Monday, August 31, 2009

Block Party

No loops-through-loops action this week. Just a weekend long “block party”. Four projects finally got blocked, at least one which had been waiting for more than a year.

First arrival at the party was Surf. Yes, I know I said this project would be done last weekend, but it turns out that I had some good reasons to jump back into the waves. For starters I’d forgotten to crochet the edging around the cuffs. Oops. The second discovery was that the back edge didn’t really block flat, observed when I picked the cardigan up from the blocking towel. So I tied the button bands together with spare yarn and flipped the cardigan face down on the towel. I shaped it without pins and then the offending seams were steamed.

Now I have an excuse to show you the back of the sweater laid out flat! It’s my favorite part. Check this out:

The buttons went on after blocking to avoid thermal shocking the glass. Of course I have to show them to you. The picture’s below. I’d stashed these lovelies quite a while ago. They were a Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Fest purchase that I put aside for just the right project. The creator is called Moving Mud and consistently has one of my favorite booths. I was thrilled to pieces to see how perfectly they matched the Surf Cardigan. Plus here’s a nice symmetry… Anyone who’s stood in the ocean surf on sand has felt “moving mud”.
I won’t bore your with going into yet more detail about this project. The details are in other places on the blog. Feel free to comment with questions, but beware that I could type about this adventure for pages and pages!

One point worth noting... I’m going to try to post a project on Ravelry for the first time next weekend and this project will be my guinea pig. I’ve decided to give it a fancier name. If you search for it there look for “Rhythm of Surf”. Seems more elegant than my lazy nickname based solely on the yarn colorway name, (Fiesta Boomerang Surf.)

Looking back to the first picture you’ll see a single sock lurking in the corner. This is finally the completion of an experiment that I mentioned in a post in January ‘08. I wanted to see if these top-down Rocking Sock Club Summer Sock cuffs could be blocked after the foot was knit. The big trick was to turn the socks inside out. Then the cuff was steam blocked without pins and wires. I steamed, shaped by hand, and then steamed again. It worked out fine and the set matched. Here’s a finished cuff close up.
The next arrival at the party was this Cashmere Koigu scarf, also knit over a year ago. (Cashmere Koigu is available exclusively from String in New York City.) You can check it out as a WIP on my posting on December 14, ‘07. I’ve actually worn this scarf for two winters in its tightly rolled form, almost like a 1.5 inch diameter boa. The yarn’s feel and color were irresistible.
This muscular length of rope fought me all through the blocking process. (Seems there’s a trouble-maker at every party!) The only way to lay the scarf out flat enough to pin it was to switch to a wet block approach. Hours after blocking it still seemed springy when I tugged on it, so I steam blocked it as well. Here’s a shot of the neatly folded, well behaved results:

Fashionably late at the block party was this amazing lace scarf, the diva of the group. The pattern is “Hydrangea” from Fiber Trends and the yarn is called “Dawn”, a 50% merino / 50% silk blend, from Naturally New Zealand yarns. I ordered both from the Yarn Barn in Kansas. (Their catalogue was just irresistible.) This celebrity is shy of paparazzi so this picture is not that good.
Hydrangea was knit sometime in the window of silence that happened while I was recovering from my stem cell transplant, so I don’t think there are any other blog posts about it. I did enjoy knitting it, and it was certainly the project I needed at that time.

You can breathe a sigh of relief. I have no other projects queued for blocking. Next posting will have to be good old fashioned, loops-through-loops knitting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hot Hot Hot

After spending so much time in the windowless cave I call an office I usually like to spend my weekends outside. It doesn’t matter much what task I turn my hand to as long as it’s under the sky instead of a roof. But for the last two weekends it’s just been too crazy hot.

So last weekend I finally finished up with the crocheted edge on my Surf cardigan. It was tough to stay indoors in the AC, but every time I stuck my nose outside it nearly melted off my face. (Some will say, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.” Well we’ve got that too! I’m fortunate to have the AC, but nothing beats getting outside.) This weekend I’ve blocked Surf and plan to put on the fancy handmade glass buttons I’ve selected for it… indoor tasks all.

It will truly be amazing to be done with this project. The creative effort goes back to before I started working on PaintKnits TM. I originally wrote the software specifically to create something truly different with this Fiesta Boomerang yarn in the colorway Surf. Things have dragged badly in all of my knitting projects thanks to the chemo drugs. I was actually getting close to wondering if I’d ever finish anything. Now this one will be finished for me to wear to Rhinebeck in October.

I’m even making some progress on my double knit vest, although I’ve discovered yet another challenge in the technique. Once I started incorporating color changes into my swatch I realized that it’s extremely difficult to keep track of whether a stitch is paired with the one before it or after it. Yikes! Turns out that that’s really important to the color work. This poor swatch is turning into quite a mess! Here are my latest mistakes.

