Monday, December 31, 2012

A Lesson in Color

I have a skirt design in the latest issue of Knitter's Magazine called Trompe l'oeil.
Creating this piece was a bit of a journey. I began with a motif from Mary Jane Mucklestone's excellent book 200 Fair Isle Motifs. I drew the chart, then mirrored, flipped and edited it until I had a design that pleased me.
When I made the initial swatch, it occurred to me that the motif looked like a bit of stockinette stitch with the stitches expanded. Can you see it? Try squinting.
The original swatch was done with one self-striping yarn and one solid color.

Knitter's acceptance of the submission happened to coincide with the semi-annual gathering of the clan for the trade show known as TNNA. I met with Rick Mondragon and Elaine Rowley from the magazine in the booth of Universal Yarns to select the yarn to be used for the project.

We quickly decided against using a self-striping yarn. The initial swatch was worked at a 16" circumference. When that yarn was worked in the round at a size appropriate for adult hips, the stripes would become very narrow, losing the effect we liked in the swatch.

We chose 100% wool Deluxe Worsted because it has a wonderful range of colors and because we knew it would be a good choice for the steeked zipper opening I had in mind. Rick and Elaine wanted this piece to fit into a harvest-themed color story in the magazine, so we settled on Roasted Almond for the main color. A range of 6 or 7 blues and greens would be worked in stripes for the background. The result was this:

Awful, right? How in the world did the three of us think these colors would work? After all, it's not like we're new at this. Between the three of us, there are over 100 years of experience knitting and choosing yarn for a variety of projects. Yet it was not until I saw them together in the swatch that I knew there was not enough value contrast between the greens and the almond, and the almond was just too middling - neither dark enough nor light enough to carry the piece.

So I collected my wits and my yarn and worked up some alternatives. The first aimed at retaining the almond as the main color.

The second changed the main color to a deep purple that the good folks from Universal had tossed in my box "just in case you want some options".

As you now know, that "just in case" skein was the hero that saved the day.

The moral of this story: If you are going to make a multi-colored piece, don't commit to the colors until you've worked up a swatch. No matter how many times you go through the process of choosing colors, you never really know if they will play nicely together until the swatch is done.

In case you are wondering, all the ends hanging off the sides of the small swatches are a by-product of my swatching technique. I wanted to work the pattern in the the round on a circular needle for speed, but did not want to make a large swatch. So I cast on enough sts for 2 pattern repeats, and worked a RS row. Then I slid the stitches to the other end of the needle, pulled the yarn across the back, and knit another RS row. I continued this way, knitting only RS rows and carrying the yarn across the back. When I had two repeats complete, I bound off, then cut the long strands across the back so I could block the swatches flat.

I know lots of people are spending their holiday leisure time knitting. How can I tell? One of my duties at Twist Collective is to respond to questions that come to the errata mailbox. The past week has seen a flurry! Fortunately, there was only one actual error - the rest just needed clarification or advice.

A very Happy New Year to one and all! May the blessings you received in 2012 be multiplied, and may the trials be forgotten.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sometimes Simple Isn't Easy

The new issue of Twist Collective was released yesterday, and I have a new design to share.

Meet Porto...

This pullover came about because I was curious about the possibility of shaping a sweater with cables. As you may know, the twisting action of cables draws the knitting in, making the fabric narrower.  Instead of the usual increases and decreases to shape the waist, could I achieve the same shaping with a cable motif? I charted and swatched to figure out just how much cable was needed to produce the shaping I wanted. Then I knit the sweater.

And it wasn't right.

The scale was off. The cable medallion produced the waist shaping I wanted, but it was too small to make the visual impact needed.

I had three choices:
1. Take a trip down the river Denial and leave it as it was.
2. Remove the sleeves, take out the shoulder seams, and unravel the body of the sweater to the beginning of the cable, then re-knit.
3. Cut off the sweater at the bustline, unravel and re-knit the lower body of the sweater with revised cables panels, then graft the sections back together.
Monty, I'll take door number 3, though number 1 is very tempting.

