Monday, March 18, 2019

Time to Regroup

Sometimes everything rolls along smoothly, and other times there are nonstop bumps in the road. I’ve hit a bumpy stretch with my knitting.

I recently started knitting more tops but, as with most new things, there’s a learning curve involved. I’m learning to recognize which styles work well for my body type, which adjustments might be needed to fine-tune the fit, and which yarns will suit both the patterns and how I intend to wear the garments.

In 2014, I knit a pullover that fit well with minimal adjustments: Elphaba Pullover by Mary Annarella. Last month, I knit it again with different yarn. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a third version with yet another type of yarn. Each was knit in the same size and the gauge is consistent, but ...

Front view of three sweaters stacked on one another, showing that they progress from narrowest to widest.

The red is the original sweater, the lavender is last month’s attempt, and the gray striped version is my unfinished current project. Notice that they keep growing wider!

I don’t think the problem is with the pattern. The instructions are straightforward, and the math between the stitch counts and the schematic is sound. And I know it can turn out correctly because I’ve done it once already.

The red sweater, knit with 100% merino wool yarn, has been worn and laundered quite a bit over the years. It’s possible that it was larger when it first came off the needles and has shrunk over time.

The lavender sweater was knit with Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport, which is a blend of 45% wool, 35% silk, and 20% rayon from bamboo. Based on how much the sweater has grown in the few times I’ve tried it on — yes, it’s longer now than it was when I posted about it — I think any bounce from the wool is being overpowered by the drape of the silk and bamboo.

The gray sweater was knit with an assortment of sock yarns. Many of the yarns are 100% wool, although some have a small amount of nylon. It’s the widest sweater of the three, but look at this photo:

Side view of the necklines of three sweaters, showing the variation in the depth of each neckline.

I didn’t even finish the neckline yet for the striped sweater — which would first uncurl the edge upward, then raise it by another 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) or so — and already it comes up higher than the other two necklines. But the armholes aren’t any shorter than those on the other two sweaters. Granted this sweater hasn’t been blocked yet, but something is definitely not right.

It might be another yarn issue. If so, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. I think it’s more likely that something about my knitting is affecting the result. Whatever it is, it’s pointing toward going down a size in my next attempt.

Yes, you read that correctly. As much as I’d like to unravel these two newest sweaters and move on to something simpler, I’m determined to get at least one wearable pullover out of this experience!

So if you need me, I’ll be over here bumping along as I undo weeks of knitting and begin again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reading About Making

It’s been a little longer than usual since I last posted. I’ve been giving myself permission not to write a post simply for the sake of staying on a schedule. While I’ve been busy with knitting and spinning, none of the projects are ready for an update.

But I have an update on books I've been reading.

I’m usually an avid reader and a frequent library user, but I’ve been struggling since we moved in 2017. My favorite way to choose my next book is to browse the new book shelves in the library. Over the years, I’ve come across some great books that I would never have noticed otherwise. The library system in our new home has been a disappointment in this and other ways.

Rather than focusing on the negative, I’m trying to get all that I can out of our library system this year. So far in 2019, I’ve read six books about making:

  • The Graphic Design Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Each page in this book features a different idea for conveying messages through graphic design. None of the ideas were new to me, but it was a fun refresher.
  • The Typography Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters by Gail Anderson and Steven Heller. In a similar format to the previous book, this book features ideas for using type. Again, there was nothing new here. This time, though, revisiting the ideas was more boring than fun. Maybe if I hadn’t read it on the heels of the previous book it would have been more appealing.
  • Designing for Newspapers and Magazines by N. E. Osselton. If you haven’t picked up on it already, by day I work in graphic design. This book caught my eye because it’s specific to the niche of designing for journalism. But it came out in 2003, which might as well be a million years ago when it comes to the publishing industry. While the actual layout information is good, some of the information on how to produce those layouts is sorely out of date.
  • Creative Pep Talk: Inspiration from 50 Artists by Andy J. Miller. I recently discovered the Creative Pep Talk podcast, so the title connected in my brain right away. Each spread has some text from a designer on the left and a piece of their artwork referencing the text on the right. While the range of design styles kept me interested, it quickly felt repetitive and I was disappointed by how many pieces were clearly recycled from previous projects. I’m all for working smarter, not harder, but in some cases the “inspirational” message was nothing more than an explanation of the original project or random rambling lacking in any semblance of “pep.”
  • Spin Control by Amy King. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a spindler. This book is geared toward spinning on a wheel, so I found the information useful but not directly applicable to how I spin fiber. I think it could be a good resource for beginners.
  • Spinning in the Old Way: How (and Why) to Make Your Own Yarn with a High-Whorl Handspindle by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. This book on spinning is more relevant to me as a spinner. None of the information was new to me, but I think it’s a solid reference book. The black and white line illustrations might be more confusing for beginners than a source with photos. The author is very opinionated about techniques that she likes and dislikes, which may not sit well with some readers.

