14 December 2011


Dressed loom from the work side.
Back in the summer, I bought a loom. I'd been looking at weaving for awhile. Getting into weaving is a little difficult, because looms are expensive and there are a lot of loom manufacturers. (The same could be said of buying a spinning wheel.) I ended up with an Ashford table loom. This is a rather nice little loom, in that it folds and can be slid under a bed or stacked along the back wall of a closet. This also means it can be easily transported to workshops. And the 24-inch/60cm width is just right for a folding card table.
Dressed loom from the back side.
The loom sat in my home from mid-summer to mid-autumn. In November, I decided that it needed to at least be put together. So I did that. After another two or three weeks, I bought some Kauni yarn, put a warp on the loom, and wove.
This is just a basic sampler. I used a straight threading (i.e. shafts 1-2-3-4 in order left to right front to back). As you are looking at it from left to right: tabby, 2/2 twill, 1/3 twill, 3/1 twill, Swiss twill, zig zag twill, basket weave, rib weave, 1/3 & 3/1 hopsack, and double-faced twill. The different lengths on the fringes indicate the differences in loom waste. As you can see, I can work the front of the loom with very little waste. Even the back isn't bad. If you find the right spot, you can make a shallow but passable shed and have less than 12 inches of waste.

I bought two colors of yarn. One is white throughout. The other is a brown that is rather reddish. I didn't realize until I had warped the loom that the pinkish brown and white together made it look like bacon! So I guess this is my bacon weaving sampler.

05 December 2011

Off-Topic with the Tigers

My home has been rather chaotic this holiday season. I decided to take a little mental health break and run down to ZooAtlanta on Friday afternoon. It was a nice day, cool in the morning but warming up to comfortable autumn weather by afternoon. I specifically went to view Chelsea and her five-month-old cubs, Sohni and Sanjiv. I had hoped to see them a month ago during Po's birthday celebration, but tiger father Kavi was out on exhibit that morning, the weather was extremely fine for November -- more like late summer than autumn -- and Kavi was not about to give up the yard and go inside.
Sumatran Tigers are a smaller sub-species of tiger, but they still have all the majesty one expects in a big cat. Unfortunately, their numbers in the wild have diminished to about 400. Like so many apex predators, tigers require significant space for territory and plentiful prey. With seven billion people on the planet, there are fewer resources for other species. This is true in the Unites States as well as far-flung places like Sumatra. (After all, when was the last time you saw a Florida panther or red wolf?) Places like ZooAtlanta provide more than a safe place for endangered species. ZooAtlanta works in cooperation with universities and conservation organizations to conduct research that helps both captive populations and those still in situ.

For the moment, this happy feline family represents a lot of hope. Big cats do not stay little and cute for long. By springtime, the cubs won't be little anymore. Right now, Sohni and Sanjiv are at the adorable and playful stage. I spent more than an hour watching their antics. They were thoroughly entertaining as they chased each other as well as their very tolerant mother. I am sure the cubs won't be out on exhibit in very cold weather. So, if you are in Atlanta and the afternoon is seasonably pleasant, it is well worth your time to scurry down to ZooAtlanta for a wonderful mental health break.

28 November 2011

Slow Spin

As you've probably guessed, I like to find projects that teach me something new. I had been reading and watching videos about spinning, and I decided to try making a cabled yarn. Cabled yarns are different from regular plied yarns in that they have an extra layer of twist.

Yarns start with singles. Some people will use a singles as it is, but for knitting, most people prefer to ply the singles. This is partly because a singles, by definition, can't be balanced. Unbalanced yarns can result in skewed knitting -- the stitches will push in one direction or the other, causing what should be a rectangular piece of knitting to instead appear as if it had been worked on a bias. A lot of times spinners who knit will create a two-ply yarn by plying a singles back upon itself. The singles are spun in one direction, but when plied together they are spun in the opposite direction. The two directions of twist balance to create a yarn that knits straight. Multiple singles can also be plied together to produce a three-ply, four-ply or more yarn.

In addition to balancing the yarn so that it doesn't skew the knitting, plied yarns behave in different ways. Most lace yarns are two-ply yarns because that structure will tend to push apart and open up. In lace knitting you want the holes to show. But if you are knitting plump, cushy cables in a warm sweater, a soft rounded multi-ply yarn is more likely to give you the fabric you desire.

A cabled yarn adds one more layer of twist.

For this particular yarn, I started with a three-color batt from Perfect Spot Farm. This batt was purchased a couple years ago at SAFF, but not by me. Betsy purchased it, but found that after a year, she hadn't spun it. So Betsy gave the batt to Jenna. I happened to be over at Jenna's house and admired the batt. Jenna took pity on my small spinning stash -- or maybe she just wanted to continue to corrupt me in the ways of spinning -- and kindly gave me the batt. I decided I wanted to try spinning a color-changing yarn that is also cabled.

I started by spinning four singles. I did this by ripping the batt across the color changes. I spun each singles from white to beige to brown to beige to white to beige to brown to beige and finally back to white. That gave me two complete cycles through the color sequence. It took me all summer to spin four bobbins of fine singles. Partly this is because when you spin fine you need more twist, and partly this is because I knew I would need extra twist for my planned yarn. And partly this is because I'm just not a good enough spinner yet to use the highest ratios on my wheel.

Next I made a pair of over spun two-ply yarns. I set up two bobbins and plied them together, being sure to add too much twist. I also watched carefully as the colors changed off the bobbins. I was not shy about breaking plies or rotating amongst the bobbins. If I spun all the white off one bobbin and was into the beige, I looked to see if the other bobbin was close or not. If not, I pulled off the spare white and set it aside. Sometimes I was able to incorporate those spare bits later.
For the final spin, I plied the two two-ply yarns together to create what is called a diamond cable. In this case, I had so much spin in the singles that you almost can't tell that this is a cabled yarn rather than a two-ply. One of my friends actually mistook it for a skein of Kauni. Although this was a major time commitment, the advantage is that I now have a very strong yarn. I'm not sure what I want to knit with it yet, but I have confidence that it will be long-wearing. And I am hopeful that the natural color gradient will be dramatic. And if I get really crazy, I might even be able to use it as a warp in my loom.

23 November 2011

Foolproof Mashed Potatoes

Okay, ya'all know this is a knitting blog. And those of you who know me know that I do not cook. I do not like to cook. I do like to eat -- especially other people's awesome cooking. But there's something about the impermanence of food art that I just can't get beyond.

Now, the fact that I do not cook means that if I figure out how to make something and it works, then anybody can make it. Furthermore, I do not own any fancy electric cook gear. No mixer, no blender. I do have a microwave oven. So most of what I do involves glass bowls, measuring cups, and basic utensils.

I do like mashed potatoes. In fact, I like carbohydrates in general. Potatoes are amongst my favorite comfort foods, probably because I lived off of them for six years of graduate school. They are inexpensive, filling, and they can be endlessly doctored with dairy fat. And I am in luck that at least some Thanksgiving meals require mashed potatoes. (Here in the South, sweet potatoes and yams are also popular.) This year, Cuddly Hubby and I will be home for the holiday; but in years where we are traveling and need to bring something, I'm happy to bring the mashed potatoes. I can make these and not embarrass myself.

Here's how I do it.

First off, you can make these potatoes a day ahead of time. None of this getting up before dawn nonsense. It's a holiday for crying out loud. If I am up and the sun isn't, by definition that's not a holiday.

Set your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leave a stick of butter out on the counter.

Wash the potatoes. (For today's example, I'm using about 5 pounds of medium-sized baking potatoes.)
Using a fork, prick the potato skins all over. Do not poke yourself.
When the oven is preheated, place the potatoes directly on the rack. I usually space them out across the rack and in two rows.

Let them bake for 50 to 60 minutes. (Go do something fun like knitting while you wait.)

