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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Borders and Such

Stockinette (where we knit one row, purl the next) is such a useful, simple texture.  We do see it in stockings, after all, and, in miniature, in tricot jerseys or other garments.  It's the texture most people automatically think of when they think "knitted."

It's a good stitch for production knitting.  Many experienced craftspeople find they can work stockinette without looking, guided by touch alone.  It's that automatic.

But stockinette likes to roll at the edges--that means at the bottom as well as at the sides.  When you choose stockinette, be aware of this tendency.  One of my favorite sweaters, a plain-vanilla stockinette mock turtle,  uses the natural rolled edge of stockinette to good advantage:  hem, sleeves, and neck all roll gently back on themselves.  It's part of the design.

But what if, like my dear little mama, you want to knit a long scarf, in stockinette, and have it lie flat?

Then you are going to need a border, my dears.  A simple one, a shallow one will do; three stitches will suffice if you choose them well.

Lady Folderol (featured on the right) uses seed stitch:  k1, p1, k1 begins every row.  You'll see seed on the edges of the ties in Lapped Hearts Neckwarmer. Seed stitch makes a good border for scarves, as well.  It will keep your scarf from curling into a tube when finished.

Garter stitch (where you knit every row) makes a decent scarf border, although it can tend to pucker vertically.  Steam blocking can counteract this.

Good old ribbing makes an elastic hem suitable for sweaters and vests, but if you choose it for a scarf hem, keep it really shallow.  Two or three rows at the bottom and three stitches at each side will be enough to keep your scarf flat, and if it does draw in more than you'd like, then let the flat lady teach it a little discipline.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Never Let it See You Sweat

I knew better, I knew better, but so eager was I to get back to that recalcitrant row on this most recalcitrant of patterns (Lady Folderol; you'll see her when she's ready to debut) that as soon as I'd finished with the lunch dishes and made a hasty swipe at the dish towel, I picked up that bamboo yarn on those bamboo needles.


Squeak.  Crunch.  Cling.  Stick.  Squeak.

Bamboo is thirsty.  It's a grass, after all.  Even in its fiber state, spun into yarn, it still sucks up any moisture that might remain on your hands.  This, I can promise, you will regret, for even very, very slightly moist bamboo does not move easily along your needles.  It will grab your bamboo needle and cling like a burr.

So if you're working with bamboo in the summer, or if you're just a nervous knitter, it might be worth keeping a little terry facecloth handy in case your palms begin to sweat.

Think of it as a side rag for knitters.      

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Confessions of a Bean Counter

I must admit it:  I cannot visualize geometry through arithmetic.  Those numbered increases I need to make for the yoke of the bamboo ruffled fol-de-rol, so you can get it right the first time instead of floundering around as I’ve had to do (see “Lost in Numberland”), simply will not work out for me through addition and subtraction.  The numbers just slide all around in my mind.

That’s why, when Hubbest came home today, he said, “What ever are you doing with my beans?” referring to the 19 black beans and the 93 white beans that were strung out in a l-o-n-g row on the dining room table.

“Knitting, of course,” I replied. 

Well, the last time he’d seen me do this—use manipulatives to represent stitches—they were jigsaw puzzle pieces, laid right side up or upside down (we were on our Land Cruise, with no beans in sight), so no wonder he was confused.    

Friday, May 27, 2011

Second Knit Required

It’s finally off the needles, that piece that had me Lost in Numberland.  And I still didn’t get it right.  Where the back yoke should lie smooth, it’s ruffled. 

This wasn’t obvious until the finished piece was blocked, since it’s knitted of bamboo, which becomes limpid and drapey only under steam.  Argghhhh.

Now, I can salvage the prototype by taking a few darts in the back yoke, and since it’s bamboo, which yields so nicely to steam, it will barely be obvious.  It will wear the same and look nearly the same. 

But I can’t give the instructions to YOU that way.  It must be gotten right.

So there’s nothing for it but a second knit, ‘cause I’m sure not gonna rip a blocked piece back to its base.

