Monday, October 29, 2007

Sheep, Rabbits, Goats, Llamas, Alpacas…

I'm referring to Rhinebeck of course. Before I pick up on all of the projects screaming for my attention, I have to pay homage to that most amazing of events, the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival. I took lots of pictures, and realized after the fact that most of these were taken of the critters, not the vendors or shopping areas. Hey, when I'm shopping nothing else intrudes on my focus, not even the need to photograph!
The Featured Sheep this year was the Bluefaced Leicester, but each year I pick my own favorite breed. (In an alternate life I'll have a flock of these beauties, so it's critical that I make a careful selection!) For two years now the miniature breeds have been getting most of my attention. Here's a lovely little Cheviot sheep.

Shetland sheep are another favorite, especially after working on Pyramids, a Ron Schweitzer Fair Isle design. I was surprised and thrilled to see Yarns International at the Fest this year. These folks are purveyors of Shetland wool and patterns and work closely with Ron Schweitzer, the artist of so many amazing Fair Isle designs in natural and dyed Shetland colors. Among the outrageous samples displayed in the booth was this one by Jennifer Lindsay, (photo from book).

Check out that gorgeous and unique collar! I drooled puddles over the knit-up sample and then almost trampled my fellow shoppers after being told that the pattern was in Barbara Albright's book, "The Natural Knitter". I bought the book, specifically because I couldn’t resist this sweater, but I am already enjoying the rest of the content. I learned for example that goat tails stick up and sheep tails hang down... Crucial trivia at a Wool Fest!

Getting back to the sheep however, here's a collection of Shetland sheep that I really wanted to take home. Check out all the amazing range of colors!
Shopping was wonderful. For me the height of joy is sitting on the floor of a yarn store or booth with my friend Susan from WormSoup. This trip we found ourselves on the floor in the booth of The Needle Lady from Charlottesville, VA, looking at Hanne Falkenburg and Vivian Hoxbro kits. I regained consciousness from my yarn trance with a kit in my lap that I'd been lusting after for three years. It was obviously fate. Yes, I bought it.

By the way, for all of you who are considering various kit purchases, I heard from the proprietors of Mostly Merino, from Putney VT, that they'd noticed that the average time for someone to break down and buy a kit that they've been considering is about three years. So even though you think you're being strong, unless you've gone past three years, that kit you've been resisting is probably in your future. Go ahead and buy it now! Get a head start!

Another booth where a surprising amount of money left my wallet was Golding RingSpindles. Tom and Diane Golding were showing a black walnut ball winder that crossed over from knitting accessory to furniture to art. I wanted this thing badly! I was good. I resisted. I stuck with my plan to buy a nice plastic ball winder, around $40, as recommended by Susan. My self-discipline was founded on the decision that I had to be sure I would use it before making a bigger investment. But next year look out…

The surprise purchase at the Golding booth was a "Learn to Spin" drop spindle kit. At lunch on Sunday Susan and I were joined by a group of avid spinners who convinced us that with a drop spindle by Tom Golding we'd master spinning in no time. They should have gotten a commission. We bee-lined back to the Golding booth and both purchased the kits. By dumb luck I fell in love with the spindle that was included in the kit. "Tsunami". Susan upgraded to a spindle that certainly crosses into the art world. I'm hoping she'll post a picture of it on WormSoup. (Hint, hint.)
Susan and I also managed to come away with Socks that Rock sock yarn. Honestly I have to say that that's really trophy shopping. You can buy this yarn from Blue Moon Fiber Arts Inc. on line, but there's something about getting a few skeins at the Fest in person that just makes you feel a rush of superiority and victory. It even makes standing on one of the longest non-food lines in the Fest worthwhile. Near the end of the show we saw that there were only a few skeins left. Last year there were none, so I'm guessing The Fold probably brought an extra truckload.
In addition to the shopping, we were excited to discover that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee would be speaking as part of the book signing, new this year. I think it's been over two years since I've laughed so hard. Really good for the soul. I was bummed to realize that the one thing I forgot to bring was my Yarn Harlot book, "The Secret Life of a Knitter", but hopefully another opportunity will present itself to get that treasured possession signed.

