29 September 2009

A Weekend of Insouciant Knitting Nirvana

Cat Bordhi taught two workshops at The Whole Nine Yarns over the weekend. Of course, I and my undivided attention were there. For the non-knitters who read this blog (the knitters already know this) Cat's second book in her current sock series releases this week.This title has been on my wish list for more than a year. You'll recall from the Interlocking Leaves socks last spring that I really enjoyed foxglove architecture from New Pathways for Sock Knitters. I think I might still prefer that architecture over Personal Footprints, but both certainly have their merits.

In the Saturday workshop, we made a personal footprints discovery sock. This is basically what's in the book, but it was so very nice to have Cat on hand. Especially if you do not knit socks very often (raise my hand), it is nice to have someone who has knit many, many socks to help you with fit. I also suspect that only podiatrists have thought about or looked at as many different feet as Cat. As you'll see in the book, you make an accurate (no cheating!) cut-out of your foot. Then you knit a toe-up sock, marking lines on your cardboard cut-out as you work. The cut-out becomes a pattern. Some lines remind you when to increase. One line reminds you where to insert the lifelines for the leg insertion. And a line near the back reminds you where to begin your heel decreases. If you are someone who knits socks obsessively, you can use this method to produce a very easy, compact pattern that you can take with you.

My discovery sock, knit on a size 4mm Addi with Cascade 220 Heathers yarn.

What is really brilliant about these socks is the leg opening. If you read the previous paragraph carefully, you'll have wondered about the "lifelines for leg insertion." Huh? If you read Twist Collective, then you'll recall the Houdini Socks Cat submitted for the premiere issue in Fall 2008. The Houdini socks are a simplified version of the Personal Footprints architecture. Knit a tube with a toe and a heel. Then snip a stitch in the middle of where the leg opening should appear, unravel about half a row, and pick up around the opening to form the leg. This method produces an interesting intersection near the ankle that Cat calls the "star." Furthermore, Cat's method for picking up around the afterthought opening without getting weird holes at the corner works. Really. Try it. And if you decide to knit the jester tentacles bag from the Second Treasury of Magical Knitting, you now will know a better way of making the tentacles.

A few more observations:
It is very easy to carry patterns up the instep and then up the leg with these socks.

It is very easy to fold these socks for storage, as they fold into flat footprint shapes. Cat did warn us that socks of this architecture do not fit sock blockers well. They do fit feet well.

This type of sock architecture works well for ankle socks, those cute little socks that only cover your foot and do not, in fact, cover your ankles. When I was young, they often had a small pom pom on the back and were worn with tennis outfits. Even now, I think they are most often associated with sports wear. If you want to go legless with your socks, you could work just a round or two after the leg opening and bind off.

The toe beginning is interesting as well. In particular, the first round is worked with both the yarn and the tail so that you double your stitches easily. Keep this in mind for other projects, such as circular shawls. I've done increases this way before with two-color double knitting or Fair Isle (just work two stitches in the same stitch, one with each color of yarn), but I had never thought of using the tail yarn on the first round to double stitches. Duh!

And even if you have read this quarter's Knitty, you will want Cat's book so that you can have directions for Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off in your library. During Saturday's workshop I was sitting next to Ginny, who is our resident sock-yarn hoarder and sock knitter. Ginny whispered to me that she doesn't like toe-up socks because she can never find a bind off that is loose and stretchy enough and that looks nice both on and off the foot. I know Ginny is not the only person who has encountered this problem. And an hour or two later, Cat demonstrated this wonderful technique that perfectly meets the requirements. She also tells us that Jeny Staiman has a cast-on to match it. Cat went so far as to say that Jeny is at the same level of brilliance as Debbie New. So now I'm desperately coveting Jeny's first book, and I have no idea what it is and when it will be printed. I just know I want it now!

Oh, and Cat has already seen Lynne Barr's new Reversible Knitting book. Twist the knife, er knitting needle, why don't you? At least it comes out this week. (Pant, hyperventilate, pant.)

Sunday's workshop involved creativity and generating new ideas. In the first exercise, Connie and I worked together to design adorable Indian (as in Wild West) toddler pants that grow as the child grows. I hope Connie will knit them, as it was mostly her design and a very good one at that. Jan Stephens also came up with enough ideas for a book, but then promptly said she wasn't going to write it! In another exercise, Ginny and Heather invented not just people but entire family trees. I am so sorry nobody taped this. Heather, if you need money to put your twins through school, we can lock you and Ginny somewhere so you two can write Edward Gorey-style books. Hilarious!

In yet another exercise, we generated ideas by thinking about what we do every day. Some of mine:
clean cat box => knit a wire scoop
microwave food => knit a food-safe doily splatter cover
make face @ stupid computer "Denethor" => knit a brick

This generated more conversation. Another participant makes coffee every morning. She composts her coffee grounds, but she was thinking it would be nice to have reusable knitted coffee filters. So the next thing you know, we are having a group discussion about which yarns would be food safe and at what temperatures. Dare I contact a yarn company and ask why this important information is not standard on all yarn labels?

I also felt that the knitted brick might not be quite the right item to throw at Denethor the PC. In this group discussion, a knitted grenade was mentioned as a possibility. I think that would certainly be a fun knit, as it would give you a chance to play with strong texture contrasts of knits and purls. I'm just hoping Homeland Security wouldn't come knocking after viewing your Ravelry project page. I think I then suggested knitting a Mac, but then Jenna came up with the perfect solution: Intimidate a PC by knitting a Mac doll based on the "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" commercials. Jenna, you are a genius!

I've had a class with Cat before, so I already knew she was a wonderful teacher. But let me just remind everybody again -- this is someone who used to teach elementary and middle school children and it shows in that she is a very good teacher. Do not fail to treat yourself to at least one workshop with her even if, like me, you are not a sock knitter.