I don't have photos of the surgery in process (it's just too much like taking photos of a crash at the side of the road). As you can see, the operation was successful. The re-scaled cables are so much better than the original. After blocking, even I can't find the line where the pieces were grafted together.

The sweater has a deep V-neck with cabled decreases for just a touch of sexy detail.

For the yarn, I wanted to use something a bit luxurious. Something soft and warm, with good stitch definition to show off the cables, but without bulk. Lorna's Laces Honor was perfect. It is 70% baby alpaca and 30% silk. The yarn is drapey, but not droopy. It caresses your skin in the most wonderful way. And the nearly solid color adds depth and richness.

At some of the wineries in Napa Valley, tastings of port are offered with small squares of dark chocolate - truly a match made in heaven. In my fantasy life, I'd wear this casually elegant sweater in front of a crackling fire, bathed in candlelight, curled up on the couch with a charming man, sipping port and letting squares of chocolate melt on my tongue.

Click on over here to buy the pattern and begin making your own fantasy.

Also in this issue, I have an article on knitting myths and why you might choose to ignore them. I had a lovely e-mail in my box this morning from the one and only Cat Bordhi, thanking me for the article. Made my day.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sources of Inspiration

In case you haven't seen it yet, the Fall 2012 issue of Twist Collective is online. I'm pleased to have been included with a design for a hat and mitten set called Sultana
I wanted to share a bit with you about the inspiration for this design.
Last December, my friend Carson and I saw an exhibition of Anatolian kelims at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. These tribal weaving were amazing, packed with complex geometric and figurative motifs in a riot of colors.
The oldest example in the collection was just a fragment of a 15th century kelim in only two colors - natural and a faded tomato red (madder, maybe? Name That Dye is not a game at which I excel). I loved the interplay of positive and negative space, and the way the interlocking spear shapes were edged with little bubbles. The bold graphic seemed surprisingly modern for a textile more than 600 years old. Carson and I agreed that it begged to be reinterpreted in knitting. I pulled out my camera and sneaked a picture.
Even though the photo is of such poor quality, it was a fairly simple matter to import it into Illustrator and trace the motifs. Overlay a grid, and it starts to look suspiciously like a knitting chart.

Here is my original swatch, made with some Cascade 220 I had on hand. Yes, I do tend to make hats as swatches for color patterns. Such patterns are easiest for me when knit in the round, and hats make good class samples, or can be donated to organizations like Halos of Hope if not needed. I love the contrast in these Gryffindor colors.

For the magazine, we chose a thinner yarn, Romney Ridge Farms Sport Weight. This is a great yarn for colorwork. Grown in Maine, it is a nice "sticky" wool that knits easily and blocks into a beautifully cohesive fabric. The hand dyed colors have subtle variations that give the pattern extra depth and interest.

While you are looking at the magazine, don't miss my article about shaping in pattern. Many knitters struggle with maintaining lace and cable patterns while shaping armholes and necklines. The article takes you step by step through the process.

Old textiles are a great source of inspiration, particularly for colorwork. The landscape that surrounds us can also serve as the spark for great ideas.

These vines are full of grapes about 6 weeks from harvest. They've already shifted from green to purple, and are getting sweeter with every sunny day.

This is the view outside Roche Winery, where I spent the past 2 weekends pouring wine for their annual futures release BBQ event. My former husband works for Roche in sales. When they need an extra person for special events, they invite me to come play. Buying wine futures is like making an investment in the winery. You get a substantial discount by purchasing the wine before it's bottled, sometimes while it's still on the vine. Roche rewards these "investors" by throwing a great party when the wine is ready to be delivered. Leg of Lamb is cooked over a fire fueled by broken up old wine barrels. A great band plays classic rock and roll for dancing. And the full lineup of wine is available for tasting. I worked all 4 days in the tasting room, pouring and chatting.
I'm really grateful for the opportunity to do occasional work like this. Most of my weekends are indistinguishable from a weekday - I spend the day at my desk writing or editing patterns, and the evening knitting. It's a pretty sedentary, not to mention solitary, life. It's good for me to spend a couple of days on my feet interacting with people and working with a team.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A new design, some baseball, and a video I think you'll love

I know it's been a while since I last wrote. I've been busy, and paying work has to take precedence. But I want to tell you about a new design just released by Kollage Yarns.

