February 2005 Archives

After reading all the comments to yesterday's post, I'm worried I'm going to let y'all down with the selection I finally made. I hope you won't be surprised to find out that in this beauty pageant, the judges came in with a bias. And they weren't really looking for the most exotic. In fact, being simple was something of a positive quality.

Picking a yarn for my first real sweater design project was a challenge for me. Each one of those yarns in my stash has a great deal of appeal to me, but they all have different qualities that make them more or less suitable for a given design. For me, this meant I had to pick a yarn based on a design I had in mind, or I had to pick the yarn and then try to come up with a design that suited it's nature.

Like most things I do, the final reality was a combination of both things. For my first project, I wanted to do something with simple shaping, but something that was like something else in my wardrobe that I love to wear. Enter this garment:

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Shape Inspiration Courtesy of J. Jill

As it turns out, it is fortuitous that this garment is black. It forces you to look at the shape and avoid the detailing. Essentially, this jacket is a jean-styled jacket. It hangs almost straight down from the shoulders to the hips. It can be easily worn over a turtleneck (my favorite winter shirt style) and it comes down just over the top of my hips. The thing that makes it special is that the bottom band of the jacket is a nice velvet instead of the corduroy that the rest of the jacket is made out of.

With regards to the yarn. I pawed, poked, prodded and petted all of my contestants. But I have to tell you that the pageant was a little bit rigged. The Sweet Grass Wool Targhee came into the competition as an odds-on favorite. In fact, I've been having dreams about designing a sweater out of this wool. (Yes, even I find it strange to be dreaming about grey yarn). Unfortunately, the design is not revealed in the dream, but it did suggest to me that something in my subconscious really wants me to do something about with this yarn. I don't let my Id out very often, but I decided that with a design project, it might be a good time to give it some sway.

So why is this yarn so inspirational for me? Well, you really have to touch it to understand. It is incredibly soft and springy. It reminds me of the perfect sweatshirt in wooly format. When I bought it from ThreadBear just about a year ago I did so because I wanted to knit it up into the sweater equivalent of comfort food. I'm not sure it would have the same qualities or be as inspirational for anyone else. But I do know another well known knitting chick who also has a stash of this stuff for much the same reason as I do (shh! don't tell her I told you). This stuff isn't your average boring grey yarn.

So with a shape and a yarn selected, I had to figure out how to bring them together. The first thing I figured I would do was swatch. There's no real gauge recommendations for the yarn, so I looked at other yarns in the same range and decided that I would do two swatches: one on US 10.5 needles and one on US 11 needles and see what I liked better. I addition, I also wanted to see how well the yarn would do in a simple cable (it's definitely too bulky for anything too ornate, and I'm not ready to design anything to complex) because I had no idea how well the texture would show up in the marled grey.

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Two Targhee Swatches

The swatch on the left was done on US 10.5, the swatch on the right on US 11. Because I didn't want to get any strange surprises after knitting, assembling and washing the sweater, I not only knit the swatches, but I also washed and dressed them before taking the gauge measurements. As it turns out, this was a wise thing, because in both cases, I lost 1/2 stitch over two inches -- for instance, on the bigger swatch, before dressing there were 13 stitches/4", after dressing there were 12 stitches/4" (there was no real change in row gauge). This may not seem like much, but it means that if I used the undressed gauge to design from, after washing, the sweater would grow in width by 1.7" over a 20" initial width. Ouch! (A big thank you to Claudia whose post about discombobulating a rust colored Aran sweater inspired this test.)

After a great deal of consideration and touch-testing of the swatches, I settled on the one made with the US 11s. The why's of this are somewhat intangible, but it came down to the fact that the swatch just "felt" right to me at this gauge. It had the right amount of give and drape, wasn't too stiff, but still felt solid. Amazing the difference between 3 stitches/inch and 3.25 stitches/inch can make.

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The Winning Swatch

This is a pre-washing picture of the swatch I selected (chosen for light conditions rather than size accuracy). The cable pattern comes from Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Patterns for Knitting. I've been fascinated with her knot-work patterns for sometime now, and was very pleased with the fact that this yarn shows off cable texturing well. To me, the effect is evokative of glyphs carved into stone, which seems a perfect complement for the Viking designs.

So where is this all leading? Thanks to the magic of PhotoShop, I provide a glimmer of what's going on inside my brain and is being scribbled out on paper.

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The Beginnings of An Idea

Imagine that this is the right front of a cardigan-style sweater. One wide band of the cable goes up the vertical edge, and another wide band crosses the horizontal edge. That horizontal edging is carried around the back and provides the cuffs for the sleeves. Can you see where I am going? If not, there will be more to come as I work the idea out on paper.

Sigil

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Sigil: 1) seal; signet; 2)a sign, word, or device held to have occult power in astrology or magic.

Taken from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Yesterday, MissBedora left a comment asking about the origins of my name selection for this project (if you missed it, it's the category name below the post). Originally, I picked the name based on the first definition, a symbolr or a seal carved in stone. But I do like the second definition as well. After all, knitting is something like modern day alchemy. Through the magic of two needles and some loops, yarn is transformed from unwearable string to a useful garment. I'm hoping that the name will also bring a little magic to the project.

