Friday, December 31, 2010

Wrapping up

Last year I did a big year-end wrap-up post (technically it was this year) going through everything that I had made in 2009. I'll probably try to pull something like that together this weekend for 2010 but first I've got too much to catch up on from the last two weeks to even think about the last year.

First off, Mr. Tinks and Frogs wanted me to pass along his thanks to everyone who commented on his weaving post - he really enjoyed hearing from all of you.

Speaking of Mr. Tinks and Frogs, I managed to sneak in a surprise xmas gift. And I do really mean a surprise (I could have sworn my cover was blown a few times but he assured me he didn't know I was even working on this).

Technically, he already knew about sock #1 (finished sometime in November), but he's so used to me taking months to finish a pair that sock #2 was a complete surprise. I worked on these before he got home in the evenings (a side benefit of having a significantly shorter commute) and then had to send him off on some last-minute holiday shopping on the 24th so that I could have more secret knitting time, but they're done!

The yarn is Lorna's Laces shepherd sock in the Pullman colorway - something that Mr. Tinks and Frogs had picked out a few months ago. (As a quick aside, you may be interested to know that Lorna's Laces is a Chicago company and a lot of its colorways are named after Chicago neighborhoods. The Pullman neighborhood is on the south side of the city, located a bit south and west of the loop.)

What's that funky looking sock construction? It's the Upstream architecture from Cat Bordhi's book New Pathways for Sock Knitters. It's worked toe up and all of the gusset/arch increases are on the top of the foot, which is great for people like DH who have what I like to think of as "giant sized hobbit feet." You can't really see it in the picture because the socks are quite slimming, but take my word for it that socks for size 11 feet, knit up at a gauge of 8.5 spi and 11 rpi are enormous and use a lot of stitches.

What else have I kept under wraps? I've been debating whether to call this next project "done" because it still needs a button, but I'd love to get it off my WIP list so here it is. My handspun BSJ:

I had quite a close call with this little project. The yarn, as I mentioned, is handspun - a Grafton batt purchased ages ago that I had spun up into a navajo-plied fingering weight yarn. These batts have between 3 and 4 ounces of fiber in them and I knew I had around 300 yards of finished yarn (maybe a bit more but I'm notoriously bad about taking yardage notes when I spin) and no way to get any more. I was planning on making a full BSJ, with a button placket and everything, but this is how much yarn I had. Actually, I was quite nervous that I wouldn't even be able to finish the bind-off. But I made it! With about 10 inches to spare. That wasn't nerve-wracking. No, not at all.

That's ok, the yarn makes up for just about anything, don't you think?

Now I've just got to find a button and sew it on. I can do that in two months, right?

As you can see, I'm getting my act together on the baby knitting front, but I've still got a long way to go (and plenty of things that I want to knit - more on that later). For now, I want to get you up to speed on the project that has kept me enthralled for the past few weeks. But first, a little bit of background:

When I found out I was pregnant, there was one project that I knew I definitely wanted to knit for the tadpole: Anne Hanson's Honey Baby Blanket (rav link). My mother graciously offered to get the original pattern yarn as a birthday present to me and we spent a couple of weeks pouring over the dyer's website to pick the color. While I loved the yellow that Anne had originally used, Mr. Tinks and Frogs and I have far too much pink in our complexions to look good in yellow, so I didn't think the tadpole would either. I'm also not a huge fan of baby pastel colors and that ruled out any of the kits. Finally, after much debate and a healthy dose of stalking different colors on Ravelry, I picked out the Oakmoss colorway. As pictured, it was a medium green with hints of gold and brown - really, really lovely. And safely gender neutral since we didn't know at that point.

The oakmoss page for the particular yarn the pattern called for said something like "the color is a bit more yellow than shown here." So I looked at how the color appeared elsewhere on the website and found a more yellow-green version that was still very pretty. Mom went ahead and placed the order and several weeks later I got the yarn (no shipping confirmation or tracking number, but that's a gripe for another day). The yarn base was lovely - it's a 2-ply superwash fingering weight yarn with a very nice sheen. But it was certainly "a bit more yellow" than what I had expected. I thought I had picked a green and what came was this:

Don't get me wrong, the yarn is lovely. It's just not what I wanted. It has too much green in it to be old gold and not enough green to be, well, green. Just ignore it, I told myself, maybe it'll look different/better/something once it's knit up. So I knit and knit, working my way through chart A of the pattern.

There were times and certain lighting conditions where I rather liked the piece, but ultimately I decided that I just didn't like the yarn for that project. I don't know that I've ever scrapped a project because of the yarn before and it was actually a pretty tough decision to frog this one. After all this was the project that I wanted to knit for the tadpole and there were some times when I actually liked what it looked like. But only liking the thing some of the time wasn't good enough.