At 50 minutes, take out one potato. The skin should be crisp. Place on a cutting board and slice it open longitudinally. Check the potato's meat. It should squish and flake easily with a fork. Spoon the meat out into a bowl or, better yet, a 13 x 9-inch glass casserole dish. It should spoon out easily. It should crush easily with the back of the spoon. If it doesn't, let the potatoes bake longer until they do! You shouldn't need any measurable arm strength to mash.

When the potatoes are done baking, cut each open and spoon the meat into a bowl or casserole dish. Yes, this is time-consuming. This method is foolproof but not necessarily fast. If you want a fancy presentation, retain the potato skins for later. You can spoon the finished mashed potatoes back into the skins for easy serving. Or you can just eat those nice crispy vitamin-saturated skins now. Or you can offer those nice crispy skins as bribe to someone else to spoon out all the potato meat. Or you can throw the skins out back in your compost heap.
mashed spuds with butter before half and half
As you spoon out the meat, add tablespoons of unsalted room-temperature butter to the fluffy pile of carbohydrate goodness. (I do not use margarine. I may not like to cook, but I do have standards.) Using a fork or masher, mash the potatoes and butter together. I used about 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter, but use up to a whole stick, as you like. Your goal is to coat all the carbohydrates with dairy fat.

Warm a pint of half and half. (Some people use cream, but I was already using butter earlier.) I zap the half and half for about 2 minutes in the microwave, but you can also warm it on the stove. Don't let it boil. You just don't want cold milk making the melted butter congeal. And if you are about to take the finished potatoes to the table, you don't want them to be cold already.
mashed spuds after half and half
Add some warm (one-quarter to one-half cup) half and half to the mashed spuds. Stir it in with a fork. Add more. Stir it in again. Repeat as needed. Use the half and half to turn the stiff potatoes into something creamier. I used all 2 cups and had creamy potatoes but stiff enough to build castles or the Devil's Tower on my plate. Then again, I know I'm going to use gravy tomorrow, so I want some body in the spuds. If you like creamier, smoother potatoes, then you'll need to buy the quart size of half and half. Just be patient and add half and half sparingly. You can always add more, but you can't take it out.

At this point, embellish as you like. You can stir in whatever seasonings you prefer. I sometimes make these with cheddar cheese and bacon crumbles. In that case, I'll melt the cheese in before I add the half and half.
spuds almost ready to wait in the refrigerator
If you are making the mashed potatoes for tomorrow, then put them in a glass casserole dish. (If you were really on the ball, you already prepared them in the dish instead of in a bowl.) I use a butter knife to smooth the surface. Cover with aluminum foil, let cool, and place in the refrigerator. You can pop the dish into a 325 to 350-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes when the bird is almost done. Or if you used a glass dish, the microwave is an option. I personally like to reheat in the oven. Those of you who remember tv dinners in foil trays can figure out why.

Wishing you and yours a filling and fabulous Thanksgiving!

09 November 2011

Wounded Lions

I hadn't bothered to post this little double-knit project earlier. Partly that's because I'm no longer sure which yarn it was, nor do I recall in which year it was made. I designed and knit it back in my Purly Gates days, and it uses both regular double knitting, and textured double knitting. You'll notice that the stripes at the top contain both knits and purls, while the stripes at the bottom are all knit. The cord is based on the Chinese crown knot braid from macramé. I even incorporated an open instead of closed edge at the top to facilitate display.

But I also just needed to fly my alma matters' colors tonight. The Cuddly Hubby had ESPN on as usual this morning and the endless loop of news coverage was upsetting. But it was worse tonight when NBC news led off their telecast with Penn State rather than the financial crisis in the European Union. That something so cruel and sickening could happen at a place I hold so dear is heart wrenching. I hold out hope for the victims to achieve whatever healing they need to make their lives as whole and fulfilling as possible. And I hold out hope for the judicial system to carefully uncover the whole truth, weigh the wrongdoings of each party involved, and mete out appropriate punishments.

The Penn State I know and love is better than this.

02 November 2011

Helical Knitting

As you all know by now, I'm pretty picky about whose patterns I knit. Yes, I want a satisfying finished object, but I usually also want to learn something. I look at a pattern and ask, "Is there anything new and interesting that is worth my time and the precious yarn in my stash?"
I thought I had worked out my teaching schedule for the remainder of 2011. Then Mariana sent out an e-mail to the shop teachers including a list of new class ideas for fall and winter. One of these was Double Heelix by Jeny Staiman from the First Fall 2011 issue of Knitty. As Jeny is already in my blog links list (Curious Knitter), I had already read about these and watched her video. And I've already been teaching Judy's Magic Cast On when I teach toe-up socks.

I can report that I thoroughly enjoyed the knitting. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I knocked out the project in about two weeks from cast-on to bind-off. First off, Jeny does some of the same twisted, maniacal stuff that I do. For example, she doesn't cast on at the end of the yarn, but rather, somewhere in the middle. Secondly, she and I agree that the Magic Cast On often works better if you cast on the lower stitch and then the upper stitch. (Accomplished sock knitter Woofgang Pug is also in agreement on this. Great minds in consensus.) The reason is that if you cast on upper then lower, when you rotate to start the first round you'll be knitting into the stitch you just cast on. If you do lower then upper, you'll end with an upper stitch, then rotate to knit into a lower stitch which was the next to last stitch cast on. Much better.

I am thinking it may be fun to try the helix flat in some other ways. Jeny has come up with an innovative increase using the Magic Cast On to create the heel shaping. In the heel there are two different colors going but four strands (two of each color) in what is called helix or helical knitting. Some people also call this barber pole knitting. If you worked on the Big Sock at STITCHES South 2010, then you've done helical knitting. TECHKnitter has a wonderful discussion here or you can dig out your back issue of Interweave Knits, Summer 2009, pp. 28-30.

The downside is that you have multiple strands going in the round. And you need one strand for each row of thickness you want in the stripes. So for example, if you wanted to knit a candy candy with a wide white stripe and a narrow red stripe, you might need one or two strands of red and maybe three or four or five strands of white. In this sock, you are knitting stripes that are two rows thick, so you use four strands (two of each color).

So why do this? The upside is that you don't get a jog at all. And if you are working in the round, as you are on a sock, you just knit around and around and around merrily.

Jeny mentions three different "flavors" of Double Heelix. They can all be viewed on her blog here or on the Ravelry page for Double Heelix.
  1. A 2x2 spiral heel with a plain foot and plain leg. You can make your pair identical or fraternal, as you like.
  2. A 2x2 spiral heel, then 1x1 striped foot and leg. In this case, Jeny also worked a plain instep and heel cuff, but you could just run 1x1 stripes through the whole sock.
  3. A 2x2 spiral heel, then 2x2 stripes on either the foot or leg. On Jeny's blog, she worked the spiral on only half the sock and worked the other half plain. On mine, I worked the entire socks, heel to foot to toe to leg to cuff in 2x2 stripes.
How you handle your yarn may vary based on which flavor you wish to knit. I should also mention that this is a great pattern if you have single orphaned 50g skeins of sock yarn. Many manufacturers now use 100g put-ups for socks, meaning you can knit a whole pair out of one skein. If you can find two different but complementary 50g skeins in the discount bin, you are set. In this case, I had two skeins of Shibui sock yarn in my stash. Jeny's examples also show what a great pattern this is for paring a loud hand-painted yarn with a plain yarn.

For all flavors, I recommend dividing your yarn. So if you have two skeins, divide them in half using whichever method you like (scale, swift, or something else). You now have four balls, two of each color. One pair will be the left sock and the other will be the right sock. So right away, you can put half the yarn back in your knitting bag.

