A belated “Happy Hallowe’en”

In 2011, I started my first yarn and fibre club; the Wheel of the Year club. There were eight installments, corresponding to the solstices and equinoxes, plus the ‘cross-quarter’ festivals which sit between them, and I offered sock, lace or fibre options for subscribers.  The first installment was for Samhain (Hallowe’en):

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I kept yarn or fibre, sometimes both, for myself from every club installment, and I’ve been playing with the idea of ‘following’ my own club over the next 12 months or so, even if I am three years late!

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Nothing if not ambitious, I designed my first gradient colourway for this installment: “into the dark” – based on the seasonal slide from sunlight to darkness, and also the truly *amazing* berry colours that were around that year.

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I kept the prototype sock yarn (Footsie!) and 100g of fibre (Corriedale wool; a lovely, easy spin).  I designed some long socks to show off the full length of the colour shift – but never wrote up the pattern:

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I do rather love them; the leg shaping is incorporated into the lace pattern, and I should probably work on getting it out there sometime.

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I also spun up the fibre pretty much straight away – roughly Aran-weight, chain plied to maintain the gradient.  But knitting myself a beanie somehow had to wait until this year.

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I increased too far the first time round, and ended up with more of a plate than a hat…

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But after a month or so in time-out, I pulled back and re-knit in just a couple of days.  Just long enough to cover my ears, and no binding or riding up.  If I can find a yarn that works well instead of my hand-spun, I’ll have to write this one up, too.

 

A twist of blue

As per usual, I have about five major projects on the go; I rotate through them: wet day projects, dry weather projects, physically demanding projects, slobbing-on-the-sofa projects, thinking hard projects, fibre projects, gardening projects, decorating projects, Really Important And Urgent projects (though that classification is liable to change on a whim).  And I think about blogging every single one of them, then am whisked off on a puff of distraction before I manage to whip out the laptop (or the camera).

Over the weekend, though, I was very, very focussed on the front panel of my current knitting project: the Square Necked cardigan from Rowan Studio 11 (Ravelry links).  The back is already complete, and I’ve been thoroughly charmed to finally make it onto the interesting bit(TM):

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The yarn is the stuff I bewailed hugely way back when.  (Auugh!  Where are all the photos from my old posts?! – never mind, another project…)  I was always quite pleased with the spinning, and it still stands up to scrutiny.  Heathered blue-purple with hints of green, it’s interesting enough to make stocking stitch fun and engaging, and calm enough not to overwhelm the cable details.

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The eagle-eyed may spot that this is a subtly different cable detail to the original pattern – more on that in another post.

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Foggy solstice

Knitting progress has been slow recently – and spinning and weaving practically nonexistent – but I recently finished one vest (Honeycomb, which I don’t think has made it to the blog at all so far), so it’s clearly time for a new sweater on the needles.

IMG_2774I found the summer solstice pattern a few weeks ago, and thought it might be a good match for some soft grey yarn (colourway: Foggy) that’s been in my stash since sometime towards the end of last year.  So it’s a complete coincidence that today – the day of the summer solstice – dawned soft and dull.

IMG_2775After Honeycomb – which required every stitch to be cabled on every sixth round – I’m looking forwards to some plain-and-simple stockinette knitting, even if the construction is a little on the complicated side.

In other news, my life is still in a state of upheaval/limbo.  The new job is going great, but I’m in the throes of buying a new house as J buys me out of my share of our current place.  There are no obvious pitfalls (touch wood), but nothing’s ever certain in the UK house buying process until contracts have been exchanged, and I’m a long way from that yet.

In the meantime, the hounds and I are still living, with J, in the old house.  In some ways, it’s really nice, because we are still friends and it’s great to have company around for most of the time.  In other ways, it’s not so great.  Apart from anything else, J started making the place his while I was up North, so a lot of my furniture and other possessions are in storage.  Almost everything I’ve brought with me (with the exception of my spinning wheel and a few kitchen-y bits and pieces) is in my current bedroom.  I no longer feel like the space is ‘mine’, so I’m sort of shrinking my life, trying not to intrude or make a mess, and the end result is that so much I want to do is ‘on hold’.

So I suppose it is fitting that the solstice – usually a time of vibrant, pulsing energy – feels cloudy and pensive.

