Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Socks and Spinning

Oh my, what a busy and stressful week this has been. I haven’t had time to make much, but I started knitting a sock. It’s been over six months since I made a pair of socks so I’m really excited to start on this pair!

I began knitting my own socks about ten years ago, and they’ve become a go-to stress-reliever for me. Yes, they’re small and fussy, but they’re also a relatively quick year-round project that’s easy for me to take on the go without losing my place. And let’s not forget that the gorgeous yarn choices are seemingly endless.

The beginning of a hand-knit sock on the needles with a ball of yarn on a white background..

These socks are made from Ella Rae Lace Merino in colorway 209, which is a blend of red and a dark brown that could pass for black. Or is it a black that could pass for dark brown?

The two sock pattern books that I use the most are both by Charlene Schurch: Sensational Knitted Socks and More Sensational Knitted Socks. Between the many patterns in each book and the sizing charts at the beginning of each section, it's easy to find a pattern that suits almost any combination of yarn, gauge and foot size. The pattern I have chosen is called Embossed Stitch, from the second book, and it looks sort of like quilted diamonds. Can you see the pattern beginning to emerge after the one-by-one rib stitch?

Detail of the beginning of a hand-knit sock on the needles on a white background.

I’m always on the lookout for great sock patterns; please share your favorite sources in the comments.

On a different note, this Saturday, July 2, marks the beginning of Tour de Fleece. Yes, you read that correctly! While the bicyclists are doing their spinning, fiber enthusiasts are spinning as well.

Tour de Fleece will run July 2 through July 24, just like the actual tour, and the goal is to do some spinning each day — perhaps even while watching the race on television. Rest days will be July 11 and 19. Challenge days coincide with mountain days in the race, so on July 9 and 17 the goal will be to spin something more challenging than usual. Some people even wear certain colors to denote things like being a race leader or sprinter, but I’m not usually quite that organized.

If you’re a spinner on Ravelry, check out the Tour de Fleece group and sign up for a team. You may win some prizes for your efforts! I don’t have time to keep up with the groups this year, but I will be doing my best to spin throughout the tour; it’s always a great excuse to revisit my spinning stash. You should see a lot of spinning-related updates here on the blog during July.

Is anyone else joining the 2016 Tour de Fleece?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Second Mitten

The second mitten is done! Just in time for the beginning of summer and a long-range forecast of temperatures in the 90s.

Hand knit colorwork wool mittens overlapping each other on a light wood background.

I had been hoping that the second mitten would knit up smoothly after the trouble I encountered with the first mitten. It seemed as if it had, until I blocked it and set the mittens next to each other. Notice anything?

Hand knit colorwork wool mittens set side by side on a light wood background to highlight the size difference.

The right-hand mitten, on the left, is larger than the left-hand mitten on the right. It’s a great example of how the gauge of a knitted piece is determined by more than the size of the yarn and the needles. The most difficult variable to control is the tension of the knitting.

Most people have a default knitting tension, but that can change based on the mood of the knitter. For example, some people tighten their stitches while learning a new technique, then loosen up as they get more comfortable with the process. Others cannot watch an intense movie while knitting a project that requires a certain gauge; their stitches become extra-tight as the plot unfolds.

I’m usually a pretty consistent knitter. Stranded colorwork, however, is a different animal entirely. As the name implies, with stranded colorwork the yarn that is not being worked is carried behind the yarn that is being worked, leaving strands of yarn on the backside of the piece called floats. Here’s a look at the inside of one of the mittens:

Hand knit colorwork wool mitten turned inside out on a light wood background.

If the floats are too tight, they will pull the fabric tight and make it pucker. If the floats are too loose, they can catch on fingers or buttons more easily and potentially break. The goal is to knit the stitches at a normal tension, but keep the floats loose enough to allow for some give if the item is stretched.

I knit the left mitten with a good amount of tension, but clearly I loosened up a lot while knitting the right mitten! I’ve been soaking the large mitten in hot water and agitating it in hopes of shrinking and felting it — the advantage, and disadvantage, of working with wool. I don’t want to put it in a hot dryer because the thumb seems fine as it is. I tried spot-heating it with a hair dryer; I haven’t decided yet if it helped or if that’s wishful thinking.

The good news is: I’m right-handed so that hand is a little bigger anyway! Ha! And with such gorgeous colors, once I’m wearing the mittens I don’t think anybody is going to notice their relative sizes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Branching Out

I don’t usually sew clothes. I’ve sewn quite a few Halloween costumes over the years and purchased a small collection of patterns on sale, but that never translated into sewing everyday clothing. I’d like to change that. Since starting this blog, I’ve become a regular reader of a few sewing blogs and they’ve made my interest stronger.

