Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Good swatch, bad swatch

Did you know there are good ways to swatch, and bad ways to swatch? I did, but ignored most of the finer points of this advice just as I ignored swatching for the most part.

I'm "frugal". I don't like to spend too much money and I don't like having "waste" at the end of the project. I'm finding this is directly in opposition to sweater-knitting which, quite frankly, takes a whole lot more yarn than you'd think at first glance. Especially if you're somewhat tall. Or busty. Or both.

Above is one bad way to swatch, which is a shocking thing to say because, hey.. it's swatching, and I don't swatch. But then again, a swatch that doesn't tell you the truth is probably worse than no swatch at all.

The point of the ever-dreaded swatch is to make sure, when you knit something as large (and expensive) as a sweater, it actually fits. The problem with the swatch above is that it involves three different needle sizes in the same swatch. It turns out that the knitting coming before, and after, actually affects the gauge of your swatch. Go figure! So doing multiple needle-sizes in one is a "no-no". I suppose you could knit it long enough to overcome the fabric's desire to conform to the area around it, but that would then negate the yarn-savings of doing it all together, and you might as well just do three separate swatches.

Which is what I finally did.

WiseSweater Swatches
Here are three "proper" swatches. In general, I know I'm going to try and get between five and six stitches-per-inch with this yarn (assuming I properly spun the yarn to somewhere between DK and Worsted weights). Typically this is knit on needles between the US sizes 4 and 6 (which range from 3.5 to 4.0mm in diameter). It doesn't seem like a big difference, but it's amazing what those little quarter-millimeter changes can do.

The bumps you see in the lower right-hand corner of the knitting are my "Key". Four bumps for size 4 needles, five bumps for size 5 needles, and so on. This means if I want to re-measure things later, I don't have to guess which swatch is which.

Also, knowing that I was headed for 5-6 sts/in I cast on accordingly. I want to measure over four inches, so 4in x 6sts/in = 24 stitches. But I don't want to go right to the edge in my measuring, so I add a couple more. Let's say 3 stitches of stockinette on each side. And because rolling edges are a pain, another 2 in garter stitch. That gives me 34 stitches. I knit them until they were "long enough". I'd planned to make them all the same number of rows, too. But honestly I mis-counted and it wasn't worth the effort to go back and add two more rows.

The character of the cloth changes with your gauge. On size 4 needles, this cloth is dense. I'm getting 5.75-6 stitches per inch on those needles and while "bulletproof" isn't quite what I'm going to call the fabric, it's getting close.

My swatch knit on 5s is deceptive. At first glance it has 5.5 sts/inch and a lovely, drapey character. But on closer inspection, the yarn doesn't look quite as round and fluffy as my other two swatches. Likely this is owed to the fact that I'm working with handspun, and this swatch came from a very slightly different batch of yarn. If you finger this swatch, and the next one knit on 6s, the 5s swatch actually feels thinner.

The swatch on 6s does seem slightly thicker than that on 5s, but it still has very nice character. It is opaque, and not too holey. The stitches have a very nice definition, but don't feel crammed together. And it was easy to knit. I was surprised but even with the loosest tension, knitting on 4s felt like work. On 6s, the yarn flew over the needles happily.

I do have a little more yarn left and I may attempt to get a swatch on 7s. It may be slightly smaller than the others, but who knows. It still could tell me something useful.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sometimes, you just gotta

Let's face it. We all know I'm a little... compulsive about my knitting. I have dropped back a 12-stitch cable over 20 rows in order to fix it (trust me, it was worth it!). I've done well to let go a little of this, especially when the error is not immediately obvious to the eye. After all, there is an art in the imperceptible fudge. But when I can see the problem, and I will see it every time I look at a project, well. That's gotta go.

Which is why I winced so hard when I noticed this little boo-boo. Apparently, I became slightly distracted at some point, and when I turned to knit back along my shawl, I forgot to slip one stitch at the start of the row. Fixing the last stitch on a row is an absolute bear.