These photos were all taken this morning as I was out walking the hounds.  The day is not cold, but it is overcast and humid.  It almost feels like we are due a thunderstorm to clear out the air – but without the usual oppressive feel you get before thunder.

IMG_2777 It might not be the most photogenic  weather you can imagine, but it has an odd, meditative tranquility that is not unpleasant.  And after all, the solstices are the points on the wheel where change is slowest.  For the briefest of moments, the world pauses, and catches its breath ready for the return swing. And even in the greyness of the day, there are unexpected moments of vivid colour.  This last flowering grass amazed me with its deep, purple flowers, set amongst the intense green…  If you only click on one photograph in this post, make it this one.

In search of a better sock cuff

I have a bunch of hand-knit socks that I wear in fairly constant rotation, and I’ve noticed over the last few months that the cuff edge is getting very tight indeed.  They were OK when new, but my guess is that the yarn (superwash though it may be) has shrunk slightly with repeated washings.

So I need a better cast on for my top-down socks, and a better cast-off for my toe-up socks.

A quick Google for ‘best sock cast on‘ turns up many, many options, including toe-up and top-down options, but I found the one I was looking for and whose name I couldn’t remember (the German twisted cast-on, also known as the Norwegian cast on, which probably explains my confusion), and I also found something I wasn’t looking for – the tubular cast on.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used a tubular cast on in the past, though I can’t remember when.  I certainly didn’t remember how to do it, either!  But it seemed like a really good option: quick and easy, and since (technically) there is no edge at all when you cast on this way, it must also be just as stretchy as the fabric itself, right?

For my first attempt, I used the instructions from here (scroll down to the ‘Casting on’ section, and read J. Miles’ contribution).  I liked that I only had to cast on half the required cuff stitches using a provisional method, because I haven’t yet found a simple, non-fiddly provisional cast on.  In this case, I went with the crocheted provisional cast on, which I like because I can always remember how to do it; the downside is that you need a crochet hook and waste yarn to hand!

The instructions said to use a needle 1-2 sizes smaller than your main needle for the cast on, which was problematical as I was already planning to use my smallest needles (2.25mm) for the sock, so I ignored that bit and just went ahead. I mentioned above that you only have to cast on half your stitches for this – well, the remainder of the stitches are provided by working the first round as K1, YO.  The cuff looked like this:

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Plenty stretchy, but there is definitely excessive yarn at the edge.  I don’t know if it’s from the larger than recommended needle size, or whether the yarn-overs are to blame, or both, but after knitting the whole cuff, I decided I wasn’t going to be able to deal with the loopiness, and I was going to try something else.

Sticking with the tubular cast on theme, I went for these instructions next. (Sort of – but ignore that bit for now).  The main differences with this method are:

  • You cast on all the stitches straight away – no YOs.
  • It specifies a different provisional cast on – and a new one to me.
  • It has you work four foundation rows before starting the ribbing, not just two.

I also took the ‘smaller needle’ recommendation more seriously this time.  I still don’t own any smaller needles, but I worked the provisional cast on on one of my stitch holders, which my needle gauge tells me is smaller than a 2mm needle, if not by how much.

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Much better!

I love the way this edge looks; it has a very professional appearance, and is just as stretchy as the ribbing, to boot.  Definitely a keeper.

Now, this was hardly a rigorous test of method, but I will definitely use this particular tubular cast on again.  I don’t know whether the difference was the needle size, the kind of provisional cast on or the lack of yarn overs, but a full comparison may have to wait until I am feeling particularly scientific.  Incidentally, I can highly recommend the Italian provisional cast on, and I may even be able to remember how to do it!  In the past, I’ve used the first method described in Eunny Jang’s provisional cast on article, when I haven’t used the crochet one, and it has three main drawbacks:

  • You need waste yarn, just like the cast on method;
  • If I don’t get all the stitches cast on in one go, I usually have to start over, and I find it hard to get the tensioning of the two yarns right if I’m casting on many stitches;
  • I often end up with half the stitches mounted backwards.  Which I’m sure means I’m doing it wrong!

