29 November 2016

Negative Ease

When making garments that fit the human form, we sometimes talk about "ease." Ease is a measure of how much extra fabric is in a garment. For example, if a bust measurement is 36 inches, then a sweater that is exactly 36 inches around has no ease. If the sweater is 38 inches, it has 2 inches of positive ease at the bust. If the sweater is 35 inches, is has one inch of negative ease. A big, boxy, oversized sweater might have 6 or 8 inches of positive ease.

This is important when you are making garments that both fit and flatter. And ease behaves differently if the fabric is woven than if it is knitted. Woven fabrics generally don't stretch if they have been cut with the grain. (Cutting on the bias is a whole different story.) Knit fabrics are different. They stretch. They move. They might even grow.

This also means knit fabrics can match our shape. If the shape you have underneath is not one you want to display to the world, then this is maybe a bug rather than a feature. On the other hand, this can be advantageous. I recently made a simply shell using Takhi Yarns Ripple. Ripple is a thick and thin cotton yarn with no elasticity in spite of its i-cord construction. After a great deal of swatching through stockinette, reverse stockinette, garter, ribbing, seed stitch, and the like, I decided to work the garment in stockinette brioche stitch (Nancy Marchant's term) or column pattern (Elise Duvekot's term). Although brioche is a somewhat slow knitting technique, it gave me two advantages. First, brioche is very stretchy. The resulting fabric is stretchy in spite of the yarn. Second, brioche is a more solid fabric. I tend to wear only a thin silk slip as an undergarment, so I wanted a top that wasn't too sheer.

The pattern was relatively simple.

Make a gauge swatch in the desired stitch pattern and write down the math.
Cast on in the round in an amount that is close to zero ease at the waist but is slightly negative ease at the bust and that is a multiple for the chosen stitch pattern.
Work in the round to the underarms.
Park the front stitches and continue working up the back to the top of the shoulder.
Park the back stitches.
Join a new skein and work a couple inches back and forth across the front.
Bind off the center front stitches, join a new skein, and work back and forth with two skeins to complete the front "straps."
Turn the work inside out and work three needle bind-off to join the shoulders, also binding off the back neck at the same time.

Notice there is no shaping anywhere in this garment. It is rectilinear, as if it had been constructed from Lego building bricks. Off the body, it is nothing special.

But on a body, it sings!

Now this top does not look *quite* this good on me, unless I wear a Frederick's water bra underneath. I'm small-breasted, but I know I can use foundation garments to give me more shape. Notice the key to making it flattering is the placement of ease. Negative ease stretches over the breasts and emphasizes that shapeliness. If you are sewing, this effect is difficult to achieve with woven fabric. But with knit fabrics, we can achieve this result without even increasing and decreasing!

The bottom line: when we knit, knit for the intended body. Allowing the knit fabric to stretch just a little over a feature will emphasize it by making it look a little more shapely and a little larger. Giving the knit fabric just a little positive ease so that it skims a less-delightful feature will disguise it without making it look like you are trying to hide something under a circus tent. And while there are lots of tutorials out there to help you shape garments using increases and decreases, sometimes a wise choice of ease and stitch pattern is all you need to make a flattering garment.

02 November 2016

Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair 2016

The end of October means time for SAFF! This year, I taught Thursday through Saturday. That meant I had Sunday free to crawl the market.

I checked out the fleece sale on Friday before I left for dinner. I knew I wanted some locks for lockspinning, corespinning, and just general art yarn mischief. The best fleeces get picked out early; and there are unusually fewer longwool fleeces from the start. Fleeces were arranged in the barn by type of animal (goat, alpaca, and sheep) and then in categories. Wool categories included fine, medium, long, and primitive. There was also a table in the corner for "other." These are fleeces that don't fit well into the established categories. Some people feel very strongly that shepherds should not mix up sheep genes willy-nilly. Others feel this type of cross-breeding experimentation is just more of what humans have been doing for millennia. I don't have a strong opinion. I wouldn't care if you crossed a balrog with a unicorn. If it produced a great fleece and was a happy animal, it's all good from my perspective. On the "other" table I found a beautiful fleece from Cher, an Icelandic Cotswold cross ewe whose home is Dry Creek Sheep of Sugar Grove, Virginia.