The big-name designers must have test knitters, accurate folks for whom it’s their first time with any given design, detail-oriented folks who can say, “There’s something wrong here” and suggest how to fix it.  Perhaps the yarn company that buys the design provides the test knitter(s); I wouldn’t know.  

I’m just out here eating the spiders.

I think I’ll dip a few in chocolate.     

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ounces and Yards

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating:  when you're buying yarn, the only measure that really matters is yardage.

Oh, you'll see patterns that call for, say, six or eight or twelve or eighteen ounces of a name brand, never specifying yardage.  I suspect that such a yarn company, who paid the designer for developing the pattern, is hoping you won't feel secure substituting another yarn.  And without the ounce-to-yard equivalent, it would be a little dicey, for you'd have to deliberately overbuy to have enough.

But look at any pattern on Ravelry (dot com) and you'll see the buying instructions expressed in yards.  As they should be.

Have you ever wished you could buy just that certain number of yards of yarn?  "Just wind me off 178 yards of that gorgeous angora, please."

Nope.  It's the whole skein or nothing.

Not so with roving, the raw stuff from which your yarn is hand spun.  Though some fiber does come prepackaged by the ounce or two (the pygora clouds I bought from Applebright Farms were put up that way, of necessity, being wound in brown paper like a jelly roll), in many cases you can ask for . . . oh, about five and a half ounces, to take a not-round number . . . and the proprietor will dutifully wind you off a good guess, weighing it in a preweighed bin until the right amount has been added.  Like hamburger from a butcher shop.  Or half a pound of nails from the hardware.

Then it's up to the spinner to make it go the distance. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Roving and More Roving

It didn't set out to be a buying trip, my Land Cruise through Oregon, though I knew well enough I was headed into prime fiber territory.
I'll just stop in at Pacific Wool and Fiber in Newberg, I thought, and see if they can match that remnant of whatever-kind-of-wool-it-is that I ran out of about two-thirds of the way through the lacy shell.  

But in the eleventh hour I learned that Pacific Wool and Fiber had chosen those two days--those two very days--to move to new quarters.  I'd have to settle for dealing by mail again. 

All the more magical, then, that in Roseburg I stumbled upon a beads-and-yarn shop.  A beads-and-yarn shop that also carried roving.  A beads-and-yarn shop that had the very same cream-colored whatever-kind-of-wool-it-is I needed

When Rumplestiltskin winks, I pay attention.

So it was "I'll have eight ounces of this, and twelve of that, and this lovely painted braid, and that--oh my goodness, how beautiful!"  Just scooping it up like candy.

The owner, of only three months' tenure, beamed when I exclaimed over the skein of icy-blue painted merino I HAD to have, for it was she who had painted it. 

I would not have realized its beauty, seeing it upon a computer monitor.  She would not have tried to sell it that way, having had no success with etsy.  But there I was, nearly giggling with excitement, and there she was, smiling at my appreciation.

The circle of inspiration had been completed; creative vision had manifested its admirer. 

I love it when that happens.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Playing With the Pygoras

Day before yesterday I held little Magnolia in my arms.  Less than a week old, she was.  I could feel her tiny heart racing as she peered up at me.  Right now her coat is a lustrous, silky black--baby black, said Jan, the breeder; it will soon turn its permanent silver shade.

But her twin wore a different shade altogether.  Pygoras range in hue from creamy white through wonderful shades of peach/apricot (the "reds"), to a rich brown.

I couldn't resist bringing home a reddish blend, the product of two separate pygora does, put up as a "cloud," looking like a jelly roll, brown paper on the outside, the heavenly soft pygora fiber inside.  I can hardly wait to put it on the wheel.  It's pure pygora, not blended with merino, so it's going to spin, knit, and wear like cashmere, I suspect.

Pygora fiber deserves a wider audience.  Right now, only a few discerning shops stock it.  But breeders who send their fleeces out for processing, as does Jan Becker of Applebright Farms, may sell the resulting roving direct, by mail.

The product you buy bears the name of the individual from which it came, so identification is easy.  Since pygoras come in such a wide range of hues, and of shades within those hues, do be sure to get enough to complete your project, unless you know the breeder/seller has more of that individual's product on hand.