The new design:
 This is Oakville.
It was inspired by an Elie Tahari sweater I saw at Macy's several years ago. That sweater was a long sleeve pullover. The circular yoke was worked with a much thicker yarn than the rest of the sweater - maybe the same yarn doubled or tripled. I liked the structure it gave the sweater, and the idea stuck in my head.
Oakville is worked in Kollage Yarns Riveting, with the Worsted weight yarn used for the yoke and the Sport weight in a marled color used for the body. It starts at the neck. The yoke is shaped into a crescent with increases. Stitches are bound off over the arms, then the body is worked downward in the round. The yoke closes with three buttons on the left shoulder.
I love the breezy elegance of this look. With white capris and sandals, it is perfect for cocktails by the pool or brunch at a seaside cafe.
The knitting is easy and fast. You could still make this in time to wear on the warm days of early autumn.
You can order a paper pattern directly from Kollage Yarns, or download a pdf from Patternfish.

In other knitting news:
Here is a sneak peak at a project fresh off the needles. It is destined for publication later this year, so I'll give you more details then. All I'll say now is that I love developing colorwork patterns nearly as much as I've grown to love knitting them.

I took a break from obsessively watching the Olympics on TV to attend the Stitch and Pitch game at the Marin County Pacifics in San Rafael last night. I conned my son into going with me by not telling him it was Stitch and Pitch, but I think he's forgiven me.
The Pacifics were playing against the Sonoma County Grapes (I know, I know - I can barely stand to type it), their rivals in the very minor North American League.
The ballpark is more closely related to a Little League field than to places like AT&T Park, but the knitters were out in force. Bluebird Yarn and Fiber Crafts in Sausalito generously provided goodie bags, and it was $3 beer night, so it was a good mother/son activity for a warm summer evening.

You must watch this:
Jesse Kornbluth posted a link to this video on his wonderful blog, Head Butler, and it just made my day. So much of what we see on the web and in the news is focused on people being mean, stupid and thoughtless. Take this opportunity to partake of a little kindness and joy, and let it color your worldview in happier shades.

One last thing:
We are within a day or so of the launch of the Fall issue of Twist Collective. It is a lovely collection of beautiful designs. I have both a new design and a tech article in this issue.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fun in Fresno

Write a blog post has been on my list every day this week, and here we are at Friday already. Better late than never, right?
I had the good fortune to spend Saturday with the women of the Sheeper Than Therapy knitting guild in Fresno. This is the third time this group has invited me to come be their featured teacher. It is always an honor to be asked to come teach, but when a group asks you back it is a special thrill. Thanks, ladies!

I taught one of my favorite classes - Making the Most of Self-Striping Yarn. I've done a lot of work with yarn dyed to knit up into stripes (see here and here and here). I enjoy talking with other knitters about how to manipulate the colors and predict or control the way the colors will line up.
There was also some show-and-tell
And some puppy love from the guild's unofficial mascots
After a sack lunch (thanks for the chicken ceasar, Regina!), we spent some time with a box of samples from the Spring issue of Twist Collective, which I had brought along to share. It was 102F in Fresno that day, so I'd brought lots of lightweight lacy pieces. As lovely as the pictures in the magazine are, there is nothing quite like touching and trying on the samples in person.  I suspect there will be several Harrows and Stellarias showing up at future guild show-and-tell sessions.
The guild in Fresno is such a great group - accomplished knitters eager to learn something new, welcoming to newcomers, supportive of beginners, and willing to laugh at my jokes. I'll happily go back anytime. It's too bad every town doesn't have a group like this.

In other news...
I know you see lots of charitable organizations asking for donations on-line. I know you need to be selective about where you put your money. But if you don't know about Halos of Hope, you should. Pamela Haschke, a cancer survivor herself, founded Halos of Hope to provide handmade hats to people with cancer. She is doing the work of angels.
Though the hats themselves are donated (we know how generous the fiberarts community is), it costs money to get them from the knitter to the head in need. A new fundraising campaign was just annouced: The Great Buzzzz for Halos of Hope. For a $10 donation, you can vote to shave or save the head of Drew Emborsky (the Crochet Dude), Benjamin Levisay (from XRX, Inc.) or Mark Moraca (from Kollage Yarns). The ritual barbering will take place at Stitches East in Hartford CT in October. Click on over and check it out.

