Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fear of Commitment

Why is it so hard for me to use the most special yarns?

A while back, Sarah sent me some luscious handspun Alpaca she had made, just because I said I wanted it! It was a complete surprise to me and really made my day. Of course, she's been eager to see what I'll do with it, which is understandable. In my defense, I'll say that I've been doing other things, which is true. There certainly has been a fair amount of knitting going on around here, which is great. But the other thing is that I have always had a hard time bringing myself to knit with my most special yarns. I have spent way more time thinking about the most perfect use for some yarns than any project would have taken. I'm trying to get over this problem, but it's slow progress.

Yesterday I started to work a bit of the Mead Alpaca (the lighter one in the photo above) with some chocolate alpaca I bought in April at the Alpaca Fest. The Mead is a wee bit heavier, but not much. I've put more discrepant yarns together in projects before with happy results. I'm thinking about a simple fair isle vest, mostly chocolate brown (because I have more of that), with Mead. Of course, I also think the Mead alone would make a stunning lacy scarf. See, now I have two opposing ideas and choosing one means not choosing the other. It's a wonder I ever got married!

In Other News
Franklin's Chicago Area Dulaan Knit-In will be happening on Saturday. I'm planning to go with my friend Carol, who crochets. In preparation for the day, I thought I'd design a new hat pattern that I can hand out at the Knit-In.

This took about 2 hours to knit on #9 needles from Knit Picks Panache. It fits the Little Emperor very well, so I might need to make another one to give to the Dulaan Project. The hat was the price he extracted from me for the modeling session.

Download free PDF Here!

I have a lot of pattern-writing to get to! That'll have to be this week's priority.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


My Cheap A$$ Secret Pal came through with more goodies today! What fun! I didn't get a close up picture of the stitch markers, yet, but they are really gorgeous. The other items in the picture above are two skeins of vintage wool, two packets of fancy cocoa, notecards, Perugia candies, family planner*, and a catnip pillow for the cats.

Here's Hailey being awakened from a nap to enjoy the pillow:

After a minute of sniffing, she made the flamen face. I wonder if there are animals at the place where these are made?

Thanks Flutterby! It's a great package!

*Of course, my "family planning" days are done: I had my tubes tied after the second child!

Kelebek Cool Swatch!

The Kelebek Vest I made has a warm range of colors in it. Even the neutrals I used are on the warm side of the color wheel.

Here's an alternative view, using blues, greens, and cooler neutrals. While I was knitting it, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but after I got it off the needles and cut it open, I changed my mind. This swatch still keeps the paler colors in the background. Looking at it more, I think I'll try another one with the light and dark positions reversed, which would make read more as a blue and green design than a pale grey design.

What do you think?

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Rant About Plastic Pumpkins (and more)

How can anyone get fired up against a simple iconic item of American childhood? What kind of curmudgeon am I anyway? Let me tell you.

What I hate about plastic pumpkins:

Every fall millions of plastic Trick or Treat pumpkins are produced and transported to stores all over North America. They are made of plastic, which is made from petroleum products. The are shipped across oceans and then on diesel-burning trucks to Walmarts, Walgreens, Targets and similar mass merchandisers. They are typically used for a season or two and then, discarded and replaced. Every year, I see hundreds of them in fine usable condition in my local thrift shops. I wonder why factories, probably located in Asia, are cranking out more of these when there seem to be enough already in existence to last us several years. Further, I wonder why so much energy and plastic is used making items which we do not need. Any kid can tell you a pillowcase makes a fine trick-or-treat bag.

This is a prime example of the American approach to life. We spend money on this stuff in order to throw it away. We thoughtlessly consume a dwindling resource, create pollution, and contribute to global warming in order to do this. The item does not cost any one individual much money, but collectively it costs us all more than we know. They are so ubiquitous that folks have come to see them almost as a necessity. And this is just one small example of our messed up values with regard to the planet and its resources.

If you call yourself an environmentalist; if you have any concern for the future of the planet, stop and think about items you buy. Could you live without it? Could you buy it used? The less we need to consume, the more enriched our lives will be.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Foothills Finished!

