Thursday, November 22, 2007

Playing with Fire

Some weeks ago I described my "Big Knitting Problem", basically that I like to knit Fair Isle projects and like to buy multi-colored yarn. Playing with Fire is a sweater design I created as an attempt to merge these two opposing inclinations. The project has turned out to be such fun that I decided its story deserved to be told.

The inspiration was a finished knit displayed in a wonderful yarn shop in NYC called String. This gorgeous sweater set was knit from a single shaded Koigu color, but two skeins were slip-stitched together so that the second skein produced a subtle pattern of dots across the fabric. I drooled a puddle on the store floor.

As I tried to mentally prepare for my stem cell transplant this past May one distraction was to set up a cheerful, easy project that I could work on in the hospital. I expected to have two weeks to knit til my fingers bled. I quickly decided that I wanted to experiment with a Fair Isle design that combined a multi with itself. With hardly any conscious manipulation my mouse clicked me over to the Blue Moon Fiber Arts website. Really, does anyone else have such an amazing selection of colors? I agonized over which multi I would go with, but in the end it was no contest. I was drawn to the vibrant colors of Fire on the Mountain. I ordered a huge pile, (10 skeins), in Heavyweight.

Then the tragedy. The yarn wasn't in stock, at least not in the truckload quantity that I'd ordered. It would have to be dyed. There was no way to get it in time for my hospital stay. I was disappointed, but picked up the next project on my list, the Comings & Goings Cardigan. That was a nice big gage and had some Fair Isle. I was content to wait. Sometimes it's just nice to be looking forward to getting a package.

It all worked out in the end. I was not up to knitting during my hospital stay anyways. I had the yarn delivered to my parents' house, where I was to spend a week recuperating before resuming a life filled with endlessly grueling homeowner tasks. It was a fun change of pace to share the dramatic box opening, releasing a rainbow of color into my parents' living room.

I swatched, (yes, really I swatched!), the dot pattern from String, one skein as a background, the other skein jumping in for a single stitch every third stitch on each fourth row. What was subtle and exciting in the shaded reds of Strings' sample garment completely disappeared in the mad colors of Fire on the Mountain. It wasn't going to work. I was in uncharted territory.

How could I best combine two busy skeins so that the viewer would see right away that there were two overlaid color motifs? The frantic color changes would only support larger areas so that each skein could exert its identity even while shifting shades. I decided on vertical stripes, but felt some sadness for the simplicity of the idea. That's how the stripes ended up with varying widths.

Originally my stripes alternated descending and ascending number sequences like this: 5 1 4 2 3 3 2 4 1 5, but the 2 3 3 2 area got very murky with the skeins each losing their identity. The winning swatch ended up being 5 1 4 2 3 2 4 1 5 1, presenting distinct pattern areas of wide stripes separated by a one stitch boundary, plus a 2 3 2 stripe that acts as its own unified design element. This arrangement had the added benefit that one skein would be used faster than the other, guarantying that the two skeins would shift colors at different rates across the fabric.

I was finally ready to forge ahead. The project even had a name now. All of my swatching led me to call it "Playing with Fire". (Note to self: Take pictures of failed swatches and project approaches... So much more interesting than describing them!) Here's the winning combination:

The sweater construction was selected for simplicity, a drop shoulder design whose boxy outline would allow the vertical stripes maximum free roam. I don't mind purling in Fair Isle so even though I briefly considered steeks, that idea was quickly rejected. (Steeks terrify me.) I measured my favorite bulky sweaters and chose dimensions to result in a slightly oversize fit without going as far as a complete frump out.
You can see from the picture that Playing with Fire is still a work in process. This is the first project that I've ever actually dreaded finishing. It's so much fun to work on! I realize that sometimes while I'm knitting I have this manic smile on my face as I watch the insane colors combine and recombine themselves. The wool is soft to the hand, but no-nonsense as far as workability. It even supports several cycles of ripping without fluffing out. I'm hoping that the ripples in the 2 3 2 stripes will block out, but like the effect enough to happily accept it if they don't.

For those interested in the technical details, I'm knitting on a single US#7 long circular for the whole thing, magic looping the sleeves. Gage is around 6 sts per inch, and that's giving me a fabric that's a little on the tight side. I'm using the Knitpicks Options needles. Here's Susan's favorite view... the inside!
I am very close to finishing the C & G Cardigan, but I think Playing with Fire's going to breeze past it. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll be able to wear it to the Rocking Sock Club Camp this coming April and collect all of the compliments that I expect on my lunatic creation, (per the theory presented in my previous post). I suspect that if I'd chosen a more restrained color the completed sweater would have more dignity, but I like this design specifically because regardless of color selection, it will always proudly announce itself as a hand knit.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Compliment Conundrum

Isn't it the greatest feeling to pull on a hand-knit that you're really proud of? You look in the mirror and say to yourself, "Wow, this really works!" There's a whole day ahead where everyone you know and don't know will admire your handiwork and smother you with compliments. You're psyched to get out into the world, even if your destination is your normal daily employment.

And then no one notices. Not a soul. It's surreal. Everyone complimented you on the ill-fitting beginner's project that you wore two days ago. What's going on?!

I've been thinking about this because I'm working on a somewhat strange sweater project. It makes me happy, but it's definitely not a statement of high fashion… or any other kind of fashion! It's my Playing with Fire Sweater. This garment is just painfully bright and cheerful, kind of like one of those morning people that most days you just want to avoid. As I was working on it last night it occurred to me that I can probably expect a lot of compliments on it. Then I had to think about what triggered that idea.