Grandma's Ulmus Fix
Fear not, intrepid knitters! While I had resolved to let this little nub go, the solution occurred to me out of nowhere. Yes. Inspiration struck and it told me exactly how to deal with this little issue.


Yes... pins! These are the answer to all the floppy, loopy little tangly ends. (That.. and the fact that a slipped-stitch edge is actually MUCH easier to fix than I thought. I can see where it might still be an issue to fix a garter-stitch edge. But really, back to the pins.)

Grandma's Ulmus Fix
With everything pinned out all nice and neat, those loops stay exactly where you think they ought to be. The pins also make sure that the next stitch in line doesn't borrow yarn and get loose and floppy. Not only that, but you can count on your edges to stay open in the correct orientation that you can simply hook them back up into place. Mine all had a nice half-twist when I started, and they all had that same half-twist when I was done. And never was I worried that this would run further down than I wanted it to or in any other way get out of hand.

Grandma's Ulmus Fix
Easy as pie. Easier, really. Pie can be pretty complicated. And don't get me started on the crust. After many dismal failures at following the instructions of very credible chefs, I just say "Thank you Pillsbury" and get the pre-made kind at the grocery store. But back to the edging. Put your hook through one loop. Insert it into the next loop. Remove pins. Pull the higher loop through the lower loop. Go on to the next loop. Do this until you get back to the top and slip that sucker onto your needles. Don't forget to put the pins back in your box (please!).

Grandma's Ulmus Fix
Finally, here we are at the end, and isn't it a pretty sight? No little obvious bumpies anywhere. This little exercise was totally worth it and I'm very, very happy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tour de Fleece 2010
Plans Gone Happily Awry

Well, here we are on the final day of the Tour de Fleece. It's been a fun run for me, but one that completely did not turn out the way I expected for two major reasons.

The first reason that things came out very differently this time around is that early on, the nature of the Tour changed. Last year, winners each day were determined by votes on the daily thread. In order to do this, you had to be willing to go through several hundred posts of pictures and vote on each one. People that were more adept at photography, or used more brilliant, eye-catching colors in their spinning, or posted earlier in the thread before you were exhausted at looking at all the yarn, or those that just plain had more friends were far more likely to win in this setting (and they did). By the end of last Tour, I'd gotten my stride in taking some really interesting pictures and had hopes of finally winning something this time around. In fact, I'd specifically saved some very special, very colorful fiber just for this year's spinning (seen above). So when it was announced on the second day that voting would no longer be occurring (because people couldn't be trusted to NOT VOTE until the day was over, even when clearly instructed to hold off), all of a sudden these careful plans of brilliant photography and color went out the window. Now it was all about random numbers. This was a bit of an annoyance (after all, I'd been planning a year how to "work the system") but even more of a relief. No more stressing about pictures. No more stressing about popularity. Now I could just stress.. about the yarn. And my own, personal goals.

Color Carding Class
The second unexpected event popped up due to an earlier purchase. A couple of weeks ago, I got a wheel. I tell you I love spinning on a spindle, but the call of the wheel was overpowering. It's new, it's shiny, it's fun, and I've been really curious to put it through it's paces. I'd already started by trying to spin three bobbins as full as they could go with fiber I had on hand, and seeing how much yarn that would make. I made one honkin' big skein and it was fun. Then I dug into some of my stash for fibers I hadn't really figured out how to use and spun them up just for kicks. The wheel is a wonderful tool for a technique known as "long draw" which creates a much more fluffy yarn and these fibers had been made with long-draw in mind. It was a joy to get to work on a new skill.

Lots and Lots of White Wool
Then, yet another unexpected thing popped up on my radar, Sandi Wiseheart's sweater KAL/class. I didn't really intend to participate, but I poked around the edges of the group out of curiosity. Sandi was brilliant and offered the first chapter of the "class" for free, and I was hooked, but I still didn't want to buy sweater-quantities of yarn. Then I noticed that they yarn they were going to use was the same weight as that first huge skein I spun (or at least I thought it was the same) and I came up with A Plan.