So what do I envision for this sweater? Well, first of all, I don't really have the entire vision in place yet. But I do have the basics. I want it to be a boxy sweater, not too long. It will have set-in sleeves because too much fabric under my arms makes me crazy, and I want it to have a few tailored looking details. It will definitely be a cardigan. It will most likely have a zipper. The Viking design will encircle the bottom of the sweater and run up the sides of the opening, and that edging will be trimmed out with an attached I-cord to make the finished edges seem a little more polished and to give the possible zipper some place solid to be sewn to. I haven't quite worked out the collar details yet. I think it will be crew neck height, and it is very likely that a band similar to the one at the base of the sweater will also appear at the neckline.

So far I have the schematics for the back and the sleeves:

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The Beginnings of a Sweater

To put these schematics together, I had help from three very excellent reference texts that I highly recommend to anyone who is looking for information on desiging a sweater.

Vogue Knitting was the first book I ever got that covered the subject of knitting and knitting techniques. And I still go back to it almost everytime I need advice. I have the edition before the current one. This book was very helpful as I was working through the cap shaping for the sleeves.

Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English is both incredibly practical and incredibly helpful. She doesn't spoonfeed you schematics and formulas to memorize, she helps you think through the process of designing sweaters. And she includes tips from everything from dealing with color and patterns to shaping for different body types to knitting math. It's not a glossy full color book, but it's still one of those reference books that I think everyone should have. Plus, she has a great sense of humor and her writing style is a lot of fun.

Deborah Newton's Designing Knitwear is now out of print (I found it at a local used bookstore). It is another book that has great information about shaping and sleeve type selection for different garments. She also has lots of color, texture and pattern inspiration and encourages you to take your design ideas from interesting things that you encounter. There's a Aran biker-style jacket that I think is really fabulous.

Now back to my sweater...

The place I am going to start with is the back. I'm treating it a bit like a very large swatch, since a wise woman doesn't trust her swatches blindly (however, just to set the record straight, I did completely wash and dry my swatches before measuring -- to dry them, I hung them from a hanger so that gravity could take it's full toll) To answer Jasmine's question about how I am going to deal with the horizontal design, I've decided that I am going to knit the bottom panel separately, then pick up stitches along one of the edges when I start knitting the main part of the back. Probably not as elegant a solution as Elsebeth Lavold might have put together, but I think it will work out well.

So here's the first set of instructions for the band on the back:

With US 11 needles, cast on 12 stitches.

R1: K2, P8, K2
R2: P2, K8, P2

Repeat rows 1 and 2.

Knit the 6 rows that form the base of the motif*.
Knit 10 repeats of the central part of the motif.
Knit 6 rows that form the cap of the motif.

Repeat Rows 1 and 2, then repeat Row 1. BO all stitches "in pattern"

*You will need to have Elsebeth Lavold's book in order to have the exact pattern. I don't think it's either correct or legal to share that here on my blog. You can find more information about it here:

This book is actually more of a design book than a pattern book as she focuses on how the Viking designs are constructed so that they can be used in your own adventures. Defintely a book I will be refering to a lot in my knitting future.

Promiscuous Knitting

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I have to offer a disclaimer to this post. It is being written under the influence of three absolutely wonderful Frontera Grill Blue Agave Margaritas. Others may disagree, but you really haven't lived until you've had a few of these. Preferably all in a row so that your blood alcohol level is suitably high and you feel no inhibitions at all when it comes to vigorously dancing around your office while playing Franz Ferdinand very loudly. Right now even my cats are looking at me like I am off my rocker. And maybe I am, but when it's February in Chicago, you've got to get your good vibes wherever you can find them.

Yesterday, Claudia suggested that I might not be able to keep faithful to Sigil. Oh, how right she is to question my fidelty. In fact, not only have I been a completely promiscuous knitter, I'm cheating on Sigil with the ultimate in flashy furry and divine: Colinette's Silky Chic (gifted to me a little while back by Emma, my fibery fairy godmother)

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Guilty Pleasures: Silky Chic Scarf

Yes, it's a garter stitch scarf. Really, it could be any stitch and you couldn't really tell. One of the beauties of eyelash yarn is the hiding of all mistakes. But when it comes to eyelash yarns, this is probably the ultimate. The only yarn that rivals Silky Chic for softness is Muench Touch Me. It truly is a wonderful tactile experience.

It's working up into a scarf that I can't wait to have, but it would also make over the top wonderful collar and cuffs for a sweater that was meant to have a little flash without being crazy. Silky Chic may be flashy, but it doesn't cross the border into flashy trashy. And you can't beat the yardage: there's 204 meters on one skein. So far I've got almost 4 foot of scarf and I've still got quite a bit f yarn left.

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Silky Chic Texture

When you see this yarn up close, it makes you wonder how many muppets were injured to create such wonderful stuff. Knit at the right density, you get a thick lush fabric that begs to be put close to your skin.

About the only thing I can say about this yarn that is not positive is that it emphatically does not like to be ripped. I know this from experience. I started out knitting a much wider scarf, but decided that I would rather have something longer and narrower. The ripping was downright painful because those little tendrils really like to bond with each other.

And since I am flat out of other good images, I will close this entry with a cat picture. Apparently Sydney has discovered that there's much comfort to be found in my favorite Longaberger basket.

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Feline Ingenuity

And yes, in a further demonstration that I am not a nice cat mommy, soon after snapping this picture, I chased him out of the basket and sent him on his way. I like my cats, but somethings aren't meant to be shared!

Sigil Starts

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Well, after my embarassing drunken fling with the fuzzy scarf (which I still adore, but we've agreed to see each other only when I'm in the car), I've come back to Sigil.