Cher in 2015.
Photo credit: Susan Hmurciakova of Dry Creek Sheep.

Cher's 2016 fleece.
Photo credit: Susan Hmurciakova of Dry Creek Sheep.

Cher's fleece was not judged this year. She won third place last year. This is definitely an art yarn spinner's fleece. There are two different types of locks. Her fleece has some Cotswold-like locks that are tight waves, lustrous, darker grey at the cut end fading to pale at the tips. There are also some Icelandic-like locks that are more wire-y with a gentle wave, black-brown at the cut end fading to light brown at the tips. And there is some rough but bouncy and shorter dark fiber. Then again, I haven't scoured the fleece yet; it may soften. This is a fleece that will definitely need to be sorted by hand, all 5 pounds (over 2 kilograms) of it! My housemates looked aghast when I said I might overdye. With this much, I am sure there will be enough fiber for both natural and dyed spinning.

And Sunday I shopped the market. I really do need more adult supervision.

The bottle of Power Scour is, of course, for the fleece. I also found another Japanese stitch dictionary to add to my library. And I found the smaller lace-size Fix-a-Stitch. Galina's video is about using intarsia in traditional Russian lace. The wooden box is from Knitting Notions. It is well-made and designed. It even has a small magnet to keep the lid from opening accidentally. In a home with cats, this is a nice way to keep a special skein safe while you work. The wolf in sheep's clothing felted ornament is from Lanart. They carry beautiful garments made from alpaca. I've seen this ornament before and always resisted because I don't know what I will do with it. I still don't know, but this time I decided I should indulge!

The last place I shopped was Hillcreek Fiber Studio. Someone in the workshop barn was playing with a 12-inch square "potholder" loom earlier in the weekend. She was making a block that had a diagonal line across the middle. I purchased the Mini Module set, which is a square and a triangle that are 6 inches on a side. I also purchased the great tome of continuous strand weaving and a locker hook. Carol Leigh has done a tremendous job promoting this type of weaving. I tried couple quick swatches yesterday; and I am already fascinated by this method. It is fast, fun, and with little waste. This would be a great way to use up leftovers and spinning samples. With the mini set, there are quite a few quilt patterns that can be reproduced in weaving. Adding color changes within the weaving, there is even more to explore. And the book has many, many ideas for projects. This rabbit hole has potential!

13 October 2016

A Couple of Spinning Challenges

I haven't done much knitting in the last month. I do have a project on the needles, but it isn't a design for publication. Instead, I've devoted a fair amount of attention to spinning.

Last week was Spinzilla. The Whole Nine Yarns did not field a team this year. I joined the Kromski team. I don't have a Kromski wheel, but Kromski North America is based in Georgia. They have been wonderful, gracious corporate sponsors of Georgia FiberFest for the past two years. And you'll recall I came back from the festival this year with a big pile of Polish merino in the Pavonia Peacock limited edition colorway.

My goal was to spin all that fiber into a 2-ply lace weight yarn. I am envisioning a circular shawl in reversible lace. Remember, reversible lace takes twice as many stitches, therefore twice as much yarn. Magic always comes with a price. Well, by the first day I could tell that I wasn't going to get to the plying stage. By about Wednesday, I could tell I wasn't even going to finish all the singles. Sigh.

I did end up with a very full bobbin and a partly filled second bobbin of lace weight singles at 40-50 wraps per inch. I had exactly 2000 yards on the first bobbin and over 1000 yards on the second bobbin. My total for the week was 3114 yards. I think this is more than what I spun last year. And I made the monster mile again, so that was good. Still, I would like to spin faster. If someone offers a class on Spinning for Spinzilla, I'd like to take it. I'm in awe of the people who spin more than 10,000 yards in a week. In the meantime, I know I'll have this spinning project ongoing at least through the end of 2016.