If you are knitting flavor 1, follow Jeny's directions in the pattern. She has you pull about 15 feet of yarn off the balls, then cast on at that location. That will allow you to work the spiral heel. When those 15-foot tails run out, you'll be left with a single strand of each color. One becomes the foot and the other becomes the leg, as you like.

If you are knitting flavor 2, you may want to find the midpoint of your strands and cast on there. This will allow you to knit your spiral heel, and then end up with one strand of each color to go down the foot and up the leg. I think flavor 2 with the plain toe and cuff would be especially good if you are knitting for someone with large feet. You can use a 100g skein for the plain main color and a 50g skein for the contrast. When the contrast runs out, just keep going with the plain main color.

If you are knitting flavor 3, you will want to find not the mid-point but the one-quarter-point of the ball. In my case, this was about 22 to 24 yards and I made size small. If you are making a larger size, you might want to wind off just a little more than one-quarter. If you do this, you should be able to knit your spiral heel, then work 2x2 stripes down the foot all the way to the toe. If you've guessed well, you'll hit that sweet spot between having enough yarn to finish but not having too much waste. Now you can cut the yarn, find the midpoint of the remainder (what started as the three-quarter ball), join in so you have two strands of each color, and work 2x2 stripes up the leg.

A last note: a did depart from Jeny's directions for the toe. I followed her pattern and shaping for both the foot and the leg, working half of each round with one color and half of each round with the other. This sounds strange now, but when you make a helix, you'll soon discover this is very logical. And in this case, this logic grows out of the spiral heel itself. So I just followed the pattern, and when the toe decreases are worked every row, I just kept going until I had only 10 sts on each needle. I worked 1/2 a round (8 sts on one needle). Then I finished the round by grafting the remaining half-round, including grafting the decreases. This gave me a toe that matches my heel.

And I had a little good luck. I managed to start both heels at about the same place in the color repeat on the skein, and did the same thing on the legs. If you look closely, you'll see that there is some flashing in the variegated colorway, but that the flashing is very similar on both socks. So they are closer to being an identical pair rather than a fraternal pair.

For someone who isn't a sock knitter, I seem to be having too much fun with socks!

11 October 2011

A Little Entrelac

On Saturday, I took a class from Gwen Bortner. Gwen was here in town to teach for Atlanta Knitting Guild. On Saturday she taught "Entrelac: Beyond the Basics."

I had been out of practice on entrelac, so I did some swatches earlier in the week. Specifically, I tried Jay Petersen's clever trick for joining entrelac. Oh my gosh, awesome! Here's what I did:

First, I ran a vertical lifeline up the side of the work. You are going to have to pick up stitches on the selvedge in entrelac, so you might as well trap a piece of yarn as you turn. When you need to pick up the stitches, they are then already there on the waste yarn and you don't have to hunt for them.

Second, I used Rick Mondragon's technique for modular intarsia. Jay is the clever person who realized you could use Rick's technique to make entrelac lie better. Instead of working ssk or p2tog to join a new unit to a unit on the previous course, pull up a loop in the live stitch. Knit out with the loop, then knit back backwards with the loop. Tighten. Repeat. Not only does this give you nicer joins in your entrelac, but it prevents color peek through between courses. When I showed this to Gwen, she observed, I think correctly, that the knitting back backwards part is important. While you could do this and turn your work to purl backwards, you are much more likely to have success if you don't turn your work.

Jay has done some experiments with how knits and purls behave when you pick up entrelac this way. And he has produced some intriguing reversible entrelac fabrics. But I've digressed from Gwen.
A bigger card case -- one extra unit at cast-on and two extra courses in the body.
I also used crab stitch not garter to border the flap.

Gwen had us work a little card case in entrelac. One of the ways you can tell in Entrée to Entrelac that Gwen is a teacher first and a designer second is that her book is peppered with interesting little projects that you can use for learning a technique before you invest the time and money in a full-scale garment. In the class we learned a very interesting way to start the bag at the bottom. I was pleased that Gwen uses a crocheted provisional cast-on. (Jeny Staiman also uses it in the Double Heelix socks.) It is one of my favorite techniques, so it is nice to see if becoming more commonplace. After the initial set-up, we got to work up the case in seamless entrelac. At the end, we worked some shaping in back and forth entrelac. And the shaping at the top of bag opening gave us a chance to try some of the weird triangles used in entrelac.

Beyond the project, Gwen answered many questions. One of the things that ought to stick with me for future reference is that entrelac is a biased fabric so it stretches. This means that entrelac sweaters tend to look better if they have negative ease. Gwen was wearing her awesome Touch Me entrelac sweater, and it definitely fits better if it has to stretch just a little bit. I was going to de-accession the chenille yarn in my stash, and then I saw that sweater. What a good bad influence!

27 September 2011

TKGA Fall Show, part 2

So, what else did I do at the show?

I did do some shopping. I seem to be moving into an alpaca phase. The Carolina Alpaca Breeders and Owners had a booth at the show. They had some yarn, but they were also one of the few booths that had fiber for spinners. Specifically, they had whole alpaca fleeces. I took the intemperate action of touching the fleeces. Soft, very nice . . .  soft, also nice . . . OH MY GOSH! There was a black fleece that was warm and buttery-soft. Gorgeous. LUST!!!! So I ended up purchasing the fleece of Black Diamond, who comes from 3 Hawks Alpacas in Murfreesboro, NC. Her sire is Ghost Dancer. I met Anita from 3 Hawks Alpacas, and she said she is breeding her alpaca for good hand-spinning fiber. I believe her. I've combed just a little of the fleece, and I can see already it has a lovely, fine crimp and a thin, soft fiber. I wish I could show you in a photograph just how awesomely soft and wonderful this fleece is. And it is environmentally-friendly, regionally-sourced.

I also purchased Surino yarn from Flaggy Meadow Fiber Works. Shawn and Jeff are doing a bang-up job creating and promoting alpaca products. Their mill produces yarn and roving. And they also make some finished objects, such as socks or hats. To continue their mission of promoting domestically-produced alpaca products, Flaggy Meadow will be hosting the Fiber Frenzy Retreat in Park City, KY on 17-19 February 2012. I will probably be using my two skeins of Surino to make a variant of the Convolute pattern that started my 2011 reject pile.

One of the nice things about the reject pile is that you never know when a pattern will get a second life. Dahlia, the shawl I sent to the Claudia Shawl the Love Contest, may also be getting another chance in a better, reanimated "zombie" form. I wore it around on Saturday and received many complements and questions about which pattern that might be. Dahlia may get a second rich fantasy life with yarn from Laura and Kelly at The Unique Sheep. Their Gradiance Collection may be an excellent fit of yarn and pattern design.

I should add that I also got some more leads on shows and festivals. Friends & Fiberworks will be hosting a Winter Retreat on 13-15 January in Asheville, NC. And Knitters Mercantile will host Knitters Connection on 15-17 June in Columbus, OH.

Although there weren't many Atlanta people at the show, I did get to spend some time with people I've previously met. I got to spend an evening with Charles D. Gandy, the wonderful designer of the Pedicure Polka and the Snake in the Grass socks from the Think Outside the Sox contest and book. Charles is teaching and writing, and I am excited that I should soon be able to take his classes and learn more about the embellished knitting techniques he uses. His work is dynamic and inventive. And I have no doubt that his book will need to be in my library. Charles has also completed Level 2 of Master Knitter and is closing in on Level 3. He very kindly shared some advice with me. After the weekend, I am feeling more motivated to get moving on Level 2 for myself.

I addition to Charles, I also spent some time with Marilyn Hastings. Marilyn is teaching 13-18 November at John C. Campbell Folk School on the topic of "Recovering Worldly Wool from Sweaters" during the school's Recycle It Week. Marilyn is also working on a book -- and I can't say more than that, other than I've seen her many samples and I think it will be an interesting topic for a broad range of knitters.