Rather than spend my days going crazy spinning bright colors and trying to figure out fabulous photography, I would use the Tour to spin enough yarn to make a sweater. That's a lot of yarn! Sandi's first lesson put me with an estimated yardage of 1800. A lot of yarn. But I had a lot of wool with no clue how to use it, and now I had a goal. In fact I had two supporting goals between the Sweater KAL/SAL and the Tour. Whenever one goal wasn't quite enough to keep me spinning the same thing day after day after day, the other goal popped up and said, "Hey, shouldn't you get a little bit done on this project?"

Tour de Fleece - 7/4
And after all of that, I've done it.

The final three bobbins are waiting to be plied, true. But they've been spun and this last batch should easily put me over my yardage needs. The yarn is a heavier weight than I'd planned, true. But it's still within the KAL's gauge, and I really like the yarn anyway. I learned a lot about long-draw, and about spinning to get a particular type of yarn (or not). I learned how to slip spinning into my day so it didn't interfere with anyone else, and I still made progress. I learned that I still like my spindles and they're really nice to have around so I can have an on-the-go project, too.

I learned that I love spinning, and I still love knitting, and that the fiber arts are just awesome all around.

It's been a great Tour. I hope you all had fun, too!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tour de Fleece - Week 2+

Here we are, on the eve of the final day of the Tour de Fleece, and I thought I'd do a quick update post.

I'm still spinning white wool. Yep. Still. I'm in the middle of the twelfth bobbin of this stuff and I'm a bit tired of taking creative pictures of it all. So far I have three humongous skeins of yarn, and after doing some pretty brutal yardage calculations, I decided that a fourth skein was an absolute must, simply to be certain I have enough yarn. Since this isn't something I can pop off down to my LYS to grab another skein (same dyelot or otherwise), I'm really seriously against running out mid-project.

Right now, conservatively, I have 1300 yards. If I'm a bit more generous, I have 1400. A third skein should be another 400-500 yards. My bust size, plus two inches ease for the KAL pattern, and my gauge (5.5 sts/inch) put me at needing 1500 yards. So, this last skein should be plenty for swatching, mistakes, and flubs.

I've done some other miscellaneous spinning, mostly on spindles. I did a scrap here, a scrap there. And my daughter and I had fun weaving on a silly miniature loom.

All in all, this has been a great Tour. I'll post a longer wrap-up, tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Three Little Skeins from Spool

Look! It's a lot of yarn!

I've been spinning a lot of white wool for the Tour de Fleece. Enough that I feel horribly redundant blogging about it day after day after day (so I stopped). But that doesn't stop me from spinning. Here we are with three skeins that had me thinking of three women in wide skirts and fluffy wraps, and of course I ended up humming silly tunes all day.

I've managed to spin slightly heavier than I'd intended. This yarn is destined to be "A sweater that fits" a-la a KAL/class run by Sandi Wiseheart. She would like us to use DK-weight yarn, but this is not DK. I'm closer to 10 WPI which would put it at "light worsted" (or even full worsted, hard to say for sure). But I'm falling in the requisite range for gauge, so I think I will roll with it.

As lovely as this yarn is "au naturel", it will eventually be taking a leisurely dip in a very large dye pot. I just need to figure out exactly what color to dye it!

I'm going to be making a cardigan with it, possibly with a some leafy detail. I'm a Summer and look very good in cool colors, so I'm thinking maybe a blue-ish Forest green, although I have also entertained a chocolaty brown, or even that hard to define color that is somewhere between purple, brown and red. I have plenty of time to think about it, but feel free to weigh in with your thoughts! It always helps.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tour de Fleece - First Week in Review

Since at this point, I'm sure everyone is less than excited when I post yet one more picture of spun white wool, I thought I'd post a quick picture review of the entire week. There's been a lot of fun and a lot of spinning, but perhaps not so much blogging for the rest of the Tour. There are only so many hours in the day!