And finally, some knitting! I've been working on design swatches and editorial commissions, so can't show you what's currently on the needles, but I can show you a recently released design...
Here is Kenwood.
Knit in Kollage Yarns Fantastic, a smooth, many-plied worsted weight merino, Kenwood was designed to be a polished jacket that could take you to the office or out to dinner. It begins at the waist with a band knit horizontally.  Stitches are picked up along the edge and worked up for the bodice, then down for the peplum. A simple lace panel adds eye-catching detail along the front edges. The inset waistband creates the illusion of an hourglass waist, and gives you a great place to show off a special button.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Gathering of the Clan

Twice a year, the National Needlework Association (TNNA) puts on a wholesale trade show. Just about everybody in the knitting, crochet, needlepoint and cross stitch business attends, and those who don't wish they did. This past weekend the Summer 2012 show was held in Columbus, Ohio.

Charles Gandy
Fair warning - this is a very name-droppy post. If you don't like that sort of thing, feel free to skip it.

I arrived on Thursday, and started my weekend by having dinner with the charming Charles Gandy. Charles' new book, Embellished Socks, is a feast for the eyes.  His background is in architecture and interior design (he's a past president of the American Society of Interior Designers) and he brings a wonderful eye for proportion and color to his designs. Even if you aren't a sock knitter, you should take a look at Charles' book - his embellishment techniques can easily be adapted to suit projects of all sorts.

Friday was spent with Mark and Susie Moraca from Kollage Yarns and Stacy Mitchell from The Fine Needle, setting up the Kollage Yarns booth on the trade show floor. We finished in record time and rewarded ourselves with food and beer at Barley's Tavern, where we were joined by Anne Hanson and Erica Owens from Knitspot.

Friday evening found me at the Designer Dinner put together by the fabulous Marlaina Bird. Let me tell you, Marly knows how to throw a party! In addition to lovely food and sparkling conversation, she provided each designer with a swag bag filled with yarn and treasures from a variety of sponsors. I won a special prize for being the person present who had attended the most TNNA shows.  To tell the truth, Linda Pratt of Westminster Fibers had me beat, but she wasn't eligible to win because she was there as a sponsor
After dinner, it was back to the bar with Mark and Susie, where we had drinks with Maggie Jackson, and Travis and Sarah Romaine from Paradise Fibers.

Saturday morning, before the show opened, I shared a lovely breakfast with Candi Jensen. I had the good fortune to work with Candi recently, tech editing her new book for Leisure Arts, Knit in a Day for Baby (coming soon to a store near you).

The show officially opened at 10, and we were busy in the Kollage booth all day. Kollage is the inventor of the square knitting needle. They've recently repatriated their manufacturing - the square needles are now entirely made in the USA from materials sourced in the US. Those who know me well know that I'm partial to wooden needles, but I worked with the square aluminum needles all weekend and loved them. They have great point, perfect for lace. The finish on the needles is slick enough to keep your stitches sliding along smoothly, but grabby enough that your double pointed needles won't fall out of your socks. If supporting American manufacturing is important to you, be sure to ask for the Kollage square needles in your local yarn shop.

When the show closed, I caught a cab with Marly Bird, Ragga Eiriksdottir, Tabetha Hendrick and Jill Wright to a cocktail party hosted by the good people of Craftsy at Mouton. Delicious cocktails and snacks were served up to an appreciative hoard of designers and yarn manufacturers.

There was some sort of music festival going on in Columbus - a mid-west version of Mardi Gras. If you ever get into a confrontation with an intoxicated person on the street, Amanda from Lorna's Laces is the person you want to have at your back - I'm just sayin'.
The evening ended with dinner at The Happy Greek with Amanda and her husband, Miriam Felton, Kristi Porter, and the gang from Kollage.