Finally, I rounded out the weekend by bidding in the silent auction. There were several items from previous issues of Cast On magazine. This pair of gloves appeared in the November 2010 - January 2011 issue, which has lots of great information about how to knit gloves. These are the Starry Night Gloves by Meredith Wills, and they appear on pages 17-22. They are a very advanced knit involving stringing several colors of beads in order, a lot of duplicate stitch, and embroidery stitches at the end. I am fortunate that I have skinny hands, as these gloves depicting the summer and winter sky do fit. I will have to wear them next year at Dragon*Con, especially when I am asking questions on the Space Track.

26 September 2011

TGKA Fall Show, Part 1

I spent the weekend at the Knit and Crochet Show in Greensboro, NC. This is the show in which both The Knitting Guild Association and the Crochet Guild of America come together. Much like STITCHES, there are classes, a market, banquets, fashion shows, and lots of hanging out with other fiber-crafting enthusiasts!

First off, I must thank Jan Stephens for giving me a shove. I had put in a proposal to teach at this show, and hadn't gotten anything on the schedule. I didn't make the cut for STITCHES East either, so I was feeling discouraged. Jan told me to go anyway. Somehow Gro matched me up with Dana, who was going and needed a roommate. So it all worked out well. Thank you ladies!

I decided not to overload my schedule. I only took three classes. On Friday, I took "Tapas" with Candace Eisner-Strick. I've taken classes with Candace before, specifically “Strickmuster, The Beautiful Twisted Stitch Patterns of Austria” in October 2009 when she taught for AKG. "Tapas" was a fun technique class that was just a little of this and a little of that. I had already been introduced to many of these techniques, but it was nice to be reacquainted with them and to see someone else's viewpoint on when and how to use them. I particularly liked the Channel Island cast-on for 1x1 ribbing. And I had completely forgotten how entertaining Candace is. If you ever see her scheduled to teach something that interests you, please indulge yourself in the class. You won't be disappointed.

My other two classes were crochet. I thoroughly enjoyed the crochet at the show. In the market there was a wall of competition pieces. Some were well-done but familiar, others were well-done and quite inventive. Crochet has advantages including speed and sturdiness. And there really are some very lovely laces worked in crochet.

Using foundation stitches to add at end of row.
The first crochet class I took was "Foundation Stitches 101: The Basics" with Marty Miller. Not only is Marty a delightful teacher, but she even got us free cotton yarn, so we didn't have to use stash yarn for her class! One of the downsides of crochet is that it usually begins with a long chain, and then the first row of stitches is worked into the chain. This is a little tricky -- so tricky that when I was a child, my grandmother would work the foundation chain and the first row or two for me on my crochet projects. Marty showed us how to work the chain and the first stitches as you go. Genius! And once you get the hang of it, you can do this even with the fluffy novelty yarns that obscure your stitches. If I did more crochet, I would have taken the second class from Marty where she discusses more advanced foundation stitches. I doubt I'll ever start a crochet project the same way.

Left to Right: whip stitch, three versions of single crochet joins, zig-zag chain joins.
The other crochet class I took was "No Stress Motif Joining" with Mary Beth Temple. I was happily anticipating this one, as there are often knitting charity projects that involve many people knitting squares and few people assembling the blanket. Mary Beth was quite ill -- she had had an upper respiratory infection and the antibiotic to combat it had not sat well in her system. So it was admirable that she bravely soldiered onwards to teach us six ways to join motifs, as advertised. I have to admit, I was hoping for something totally brilliant and painless when it came to joining motifs. I did leave with a nice sampler of different methods, so I do have something I can use for comparison.
Slip-stitch joining granny squares.
The thing is, now that I'm sitting here at home looking at my great-grandmother's last afghan (detail at right) -- which is a bunch of granny squares I assembled without knowing what I was doing -- I like what I did on it better than any of the methods Mary Beth taught me. Because she was so ill, she had forgotten the handouts for the class. So, I am hoping that the handout will maybe give me some more insight. I wouldn't shy away from taking another class with her, as I don't think it's her fault I didn't experience the "Wow, this is awesome!" moment in her class. I suspect the brilliant, painless method for joining motifs just doesn't yet exist.

Tomorrow: Shopping!

29 August 2011

Be sporting -- visit the zoo!

Ya'all know by now that I have to throw in a zoo post every once in awhile. There has been a nice baby boom this year, which means lots of adorable animals that won't stay small forever including Sumatran tiger cubs, a waterbuck calf, a giraffe calf, Chilean flamingo chicks, and a baby gorilla. And, of course, little Po the panda won't be a year old until November. If you aren't spending the Labor Day weekend at Dragon*Con, please follow the link to view this update and promotion from ZooAtlanta:

College Colors Day at Zoo Atlanta

Basically, you get discounted admission if you show up this weekend wearing your collegiate logo apparel and remember to ask for the discount at the ticket booth.

Plus, the Sumatran tiger cubs, Sohni and Sanjiv, will debut. You can see for yourself whether or not they match Po the panda on the cuteness meter.

10 August 2011

Pushing the Technology

I'm pleased to present the finished Serpent of Eternity socks:
The origin of the design lies with Jenna Beegle, i.e. JennaB or Jenna the Yarn Pimp. As mentioned in a previous blog post from far too long ago, Jenna designed both the yarn and this sock with a horizontal cuff using the Saxon Braid. The original sock pattern was for the January 2010 sock guild at The Whole Nine Yarns. In Jenna's design, the cuff is worked horizontally, then, if I recall correctly, stitches are picked up and the sock is knit downward. I believe Jenna also picked up and added a little ribbing at the top.

I liked Jenna's design very much, as well as the hand-dyed yarn she designed. So I wanted to knit my own pair, but I wanted a couple changes.

First, I wanted the cuffs to be reversible. Sock cuffs are sometimes worn up and sometimes down, and I wanted that to be an option. (You'll notice I have one cuff down and one up in the photograph.) I spent much of last summer and autumn working out the technique for knitting traveling cables reversibly. And I succeeded in making two cuffs.

Then I decided I wanted some motif or detail on the instep. I wanted a design element that would tie the socks to the cuffs in a logical way. So I spent more time in the winter and spring swatching a version of the Saxon Braid that could be used as a stand-alone motif. I also came up with an alternative way to work a left cross and a right cross, after I realized the pattern needed some way to integrate with the stockinette fabric on the sock. So there were several technical and design challenges along the way. This was definitely a case where I had to up my game as a knitter in order to bring my vision into reality. I do hope to eventually post some video and pictorial explanations of these techniques.

After working the cuffs -- which required cabled double-knitting and grafting the double-knitting -- I cast on at the toes using a variant of Judy's Magic Cast-on. I worked both socks at the same time from opposite ends of the skein. I used Cat Bordhi's method from New Pathways for Sock Knitters. In this case, I worked double-increases at the sides every-other round to shape the toes. Then I went immediately into the Saxon Braid motif and increases at the sides of the sock every third round to shape the arch expansion. After the plain heel turn -- again following Cat Bordhi's directions -- I knit insouciantly in the round up the leg until I was nearly out of yarn. I do love the New Pathways method for toe-up socks, which is why I continue to teach it.

At this point I divided the yarn. I joined leg to cuff using a Kitchener seam. The legs are 60 stitches and the cuffs present 96 stitches, so it was a case of joining 5 sock stitches to every 8 cuff stitches. In the photograph, you can see how I used pins to mark each group. The rhythm was 2-1-2-1-2. In other words, the first stitch of the leg is joined to two ladders in the cuff. The second stitch is joined to one ladder. The third stitch is joined to two ladders, the fourth one, and the fifth two. Then you are at a new group and you start the rhythm again. I should add that in the photograph, the cuff should be rotated just a little more to the right so that the curved central part of the braid lines up with the center of the sock. I did place the cuff graft at the back of the sock.