So I frogged. (Come to think of it, I'm not sure I even re-wound that first skein I was working through). Let's just say that I stole the needle back.

Then came the three-day period where I'm pretty sure I looked at every single fingering weight yarn on the market, trying to find a replacement that felt right. Sure, there were some really lovely gender-appropriate colors available on the original dyer's website but between what felt a bit like a bait and switch with the color we'd ordered and what seemed like a complete lack of customer service (not bad customer service necessarily, just a lack of communication), I wasn't inclined to go there again. Which is really too bad - the yarn base was beautiful, the skeins came nicely packaged in a pretty bag and tied with a bit of laceweight that made me want to go buy that yarn in every color available, and I'd been reading such glowing reviews of this dyer for a couple of years now. Maybe if I see some at a fiber festival. Maybe. But I'm just not ready to buy anything from her right now.

Finally, when I was getting just a little bit (to say the least!) frustrated at not finding what I was looking for (a difficult thing when you can't describe it any more clearly than "I'll know it when I see it"), I clicked over to the Briar Rose website. I've used Briar Rose fibers and yarns before, most recently in the Coraline that I worked up during the Knitting Olympics, so I knew the yarns would be stunning. What I didn't remember was whether Chris had fingering weight yarns available. She did! And Sea Pearl was exactly what I was looking for - it even came in a colorway that screamed "this is it!" There was just one problem: the website had only one skein available and I needed two.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I sent Chris, the owner and dyer-extraordinare of Briar Rose Fibers, a message through ravelry asking if she would be willing to custom dye two skeins of sea pearl to match what I had seen on her website, and if this could be done sometime in the next month. The next day I got a message back saying yes, she'd be delighted to do it and would two weeks be a quick enough turn-around? Let me just say that I've met Chris all of three times in the past few years - each time at a fiber festival when her booth has been absolutely packed (and rightly so - her yarns and fibers are nothing short of gorgeous) - and we've exchanged a few comments via ravelry in that time. Amazingly, she remembered exactly who I was when I wrote to her and sounded eager and enthusiastic about my yarn request. I don't usually go in for warm fuzzy feelings, but that's the only way I can describe our exchanges as we talked about the yarn (she assured me that the tencel in sea pearl made the yarn relatively tough to felt, i.e. (hopefully) impervious to baby drool, and wanted to make sure she knew exactly what colors I wanted in the yarn so that it came out of the dye pot just right). It was the perfect way to kick start Honey Baby, v2.

Two weeks (and a shipping confirmation, with tracking number!) later, I had this:

Perfect, no?

As soon as I had finished up my mother's Peaks Island, I cast on for the Honey Baby and off I went.

The first week saw me through chart A (what you see above, as I switched from a 24" to a 47" circular needle). Week two got me through chart B. Now week three is drawing to a close and I'm hoping to finish up chart C by the end of the weekend. Only 12 more rows to go but at 700-ish stitches, the rows are taking a bit longer these days.

Mr. Tinks and Frogs and I drove up to Minnesota to visit with family earlier this week, so I had several hours of car knitting to spend with this fantastic project. Every time I pick it up, I can't get over how much I love the yarn - it fits the project perfectly and is exactly what I was looking for.

These pictures are a couple of weeks old but new ones will have to wait until the sun comes back out. Keep your fingers crossed for this weekend. But for now, it's time for me to get back to the blanket. I can't wait to see how the piece looks once it's all done!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Outsourcing revealed - a guest post from Mr. Tinks and Frogs

What's all this "outsourcing" I've been hinting at over the last few weeks? Mr. Tinks and Frogs kindly agreed to make one of our xmas gifts this year - a scarf for my grandfather. Plus, he also agreed to write a blog post about his adventures with weaving this year. So, without further ado, here it is:

Last March we decided our household needed another fiber habit, so Rue presented me with this:

(That's a Kromski rigid heddle loom.  With a scarf on it.  My scarf!  Which has just come off the loom and is soon to be my first handmade Xmas present of the season.* Not that I'm proud or anything.)

This is actually the third project to come off the loom.  The first was an experiment in texture and learning the loom - a project only the creator could love.  But the second turned out a bit better.

Let's take one more look at that, shall we?

That's Noro sock yarn repurposed for weaving a scarf, but it does OK for weaving projects as well.