But none of that matters with the Italian version!  I found it easy to understand what I was doing with the yarn (wrap working yarn around needle; secure with tail), I always wrap the working yarn the same way, so all the stitches are mounted the same, and you don’t even need waste yarn: if you want to, you can use a long tail made of the yarn from the project!  (As it happens, I used waste yarn.  I’d already found some for the crochet version, you see).

Blocking party

When I moved up to Scarborough, I realised I had a couple of languishing lace projects.  Not waiting to be knit – waiting to be blocked!  Then I knit the 2010 Advent Scarf in December, so I started 2013 with three nearly-finished scarves and shawls.

The oldest was Brandywine, which I mentioned briefly here.  Knit in a much thicker yarn than the pattern called for, I realised I was going to run short for a sensible size shawl, so I started adding short-rows to the garter stitch body.  You can see the effect in the blocking shot:

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This is a heavy, snuggly shawl, and has already seen quite a bit of use.  A side-effect of the shape is that it wraps around your neck beautifully, although I do find I need a shawl pin to keep it in place.  Otherwise, its own weight tends to drag it off my shoulders if I lean forwards!

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Next up, On the Wings of a Dove!

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This is a self-designed shawl, intended to showcase my own Bunnylace yarn – which I think it does very nicely!  I’d originally intended to write up the pattern, but there are a few design flaws that make it rather not-ideal in this incarnation, so it would need some thinking and a test knit if I was going to release it.  Plus, of course, I’m not currently trading, so it seems silly to release a pattern for a totally custom, unavailable yarn.

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I haven’t worn it yet; it’s big and a bit too dramatic for the office!  Besides, I’m enjoying it as an ornament in my work room…

Finally, the advent shawl.

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Crikey, I don’t think I’ve even mentioned this on the blog before.  I packaged this up as a ‘new house’ project; I love Advent, and I wanted something that was light on packing, long on involvement, so that whatever happened with the unpacking, I’d have some knitting to do.

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I loved working on this a little every day (well, most days).  The variety of lace patterns gives the scarf a sampler-like feel, and I got to play with some lace stitches that I’ve never used before.  Because several different designers were involved, it was also interesting to see the different ways the designers dealt with some of the recurring issues when designing lace stitches.  I started it on December 1, and finished it on December 31, so I didn’t quite finish it during Advent, but close enough for me!

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The yarn is Sparkleduck’s merino/tencel laceweight, and the pattern is the 2010 Advent scarf.  I picked the pattern after seeing many finished projects that I liked; I have decided I don’t like the risk of a mystery-pattern KAL!

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I actually ran out of blocking wires at this point, so the ends of the scarf are blocked using knitting needles as a substitute.  I think this is the first time in years I’ve used straight needles (other than DPNs).

It’s New Sweater Day!!

I can’t remember when I last had a New Sweater Day (Ravelry says April 2011.  Wow! And before that?  April 2010!!).  Clearly, I haven’t been finishing anything like enough sweaters for myself in recent times.

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This, I hope, is the start of the end of that trend.    It is also the first large project I’ve taken from fleece to FO. Two fleeces actually: the really short bits from a very soft, very dark alpaca fleece (you can see it before blending here), and the random sheep’s wool that long time readers may remember was left out over an entire winter for a ‘pre-wash soak’.  By the time I rescued it, it was green in places, and smelly, and became known as ‘the pond scum wool’.  A second wash sorted that easily, though it did require picking afterwards.  I prepped this stuff for spinning in the Tour de Fleece 2011, and though I don’t remember how much I spun during the tour, I finished it in October that year.  The yarn singles were spun supported longdraw from drumcarded batts, and plied hard-ish relative to the singles twist.

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I really like the fabric I’ve made: it is light and warm and tweedy, and shows up the cables acceptably well, though obviously not as well as a completely solid coloured yarn would. With the very, very short alpaca fibres in it, it will be interesting to see how well it wears.

The pattern is Drops 114-8, the long sleeved version, though I had to rework it for the gauge I got with my handspun yarn – both stitch and row gauge were off. I also modified the neckline cable to be only the first two rows of diamonds instead of four, as I really wanted a neckline detail rather than a large chest-medallion.

I also lengthened both the body and the sleeves, as I am tall with long arms.

