31 March 2014

Shimmer, Oh Blue Angora

When I searched photographs for yesterday's post, I discovered I had taken some pictures along the way.

Those of you familiar with Bohus construction immediately recognized my very non-traditional edges. The point of the Bohus cooperative was to create high-end luxury garments. The money from the sale of those garments provided important supplementary income in an area that was suffering economic difficulties. In other words, knitting beautiful fine-gauged sweaters for the very well-to-do enabled women who were not so well off to keep food on the table for their families. The couture element is important for selling to the high-end market. For example, Susanna Hansson stressed that buttons in Bohus garments are plain and unobtrusive. The luscious angora-blend yarn and intriguing pattern should be the focus of attention. When constructing my own Bohus edgings, I thought about the couture nature of these garments. What would a 21st century Bohus knitter do? What details would seem classic, timeless, and couture?

I decided a picot hem would be just the sort of couture detail a modern Bohus knitter might attempt.

Here's what I did:
Provisionally cast-on with waste yarn & 1.75mm needles.
Work 4 rounds stockinette.
Change up to 2mm needles for outside of hem.
Alternate yarn over, knit 2 together around for one round (forms picot turning ridge).
Work 3 rounds stockinette.
Change up to 2.25mm needles for colorwork.
Remove provisional cast-on to liberate live stitches.
Park those stitches on a second needle.
Work one round stockinette through stitches on both needles to fold and secure picot hem.

Some notes:
Notice that I worked the inside of the hem down one needle size from the outside of the hem. This is one of those subtle knitting tricks. The hem interior is a cylinder inside the hem exterior. So it should be just a little bit smaller in circumference. The needle size change does just that.

When you join the hem together, the maneuver looks just like a three needle bind-off. The only difference is that you don't bind off. The new knit stitches are formed through one stitch from the back needle and one stitch from the front needle. In other words, knit the first stitches on both needles together.

I worked the Blue Shimmer colorwork chart provided in class. Then I needed to match the bind-off to the cast-on.

Thusly for picot hem bind-off:
After last round of chart, change down to 2mm needles and work 4 rounds plain.
Alternate yarn over, knit 2 together around for one round (forms picot turning ridge).
Change down to 1.75mm needles for inside of hem.
Work 3 rounds stockinette.
Fold edge over and graft live stitches.
The grafting of live stitches does require some time. And with this angora-enriched yarn, gentleness is required. The electric blue dash in the picture above is a waste-thread strand inserted so I could see very clearly which round was the target.
Here is an extreme close-up (that's my thumb at the bottom) of what this looks like on the inside. Observe carefully, and you may detect the double strand in the stitches just below the blue waste-thread.

One of my dear knitting friends had taken the Bohus class at the same time. She enjoyed learning about the history and seeing the beautiful work, but decided that knitting on 2mm needles was not appealing. She kindly gifted her Blue Shimmer cuff kit to me. So I was able to repeat this process for a hat band.

Then I needed to figure out how to pick up to create the gloves and hat crown. I wanted the picot edge to show on both sides of the Bohus motif. The solution was to knit up new stitches through the grafted edge.
In the photograph, you see two strands of Isager alpaca lace knit up through the purl bumps of the grafted round. (I was not able to lay my hands on indigo-dyed cashmere, as per my original scheme.) The knit up stitches caused the picot hem to pitch over strongly. I was able to encourage it back into place through the magic of wet blocking.
A pleasing result in the end.