So, three projects done so far.  The goal is one more for the holiday season.  Which brings us to point one about weaving (point zero being: can't you make amazing things?!) - starting is the worst part.  Or perhaps more nicely put: once you've got a project on the loom, it's all downhill from there.  But, after an evening of warping (often helped by some wine), you get something like this: 

That knot brings us to point two about weaving: yarn does break.  Particularly when you're keeping it under tension.  Maybe sometime I should try weaving with some of the yarn meant for weaving, rather than simply helping Rue work through her stash.  Certainly the Noro, with just a single ply and varying widths which at times got caught in the heddle, was at times somewhat frustrating to weave with.  But with results like this, how can I not keep working with it?

 *Rue reminded me that I did knit a scarf for my father a couple of years ago.  So this is not my first handmade Xmas present. But it is the first woven project.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On a roll (FO: Peaks Island Hood)

Last weekend, my knitting goal was to finish my mom's Peaks Island. Check! (I'm close to meeting my knitting goal for this weekend, too, but that will have to wait for another post.)

Now I just have to wrap it up and stick it in the mail. Mr. Tinks and Frogs and I hopped outside for a quick photo shoot yesterday. Very quick, indeed, since it was a balmy 12 degrees outside.

Still, that was definitely long enough to capture just how gorgeous this yarn is.

Happily, I even have an entire skein left over that I get to turn into a hat for me. I'm thinking Habitat. But before I get carried away with thoughts of new knits, here are the specs on this latest FO:

Pattern: Peaks Island Hood by Ysolda Teague
Yarn: 2 skeins Malabrigo Rios, colorway purpuras
Needle: size 8 addi lace circular
Mods: other than adding a few more rows in the shorter leg of the scarf to account for my smaller row gauge, none at all. (Ok, I didn't put buttons on - see below.)

Other notes: I noticed this the first time I knit this pattern, but it really hit me on this iteration - as written (or at least as I knit it) the pattern produces a short leg that is way too short to look like the pattern picture. In the pattern photo, the legs cross nicely and there is plenty of room to button the legs together comfortably. Not so here. The long leg hangs down twice as far as the short one and it would look really odd to button them together like that. But it does look lovely flung back around your neck/shoulder again.

So no buttons for the moment. I think it looks great as is. Merry Xmas, Mom!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Can I at least try them on first?

The following conversation took place as Mr. Tinks and Frogs and I were folding laundry and I just had to share.

Me (pointing to a sad looking blue wad): Do you remember what I said about a certain pair of socks?
Him: huh?
Me: And their machine washability, or lack thereof?
Him: uh ...
Me: You realize this is going to be a blog post, right?
Him: Can I at least try them on first?
[short pause]
Him: Hey look, my foot still fits! That's even kind of where the heel is supposed to be.

Moral of this story: even the best of husbands should not get hand-wash only socks.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On the home stretch

The end of my holiday knitting is in sight! I've got one last project to finish up and then I'm done. So what snuck into my knitting queue at the end of last month? Another Peak's Island, this time in the to-die-for (or rather, tweak-the-rules-on-the-stash-diet) Malabrigo Rios.

I knit the seed stitch portion above the shell pattern while we watched the new Denzel Washington movie over Thanksgiving weekend - this is a good pattern for dark movie theaters.

But what about the stash diet? Yes, yes, I know, the stash diet is a bit of a sore subject around here and this project fell into one of the few exceptions I had left in the rules: gifts for which I had no appropriate stash yarn.

My mom and sister came out to visit for Thanksgiving weekend and we got to show them just how cold and windy it can get here in Chicago. Of course, this also meant that I got to show off what a great winter accessory Peaks Island is (paired with a hat, of course). So it was only natural that my mom and I decided that a Peaks Island Hood would be the perfect gift for her. I knew I didn't have anything appropriate in the stash (shocking, really, given the shear size of the stash at this point), my mom fell in love with Rios when we went to my LYS (who wouldn't?), and the shop had a 20% off sale. What else was I supposed to do? Besides, it's a quick project and I'll be back to stash busting soon enough.

Seriously, how can you resist this yarn?

Alright, time for me to get back to work. I hope to have this project finished in the next day or two. Don't worry, I'm much farther along than the first picture would suggest. It's completely doable . . . I think.

Monday, December 6, 2010

FO: Venezia Pillows

I've actually got progress to show on the gift-knitting front. My Venezia Pillows are done!

For the moment, I'm going to ignore the fact that these were supposed to be a birthday present for N, whose birthday is in mid-November, and just enjoy the fact that I have another FO. N, I hope you like your birthday/xmas present.

Here's the back:

This shot makes it much more clear that I flipped the colors for pillow #2. The venezia pattern is so well-balanced that you have to look closely to see which color is dominant. Not so with the lozenge pattern on the back. And that's a big part of how I avoided "second pillow syndrome." It's much easier to knit #2 when it's not exactly the same as #1.

