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!