Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Quick spun scraps

Quick spun scraps
This past year I bought a 1 pound bag of scraps of fiber. I never really intended to spin any of it in a serious manner. I bought it, instead, for when I go into our Preschool (and hopefully the Kindergarten this year) and talk about Wool. I spin a little and let the kids paw through it all and talk about sheep and all the cool things you can do with Wool. I capitalize "wool" because I did this for the past two years on the week they are studying the letter "W". (We also sing "Ba-Ba-Black-Sheep" and watch the Pixar short "Boundin'", which you should immediately go out and watch if you've never seen it!)

This year, we also made "felt balls" in the pre-K class. You take a puff of fiber and fluff it up with your fingers. Then get it wet with lightly soapy water and roll it in your hands like a ball of Play-Doh. In about a minute, you'll have something mostly ball-shaped. If you do it like making a Doh-snake, you'll get a little felted worm. The kids really enjoyed it.

But before that day, I was having a "blah" day, and I figured with an entire pound, it was unlikely that an ounce would be missed. So I grabbed out a random number of scraps from the brown and blue/green family and just spun them. This is the result. It is entirely random, woolen-spun, and very soft. For the most part I think the fibers are Merino, but there could be some BFL in there since I had to change my drafting a bit between scraps. I'm positive there's even a pinch of cashmere (the staple was extremely short and it was really wonderfully soft).

I think I'll knit it up into a little animal and felt it. But for what I wanted, just getting to sit down and spin something, fast, was perfect and I felt much better after simply for having completed a small project.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Waterfall Mitts

With the increasing availability of free patterns and the ease of finding them on Ravelry, it's easy to sidestep paying designers, or to think that they charge too much for their work. But when you sit down to do it yourself, it becomes very clear that what designers do is not simple, easy or fast.

Take these mitts. I loved making these mitts.. once I got things to work. But that wasn't easy. I started knitting them in the round. I tried magic loop. I tried DPNs. I had problems with the yarn slipping and sliding, making "ladders" in the knitting, and with needles completely falling out of the stitches. I also started with a completely different lace pattern, the Tilting Squares pattern to match the cowl. Unfortunately, Tilting Squares don't resize well. They don't easily come out to match the circumference of a hand with the stitch counts you can manage with them, and they loose their charm when knit as a panel that is anchored on either side because they no longer have the freedom to tilt.

I found all this out by knitting the first of this pair of mitts over eight times, and ripping out my knitting each time.

I will say one thing. All that abuse gave the yarn (Textiles A Mano "Lucerne", 65% cashmere/35% silk) a chance to shine--and I'm not just talking the silk content. This yarn is strong and durable on top of being beautiful and luxurious. When it could have turned into a partly-felted mess, it still frogged easily after multiple times being knit. It continued to knit up beautifully even after all that working, and once both mitts were completed I couldn't even tell which one had been worked more!

Waterfall Mitts

These mitts are knit flat, so that there won't be any odd stretching of the fabric. Trust me, they are much more fun to knit flat than to struggle with any of the various methods of knitting in the round. In addition, you must knit the section of the thumb-hole flat, anyway.

After being knit flat, the sides are seamed using the tails of yarn from the cast-on and cast-off edges. Working from the edge to the middle lets you control exactly where the thumb-hole falls, and how big it will be.

Once seamed up, the lace-in-ribbing expands and contracts to cling to your hands in a sheathe of warmth. And, what can I say? It's cashmere/silk. They are wonderful, if I must say it myself.

Waterfall Mitts
But knitting is only half the work. Then you must write it down, make sure you wrote it down correctly, be certain that other people will be able to understand what you wrote when you're not there to explain it, and then make it look lovely. And then it helps to have someone else double check, test knit, and re-read to make sure you didn't slip up on something simple and obvious (or even on something incredibly obscure).

I have to admit, I look at the pattern-costs on Ravelry differently now. I see the hours of work that went into the project on top of the creativity in the design.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that these mitts are also for sale on Ravelry, now.

Friday, March 4, 2011

February Overview

It's amazing how fast February goes by. It's a short month, and we have several birthdays in it which eat up a lot of free time. So I would write up a "recap", except that I forgot to post my progress for the month in the first place!