The sleeve caps on this pattern are wide and shallow (check out the blocking photo below to see what I mean), and I thought I’d made a mistake reworking the pattern, but it seems to be just the way they are. Anyway, they work, so fear not!

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I am really very pleased with this sweater, but it’s not perfect. The neckline is a bit higher than I was intending (must have had a math-fail there when re-working the cable), though it still works well, and the sleeves are shorter (optimism and long arms). I feel like it would look better with a bit more positive ease, but then I’ve gained some weight since I cast on for this in September! We will see what I can do about that this year…

Bandananananana

(With a nod to Nanny Ogg, who “knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped.” – Terry  Pratchett, Witches Abroad)

I’ve been just a little bit in love with the Bandana Cowl pattern for quite a while – stylish, snuggly, no ends to flap around and get in the way (unlike a scarf).  However, I don’t have too many chunky yarns in the stash, and I’m trying to work my way through what I have.  And anyway, my Wolfram cowl, which is heavy DK/light aran weight, is plenty warm enough for even the cold, snowy weather we’re having at the moment.  Since ‘what I have’ includes a lot – a lot of fingering/sock weight yarns, I decided to re-work the pattern (which is available for free!) for sock yarn.

This yarn is the Rincewind colourway (see, it all ties back to Terry Pratchett!) from the Twisted Disc yarn club.  It’s a similar composition to my own Footsie, which I know reacts very well to finishing the tumble-dryer, coming out softer and fluffier, just right for a cowl.  (Note: I’d not tumble-dry socks or anything fitted made with Footsie, but I’ve experimented with the tumble dryer for finishing fabric woven with it, and the transformation is wonderful). Besides, doesn’t a washable cowl sound like a really good idea?
I love some of the colours in here – though I find the black (actually, I think it’s very dark navy blue) to be a bit jarring along with the softer washes of everything else.

I’m actually nearly finished with the knitting now – only a few more rows and the top border to knit.  I *think* it’s going to take slightly less than 50g of the yarn, which is great news in a way – and a shame in another, as I’m going to have to find something else to do with the remainder.

The garter border is flipping up something *crazy* right now.  I think it’s a combination of the natural transition between garter stitch and stockinette, aided and abetted by the sharp decreases that make the point at the front, and the extra tension from the many, many picked up wraps that make the ends of the short rows, running along the transition.  It will be interesting to see if the top border flips as badly (no short rows at the top!)

If this is a success, I will ask the original designer’s permission to write up the pattern and distribute it (for free, of course, since the original is free). The world has a lot of deep-winter cowls, and I think it could use a few lighter, wash-and-wear ones for those transitional  seasons – or even wearing indoors in the chillier times.

The cable emerges (and pickiness about decreases)

I wanted something just a little more understated than the cable originally specified for my handspun sweater, so I decided to cut two tiers out of the five-tier arrangement, thusly:

(This is a V-neck sweater, honestly.  The sides of the neck *do* diverge…)

The trickiness actually started after the main cable section.  The ribbing that flows out of the cables continues up the side of the neck and, actually, in a separate band to be sewn together/grafted at the back of the neck and sewn on to the back neckline as a collar.  However, that means that the decreases that create the V-neck shape have to happen between the ribbing and the main stockinette part:

Initially, I tried the obvious, left-leaning decrease (since I’m decreasing along a left-leaning edge): ssk worked on the first two knit stitches after the ribbing.  Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that this was not going to work.  It might have, if I’d had the foresight to work a M1-ssk border up the edge of the cable from the very beginning1, but I didn’t.  The problem was that the ssk makes a very pronounced, visible ridge along the edge of the cable area.  Since I didn’t have one until after the neckline split, it looked very strange, suddenly appearing from nowhere like that.

Unfortunately, I ripped it back before I thought to take a photograph.  What I wanted, I decided, was an invisible decrease: one that just lets a stitch disappear without any visible break in the flow.  I knew this wasn’t going to be possible if I placed the decreases in the stockinette area; the ‘lean’ in either direction would create a difference in the surface texture.  And I couldn’t place the decreases inside the purl band, as it needs to stay the same width!