30 March 2014

Bad Juju

I do not know what was going on in February, but whatever it was, it was bad juju. Pretty much everything I touched went wrong in some way. A sample:
  1. Asked the shop to order lace blocking tools before I left town for 10 days. Order didn't go through initially, thus taking more than a month.
  2. Sent broken Tupperware to South Carolina before I left town for 10 days. Replacement Tupperware arrived 5 weeks later.
  3. Ordered ribbons for Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance show and made an extra trip over to the trophy shop to double-check on the order. Ribbons came back late and with an error.
  4. Received lovely bouquet of flowers as thank-you gift for teaching a guild workshop. Feline criminal mastermind knocked crystal vase over, breaking vase and scratching a tile in the kitchen after a different previously broken tile in the kitchen had been replaced. (At least Replacements.com had the vase in stock.)
  5. Handyman installed new task lighting in kitchen and removed broken task lighting but broke a wine glass which for some reason Replacements.com doesn't have. (How is it I have a pattern they don't have in stock?)
  6. Visited Cuddly Hubby at Maryland Man Cave for three-day St. Valentine's Day weekend. Computer files went horribly bad and he spent the week working lots of overtime to correct the problem. During my eight-day visit he had one day off and worked 12 hours most of the other days.
  7. Handyman repaired my great-grandmother's broken piano stool. When I went to use it, I then discovered another issue with the stool and needed to order the appropriate part. (The handyman is fixing it now.)
  8. Worked up a reversible cables blanket using 1x1 ribbles. Then discovered that 2x2 ribbles would probably ladder less.
  9. Totally messed up the thumbs on my Bohus gloves.
Sigh. The Bohus gloves had been in the "in-progress" pile for far too long. I decided this winter was the winter to finish them. I took out my notes from Brenda Dayne's glove class and brushed up on my glove-making knowledge. I set my self to the task. I finished the cuffs and I picked up the stitches and I knit in the round. And then I needed to shape the thumb gusset.

There are several ways to deal with the thumb in a glove or mitten. The simple way is to do a waste-yarn or afterthought thumb. You simply insert a few stitches of waste yarn while knitting or even just snip a thread later, open up a hole, pick up stitches and make a thumb. Of course, I was going for a true gusset. Often these are accomplished by increasing on both sides of a central area every-other round. But I decided to experiment and make the gusset by increasing along one line every round. This is the same shaping I did a few months ago when I made the twined fingerless mitts from Beth Brown-Reinsel's class.

It worked on the mitts. It did not work on the gloves.

I am not sure why. It could be that stockinette stitch and twined knitting do not have the same row gauge. It could be something odd happens at a fine gauge of 8 or 9 stitches to the inch. It could be that my hands are too long and thin and not close enough to the mean standard shape of human hands.

I know now what I did wrong. I kept increasing until the height of my glove-to-be was tall enough to clear the webbing of my thumb. Then I put all the increased stitches on a holder for later and began to work the upper part of the hand in the round.

And for some reason, I didn't look at those parked thumb stitches and do a little math. I just trusted that gusset increases are always worked until you've cleared the base of the thumb. And I then worked along merrily, on size 2 mm/US 0 needles, and completed both hands and all eight fingers. After all, I was working two at a time so I didn't need to count rows. Both gloves would be done simultaneously and would match! Glee!

All I needed to do was the thumbs. It was late February, and I was thinking I would watch a little curling, finish the thumbs, and invite spring to arrive. (As we all know, nothing insures a change of season like finishing a knitting project appropriate to the current season.) And it was when I went to pick up the two thumbs that I realized I had way too many stitches. I tried knitting a little and decreasing, but it just looked silly. Even TECHknitter concurred with the assessment. The gloves needed some knitting plastic surgery -- a gusset reduction! There was no other way to do it. I needed to snip, unpick a row, rip back eight rows, knit up plain without the increases, and graft the gloves back together. Since I worked two at a time, both had the same error. I would need to do this procedure twice.

If you are at all squeamish, do not scroll further! Avert your eyes from the carnage of this knitting surgery!

The beginning of round is marked with a coil-less safety pin. The over-sized thumb gusset is parked on two double-pointed needles. As the round is unpicked, stitches from the top (fingers) are parked on a white thread while stitches from the lower part are parked on needles.
Here is it mid-surgery.

And at the end, the glove has been decapitated. Horrors, indeed! Aiiee!
The beginning of round is just a little odd in this technique because of the parked thumb stitches. When grafting back together, the first stitch begins with a half-stitch rather than a whole stitch, because the cut thread from the other side forms the other half of the stitch. I know that last sentence makes no sense. Just trust me that if you have to do this, take a long, long look at the stitches at the beginning and end as you unpick them. There is a strange surprise lurking in the gusset.

