Monday, August 3, 2015

Show and Tell: Christmas Present in August

I'm really trying lately to finish works in progress, so that I can move on to my new and exciting ones without guilt. Yesterday I finally gave my brother and sister-in-law their Christmas present: a Seahawks - Patriots toaster cozy. Yep, a toaster cozy.

My sister-in-law is from Massachusetts and is  a lifelong Pats fan. My brother and I are lifelong Seahawks fans. (He had a Steve Largent poster on his childhood bedroom wall; Jim Zorn was one of my earliest celebrity crushes.) Here's the Patriots side:

I was prescient, was I not? Because it looks like a Super Bowl XLIX-inspired present, but I conceived the project and bought the yarn in December 2013, when we hadn't yet experienced the awesomeness that was Super Bowl XLVIII. I started making the cozy last October, when the Hawks had just lost to the Rams and we worried whether they would make the playoffs, let alone play in the next Super Bowl.

I made this using the intarsia technique, with Caron Simply Soft acrylic yarn. NEVER AGAIN. The yarn is nice and soft, and it had a great shade of bright green for the Hawk's eye. However, being acrylic, it does not stick to itself at all. Stickiness is a good quality when you're doing intarsia and changing colors in the middle of a row! It was hard, very hard, to make it look good. But I'm stubborn.

The intarsia piece is knitted in one wide, short piece. I learned to do it from YouTube videos -- specifically Staci Perry's and Arenda Holladay's videos. They are my go-to knitting teachers.

I created the color chart in Microsoft Excel from two free charts I found online. That part was really fun. I learned how to do it from this ChemKnits blog post. I believe the Patriots chart I used was also from that blog. The Seahawk logo chart I used is here. I love how knitters are willing to share their hard work with each other! Because I wanted the Patriot and the Hawk to be face-to-face, I reversed the Hawk logo.

Construction was simple. I knitted the intarsia as one wide, short piece. I think the cast-on was around 170 stitches. The intarsia piece goes from the back left corner of the toaster around the front, to the back right corner. The top and back are made from a single piece of stockinette. I seamed the two pieces together using mattress stitch.

I used a steek in this project -- steeking being yet another absolutely insane thing to try to do with acrylic yarn. I knitted the top/back piece in the round and then cut it to lay flat. That's how much I hated purling then. (I've worked on it.) The steek was perfectly fine. I used the crochet method, with a very sticky wool yarn. I don't think it would have held if I had not had that fine, crazy sticky yarn  to keep the acrylic safe from fraying.

My yarn sense was not as developed when I bought the yarn for this project. If I had really thought about it before starting, I would have realized that I had made a bad yarn decision. This cozy would have been just as functional and way more enjoyable to make if I had used wool. But my brother seems to love it, so WIN FOREVER!!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gauge matters SO MUCH!

When I first started knitting, I made swatches. For about a year, I just made swatches of different fabrics, because I was knitting for the therapeutic value. I didn't want to make anything in particular. (I wish I had kept all those imperfect swatches, because they would be a great visual display for beginning knitters, who always seem to think the scarves they make at a Sip and Stitch party should look perfect.)

When I finally started making hats, I didn't pay attention to gauge at all. Thank goodness I was working from a really good pattern and that the things were felted, because they did end up fitting. Later on, it caught up with me. I spent my whole Christmas holiday knitting a hat from beautiful blue Scottish wool, and it was huge. I had to felt it so that I could even wear it.

While working on Lesson 2 of Basics this week, I discovered, post-blocking, that I had made a mistake on Swatch 4. One of the decreases came a stitch early. So I had to re-knit that one. I had already decided I didn't like the way the swatches knit on US 8 needles looked, so I went down to US 7.  The difference in size on the two swatches after blocking is significant, as you can see in the photo. The difference in width at the bottom is almost an inch. This is why I now always make gauge swatches! 

I love this super detailed video by Cheryl Brunette about the gauge swatch. This video is a math demonstration I found useful when I first started paying attention to gauge.

As Staci Perry says, embrace the swatch!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Process to the Rescue!

Yes, it's been eight months since I last posted! I've been knitting, but mainly of the "I hate this project but I'm going to finish it if it kills me" variety. I've also been doing a lot of hand-wringing about improving my tension, and procrastinating on the Basics swatches as a result. This morning I figured it all out.

Tension problem

Arenda's main criticism of my Lesson One swatches (and she was incredibly gentle and kind about it) was that my tension was not consistent on the ends of rows, particularly the beginning of purl rows. I've wanted to fix that, and yet I haven't been doing it. This morning I realized that I should knit swatches in bed at night. That's how I got into knitting in the first place: nightly knitting to fight anxiety and insomnia! So that's what I'll do. Bonus: I will fall asleep more easily!