18 July 2011

Why We Block

During the weekend I finished a shawl. This is White Lotus by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer. The yarn is Colinton 3000, which is 100% fine kid mohair. The yarn, pattern, and beads were sold as a kit.

The pattern is well-written, and includes both charts and written-out instructions. The lace pattern is a 22-stitch wide by 12-row tall repeat. For all but the final repeat, every 12 rows adds half a motif on each side of the shawl, which accounts for the almost trapezoidal shawl shape as well as the half-drop arrangement of the motifs. The chart has a thick vertical line indicating both the beginning of a motif its center. For this pattern, I strongly advise two colors of stitch markers. The markers that are the centers on one repeat will be the edges on the next, with the sole exception of the final repeat.

I did not want to swatch, so I just grabbed my 3.5mm / US 4 Kollage square needle and cast on using the surprisingly stretchy slip-knot cast on by Jeny Staiman. You can see her video here. I later matched edges using the surprisingly stretchy bind-off, which is rather easy when the whole row is purl. Jackie warns you that you will need to block this shawl severely, hence my cast-on and bind-off choices. Although I didn't swatch, I did do a little math. If you want to jump right in but you do not wish to run out of yarn, be aware that you'll need to be partway through the 7th repetition when the first skein runs out and partway through the 11th repetition when the second skein runs out. If you run short before then, you may not have enough yarn to complete as many repetitions of the pattern as Jackie recommends. Alternatively, you can just weigh your yarn as you go and adjust your number of repetitions accordingly. In the end, of the initial 150g in the kit I had only 6g left over.

White Lotus, as I worked it.
I did adjust a few other details. In addition to using a different cast-on and bind-off from that recommended, I also changed the center of the motif. I replaced the yo-ssk and k2tog-yo stack with my own unvention. The design challenge is to create a vertical element in a design with an even number of stitches. (This sort of symmetry is easier if you have an odd number, as you then have a central wale.) Jackie's choice gives you an element without changing the number of stitches on each row and without introducing wrong-side shaping. However, this solution is not bilaterally symmetrical. The change I made on row 9 was to work k5, yo, k5 between the beaded nupps. This increases the stitch count. On the return row, I worked
     p2tog a stitch and the yo,
     slip next stitch knitwise to turn it and place it back on left needle,
     place yo back on left needle, and
     p2tog through the back of the loop.
In other words, I've joined the yarn over to the stitches on both sides of it. This creates a symmetrical hole. I also maintained symmetry in the lace by working the double decreases as sssk and even by working the nupps symmetrically -- wrapping either Western or Eastern and then pulling the yarn through in the appropriate direction. Eventually, I started working row 10 by knitting back backwards instead of turning my work. It made it easier to see how to work the nupps and easier to work the symmetrical yarn overs. I used the symmetrical yarn overs again on row 11.

The yarn and I did not necessarily get along. I was working in my regular right-hand throwing mode, and this yarn seemed to get unbalanced as I worked. I changed to flicking with my right index finger, and that seemed to work better. There were still times I had to stop to rebalance the yarn. This was especially an issue on the dang nupps, as I used a size 8 steel crochet hook to work them, and a size 12 hook to add the beads. Unbalanced twisting nupp loops are hard to spear, and unbalanced yarn tends not to stay on the hook and pull through the nupp. And I can say that I'm just not a big fan of 2-ply lace yarn. I like lace and I like thin yarn. And I understand that a 2-ply yarn will push open, which is why you choose it for lace. But 2-ply yarns have a tendency to open and split.

The mohair also has no elasticity. None. And it isn't noticeably soft. So why use it? The kit did come with samples of Unicorn Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse as well as Power Scour. Obviously, I didn't need the Power Scour as the yarn was already clean and spun. (I've placed the sample in my spinning supplies where it shall await some raw fleece.) After it came off the needles, I treated the shawl to a long soak -- a couple hours while I went out to a Mensa function. When I came back, I used the Fibre Wash and lavender Fibre Rinse. I rolled the shawl in a fluffy towel, then I stood on it to extract water. Finally, I blocked the shawl hard using blocking wires and the bed in the guest bedroom. The full-size bed was almost not large enough -- a queen size would have been better.

Right side, before blocking
Wrong side, before blocking
And from the pictures, you can see why blocking is necessary. From the back, this shawl looked like a meringue pie. It was a scrunched-up tangle of mohair.

I can't really say that the yarn bloomed. However, it did soften. It isn't going to win any softness contests, but it is good enough to be against the skin. The real interest is how lively it is. The stitch pattern puckers significantly because pairs of yarn overs are offset by double decreases of either sssk or k3tog. Even after blocking, the final fabric is subtly un-flat. In spite of the lack of elasticity in the yarn, the shawl fabric is springy and alive. This is noticeable even at the edges, which don't lie flat because the lace is stockinette-based. In a lot of projects this would be a problem, but here the liveliness of the curling edge is appealing, especially against bare skin. As it has been warm here in Atlanta, it may be awhile before I know if this shawl is warm. But is it the very definition of lovely.

06 July 2011

Dolphin Lace

Some days the gremlins just get in things and muck them up. At least, I have to figure that's what happened to a particular pattern in Victorian Lace Today. This is a gorgeous coffee table lace book. I sometimes refer to it as the lace porn book, because it makes you want to drop everything, even socks, and go knit lace. The samples were modeled and photographed at an English estate, Belton Manor House, as well as some other locations around Cambridge. And the projects are based on Victorian-era knitting patterns. So, it's all beautiful and all good.

My friend Becky sent me an e-mail over the weekend. She was having a little trouble with the Dolphin Lace scarf on pages 106-107; and could I take a look at it and give her some helpful hints? I started by going to the XRX website to look up the errata. Yes, there are errata for Victorian Lace Today. So I downloaded those.

Hmmm. Not as helpful as I'd hoped. In fact, I didn't see anything indicating a problem with the pattern. A quick check on Ravelry was only partially illuminating. As with so much knitting, casting on and trying it out is the way to enlightenment. And the stitch itself does have an odd maneuver, so maybe that was the source of Becky's consternation?

The project is a long lace scarf with a dolphin stitch border on each side and a lace faggoting insertion in the center. The pattern begins with casting on 60 stitches in 3 groups of 20. Chart B, the dolphin lace, is worked on both edges, while Chart A, a faggoting insertion, is worked over the center. Go look at the scarves on Ravelry. Now look at the scarf on page 107. The pictured scarf has three columns of faggoting in the center. The ones made by following the pattern only have one column. So, first error: Chart A does not match the scarf! This is not as much of a disaster as it sounds. Why? Because it is pretty easy to see that the business section of Chart A is a 4-stitch repeat. To get something that looks like the model, you'll need to work the faggoting 4 times across the center 16 stitches, not twice across the center 8 as stated on the chart. If you still want to stick with 20 stitches in the center, cut four stitches off the left and right sides of Chart A.

To review: for the central insertion (Chart A), k2, work the faggoting pattern 4 times, k2.

Okay, but Becky wasn't asking about the faggoting; she was asking about the dolphin stitch. And her timing is serendipitous, because I've just finished a shawl that involved a lot of faggoting and some peculiar graphing. Chart B isn't bad, but there are some ways to adjust it to make it more helpful.

First off, the ten stitches on the right edge of Chart B are constant. The double yarn overs flanked by knit two togethers form wide open columns on each side of a narrow band. This extension sets the edging off from the central panel. So, in addition to the two stitch markers you already have to divide the work into three sets of 20, I recommend placing a stitch marker in each border section to divide the 10 stitch extension from the dolphin lace. Why? Because the dolphin lace stitch count varies on every row! It is easier to follow if you can narrow the problematic area to as few stitches as possible.
That brings you down to just the dolphin lace. I've redrawn the chart and shifted the stitches. Why? Well, one way to keep track of what you are doing is by lining up the k1-p1 on the wrong-side rows with their double yarn overs from the right-side rows. I've done this, and I've added a hazy bull's eye symbol to call attention to them.