Since I still need to keep up with my spinning/knitting goals, here's the overview of my February projects.

I spun four ounces of A Verb for Keeping Warm fiber (80/20 Merino/silk, dyed in "Pilgrim" for the Pro-Verbial club). It became about 320 yards of 3-ply yarn. This is in keeping with my Stashdown and "Spin 12 in 12 months" goals for 2011

AVFKW - Pro-verbial shipment #2 by Project Pictures  AVFKW Pro-Verbial Winter - Pilgrim

I knit four ounces of handspun, making another 198 Yards of Heaven shawl (Ravelry link). This was out of my own handspun yarn and I used just short of 350 yards by knitting an additional two lace repeats before starting the edging chart.

Lampyridae + Textiles A Mano  Heaven Again

I knit four ounces of mill-spun yarn, although technically this was not from my stash. I was given the yarn in order to design a cowl and matching mitts (a blog post on the mitts is up next!).

Tilting Squares Cowl  Waterfall Mitts

I started to weave four matching place-mats. I managed to warp the loom on the last day of February, so I suppose this could technically count as a February project. Since it is using several balls of cotton, I think I will just count it as a February/March overlap project, unless I get really ambitious in the next few weeks.

For works in progress, I am still making progress on my WiseSweater. I finished my pattern-band swatches with an option I liked and cast on for the first front panel. It is easy, but mindful knitting and not the sort I can easily tote about town, so it is taking a little more time than usual. I am also working on a shawl for a friend to display in her shop. Hopefully that will come out well (and be done by the end of March!).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tilting Squares Cowl

I have the wonderful good fortune to live in a town with several fantastic fiber-arts shops (three yarn stores, one fiber, and one weaving, not counting the craft-chains that also carry yarn). One of these is Textiles A Mano, run by Laura Macango-Shang.

Laura's shop is just wonderful. Nearly all of the yarn in Laura's shop is a product of her own hard work. She creates fantastic and beautiful hand-dyed yarns. There are shelves upon shelves of skeins of all sorts of fibers and colors. It's impossible to walk through and not pet something.

Laura is fantastic as well. She hosts a knitting group on Wednesday night (which I am sadly unable to attend), and a spinning group on Saturdays. Saturday spinning is something I look forward to attending each week. Lots of great women come together for a couple hours of spinning and talking.

Tilting Squares Cowl
After one of our Saturday meetings, Laura approached me about working with her yarn. She had a new yarn base (65% cashmere / 35% silk) and needed a pattern to sell with it. I was thrilled and flattered to say the least. We both thought a cowl would be a great use for this yarn, and she even had a suggestion of a lace pattern, the Tilting Squares stitch.

I had a great time putting this cowl together. The yarn is wonderful and a real pleasure to knit. I worked with an older Addi 16" circular, and wished I had a Knit Picks fixed circular instead--I've become addicted to their sharp points and the blunter Addi needles just aren't fast enough for my tastes. They are still nice needles and the project fairly flew off of them.

Patterns are really interesting to write. It is quite the intellectual exercise to take instructions that are perfectly clear to you, personally, and turn them into instructions that other people can easily read and understand. Subtle details like how information flows on the page and where charts and explanations should go are also tricky. And, of course, you need a couple of good pictures to illustrate how your knitted object is going to look.

Tilting Squares Cowl
I'm really glad I have a good camera, and a willing-to-help daughter. At not-quite-six, she did a fantastic job of trying to take pictures with mommy's huge camera. Unfortunately, its computer brain was in direct competition with young fingers and getting correct focus was a trial. We got a couple of usable shots out of that effort, but in the end I was forced to the old trick of "hold your camera at arms' length and hope for the best". I can't say how much I love digital cameras. Film is an interesting media, but the fact I can take 20 pictures, know immediately if any of them are any good whatsoever, and trash the bad ones right off my camera is invaluable.

After jumping through all the hoops with noting, knitting, frogging, re-knitting, writing, photographing, formatting, proofing and printing, the Tilting Squares Cowl is now up for sale on Ravelry, or available with the Lucerne cashmere/silk yarn from Textiles A Mano.