Stephanie once again accomplished the amazing feat of helping us all be proud to be knitters while at the same time poking fun at our obsessions. Members of "CHOKE" beware! (Cultural Humiliation Of Knitters Everywhere - a secret, but widespread organization.) Apologies to Stephanie for this poor picture. After this early shot I was laughing too hard to take another!
There was much, much more, but I'll wrap up here with a picture from another favorite Fest moment. I touched noses with this friendly wool-bearing beast. It was a brief moment of communion with the creatures that bring us so much joy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Into the Knitting Community

There's an interesting thing about blogging and I guess writing in general. It's not always easy to accomplish what you intend. I've posted everything I discovered about the Mermaid gloves, especially the left glove, and found that my description of all of the difficulties and solutions could actually be intimidating instead of empowering. Monica's comment on my previous post was an eye opener! Looking back, maybe some projects are better attacked without knowledge of all the roadblocks that knitters will otherwise pig-headedly solve along the way. I'm still hoping that sharing my experience will be helpful to some who knit those gloves, but now see that it won't work for everyone.

One thing I have accomplished is the joy of communicating about a project that I found really fascinating. Follow-on correspondence with Monica opened my eyes to some other approaches for solving problems like the color change in the mirrored glove. It never occurred to me to knit both gloves in the same direction! Check out this gorgeous pair, (link referred by Monica):

The exchange of ideas has really been fun and enlightening, and that's why I originally decided to blog. Thanks so much Monica!

And Susan from WormSoup likes my sketches! No accounting for taste they say. I had really planned to do something nicer, but just wanted to get that posting out fearing that someone was actually knitting up the gloves and might want it. As long as the standards don't get too much higher, there may be more sketches in me. Thanks for the compliment!

I've been distracted from posting for a bit by the impending Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. I attended with Susan (of WS) again this year, and as always we had the time of our lives. Those two days have been the best days of my year for quite a few years running now.

I'll have more about that happy experience in my next post. Today I think I need to take a look at some of the projects that are lurking around my sofa, demanding that I hold back from attacking my new Wool Fest projects. Maybe it will help me keep from running in thirty directions at once!

Unfortunately my project status going into the Fest was not what I had hoped. Comings & Goings Cardigan couldn't be finished. I've actually completed all of the finishing work except for the collar and I-cord along the front opening and around the neck, but I can't decide whether that will be a button band or not. Oh well. At least the impending Fest motivated me to get on with sewing the sleeves and tucking ends. Here's where that project stopped. (The gloves were thrown in for scale.)

I have good news on my sister's Mermaid Gloves. I was hearing the call of the frogs, (ribit, ribit, rip it…), thinking that with the gage going small Jo would not like the length. Over the previous weekend she tried on the in-progress left glove and was not only happy with the length, she also really liked the ShibuiKnits Midnight color! Amazing! What a relief! And I won't have to knit the thing over again! So excellent! Not much progress since, but here's what they look like right now. (Susan - By the way the last photos weren't on the beach. I just wish they were! This photo shows the glove posing on Pyramids.)
For relaxing evening knitting I brought my brainless buddy, Playing with Fire to Rhinebeck. This sweater hasn't seen much action as I've pounded through the left Mermaid Glove and the C & G Cardigan. I was thinking that it would be nice to get back to that project, but the evenings were mostly dedicated to collapse from exhaustion.

Lastly, my knitting fashion statement for the Fest… (Seeing everyone wearing their knit creations is a key part of this event!) Well this year I didn't really have a chance to show off anything. I put on my favorite old Bunny Sweater from way back, but that was way too warm. I was down to a t-shirt within 40 minutes. Here's the Bunny Sweater in case you think you might have seen me early Saturday. (The background is my wonderful Bunny Quilt from the Saint James Piecemakers.)
It was fun to see the determined few who were wearing lovely winter sweaters in the 72 degree weather, and also those who bravely fell back on draping a spectacular shawl over any warm weather clothes they'd packed regardless of color coordination. As always, the knitting skill on display was exciting and motivating.

So next year I should have Pyramids, C & G, and Playing with Fire to choose from, plus of course whatever creations come to me along the way! It would be awesome to have my Fiesta Surf Sweater done. Oh, the possibilities!

360 days to go!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mermaid Fingerless Gloves, Part 3 - Sinister Left Mitt

Here at last is the final installation of my Mermaid Glove notes! Knitting my sister's gloves helped me nail down my best solutions for the problems presented by the mirrored monster. I suspect there are even better ways to solve these issues, but for those who just want to get the job done I've set down my method.