I've also split the chart. If you put a marker at the split in Row 1, that marker will follow the split up through Row 7. It all goes bad at Row 8, as the marker will fall in the middle of a knit 2 together. If you try to continue with the marker, the same problem occurs on Rows 10 and 11. And carrying the marker completely falls apart at Row 12. But, you can use a marker for at least a few rows.

And here's a really bizarre bit -- that double yarn over on Row 11 will end up underneath the double yarn over on Row 1 when the new repeat begins.

And just to help you a bit more, here are the stitch counts for this section of the chart.

Start with 10.
Row 1: decrease to 9.
Row 2: increase to 14.
Row 3: increase to 15.
Row 4: decrease to 14.
Row 5: increase to 15.
Row 6: decrease to 14.
Row 7: even at 14.
Row 8: decrease to 12.
Row 9: increase to 13.
Row 10: decrease to 12.
Row 11: increase to 13.
Row 12: decrease to 10.

One last note: The illustrations on page 107 are excellent for showing how to work the peculiar maneuver of Rows 1 and 2. However, the phrase "On next row" has been printed one illustration too low! The top four pictures show you how to work the passing over of stitches on Row 1. The bottom three pictures show you how to cast on five stitches on the return row. Notice that the new stitches do not cover the gap you made in Row 1; rather, they are added between two stitches!

01 July 2011

Shawl Competition

Today is the due date for entries for the Claudia Hand Painted Yarn Shawl the Love contest. For me, this was a great excuse to indulge in some linen yarn. I had heard great things about linen. For one, it likes being thrown through the washer and dryer. I've seen in person the Flounce duo skirt from Gwen Bortner's Entrée to Entrelac. Linen has some life to it, so a skirt or shawl will have a lot of sassy movement! I was glad to have an excuse to play.

I started by shopping for the yarn. The Whole Nine Yarns did have some, but only in half a dozen colors. Eat.Sleep.Knit carries the full line of colors. And I decided to work outside my comfort zone by choosing brown. In the end, I found two mismatched dye lots of "copper pennies" and a light-brown named "honey." I must admit that although I'm not a big fan of brown, "copper pennies" is a pretty colorway in either its dark or light incarnation. And brown can be a nice change-up from the basic neutrals of black, white, gray, and navy. Using mismatched skeins was a fun way to turn a potential problem into a design solution. Hand dyed yarns often vary significantly from dye lot to dye lot, but in this design, that quality is desirable.

I don't remember my original inspiration. I have been fiddling around with mitered squares for quite some time. I think I even made a teddy bear dress several years ago using non-square mitered shapes. For some reason, I came back to the mitered idea and played around with it. I thought about making a shape that would look like a feather. I chose a basic faggoting pattern in which the lace is worked on both right-side and wrong-side rows. The real trick was figuring out how to work the lace and the mitered shaping at the same time.

Remember all those Japanese pattern books I've been reading? The solution came from something I'd seen there.
If you are used to graphs, you may be tempted to draw something that looks like the diagram on the left. You'll start with a lot of stitches at the bottom, and decrease to only one at the top, and your mitered decrease line will run down the middle. It looks like a triangle on the page, but it will be a mitered square or its relative when you knit it. The problem with this approach is that the stitches that are disappearing in your knitting are not the ones at the edges. The stitches you are decreasing away are the ones next to the miter. The diagram on the left would work if you were decreasing at the beginning and end of the rows, rather than in the middle. Instead, lay out your chart so it looks like the example on the right. Yes, those big open gaps between the shaping and the miter look very odd on paper. But by graphing this way, the wales of the chart and the wales of your knitting will stack up and match. You'll be able to see on paper before you knit it how the lace patterning interacts across rows. You'll be able to tell what to do to keep your mitered shaping while still keeping your lace patterning continuous.

I am sharing this design technique because perhaps the best part of Rosemary Drysdale's Entrelac book is the section of swatches of entrelac knit in a variety of stitch patterns -- lace, Fair Isle, bobbles, cables, seed stitch. I haven't seen a lot of pattern play in mitered modules. Usually miters are just garter, garter ridge stitch (2 rows stockinette, 2 rows garter), or stockinette. I'd like to encourage some experimentation.

In my shawl I've also played with the rate of decrease. The first course of kite-shapes has mitered decreasing on right-side and wrong-side rows. This produces top sides that are half the length of the bottom sides. The second course of shapes is stockinette-based but with the usual right-side only shaping. Because all four sides have the same number of stitches, it resembles a square or a least a diamond. I have also swatched a number of variants on this, including decreases every third row, or alternating the central decrease line with decreases at the edges. In this way, you can produce a variety of quadrilateral shapes all with a central miter line. I would love to see more designers playing both with shape and with pattern in modular knitting.
In the end, my shawl doesn't really look like bird wings. But, it does have a pretty pattern. After consulting with my gardening friends, I named it Dahlia. At least my friends aren't science fiction fans. When I laid the shawl out to take a picture, I realized that in black it would loosely resemble the Shadow Vessels from Babylon 5.

16 June 2011

Yarn Crawling Portland, Part 2: Eastside

Not only are there good yarn shops in downtown Portland, but there are good shops on the east side of the river. Once again, there were more shops than I could visit. I was not able to get to Gossamer, Yarnia, or Knittn' Kitten. While the downtown is readily served by the train, the east side of town is served primarily by bus. I probably should have made an attempt to visit Gossamer (a little over a mile from my hotel), but Yarnia and Knittn' Kitten (both about 4 miles away) were just too far afield.
Since I was staying at a hotel near Lloyd Center, I was able to walk to Twisted. Go to the north side of the Lloyd Center Mall and walk a couple blocks north to NE Broadway. There are lots of delightful shops and places to eat on this thoroughfare. Twisted is about six blocks east at 2310 NE Broadway St. As I walked in, a copy of Respect the Spindle was set up on a table, front and center. While this is primarily a knitting shop, there was a Schacht Ladybug wheel and locally dyed fiber from Black Trillium. Yarn choices included Schulana, Claudia Hand Paint, Debbie Bliss, Imperial Stock Ranch, Malabrigo, and Noro. (Search a full listing here.) There was a thorough selection of books, including Japanese pattern books. There was even an instruction book about needle tatting! And in the clearance book section were copies of Gathering of Lace and Unexpected Knitting. In clearance I saw a book I had never seen before, called Knit an Icon. It shows you how to knit little dolls that look like famous people -- Madonna or Einstein, for example! Cute! The person in the shop the evening I was there took extra time to help a regular customer with a stalled project. There are several signs -- including one with the Eye of Sauron -- reminding you that you are being watched and shouldn't shoplift. I guess it must be a serious issue in that part of town. I got the sense this store places their focus on their regular customers. And a bonus -- the shop also carries tea!

The last two shops I visited are both on SE Hawthorne Boulevard, just a couple blocks apart and near Ladd's Rose Gardens Circle and Squares. The concierge at the hotel was able to give me directions to use the #70 bus. The distance is just over a mile and a half, so it wouldn't have been too expensive by taxi, either.

The first place I went was Happy Knits. Do not be fooled. The store front is not wide, and while the window dressing is clever, it isn't over-stuffed. The shop is larger than it looks because it is deep rather than wide, with a nice large sitting and classroom area in the back. Several bookshelves are back there as well, with a solid selection of books as well as ArtYarns kits and a full line of Knit Picks needles and cables. The main floor in front has square wine racks of yarn, nicely organized and very shop-able. Yarn lines include Alpaca with a Twist, Aslan Trends, Cascade, Dream in Color, Fibre Company, Madelinetosh, Malabrigo, Mirasol, and Jamieson's. (Other lines can be found on this list.) This is a shop where the buyer is carrying a wide range in each of only a few lines but making careful, thoughtful selections about what are the best possible offerings. There isn't a poor choice in the whole shop.

