Friday, August 31, 2007

The Search for Yarn

What to do?

The blue shawl is almost done. The green sweater is done, though I'm waiting for its inaugural post until I can do some color-correcting of photos. I... have no other projects to work on!

So it's that time, sort of magical, sort of nerve-wracking, when I get to dream up what to do next. And what I've been dreaming of is a sweet little cardigan, fitted and sexy, in some kind of animal fiber blend. Only instead of short-row shaping to make it fit, I dream of gathering the front panels at the side seams and button bands. Delectable!

To do this, I'm convinced that I need a very drapey fabric made with a very fine gauge. I've been looking for something in a fingering weight; but not just any yarn will do! It must be soft and have exactly the tweedy shade I've been looking for. I found something quite lovely at my local Kirkwood Knittery, but it was silk and quite expensive. Nothing else so far in St. Louis.

I took advantage yesterday to check out the local yarn store in Estes Park, CO, The Stitchin' Den, and while I didn't find anything that suits my needs, I must say I was impressed! The store is very tiny, and half of it is filled with books and needlepoint supplies, but I've never seen a store with a nicer stock. There was not a thing in it (excepting maybe some fun fur, but it was still good fun fur) that struck me as junk. You pay for it, I'm sure, as the prices weren't cheap, but I coveted a good half of the yarn in there.

And how's this for a call-back: browsing a shelf near the door, I saw the most interesting, loopy thick 'n thin yarn in really cool colors. And what was it? Ozark Handspun! Who'd have thought? Go Missouri!

(Also, don't tell, but I'm not that desperate; I've got some amazing yarn, specially ordered, waiting for me at the Kirkwood Knittery. I am about to embark on a Super Secret Project! Shh!)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Word on Devotion

The lace shawl is coming along nicely. I'm about 25 rows from the end of the body. The farther out from the center you go, the longer it takes, but the work progresses nicely; we are simply not acclimated enough to the high altitude to spend all day hiking the mountains, so I spend a fair amount of time knitting!

I wanted to touch on one of those almost-mysteries of knitting: that is, how/why do we devote SO much time to this process?

Let me elaborate. I said in my last post about this project that I was over half-way done. That wasn't a guess. I was curious a while back to know exactly what the half-way point of the shawl was, for consider: the littlest row has only 9 stitches, the largest has something over 730. As you work out from the center, the rows increase. So by the midway row, something around 80, you certainly haven't done half the work! So I decided to use my math degree a little and determine the total number of stitches in the thing, minus the border for simplicity, and then determine at what row you reach the halfway point. The reasoning is below.

Number of stitches in increase row (IR) number:
(1) 9 stitches
(2) 9 + 9 stitches
(3) 9 + 9 + 9 stitches
(n) 9n stitches

There is one plain row (PR) for every increase row, so 82 IR's and 82 PR's. To count the total number of stitches after the nth IR is completed, add up all of the stitch counts of the IR's and double that number. The formula for that is:

tot # stitches = Σ2(9i) (from 1 to n)
tot # stitches = 18Σi (from 1 to n)
tot # stitches = 18(n)(n+1)/2

So with 82 IR's,

tot # stitches = 9(82)(83) = 61,254 stitches

That's right. The body of this shawl contains approximately sixty-one thousand stitches. Sixty-one thousand.

So what's the answer to the mystery? I don't know about for everyone. For me, I feel I get to spend hours at something I enjoy for about the price of going to two movies (one skein of the lace yarn cost me $14). What's more, I can watch TV, listen to music, or talk to company while I do it. But still.. sixty-one thousand? Damn.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Anatomy of an Underarm Gusset

What's that bump, you say? That unsightly lump? Sure to form a hump when worn?

Why, it's an underarm gusset, my dears, and it lets you go like so!

This underarm will not wear out, my dears, even though it is grafted and not seamed! Sweet.