So I decided my best option would be to decrease across the knit-purl boundary, where the last band of purl stitches turns into the stockinette main fabric.  That means that the actual decrease stitch must be a purl stitch: you can think of it as the last purl stitch ‘consuming’ the first knit stitch, to cause a decrease in the stockinette field whilst leaving the ribbing untouched.

So, p2tog?  Well, I’m not sure why, but this didn’t seem perfect.  Something to do with the fact that the knit stitches seem to sit ‘above’ the purl ones, but p2tog sort of wraps the opposite way.  I ended up working the decreases as ssp2togtbl – slip two stitches knitwise, like the start of an ssk, then purl them together through the back loop.  I *think* this is the equivalent of working an ssk on the reverse row, so a right-leaning purl decrease.  I have no idea if this last bit of pickiness was worth it – I should swatch sometime and find out – but I like the final effect.

 


1 Thought I’d expound on this a bit more…  If I’d wanted to do this (and thought about it early enough), I would have made sure that every right-side row had an ssk as the first stitch of the stockinette field on the right, and a k2tog in the equivalent position on the left.  (NB: I’m using ‘left’ and ‘right’ to describe the way the sweater would be worn, not the way you see it when you are looking at it!).  Of course, on most rows you don’t want a decrease in those positions, so I’d have compensated by adding an increase somewhere nearby…  Of course, that increase would have had to be carefully disguised somehow too, so perhaps it would never have worked anyway…

On the needles

I’ve been knitting a lot recently, though I don’t have any finished objects to show for it yet.  I’m glad to say that the air conditioning situation at work is slowly improving, which is just as well as I can never whip out sweaters as fast as I think I can, and also because I pretty much ignored my own requirements and went for a V-neck sweater.

I’ve been itching to knit with this handspun yarn for over a year now, and at first I thought I was going to knit a re-run of the Gathered Pullover from IK.  However, there were a few things that made me reconsider:

  • Truthfully, I’ve never quite been convinced by the placement of the gather.  It’s intended to be the only shaping in the body of the sweater, but it is placed at low bust height.  To shape a garment flatteringly for me, it should really be at waist height – but I don’t want a cable directly over my navel!
  • I’ve already knit it once – and there are so many other wonderful patterns out there to try!
  • Reading back over my notes suggests that this wasn’t really the quick, easy project I thought it would be last time; and it may not be this time, either!  I do remember that I didn’t particularly enjoy knitting the body in the round, and the sleeves were a particular problem.

This sweater, from Drops Design, struck me as having a lot of the same elements of the gathered pullover, without at least some of the drawbacks:

V-neck, interesting cable (though I will be reducing it slightly), simple, wearable design.

Of course, my gauge doesn’t match the pattern, as I’m working with handspun.  I had a false start and lost almost a week’s worth of knitting when I made the ultimate silly mistake, and sized down for my tighter gauge instead of up.  After that, though, the back flew off the needles in just over a week.

I absolutely love the fabric that this is producing: a wonderful, marled grey with white flecks.  Given the longdraw nature of the yarn, the fabric feels – and looks! – remarkably even.

I’m now at the point on the front where I get to start the sleeve shaping, and almost immediately, my modified cable.  I’m looking forwards to seeing the detail emerge – but perversely will miss the easy, knit-on-no-matter-what stockinette.  It’s been a calming, relaxing journey so far.

WIP Wednesday: return of the gloves

Do you remember this sad little story?

It has a happy ending:

 

Turns out that one of the advantages of sorting the stash is that teeny-tiny balls of handspun might appear from between the cracks.  This really *is* part of the same lot as the other stuff, by the way: I never (or very rarely) end up with matching amounts of singles on the bobbin when I spin, so, when I ply, one always runs out significantly before the other.  I have the habit of winding the excess singles off into a plying bracelet, and plying them together (if I’m making 2-ply), or chain plying them together for a 3-ply.  Sometimes I wonder why I do this: it seems to be turning frugality into a bit of an obsession, could I ever really need those last two grams of yarn?  Don’t I have enough stash, really?  Turns out, sometimes it really is a good idea.

This is how far I got with the gloves before running out: the cuff, thumb and hand have been knit, including a set of short rows designed to ensure that the glove’s fingers all start at or near the actual base of my fingers. (A pet peeve).  FO Friday??  Wait and see… 😉