I’m off to a good start with reading this year. I’ve learned about a couple of used book stores that I plan to visit soon, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep it up.

What books about making are on your reading list?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Elphaba Revisited

In 2014, I knit the Elphaba Pullover by Mary Annarella in madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light. It has a classic design, and the pattern is easy to follow. I still wear the sweater quite a bit in cooler weather.

When I ripped out the Knit Diamond Pullover last month and was looking for a new pattern with which to use the yarn, the Elphaba Pullover quickly came to mind. The Mauve Mix colorway in Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport would look quite different from the deep red Tart colorway used in my first version.

I had knit the 37-inch (94 cm) size for the first version. At the time, it allowed 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) of positive ease. My body has changed over the years, so the same size sweater now allows 1.5 inches of negative ease. Since I still like the fit of the first version, and the pattern is intended for negative ease anyway, I stayed with the 37-inch size.


I had added about three inches to the overall length and included one more waist decrease for the first sweater. This time, I added the same amount of length but kept the waist decreases as written in the pattern.

I achieved gauge on US-4 (3.5 mm) needles. And yet, when I finished the pullover and compared it to my original version, this one is noticeably larger by about four inches (10 cm) in both length and width.


Did my gauge change between the swatch and the project? Or was there still some kink in the unraveled yarn that loosened up after blocking? No, measurements of the blocked sweater are still showing the correct gauge.

Did the first sweater shrink over the years? That's entirely possible, and would make the new sweater seem overlarge in a comparison.

Does the Tosh Merino Light hang differently than the Reserve Sport? I think this is also possible. The first is made of 100% merino wool; the second is a blend of 45% wool, 35% silk, and 20% rayon from bamboo. The silk and rayon could very well be affecting the overall grip and elasticity of the yarn.

The good news is that the fit still works. I’m back to having a pullover with a little positive ease, as I initially had with the first version. And I rarely complain about extra length in my clothes.

And, hey, in a few years it might shrink or I might grow.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Handspun: Let Love In

Last week, I wrote about my excitement to start a new spinning project after buying eight ounces of handpainted Targhee wool from Spunky Eclectic in the colorway Let Love In. This week, I separated most of the gray-colored fiber and hand-carded it with four ounces of white alpaca roving that I already had on hand, leaving the bright colors intact.

The fiber spun up as beautifully as I had hoped, with one ounce (28 g) becoming 118 yards (108 m) of two-ply super fine yarn. It’s incredibly soft and bouncy, and captures the essence of spring-like silver skies and rainbows. I’m looking forward to spinning the remaining 11 ounces (312 g). If my gauge is consistent I should end up with a little more than 1,400 yards (1280 m) of yarn, which opens the doors to a wide range of projects.

Skein of colorful handspun wool and alpaca yarn with a penny tucked in to show scale.

Then an interesting thing happened. The same day that I shared a photo of my newly spun yarn online, a friend on Facebook posted two photos from a theater. One photo was of her and her husband with another couple, smiling together as they waited for the performance to begin. The other was looking down from the balcony on a woman who was — GASP! SNICKER! — knitting.

I’m not going to lie; that struck a nerve.

The knitter was quietly minding her own business. The surrounding seats were empty enough that there was clearly plenty of time before showtime. Why shouldn't she spend that time doing something productive rather than, say, passing judgment on strangers?

But then, isn’t my reaction passing judgment in return?

I learned recently that my desire to keep my hands busy is medically considered a tic. I’ve found a harmless way to manage something that drives about 25% of the general population on a biological level. Research has shown that knitting and other such handiwork reduces anxiety levels, thereby coming full circle and reducing the incidence of tics.

I don’t understand my friend’s contentment with simply sitting, drinking, and talking any more than she understands my desire to do something more in the same situation.

I know that my friend is an intelligent person with a successful career. She’s a caring mother who tries to make the world a better place for her children by speaking out against the negative “-isms” that we encounter daily. The tone of her post doesn’t reflect the person I believe her to be.

This example shows the limits to real communication on social media and other modern forms of electronic interaction — yes, including blogs such as this one. I don’t think her reaction would have been the same if she knew the knitter personally, and I don’t think she set out to be insulting when she posted about it. How could I respond without sounding overly-sensitive and defensive?