Got the second sleeve done and ends darned in last night. I gave it a little soak and spin and it dried overnight

Here's The Little Emperor himself modelling his new pullover:

This evening I found out that there's a new baby in my neighborhood, so I'm making a little cross-front cardigan in DK weight Encore for her. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around normal baby sizes as my guys were born huge and stayed big. The new neighbor is a little early, so I have to adjust my numbers down a bit, or she won't be wearing it for ages. It should be a quick knit.

My mind is reeling with possible projects. It's nice to feel so inspired, and so productive!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mundane Knitting

First up, here's the close-up of one of the buttons I was forced to go out and buy.

Owen helped me pick them out. He has a lot of opinions, not all of them ones I agree on, but that's okay. I should be grateful to have a son who loves browsing in the fabric store as much as I do. Not only are these buttons kind of interesting looking, but they were reasonably priced, too.

On to the mundane knitting:

Yesterday I put the first sleeve on the sweater for The Little Emperor, which has been brought out of dormant status. This morning I got the neckline done, too. One more sleeve, then darning ends and a good wash. It's getting very wintery here, so just in time on this project.

Another "just in time" for the blue watch cap. This is the third plain blue hat I've knit for Owen in his life. Plus, a blue polar fleece hat I sewed when he was a baby that L.E. still wears. The other two blue knit caps both vanished last winter. It was no great loss in the grand scheme of things: they were both from Red Heart acrylic (Hey, he chose it!). Still, I'm worried about what this signifies for the future of this hat. This new hat I made from some Emu Superwash DK I bought right before we moved to Madison in 1996. It's wonderful for hats, even for super-feelers like Owen. I used #3 needles and cast on 120 stitches. The whole thing is just 1 X 1 ribbing. If he loses this one, I'm going to start buying hats at St. Vincent's and let him deal with that for a while.

The other big thing I did yesterday and this morning was start gathering all the yarns to audition for the next Kelebek swatch.

I think I might need to throw in something a little vivid, just to spark things up a bit. But, don't they look pretty sitting there all together waiting to become something?

Rant du Jour
I've been thinking about how little public ranting I do. It seems like the bloggers who rant more get a lot of comments, so I'm wondering if I should try it. Of course, some of those comments would be hate-mail. And a lot would be "me toos." I actually have a steady stream of rants going in my head all day. It's just that my computer keyboard is not quite at the right height and it aggravates my wrist if I type too much. So, I tend not to take the time to put them out there. But here's a short little one that's on my mind as the new school year moves along.

Parents at my younger son's school park like F***ing Suburbanites! Ok, they are suburbanites, so that explains it. Between 3:00 and 3:20 on school days, the on-street parking in the blocks near school gets pretty crazy. But it drives me absolutely bonkers when car after car has left a gap about three-fourths the length of another car between themselves and the next car. If you pulled that crap in NYC or Chicago, it would be trouble. Even though it's a nice suburban sub-division, we still need to park efficiently at school pick up! Don't park like a knucklehead! End rant.

Next week, I'll have a rant about plastic trick or treat Jack O'lanterns.

Until then, I'll be my nice, calm, unruffled self. All those blue and green yarns will help.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kelebek Finished!

This morning, I finished darning in the last ends and sewed on my buttons. I hadn't yet monkeyed with the self-timer on my new camera, so I thought it was a good time to learn. Still more learning to be done, I'm afraid.
Here are two blurry photos:

I'll have someone (husband or son, not sure which) try again for me. Or maybe I'll read the manual a little more and see if there's a handy tip or two I missed.

Before I release a pattern, I'm going to make at least one other colorway swatch, maybe two, in more popular colors. I have a lot of teals, blues, and greens of the Harrisville New England Shetland and I have a lot of oranges and reds I think could live together, too.