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The Back of Sigil Begins

Finally, I have a picture that shows off the cable work a little bit!

To get this far, I knitted the bottom band, and then, because of the shrinky-dink effect I get by soaking this yarn after knitting, I decided the best thing to do would be to block the band before proceeding. After it had time to block and dry, I then picked up 60 stitches along the long edge. I did this by picking up two stiches, skipping one, picking up one stitch, and skipping one until I had 60 stitches on the needles. Now I am zipping my way up the next 9" before the sleeve shaping. I really like how the column of stockinette on the edge of the length-ways piece creates a strong visual dividing line between the cabled area and the plain stockinette. Hopefully it means that I've found a good design element that will work well throughout the garment.

One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post is where I got the measurements for the sweater. I used this suggestion from Bonne Marie's technical section, although instead of measuring a sweater, I measured the black jacket that I photographed. It's 40" around and about 21" from bottom to shoulder. The sleeves are about 22" long. I worked tbe rest out from there. I've opted for rather shallow armhole shaping -- only 2" of deacreases on either side.

After I complete the back, I'll completely soak and wet-block the whole piece just to make sure that my swatch wasn't faking me out. Then I'll probably move onto one of the sleeves so that I can make sure that I've got the cap shaping worked out right. It seems like there's more than one way to skin a cap, so to speak and I'm curious to see how that goes.

Birthday Celebration

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It's not often that I get a 50 degree sunny day for my birthday, but this year, the Chicago weather delivered me a wonderful present which was icing on the cake of a truly wonderful day for me.

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A Little Birthday Celebration

As if the beautiful yarn from my friends at ThreadBear wasn't enough (it's a beautiful combination of Cascade 220 and Mountain Colors 4/8 Wool -- more on what it's for in a bit), John also surprised me by telling me we would be taking a trip to upgrade my iPod. This 40 GB wonder will now house all my music plus any audio books I want to put onto it.

My mom and dad added to my sheep collection. The lovely lady sitting on top of my basket was made by Lee Anne Racine of Wool Outback Farms of Dexter, Michigan (she actually lives not too far away from my parents). Like the sheep I showed off after Christmas, this Knitting Sheep is entirely made of wool and wool products from Wool Outback Farms.

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The Knitting Sheep

She's definitely worth a closeup! Gotta love a sheep taking advantange of her own natural attributes. Especially a sheep who was created specially for me (though the design is apparently one that she created in 1984). This time, I have contact information for anyone who might want a sheep of their own. Click here for contact info for Wool Outback Farms.

So what is the Cascade and Mountain Colors for? I recently bought myself a copy of this great book:

Julie and I first spotted it when on a short road trip to Ruhama's in the fall. Because I've been getting more and more interested in adding some knitted decoration to my house, this book really caught my attention. Paging through it, I found more than one design that I thought would go well in my house. John worked with Rob and Matt so that I could have some gorgeous yarn for my first project from the book (its the spiral rug in the bottom left corner). As soon as I get Sigil completed the rug is going to move up on deck.

Also, since I've heard rumors about Colinette's Ab Fab Afghan kit being discontinued, I bought myself a little present as well. John helped me pick the colors since I promised him it would end up in a place where he could enjoy it. It was fun to pull out my color card to help us visualize the colors in the final product.

Back to the Back of Sigil

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Sigil is turning out to be almost like a felting project for me. Nothing is finished until the pieces are washed and blocked.

Gabrielle asked me the following in the comments to my last post about Sigil where I described that I had blocked the band before picking up stiches. I'm confused. Why block the band before picking up the stitches? When you go to block the finished back, won't the picked up (and previously unblocked) stitches shrink in the same fashion, leaving them smaller (or rather narrower) than the band, thus puckering said, admittedly gorgeous, band? That's what's happening in my head when I picture the procedure. Unconfuse me, pretty please?

I hope these pictures help to answer some of the questions. You can see by comparing the before and after pictures that I have more stitches/inch in the pre-blocked fabric and more rows/inch in the fabric after blocking. In other words, the fabric, after blocking got wider and shorter. I wanted the bottom band to be as close as possible to the width that the body of the piece was going to be. If it had been wider, then there would have been a lot more yarn in the picked up area, which I was worried would have an effect on how the fabric would block. I also didn't want the body of the fabric to prevent the consolidation of the bottom band after the stitches were picked up, since I knew the fabric would widen after blocking.

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Sigil Back Before Blocking
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Sigil Back After Blocking

In order to do the armhole shaping, I bound off 3 stitches at each edge. Then I decreased 1 stitch on each side, 3X on alternating rows (48 stiches remaining). After that, I knit straight for 39 rows and did the shoulder shaping by binding off 4 stitches on each of the next following 4 rows, and 3 stitches at each of the next following 4 rows after that. Finally I bound off the remaining 20 stitches.

While soaking this fabric, it gave off quite a bit of dust and debris. To get it to block correctly, I did have to mold it and shape it a bit into the shape I knew I finally wanted it to take. But the end result is soft and and beautiful and exactly the size and shape it needs to be. I guess my swatch didn't lie to me this time.

The next stage of the project will be a sleeve. That will start with creating another band, similar to the bottom band of the back of the sweater, only with 4 pattern link repeats.