The other spinning challenge I approached involves Twist: The Art of Spinning by Hand. This is an exhibition opening next month at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland. The curator is Jennifer Lindsay, who is also in her second year as president of Center for Knit and Crochet. Jennifer challenged spinners to spin a yarn based on a story. I wanted to use a well-known story, so I picked the first 15 minutes of Star Wars to be my muse.

I spent a month or two of thinking about what I wanted to do as well as embarking on a scavenger hunt for beads, gears, fiber, and threads. The final yarn is only about 10 yards. It is corespun. It incorporates beads, threads, wool, silk, alpaca, Angelina, wire, and even some metal pieces from the hardware store.

As an intermediate spinner, this was right at the edge of my skill level. Those of you who are better spinners will, no doubt, notice places where my skills fell a bit short of my vision. And I have no clue how I would keep going with this. How to represent Luke? How to deal with the spaceships in the big battles? I can say that in terms of technique, this is far and away the most difficult yarn I have even attempted. If you only improve by stretching yourself artistically, consider me stretched!

12 September 2016

Georgia FiberFest 2016

Whew! I've just come off the whirlwind that is Dragon*Con followed by Georgia FiberFest!

As usual, a big thank you goes out to Kromski North America for their corporate sponsorship of the event. Kromski showed off their beautiful wheels and looms this year. They now have a wonderful jumbo flyer option for the Fantasia, if you like to spin art yarns. And they had a Fantasia wheel painted to resemble Polish pottery. In the photograph above, the blue fiber at top is the special edition Pavonia Peacock color. When Kromski gave out fiber last year at the vendor and teacher reception, it was fairly easy to get people to part with it. Not this year! Next year I must remember to be sure to sit at a table with non-spinners. The drop spindle was also included in the vendor and teacher gift bags. No excuse not to learn how to spin. And the gift bags also had assorted packets of Eucalan wool wash. I got the jasmine Wrapture "flavor."

Attendees and teachers also receive goodie bags. The goodie bag itself is pictured in the center. The celebratory "Dances with Wools" sheep (by artist Conni Togel of Sheep Incognito) is on the front, and the back has the long list of sponsors. The goodie bags also included:
● fabric squares (upper left) from Sunday Best Quiltworks
● tape measure (upper right) from Han Den Saori
● jar opener (center) from Camelid Cottage

I won the two skeins of "Buddy" yarn from Lunabud Knits (lower right) and the button as a door prize at the Friday banquet. Both this year and last, the Friday banquet was very good. The food was prepared by 5-star chef Jamie Keating, owner of Epic Restaurant. The door prizes were plentiful, too.

The rest of the photograph shows what I acquired in the market. The market gets better and better every year, although I do have to admit I'm not sure anybody showed up with an assortment of Firestar or Angelina. The rolags are by The Sample Family. Her sister, Kimarie of Kimarie's Knit Knacks, had gorgeous brightly-colored yarn for sale, including self-striping sock yarns and mini-skeins in eye-searing neon colors. The white silk — which I have dubbed "blinded by the white" — is from Swan Hollow Studio. I'm glad to see them every year, as they carry a wonderfully wide range of spinning fibers, primarily in undyed natural colors. If you want to craft a yarn to your specifications, Swan Hollow Studio can help provide the ingredients. The sand-colored mini-batts are from The Hippie Homemaker. I'm planning to spin a yarn based on the first 15 minutes of Star Wars; and I was stumped how I was going to spin Tatooine. I'm very glad somebody else has figured out how to dye a complex color like sand. The silk ribbon is from Alpaca Trading Post. If I decide to spin more of Star Wars, I am thinking this ribbon would be perfect for sand people! The Saori book is on clothing design. I bought one last year that includes skirts; this one is tops. I haven't tried Saori weaving, but I am sure the simple and clever ways to make clothes from basic rectangles will be useful for any sort of hand weaving. The jump ring opener and the bead reference card are, I think, from Primitive Originals. They brought kumihimo materials, including looms, threads, and beads, as well as a wonderful variety of jewelry clasps. I always have to look up bead information when I want to use beads with my knitting. I might make some chain maille accessories for a Dragon*Con costume; thus the jump ring opener could be helpful. And the wooden domino racks are from Allen B. Carr Works in Wood. As a gamer with a set of double 18 dominoes, the racks seemed like a good idea. I may want to sew, weave, or knit a carry bag to keep them in good condition.