Spinning to a two-ply, sport weight yarn, I find I get about 150 yards to two ounces of roving.  On this trip to Applebright Farms, I brought home six ounces of 100% pygora in a red blend, and six ounces of creamy white blended with 10% tussah silk.

The cost of this exquisite fiber, so highly labor intensive in its production, is more than justified by the luxurious nature of the knitted garment.

And after all, when your own time is your biggest investment, why not work with the very best?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Designers and Spiders

When I said, "That's what designers go through; we rip so you don't have to," it brought to mind a story:

Long ago and far away, I was visiting with my neighbor and her two little boys.

Scott, the toddler, spied a wolf spider running across the room.  Quick as a bird, he snatched it up and stuffed the hairy spider in his mouth. 

His preschool brother looked up at their mother in wonderment.  "Gee, Mom," he said, "aren't we lucky we've got Scotty to eat our spiders for us?"

Designers eat the spiders for you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lost in Numberland

Where have I been, you wonder?  Lost in Numberland, I reply.  Wandering vaguely.

There’s this blouse, you see, that inspired a vision, a vision of a yoke embracing back and shoulders but transforming into a ruffled front.  Simple enough, thought I, knowing that it’s all in the numbers.

But a merry chase those numbers have led. 

Sideways wouldn’t work; beginning at the front, relying on short rows, proved a dead end.  Rip and try again.

Top-down held promise, relying on regular increases.  The yoke, a series of wedges, complied.  The ruffle perplexed.  Follow along:

(Row 1: *KLL, k9.  Row 2: Purl.   Row 3: *KLL, k10.  Row 4:  Purl.  Row 5:  *KLL, k11.  Purl.) 

Can you see the wedges developing?  So far, so good.

Now the ruffle for 12 stitches: 
(Row 1:  *KLL.  Row 2:  Purl.  Row 3:  *KLL.  Row 4:  Purl.) 

What’s happening?
Right:  all jammed up.  Rip and try again.  Give it more room.

Same song, second verse, ruffle for 12: 
(Row 1:  *KLL, k1.  Row 2:  Purl.  Row 3:  *KLL, k1.  Row 4:  Purl.) 

Any better?  A little, but needing more room.  Rip and try again.

Same song, third verse, ruffle for 12: 
(Row 1:  *KLL, k2.  Row 2:  Purl.  Row 3:  *KLL, k2.  Row 4:  Purl.) 

After 18 rows of this logic, the ruffle-for-12 no longer fit on the needles, the increases were crowded in so tight. 

Then came my epiphany:  the yoke worked because, numerically, it resembled a slice of a Fibonacci sequence, an ever-expanding spiral.  The ruffle didn’t work because it didn’t build on itself in the same way; it was creating a spiral whose width didn’t expand.  I was merely building wider corkscrews.

Palm to forehead.  Duh! 

Here’s what I know and had forgotten:  Numbers only look flat.  Beyond that deception, their implications play out as replicating wedges, expanding spirals, constrained corkscrews.  Because every number has its numberNESS, its geometry as a result of its arithmetic. 

This is what designers go through.  Or avoid, if they’re experienced/smart enough. 

We rip so you don’t have to.   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Don't Skip the Test Swatch!

"Don't chase the wheel," said My Teacher Paula.

The same applies to knitting.  Rushing fiercely into garment production, without having invested time in gauge preparation.

Who among us, eager to begin that journey of a million stitches, has not bypassed knitting our own test swatch?  The designer made that decision for us, we rationalize.

Yet, though the yarn be the same and the needle size identical, the designer's knitting is not yours, any more than their handwriting is.  Glenna's knitting always looked done from handspun; Ivy's mimics a machine's regularity. 

Over the course of a million, or a thousand, or a hundred, or a dozen stitches, those differences add up.

You're even different from yourself, over the course of a large test swatch.  I always cast on double or three times what the gauge measurement would predict.  If the gauge is 19 stitches to 4 inches, I'll cast on about 42–45.  Then I'll measure 4 inches worth at three or four spots along that length, settling on the average of those measurements.