Before I dig in on these instructions let me tell you what the two biggest issues are:

1) The stitch pattern looks very different if reversed because a Ktbl has a natural direction to it.

2) Pattern rows don't naturally flow one to the next when knit in the opposite direction.

A little background on Issue #1: As I started the left glove the first time, it occurred to me that the Ktbl twist direction might be a problem. I looked really closely at Steph's photos on Craftoholic and thought that they looked like normal Ktbl's in spite of being knit in the mirrored pattern. I started my own left glove using a normal Ktbl and after one pattern block of 22 rows I was horrified. A normal Ktbl stitch recedes slightly on its left side, so that the scales of the right glove have a feeling of depth. The ridges all slope toward the center of the scale. With this feature reversed the pattern looked totally different. The scales came out flat and lifeless.

When I put the gloves on this effect was alleviated, but that wasn't good enough for me. I wanted a total right/left match, so I had to figure out how to make a mirrored K tbl. When I started over with my new, mirrored Ktbl stitch, I still saw some difference between the two gloves. I was mystified until Susan from WormSoup pointed out that the twist in the yarn itself also changes the appearance of a stitch! In the final product my left and right glove almost look like they're slightly different shades of purple, but that's probably something only their maker would notice.
The point of all that text was to tell you that you may want to swatch before you make any rash decisions on whether or not to use the mirrored stitch. It's really not difficult once you get going, but not everyone will care enough about the subtleties of texture to make it worthwhile. I also suspect that the stitch may come off one person's hand differently than another's, so the normal version might even look ok on both gloves for you.

In addition to the issue of learning this strange stitch, there can also be trouble with gage. You're trying to make matching gloves in two different stitches, so don't take for granted that gage will cooperate. My right glove is slightly longer than my left, but fortunately it's not noticeable when they're on my hands.
Issue #2 concerning the pattern rows… Well that's just strange. I spent some time staring at the chart with a big glass of red wine, but never saw the logic of why this pattern behaves so bizarrely when reversed. (Not sure that the red wine helped much there.) I've taken careful notes of what I did to deal with that however, and they're listed below as well.

So here goes…

Part 3 - Mermaid Gloves, Sinister Left Mitt

Let's start with how to make a mirrored Ktbl stitch. I really did find these pretty easy once I got the hang of it. To make this work the stitch that's waiting to be knit must be facing toward the right instead left. Insert the right needle into the loop from the left by going behind the left, (front), leg of the loop. Catch the strand of yarn by sweeping the left needle underneath it from the left. Pull the yarn through the loop. You should have a new, right-facing loop on the right needle. Notice that even though the new stitch is not yet twisted, the one below it is. I've added some rough sketches so that my words will have a chance at making sense.
Caution: Check your gage! With the new stitch the left glove may very well knit up at a different gage from the right. (I sound like such a knitting author! Who ever really checks gage?! Then again, how many of us frog while regretting that??? Choose your poison…)

Onward to the actual glove. (All references to "Ktbl" actually mean the mirrored Ktbl.):

After cast on start the 1Ktbl x 1P rib on a Ktbl instead of a purl. Doesn't make that much difference, but if you're a perfectionist like me you'll appreciate the hint. Knit the rib to length per Part 1 of my instructions.

When you reach the beginning of the chart start at the left edge and read from left to right. Notice that on rows 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22 the previous row's yarn overs must be reversed to face right before they are knit. Those are the rows where a Ktbl is knit onto a yarn over, and as I mentioned above mirrored Ktbl stitches must start out facing right in order to work. (I found that this made it very difficult to tog the yarn over with a Ktbl in rows 1 and 12, but for me it was worth it.)

Here's the first rub with the reversed chart. After row 11 the reversed chart tries to put two yarn overs together. Ignore the first yarn over in row 12. Past this row the stitches on each needle will resume beginning and ending with left-most and right-most chart stitches respectively, like a normal pattern.

After row 12 you'll see that a new scale is growing at the beginning of each needle. This scale is actually knit to the previous needle's stitch pattern, meaning that as the pattern progresses the very first scale in a round is actually knit to the previous row's pattern. Nothing to worry about, but do remember that detail when checking your work!