I’m having trouble accepting that the dark side can be right while the light side is wrong. Each block, dark and light, should have four stitches. See how the middle block has switched to five light and three dark in the top photo, but in the bottom photo all’s well? Double knitting is definitely very freaky!

My only idea for dealing with this trouble is to populate the knitting with a ton of stitch markers so that I’m never far from figuring out whether a stitch is even or odd. I’ll try it on my next swatch. I’m pretty close to being ready to knit a swatch in my pooling stitch count to confirm that the gage matches my PaintKnits model. Let’s hope I can do a better job on this next swatch. That’ll clear the way for casting on the actual project.

Beyond the swatching I’ve continued sketching color patterns and think I’ve finally got one that I like. It has large color areas that will show off pooling, no diagonals to conflict with the pooling, and enough color area size variation that I hope it won’t be mistaken for intarsia or Fair Isle. In my rough sketch it actually has sort of a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass feel too it, (IMHO). I still have to work out stitch counts and shaping details to match up with the pooling I want, but suddenly the project is starting to feel real.

There’s even been progress on PaintKnits LLC. This weekend I finished the last LLC activities having to do with New York State. There are still a bunch of not so fun things that have to be taken care of, but the creative parts of this effort are coming back to the top. I’m thinking about a logo and also about what I want the website to be like. I’ve even started learning some html for fun at the W3Schools website. (Some may question my idea of fun, but I really have no trouble admitting that I’m a geek at heart.)

Overall that’s an amazing amount of progress for me. And look! I’ve even managed to blog about it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Double Knitting – Fun and Frustration

Right now the fun is mostly on the virtual side and the frustration is with reality. Isn’t that so often the case?

I’m knitting a 50 stitch-pair swatch, currently with no color pattern, in order to learn the double knitting technique and get my gage consistent and solid. There are really four stitch motions, right hand knit and purl, and left hand knit and purl. The book that I’m using to learn is Double Knitting, Reversible Two-Color Designs by M’Lou Baber. Aside from liking the clear instructions, I’m also finding that the lovely and unusual designs are inspiring me to learn. I really want to be knitting one of those patterns!

So I swatch away. Originally my left and right hand each wanted to have their own unique tensions, with the right hand knitting up much looser. I worked at that until it was just the right hand purl stitches torturing me. Now I’m finally getting pretty close to even tension throughout. Of course pretty close probably won’t cut it for the ambitious project I’ve got in mind.

Here’s my swatch. (Vanity kept me from photographing the multiple swatches that came before this one! Please don’t think that I learned this technique in these few stitches.) The yarns are Blue Moon Fiber Arts heavyweight Socks That Rock in Rolling Stone and Rook-y colorways. My needle size is US#7.

It may be hard to see in these pictures but the dark side becomes less ridgy as the swatch progresses. Those ridges are the right hand purl rows.

That brings us to the virtual and totally fun side…

I’m planning a double knit vest using PaintKnits TM to take control of the way the multiple colors in the yarns flow onto the fabric. As I mentioned in my previous post, the concept is to have controlled pooling across an arbitrary two-yarn color pattern. I picked a near black Raven to contrast with a multi, and hope to see Raven silhouettes with pooling in the foreground against a pooled background color when I’m done. The critical factors are 1) the selection of two yarns with the same loop length, (easy… two STR heavyweights) 2) nearly dead-on consistent gage (yikes!), and 3) planning the design around stitch counts that will give me the color effects I’m looking for.

After I’d characterized one of my early swatches for yarn usage I dug in on some PaintKnits analysis. I scanned through a bunch of widths searching for those that would give me the most blatant pooling. Here’s a highlight of what I came up with:
The first and third widths I thought were ok. I really liked the second and last.

Now I needed to plan a vest using rectangular areas that would show off this pooling. At first I was stymied by the sizing. The pooling I wanted would only show up on fabric widths that simply would not go together in a vest that would fit me. Not in panels and not going around the body. The project wanted either too much width or too little.

Finally the answer came to me… I needed to knit the vest from side to side to get the flexibility on length! (Ok, so I also considered gaining a whole lot of weight, but that seemed to be a bad idea somehow.) Here’s a very rough first pass at what the pooling might do on the vest: I’m calling this a rough pass because my gage is still all over the map. To make this work I’ve got to get that under control. Then I’ll re-measure my yarn usage, tune up my computer model, and re-do the computer modeling as needed to plan the vest.

I suppose I’m still a long way off, but those colors on the computer screen sure are exciting. And that’s without any superimposed pattern from the Raven yarn yet. I’m psyched! Now if only my reality would match my virtual world of computer models! Maybe soon…