In other news
On Saturday I got a suspicious letter in the mail. No return address, something thicker than paper in there, marked "Hand Stamp" in big letters on the front. It was a little random act of kindness from saintjay/Rhymes with Mango:

an emory board with butterflies from Kaleidescope Yarns and a funny postcard from a Cafe Press store. Thanks! It was a fun little surprise.

Remind me to tell you all about the time when Mr. SABLE got a suspicious padded mailer and it eventually led to a visit from the bomb squad. Don't worry: false alarm. Sure gave the neighbors something to think about, though. But that's a story for another day.

I spent most of today on a field trip with the kindergarteners to the Perfect Pumpkin Patch. Rounding up gas molecules in the great outdoors. Most of the kids were very good, but I'm beat.

Friday, October 13, 2006

This was interesting...

My strongest match was to an African-American man. Hmm. Julia Roberts is a pleasant surprise. Not too happy about John Goodman, though.

Another version of the same thing:

No women in this bunch. Not even any pretty men. I'll stick with Barack Obama and Julia Roberts.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Some Shots of My Steeks

The moment Bezzie has been waiting for!
Here's a picture of one of the armhole steeks with the center stitch outlined for clarification:

A crocheted steek involves using a small hook (size 3 steel hook in my case) to make two parallel rows of single crochet, working through the adjoining stitch and the center stitch. The hairiness of shetland style fibers helps hold this all together.The hook enters the middle of one flanking stitch of the center stitch and emerges in the center stitch. A loop is drawn up and the single crochet stitch is completed enclosing the two halves of the two steek stitches. All the pictures except the first one get bigger if you click 'em.

Work crochet on one side of the steek and tie off the yarn. Then start on the other side to complete two tight parallel rows.

Time to cut! Use sharp scissors and cut up between the two rows of crochet.

You end up with something like this. The bound edges naturally roll to the inside of the work. After you pick up and knit bands, sleeves, or facings, tack these edges to the inside with your yarn. This will help strengthen the cut area.

Here is the knitting up of stitches for the front band:

Kelebek Front Band

If you want a closer look, click on the picture! This is hot off the needles and, as yet, completely unblocked.

I just finished the front band. I've crocheted and cut one armhole. The other is still untouched. I have a bunch of pictures of the process and tonight I'll try to get them formatted and blog-worthy.

I'm getting very excited to see it all done.

But there's a Murphy's Law about button stashes that I need to share. I have a lot of buttons in many varieties and sizes. Fancy ones, plain ones, antique ones and newer ones. Metal, mother of pearl, plastic, shiny, matte finish, etc. But I never seem to have exactly the right button in the quantity I need for a project. Why is that?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Kelebek is Off the Needles!

Right now, this is a pretty funny looking garment. But by tomorrow I hope it will look a lot more like a vest. Bezzie, brace yourself! I'll commence steek action tonight. This will involve reinforcing along the areas I will cut, then cutting up the front and for the armholes. I will be crocheting my reinforcements on this project. This shetland-style wool is very hairy and grabs well. I don't expect any trouble from wayward ravelling on this project. When I cut steeks open on superwash or slippery yarns, I prefer sewing machine reinforcement, just to make sure nothing is going to come disasterously undone. You can see an example of how this will work here. Sorry some of those pics are pretty bad: I took them before I really understood what I was doing. Expect better pictures to come from the work in progress!

For those of you keeping track at home, I made another bone-headed error on this. I was doing a three needle bind off and on my first effort, I bound together the two halves of the front at the shoulder seams. Doh! Undid that and managed to get fronts married to back and back of neck stitches safely on hold. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quick post

Here's the newest progress pic of the vest. About 4 more inches of knitting on the body, then it's time to graft shoulders, cut steeks, and finish the trim.

I just wanted to stress that even though the pattern looks a little complex, it really isn't. Although the colors cycle through a 24 row repeat, the rows actually repeat on a six row cycle. Then you start working back out from what you just did, in mirror image. Anyone who ever made a lace project can absolutely make this pattern.

Thanks to all the commenters. I hope to find a bunch more of my old swatches to post. I think I learn a lot by seeing what doesn't work and thinking about why.