Thank you to everyone for the nice birthday wishes. I'm looking forward to this year and I am hoping it will be a great one. And great for more than one reason. Be sure to check out Rob's comment to my last post. Apparently, while the Ab Fab is being discontinued in the UK, it will still be available here in the United States through the US distributor. So if you haven't gotten your Ab Fab fix yet, there's still plenty of time.

Muppet Scarf Redux

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I Was Trying to Dance

In the spirit of my favorite dancing rabbit, I was trying to dance to show my enthusiasm for my newest scarf, which I think could be related to her Muppet Pimp Coat. John and I still haven't quite got the dancing shots down, so for tonight, slightly off center is the best I can offer.

This simple scarf is all garter stitch. I cast on 30 stitches onto US 8 needles (5.0 mm) and just kept knitting until I had just enough left to bind off. That got me about 60" of scarf, which is completely respectable in my book -- it's always a pleasant surprise for me to get a wonderful treat scarf out of just one skein of yarn. I've decided to save the second skein to be cuffs and a collar for something special that needs fuzzy trim.

Sigil's First Sleeve

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Sigil is still moving along. I got the cuff finished and blocked Monday night and I finished up the sleeve and sleeve cap tonight. Once again, blocking helped to induce a remarkable transformation in the shape and size of the sleeve.

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Sigil Sleeve Before Blocking
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Sigil Sleeve After Blocking

Before blocking (sorry, no measurements this time, it's late) the sleeve was of Butterfly-esque proportions. After, it's just perfect -- or at least it's what I planned for. To see how I did with the sleeve cap shaping, I did a little reality check and measured the length of the armhole edge (including the armhole cast off) and the edge of the sleeve cap from the first bind off to the center of the final bind off around the outside curve. About 10.5" for the armhole, about 11" for the sleeve cap, but I think that extra 1/2 inch will not be a problem given that the corners at the top of the sleeve cap will get tucked in a bit at the seam. I'm always pleased when my little reality checks actually work out. So now I've got clearance to move onto the second sleeve.

Here's the instructions that I am working from for the sleeve:

Bottom Band

CO 12 stitches
R1: P2, K8, P2
R2: K2, P8, K2
R3: P2, K8, P2

Maintaining 2 stitch stockinette edges on each side of main pattern, knit the 6 rows that compose the link base (see Elsebeth Lavold’s Viking Patterns for Knitting, p. 13), follow with 4 repeats of the central link pattern (see Viking Patterns for Knitting, p. 14) and complete the motif with the link cap (Viking Patterns for Knitting, p. 13).

Repeat the first 2 rows above that comprise the foundation rows. Bind off as set. There should be 50 rows, including the bind off row.

Wet block to deal with yarn changes before continuing.

Sleeve Body

Pick up 30 stitches evenly across the bottom band when rotated horizontally. To do this, pick up 2 stitches, skip 1, pick up 1 stitch and skip 1, then repeat 9 more times until 30 stitches are set. Be sure that there is one stitch picked up at the first and last stitch of the band.

Knit 5 rows in stockinette, ending with a wrong side row. Increase 1 stitch on each side of the sleeve on the next and every following 6th row until there are 48 stitches across. Knit 15 rows even, ending on a wrong side row.

Cap Shaping

BO 3 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows (42 stitches remain). Decrease 1 stitch at each side of the next and 2 following alternate rows (36 stitches remain). (Use paired decreases as described above for armhole shaping).

Decrease on each side, every three rows, 6 times (24 stitches remain). Purl 1 row. Decrease 1 stitch each side on the following right side row (22 stitches remain). Purl 1 row.

BO 3 stitches at the beginning of the next following 4 rows. BO remaining 10 stitches.

Wet block entire piece to measurements.

Red Lang Scarf

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Friday (at least early Friday morning) is for finishing today. After setting Sigil's second cuff out to block I spent the rest of my TV watching hours finishing up a simple ladder yarn scarf worked on US 13 (9.0 mm) needles. Sometimes a girl just needs some big color in her hands.

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Red Lang Tonga Scarf

I know, there's something not quite right about having a beautiful wooly sheep helping me show off a novelty yarn scarf with not one iota of natural fiber in it. But she didn't mind doing the photo shoot and her price is right, so I just couldn't keep her out.

This is my second to last gift scarf of the winter, and my last ladder yarn scarf for a while. As I say every time I make one, I love the look, but don't stay enraptured by the knitting.

And what showed up on my doorstep Wednesday night?

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Antique Ab Fab Kit

It's still in the plastic because I knew if I opened thew well-sealed bag, even just to take a look at the pattern, I would be utterly unable to distance myself from the Colinette siren song. I've told myself I can't even open the bag until the last of the gift scarves are finished.

Fortunately, I don't think the last scarf will take me too long. I've decided it's going to be a one skein Kid Silk Haze scarf modelled after one of the 2-4 hour patterns in Last Minute Knitted Gifts a book I treated myself too recently that has a lot of neat, quick ideas.

Goodies from My Hood

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When we bought our house in the Ukranian Village section of Chicago almost four years ago, we could see the potential in the neighborhood, but knew we were taking something of a gamble moving into a neighborhood just south of Wicker Park that hadn't quite hit yet. Yet we really wanted to be living in the city, and most of the neighborhoods that were considered really happenin' at the time (Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Wicker Park, West Loop) were already too well discovered for us to afford them or just didn't have enough interesting things around them besides good freeway access to draw us in. So we put our money down and took a spin at the wheel.