By letting love in. Every one of us is a complex and contradictory combination of biology, environment, and experience. I don’t need to understand every nuance of you any more than you need to understand every nuance of me. Matching judgment for judgment may feel easier in the moment, but reflection from a place of love serves me better in the long run.

That and keeping my hands busy.

Today, that means I’ll be over here joyfully handspinning 11 more ounces of gorgeous fiber and daydreaming about what it will knit up to be.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Unravelling and Going Back to Basics

Sometimes unravelling is part of the process.

Last April, I used an assortment of sock yarn scraps to knit a tank top. As much as I love the way the colors came together into stripes, I never fell in love with the top itself. The few times I wore it, I found myself fussing with the drape of the cowl neck and how the shirt rested on my shoulders.

After taking apart the ill-fitting pullover that I knit in January, I guess I was on a roll. My next move was taking apart that tank top.

Small balls of unravelled sock yarn in shades of gray and beige on a white background.

As I’ve been reknitting the unraveled yarn from January, I’ve kept the tank top scraps nearby. I have a few ideas floating around, and those thoughts solidify a bit more each time I glance over at that small pile of yarn. I’m not sure yet what the yarn will become, but I’m getting there.

Other times, it’s all about going back to basics.

Dryer balls made from handspun multicolored mohair locks and off-white wool on a light wood background.While I was painstakingly knitting my way through way too many furniture socks, my mind turned to spinning. That led me to discover Spunky Eclectic’s Let Love In. This Colorway for a Cause reminds me of yarn that I spun in 2011 from an off-white Shropshire fleece and a small bag of bright multicolored mohair locks. I named it Confetti because of the way the random spots of color stood out as they were intertwined with the off-white. Unfortunately, both fibers were already a little the worse for wear when they were given to me. The resulting yarn was rough and lumpy; I turned all of it into dryer balls.

This colorway, however, is (as of this writing) available in nine fibers — any one of which is surely better quality than that fleece. I ordered eight ounces of Targhee, and can’t wait to start spinning. I have four ounces of white alpaca roving that I think I’ll add to the mix to play up the confetti look. I know the dyed areas of the Targhee won’t pop the same way the shiny mohair locks did against the Shropshire wool, but the overall look should still be cheery and playful.

Handpainted Targhee roving and white alpaca roving on a white background.

It may look like I took a few steps back this week, but that’s only because sometimes I need room for a running start. I’m excited to see what these next projects become.

What projects are you excited about right now?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Finish: Furniture Socks

The most recent version of this project started when I found holes in the bottoms of a set of socks on our dining room chairs. I repaired those socks, then decided to knit sets for our coffee table and six kitchen chairs. It would be a lot of uninspiring knitting, but not unmanageable.

As I was finally seeing the light at the end of the furniture sock tunnel, my daughter pulled out one of the bar stools at our kitchen counter. Nobody ever sits there. Why now? For that matter, why do we have so many places to sit? The noise as she scraped the stool across the floor made it clear that I needed to knit sets for those four seats, too.

The supplies were already out. I might as well keep going.

Bottoms of bar stool legs wearing hand-knit furniture socks on a dark wood floor.

The size and shape of each furniture leg dictated the size of its sock. The smallest furniture sock was 20 stitches around, with decreases at the end, for a a total of 20 rounds. Each of those socks took a little more than a half hour to knit. None of the larger socks took more than an hour. I ended up making 48 furniture socks, which translates to at least 36 hours of knitting.

It felt endless.

And now it’s done! I no longer have to worry about scratches on the floors from the self-adhesive felt pads slipping off the bottoms of the furniture. Sure, the socks may wear through again, but I’ve already learned that the most-used chairs are the ones I need to watch.

Bottoms of bar stool legs wearing hand-knit furniture socks on a dark wood floor.

So far, I’ve noticed that the acrylic socks don’t hug the furniture legs as closely as the wool socks do. The acrylic doesn’t have the same springiness that the wool has, although it still holds its shape better than something with no elasticity, like cotton. For this purpose, that’s a secondary issue; my primary concern is the durability of the yarn. It will be interesting to see which sets need to be repaired next.

Fingers crossed that any mending is a long way off.

What projects have you recently powered through?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Repairing Socks and Knitting Needles

In the hierarchy of fun projects, repairs rank just below practical projects for me. Repairs to practical projects? Oof.

In late 2016 and again in mid-2017, I knit wool furniture socks from scrap yarn. I made sets for our six dining room chairs and a set for our sofa. The socks protect our wood floors, and stay in place better than adhesive felt pads. I chose wool because I thought it would be gentle on the floors while also being durable.