Here's a purple coneflower for you:

Look at how those bright yellow bits of pollen really stand out on the dark rust and green cone.

So many flowers are in bloom in our yard right now, it's hard to remember that we're several weeks past the usual first hard frost.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Mr. SABLE is out in the glorious October sunshine putting bricks in another section of the path. After the initial section was done he let the whole project sit for a while. Nothing like the crisp fall weather to put the fear of impending winter in you and get you moving on the outdoor projects while you still have the chance.

More About Color
I dug out a few of my early swatches to show you some of what I learned by doing.

This is a tube of knitting I made in about 1990 or 91. At the bottom, I started with some simple zig zags. Then I tried to follow a chart from Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting, but substituting colors with almost no regard for logic. After one completely unreadable repeat, I switched to bigger needles and sorted my yarns by color family and value. Here are closer views of the two sections of that experiment:

Totally unreadable version

Much improved version. I still wasn't happy enough with that arrangement to make a whole sweater with it, but I felt like I learned something valuable.

Here is another attempt at the same chart. This time I sorted by warms and cools. The fact that I really didn't consider the importance of value is very clear. Sometimes in traditional Fair Isle knitting the foreground and background intentionally shift values. In this example, they were each shifting from dark to light and light to dark in oppostion with each other, leading to an unreadable design.

By the way, another great book for learning about this stuff and fairly easy to obtain, is Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English. She has some very helpful and well-condensed information about color.

Subbing Colors

Joeli asked for pointers on subbing colors. Well, that could be a whole book by itself, but maybe I have some short little ideas that fit in a blog post.

Obviously, the first thing is to consider what colors you like and want to wear. Or, if the garment is a gift, what would the recipient love to wear? Think about the overall mood you hope to create with your color choices. Soothing and serene? Flashy and outgoing? Autumnal? Springy?

Let's say, like Joeli, you really like the graphed stitch pattern I used for my vest, but you really don't like my color choices. Say you love blue. Maybe you would choose to do the darker foreground pattern in a dark navy blue. And then look for 3 mid- to light-blues and a creamy white to use for the background. That kind of colorway would result in a very soothing garment. Maybe you make a swatch (or a hat instead of a swatch) and think, "Well, I love blue, but this is putting me to sleep. How do I perk it up just a little?" Maybe you try taking out the white and putting in a pale yellow. Or a vivid yellow. Suddenly your swatch is generating some energy it didn't when it was all blues. And maybe you liked it with less energy, so you go back to white. There's no right or wrong on that. It has to work for you: what will you feel comfortable wearing?

Maybe you like your pallette, but you really want a darker garment. Swap your foreground and background color sets. Now, you're looking at all those rows of navy blue and you want to liven them up, just a bit. Maybe you try subbing out a few rows of the navy with a dark grey with cool undertones. (What does she mean by cool? Looking more like the blue and green side of the color wheel. Warms look more like the red and orange side. Few greys are truly neutral; seeing which way they lean will help you use them to your advantage.) Or even a warm dark grey. How about a smidge of black? Maybe a dark piney green?

I have spent a lot of hours knitting fair isle swatches just for the learning experience. As I said in a previous post, I've read a few books, too. The books help and they give you a useful vocabulary. But they need to be supplemented by trial and error. You can do some of that on your computer in a drawing program. Or with colored pencils or markers on graph paper. This doesn't get the whole picture of the way different yarns show texture or reflect light, but it's a good learning tool.

Last night I was thinking about some guys I knew in college, Nick and Paul. They were both very cerebral. They liked to chat about Nietzsche for fun. Paul grew up in inner-city Detroit. One summer when he was visiting Nick in Boston, they went to the beach. A large wave was coming and Nick yelled, "Paul, a wave is coming! Can you swim?" Paul replied, "Oh sure, I read a book about that." Nick is now a professor in Australia. I'm not sure where Paul is.

