27 June 2014

Not According to Plan

My theme for 2014 is: Catch up from 2013.

I'm also in the middle of Things Not Going As Planned. I was supposed to be visiting in Pennsylvania and Maryland right now. But I am home in Georgia because my sweet, cuddly, fluffy ball of joy and love -- Vincent -- turned up lame the evening of Friday the 13th. A fortnight later, he is doing much better and so am I. It was a scary several days where he was doing the zombie shuffle with his hind legs and I didn't have a prognosis. He is on medication twice a day right now and I expect he will have follow up appointments with his veterinarian or the specialty veterinarians who performed a myelogram and MRI on him. So right now, I'm recovering from being emotionally and financially drained, but I am very grateful I still have a two feline household.

This also means I now have two unscheduled weeks in front of me. After all, I was going to be away, so I cleared my schedule. So, it is time to catch up.

Updating my Ravelry projects page and stash seemed like a good thing to catch up.

This is the Circular Stranded Baby Surprise Jacket. The pattern came out last year, and I was immediately smitten. I've made several Baby Surprise Jackets, so this looked like just more of the same but with the fun of color patterns! I bought yarn. I made a swatch so I could decide whether I wanted teal on green or green on teal and what color the bands should be. Then I cast on with the idea that I would be offering this as a class. I worked on it during the autumn, from September to November, which is a long time for me to work on something that uses less than 8 ounces of yarn. And I ended up deciding I can't teach this.

a swatch for auditioning color combinations
Part of the problem is the steeks. Clearly, I am going to need more practice. This is the second time I have attempted a crocheted steek, and it is the second time I have had problems with said crochet chain pulling off and leaving the cut yarn ends dangling in the breeze. Jenna the Yarn Pimp tells me I should just run a steek up on a sewing machine, and I believe her.

There are a couple issues I would have even if the steeks had behaved themselves in this project. The longer steek is okay, but it ends up across the top seam in the sleeves. The extra bulk this creates is probably fine on an adult or child jacket, but I didn’t care for on the baby size. When I teach a regular baby surprise jacket, I use some careful planning to minimize the bulk in the sleeve seam. There are two other steeks, and both are small. I found them difficult to tack down, especially the steek at the collar, as it is only five rows tall. I ended up with a little tab of fabric that was sort of in the way, but not enough to sew down and weave in an end.

There are other minor issues. The color work stranding tends to show through at the cuffs. There are lots of little ends to be woven in that seem to want to pop out. Maybe all this would be less noticeable when the garment is worn? And if you do the cuff and nappy shaping, then the pattern breaks. Ugh!

If I made this again I would:
  • use a sewing machine steek if using superwash yarn
  • find an alternative to a steek for the collar and back extension
  • possibly chuck the color work & steek idea and work back and forth in double-knit
 Then again, isn't double knitting always my go-to solution?

26 June 2014

Origin Story

When I teach at shows, I am usually asked to provide a biography. In that biography, I usually mention that I learned to cross stitch at age four. My mother sat me down and taught me. I'm not sure why she decided -- maybe I showed an interest? My dad said I was too young. I didn't even yet write my own name. Well, here is the proof.
During my childhood, I tried many, many different types of needle arts including cross stitch, embroidery, crewel, bargello, hardanger, needlepoint, and canvas work. My mother, sister, and I were all in the local chapter of Embroiderers' Guild of America. Of course, now that I'm in two knitting guilds, I see how strange it is to have a minor in the guild! But as a teenager, it didn't seem strange to me at all. I was just one more female in a big group of other females who all liked stitching. My mother was always very encouraging as I tried different stitching techniques. It was a hobby that connected all the women in my family. Even when I developed separate interests from my mother, we could always discuss our latest project or a new technique we'd just learned, take a road trip to visit a shop, or just admire and encourage each other. That fearlessness about trying new techniques made it possible for me to learn knitting as an adult and to leap into designing my own projects when I barely knew what I was doing. Even when I haven't had confidence about other things in my life, I have always had confidence that given needles and thread or yarn, I retain the power to create something beautiful from raw materials.