I was able to knit back up eight rounds plain. So if I had done this correctly from the start, the method would have been to calculate how many stitches I needed to fit around my thumb, increase to that number, then work in the round without increases until the glove is tall enough to clear the base of the thumb. At that point it is time to park the thumb stitches and work the upper part of the hand in the round. Or if I really wanted to be elegant, I could have calculated how many rows for the needed height, how many increases for the needed width around the thumb, and then evenly-spaced the increase rounds. I would have ended up working about three increase rounds to every one plain round.

After I performed the surgery on both gloves -- and truth be told, I did the left glove all the way through grafting it back together before operating on the right -- I was then able to join in new yarn and knit up two thumbs at a time.
And here are the gloves and matching hat at the end. And I have to doubt the next cold day worthy of gloves in Atlanta will be in November.

24 March 2014

Proper Tools

Although many of us think about blocking our knits as an afterthought process, it can be surprisingly important to the success of our work. I have to admit that I'm not very good at blocking. Oh, yes, I go through the motions carefully -- I use wires and pins and water and the guest bed and wait patiently for my work to dry. But my results rarely seem to be pleasing.

Part of the menace, I think, has been the blocking wires I've been using. They were budget-priced, and they've performed that way, too. At this point, they are noticeably bent. I am someone who prefers to purchase a tool once and be done with it. Having crappy blocking wires did not bring sunshine to my world.

I have been on a fixing binge this year, so I have done something about it! A big thank you to Jenna the Yarn Pimp at The Whole Nine Yarns who was able to order some items for me from Lacis. I didn't realize when I asked Jenna if she could please get these things that she would have to order more than just the ones I wanted. So at the moment, the shop has these in stock.
Lacis mats, overlay, bronze blocking wires, & circular blocking wires.
I splurged on the big freakin' blocking mat. It has four 2x2 foot foam blocks that interlock to create a 4x4 surface. Of course, you could also line up the blocks to have a 2x8 surface for long scarves and shawls. The 2x2 overlay mat has a grid but also has markings for blocking circles or other shapes worked from the center out. Thus, it should be much easier to block things evenly to size, rather than fumbling with a yardstick on the guest bed.

And since the previous wires displeased me, I also purchased the bronze blocking wires and the circular wires. The bronze wires seem a little stiffer to me, although my needle gauge tells me they are the same diameter as the crappy budget wires. The circular wires come with little plastic tubing so you can block with the wires, or cut and join the ends to display a circular motif as a sun catcher.

A do have a few caveats about these.
1. The mat overlay comes folded. Really, Lacis? Don't store the mat folded. Roll it up with the markings facing outward.
2. The blocking wires do not come in a nice tube or resealable pouch. I did snip only one side of the plastic pouch, so I should be able to store mine back inside it. But it would be nicer if the wires came with a storage tube. A storage tube that would fit the giant overlay and the wires would be ideal.
3. Rust-proof T-pins are not included. I have spares both from my previous set of wires and an extra container I purchased either at the yarn shop or the big box craft store because the budget wires didn't have enough T-pins for what I was doing.

I've already taken the time to re-block two projects -- the White Lotus Shawl and the Sir Thomas Scarf. Both of these are narrow and long, so I used the foam mats and wires but not the overlay mat. The bronze wires performed very well. They stayed straighter and were not bent afterwards. And they are not quite as slick as aluminum, so the stitches did not move along the wire unless encouraged. This made it easy to line things up exactly as desired. The projects also seemed to dry quickly. I don't know if the foam mats wicked away water, or if it is just that we've had very low humidity recently. This set-up is on the expensive side, but definitely worth it both for ease and accuracy.