Our gamble has paid off in spades. Over the last year, we have watched as streets like Damen and Division have blossomed with new shops and restaurants. And now we're just beginning to see Chicago Avenue and Grand Avenue transform as well. It used to be that most of our favorite restaurants were east and north of us. Now, in the summer, we can walk to so many good places and we almost don't even think about going too far out of our own little sphere.

Saturday was a lovely day. Julie came into the city to visit so that we could plan our trip to Maryland Sheep & Wool. And since the weather was so nice, we decided to take a little stroll up Damen and down Division to see what we could see. There's nothing quite like exploring neat new stores with a good friend. It made me realize how many nice new creative places are springing up. Here's a little sample of what I came home with.

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An Excellent Shopping Trip: (from left to right) Susanne Lang Perfume in "Cashmere" from StinkerBelle, Handmade Candles in Yuzu and Gingered Grapefruit from Tatine, and some new bamboo double points and Habu Textiles Silk Mohair from Nina's

Tatine, (formerly Wicked, located at 908 N. Damen) is home to a candle maker who specializes in bringing wonderful scents into your home. I'm burning my Gingered Grapefruit candle as I type, and it's filling my room with a delightful spicy citrus scent. The store opened at just about the same time that we did and I've never had a chance to go in before. I don't think it's going to be long before I go back and purchase one of her incredible coffee scented candles or one of the orange chocolate pillars she has available. I used to spend most of my candle $$$ at Illuminations, but given what I found on Saturday, I'll definitely be visiting Tatine for my candle needs in the future.

While were on the subject of good scents, I also got to make my first trip into StinkerBelle, a place that focuses on wonderful scents to complement human skin. I fell in love with a fragrance called Cashmere by Susanne Lang. Cashmere is billed as a unisex fragrance, but I think it leans a little bit towards woman. It has spicy and musky qualities to it with just a hint of something floral (to me). The husband liked it too. And I need to take him back to see if he likes Exotic Tea. StinkerBelle has also shares it's space with and esthetician who does aromatherapy facials. Definitely something I want to check out in the future.

And last, but not least, Julie and I wandered through Nina's. I added to my collection of double points (she has the 6" versions of the nice small sock sized needles) and I took home just a little tuft of fibery goodness in the form of some Habu Textiles Silk Mohair in a light springy green color. It's destined to become a lacy little scarf for my spring wardrobe. And it helped to provide me with some fortitude with regards to not taking home any of the Habu paper yarn that I am currently very fascinated with. The paper yarn is actually 100% linen. I'm wondering how it would do paired with a fine hemp yarn in the table runner department. That will give me something to hunt for while I'm in Maryland in early May.

A Day in the Life

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There are two questions that I get asked all the time. The first question is "What is the name of your blocking board and where can I buy it from?" (The answer, it's a SpaceBoard and you can get it from KnitPicks or PatternWorks). The other is "What is a computational biologist?" Since I'm back a little late from a nice V-day dinner, I thought tonight might be a good one to pursue that second question.

The answer to this question is probably a little different for everyone who calls themselves by that label. It depends on where you are in your organizational food chain and what kind of organization you belong to. I thought it might be entertaining/enlightening to provide something of diary entry of what I do on a regular day. To begin with, it's probably important to be clear about what my title is: "Director of Scientific Operations". This means that I don't do quite as much actual science as if I had a Scientist title (I used to be "Scientist, Bioinformatics"), but because I work for a small company, I still get to dabble in my area of specialty. Because I work in a small company, I also don't take the title too seriously. We all wear a lot of hats and most of the time I just do what needs to be done without worrying too much about whether it fits in my job description. Here's how things often go for me...

8 AM -- Get up, check email (some of our customers and one of our business partners are across the Atlantic, and earlier in the morning is my best chance to take care of their questions). Breathe sigh of relief that newly upgraded server supporting a group of important customers has not generated any unhappy support request emails. But notice that there does seem to be a problem with the system that handles our new customer inquiries. Make note to deal with when at work. Find coffee.

10 AM -- Arrive at work. Yes, I know, this is later than most of you get to work. I have to take care of a number of west-coasters and 10 to 6 makes it easier for me to do this. It's one of the few luxuries I have. Make tea. Turn on computer, check email again, pick up voice mail. Make note to call US business partner about proposal we are putting together for a customer.

10:15 AM -- Launch MS Project. Plan for weekly operations meeting based on info from last week.

10:30 AM -- Restart MS Project due to some strange bug. Twice. Make notes for meeting.

10:55 AM -- Round up meeting participants (it's a small company and it's Monday...)

11:05 AM -- Operations Meeting

11:54 AM -- Realize that one more cup of tea has gotten mostly cold before I finished it.

11:55 AM -- Fix small problem with customer registration scripts on new server. Yes, a little Perl is almost an essential of my day to day life. Send emails to people who noticed the problem.

12:00 PM -- Prepare DNA sequence alignment data for one of the bioinformatics scientists for a report that needs to go out. (The four chemicals, called nucleotides, that make up DNA can be represented using 4 letters of the alphabet: A, T, G & C. Much of bioinformatics revolves around comparing DNA sequences by comparing two lists of these letters and determining whether they match or not, and if so, how close the match is.)

12:13 PM -- Send off data to scientist. Start working on customer status reports.

12:15 PM -- Investigate customer issue for business development. Revel a little bit in remembering how to use some fun UNIX tools.

1:30 PM -- Lunch and coffee at local Italian bakery. Large skim latte to go please!