The Kindness of Strangers

On Saturday, I left home with my family to visit the beautiful mountains of Colorado. This was a tradition every summer when I was growing up, though for the last seven years everyone's been too busy with college and work to make it. Well, here we are! You see above some lovely mountains . . . and some lovely yarn! Here's the story:
I brought my knitting, of course. It's nice to have something to do with my hands while hanging out with my family, because they like to talk. So as I was sitting in the airport, working away at the neck of my green sweater, I suddenly hear a man say "That's some fine knitting there!"
It turns out that we were seated next to David Gentzsch and his wife, respectively the artisan and business manager behind Ozark Handspuns, a home-grown Missouri business (they operate out of our capital, Jeff City) that sells rather delicious hand-dyed and handspun wool and mohair yarns. They were on their way to a trade show in Phoenix. I was very impressed to find fellow knit-enthusiasts - David pulled out an entire shopping bag full of in-progress hats, and he was able to recognize my sweater as an EZ pattern.
Well, we got to talking, and it turns out that his shopping bag also held a whole bunch of balls of yarn: nubbly, fluffy, thick-n-thin yarn in dramatic and subtle colorways. And bless their hearts, they gave me three free samples! Dream come true! I can't wait to figure out the proper way to display these yarns. I didn't remember to ask the fiber composition, but it seems to be a combination of a long-haired wool and something a little smoother with some definite kinks and curls in it. It's got a lovely shine to it. And one of the most interesting things about it is that it appears to have been spun from pre-dyed roving; I'm much more used to seeing hand-painted yarns, and I look forward to seeing the colors pop when knitted!
Folks, good luck at the trade show! I'll be sure to post the finished product!
Be sure to click the picture below to check out the crazy fiber detail.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vacation Knitting

This is the circular "cap shawl" from Jane Sowerby's Victorian Lace Today. I'm knitting it in a lovely extrafine merino; the label says "Fa Re Baruffa" by "Zegna Baruffa." It's a bit washed out in the bright light, but the color is nearly right.

For all that I yell about structure, this pattern is very fun to knit. The pattern has a nine-pointed star or flower in the center, set on a background of (I think) Print o' the Waves. I am about halfway through it, by my calculations - that is, I'm at row 130 of 171. It stays interesting. The sample I knit in this yarn just blossomed most beautifully, so I can't wait to get this finished and block it! I'll update if anything interesting happens.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

WIP, finally

This is a seamless raglan sweater, a la Elizabeth Zimmerman, with some changes to make it more my shape and more interesting to knit. I began it sometime in June or July, sometime after the brown sweater. Boy, is it a quick knit! I've been spending most of my time on other projects, but it's still moving fast.

I decided on a bust size of 36.25, which gives just over two inches of ease; in order, then, to make it fit nicely at the waist I nipped it in a few inches at the side seams, and I did short-row shaping at the bust. Don't get me started on how wonderful short-rows are. They are wonderful. Truly.

The yarn is "Northampton" by Valley Yarns, the WEBs home-brand. It's a worsted-weight wool that comes in a really lovely range of solids and heathers. I recommend it! I usually like to knit in a much finer gauge, but for a worsted it's nice. The yarn is soft and makes a nicely-springy fabric.

So it's exciting. I would have finished it two weeks ago but I left it at home when I went on vacation, worried that I'd finish it too early and then be carting around a winter sweater the rest of the time. As it is, I finished the second sleeve and joined them to the body today, but had to frog back an inch later - I'd attached the arms wrong! I look forward to cold weather with this sweater.

And a note on wool wool wool: why am I knitting so much in wool, even though it's summer? It all began when I got a sweetheart who is into the outdoors. On our various camping trips, I've discovered just how true it is that cotton clothing can kill you: when wet, it loses almost all of its insulating power. Stuck in the rain for two hours, even in the summer, and you can really tell! So in reading up on it in various camping and mountaineering books, I've become convinced that wool is the way to go - because of its scaly fibers that still trap air when wet, it insulates in any conditions. And in anticipation of a winter spent in the mountains with said sweetheart, I'm on a quest to procure enough wool garments that I will be at home whether in a cafe or a snow cave!

First Sweater Ever!

This is exciting. This is also probably my last Knitty pattern for some time, since it seems I just can't bear to simply follow a pattern for a wearable garment; no, I have to change things.