I taught "One Color, Two Layers," "Daring Double Cables," and "Introduction to Reversible Lace." Thank you to all my students!

Next year's 6th annual Georgia FiberFest will be Thursday through Saturday, 7-9 September 2017. The featured guest speaker and teacher will be Franklin Habit! I already have the dates saved in my day planner.

06 September 2016

What We Do For Others

Last weekend I attended my twenty-second consecutive Dragon*Con. I've written about Dragon*Con before. Cuddly Hubby and I refer to it as the best weekend of the year, even better than Christmas. Over the years we have attended a variety of panels and activities. With 40 programming tracks, this is the sort of show where you could wear out a time turner. It isn't uncommon to decide to do something this year and to skip it next year in favor of something else we had to skip this year. But this year I did something I had never done before — I donated blood.

The Cuddly Hubby donates blood every year, usually on Thursday. Our tradition is to go pick up our badges on Thursday afternoon. Then Cuddly Hubby spends an hour or so donating blood. Then we go eat a good dinner at Max Lager's brew pub. But this year, Cuddly Hubby had doctors' appointments the week before the convention. Some of his test results weren't back. He wasn't able to donate.

It helps to know that every year the blood drive has Dragon*Con-themed t-shirts. Donate blood, get a t-shirt. I do not care about t-shirts. I rarely wear t-shirts. Getting a t-shirt is not motivation for me. But Cuddly Hubby has gotten a t-shirt year after year. At this point, he wears a different blood donor t-shirt every day of the convention, including Thursday. He was bummed when he couldn't get this year's t-shirt.

I never donate blood. In my youth, I had a couple bad experiences with needles. I have a pronounced fight-or-flight response. I almost passed out during the blood test for our marriage license. I also just barely make the weight requirement for blood donation. So I never donate.

By Saturday, it was clear Cuddly Hubby's results wouldn't be back in time for him to donate. So on Sunday morning, I psyched myself up. I walked into the Hilton and down the escalator. And I did it! There was a point when I first got in the chair that the fight-or-flight response really kicked in and I just wanted to jump up and run up the stairs. I kept my eyes closed almost the whole time. About halfway to three-quarters of the way through I got dizzy. All of a sudden, people were tipping my chair back and putting ice underneath my neck. I'm sure I changed colors. But I did not pass out. The person behind me actually threw up while I was donating. (Yes, they wisely put me at the far end with the experienced technicians dealing with the "problem children.") And it took a little bit of work to get my arm to stop bleeding afterwards. But, I faced down my fear and I did it!

And I got a t-shirt in Cuddly Hubby's size.

Later in the day, we met up at a panel. Cuddly Hubby sat down next to me. I had the t-shirt draped over my bandaged arm. I handed him the shirt and said, "I got your t-shirt."
He asked, "How'd you do that."
As I handed him the shirt, I pointed to my bandaged arm. "I donated blood."
It was worth it for the way his face lit up. He knew I had faced down a fear to do this for him.

How do you know you are married to the right person? When that person makes you a better person. I wouldn't donate blood on my own. I wouldn't donate blood for a t-shirt. But I thought of Cuddly Hubby getting out his Dragon*Con blood donor t-shirts every year in the future and seeing that hole in the sequence where 2016 went wrong. I didn't want him to have an unhappy story. So I made it a happy story.