The Problem of the Long-Ignored Project

Kalahari Tote in progress
The project is the gorgeous "Kalahari Tote" by Vivian Hoxbro, which I've had on needles ("working on it" is inaccurate) for more than two years. Having posted about how I'm a process rather than a project knitter, it's strange that I didn't think of changing the process, until today.

This piece is knit using mitered squares, with many stripe-based color changes that render a sort of mixed chevron pattern. Because some of the colors are dark and the yarn is fingering weight, I find it hard to read the work. So there is a lot of counting, which I always avoid if I possibly can.

Here's the problem: there's no easy way of using a stitch marker to mark the center stitches in mitered squares, because the marker travels one stitch to the left (from the RS perspective) on each repeat.

Making these squares is simple. You start with an odd number of stitches on your needles. On the right side, you slip the first stitch to make a nice selvedge and knit to the middle three stitches. With those three stitches, you do a Sl-K2tog-PSSO double decrease. You knit to the last stitch and purl. Turn. On the wrong side, slip the first stitch, knit to the last stitch, purl. Turn. Repeat. So on every RS, you are decreasing by two. You always have an odd number of stitches.

I did some experimental squares with scrap yarn, to figure out how I could use a stitch marker to mark the center three stitches.

My first square was pretty frustrating; I ended up having to count anyway. The marker started right before the center three stitches. On the next repeat, the marker was between the slipped stitch and the K2tog stitches. On the repeat after that, the marker was -- most annoyingly -- between the K2tog stitches. At that point it was obvious that this process was no easier.

I realized that if I placed the marker before the slipped stitch, and then on every WS row I corrected its position, the process was easy and meditative.  Here's a video showing what I did for the second square:

So on every WS I knitted to the marker, scooped it off with my hand and held it, knitted one more stitch, and then slipped the marker onto the right needle. The marker now stayed in its position relative to the double decrease: on the RS, it will always be before the stitch to be slipped.

I tried this trick both with a piece of yarn and a clippy marker. The clippy marker was better. The yarn marker, while slightly easier to grab and hold, tended to get worked into the garter stitch and had to be coaxed out. You could use a smooth ring marker, but it might be hard to grab and hold on the WS.

It's a good day when you solve two knitting problems and a life problem!

Knitting news and progress 

In Basics, I've just finished Lesson 2 Swatch 5. I'll block swatches 1-5 and answer the questions before I move on to the last three swatches. My goal is to start the Masters in September. I still have a bit of finishing work to do on my brother and sister-in-law's Christmas present. My new rule is never to do a present using acrylic yarn ever again. It's so hard to make the finishing work look nice!  I'm also working on a chemo cap for a friend who is fighting cancer. It's of Paton's Silk Bamboo, which should be smooth and soft and absorbent for her. Still trying to finish the Kalahari Tote -- someday. Someday.

A friend started a monthly knitting group. At the first meeting, I got to teach someone to knit! I really love that!

My most exciting knitting and project news is that I will be knitting a project from Viking Patterns for Knitting by Elsebeth Lavold (newly published in paperback) and reviewing the book for a local weekly newspaper! I'm so excited!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On process or project

I've suspected for awhile that I am a process knitter, rather than a project knitter. I think this is why I stick to small projects: because I want to be able to do a wide variety of techniques, which is what I find interesting in knitting. Having a finished object at the end is a bonus.

I've been working on a project for two years. It's a project I started because I loved the way the finished object will look. But the process itself is monotonous: mitered squares, over and over and over and over. Like 50 or so mitered squares. Feels like 500. Then there are all those tail ends to weave in before I can felt the object. The mitered squares average 4 colors each. That's 8 tail ends per square. I should have been doing them all along, but I haven't. I think I'm on Square 33. That's a boatload of weaving in that's waiting for me.

If I loved something else about the project -- the yarn or the needles -- it would probably be ok. But the yarn is shetland (rough and scraggly) and the size 5 needles I have are plastic -- excellent needles for the yarn, but no tactile or visual pleasure in them at all.

I would scrap the project, but I spent too much money on the yarn to feel good about doing that. I want the project to be a gift for somebody special. I think that's the only thing that actually keeps me plugging away at it.

Loving the color combinations and the look of the finished object is not enough to keep me wanting to work on a project. I knew when I bought the yarn that I didn't like the feel of it in my hands; I should have paid attention to that.

Lesson learned.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Catching up

The idea of this blog was that it was going to be a DAILY record of my knitting, no matter how mundane. I have actually knit since October 26, but I haven't journaled it. Have been really busy with family and PTSA commitments. Oh, well. Haven't got much done anyway. A few projects:

Swatch #1 for Basics, Basics, Basics is almost done. I misplaced the bag for awhile. Today I pulled it out to bind off and saw this:

A mistake, in garter stitch. What?!? I have no idea what I was doing when that happened. Obviously I purled one stitch. Anyway, I tinked back to that column of stitches (didn't want to add another row, so didn't want to knit over to it) and fixed it. It was a good exercise.