13 March 2014

Glorious Weekend

I'm a couple days behind on this post. Partly that is because the Cuddly Hubby is home this week. He decided to take a week of vacation to come home on his own personal spring break. He also wanted to see The Atlanta Opera's production of Faust, which we saw Tuesday night. And, yes, it was very, very good. Beautiful sets, emotionally-engaging music, impressive singing, and a story worth thinking about.

This is all coming off a great weekend with TECHknitter!

First off, a huge thank you to Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance primarily, and Atlanta Knitting Guild secondarily, for bringing TECHknitter to Atlanta! And thank you to all the knitters who signed up for workshops. This weekend was scheduled more than a year in advance. As TECHknitter is presently trying to write a book and also now has a home in a fairly remote location, I believe it will be harder to fit teaching into her schedule as well as more expensive to cover her travel. We were fortunate to schedule her when we did.

In addition to the four workshops at SEFAA, TECHknitter did a presentation at Thursday evening's Atlanta Knitting Guild meeting. I believe a lot of us came away from the weekend with a new appreciation for just how much can be accomplished after the fact. I teach mistake fixing and am very comfortable with dropping ladders and picking them back up, but TECHknitter showed me new ways of picking up ladders. She does a lot of afterthought knitting, where she starts with a large blank canvas of stockinette and "paints" patterns on to it. Very often this means starting with a too-large garment and making it smaller, but she even has a way to make a too-small garment larger. Amazing!

The Friday sessions were tips and tricks. Many, many tips and tricks. TECHknitter uses a set-up with a video camera, white box, daylight lamp, projector, and iPad that allows her to demo everything up on screen to the whole class at once. She can also switch back and forth between live video and slideshows or even web pages. Very nice!

As amazing as the tips and tricks were, Saturday morning's New Ways with Cables session was mind-blowing. Alas, I can't reveal any of it, as TECHknitter hasn't published these ideas yet. By the end of the three hours, the class was clamoring for her to please publish a book about cables. The five-year-old in me wants to go, "Nah-nah-nah, I know something awesome about knitting that you don't," but I shall restrain myself and merely smile confidently like Shere Khan from Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Saturday afternoon's session was zippers and buttons. If you've read TECHknitter's blog, you know she has posts about what to do if you forgot a buttonhole. And she has multiple solutions! She also demonstrated an afterthought buttonhole that didn't require snipping. Wow!

We practiced zipper insertion based on her wonderful Interweave Knits article "The X, Y + Z of Zippers" (volume XV, number 4, Winter 2010, pages 108-109). One method does not involve a facing, but could be added after the fact. As you can see in the example at left, the rugged little edge is quite sporty. (Note: If I were to do this for real, I now know I would need to set the zipper teeth closer to the fabric selvedge. This is why we take classes and swatch.)

The other zipper is the full-up zipper with facings. This means the zipper is sandwiched between two pieces of fabric. The top piece is the outside of the garment. The bottom piece is a small strip picked up from the inside. Interestingly, both TECHknitter and Marilyn Hastings (see "Marilyn H's hidden zipper" in Knitter's Magazine, volume 29, no. 3, issue 108, Fall 2012, pages 28-29) have derived the same elegant solution for the facing. For a stockinette fabric, they both create a single purl wale a few stitches in from the selvedge. This creates a single rib on the back of the fabric. The facing is knit up sideways through the stitches of this rib. Marilyn then goes on to sew her zipper into place.

knit-picker vs latch hook
TECHknitter uses a tiny latch hook called a knit-picker to pull loops through the zipper tape. (The creative amongst you are no doubt realizing this technique could be used to get into all sorts of knit and crochet mischief.) In our sample, we went so far as to pull the loops through the tape, then through the front of the fabric, and then knit a little stockinette that rolls.

From the front the zipper is completely disguised. And the rolling stockinette will adjust to cover the zipper teeth, so you don't have to get the whole thing perfect. It is a very sporty look that would be perfect on a man's garment.

In sum: If you have a chance to take a class with this amazing knitter, stall not a nanosecond. I've spent the weekend drinking from the knitting fire hose and it was spewing ambrosia.