21 June 2010


I've been updating my Ravelry files with some older projects. I realized I needed to add the Jester Tentacles Bag from Cat Bordhi's Second Treasury of Magical Knitting when someone wanted to trade for the four skeins of heathered Cascade 220 in my stash. Ummm, well, I don't really have four skeins of it anymore.

I must admit that I initially passed on the whole mobius knitting thing. The First Treasury of Magical Knitting is nice, but it is mostly scarves. Granted, what I didn't understand on a quick glance is that some lace patterns do very interesting things when you put them in a mobius. But when the sequel came out with its felted bowls and this crazy bag, I jumped in and bought both.

I had felted Cascade 220 before. This was a good thing, because I had written down the before and after numbers, so I could do the math to figure out how big to knit before felting. In the pattern, Cat Bordhi has the straps as separate long tentacles that are tied together after felting. This, of course, is so that you can adjust the strap to the length you like regardless of what happens in the washing machine. I had to be difficult and want one long unbroken strap. And I also wanted it to be the right length, between my waist and hip. My notes indicate that the strap was about 49 inches long before felting. It is now about 38 inches after felting. You can see how long it hung on the mannequin before felting. It was a big loose mess. This is also something to keep in mind when you are doing felting projects. Generally, you want to knit loosely. So not only is your object large, because you know it is going to get smaller, but it is also sloppy and floppy. And if it has tentacles on it, then it is that much more so. And I've discovered that when you dunk Cascade 220 in warm water, it grows first before it begins to felt. The whole project can seem really crazy and unwieldy until the felting magic happens.

The tentacles, by the way, took as much time or more to knit than the bag itself. For this project I incorporated bits of waste yarn randomly as I went. When the bag part was finished, I went back, opened up the waste yarn holes, and picked up and knit tentacles. You could also just snip and unravel and add tentacles wherever you like. And the fact that this bag is felted, even if you don't pick up smoothly, it will all look fine in the end.

This is a particularly fun project to use. I carried this bag around at a Mensa Annual Gathering. Strangers -- including men -- would come up to me and ask me about it. By the end of the convention, I think a few people knew me just because I was carrying such a unique handbag. It definitely starts conversations.

11 June 2010

Tigers & Bears, Oh my!

Today was the opening day for the new Trader's Alley exhibit area at ZooAtlanta. Although there are other things I ought to be doing, and it was a wicked sticky hot day, I scooted down for a quick peak. The zoo was pretty full by the time I left at 11 AM.

As a bear fan, I am super excited about Xander and Sabah, the new Malayan sun bears. This pair does have a breeding recommendation, although Dr. Snyder stated during the press conference that they can be tricky to breed in captivity. Bless Dr. Snyder -- she's becoming a love expert on unromantic bears. She and her team have managed with Lun Lun and Yang Yang, so we'll hope that Sabah and Xander are easy compared to giant pandas. Sun bears are active and will require lots of enrichment. Of course, today all I got was a distant view of a shy Xander. There is a small black blob in the center of the photo at right. At least you can see what a nice space it is and where the overlook is located. Once the bears are accustomed to their new residence, I am sure they will venture about and treat us all to lots of playful bear behavior.

Also back in the zoo are Moby the elusive clouded leopard, and Chelsea and Kavi the Sumatran tigers. Chelsea was a little uncertain about how much her home has been changed while she was away. I'm sure she didn't sign up for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Eventually she was willing to come out, pad about on the fresh sod, and get close to the glass.
The new exhibit solves a problem the old one had -- viewing. The tigers used to go to a back corner of the exhibit and more or less hide from view. Moby will still be able to do some of that in his exhibit -- bonus points on your zoo bingo card if you see Moby. But the tigers and bears will have a harder time being shy. You'll notice the old viewing area, which has been cleaned up but is still familiar. But as you head up the trail connecting giant pandas with otters, you'll discover a "bamboo thicket" viewing area for tigers, a glass viewing area for both tigers and bears, and another "bamboo thicket" for viewing bears. If you go all the way up the hill, there is an enclosed overlook. It provides shade and fan air to visitors who can look down into both the bear and tiger exhibits. No matter where the animals want to be, you should be able to find a viewpoint that works.

Charismatic megafauna tend to get the headlines at the zoo, but the reptile and bird keepers are not afraid to be creative with their charges. ZooAtlanta has only 40 acres, and I think herpetology and birds will discover a way to fill every leftover crevice! As you go up to sun bears, be sure to look at the other side of the walk to see endangered tortoises. Some of these have surprisingly beautiful geometric patterns! And the ever clever bird keepers have inserted a bird habitat next to sun bears. Betelgeus and Zelda, a breeding pair of wreathed hornbills, have lived behind the scenes for years. Now they are out where you can enjoy their impressive size and bright colors.

For more information, you can read the zoo's own press release here.

05 June 2010

Saving Triangle I

Long before I met Rick Mondragon in person, I learned his name from an old Threads magazine article. If you have the February 1995 issue, or the reprint in Great Knits (Newton CT: Taunton Press 1995, pp. 58-61), you can read his article "Knit in Blocks of Color -- without Bobbins." Rick's technique allows you to knit individual blocks and then connect as you go. In that regard it is similar to modular knitting, except you really are ending up with the yarn in exactly the same place it would be if you had lined up a long row of little balls or bobbins and knit not-so-merrily across in intarsia. And if you are a Kaffe Fassett fan, this technique could open up a whole new world!