I know, I know it's not micrometer material, but when it comes to handwork, numbers are not as cut-and-dried as you might imagine.

And what you begin, will inexorably reveal the mathematics of its foundation.  The implications of an idea.

Be sound in your foundations.  Knit that test swatch! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Not Getting Ahead of Yourself

My Teacher Paula said something else that has stuck with me:

"Don't chase the wheel."

To the uninitiate, watching an accomplished spinner at work, it would appear as if the whirring wheel, driven by the spinner's treadling, is the driving force. 

It's not.  All the wheel does is put a twist on things, at the same time winding the twisted threads onto the bobbin, thus neatly storing them out of the way.

Watch a little kid sit down at someone's spinning wheel and pump away at the treadle.  Watch the mess that quickly accrues.

It's all in the preparation.  How the fibers are pulled out from the roving.  How the twist is restrained (producing worsted) or allowed to ride up into the roving (producing woolen).  How well the tempo of the draft matches the tempo of the treadling.

A novice will just pull away, pump away.  But a seasoned spinner will pause the treadling to make corrections to the thread, eliminating slubs or filling in thin spots.

It's all about seeing where the real action is.  It's all about not getting ahead of yourself. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

One-Way Roving

Paula (patient Paula; tall, strong Paula; Paula the sheep-raiser, Paula of the hard-working hands), Paula taught me to spin. 

The lady who sold Hubbest my Ashford Joy wheel had failed.  "Just do it like this," she'd intoned, as she continued her own spinning.  A fiber person all my life, I'd never felt so lamely foolish as I did at being unable to imitate her. 

Working alone hadn't worked.  The wheel balked, the wheel slipped, the roving clumped, the roving fell apart, until in frustration I gave it up.

Hubbest believed in me, though.  Even though the wheel sat unused for . . . was it three years? 

Then, through a note on a bulletin board in a fabric store, I connected with My Teacher Paula.  (That's how she put it, "My Teacher," referring to the woman from whom she'd learned.) 

It's a chain of wisdom, a hands-on passing of the knowledge, like knitting and crocheting and quilting and weaving, all those crafts that link us to our forebears in productive creativity.

Anyway, My Teacher Paula said that roving has direction.  Pull from the wrong end and the fibers can cling and snag.  Pull from the right end and they surrender gracefully to your draft. 

I couldn't feel it then, with that white corriedale roving.  But I was willing to believe her.

Today Buckwheat, the pygora wether, proved her correct.  Having run out halfway through my Buckwheat project, I'd had to send for some more.  All willy-nilly, I picked it up to spin and on Day One it slid with sweet surrender toward my spinning bobbin, drawing from the roving as gracefully as it had when this project began.

But today I went at it from the wrong end. 


Paula's words came back to me, then.  "Roving has direction.  Pull from the right end."

She was right. 

Whirr, whirr, whirr.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


It'd been coming along well, my newest creation, a v-necked ladies' shell knitted of corriedale and bamboo I'd spun and plied together.  Lacy, airy, floaty, enticing . . . until the yarn ran out.  Halfway up the final front half.

Sure, there was plenty of bamboo roving in my stash, but I'd used the very last of the corriedale.

Except for that small test ball where I'd plied corriedale with itself.  If only I could unwind that winding.

Well, why not?  If a drop spindle can spin (maybe that's why they call it a spindle)?, why can't the same principle unspin?

So picture this:  Having teased apart about two feet of corriedale from the bamboo with which it was entwined, and having carefully hand-wound each end onto a bobbin—clockwise, of course—and having tucked a small lead weight inside the plied ball, for heft, and having secured the weighted, plied ball loosely with a rubber band to prevent too much yarn from unwinding, here stand I, winding with the right hand, winding with the left hand, while the weighted ball-to-be-unspun is twisting in the wind.

It took about ten times longer to un-ply than it had taken to ply those threads together, but finally, finally I had two separate bobbins of corriedale.  Ready to meet their bamboo mates.