Sunday began with a meeting with Michael delVecchio, the Creative Director for Universal Yarn. We talked about possible design work the for coming season. Then the show opened for a second day of talking about needles and yarns in the Kollage booth.

Remember two weeks ago, when I asked for design ideas for Kollage's new bulky wool? Well, here is the result, all done in Toasty:
Catskills Hat and Cowl
Schuss Mittens
Hearthside Slipper Socks
I made a second hat, too, but somehow didn't manage to get a picture. I need to have a heart to heart with my photographer.
Some of my other designs were also on display -
Here is City Sidewalks and Swagger.
And this is Kenwood.
Kate Lemmers with her new design for Kraemer Yarns
All of these patterns will be available soon through local yarn shops and on Patternfish.

Sunday evening I had dinner at Ted's with the lovely and talented Kate Lemmers. I was shocked to find that Kate had never tasted avocado. To a California girl, it was unimaginable that someone could make it past the age of 5 without ever eating guacamole. This was a situation in need of remediation. I gave her a slice of avocado from my bison burger, which she actually ate.  Not sure she liked it, but now she can say she knows what avocado is all about.
Dinner ended too early, so we went back to the bar at our hotel, where we were joined for margaritas by Julia Farwell-Clay, Amy Herzog, and Caro Sheriden.
Monday was my flight out, but I did find a hour to walk the market floor and have a cup of coffee with the lovely Ilga Leja. My time at TNNA ended on a high note as Elaine Rowley and Rick Mondragon let me know they had accepted one of my designs for an upcoming issue of Knitter's Magazine.  We picked yarns at the Universal Yarn booth. It is going to be great - just wait and see!
I've attended TNNA many times, as a shop owner, a designer-at-large, and a booth worker for various yarn companies. I have to say, this was, for me, the best show ever. Thanks to Susie and Mark at Kollage for bringing me along. I couldn't be happier that I went, and I couldn't be happier to be home with Baxter, back into my routine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We Have a Winner!

Thanks for all the suggestions, both here and on Facebook.  The winner of the Simply Socks Yarn Company Simply Sock Yarn is KarenAZ!  Karen, please let me know how to get hold of you so I can send you your prize. Congratulations!

Cowls were far and away the most popular answer to the question of what to make with Kollage Yarn's new  bulky wool.  Mittens were next. So far, I've made a cowl and 2 hats. A pair of mittens is next in line. If I still have time, I might crank out a pair of slipper/socks.

Oh, you want a peek, do you? Well, here is the Catskill Cowl...
It will have a matching hat. Look for the pattern in yarn stores and on Patternfish this fall.

This yarn now has a name: Toasty!  A perfect description of how this fiber and these colors make you feel. I believe the color I used is called Golden Mist (it was sent to me before labels were printed). One of the exciting things about heathered yarns is seeing the colors of the individual fibers come together to make something rich and delicious.

  Look at that pink, and the jade green, and the bright yellow. I would never have guessed that this glorious autumnal gold would result from mixing these shades.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mission Improbable

I was talking about the upcoming wholesale trade show with Susie at Kollage Yarns earlier this week...
Susie: We just got a new yarn in to bring to the show. Of course, its too late to get any designs to go with it.
Me: Tell me about it.
Susie: I'ts a single ply bulky wool in pretty heathered colors.
Me: Put some in the mail to me. We've got two weeks. That's plenty of time to do a couple of accessory pieces. I'll come up with something.

So. I'm expecting a package in today's mail with 2 skeins each of 4 different colors of this yet-to-be-named yarn. I'll need to apply my needles and my skills to turn out three or four samples that can be displayed at the show starting 2 weeks from tomorrow.
Here's the thing - I live in California. We have no more than a couple of days each winter when bulky wool accessories are a good idea.  I don't even own a winter coat. And it's June. We're expecting temperatures in the 90's this weekend.
This is the perpetual designer's dilemma. We are always working out of season. Winter designs are knit in early summer; spring pieces are due in December.
I've decided to try some crowdsourcing.  I need fresh ideas for accessories made from bulky wool.  Other than a hat, what sorts of patterns would you like to see in this yarn?
Will you help? Please leave a comment here on the blog with your ideas. And to show my appreciation, here's what I'll do.  I'll use the random number generator to pick one of the comments. The winner will get this...
4 skeins (700 yds total) of Simply Socks Yarn Company's Simply Sock Yarn in a lovely handpainted semi-solid pale blue called Icicle. Be sure to include your e-mail address with the comment so I can let you know if you win. I won't use it for anything else - knitter's honor. You have until midnight Monday to get into the drawing for the prize, but if you are reading this entry after that time, it's not too late to add your ideas.