Chair wearing a knit sock next to one with a slipped felt pad.
A chair wearing a sock next to one with a slipped felt pad.

This past December, I noticed that the set on one dining room chair was worn through. Thinking the rest of the chair socks were likely the same, I mentally prepared for knitting another six sets.

Close-up of the hole worn through the bottom of a chair sock.

I had knit the original sets from the top down. As I gave it more thought, I realized I could simply take apart and reknit the lower end of each sock. And I was excited to discover that only the one set needed to be repaired — on the chair our children use the most when doing homework. My chore had eased considerably!

But our kitchen chairs had begun slipping off their felt pads, as had our coffee table. That’s another seven sets that needed to be knit. The project was squarely back in the chore category.

Close-up of the newly knit bottom on a chair sock.
The lighting is different, but the top of this repaired sock is the same.

It’s slow-going, but I’ve repaired the initial set and knit three more sets so far. This time, I’m using scrap acrylic yarn. I’m a little nervous that it might be too abrasive for the floors, but acrylics are so soft these days that I’m optimistic. It will be interesting to see if they’re more durable than the wool.

A set of hand-knit chair socks on the legs of a kitchen chair.

Needle Repair Tip — or Needle Tip Repair?
When knitting the furniture socks, I’ve been using worsted weight yarn on US-5 (3.75 mm) double-point needles. I double the yarn at the bottom of each sock for extra durability. Unfortunately, this also puts extra strain on my needles. Have I mentioned that I can be a tight knitter to begin with? The needles I’m using are birch hardwood; a few of them have begun to splinter at the tips and catch on the yarn.

Close-up of splintered tip on a wooden knitting needle, next to nail file and polish.
Can you see the roughness of the damaged needle tip?

Fortunately, wooden needle tips can be easily repaired. I keep a nail file with my knitting supplies, and it works well to buff out those splinters. After I’ve “sanded” the needle tips, I give them a light coat of clear nail polish to protect them against future wear. To ensure the nail polish has time to cure, I like to let the needles rest overnight before knitting with them again.

Close-up of repaired tip on a wooden knitting needle, next to nail file and polish.
Sanded smooth and clear-coated.

I’ve made it to the halfway point of this practical project, and I’ve salvaged a set of damaged knitting needles. Meanwhile, I’m daydreaming about projects that rank higher on my fun-scale. How do different types of projects rank for you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Grapevine Socks

I may have mentioned this before: Socks are comfort knitting for me.

After my bad sweater experience, and with a cold coming on, I felt the need to cast on a new pair of socks.

Feet crossed at the ankles wearing dark green hand-knit socks on white background

With a skein of Dream in Color Smooshy in colorway 43 Boot Camp, I started knitting Grapevine by Charlene Schurch. The pattern is from her book “More Sensational Knitted Socks,” and it knit up quickly on US-1.5 (2.5 mm) needles.

Top view of feet wearing dark green hand-knit socks on white background

The lace motif was probably a little more complicated than I needed while nursing a cold, but it would have been fine under normal circumstances. If I made any mistakes along the way, I haven’t noticed them yet! The fit is perfect.

Feet with soles together wearing dark green hand-knit socks on white background

I’m off to drink more orange juice. What are your go-to comfort projects?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Knit Diamond Pullover, Garment Ease and Schematics

It took me six weeks to knit this sweater.

In November, I wrote about starting the #07 Diamond Peplum Pullover pattern by Jill Wright from the the Holiday 2012 issue of Vogue Knitting. The yarn I chose is Plymouth Yarn Reserve Sport in the colorway 306 Mauve Mix. It’s incredibly soft and the colors are a mix of light to medium lavender, ivory, and beige.

Front View of Hand-Knit Diamond Peplum Pullover in Light Purple

This sweater highlights the struggle I have with garment patterns, for knitting as well as sewing. The instructions describe it as a “very close fitting pullover” but give no further information as far as how the pattern’s measurements should relate to the wearer’s body measurements.

If you’re familiar with making clothing, then you know about the concept of ease. Ease is the difference between your body measurements and the garment measurements. This is useful in not only achieving the look you want but also in making sure you can move in your clothes!

For some items of clothing, particularly those made with fabric that doesn’t stretch, you’ll want positive ease. That means the garment will measure larger than your body.

But for other items, made with fabrics that stretch, you may want zero ease or even negative ease. That means the garment measurements will be either the same as your body measurements or a bit smaller.

Back View of Hand-Knit Diamond Peplum Pullover in Light Purple

The amount of ease you include when creating a garment will depend, in part, on the type of garment. For example, a jacket will likely have more positive ease than a blouse because you need to allow space for wearing other clothes under the jacket. But ease will also depend on personal preference, both for a particular garment type — jeans versus dress slacks, for example — and for how you generally like clothes to fit on your body.