Knit toy off-white and black lamb on a textured knit dishcloth or washcloth in light orange, green, and off-white..

First things first: In order to get to my sewing machine I had to clean up the area, which becomes a catchall if I don’t diligently guard it. That meant working through a pile of repairs including sewing on buttons and patching holes. This little knit lamb was among the repairs. I couldn’t find the original ivory yarn I used, so I chose a natural yarn. I think it makes the lamb look a little more authentic — real sheep always have vegetable matter in their wool. He's posed on a recently-knit dishcloth, made from one skein of Red Heart Scrubby in Citrus. The pattern is Chinese Waves Dishcloth by Margaret Radcliffe, not that you can make out any stitches!

With that done, I spent some time going through my patterns. I’ve never sewn with stretch fabrics, so I wanted to start with a beginner stretch pattern. Learn to Sew from Simplicity is probably about as beginner as it gets.

Picking the fabric was very difficult for me. I realized that after so many years of buying fabric for quilting, my mindset is skewed. When I’m quilting, I know that a bold fabric can be tempered by how I cut it and what other fabrics I use with it. Clothing, however, is often one large mass of the same fabric. Sure, the other pieces in the outfit and the accessories can impact how the piece comes across, but the scale is very different.

Add to that, I have a tendency to wear very basic colors, styles, and prints. But I know from my knitting and quilting experience that I prefer working with bright colors and fun prints. What do I choose?

Well, here’s what I ended up with for my first project:

Simplicity S0340 pattern on red, orange and black striped stretch knit fabric.

It’s bold but not too busy. There’s some black, which will go well with my many black pants and skirts. It can be dressed up or dressed down.

And here’s the result:

Woman wearing shirt sewn from Simplicity pattern S0340 with red, orange and black striped stretch knit fabric.

It was an easy project. I made a few rookie mistakes, some I fixed and some I left alone. I’m not going to point anything out! It fits perfectly, if a little crooked in this photo, which I’m very happy about because I’ve had some bad experiences with choosing the right pattern size.

I have enough fabric leftover to make something small. I bought another print at the same time as this one, but I’m still deciding what to do with it. And I have some hand-me-down fashion fabric that has potential. I’m looking forward to my next venture into sewing clothes!

What new types of projects have you tried recently?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mittens and Washcloths

Two weeks ago, I told you about having to take apart a stranded colorwork mitten after dropping a few stitches at the base of the thumb. I’ve been slowly, steadily knitting it back up, and managed the thumb with success this time!

Back of hand knit wool colorwork mitten on a white background.

I learned a few things as I re-worked the thumb stitches.

The pattern called for knitting some waste stitches where the thumb would be. After completing the rest of the mitten, I was to remove the waste yarn and pick up the live stitches. While knitting the first round of the thumb, a few more stitches needed to be picked up and knit in the colorwork pattern. None of this is unusual in mitten patterns. But somewhere between removing the waste yarn and picking up the last few stitches, I fumbled and dropped some stitches. The stranded colorwork added to my struggle to pick up the dropped stitches.

This time, I ran the needles through the live stitches before removing the waste yarn. It was much simpler to determine which leg of each stitch I was picking up. (I opted for the right leg, if you’re wondering.)

Then, I did something crazy and picked up the additional stitches from each end right away so I had the correct number of stitches on the front and back needles. Part of the problem I had the first time around was accidentally picking up strands instead of stitches, leaving extra gaps. By picking up the stitches while everything was still lying flat, I was able to avoid that. I’ve never seen that suggested and don’t know if it’s considered correct, but it worked for this project.

After carefully removing the waste yarn, I was able to simply knit the thumb in pattern without fussing with anything else.

Palm of hand knit wool colorwork mitten showing outer thumb stitches on a white background.

Palm of hand knit wool colorwork mitten showing inner thumb stitches on a white background.

I love how the pattern matches up with the rest of the mitten on the outside of the thumb, and there’s a completely different pattern on the inside. And that scalloped lace toward the wrist was a happy surprise; I didn’t notice it in the pattern’s photos.

Two green washcloths or dishcloths hand knit in the shapes of leaves on a white background.

The complexity involved with fixing this mitten meant that knitting wasn’t as relaxing for me as it usually is, so I made a few simple washcloths when I needed a break. The pattern is Leafy Washcloth by Megan Goodacre, and I used up some scraps of Cascade Yarns Sierra in green. It was a quick, fun pattern — and it's free! Each leaf took only about an hour or so.

Now, onto that second mitten! If you have any tips for picking up stitches in stranded colorwork, please share them in the comments.