24 September 2009

Scheherazade


Sometimes a technique gets a bad reputation. Intarsia is an example. A lot of knitters will not even try it, as they've already heard the horror stories. There are reasons not to love intarsia. It can sometimes be uneven. There are lots of loose strings during the knitting and lots of ends to weave in. And it can require a lot of concentration. Of course, this is mostly true if you are making complex picture knitting. But intarsia can be used to get some very nice decorative results without getting too complicated.

Several years ago I wanted to knit a ruana. I was initially inspired by the one in Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls book. At the time, I had a nice stash of Reynolds Fusion and was looking for an excuse to play with it. Reynolds had a pamphlet of four different scarf patterns, and that was an inspirational starting point. So I started with that, and knit a truncated diamond shape with diamond patterns. I taught that pattern once as a class. And I've worn this ruana again and again, to the point that today it has begun to felt a little bit. I didn't do any decreases or shaping around the neck. The fabric is open enough and flexible enough that it has acquired the proper shape over time just through being worn.

I knit a second version of the ruana, in which the diamonds became ogees. Again, I used Fusion, but in a neutral colorway that reminded me of undyed animal fiber. That shawl was donated appropriately to the ZooAtlanta Beastly Feast silent auction. I was almost sorry to donate it, because it turned out so lovely. The ogee shapes were graceful and flattering. And because the edge of the garment follows the ogee shape, those edges drape in a flattering manner. But then, Fusion was discontinued. It was a good yarn with some good design possibilities, but it hadn't attracted the sort of pattern support it needed. For example, one of the commercial patterns was for a sweater with a circular tie-dye motif in the center. (If you want to see this, search Fusion projects on Ravelry.) The motif itself was pretty, but let's face it, a target on the tummy is flattering on very few figures.

So during STITCHES South, I wore the ruana. With all the yarn vendors, I made it my mission to find a substitute for Fusion. Debi Light from The Whole Nine Yarns had even looked for me at one of the TNNA shows, without finding a perfect substitute. So I was most surprised and delighted when a Nashua representative brought Geologie to my attention. I had initially passed on it because Geologie doesn't have the long color changes of Fusion. But it is similar in both composition and recommended needle size/gauge. Using a variety of colorways produced a rather fine result. I had six skeins to work with rather than the ten I'd need for a ruana, so I made this oddly-shaped shawl instead. I am happy to show off how lovely this yarn can be. The colors are subtle and complex, almost like an Impressionist painting. And the jewel tones are quite rich. Something about the color combination and the ogees made me think of an Arabian night, so I named this pattern Scheherazade. There are some other colorways that are more neutral, almost like layered sandstone. I'm hoping to make another ogee ruana using those colors.

I'll be teaching this project as a class in November. Whether worked as a scarf, shawl, or ruana, the pattern is worked in long strips that are joined together by intarsia. I've worked out some "graph" paper that participants can use to plan the final shape of their projects. This is a pattern that I hope will someday be available commercially. But for now, I'm happy to share the pictures (and share the pattern if you take the class). And I hope the pictures will inspire others to design with Geologie.

14 September 2009

Spectacular 14 Scarf

Of course, I did take some knitting with me on the Wisconsin vacation. Had to have that! And it was so nice being on a road trip vacation with the Cuddly Hubby, as he could drive and I could knit. (I may be passionate about knitting, but I do not recommend knitting and driving at the same time. Sometimes, you just have to be patient, Grasshopper.) You'll recall I had been experimenting with some brioche/shaker/Estonian patent stitches. This project evolved out of the net stitch that I showed in the video on 17 July. I was looking for an excuse to try the technique in a project. And this particular project also served a practical purpose.

The Whole Nine Yarns had been to the TNNA market in June and purchased several "skeins" of Spectacular 14 from Bjorn of Hand Painted Knitting Yarns. Part of what makes this yarn unique is that it is already cut into long lengths, rather than flowing continuously from a skein. The colors are beautiful -- complex and interesting. And the yarn is sold in strands -- about $15 for ten strands. The yarn was purchased for the shop with the idea that ten strands could make a project. This would be good for holiday gift giving. Well, upon further experimentation, ten strands didn't really work. Hmmm. And of course, a lot of knitters weren't sure what to do with already cut up yarn. So, we needed a project that would show off this yarn and get people to start thinking about how they could use it creatively.

The net pattern stitch turned out to be an excellent choice. Although it looks as if I've used Spectacular 14 on every-other row, I've actually used it only on every fourth row. So the pattern turns out to be an excellent "hamburger helper" for knitters. Even with that, I needed twenty strands rather than ten to produce a reasonable width of scarf. The total cost of the scarf, including strands and background yarn, is around $50. And the cut strands were functional, because they produced a self-fringe.

For the background part of the scarf, I used about 1.5 skeins of Cascade 220 in color 9338, which is a complex heathered grey-green. Jenna, Caryn, and I spent a lot of time talking about which color to use with the Spectacular 14. The green worked okay, but this would also be interesting with a light mocha brown or possibly oatmeal. We were looking for something that would coordinate with Spectacular 14 without stealing the limelight. Walking around with ten strands and holding it up to the wall of yarn gave me a greater appreciation for how unusual the color combinations are in this yarn. And as you can see, the back of the scarf, while different from the front, is still very interesting with a Swiss dot pattern.

In September, I taught this technique and this specific project as a class. It was exciting to get other people involved and to get the knit one more below technique out into the world. I'm looking forward to seeing what the students accomplish, as it is always interesting to see how other people put color and texture together. And we've put it on the schedule again at the beginning of December. If you happen to be in the shop anytime soon, you should be able to find the Spectacular 14 scarf hanging around. Feel free to give it a look.