I'll keep you all posted when I actually start something new ;)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tour de Fleece - Day Five

We have arrived on the fifth day of the Tour and I have to tell you all, nothing is happening today. So I bring you a pretty picture of the Quadratic Rectangle roving, all washed and beaten until it fluffed up gently fuzzy.

Despite my best efforts, unless some massive flash of brilliance explodes upon me, I'm done for the day already. I've wound off my Tea single and am starting the third (and hopefully last) section of top for that spinning project. It looks pretty much the same as it did the last few times I've talked about it, except now it is wound on TP rolls instead of a spindle.

I tried to knit on Grandma's shawl and I got two rows done and put it away. I just was not feeling like it this morning. I wasn't feeling like working out, either, but I still walked and ran 3.25 miles. So my time at the gym wasn't an entire loss.

I may paw through my stash for something small to do. Or sort and wash some locks. Or just ponder the Puck's Mischief problem until that sorts itself out in my head.

Above all, I think we'll go out and play at the park today, with plenty of sunscreen on. It's supposed to hit 95 at least. Maybe we'll wander down to the Dairy Queen and have a couple of kids' cones. It's the perfect way to spend an unmotivated Wednesday afternoon.

UPDATE at 8:00 PM
Tour de Fleece - 6/7
Okay, apparently I posted too soon. Because mid-day I decided "to heck with it" and pulled back out a huge bump of my off-white wool and went to town on it. I think I'll be participating in Sandy Wiseheart's sweater KAL and I'll need at least a pound-and-a-half of yarn spun up, and probably closer to two pounds considering it's handspun (and thus often heavier in weight for the same length of yarn when spun by a mill--mills are better at keeping the air in). I was just so hung up and frustrated with Puck's Mischief I couldn't get around it. Now I'm past that and happy spinning again.

Also, Andrea, I was totally brainless and distracted when I saw you today. Your spinning is looking GORGEOUS!!! I hope to see it closer on Monday night next week.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tour de Fleece - Day Four

We're still going, but at a much more reasonable pace. The family is back on its usual daily schedule (gym in the morning, and play time in the afternoon) and I had it in mind to work significantly on something I'd been saving for the Tour for the past year. It is a 50/50 blend of merino and silk dyed by Blue Moon Fiber Arts in one of my favorite colorways - Puck's Mischief.

I bought this roving at Sock Summit last year. It's beautiful in shades of green, purple and blue. I really love these colors and used them to knit my February Lady sweater.

It wasn't until I opened up the twist of roving and really looked at it that I came to a stand-still. I couldn't figure out how to spin this up! Sure, it's blue, purple and green. But it's bright and dark green. It's purple and wine. It's blue and gray. But not all of these sections abut one another in ways that blend well. For instance, green is not particularly happy being spun into purple. And if I don't line up the spun single correctly for plying, I could end up with a "muddy" mess of color.

So, I sampled today. I spun three ply yarn and two ply yarn out of an extra end of the fiber. I'd like to knit them up into little squares to see what sort of fabric they make. I'm considering doing a technique called Navajo-plying which would let me keep my colors together and yields what is essentially a three-ply yarn. But I'm also considering spinning up something complimentary to use as the second (or two more) singles.

I do have a lovely batch of purple fiber from the same company, dyed on a merino/yak blend. That, plied with the merino/silk would give me a lovely blend of color. I'm also tempted to go down to my local dyer and see if she can't match the sky blue in a lot of merino or merino/silk. I think it would blend with everything here in a very complimentary fashion.

So, today, I've sampled. And I'm thinking. And tomorrow I may spin up something else from my stash while I continue to figure out just what this fiber needs to be.