Once you've knit the 22nd round that entire first scale will really belong to the previous row. You'll still need to work that scale before you can start again with the row 1 pattern. Before (or as you knit) row 1 move one scale's worth of stitches from the left needle to the right at each break between needles. This makes your start point for the round shift over one scale, (12 stitches), for each vertical pattern group, or three scales all together before you start the thumb gusset. I could not find any more elegant way to deal with this crazy pattern.

Thumb gusset: The thumb gusset is worked the same way as it is for the right glove, by omitting all of the Ktbl tog's in a pattern block. The trick becomes selecting the best pattern block for creating the gusset. I'd recommend the sixth, (last), block. With the shifting stitches, your initial cast on knot will have moved 180 degrees around the glove. Putting the gusset in the sixth block keeps that starting knot symmetrical with the right glove and slightly to the underside of the piece.

There's one last potential pitfall. At this point your cast on knot has moved, your gusset's in a new place, and basically all frames of reference have gone out the window. Be very careful when re-establishing the beginning of the round before starting the fingers! My recommendation is to use the 1 x 1 rib to bring you to the vertical pattern edge next to what will be the pinky finger and reposition the work on the needles as required for that start point. It's a really good idea to put the glove on and make sure the thumb gusset is next to the opposite vertical pattern edge, and also that it's on the correct side of that edge! Knit one full row of rib per Part 2 of my instructions.

From here on the project should actually be fairly straightforward to mirror. Use the table of stitches from Part 2, but be sure to remember to mirror it.

The last step is to leave me a comment on FurrPurls with a web reference that will let me see your finished product!! (And, of course a heads up on any errata that you notice along the way.)


Whew! Glad that's done. The Mermaids really are lovely, but I'm so, so ready to be working on something new. That absolutely huge pile of Fiesta wool's been calling to me incessantly! And there might just be some newly arrived wool calling too…

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Pooling Mermaids

Looks like I've got a use for my PaintKnits program already! Jo's Mermaid Fingerless Gloves are pooling. We're not talking puddles. We're talking giant Olympic sized pools. All of those projects where I was dying to have the colors pool, but they refused. Now I'm looking for stripes and I end up with a total swim meet!! The photo above was edited to show front and back next to each other. (I only wish that I were that far along with the second glove!) I really do like the pooling shades, but they're not what I expected or discussed with Jo. If you've been following along you know that my determination to produce gloves that she'll love is making me a little bit batty.

Of course I'm also having a little issue with gage, (as always). The ShibuiKnits wool looked a tad fatter than the Blue Moon Fibers medium, plus my first pair of Mermaids was just a little tighter than I'd like. To compensate I moved to a US #1 and kept the knitting real tight. (Su at WormSoup: This was a big US #1, not the small. I wanted to use a small, but couldn't find one in my collection. Long live metric!)

The result has been pretty strange. The gloves are coming out slightly smaller than my first pair but are much more stretchy and comfortable. Weird. I'm sure Su will explain it to me. (The pressure's on, my expert friend! :-) )

At this point I think the key to this whole adventure is to have the second glove pool similarly to the first, so I'm going to see if I can take some control of these multi's. I've set up the Mermaid gloves in PaintKnits to simulate what's happening now, and plan to check the next skein to see if it's going to do the same thing.

The hardest part of this exercise is re-establishing the skein as it was looped for dying. Unfortunately ShibuiKnits is one of those wools where the wool is re-skeined after dying so that it's not as simple as untwisting the thing. In addition the shadings are subtle in strand form, showing up strongly only as they're knit. Here's what I came up with:
The loop at the bottom of this picture shows the re-established skein. It's looped into a horseshoe so that both ends are on the right. Once I figured out where the loop ends were I tied a loose knot at each end so that it would be easy to handle for measuring.

Now here's my simulated glove modelled on the skein that's currently in work. The program opens the circular knit and lays it flat so that the image shows the pattern all the way around. I'll admit that I'm surprised at how close this is to my results with the yarn! I'm one happy programmer!
I have two skeins left for this project. My next step will be to pick the skein which best matches the first one, especially in dyed loop length. That should (theoretically) give me similar pooling, all else staying the same.

Of course while I'm working on all of this my Comings & Goings cardigan is languishing for its finishing work. If I don't hustle it won't be ready for me to wear to the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival, and that will be a huge disappointment. I'll have no new FO to show off! Very upsetting… but not upsetting enough to motivate me into tucking ends and sewing sleeves!!