If a pattern doesn’t explicitly state how much ease is intended for the garment, we’re left to guess. There are, unfortunately, no industry standards that I can find to relate fit descriptions to ease.

But we’re not left completely in the dark when the pattern includes a schematic. This to-scale line drawing shows the measurements at each size for every piece of the garment. At the beginning of the pattern, the size information is typically given in relation to bust size alone. By referencing the schematic at the end of the pattern, you can check the rest of the measurements and decide whether any particular aspect of the pattern needs adjusting.

Back to the Diamond Peplum Pullover: my measurements are three inches (7.6 cm) larger than one size, and two inches (5 cm) smaller than the next size. My gauge on US-3 (3.25 mm) and US-6 (4.0 mm) needles measured tighter than the gauge needed for the pattern, which meant my finished garment would be smaller than whatever size I chose. More than three inches of negative ease sounded like it would be too close-fitting for me, but less than two inches of positive ease should result in a nice skimming fit. I set to work, adding an inch (2.5 cm) to the length.

The finished pullover fits me terribly. The top is so loose that the shoulders, three inches wider than the measurements given in the schematic, droop down my arms. Moving down two sizes, which would be a half inch (1 cm) smaller than my actual shoulder measurements according to the schematic, should make the pullover just a little too large at my shoulders. At that size, the ribbing at the bottom would be embarrassingly tight on me.

Action View of Hand-Knit Diamond Peplum Pullover in Light Purple

And, yes, I double-checked my gauge. After blocking, it’s consistently 23 stitches over four inches of stockinette stitch on the larger needles, while the pattern calls for 22 stitches under the same conditions.

What I did not check ahead of time was that the math works between the gauge, the number of stitches, and the schematic. I shouldn’t have to do that, but if I had I would have learned before casting on that the numbers don’t match up as they should.

Ultimately, there is more than one problem here. The pattern sizing is unclear at best as far as ease. The stitch count given for each size is not consistent with the schematic measurements. And I chose a garment style that doesn’t work well with my body shape and fit preferences — I would need to change the bust-to-waist proportions considerably in order for the pullover to fit me, and at that point the look of the garment would be completely different than what was intended.

It took me six weeks to knit this sweater, but only an evening to rip it all out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Welcome to 2019

2018 was another year full of changes. Nothing drastic, but we’re still feeling the ripples brought about by our move across the country in 2017. One thing that hasn’t changed this year is that I’ve continued to create:

Sewing:
  • 20 hand-stitched flower blocks for The Hexagon Project
  • 5 coasters
  • 2 quilts made, plus 1 repaired
  • 2 pairs of panties
  • 2 cushions
  • 1 tunic
  • 1 dress
  • 1 teddy bear
  • 1 lining for a felted bag
  • 1 pillow
  • 1 placemat
  • 1 luggage tag

Knitting:
  • 5 tops, one of which will be shared in early 2019
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 4 hats
  • 2 basket liners
  • 1 pair of mittens
  • 1 teddy bear
  • 1 rug

Spinning:
  • 511 yards of two-ply mystery wool
  • 185 yards of two-ply merino wool

My best nine pics from Instagram in 2018 are almost all knitting projects.

I read four art-related books, knit more blocks onto my scrap blankets, and made a no-sew fabric ornament. I finished setting up my sewing space, then organized my fashion fabrics and clothing patterns in Trello. I updated the layout of this site in anticipation of releasing new knitting patterns.

What I didn’t do was actually release those new patterns. I also didn’t explore local art museums and events as I had hoped. I plan to correct both of those in 2019.

I’ve enjoyed getting back to more sewing after having my machine packed and inaccessible for so long. But my new sewing space is in the basement. I don’t like to spend time alone down there when the rest of my family is home, which means I’m still not sewing as often as I would like.

I want to continue to find ways to use the sock yarn I have left over from previous projects, and I want to knit more warm-weather tops. The wool chair socks I knit last year are starting to wear through; I need to either mend or recreate them. Perhaps an acrylic yarn would hold up better?

I’ve been itching to do some spinning, and the bobbin lace pillow has been calling my name. I haven’t tried any exercises from the tatting book I bought before we moved, and I keep coming across my quilling supplies.

All that to say, I’m not sure yet what you’ll see on this blog in 2019. I’m settling into a new normal, and the items I make reflect what our lives call for or allow at a given time. I can’t foresee what I’ll make, but I know that I’ll keep making.

I wish the best for you and yours in 2019! What do you have planned for the new year?