2:20 PM -- Take a look at what's currently on our sequencing machines. Talk to a few lab folks about how projects are progressing. Feel generally upbeat about current progress.

2:30 PM -- Review report for customer.

2:40 PM -- Discuss results from recent sequencing project with genome assembly group. (Genome assembly is the process by which small bits of DNA sequence are turned into a long piece of DNA sequence. Sequencing machines, on average, spit out 500-700 base pair pieces while bacterial genomes are usually somewhere between 1,000,000 and 8,000,000 bases... it's a bit like putting a puzzle together without knowing what the picture on the box is and having a lot of pieces with very similar nibs and cutouts. It is both very cool and very frustrating).

2:50 PM -- Send report off to customer.

3:00 PM -- Start sending off project status reports to customers.

3:30 PM -- Discussion with heads of business development and R&D with regards to an internal research project.

4:00 PM -- Investigation of software offering by another bioinformatics company.

4:45 PM -- Send off more status reports.

5:00 PM -- Remember that I still haven't called alliance partner. Send email apologizing. Make note to call tomorrow.

5:30 PM -- Finish sending off status reports. Look back through email box trying to figure out if anything urgently needs to be attended to.

5:59 PM -- Find something that does.

6:12 PM -- Wrap up that problem.

6:30 PM -- Take one more pass through inbox. Clean up desk (or at least try...my desk has a tendency to grow piles of paper) for tomorrow.

7:00 PM -- Turn off lights, set alarm. Set off for home.

10:00 PM -- Check inbox one more time, handle a couple of emails that came in from the left coast.

And that about covers it. Somedays I do more computer-related things, other days I spend more time on the phone talking to customers with technical questions. I'm usually happiest when I'm putting little snippets of Perl together and coaxing a computer into making my life easier. But I also get a little rush out of bringing in a new contract or knowing that I helped someone get a little closer to their research goals.

The knitting related content will be back tomorrow. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day!

iPod Stocking

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There's just something about iPods that makes you want to cover them up. It's not because they're unattractive or because you wouldn't want to draw attention to them. From my perspective, it's because their exteriors are made of beautifuly shiny materials that I don't want to see scratched or damaged in my purse or laptop bag. My first iPod came with a case, but it seems that Apple has started to cheap out on this aspect of the device and now the only way to protect your Pod is to purchase something after market

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that there are about a zillion different cases out there for the iPod, including iPod Socks, I just couldn't find anything I really liked for Orbit (this name may seems strange, but I've always tended to have names for my devices that come from astronomy and physics..."Orbit" derives from the fact that my iPod is a satellite of my laptop, Chaos) -- and besides, what self-respecting knitter would let some impersonal factory knitting machine make socks for her brand-new birthday iPod?

So I took matters into my own hands and hand-crafted a stocking for Orbit out of leftover Opal Croc sock yarn I had in my stash.

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The Days of iPods and Roses*

Wanna make one of your own? It's pretty simple.

Get out some sock yarn and some handy dandy double pointed needles. In my case, the sock yarn was Opal and the needles were 2.25 mm (US 1) Crystal Palace Bamboo. I measured the bottom of my Pod and based on previous experience with the yarn, cast on 20 stitches. When I had knit 12 rows I picked up the 6 stitches along the short side nearest the working yarn, 20 stitches from the cast on edge, and the 6 stitches on the remaining short side. I moved the stitches around so that I was using 4 needles, each one holding 13 stitches (this just made it easier for me to manage).

From here on out, the stocking is knit in the round in stockinette. On the next round, I increased one stitch in the middle of both short sides so that there were 7 stitches on each side. Now there should be two needles with 14 stitches and 2 needles with 13 stitches and the 7 side stitches were at the beginning of their needles.

After completing the increase round K1, P1 3 times, K21, K1,P1 3 times K21. This creates a little ribbing and some elasticity at the sides and helps give the stocking a little more structure. Maintaining the mixed ribbing and stockinette texture, I knit on for approximately 4 inches.

To create the flap, knit across the 20 stitches that will become the back of the stocking, then bind off purl-wise the remaining 34 stitches. The flap will be worked in garter stitch. I worked 6 rows, ending with a wrong side row. To create an opening for the headphone/remote jack, I used the buttonhole technique found here. I knit 6 stitches, created the opening by doing a seven stitch button hole, then knit the remaining 7 stitches. After that, I knit 12 rows of garter stitch.

To shape the flap, I continued in garter stitch, but decreased 1 stitch on each side of every right side row (2 stitches in from the edge) until 2 stitches remained. Then I bound off the remaining two stitches. Instead of drawing the tail through the last loop to fasten, I did a few crochet chains to create a little cord and left a few inches of yarn tail to wrap around the button I sewed on near the bottom. The flap is held down by wrapping the tail around the button, just the way the flaps on those old manila envelopes are held down.

For something I more or less knit by the seat of my pants, I'm pretty pleased with it. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that my Opal Croc yarn actually does crock!

If you're looking for other iPod cozy ideas, be sure to take a look at the iPod sweater that Wendy created for her iPod, Irving. She even provides you with handy dandy iPod dimensions (I was too lazy to measure Orbit... I just kept slipping the sock on over him to see if things were working out the way I wanted them to).

And speaking of Pods... be sure to check out Marie's Knitting Podcast. Her first edition includes my favorite sort of people... Knitting Biologists. Very cool and very fun. And I totally want to sound like Marie!