Here's my theory: Once a completed knit object achieves a certain level of quality, very few people will take notice and say something nice. I suspect that the garment actually goes beyond what most folks think a hand knit can look like. Sometimes they take for granted that it's store-bought. Sometimes they just don't notice it at all.

Of course if it doesn't fit, or the collar's a little funny, or the color selection is outside of mainstream, or the button band puckers, the anomaly catches the eye. The viewer is then likely to think, "What's up with that?" Their brain crunches away and "bing", they categorize the oddity as hand made. Next they recognize that you've probably attempted something that might be just a little beyond your capabilities. "This person's really trying to be creative. Good for them!", they might think. They may even hear suggestive frogs in the distance and not understand why…

That's when you'll suddenly hear, "Did you knit that? How nice!" Without any intent to boast I can say that I've experienced this comment often. It's because I've got plenty of projects that have "issues" that I like to wear anyways. It's fun and I'm not so proud. I freely admit that I've reached the point where I always wonder what I've done wrong when I hear those words from a stranger. Sadly cynical I suppose.

The project below netted me a compliment in the elevator at my lawyer's office. Honestly it looks much better on the floor than it does on me. Don't know that I could ever lose enough weight to really wear it without being hospitalized.
I consider the Dale sweater below to be the best I've done, (so far). Unsolicited compliment count: zero.
I used to be shocked when my knitting mentor Susan would tell me she wore her latest stunning creation and no one said anything. Her work always fits perfectly, is completely tasteful, perfectly executed, and often involves challenge outside the normal scope of a knitting project. I can only theorize that people can't imagine these works came off of knitting needles! (I've seen many of them in process and still have trouble believing it sometimes!) For myself, I hear those words much more often, but almost never when I'm wearing one of my few truly good projects.

Until recently that is. My latest effort has been the retraining of my co-workers. If you're suffering from the same lack of recognition you might want to try this as well. I make them listen to me talk about knitting at every possible opportunity. That way they always ask if I knit what I'm wearing. Last week I was asked if I knit a velour printed jacket! (Now that would be a trick!) Anyways, I'm very satisfied with this state of things. I'll never know for sure if anyone's really impressed with any of my projects, but I'll always have an excuse to talk about them!

The last part of the experiment is to see if all this knitting talk causes me to lose respect at work, or causes people to run the other way when they see me down the hall. I'll let you know as the experiment continues. Especially since if I keep this up I may end up with lots of unemployed time for talking and no one else to talk to!

So that's a whole lot of text without much detail on my beloved Playing with Fire Sweater. I'll save the fun knitting technology for next time. Just brace yourself for a project that's almost too joyful to tolerate!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mermaid Fingerless Gloves, Postscript

It's finally time to wrap up this project and move on to new things. My sister's Mermaid Gloves are done and I have no plans to knit another pair, in spite of the various requests. There are too many other fun and fascinating patterns out there. Time is just too precious.

Before I leave the topic there are a few things that I learned on the second pair that really deserve mentioning along with my three part instructions, (August and October '07). Jo's pair was knit on US#1 needles, (the big US#1 if you like the accuracy of the metric world.), instead of on #0's. They were also knit from a lighter weight yarn, ShibuiKnits, rather than Socks that Rock Medium. I intentionally knit very tight for a minimized gage. The result was a glove that was shorter in length, but much more comfortable and wearable. My first pair feels a tiny bit bulky across the palm.

With the smaller gage I was afraid that the pattern would look excessively stretched when worn, but it really doesn't. I'm not sure what makes this pair more stretchy. It could be gage or yarn weight or some other yarn parameter that I can't name. Whatever it was, it worked out great. I'd recommend that if you're going to use Socks that Rock yarn, try the light weight instead of the medium. You might want to consider ShibuiKnits since that worked so well for me.

Look at the wonderful pooling I got from ShibuiKnits Midnight color! Here's palm down:And of course the thumb gusset that I'm so happy with... Here's palm up:

It was interesting that I got so used to doing the backwards Ktbl that it took some concentration to go back to the normal one. Some of that comes from doing two left gloves in a row, (mine second and Jo's first), but it also indicates to me that the stitch is really not that bad.

Overall, I'm very happy with the mirrored approach and still absolutely thrilled with my easy, organic thumb gusset. The slight difference in texture in the mirrored stitches is easily made up for by the symmetry in the final product and the opportunity to create this thumb gusset that grows out of the scale pattern. (That's my opinion obviously, and I expect that there are plenty of knitters and wearers that will disagree!)

Note to Monica (Passionknit): Glad to hear you're planned to knit your next pair mirrored! I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of the whole experience.

If there's anyone out there who really wants to take this project to the next level, they might be able to eliminate the slight texture difference in the mirrored stitch by spinning their own yarn, "S" twist for one glove and "Z" twist for the other. Go for it! I'd love for someone to confirm the yarn twist theory!

So that's all I have to say on the Mermaids. Now if I can just figure out how to hook all this info up with my new Ravelry account…

Note to Susan (WormSoup): Here's my active project list… Comings & Goings Cardigan, Playing with Fire Sweater, and Pyramids Sweater. The list is getting shorter again. Maybe the insanity has passed and I'm working my way back to being a "Serial Knitter". We'll see. I'd love to clear the sofa somewhat to make ready for a brand new project.

What's on your active list? Any Rhinebeck projects on needles yet?