If you try to do it the easy (knit) way with a crochet hook all from one side, you end up with stockinette, not garter. So you have to continually turn the work. I did it all purl-wise (crochet hook into back of loose stitch so it's mounted correctly, bar you're picking up in front), but I realized afterwards that I could just as well have done it all knitwise. But you do have to take the hook out and put it back in the correct way each time no matter what -- otherwise you would twist stitches. I suppose you might be able to do it all from one side without turning the work if you alternated knitwise/purlwise?

I think I had to do eight stitches in the column. Here's how it looks now:

I'm going to knit a second example of this swatch, on metal needles. I think the tension here is nothing like my normal tension. I think I was nervous about Arenda seeing my work. That's silly; the whole point of this class is to get an evaluation of my ACTUAL knitting, not knitting I do in somebody else's style.

Other things I'm working on:

Going to try steam-blocking my sister-in-law's long-neglected scarf today to see if I like the buttonholes better. If not, I'll figure something else out. I really don't want to do a regular button band with that yarn.

Altering my grandpa's Aran sweater that he brought back from Ireland. The arms are like gorilla arms. This is a project I've had going for about a year. I knit a sample of the cable pattern and cuff to practice on.  I have practiced the picking-up and did a trial run on my mockup sample. The plan is to remove the cuffs and reattach them higher, removing yarn in the process to use to do the splicing. Really want to get this done. I had my mom stitch zig-zag on her sewing machine above where the cuff is going to be cut off as a safeguard. Right now one sleeve is all ready on two long circulars, ready for the snip-snip.

Got to get started on my Christmas knitting, pronto!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lesson 1 has arrived!

It begins! I received the first (of three) lessons this week from Arenda. I was out of town, so didn't start knitting until tonight. I'm finding that I am knitting a little differently than usual -- being maybe a little unnatural in the way I am pulling the yarn tight, especially on ribbing. I'll probably knit a couple examples of Swatch 1 -- the second time, I will try to do it less self-consciously, just the way I normally knit. It will be interesting to see the difference.

Lesson 1 asks for a letter with my knitting history, reference books, and whether I plan to do the Master course. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Arenda,

I started knitting on an extremely casual basis about five years ago. I watched an acquaintance figure out how to cast on and knit from YouTube videos and decided to try it myself. I bought some US4 bamboo circular needles with a short cable, tried knitting some worsted weight acrylic yarn I had laying around, and concluded it was too hard and frustrating!  A year or so later I felt like trying again, so I did some research and bought better needles for the yarn. I watched lots of YouTube videos, mostly those by Judy Graham (knittingtipsbyjudy) and Staci Perry (verypinkknits), and knitted dozens of small swatches of different stitch patterns. I found that knitting at night after my son went to bed was very relaxing, and it helped me with anxiety and insomnia. I just knit swatches for a long time before I tried making any projects.

I mostly knit accessories like scarves, hats, and gloves. I’ve never knit any larger garments or socks. I have done some Fair Isle, and I would like to try an intarsia project for a Christmas present. I have done some small cable projects. I have done moebius knitting and mosaic knitting. My username on Ravelry is harrietwimsey.

I plan to do the Master Knitter Certification program after I complete the Basics program.

Here are the knitting reference books I own:
  • The Knitting Book, by Frederica Patmore and Vikki Haffenden (DK Publishing, 2011).
  • How to Knit, by Debbie Bliss (Collins & Brown Ltd., 1999).
  • The Complete Book of Needlecraft, by Janet Kirkwood et al (Exeter Books, 1983).
  • Designing Knitwear, by Deborah Newton (Taunton Press, 1998).
  • The Encyclopedia of Knitting and Crochet Stitch Patterns, by Linda Mariano (Service Communications, Ltd., 1978).
  • Pop Knitting, by Britt-Marie Christoffersson (Interweave Press, 2012).

[P.S. - I know the blog is meant to be daily, but last week was crazy!!! I'll do better this week.]

Monday, October 20, 2014

Improved buttonholes!

Today I took half an hour and tackled my buttonhole problem. I watched Arenda Holladay's one-row buttonhole tutorial (linked in yesterday's post) a few times and got in a little practice. These are definitely improved buttonholes:

A thing I love about her video is that on the wrong side, when you're casting on the stitches to replace the ones you bound off, you do the cable cast on purlwise so that the pretty side of the cast on shows on the right side of the work. I like detailed solutions like that!

But I am going to have to practice the purlwise cable cast on, because it's hard to get the stitches as uniform and tight as they should be. I don't know if that's because it's purlwise or because I'm just not strong on the cast on itself. I think part of my problem yesterday was that the backwards loop cast on stitches were not fully uniform (and they were too tight). This seems like an area for me to work on.

Here's a closer look at my third (and best) buttonhole: