17 December 2018

Crocheted Violets

I must admit, this is another of those projects that probably doesn't have enough "Wow!" factor given the amount of time.

The pattern comes from a 1989 Annie's Attic pamphlet titled "My Wild Irish Bows." As you might guess from the name, the collection of seven designs are all hair accessories worked in traditional Irish crochet motifs. The samples in the booklet were worked entirely in white size 10 crochet cotton, with the exception of one project worked in size 5 crochet cotton. I got the pamphlet at a North Georgia Knitting Guild meeting. I believe the guild library was destashing. Since this booklet is all crochet projects, it didn't really fit in.

For some reason, I looked at the project labeled "Flower Fall" and thought it looked like a spray of African violets. I decided to work it in color. I finished the little violets in short order (using a 1.65mm metal crochet hook). But then I tried the leaves and wasn't happy with the pattern as written. The project sat for a couple years. Every once in awhile I would open my crochet hook case and think I had lost the #7 metal hook. Then I would dig through the unfinished projects pile and discover the bag with the hook, pattern booklet, skeins of size 5 embroidery cotton, and pile of purple flowers.

In an effort to open up more space on the shelves, I was looking for a quick-to-finish project out of the unfinished pile. Of course, I did not realize this would not be a quick-to-finish project until after I was well into the quagmire. I ended up changing the leaves to work them in knitting on US size 0000 needles/1.25mm rather than using crochet. They are worked in versa lace, but without any yarn overs. In other words, they are worked in 1×1 ribbing. Rather than making crochet chains for the dangling leaves, I worked the cords on a hairpin lace loom, using it as if it were a lucet. This produced dangles that look good on both sides, although the ones with flowers have a definite right-side and wrong-side.

After all of the crocheting and knitting, I still needed to assemble the pieces. Just like Percy the Polar Bear, this project was very much about spending lots of time using loose ends to carefully join pieces. It probably took 3-5 hours just to attach all the flowers, and then another 3-4 hours to attach all the little yellow beads.

The final result is about 4½ inches wide by 8 inches tall. It is finished except for attaching it to a barrette or hair comb, and then weaving in the last few loose ends from the leaves. The final aesthetic result is walking a line. Is it pretty enough to wear, or will it be too kitchy?

My guess is I have probably 30-40 hours of work in this thing. But, at least it is no longer taking up space on the shelf. And it has improved my appreciation for Irish crochet. To anyone who is thinking about making one of these for a formal affair such as a prom or wedding, give yourself plenty of time. You probably don't want to commit to making a bunch of them for the bridesmaids.

01 December 2018

'Tis the Season

As stated previously, 2018 was a surprisingly unproductive year. I can't really explain why it was so unproductive, other than a lot of travel and the Mensa regional gathering. I've been looking around the house at stacks of unread textile books and magazines as well as unfinished (or unstarted) projects. I was looking for something small and quick to get me back into the groove.

I purchased issue #138/October 2015 of Simply Knitting magazine when I was at Unwind back in April. There was a silent auction to benefit a local charity. I think I bid $1. Nobody bid against me. The magazine came with the yarn pack to make a cute little knitted holiday polar bear.

The pattern is by Alan Dart, who is well-known in the United Kingdom for exactly this type of knitting pattern. He has many, many patterns for cute little knitted people and animals as well as a fan group on Ravelry. If you have a large stash of scraps, Mr. Dart's pattern oeuvre could be just the thing to clear out the bin of mini-skeins. I should give you fair warning, however. While the knitting is technically, rather quick, the finishing is not. If you are looking for an opportunity to practice sewing seams, this is a great project. If you would rather knit mindlessly, look elsewhere.

I must admit to changing the pattern. All the pieces are written for flat back-and-forth knitting which is then seamed. Mr. Dart does kindly include a one-stitch seam allowance. In many cases, this meant eliminating two stitches when converting a piece from flat to in-the-round. For example, I worked each ear as 10 stitches in the round rather than 12 stitches flat. There were seams in strange placed. For example, the pattern has a seam down the middle of the foot. I changed this by casting-on using Judy's magic and working outward in the round for the black paw pad and then up the leg in cream. I also worked the arms in the round, but this meant having to deal with garter stitch in the round at the cuff trim and working the paw pads in circular modular intarsia.

I eliminated some sewing. Since the legs are worked sole upwards, I plunged the live stitches through the bear body and bound them off inside the bear. The arms are worked in the other direction, which meant picking up stitches through the bear body. The ears were supposed to be attached to the hood. Instead, I picked them up through the head, worked in the round (adding an extra round of height) and then bound off using Kitchener grafting. I combined the hood and the trim piece on the front of the jacket. This meant for some unorthodox knitting, including a provisional cast-on for only part of the element as well as stitches in both directions that needed to be plunged into the jacket and bound off inside. And I added holes in the hood so the ears can peek through as well as joining the hood at back with Kitchener grafting rather than an obvious seam. The advantage of all the picking up and plunging down is that the arms and legs are attached very firmly. I like to think this is a toy that is not coming apart easily.

The embroidery, picking up, plunging down, converting from flat to in-the-round, vertical lifelines, grafting, and just the generally small-ish size made the project fairly fiddly. It was definitely not a mindless while-I-watch-television project. I think I'd prefer a pattern where the whole bear is worked as one piece with a mattress stitch seam at the back to accommodate stuffing. Even the size is a little odd. At 6½ inches/16 cm tall, the bear is definitely too big and heavy to be an ornament, but it is a little small to cuddle. I guess it is the perfect size to tuck on a shelf where it can mark the spot where Dickens' A Christmas Carol should reside.

The final bear is cute. I stuffed him with cotton lint leftover from medicine bottles. There are several people on Ravelry who have worked this pattern with a fuzzy novelty yarn for the jacket trim, and that's a very successful choice I would embrace if working the pattern again. There's also a lady who made two, working a red skirt for the second bear so as to have a Mrs. Santa version. I've finished my bear just in time for the holiday season.

29 November 2018

Update Your 2019 Calendar

Update: I've republished this to the top of the queue. Registration for South Carolina Knit Inn opens in two days. Registration for Pittsburgh has also opened.

There are a lot of fiber arts gatherings coming up in 2019. Many of them have just opened for registration or are about to open for registration. Here's a rundown.

Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat, Hendersonville NC, Thursday through Sunday 17-20 January 2019. This retreat at the Episcopalian campground is a great way to de-stress after the holidays. Accommodations are in cabins or at the inn. All meals are served in the cafeteria. The long weekend is an opportunity to make progress on a project. Knitting instructors include:
Boykin Exum teaching beginning knitting.
Master Knitter Heather Storta teaching an Estonian lace shawl.
Mimi Kezer teaching sliding loop entrelac.
Varian Brandon teaching a colorwork hat.
I'll be teaching a versa lace scarf.

South Carolina Knit Inn, Greenville SC, Thursday through Sunday 31 January through 3 February 2019. Many Atlantans drive up to South Carolina for this gathering where we knitters overrun the Drury hotel at exit 51. I will be teaching "Liberating the Labyrinth" on Friday afternoon and "Knit Faster with Combination Knitting" on Saturday morning. Registration opens on Saturday 1 December 2018.

Atlanta Knitting Guild rising star Mimi Kezer, Atlanta GA, Thursday through Sunday 7 through 10 March 2019. Mimi is an amazing soul, delightful person, and talented teacher. You will learn much and enjoy the process. Class listing and registration should open before the end of the year.

The Peach Fuzz Fiber Festival at the Treasure Hunt Antique Mall in Powder Springs GA Saturday and Sunday 9 & 10 March 2019. This new fiber festival is hosted by the Peach Fuzz Fiber Guild. You can learn more by following the link above to their Ravelry group.

Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival, Green Tree PA, Friday through Sunday, 15 through 17 March 2019. I know this one is outside our region. I'm listing it because I will be teaching. This will be my first show where I fly rather than drive. I have heard lots of amazing things about this diverse show. Classes are not yet listed on their website, but I have signed a contract to teach "1×1 Wonders," "Easy Reversible Cables," "Introduction to Versa Lace," "Knit Faster with Combination Knitting," and "Liberating the Labyrinth." I also expect to be staffing the UFO Crash Site one evening, which should be fun.

Carolina Fiber Fest, Raleigh NC, Friday and Saturday 22 & 23 March 2019. Classes aren't listed yet, but should be soon.

Southeast Fiber Forum, Gatlinburg TN, Thursday through Sunday 4 through 7 April 2019. This show is primarily about weaving, spinning, and dyeing. It is a great get-away weekend and a chance to stay at the famous Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Smoky Mountain Spinnery is right up the street.

Unwind, Blowing Rock NC, Friday through Monday 26 through 29 April 2019. This is the wonderful retreat organized by Nancy Shroyer of Nancy's Knit Knacks. This year's teachers are Laura Barker, Mimi Kezer, Hannah Thiessen, and Jeffrey Wall. Classes are already listed. Registration opens on Sunday 4 November and tends to sell out fast (only 48 slots), so be prepared! Update on Monday 12 November 2018: Registration completely filled. If you want to attend, you'll have to wait until 2020.

Georgia Mountain Needle Arts Festival, Gilmer County Convention Center in Ellijay GA, Friday through Sunday 26-28 April 2019. This is the second year of this delightful festival.

Maryland Sheep and Wool, West Friendship MD, Saturday and Sunday 4 & 5 May 2019. Again, this huge show is maybe a little bit out of our region but well worth the travel. If you need your fix of fresh fleece, live animals, workshops, fiber arts competition, a huge market with many of your favorite vendors, and a fairground, this is your 6-month stop between last year's SAFF and the next one.

STITCHES United, Atlanta GA, Thursday through Sunday 30 May through 2 June 2019. It has been a few years since STITCHES was here. Cobb Galleria has changed. There's a baseball stadium just across the expressway. There's indoor skydiving up the street. There are many more restaurants. There's even a pedestrian bridge across I-285 and new express toll lanes. STITCHES has changed, too. United includes knitting but also quilting, spinning, crochet, and weaving. After the long wait, this is bound to be a fabulous show.

Blue Ridge Fiber Fest, Sparta NC, Friday and Saturday 7 & 8 June 2019. This show is only in its second year. It is a 6-hour drive from Atlanta, up in the mountains in North Carolina. Atlanta will probably be hot and sticky by early June. This show is a nice excuse to drive up to the mountains. Some classes are already listed.

27 November 2018


During the first weekend of November, I took a two-day sprang workshop with Carol James. Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance offered the class in this amazing but rare technique.

I was interested in the technique because it is sometimes confused with knit and crochet in historic collections. Center for Knit and Crochet at some point will want to have resources on their website to help curators and collectors discern among knit and crochet as well as tatting, nålebinding, sprang, and the like. When we reach that point, I want to be useful.

I came away with an appreciation for this amazing technique that dates all the way back to the bronze age. Carol showed us a picture of a Greek vase where the weaver appears to be making sprang. (There's an archeology journal article here.) The technique was common in European military sashes, which is how Carol was introduced to it through her business producing military sashes for reenactors. She also showed us pictures of Medieval costumes showing tights with vertical stripes. And apparently some of the ancient Greek statues showing naked Greeks fighting clothed Persians may have been depicting Persians in colorful sprang costumes. This technique excited me both as a textile enthusiast and an art historian.

I found Carol's arguments persuasive that some items identified from pictures as knitting might be sprang — for example, the tights or leggings with vertical stripes. In knitting, this is difficult to do. I would do it using circular intarsia, which is an advanced technique. If knitting were common, you would expect to see horizontal stripes in leg wear. In sprang, however, vertical stripes are very easy. In fact, vertical stripes might make the project easier and faster to work!

It is hard to exaggerate the horizontal stretch of sprang. This stretch is inherent to the fabric, allowing for horizontal stretch even in fibers with no stretch, such as cotton, linen, or silk. There is no vertical stretch. Horizontal stretch when activated will, of course, cause the fabric to shorten vertically.

In a nutshell, sprang is a cloth-making technique akin to weaving.
  • Easy to set-up — only a simple frame or a couple of sticks.
  • Weft-less — requires a warp but no weft.
  • Very little loom waste.
  • Relatively fast (compared with knitting).
  • Creates two mirrored pieces of fabric.
  • Can be worked as a flat rectangle (like a scarf) or as a circular warp (a rectangle that comes around and meets itself, such as an infinity scarf).
  • Has a lot of horizontal stretch but a lot of vertical stability.
  • Excellent for vertical stripes, hand-dyed yarns, intentional pooling, and other striping or ikat-like effect.
In a wider warp you would use sticks because thread capacity would exceed hand size, but in class we used narrow warps and manipulated the threads using our fingers. On Saturday, Carol was wearing a sprang garment in different colors that was made from ten pieces sewn together.

The pictures are details from a lace practice sampler I made using variegated sock yarn. The patterns were written for a warp of 36 threads, but I ran out of yarn and had a warp of only 34 threads. Elements to notice:
  • The center line. Above it, the fabric is Z-twist. Below it, the fabric is S-twist.
  • Gauge. My Z-twist was packed in tighter than my S-twist. Beating both sides evenly is definitely a skill achieved through practice.
  • When relaxed, patterning is hidden. Patterns in sprang are most visible when the fabric is stretched.
If you'd like to see some of Carol's amazing work, you can visit her gallery of sprang here. You can find her YouTube videos posted as sashweaver here. For example, her video on circular warp is here.

There is a video here where Carol talks about recreating George Washington's sash. Truly a monumental achievement!

15 November 2018

The Power of Color

I've gotten very little knitting accomplished in 2018. I did, however, do some spinning.

Mountain Colors Summertime + Ruby Red (above)
Mountain Colors Ruby Red + Ruby Red (below)
I have a vision for a little red riding hood costume for Dragon*Con. I think it would be great to make the whole cape out of handspun. Ideally, I'd like the entire outfit to be handwoven, hand-knitted, crocheted, sprang-ed, and the like. I've been buying and spinning red. I don't have a plan. My thought is just to make a big pile of red yarn using my default spinning technique, then figure out what goes where. I also have some fleeces with locks, as I think an edging of locks on the cape would be dramatic.

I decided to spin some of the red Mountain Colors Bluefaced Leicester in my stash. Let me just pause right now and say, I adore Mountain Colors. Their colorways are rich, saturated, and vibrant. I had three bumps of Ruby River. Is there a better basic red out there? My original plan was to use all three bumps together, making 2-ply yarns for weaving. But I also noticed in the stash a bump of the Summertime colorway, which has red but also orange and blue-greens.

I'm on the e-mail list for Interweave, receiving the newsletters for knitting, spinning, and weaving. I no longer remember which posts I saw — probably at least one by Deborah Held — that recommended taming a crazy colorway by plying it with a solid or close-to-solid colorway. Jillian Moreno demonstrates this technique in her 12 Ways to Spin Handpainted Top video. This is also a trick to get a large quantity of yarn for a big project (sweater?) out of a stash filled with assorted bumps acquired after random failed Will saves. Basically, you can take a bunch of related but not identical colorways and ply them to a common colorway to make them look like they all belong together. And a solid colorway can also make something that would be way too loud and stripey calm down and look painterly and artistic.

So, that's what I did. I made one skein of Ruby Red on Ruby Red and another skein of Ruby Red with Sumertime.

They both look good.

The barber pole effect is more pronounced in the mixed colorway. But I also think it will play with a field of assorted reds.

Of course, now I am thinking they would also look great in a knitted project, shifting back and forth between the not-quite-solid and the barber pole. And, since I am also following Jen Arnall-Culliford's helical knitting posts, I am thinking this would be an interesting pair of yarns for helical knitting.