I was at this shop not only to check it out, but also to meet Jay Petersen, author of the Fuzzy Logic blog and entrelac knitter extraordinaire! Jay was correct when he said this is one of the friendliest shops in Portland. I discovered Jay on Ravelry, where he goes by "yarnover." We had a lovely little knitting summit, with me stretching my mind to understand what Jay is doing. He is using entrelac three-dimensionally. Some of his creations are quite interesting, like cube with cables that ends up looking very much like a knitted version of a Japanese temari ball. Additionally, he is playing with combining entrelac and a variety of stitch patterns. Jay has discovered some interesting properties of how knits and purls do and don't mesh when picking up stitches. He had one swatch where the knits and purls lie flat where they meet, and a second similar swatch where they don't lie flat, thus creating a highly textured fabric. Jay and I are both interested in reversibility in knitting. We both agreed that while we admire the innovation in Lynne Barr's Reversible Knitting book, we feel that there's a need for a more complete antd thoughtful treatment of the subject.  Jay does have patterns for download and sale on Ravelry. I would dearly love to see articles or a book by him, as I think his innovations are worthy of being shared with as wide an audience as possible.

In addition to meeting Jay, I also met my West Coast counterpart, Jolie! Yes, there is a Jolie the Knitter in Portland! She's also an artist, as you can see from her work here. It gets more bizarre -- we were wearing the same Metropolitan Museum of Art watch! My husband works in aerospace engineering, and her in-laws work in aerospace engineering. I can see on Ravelry that we are both Aries. So my parallel universe doppelganger is alive and well and living, knitting, and painting in Portland, Oregon.

After the contact high of Happy Knits, Yarn Garden had a lot to prove. But first, Jay and I walked an extra couple blocks west to the corner of SE 12th Avenue and SE Hawthorne Boulevard. There's a nice little cluster of food carts, and we enjoyed Whiffies, which are deep-fried meat pies. Actually, I got the vegetarian version, which was quite good. I should mention that you can go totally vegan in Portland without realizing it, because there are equally attractive non-carnivorous meal options. There are people who like living in Portland because you don't need to own a car. I think you also might not need to have a kitchen.
Unlike Happy Knits, Yarn Garden has a very imposing street presence, as it takes up an entire block! Their address is technically 1413 SE Hawthorne Boulevard. I was wondering how two yarn shops manage to exist only a couple blocks apart. It turns out they are very different. Yarn Garden has room after room of yarn, and carries a huge range from many of the major national manufacturers. This is a shop that has all the price points and all yarn types, from sock yarn to novelties, practical acrylics to luxury natural fibers. Some examples: Berroco, Brown Sheep, Classic Elite, Schaefer, Prism, Koigu, Debbie Bliss, Filatura Di Crosa, Shalimar, Rowan, Plymouth, South West Trading Company ... you get the idea. Annie was minding the shop that day, and she was super nice and showed off a Stripe Study Shawl.

Between these two shops on Hawthorne Boulevard, if you can't find it, do you really need it?

15 June 2011

Yarn Crawling Portland, Part 1: Downtown

I spent last week away from the searing heat and sunshine of the Atlanta summer. This was my first trip to Portland, Oregon, and I must say I won't mind an excuse to visit again. The Cuddly Hubby was attending a conference, which meant I got to enjoy three days without adult supervision. In that time, I visited six yarn shops.

Let me say at the start that one of my rules was, as much as possible, not to purchase items I could buy in Atlanta. Also, I was looking more for books, especially Japanese pattern books, than for yarn. I love yarn, but I am trying to keep myself on a yarn diet until I can get the stash to fit back in the boxes.

If you are attending Sock Summit, be aware you can easily take MAX, the light rail, from the airport to the hotels. It will set you back all of $2.35 -- you aren't going to find cab fare at that rate. Plus, from the Sock Summit hotels, you can ride the train into the city for free.

In the downtown I followed a three-shop hop up 11th Avenue that included Knit Purl, Urban Fiber Arts, and Dublin Bay Knitting Company. I did not visit Angelika's Yarn Store (in the south end of town) nor Gardiner Yarn Works nor Black Trillium Fibre Studio, both over near Chinatown.

Begin by taking the red or blue line MAX into the city. Exit the light rail at Galleria/SW 10th Avenue, which is one stop west of Pioneer Square. Your first stop will be Knit Purl, which is at 1101 SW Alder on the northwest corner of Alder and 11th Avenue. I love the modern art-inspired fiber work in the windows. And jazz music played quietly over the sound system while I shopped. This shop has a nice selection of good quality yarns (list here) including Shibui, Habu, Kauni, Madelinetosh, and Koigu. If you are looking for an Oregon-themed memento, check out the Pendelton needle cases. There were several out of the ordinary book choices in this store. I chose a Japanese stitch dictionary, and this shop had several Japanese pattern books. They also had a line of German felting books that had adorable felting projects and several serious German lace books. And for those of you who do not have a comfort level with Japanese or German, Knit Purl carries back issues of the wonderful English magazine The Knitter. Clearly this is a shop that caters to capable knitters.

If you do this yarn crawl, do not do it on Monday. Why? Because your next yarn stop, Urban Fiber Arts, is not open on Monday. (I had to go back on Thursday morning.) But first, food! After you are done at Knit Purl, walk east one block on SW Alder Street. Near the corner of Alder and 10th, you'll find a food cart called Savor. There are other food carts on Alder, and I'm sure many of them are good as well, but I can personally tell you that the soups at Savor are awesome! For $6, I got the soup fight, which is three different soup selections. All were as good or better than what I would get as a soup appetizer at my favorite high-end restaurant here in Atlanta. So bring a little cash and find yourself some lunch at Savor or another food cart. Food hunting tip: if people are standing in line, join them. If the locals are willing it wait for it, it must be good.

I headed north by walking. If you can't do that, you can take the streetcar up 10th Avenue. Powell's City of Books is within the free zone. Urban Fiber Arts is one block west and around the corner from the last free stop at NW Glisan Street. Dublin Bay Knitting Company is outside the free zone, so you'll need a little pocket change for the ride.

After you eat, head north on 11th Avenue (or ride the streetcar on 10th). If you are game for a dangerous side trek, duck in Powell's City of Books, using the corner entrance on Couch St & NW 11th Ave. The hobby section, including weaving, knitting, and crochet, will be on your left as you enter. You'll encounter weaving first, just continue a couple bays beyond to find knitting. There are many, many knitting books. You have been warned. (I purchased a copy of The Weaver's Companion. Weight limits in my flight luggage prevented me from being more badly behaved.) And I must admit to a moment of amusement, as a young person asked the nice man at the information desk for the location of H. P. Lovecraft titles. Are you sure you want to open that book? Okay, but this way leads to madness!

Exit Powell's through that same corner entrance and head about four blocks north on 11th Avenue. Keep to the east side of the street. Just before NW Glisan Street you'll encounter Urban Fiber Arts at 428 NW 11th Avenue. This is a small, sweet little shop. I walked by on Monday when they were closed, but did notice that both Knit One, Knit All and knit, Swirl were in the window. Those books had both been recent purchases at my home friendly local yarn shop. Of all the shops I visited, this one is the most spinning-friendly. Then again, the local spinners do meet here the second Tuesday of each month. Cindy said she'd been open for about nine months. She was also wearing a recently completed Damask! I was short on time and didn't take a good look at the yarn (see what she carries here), but I did look at the rovings and batts. There is a wonderful selection with a specialization in local independent dyers or dyers who have some connection to Oregon generally or Portland specifically. After much internal debate, I chose a gorgeous yak, merino, and silk roving from Abstract Fiber. Urban Fiber Arts also had baskets of undyed natural fibers and a couple Schacht and Louet spinning wheels. If you wish to extend your interest in locally-sourced sustainable food into your textile practice, then Urban Fiber Arts is where to go. I can also report that Cindy was amongst the most upbeat of the yarn shop people I encountered -- a delightful person! I will be sorely tempted to call and order more Abstract Fiber when I find my spinning stash depleted.