UPDATE at 8:00 PM
Tour de Fleece - 6/6
I pulled off a pinch from the end of my merino/silk blend, and a bigger pinch from the purple blend I thought about plying it with and spun myself a quick sample. The purple top is merino/yak and it spins up gorgeous and fuzzy, while the merino/silk is shiny and sensuous. I'm not sure they pair well, but it was worth making a few yards just to see. I'm also leaning more towards plying with sky blue, or sticking with the Navajo-ply idea.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tour de Fleece - Day Three

It's a FIBER DUCK. EEEeee!

Okay, so maybe I've been working too hard. Maybe not. But the way this skein kinked up and twisted on itself just amused me to no end.

Today was the day of the Long Draw. I pulled out two big balls of roving that I pulled myself from batts in a drum-carding class. The beauty of long draw is that on a wheel it is fast, fast, fast. Both balls took almost no time to spin up at all.
Drum Carding Class - Split ComplimentaryDrum Carding Class - Quadratic Rectangle

I finished spinning the first before we left for the gym this morning. I got my daily workout in (interval running today, it was brutal!). And my daily knitting as well. Gotta keep working on the shawl! It's continuing to shape up nicely and as triangular shawls do, it is taking longer and longer the more I knit. My husband stayed home and cleaned the house. I think I may have gotten the better end of the deal, there.

The kids and I splurged on Happy Meals for lunch. It was pretty fun to sit down and chat, enjoy our food, and generally ramble around McDonald's. I'm not big on the food there, but for an occasional thing it's pretty fun. They also have a touch-screen computer with some games on it for the kids to mess around playing. They have a blast. The current toys are from "The Last Airbender" movie, which has received abysmal reviews. Luckily we already love it from the Nickelodeon cartoon and will never have to watch the live-action version.

Tour de Fleece - 6/5
Back at home, I wound off what I had spun so far and started the next bump of spinning while the kids were playing happily together. When they asked to play with the squirt guns, I dumped everything, shoved my husband in bed to take a nap and took the kids outside. It was a gorgeous day and I sat down on the hose-box on the porch to be "Refill Woman", which consists of watching the kids doing their best to soak each other, and being ready for them to come back to me every two minutes to get their water-guns filled up again. My perch on the hose is reinforcement to "not squirt Mommy" because I can retaliate, big time. After "Refill Woman" I was able to spindle in the garage for a bit while the kids chased each other in circles. Literally. Every once in a while one would dart into the garage and declare "I won!". I guess they were racing. At any rate, it was good fun.

When three-o'clock rolled around, I woke my husband up to help out. We all headed off to the grocery, and The Boy passed out completely in the car. Rather than tote him around the whole trip, I stayed in the car (with my knitting, whew!). He woke up on the way home again, just in time for everyone except me to toodle off to the park.

Tour de Fleece - 6/5
This was good for me, since it gave me enough time to run around, finish yarns, spin up the rest of the Quadratic Rectangle roving, wind and ply it, clean the table, make dinner, lay out PJs for later, and be ready for everyone to arrive back home sandy and hot.

After dinner, I left for my Monday night knitting group and had a blast. I'm really blessed to be able to get together with such a fun bunch of women, and I hope they all enjoy coming on Monday nights as much as I do!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tour de Fleece - Day Two

Busy is the name of the game around here. Today, I dug out the bulky plying head and bobbin for Mabel. The whole point of spinning up three really full bobbins was to see just how much would go on this sucker. It's huge! Pictures just do not accurately convey the size of it.

The morning rolled out slowly. We got everyone up, dressed and fed. My husband started working on the broken sprinkler heads in our lawn. The kids rambled in and out of the house. I spun for 15 minutes, just getting the rhythm of plying.

When church time rolled around we were ready to go. I packed the kids off because my daughter was insisting she wanted to go to Sunday School. Unfortunately, when we got there we found out that all classes were canceled! The sign invited us into the church for a family-friendly service. I have to debate their definition of "family friendly". Playing your slowest set of worship music and then pitching a full-length adult-oriented sermon is not my idea of "family friendly". We barely made it through. The Boy wanted out early on, but at least never made a loud fuss. I was able to convince him to hang out until the very end and we finally had to make a break for it.