In so many aspects of life, there's no substitute for hands-on experience.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fast Acting CASP! New Knitters! Kelebek Progress

Got the mail today and it was a double-whammy of fun stuff. First, my new CASP (cheap ass secret pal) sent some goodies:

A 1988 Filatura di Crosa mag, a cool button that says, "I knit with balls," and some Halloween swag to share with the kids. Pencils, magnets, rings. Thanks Flutterby!

Fall Knitters
The next fun thing in the mail was Fall Knitters. Now, for a lot of folks, reviewing a new issue of Knitters is like shooting fish in a barrel. I try to keep an open mind. Usually I see a couple of items per issue that I think are well-executed and attractive. And a whole lot of things that leave me wondering. This one has several items that I like at first glance, and some that are true to form And every issue I wonder who writes those crappy attempts at poems at the beginning of each section. And why? Honestly, save yourself the effort and knit a few more rows on your latest WIP or something. The readers will not miss them.

This issue, the first thing I noticed was a lot of pom-poms in advertisements. Big ones. Like tumors. I'm in the camp that likes pom-poms on people who are under age 9 or so. And maybe on top of a hat in the winter. But not 20 of them festooning a scarf.

Flipping through the patterns, I see a few that are inoffensive enough, but nothing I haven't seen before, a few real screamers, and a few I really like.

I'm quite impressed by the three by Celeste Pinheiro, especially the kids' patterns. Norah Gaughan's Alpaca Twill coat shows a complex understanding of garment construction which I really appreciate. I also really like Diane Zangle's Cecropia vest, though I would change the colors to make the charted pattern more crisp.

I'm sorry to see Elsebeth Lavold's foray into interchangable ruffles. She's someone whose work I've respected and I just look at those various "treatments" and wonder why?

Maybe that's where Knitters tends to go wrong. They start with an okay pattern and then they want to give a little something extra. Only they go too far. Where they could have had clean lines and a wearable garment, they kill it with embellishments: ruffles not only on all outer edges but on the shoulder seam, too. A simple v-neck cardigan, with a big appliqued flower. And so on.

There's an old rule about women and accessories and/or jewelry. When you're going out and you get all dolled up, when you think you're ready, take something off. That's probably just right.

I'd say the same is true for embellishments on knitting patterns. Less is more! Really!

I'll leave you with progress pics of the Kelebek Vest

This is worked on US size 4 needles at about 6.75 st. / inch.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Still Loving the Fair Isle...

The Kelebek Vest is now about 14 inches long. After I get a shower and a snack, I'll work my way up to the armhole zone. Yes, I will take lots of pictures of the steeks as they progress and describe just how you can make them in your next project. The armholes will be quite large compared to what you might expect. I don't want the shoulders of my vest to hang off, but rather, to hit my natural shoulder. Considering the armhole ribbing will be about 1.25 inches, I need to get rid of a lot of body stitches from the underarm zone to make this transition. I think this is an area where designers often could do a better job, especially when they try to apply a formula to larger sizes. In my case I am going to put about 5 inches of stitches on hold in each underarm area. (This will be diminished by the trim when it gets added.) Then I'm going to decrease away another 20 stitches on each side of the armhole, so that the width at the vest back, before trim, will be about 13 inches. Much narrower than half my full bust finished size.

Let's Learn About Color; Lesson 1
Value: the relative lightness or darkness of a hue.

In this greyscale version of the photo at the top of the post, you can see that both my foreground and background colors progress through a range of values, but that all the foreground colors are darker than all the background colors. This allows the design to be seen through the various color changes. To me, one of the most crucial aspects of a successful Fair Isle design is proper control of value.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Autumn garden photos

It's starting to look a bit like autumn in my backyard. Here are some pictures I took this morning. They all get a little bigger if you click 'em.

Dried Sunflower Heads

Dried Sunflower Heads With Morning Glory

Some Ornamental Grass

The Burning Bush is Starting To Burn

Knitting News
The Kelebek Vest is about 12 inches long now. Three more inches until I start the armhole and neckline shaping. At that point the work will seem to speed up, because it will lose a lot of girth in the last 10 inches of knitting. Then, it's time to cut the steeks! Stay tuned!