Watch for pictures of the final results. And thanks!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Swatch It!

The semi-annual trade show for the needlework industry is coming up at the end of the month. Columbus, Ohio will be overrun with needlework shop owners, yarn manufacturers, publishers, designers and anyone else you can think of who is involved in this business.

One of the features at this show is The Great Wall of Yarn. This is a huge expanse of grid wall filled with samples of new yarns. Each yarn is shown with a swatch, and shop owners are encouraged to take a strand of yarn for reference as they shop the market.

Those of us who teach at Stitches were invited to make the swatches this year.  This is a wonderful opportunity to play with new yarns before they are generally available, and I jumped at the chance.

Here are the swatches I made:

Creating these swatches brought me back to the time when I owned a yarn shop. In my shop, there was a swatch or sample made with every yarn on offer. These samples hung on hooks near where the yarn was shelved.

I know that not every yarn store displays samples.  Creating these swatches is an investment - after all, a ball of yarn you've used for a swatch is a ball of yarn no longer available to sell. As a shop owner, I was willing to make this investment for 2 reasons. First, I think it is important to give the customer an idea of how the yarn will look knitted up. When you can see and feel a knitted sample, it is easier to imagine how the yarn will work in your project, and you are more likely to be satisfied with your purchase. Second, I think is important that a shop owner really know the product she is selling. I personally knit with every yarn in my shop, so I was able to speak from experience when discussing the pros and cons of each yarn.

I'm always surprised to hear someone say they hate making swatches. I love them. A swatch is an experiment, an investigation, a learning opportunity. As a designer, I often use swatches to test ideas and see how stitch patterns will combine. In the swatches for the Great Wall of Yarn, as in the shop samples I used to make, the objective was to show off the yarn. Several of these swatches were knit more than once, as initial efforts revealed that a different needle size would improve the hand of the sample, or a different stitch pattern would best display the yarn's special qualities.

Learning to enjoy the swatch process will make anyone a better knitter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Socks for Mom

I spent Memorial Day weekend at my mother's house celebrating her 80th birthday.  We were joined by my sister, my younger brother and his mate. The only ones missing were my older brother and his wife, who were not able to make the trip from Arizona.  And Daddy, whom we've been missing every day for more than 10 years.
My mother is the only person other than myself for whom I make socks.  She loves her collection of handknit socks.  She likes to show them off and carefully darns them when they begin to show signs of wear. For this birthday, these socks were added to her collection...
Doesn't she have great ankles? Sadly, that delicate bone structure was not part of the genetic legacy passed on to me.
The yarn is Bertha from Dirty Water Dyeworks, a Merino/Cashmere/Nylon blend I got in the teacher gift bag at Sock Summit last summer. There is no pattern for this design yet, but Mom has asked that I call it Ramona - her middle name. I'll let you know if I decide to write it up for publication.
At 80, Mom is going strong.  She lives by herself in the house she and Daddy shared, drives herself wherever she wants to go, and is in remarkably good health.  I keep waiting for the day when I can beat her at Scrabble (a game at which my family is insanely competitive), but that day has yet to come.
Happy Birthday, Mom! You are a daily inspiration.  I love you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Because Knitting and Animals Go Together

I know you see lots of fundraisers on Facebook and blogs, but if you are an animal lover, here is one that deserves your attention:
The gracious and talented Lisa Souza has created a special color of her beautiful sock yarn as a fundraiser for the Grace Foundation.
Photo from Lisa Souza Knitwear and Dyeworks

This shelter in California's Sierra Foothills has recently taken in a large number of horses and other animals from an abusive home, stretching their resources to the breaking point. These people are doing the work of angels, and we can help Lisa help them. If you, like me, treasure the company of your animal companion (mine is snoring beneath my chair as I type), please take a minute to read Lisa's information about the Grace Foundation, then take out your credit card and order a skein (or two, or three) of this yarn. You'll feel good about yourself the rest of the day.