One way to learn this is to knit two plain intarsia blocks and then unpick only one of them. (The white dots are the tops of the pin heads. I've pinned this swatch flat to a pillow.) I've unpicked the top eight rows of knitting on the blue half of this swatch. Do you see the paired yarns? (The yarn all by itself at top is the working yarn connected to the skein.) Each of those four pairs is a long loop. Each loop comprised two rows of knitting, one out (the right side row) and one back (the wrong side row). The genius in Rick's idea is the realization that you could pull yarn through the turning threads on the back and create proper intarsia interlocks after the fact.

In this view of the wrong side, you can see each loop of blue interlocking with white.

Rick does teach this technique from time to time. I, however, have not had the good fortune to take his workshop. (Lois Mitchell, the AKG librarian and NGKG past treasurer, has taken the workshop and given it a fine review.) So I gave myself I little extra help. Lucy Neatby uses waste yarn a fair bit to aid in visualizing grafting. I decided to use waste yarn to aid in finding those turning threads and pulling the loops of yarn through in the proper direction. I worked across, then I used a little waste yarn to work two waste stitches beyond the current section. I worked those waste stitches as I would for normal intarsia. When I went back to add the next section with the precious Schaefer Laurel, I unpicked the pink waste yarn each row as needed and used the loop as a guide.

The photograph above shows the front of the work. Since this piece is worked to follow a graphed pattern, the stitch marker corresponds to a division on the graph paper. The photograph below shows the same piece folded down to reveal the back. Can you see how the pink waste stitches are forming perfectly normal intarsia interlocks? (That pink dashed line is the key.)

Although I am sure this gets easier with practice, I would characterize it as a more advanced technique; and I probably wouldn't use it if good old regular intarsia would work fine. But in this case, it helped me get the Schaefer Laurel to pool in a way that I liked and without forcing me to waste a lot of yarn.

There are limitations. Rick's technique works for square, rectangular, or tapered shapes. But it does not work so well for overhanging cliff shapes, because you would have to cast-on the overhanging stitches rather than work them into established stitches. You do have to plan your shapes carefully if you want to work this way. Also, how you attach loops is slightly different depending on whether you are adding to the left or the right side of a section. If you are interested in further exploring this technique, you might want to knit a sample swatch with three sections and unpick both sides but not the middle.

On the positive side, Rick's technique can be used to do some really amazing things. If you are working a gridded multi-color fabric in the style of Kaffe Fassett, you have more freedom to add on colors and rip back. And this technique permits true intarsia in the round. Seamless argyle socks are not impossible!

04 June 2010

Still Knitting on Faith

I've been knitting on some older projects that just need to get off the needles. In particular, I've come back to Puzzlemaker. You may recall that I started this project in 2008. I was moving along rather nicely that summer, and got a lot done during the Beijing Summer Olympic Games. This is when things went bad. I believe the Egregious Error was made sometime during one of the beach vollyball finals. The Americans were playing rather well at beach volleyball, and I got hooked on it. With the twelve-hour time difference, the finals that started at 1 PM Beijing time were at 1 AM Atlanta time. I couldn't resist staying up to watch the finals LIVE. And I knit along merrily.

Do you recall in Gremlins how you aren't supposed to feed the cute little creatures after midnight? I believe there may be a similar rule for knitting. If it requires the least bit of thought, do not attempt after your normal bedtime. Just don't risk it. Well, not only did I make a mistake, but I made a mistake and didn't catch it until after I had finished the following triangle. Ugh!

I finally ripped back and fixed the error in the spring of 2009. But I just couldn't gain traction on the project. Now I'm back to it again. And this time, I think I just may be moving in the right direction. The picture at top is the back of the jacket, sans right sleeve. It is much more complicated, but also I think more interesting and beautiful, than the triangles on the left sleeve. There is both intarsia and stranded knitting (Fair Isle) in this project, as well as modular construction. Trust me, you do not want to rip back intarsia and try to keep all those carefully cut strands organized.

I believe Triangle G (upper right with the zig-zags) was where I made the Egregious Error. But I also knit through Triangle H, the large triangle below it. I had fixed those two last year and recently started again with Triangle I, the large triangle in the lower left. You've no doubt noticed the cute Kokopelli figures in that triangle? In the picture in the book, they are obviously Kokopelli. But they are blobs in the graphs for the sweater. So I e-mailed the publisher, who was very nice but not able to help me on a book that is so old. And truthfully, how many people have made this sweater in the last decade? On Ravelry, I am one of two people with this project. (Kudos to fionamacardle for her black & white attempt.) So it wasn't as if the nice people at Martingale Company were going to have a .pdf file ready to send. In the end, I looked at the slightly too small picture in the book and gave it a good guess. Here's my result:
If you have the book, you can substitute my section of graph for the corresponding section of Triangle I. The figures are upside down because this section is knit top down. The wide lines correspond to the wide lines on the graph in the book.

(If you would like to copy the graph in a larger, easy on the eye size, follow this link.)

Once I got through that issue, I discovered another. The Schaefer Laurel yarn is lovely. However, it has small dabs of color that change every few inches. In the stockinette intarsia sections, I prefer a little pooling. Up until this point, most of those sections were relatively narrow, and so produced pleasing color transitions. (Again, return to those zig-zags in Triangle G.) In those sections, I didn't mind knitting up and doing the calculations for how much yarn to cut. But Triangle I has larger sections. So, it was time to learn a new technique.

Tomorrow: The Technique that Saved Triangle I