The yarn, Cascade 220 Heathers, performs very nicely in stranded colorwork. Far better than I had expected, actually.

This was definitely a pattern mod, albeit a heavy modification of Eunny Jang's gorgeous Venezia Pullover (ravelry link). I'm not going to put out a pattern on this one (even a free pattern) since that comes far too close to a copyright violation for my liking (also, any "pattern" should really include a copy of the chart that I put together and that would definitely violate copyright).

All that said, I will happily share my notes/design process for anyone who wants to make some of these. Here goes . . . 

How to Make Venezia Pillows

Yarn: 1 skein each of a Main Color and a Contrast Color in Cascade 220 for one pillow. To be on the safe side, shoot for 2 pillows (2 skeins of each color). The venezia pattern is balanced, i.e., it uses up the same amount of each color. The lozenge pattern on the back is not balanced - it uses up far more of the main color than the contrast color. I was able to finish the first pillow with only one skein of each color but had to steal a bit of those leftovers in the main color to finish pillow #2. If you like living on the wild side, go ahead and try one pillow (just don't say I didn't warn you).

Needles: I used size 6 circular needles for the striped top and bottom (more on that in a minute) and size 8 circular needles for the colorwork sections. That was what I needed to maintain consistent gauge. Of course, use whatever combination works for you.

Gauge: I got 5.5 stitches per inch in the venezia chart pattern on size 8 needles. Stitch gauge is what matters here. Row gauge is pretty much irrelevant since you just knit until the piece covers your pillow form. 

Here's a quick cheat on figuring out gauge (yes, do a swatch, but this will help you figure out which needles to start with so that you only need to swatch once): I like the way Cascade 220 knits up on size 7 needles - I get 5 spi with that combination. Since I know that stranded colorwork compresses stitch gauge, I went up one needle size to get something close to 5spi (I ended up with 5.5 spi). And because I know that I get 5spi with size 7 needles, I needed to go down to size 6 needles to hit 5.5 spi to match my colorwork gauge.

Figuring out how big to make your pillow (aka, how many stitches you need to cast on): 

1. Measure your pillow form. I bought 14" pillow forms, which measured 14.125 inches on a side (28.25" total).

2. Chart out the venezia pattern (yes you will need the actual sweater pattern for this - it's in an old issue of Interweave Knits (check out one of the links above for details)). I made a 73-stitch chart (one right side, one left side, and one center stitch). Happily, the lozenge pattern also worked out to 73 stitches (it's a multiple of 6 plus 1).

3. Multiply the number of stitches in your venezia chart by your stitch gauge. Subtract this number from half the circumference of your pillow. Now add about half an inch worth of stitches to this number (ease). This tells you how many extra stitches you need to add. Finally, figure out a stripe pattern to act as a filler for those extra stitches. 

I used this border/side pattern: 2 MC, 1 CC, 1 MC, 1 CC, 1MC, 1 CC, 2 MC (9 stitches). 

When visualizing the pattern, it goes something like this: 9 border stitches, 73 venezia chart stitches, 9 border stitches, 73 lozenge pattern stitches.

Actually Knitting the Thing:

1. Cast on 164 stitches with the center color from your border pattern using the smaller needle size (that's my number - you should use whatever you need for your gauge and your pillow form). In my 9 stitch border pattern, the center color is CC. Join, being careful not to twist, for working in the round.

If you leave a very long tail here, you can use it to close up the bottom of the pillow cover later.

2. Work half of the border pattern, starting with the center color. In my case the rows looked like this: 1 CC, 1 MC, 1 CC, 2 MC

3. Switch to larger needles and work colorwork pattern (9 border stitches, 73 venezia chart stitches, 9 border stitches, 73 lozenge pattern stitches).

4. Keep knitting until the piece is long enough to cover your pillow form. Actually, when you're an inch or two away from that point, measure the length of your striped section at the bottom of the tube. Now subtract that number from the amount you need to knit to cover the pillow - this will tell you where to stop the colorwork pattern and work border stripes like you did on the bottom (just reverse what you did below). 

5. When you've knit enough to cover the pillow, turn the work inside out and close with a 3-needle bind off.

6. Lightly steam block to even out the stitches.

7. Put the pillow form in the knitted cover and sew the cast on edge shut. I did something that vaguely resembled kitchener stitch and that worked out pretty well. 

8. I hate to say this, but tie a knot (or three) in the end of your yarn and hide the knot under the edge of the pillow cover like you would when sewing or quilting.

9. Flip the colors (if desired) and knit a second one.