This, my very first sweater, is a rather odd alteration of Jenna Adorno's "Blaze." I substituted the yarn rather dramatically and added gussets at the underarms, because it did not look like it would move well otherwise. In all else, it is unchanged. It was begun in early May and finished early June.

Let me say a word about the yarn. I was cheap, so I wanted inexpensive, and I didn't feel like making it in the mohair blend that Jenna uses. I went for another "M" instead, settling on an appropriately-weighted (washable) merino yarn: Giunco, by Laines du Nord. I ordered it from the WEBS site,, where I've sometimes found excellent deals on yarn. This time my feeling were mixed: the yarn was colored VERY differently from what displayed on my screen; I thought I'd ordered a yellower golden-brown, and ended up with a chocolate color not at all flattering for my hair color. This may not have been their mistake, however; afraid that I hadn't purchased enough for the project, I ordered a backup-ball the next time I shopped there, and it came a deep, deep coffee brown! Luckily I didn't need to use it, or I would have had to rip out my borders backwards-like to make the dark neck look like it was on purpose.

But aside from the radically-differing colors sold under the same label, I wasn't enchanted with the yarn. It did what it was supposed to - it solidified Blaze's simple aran pattern nicely. But it was not at all soft, and hasn't softened much in the washing. I think from here on I will avoid "washable" wools, as hand-washing is alright with me!

All in all, I'm pretty satisfied. After the amount of trouble I had with gauge swatches/worrying I didn't have enough yarn, I'm very glad it fit! (Remember: always check to see whether swatches are supposed to be in SS or in the pattern.) But really, kind of boring to knit, with no shaping at all. Glad to move onto other projects.


This post does not merit a picture, but I would like to note that I did that ninja-est of ninja tricks, knitting two socks at once on the same needles. I did them, for the cheapness, in Wool-Ease deep blue on dpns. I did them. They are done. They have some rather handsome ankle shaping, and against recommendations I did a conventional turned heel rather than a short-row heel. They were on-again, off-again, so though I started them in January I didn't finish them until May.

I'd like to say that this method of knitting socks is very good for me: I do not like to knit from patterns, finding it perfectly easy to knit a sock according to some basic formulas. That, however, was "a" sock, not "socks". It is less easy for me to duplicate a sock knit without a pattern. So.. knit them both at once and you don't have to worry!

Another note: I am a continental knitter, and I do two-strand yarn a little differently, because I absolutely hate to throw yarn with my right hand. So, for fair-isle, intarsia, and now double- or two-sided knitting, I hold my yarn like so:

I believe that this method of holding the yarn makes things go a lot faster. However, as with the sock-in-a-sock, when you are working with two strands of the same color it makes it easier to confuse the strands - in that case, locking the two socks together irreparably!

Fair Isle socks

Begun on a trip to NJ for Passover.

Completed: April, just after the thesis due-date

These socks are a little funny. They were my first experiment with fair isle, and they are knitted without a pattern. They're a little lumpy around the heel because I did the turning of the heel upside-down! Whoops! It is one of the hardest things in knitting for me to make a mistake on one of a pair and then duplicate it on the other.

The yarn came from an Ebay seller called JojoSquare. I bought a bag of 10 in plain white wool, fingering weight, planning to dye bits of it for various small projects. I dyed the blue and yellow using Koolaid, which was fun! I had been hoping to make some guy-socks, so I don't know what I was thinking choosing these colors. They quickly became socks-for-me. Only I still have not laundered them, as I'm afraid I may not have set the colors correctly! I'm curious to see how the yarn launders, however; as of now the fabric it makes is rather unpleasantly firm. Not a favorite yarn.


Here are some handwarmers of a different flavor. These are done after Knitty's pattern "Dashing" (I'll stop with the Knitty patterns soon, I swear). These were finished in March, and were done in an absolutely delicious unplied merino wool by some Italian label called Divé or somesuch. Boy, did these things give me trouble! And not for the normal reasons, either: cabling? Easy. Run out of yarn? Not a chance! There's a pocket-creature out there with a matching sweater, even!