*The rose petals are left overs from the beautiful display my most wonderful husband prepared for me yesterday morning. You can click here if you'd like to see what he did. Don't blame him for the messy desk, though, I'm afraid that's entirely my own fault. And, yes, he does have a brother, but he's also married.

More Before and After

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By now I am sure that the before and after blocking shots are getting to be a little old. One of the things I was struggling with a little bit was how I was going to deal with the fronts of the sweater. How to make the corner and edging for the corner work out correctly.

It turns out that my new Knitted Rug book came to the rescue. One of the rugs in the book (unfortunately a quick Google search did not turn up a picture) uses the same cable pattern for it's edging. Donna Druchanas solved the problem by doing shortrows around the corner. It looked pretty good in her pictures, so it got me to thinking that maybe I could employ the same trick. The only question for me was whether or not the whole row/height gauge thing would work out correctly after blocking, and whether my previously observed blocking dynamics would be the same after the shortrows were employeed.

There was nothing for it but to do some test knitting and see. So I designed the fronts, figured out how many rows I needed for the band and did my experiment.

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Short Row Corner Before
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Short Row Corner After (Almost -- still a bit damp)

I had several false starts with the short rows and dealing with gapping, but tonight I finally got it straight after remembering about the whole wrapping thing. Makes a big difference in the final fabric that wrapping business does. From what I can tell, everything is blocking the way I expected it to and hte short row corner is going to work out just fine. After it's finished drying, I'm going to pick up the stitches along the top of the band edge and just continue knitting from there, starting a new cable motif on the next right side row.

The armhole shaping will be the same as for the back (no surprise there) the neckline shaping will be based on standard crew neck styling. The collar will have some kind of cabling that complements the sleeve and sweater bands, but I haven't quite decided how I want to do that yet.

Cold Light of Morning

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Morning sunlight gives me exactly what I need to show off the cable details in Sigil's sleeves. The flash, when combined with this grey yarn, simply washes all the detail out. Too much reflection from the white in the yarn, I'm guessing.

About the only time I can get a good picture is when I've got some daylight and I can hold my camera still enough to get an exposure that doesn't require the flash. Today is one of those brilliant Chicago winter mornings. Not a cloud to be seen and a deep blue sky. While I love the sun, anyone who's gone through a couple of Chicago winters knows that you can either have bright sun or warm temperatures. And today is no different. The lovely sunshine is accompanyied by 16F temperatures. Cold light of morning, indeed!

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Sigil Sleeves in Relief

This sweater is zipping past me much faster than I expected it would. I'm now finished with the back and both sleeves and I have a good start on the right-front. This weekend promises to be a busy one for me, but I'm hoping that I'll at least get to start the second front before it's over.

After all, it's Chicago. And there's no telling how long these cold bright days that make for the perfect sweater weather will last.

Out Front

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Sigil's Right Front Emerges

Having taken Claudia's suggeestion to heart that a tripod might do me a world of good, I set up a large pile of books and boxes and braced my camera so that I could get another "relief" shot of the next piece of Sigil. The vertical cable has 9 links and is followed by a very simple crew-neck sweater neckline shaping. Originally I thought the bottom corner looked a little empty, but now I am thinking of it as a feature that helps make the other cable links stand out more.

I've also created the instructions for knitting this part of the sweater, but because they are kind of long, you'll have to take a look at the extended entry if you want to see them for yourself.

Front and Center

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Both Fronts Blocking
Notice that those cables twist in the opposite direction?

Both fronts are complete and I'm entering that manic phase where it's all about finishing the sweater. That place where I've definitely gone from process-knitter to product-knitter. It's a strange place for me, this time, because usually I have some idea of where I'm going to be when I finally get to the end. I have a finished model in the magazine to examine and dissect, I might have knowledge of other representatives of the designer's work. But for my own sweater design, there's no glossy picture to look at and there's no previous history to tell me that everything is going to turn out alright.

So I am feeling both adventurous and trepidatious. The true casting of a knit garment's personality always seems to show up as the garment gets finished. It can be beautiful pieces on my blocking board, but it's the structure of the garment that brings it to life. If the structure and the fabric don't combine well together, it the sweater never gets beyond beautiful pieces.

This is part of why I am so particular about blocking. When you block, stitches unfurl, things even out, you can ensure that lengths that are supposed to be the same actually are the same, make sure that armholes are deep enough and that necklines are smooth enough. You can troubleshoot. You can see if things lay the right way. If they don't lay well on my blocking board, they are unlikely to get better in a garment.

So the finishing process will start tonight. Maybe by tomorrow, we'll start to really see the true personality of my sweater shine through.

(The instructions for the Left Front are available for anyone who wants to look into the extended entry).

Handspun Spirals

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A woman in Chicago in February cannot live by grey yarn alone, no matter how entrancing the cable work might be. Since I've finished all but one of my scarf projects, and Sigil is my only major project in progress, I decided tht I could give myself permission to dive into something new. Something with color, but not something too mind consuming.

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A Handspun Spiral and an Unraveled Capelet

If you checked out Julie's blog today you saw her review of The Knitted Rug by Donna Druchanas. For my birthday, my husband conspired with Rob and Matt at ThreadBear Fiber Arts to set me up with a personalized rug kit that would allow me to make my own Handspun Spiral. (To be fair, mine is not made out of handspun). Matt picked out some lovely colors for me - 3 shades of Cascade 220 (a deep gold, a purply fuschia and a denimy blue) and two skeins of Mountain Colors 4/8's wool, Glacier Teal and Yellowstone. The gold strip that rests on top of the basket is the beginning of the inner spiral.