What's on my needles? Kollage Yarns Riveting.
I've used Riveting for many projects, but this is the first one I'm making for myself. I'm using the stitch pattern from Day at the Beach, but making a V-neck, 3/4 sleeve cardigan. I think it will be just the thing to wear at the wholesale trade show in Columbus, Ohio in late June. At 6 sts to the inch, this is not a fast knit, but I'm making progress.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Work in Progress

I read a fair number of knitting blogs.  I don't read them all, and there are a fair number of excellent blogs I miss simply because I need to limit the time I spend at my computer doing things other than working. But I do read a lot.
I get a little annoyed when I see coy references to "secret", or "stealth" projects. I get more than a little annoyed when they are called "sekrit" projects, but that's just because I really don't relate to cute.

That said, I can't show you most of what I've been knitting lately. It is either for publication, in which case I am contractually obligated not to share it prior to publication, or it is for a yarn company who pays me for the privilege of revealing the design at the trade show in June. I can tell you that in the past 10 weeks, with the help of Pat the Wonder Knitter, I've delivered 10 completed projects.  I know.  Sometimes I even impress myself.

What can I show you? Hats.

I am eagerly anticipating attending the Giants game this evening with my sister and my son.  They are playing the Brewers, and Tim Lincecum (fondly known as The Freak) is scheduled to pitch. AT&T Park is a glorious place to watch a baseball game.  Perched on the edge of San Francisco Bay, even when the game isn't exciting, the view is.  But it gets cold in the evening, so I decided we all needed hats.

I dug around in the stash and came up with some yarn in appropriate colors. The orange is Blue Moon Fiber Arts Peru in Cozy Fierce and Dirty Orange. The black is Kid 'n Ewe (long ago discontinued).
Joe decided he wanted a full on fan hat, so he gets earflaps, mohawk fringe, and the team logo duplicate stitched on each side.
Jeni wanted something with cables. A sideways cabled band fills the bill.
For me, something simple with a little whimsy. Black piping gathered with a bow on one side.
At least our heads will be warm.

On my needles right now is another project I'm not yet willing to show. It is an 80th birthday present for someone who regularly reads this blog (hi, Mom!). Check back after May 26th for photos.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

It Wasn't Hard at All *

In my last post, I showed you my freshly spun Bamboo/Merino/Bison/Cashmere yarn and talked about my dissatisfaction with the natural color.

I considered the color selection in Dharma Trading Co.'s acid dye, decided on Alpine Blue, and placed my order. I dug an old enameled stock pot out of the back of the cupboard, bought a cheap package of wooden spoons at Big Lots, and found my bottle of white vinegar.

A smarter woman would have done some experimenting first.  A more cautious woman might have practiced the process with some inexpensive commercial yarn, or wound off a small sample of the handspun for a color test.

I took time to read the instructions on Dharma's website, but then I threw caution to the wind.  I put my skein in a bowl of warm water to soak. I filled my stock pot and put it on the stove. I weighed out some dye powder, dissolved it in some hot water, and added it to my stock pot. I turned on the heat, added my wet yarn amd gave it a good stir. When the temp was just to simmering, I added a splash of vinegar, then let the pot simmer for 30 minutes. Then I pulled out the yarn and gave it a good wash and several rinses.
The Patron Saint of Reckless Women was smiling on me.

Want to see the results?
 turned into this..
I love the new color.  As expected, the bamboo did not absorb the dye the same way the wool, bison and cashmere did. It shines through as a paler shade of blue. The softness, sheen and drape I loved in the original yarn is still every bit as seductive.