We're in the heart of summer now, and it brings back memories of my summers visiting my maternal grandmother. I would sit and stitch during the days. I made lots of embroidered Christmas ornaments over those many summers. In the evenings, Grandma and I would play card games. Sometimes we would take a walk or go for ice cream. Most days we would go look at her vegetable garden, and maybe pick tomatoes or green peppers. We would admire the African violets on the windowsill above her kitchen sink. These are simple, inexpensive pleasures that still give me contented feelings about my grandmother. Something about the hot smell of summer nights takes me back almost four decades. When I lie in bed at night, I can remember the creaky guest bedroom at her house. And I can remember being very young and being aware I did not yet know what life would have for me.

Here I am in middle age, in the heat of another summer. There is a tomato plant in my front yard, and I eagerly monitor to see if the flowers will become fruit. There are African violets on the windowsill in my living room, that may or may not survive depending on the will of the felines. Board games continue to be an important social activity. And needle arts are the central activity in my life. My maternal grandmother was born in 1901 and lived to be more than 90, but even with that longevity, she has now been gone more than 20 years.

I also spent time with my paternal grandmother. She is still alive and over 90, but in failing health. She was less interested in embroidery, but she was an amazing seamstress. She made many (most?) of her clothes over her lifetime. I still have some of the clothes she made for me. In fact, last night I was replacing the elastic in a pink summer sundress she made for me more than 20 years ago. I still wear it, especially at Dragon*Con where I pair it with a tapestry bodice.

Last summer my paternal grandmother gave me her sewing furniture. These are cabinets and a stool my dad built for her in the early 1970s. They definitely show signs of use, of the hours and hours my grandmother took pleasure in crafting clothes for herself and those she loved. I've put a piece of Plexiglass across the cabinet with the sewing machine. My computer sits on it, but I can see my grandmother's sewing machine resting just beneath the plastic. I sit on the stool where she sat. My class handouts are in the drawers where she stored her sewing patterns. When I weave cloth or see a couture garment, I immediately think of her.

My home has touches of needle arts in almost every room. A quilt here. A counted cross-stitch picture there. A handwoven dish towel in the kitchen. My first cross-stitch project in the guest bedroom. In spite of the distance of miles and years, I am quietly surrounded by the familial love in the cabinets my dad built for his mom, and in all those stitches by the women whose genes I share.

02 June 2014

Scrawling

I get so caught up in stunt knitting that I sometimes forget simplicity is often the secret to good design. And so it has been with Scrawling.

This is a scribble lace shawl I worked up last summer. It is one of the few fiber things that was started, worked upon, and completed during the personal mayhem of 2013. I had made a scribble lace years ago when I taught for Purly Gates. My recollection was the project was fairly quick and fun. And the finished fabric was like knitted Silly Putty -- highly malleable. Scrawling started with Esther Rodgers' "Corespinning for Fun and Function" class at STITCHES South 2013. The art batt was lovely, and the corespun yarn was fabulous. You'll recall I made this skein:
I liked the skein so much, I decided to wanted to use it in a project right away so I could show it off. But I'm not usually a fan of bulky knits or projects made with only corespun. And the skein was only 73 m/80 yards long. Handspun art yarns are like high-quality spices. You don't make a whole meal out of a spice; rather, the spice makes a whole lot of something else interesting enough to eat. The scribble lace came to mind. And for some reason, I decided rather than work a plain scribble lace, I'd throw in a little feather and fan to make the whole thing move.
My initial vision was to purchase green silk, but I ended up with Louet Euroflax sport linen instead. The important part is you want a thin and possibly drapey yarn for the base. Because the linen has no elasticity, I used larger needle tips for the knit rows (size 10mm/US 15) and smaller tips (size 9mm/US 13) for the purl rows. And because I cast on lengthwise, I used my Denise circular needle.

The finished shawl/wrap is about 250cm/100 inches long. So I could have cast on about half as many stitches. On the other hand, I wear it wrapped twice around my shoulders, and the extra volume doesn't seem to hurt the look.

I finished the shawl in June of last year. But somehow, I just didn't get a picture of me wearing it. While I can set up the camera on a tripod, I just didn't get to it. But I got lots of compliments on the shawl. I even wore it in the fashion show at TKGA in October. And when I wore it at STITCHES South this year, it got attention. Esther asked me to please put the pattern up on Ravelry. When I saw Cuddly Hubby in May, I made getting a good picture a priority. After a number of tries, this is what we got:
So, thank you to Esther for poking me on this and to the Cuddly Hubby for working the camera. The pattern is available for download on Ravelry. I've even sold a couple copies already!