And I haven't forgotten about my February Fix-Up efforts. Those balls of yarn sitting next to the basket represent all that is left of the Goddess Yarn's Capelet. It needs to be hanked and bathed to let it relax, but at least it's on its way.

Sigil also made it into my hands tonight. I think the assembly process is going to go somewhat slowly. Seems like any time I have to deal with inset sleeves it slows me down a little bit.

Sigil and Set-In Sleeves

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Sigil Self-Portrait

I thought I would start this post with the punchline: Sigil is now sewn up and has sleeves. Unfortunately, the bathroom mirror picture option doesn't make it easy to see that it fits the way I planned it or that the set-in sleeves actually do look okay. Or that Sigil lacks a collar and has a significant number of ends remaining to be woven in. But just getting to this point was a bit of a victory for me -- I mean the sleeves are actually the right length! -- so I did the best I could while my photographer is out at a conference in California.

Since grey yarn is a nice yarn to demonstrate with from a photographic perspective, I decided that I would also put together a little explanation of how I deal with set in sleeves. Since it's a lot of pictures, if you're interested, you'll have to bring up the extended portion of the entry.

Sigil Complete (Maybe)

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This weekend I got a chance to work on Sigil's collar. I wanted a collar with points with some cable detail that worked with the chain design on the borders. Instead of knitting a separate band (which I couldn't figure out how to neatly connect to the sweater), I picked up stitches around the neckline and knit onto the sweater. Instead of the linked ring motif, I chose to place 5 individual links at even intervals around the collar on a background of reverse stockinette. And the bottom edge of both collar points is a two stitch border of regular stockinette.

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Sigil, The Artsy Magazine Shot

With a nice wool sweater on, it was actually warm enough to go and take some pictures outdoors on our balcony. The natural light meant that John was really able to capture the cable details well. Unfortunately, my hair kept getting in the way of making it clear how the collar really looked.

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Sigil At Ease with More Collar Visibility

Because Sigil is really a jacket rather than a true cardigan sweater, she doesn't have the same kind of give and drape. I like that the targhee wool really holds onto a nice structured look, even though it's knit at a final gauge of 3 stitches/inch. It was a good choice for this jacket that I wanted to hang relatively straight down from the shoulders.

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Sigil, A View from the Side

This picture is meant to show off the set-in sleeve as well as show a bit more about how the jacket falls. I'm glad that I fought through the set-in sleeve shaping calculations, because it really gives this bulky jacket just a little bit more sophisticated look and gives it the option of being work-wear as well as a relaxed weekend jacket.

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Sigil, Back with Collar Detail

No finished sweater photo shoot would be complete without a view of the back. One of the things that invariably makes me crazy about the knitting magazines and their photography is that I almost never get to see how the back looks. Sigil has no side shaping, so she looks pretty much the same in front and in back, from that perspective. I think the bottom panel with the cable detail gives the back some oomph without being over-the-top.

The only thing I am wrestling with now: is Sigil really finished?

My first finishing question: Did I find the right collar for the jacket? Are the points too big? Are the motifs the right motifs? Are they spread too far apart? At first I was pretty ambivalent about the collar, but now that I've seen it photographed, I find myself liking it more and more. If I keep it as it is, it will need to be lightly tacked down, to keep the points sitting where I want them to.

The other finishing question: Should Sigil get a zipper or be left without any formal closure? At first I wanted one, then I wanted to go with a clasp, but now as I look at it, I think that, if it gets a closure, a zipper would best preserve the structure I want to have and create the neckline I want to see with regards to the current collar.

So, even though Sigil is completely wearable, I'm still stewing about these things. I think the answers to my questions will likely only come with a few wearings. So wear her I will before I make any final decisions. My impulse to tweak is quite strong, but I know it's possible to tweak things over the top, and Sigil is emphatically not meant to be an over the top jacket.

So what did I learn?

  • Soak and block my swatches. If I hadn't I would have gotten a big and unpleasant surprise the first time this jacket got a bath. I let the swatches I did block by hanging so as to ensure that my pinning procedures weren't influencing the outcome.
  • Existing garments are handy reference points for creating new ones. Sigil's shaping and sizing are taken directly from a little jacket I bought from J. Jill. that I love and wear all the time.
  • Keep cable motifs simple with big yarn. The Targhee wasn't a problem at all to cable with, but big yarn makes for big cables and I didn't want a huge cable motif to swallow me up. I think too much cabling would have been too much for me and the yarn.
  • Pick a garment style that works with the structure/texture of the yarn and my figure. A boxy jacket that wants a slightly stiff fabric to help maintain its shape is a good match for the targhee and it works with my figure. A tailored jacket fitted to my curves in the targhee would likely have made me look a bit more -er- robust than I am, given the thickness of the knitted fabric. I think this design is good for me and the targhee.
  • Set in sleeves aren't as hard to design as I thought. However, they do take time to think through, and it helps to have few good books to refer to along the way.
  • Designing my own sweater was a lot of fun and it feels very rewarding now that I am finished. It also was no where near as difficult as I had worked it out in my head to be. I think that the next sweater I do for John will likely be one I make up on my own so that I can build a sweater that fits his form better than some of the previous sweaters I have made for him.

Want to see the current instructions for the collar? Just click the extended entry link.

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