Lessons learned:
  1.  I used far too much dye. The manufacturer recommended 1/4 oz for each pound of fiber. Since my skein was 2 oz, I figured I needed just under 1 gram of dye.  My digital kitchen scale really isn't accurate at such small quantities, so I can't be sure exactly how much I used. What I didn't account for is the bamboo.  It was 50% of my fiber blend. As a cellulose fiber, it does not take acid dye well, so I was really only trying to dye 1 oz of protein fiber. There was still lots of color left in my pot, so I know I did not exhaust the dye bath. Instead of pouring it down the sink, I poured it into mason jars.  I just can't bear to waste it (even though it's only about 50 cents worth of dye). I'm thinking I'll dig around the stash for some white wool to throw in.  Does anyone have any experience with re-heating a dye bath?  Am I asking for trouble here?
  2.  If I'm going to do much more dying, I need to get some rubber gloves.  The yarn needed lots of rinsing to get rid of excess dye - I'm guessing the bamboo was shedding the dye that was just on the surface and not bonded to the fiber. All that time in warm tinted water turned my hands a bit blue and softened my fingernails.
  3.  Fortune favors the brave. I'm so pleased with the results of this adventure.  I'm glad I didn't wimp out and decide to live with the original color.
* I almost changed the title of this post.  Instead, I'll just say to both my brothers, "Get your mind out of the gutter."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How hard can it be?

Five little words. Fourteen letters and a punctuation mark. How hard can it be? is the first step on a road that can lead to great triumph or epic disaster. Legend has it that these words were spoken when Alexis Xenakis, Elaine Rowley, and David Xenakis started Knitter's Magazine, launching the empire that has become XRX, Inc. Of course, the question has also led to many a house burning down as the result of an attempt to deep fry a Thanksgiving turkey.

I just finished spinning this...
Just over 350 yds of fingering weight 2-ply. The fiber is 50% bamboo, 30% merino, 10% bison and 10% cashmere from Louet which was given to me as a gift.

I love it. It is gorgeous. The bamboo gives it sheen, a cool hand and limpid drape, while the bison and cashmere make it soft like a kitten. It is conspicuously handspun, but not lumpy. It begs to be a delicate lace shawl or scarf.

There is only one problem: the color. The natural chocolate brown of the bison down makes the yarn a taupey beige.  Beautiful, but not a color that is flattering next to my face, unless skin the color of oatmeal is a new fashion trend I've not heard about.

I'm thinking about dyeing this yarn, maybe a rich sapphire blue. The problem is I've never done any dyeing. I feel a bit of trepidation. What if I screw it up? Could I destroy everything that is lovely about this yarn in the process of trying to alter the color?

But after all, lots of people dye yarn at home. Many even make money doing it. They can't be that much smarter than I am.

How hard can it be?

Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Tale of Two Sweaters - Part 2

A couple of months ago, I told you about the CVM/Romeldale fleece my friend Diane and I bought at the California Wool Festival. I showed you the wool when it came back all clean and fluffy from Morro Fleece Works. It's time for an update.
I finished spinning my half of the fleece last week.  I ended up with just over 2100 yards of yarn.  It is soft and springy and I an quite enamored.

 What's interesting, though, is how Diane and I have taken the same raw material and come up with two very different results.
In the middle is a staple length of the wool, ready for spinning. On the left is my yarn. On the right is Diane's. I spun a very airy woolen single with minimal twist, then made a 4-ply. With washing, the plies have fused into a lovely, cohesive yarn that knits like a dream. Diane spun a much smoother single, then plied it with a natural brown merino. The merino is slightly lighter in color than our CVM, and the 2 plies are much more clearly defined. Her yarn is also soft and elastic, but has a smoother surface, producing better stitch definition in the finished fabric.
Diane is knitting a gorgeous seed stitch pullover with staghorn cables. Sorry, no link to a pattern. Diane is designing this for herself, because that's how she rolls. You can see how her choice of yarn structure produced a cable that is crisply defined against the background texture.

My yarn is destined to make Crane Creek.
See how my woolen spun yarn makes a blurrier, less defined texture?
I'll show you both sweaters when they are done, but it may be awhile. Diane is nearly finished with hers, with only a sleeve and a half to go. My Crane Creek has not progressed past the swatch stage, and is likely to remain on hold for a while. I came back from Stitches West with tonnage of yarn for new design commissions (hooray!), so personal knitting is on the back burner.