If you have obtained your shop hopping map by searching on Ravelry for yarn shops in Portland (instructions here), be aware that Knit Knot Studio, which should be just a block away, is no longer in business.

At this point, you are about ten blocks north and one block west of where you left the MAX train. Remember, blocks in Portland are rather short, so it takes only about one minute to walk one block. If you walk another eight blocks north, you'll arrive at Dublin Bay Knitting Company, 1227 NW 11th Avenue. It will be on the west side of the street and about a block north of a lovely location for knitting in public, Tanner Springs Park. There were two busy ladies working the shop the day I visited. This is a nice roomy shop. I was pleased to see they stock Lucy Neatby dvds. Yarns (list here) included Three Irish Girls, Sweet Georgia, Rowan, and Lorna's. They had a full selection of Addi needles, including the really short circulars for working sleeves or socks. They also have their own line of yarn called Solstice. These are beautiful yarns made from beautiful fibers -- I saw a skein that was a whopping 45% cashmere, and it was soft as a lover's kiss. Alas, there wasn't a lot out, as they had stashed quite a bit of it away for Sock Summit. In the good selection of book -- and well-organized by type -- I found the booklet Patterns for Art of Lace Knitting: The Complete Works of Rachel Schnelling. Her work reminds me of Herbert Niebling or Marianne Kinzel.

So here you are at the northern end of the Pearl District. And you are laden with purchases. You will probably want to catch the streetcar back down 11th Avenue, exit near Knit Purl, and walk a couple blocks south and then east to catch the MAX train on SW Yamhill Street. Alternatively, you can walk south to NW Hoyt Street, then east several blocks to NW 6th Avenue, then south a block to find a MAX stop. Be sure to board a green line not a yellow line train to take you back to your hotel.

14 June 2011

Finding a Shop Hop Map

Here's how to generate a shop-hop map using the resources on Ravelry:
Choose "yarns" in the main tabs.
Then type the city in the box for "local yarn shop directory" and press "enter" on your keyboard or click the "search" button on Ravelry.
Choose the "location map" tab in the upper right.
Use the controls on the left to zoom in and out on the map and to adjust what portions you see.
When you like what you see on the map, choose "Print" from the "File" menu on your computer.
You may also wish to choose the "list" tab and print the list of shop names, addresses, and contact information.

25 May 2011

Beyond the Pattern

I thought I'd have a little fun with one of my own patterns. This little travel pillow is just two repeats of the Serpentine Short-Round Scarf. You have to stuff it as you work, because once you've closed the section, you can't easily get back in to it. I was initially going to work 3 repeats, but it was large enough to fit around my neck at only two. Another variation would be to use a provisional cast-on, work four repeats, and graft end to beginning to produce a doughnut pillow. Such a shape could be folded in half for the neck pillow, but would also be good for sitting during long trips. I used less then one skein of red but, alas, just barely had to break into the second skein of blue. Also, I dropped down to a 3.5mm /US 4 needle so that the fabric would be dense enough to keep the polyester fiber fill from showing through or sneaking out.

Because the information isn't in the pattern, let me tell you how I made the tie cords. They are cable-plied. For each cord, I cut one length of blue and one length of red, about a yard long. Using a blunt tapestry needle, I threaded both strands through the last chain stitch at the corner of the pillow. I pulled the yarn ends even. In this way, I didn't need to figure out how to weave in ends on an already-finished pillow. Holding both ends of the red together, I twisted them opposite the direction of the ply twist until there was plenty of built-up twist. I then held the red in my teeth while I twisted the blue. Then I brought them both together and twisted them in the opposite direction to make them ply together. I could have made a kumihimo braid or an i-cord, but this is fairly quick and I am hopeful that all the layers of ply twist will give the cords enough strength to wear well.

By the way, I made this very Atlanta-appropriate by choosing red and blue. I think the triangle-motif and the colors very nicely coordinate with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.

16 May 2011

How Do I Get a Class with Toshiyuki Shimada?

Scarves from top to bottom: P, C, L, & O.
I know I haven't blogged enough lately, or knitted enough.  And way too much of my Ravelry projects page is filled with secret projects, sans pictures. I am still experimenting both with labyrinth knitting and with double-knit traveling cables.  I showed off the double-knit cabled sock cuffs at STITCHES South, and Gayle Roehm was kind enough to send me on a hunt for Ideas for Double-sided Knitted Scarves by Toshiyuki Shimada.  I was able to find it on Amazon, and it cost about $33 with shipping.  Fortunately, my sister had given me a $25 Amazon gift card for my birthday. The book shipped directly from Japan, and I was pleasantly surprised that my 25 April order arrived on 11 May, significantly before the 20 May to 13 June expected delivery date.

Can I just say up front that I now hold Toshiyuki Shimada in the same category as Cat Bordi, Lucy Neatby, Lynne Barr, Norah Gaughan, Debbie New, Kerry Ferguson, Kate Gilbert, Merike Saarniit, and Elizabeth Zimmermann? And I continue to miss Bruce/Scenter, and not just because he was learning to read Japanese. Truth be told, you don't have to read Japanese in order to follow the patterns.  The Japanese use the same Arabic numerals we use in the West. And the patterns are all explained with charts and graphs. In fact, the Japanese charting system is standardized, so all Japanese publishers use the same notations. And any weird stuff is explained in the back with many, many pictures. It seems the Japanese are very visual learners and thinkers.

Scarves from top to bottom: K, E, F, & H.
The book consists of 25 scarves in a wide variety of techniques. The first five patterns (A-E) appear to all be ribbles or other variations of the techniques Lily Chin covers in Power Cables. (And if you don't already own a copy, why aren't you treating yourself well?) Scarf E is a particularly dynamic example. Several scarves are familiar techniques -- double-knitting (F & G), Fair Isle (O & P), and even a Gansey-style (V). But there are also some true surprises.  Scarves I & J appear to be garter stitch with different beaded patterns worked on both sides! Scarves K & L are both entrelac, but the shaping of K is truly imaginative.  I must admit, I don't know if I'd consider the entrelac to be reversible, nor the colorful Kaffe Fassett-like intarsia on scarf Q. The nubby textures in scarves M & N are both produced with unusual techniques.  The latter part of the book is mostly interesting pattern stitches that happen to be double-sided, such as a thick and bold rib for scarf R, a lace for S, and two other inventive stitch patterns for U and X. Scarf W is a basic ripple pattern, but it is started at the center of the scarf with diamond-shaped motifs and worked outwards in both directions. If you like ruching, scarf T consists of plain areas of stockinette gathered by simple lace bands. And at the end, scarf Y is a two-color brioche.

If you were having a scarf club, this would be a great book to give you ideas for learning a new technique every few months.

The one scarf which may, in fact, be double-knit cables is scarf H. When I look at the technique tutorials, I see reference to stitches a and a', b and b'.  And the pictures look like pairs of light and dark stitches on the needles, as in double knitting. The braided edge, by the way, is two separate i-cords attached afterwards and twisted as you work. I must admit to being tempted to try this one, as it is so clearly a show off tour de force. It is encouraging to see that there is another equally crazy knitter on the other side of the world -- and she has found a publisher willing to print her patterns.