackhawk Tech class scheduled to begin next week. This time, I'm going to try teaching them the knit stitch before the cast on. I've done it the other way around in the past, but I want to compare which approach goes more smoothly. Of course, if experience is any guide, there is no norm. Each student picks things up differently, and each class has a different dynamic. Next prep step is to pull together my "show and tell" box with project ideas and resources. I wish the college would run a class even with 4 or 5 students, but they charge so little that they couldn't pay me if they did that. Last I checked there were 4 registrations, need to get to 7 for it to be a go.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Baby It's Cold Outside

Given that the temperature was ten below when I left the house, I thought I might have a slow morning at the library. But by the time I closed at noon, thirty-one people had been through, which is just about average for a Saturday morning. Most came in with a comment about the weather, and left with a "Stay warm!" But everyone was rather jolly about it. The cold does bring out a nice sense of camaraderie, at least once you're inside where it's warm enough to linger and chat....

When I got home, yee-ha! Mr. S. had been to the Post Office, and my package from Angelika's Yarn Store (aka had come. I had been to the closest LYS last Sunday in search of a particular circular needle, but they didn't have it in stock. So having tried to "buy local" I thought I would give Angelika a try. Was I impressed by the service! I ordered Wed. The package arrived today. Along with the five needles I ended up deciding I couldn't live without, she sent some really beautiful Lorna's Laces yarn samples.
Plus there was a sock pattern, and a nice flyer for Oat Couture patterns, so it was a fun package indeed.
I abandoned swatching for the afternoon (none done yesterday due to various Places I Had to Be, including one that involved the always semi-hallucinatory experience of having my eyes dilated.) But I did finish up knitting the first half of the scarf version of Tiger, Tiger.
I have tightened up the spacing of the motifs a bit, and used plain garter for the edging. I rough blocked "on needle" after about the first third of it, and I think a good blocking is going to be enough to keep the curl under control. So on to the second half, and to getting the directions down on paper in a fashion readable to someone besides me.
The new Patternworks Catalog and the Woodland Woolworks updates arrived in the mail, too, so I'm set for tonight's bedtime reading. Life is good.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I'll miss you Molly

I was so very sad to hear that columnist Molly Ivins has died. She was one of the brightest, funniest, fiercest political writers we had. Molly cared passionately about politics, and was fearless in calling things as she saw them. She could puncture pretension and prevarication with deadly wit. And she was never, never mean spirited. In a world where political discourse is increasingly dominated by Fox News style vituperation , I think I'll miss that most.