Snag number two happened when we got to our intended lunch location and found that it was closed for the day, too! We quickly defaulted to the "plan B" location and had a very nice lunch with our friends. On the way home, we picked up strawberries and some needed staples at the supermarket. The Boy fell asleep, and did not wake up when I took him from the car to the couch. This was not all a bad thing.

I whipped up a batch of my mother's famous (in our family) chocolate fudge frosting to use as dipping-sauce for our fruit platter. We committed to bringing a "fruit salad" to our neighbor's BBQ, and I settled on Rainier cherries (from Costco), California strawberries (on sale at Alberstons) and local raspberries (picked by child labor, yesterday.. hahaha!). I had to refill the plate with fruit, twice. I think we went through three or four pounds of it. Needless to say, it was a success.

Tour de Fleece - 6/4
Since The Boy was still not awake, I sat down at Mabel. My husband and daughter went on over to the BBQ. I plied yarn. And plied. And then went upstairs and wound off the spindle for a break. And came back and plied more yarn at the wheel. I worked for an hour and a half and just barely got to the end of what room I had on that monster bobbin when The Boy finally woke up. Yay! Party time!

We had an awesome afternoon. There was great food and great company. I got to sit down and get a few rows done on Grandma's shawl at one point. And then later when The Boy wanted to get away for a bit, I came home and picked up the spindle. He flopped on the couch for a little bit to watch a "show", and then apparently refreshed for social interaction, turned off the TV and we went back out to play with the neighbors, again.

Tour de Fleece - 6/4
I took the spindle with me and got to show off a little bit. I really enjoy sharing what I know about spinning and had a receptive audience. So I got a little more work done. When all of that was done, we packed it in and got everyone ready for bed. I think I'm about ready for bed, too.

Tomorrow, I get to start something new! I'm looking forward to bright colors and playful fibers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tour de Fleece - Day One

TdF 2010 - 4/3
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Day 1 - It's been a busy day. I started by cooking buttermilk pancakes (with maple syrup and home-made strawberry syrup.. yum!). The family loved that and having everyone happily full bought me some time to spin on my wheel. I try to get from one end of the bobbin evenly to the other end of the bobbin in 15 minutes. This means I can spin throughout the day, but never really get too far away from the action that's happening. Fifteen minutes is a do-able break for Mommy between activities.

At 9:30 we headed off to gymnastics class for both kids. Since my daughter loves chatting it up with the kids in her class that show up early (like we do) and my son was fully occupied and happily following directions, I had some time to work on my spindling project (3-ply sock in Falkland wool seen above in "Tea" green). After dropping The Boy back at home with Daddy for a snack, I returned to gymnastics in time to get some knitting done on the shawl for my grandmother as well.

TdF 2010 - 4/3
After an abortive attempt to go to the gym's BBQ and allow Daddy time off to play Wallyball over the lunch hour (the BBQ was mis-advertised, and no-one else showed up to play Wallyball) we drove home and had lunch. Then I took the kids to pick raspberries for the picnic we'll be attending tomorrow. We got three pints, which is excellent work for a 3- and 5-year old who mostly wandered around and poked at things.

Back at home again, Daddy and Star Wars afforded me a little more quality time with Mabel (that's my wheel!) and I finished off the last of my three bobbins. There wasn't a whole lot left to do, which was nice. I really wanted to have all three bobbins spun up before the Tour started, but I'll do just fine plying for the next day or two.

Grandma's Ulmus
Daddy, two squirt guns and the front hose gave me the time to slip out back and take beauty shots, which are important if I want to be in for the daily prize voting (and I do!). I also wanted to toss up a picture of the Ulmus shawl for Grandma, since it's taking shape beautifully!

Happy 4th of July, everyone. I hope you have a great day, tomorrow. I think I'm going to have to find something sparkly and firework-like to spin for the day.