No, the problems came from the recipient, who has VERY LARGE HANDS. I don't really want to remember how many times I started them over and over and over.. Eventually I made them fit, by using the largest size provided by the pattern and needles several sizes bigger than I wanted them to.

And the ultimate tragedy? The recipient tells me that after several weeks of near-constant wear they were ruined when his house caught on fire.

But still, they looked very handsome, and we remember them:

Handwarming dolls

Let me just say: I LOVE this pattern. I LOVE it. It is yet another Knitty pattern, "Pocket Creatures." I have made so many of these that I stopped taking pictures of them, and I started branching out from the suggested decorations for them long ago.

Let me say again: these are SO quick and easy, and so adorable and so full of structural interest that I just never get tired of making them. Here goes, and forgive some of the crummy pictures:

All pocket creatures made from Reynolds' Lopi unless otherwise specified. The jacket on the cyclops is made from a horrid bit of tweed yarn that I bought on super-sale. I made so many of these guys that I ran out of buttons and embroidery floss with which to give them faces, so I extended the clothing idea:

For instance, this dude, shown unfinished and holding a little yarnipop (recognize it?) was eventually graced with a giraffe-neck sweater and matching curly hair. Pretty darn cute.

Another thing that is nice about these dolls is that they are actually functional: they are advertised as hand-warmers, with a little microwaveable sachet of rice and lavender inside of them. And damn if they don't actually do the job! A couple that were meant for gifts got stolen by my roommates in the middle of the northern winter, and I didn't get them back until spring.

Teddy bear

This guy was another Knitty pattern, "Bubby," for yet another sweetheart. The bear now lives in the keyboard drawer of an Ikea desk I help to build, and every time I open the drawer it makes me go "Aww!"

The yarn is a bit of Classic Elite's Miracle tencel-and-something stuff. Working with this yarn showed me just how much I love working with unplied fibers, in a roundabout way beginning my love affair with Reynolds' Lopi.

A bit of trivia: the face and the bow around the bear's neck are made from a deconstructed bit of the wool Noro from the nautalus.


These are fun toys, made from the Knitty pattern "Nautie."

This first was made with scraps of Artful Yarns' silk and cotton Fable, left over from making some awesome thigh-high socks.

The eyes are made from some stone beads, held in place by wires.

This one went to a sweetheart, and was so much fun to make that its twin went to my dad.

This guy has a Noro wool shell and a face of some unidentified orange and yellow twist yarn.

Eyes are, again, beads and wire.

This fellow went to a "fellow" blogger, in return for a gloriously beautiful crocheted bracelet.

The thing that I dig the most about this pattern is that the structural magic happens as you go; that is, the shell curls because you knit it that way, picking up a stitch from way-back-when and knitting it together with a live stitch. These guys are exciting, fun, and oh-so-ADORABLE! They drove me a little crazy, though, because I kept wondering what the formula would be for the perfect (i.e. leaves the circular cross-section undistorted) rate of increase would be, and whether it would be easy/possible to knit a 3D version of the Golden Spiral using this method.

Completed projects

Bear with me while I make some quick posts on recently-completed projects. These are mostly from within the last couple of months, and all are within the past year!

Another knitting blog?

It's just what the interweb needs.

Here is the scoop. I am a knitter, among other things. The craft has been a constant companion over the last four years, slowly pushing out sewing as my method of choice for making and understanding clothing. It has been solace in times of boredom, distraction, or grief, and it has been a seemingly-endless source of birthday gifts for those around me. I've leaned towards small projects that are quick to be completed and full of structural interest, like socks, puppets, stuffed animals.

But I feel that recently, within the past year, something has set of a spark of understanding in my brain, and my knitting has spiralled upwards and out. I feel myself growing in confidence, courageousness, and skill as I set off on new, larger, and hithero-unattempted projects. So here I am: I would like to document my own personal knitting adventure, and I may try to share some of the small knitting insights that I have gained as a math-girl and garment-maker.

So excuse me as I jump on the bandwagon! I hope to serve up some tasty creations, and I'll try to make it fresh and new!